Bohemian Tangents

This site is my primary blogging place.

Archive for April 2015

Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation, Part I

leave a comment »

Thomas Jefferson is a beloved American founding father and is quoted far more often than his formidable adversary, Alexander Hamilton. But Hamilton, to some people’s delight and to others’ chagrin, was instrumental in kickstarting America’s state-based capitalism that transformed this agrarian country into a global imperialist superpower. Studying the bitter rivalry between Jefferson and Hamilton serves as a good shortcut into politics, economics, and how political parties are formed. The phrase “Rivalry that Forged a Nation” comes from John Ferling, author of Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation.

Biographer Alf J. Mapp, Jr wrote Thomas Jefferson: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity, which provides colorful details in the lengthy chapter, Struggle of Titans:

Thomas Jefferson received a letter from George Washington in late November 1789. Before he broke the seal, Jefferson knew of course that it was a formal request that he accept the post of Secretary of State. The domestic duties of the office, he learned, would include administration of all business in that category except war and finance. He was confident in foreign policy, but he thought the domestic burden would be formidable as replied in a December 15 written reply, but he did not flatly refuse to serve: “It is not for an individual to choose his post… you are to marshal us as may be best for the public good.”

Jefferson had just returned back to Virginia and to his Monticello home, having served as Minister Plenipotentiary (Ambassador) of France for 4 years. He was contemplating retirement. James Madison visited him at Monticello soon after his friend had returned from overseas and added his persuasive voice to Washington’s urgency.Jefferson feared that his new post would involve more domestic than foreign affairs. Again, Washington wrote his chosen appointee: ” the consider the successful administration of the general government as an object of almost infinite consequence to the present and future happiness of the the United States. I consider the office of Secretary for the Department of State as very important on many accounts, and I know of no person, in my judgment, could better execute the duties of it than yourself”. From New York, Madison wrote of the “universal anxiety” with which his decision was awaited. The master of Monticello sent Washington his acceptance.

Besides Jefferson, the department heads were Henry Knox, Secretary of War; Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury; Edmund Randolph, Attorney General; and Samuel Osgood, Postmaster General. All these men were vital to the new government, but Jefferson and Hamilton were the giants alongside Washington in his new administration. Devoted to the ideal of democratic government without factionalism, Washington did not suspect that these two magnetic Secretaries would become the focuses of political polarization. Of  course, he could never foresee that popular opinion for generations would make them the simplistic symbols of opposing philosophies so that through history they would ride a seesaw of public esteem.

Jefferson found himself a worthy antagonist in Alexander Hamilton who was contemptuous of the common man, and certainly he himself was far from ordinary. Almost everything about him was, for better or worse, superior, exotic, or at least different. Of course, there were those who thought his aristocratic sympathies incongruous. John Adams once described him as the “bastard son of a Scotch peddler” in contrast to Hamilton’s self-description as the son of a West India merchant “of respectable connection in Scotland”. There was truth in both versions. His mother had been jailed for being “twice guilt, but his largey of adultery” before going to live with James Hamilton XV, whom she did not marry. James, an unsuccessful merchant who had sprung from a branch of the ducal family of Hamilton, was the grandson of Sir Robert Pollock, “created Baronet of Nova Scotia by Queen Anne in 1702”. Biographer Mapp has many more details, too many to fit into a blog post (but would help fill out future blog posts), so I rely on to succinctly answer the question: “How did the debate between Jefferson and Hamilton shape the political system of the United States?”

In George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796), he warned that the creation of political factions, “sharpened by the spirit of revenge,” would most certainly lead to “formal and permanent despotism.” Despite Washington’s cautionary words, two of his closest advisors, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, helped to form the factions that led to the dual party system under which the U.S. operates today. Other men, most notably James Madison and John Adams, also contributed to the formation of political parties, but Hamilton and Jefferson came to represent the divisions that shaped the early national political landscape.

Although both men had been active in the Revolutionary effort and in the founding of the United States, Jefferson and Hamilton did not work together until Washington appointed Jefferson the first secretary of State and Hamilton the first secretary of the Treasury. From the beginning, the two men harbored opposing visions of the nation’s path. Jefferson believed that America’s success lay in its agrarian tradition. Hamilton’s economic plan hinged on the promotion of manufactures and commerce. While Hamilton distrusted popular will and believed that the federal government should wield considerable power in order steer a successful course, Jefferson placed his trust in the people as governors. Perhaps because of their differences of opinion, Washington made these men his closest advisors. When George Washington’s administration began, the two camps that formed during the Constitutional ratification debates – those groups known as the Federalists and Anti-Federalists – had not yet solidified into parties. But, disagreements over the nation’s direction were already eroding any hope of political unity. In May of 1792, Jefferson expressed his fear to Washington about Hamilton’s policies, calling Hamilton’s allies in Congress a “corrupt squadron.” He expressed fear that Hamilton wished to move away from the Constitution’s republican structure, toward a monarchy modeled after the English constitution. That same month, Hamilton confided to a friend that “Mr. Madison cooperating with Mr. Jefferson is at the head of a faction decidedly hostile to me and my administration, and . . . dangerous to the union, peace and happiness of the Country.”

Hamilton’s economic plan for the nation included establishing a national bank like that in England to maintain public credit; consolidating the states’ debts under the federal government; and enacting protective tariffs and government subsidies to encourage American manufactures. All of these measures strengthened the federal government’s power at the expense of the states. Jefferson and his political allies opposed these reforms. Francophile Jefferson feared that the Bank of the United States represented too much English influence, and he argued that the Constitution did not give Congress the power to establish a bank. He did not believe that promoting manufactures was as important as supporting the already-established agrarian base. Jefferson deemed “those who labour in the earth” the “chosen people of God . . . whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.” He advised his countrymen to “let our work-shops remain in Europe.”

When George Washington’s administration began, the two camps that formed during the Constitutional ratification debates – those groups known as the Federalists and Anti-Federalists – had not yet solidified into parties. But, disagreements over the nation’s direction were already eroding any hope of political unity. In May of 1792, Jefferson expressed his fear to Washington about Hamilton’s policies, calling Hamilton’s allies in Congress a “corrupt squadron.” He expressed fear that Hamilton wished to move away from the Constitution’s republican structure, toward a monarchy modeled after the English constitution. That same month, Hamilton confided to a friend that “Mr. Madison cooperating with Mr. Jefferson is at the head of a faction decidedly hostile to me and my administration, and . . . dangerous to the union, peace and happiness of the Country.”

By the time Jefferson and John Adams vied for the presidency in 1796, political factions had formed under the labels “Republicans” and “Federalists.” In fact, by 1804 the advent of political parties necessitated a constitutional amendment that changed the electoral process to allow president/vice president tickets on the ballot. The Federalists dominated the national government through the end of the 18th century. Despite President Washington’s efforts at unity, political differences proved to be too deep to promote consensus. The Republican Party emerged as organized opposition to Federalist policies, and despite Jefferson’s assurances in his first inaugural address that Americans were “all republicans” and “all federalists,” faction had solidified into party.

Ron Chernow comments in his biography of Hamilton: Over the past two centuries, Hamilton’s reputation has waxed and waned as the country has glorified or debunked businessmen. Historian Gordon Wood wrote: “Although late-nineteenth-century Americans honored Hamilton as the creator of American capitalism, that honor became a liability through much of the twentieth century”. All the conflicting emotions stirred up by capitalism–its bountiful efficiency, its crass inequities–have adhered to Hamilton’s image. In a nation of self-made people, Hamilton became an emblematic figure because he believed that government ought to promote self-fulfillment, self-improvement, and self-reliance. As Treasury Secretary, he wanted to make room foe entrepreneurs, whom he regarded as the motive force of the economy. Like Franklin, he intuited America’s special genius for business: “As to whatever may depend on enterprise, we need not fear to be outdone by any people on earth. It may almost be said that enterprise is our element”. Chernow credits Hamilton with a life offering an “extraordinary object lesson in social mobility and his unstinting energy illustrated his devout belief in the salutary power of work to develop people’s minds and bodies. He adds that Hamilton did not create America’s market economy so much as foster the cultural and legal setting in which it flourished. One of his principal motives for promoting the Constitution (as he envisioned it) was to address “the abysmal failure of the Articles of Confederation”. Hamilton wrote: “It is known that the relaxed conduct of the state governments in regard to property and credit was one of the most serious diseases under which the body politic laboured prior to the adoption of our present constitution and was a material cause of that state of public opinion which led to its adoption”. He converted the new Constitution into a flexible instrument for creating the legal framework necessary for economic growth. He did this by activating three still amorphous clauses—the necessary and proper clause, the general-welfare clause, and the commerce clause—making them the basis for government activism in economics. Washington’s first term was devoted largely to the economic matters in which Hamilton excelled. Chernow, whom American libertarians might call a “statist”, goes on to malign federalist John Adams along with Jefferson and Madison as “among the well-intentioned men who were woefully backward in finance” while conceding they were “forward-looking in politics”. These three men “adhered to a static, archaic worldview that scorned banks, credit, and stock markets”. So Hamilton was the “progressive” of his era, says Chernow, and the 3 critics were the “conservatives”.

An opposing viewpoint comes from Thomas DiLorenzo, senior faculty member of the Mises Institute and adherent of the Austrian school of economics, and author of Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution. He debunks “the Hamiltonian myths perpetuated in recent admiring biographies”:Hamilton, first as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and later as the nation’s first and most influential treasury secretary, masterfully promoted an agenda of nationalist glory and interventionist economics—–core beliefs that did not die with Hamilton in his fatal duel with Aaron Burr. Carried on through his political heirs, the Hamiltonian legacy:

• Wrested control into the hands of the federal government by inventing the myth of the Constitution’s “implied powers”

• Established the imperial presidency (Hamilton himself proposed a permanent president—–in other words, a king)

• Devised a national banking system that imposes boom-and-bust cycles on the American economy

• Saddled Americans with a massive national debt and oppressive taxation

• Inflated the role of the federal courts in order to eviscerate individual liberties and state sovereignty

• Pushed economic policies that lined the pockets of the wealthy and created a government system built on graft, spoils, and patronage

• Transformed state governments from Jeffersonian bulwarks of liberty to beggars for federal crumbs

My response to the diametrically opposed views of Chernow and DiLorenzo is that I see merits to both their views. Capitalism evolved historically with state involvement in England, Holland, and Sweden. Queen Elizabeth chartered the British East India Company in 1600.  In 1602 the Dutch East India Company was born along with the world’s first stock exchange, The Amsterdam Stock Exchange. Sweden is noteworthy for creating the world’s first and oldest central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, in 1668. The Bank of England followed in 1694. Capitalism was bound up with imperialism and mercantilism and a pristine stateless form is more an object for idealization and rumination for academic economists and political theorists than a tangible functioning reality.  On the other hand, Jefferson’s pearls of wisdom against tyrannical bankers and advocacy for “limited government” certainly are appealing when we look at the bloated bureaucratic crony-capitalist plutocracy into which modern America has metastasized where consent seems restricted to huge banks and corporations. The Jefferson-Hamilton rivalry is too huge a topic for a single blog post, so I will do a follow-up to this one.


Written by joethebohemian

April 27, 2015 at 1:48 am

Posted in politics

Thomas Jefferson: Lockean, Revolutionary, American “Sphinx”

with 2 comments

Thomas Jefferson, American founding father and icon among American libertarians, was a radical revolutionary to some, a Lockean classical liberal to others, and a mysterious “sphinx” to biographer, Joseph Ellis. He was an enormously multi-talented man:  an architect (including Monticello), inventor, musician, prolific writer, scholarly lawyer, and observant scientist (in several fields).  He achieved the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which really matched his keen interest in natural science, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which embodied his deep convictions about religious freedom.

Jefferson was a planter farmer, author, governor of Virginia, foreign diplomat (and celebrity abroad), secretary of state, president, co-architect of Virginia’s constitution, founder (and architect) of the University of Virginia, political philosopher, and much more. Jefferson believed in the enlightened rights of man as reflected in the Declaration of Independence, and he advocated the Bill of Rights to ensure that they were specifically expressed in the Constitution. Jefferson more than any other major leader of the Revolution believed in those lofty ideals, which were radical for the time. Jefferson was a revolutionary and a dreamer.

He also was a legal reformer, supporter of the arts, and a public education advocate – far ahead of his time. He believed in equal opportunity in the context of his time, although he could be quite arrogant towards those of lesser achievement and, like almost everyone else at that point in American history, did not yet believe that women and people of color were equal in civil matter. As president, he is rated among the best.

Thom Hartmann, a progressive liberal, outlines the virtues of Thomas Jefferson as the founding father whose vision of a free democratic America which excluded corporate monopolies and was an egalitarian utopia of free farmers and independent businessmen. He had 3 basic fears that he wanted addressed in the Constitution: tyrannical governments, organized religion, and commercial monopolies. He wanted to make sure that the wealthy ruling elites would not corrupt the fledgling democracy of the U.S. In a letter to James Madison he wrote: “I will tell you now what I don’t like. First, the omission of a Bill of Rights, providing clearly… for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction of monopolies, and the eternal and unremitting force of habeas corpus laws and trials by jury”.  The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 but had no provision against monopolies and the standing army issue was addressed by the 2nd amendment with the “well-regulated militia”.

Biographer Richard K. Matthews, The Radical Politics of Thomas Jefferson, claims that Jefferson went farther than his fellow revolutionaries in creating a radical democratic philosophy. The Virginian was a true believer in not only a philosophy of liberty, but the best way to preserve that liberty through societal revolution, the “earth belongs to the living” concept, and his view of “ward republicanism”. He saw the American Revolution as a fulfillment not only of Locke and Algernon Sidney (English political critic of absolute monarchy) but also saw it as a new beginning for liberated man. This new begining would constantly renew the faith of the American Revolution through periodic change in laws and constitutions. Jefferson wanted to preserve liberty by extending democratic republicanism to virtually all white males through his granting of 50 acres of land to every man in Virginia in the belief that property ownership would secure the liberty fought for in the Revolution. Jefferson’s proposals to abolish primogeniture and entail are radical attepts to equalize property relations by as he put it ” to put all on an equal footing”. Next is Jefferson’s “ward republics”, which he saw as his most important. The ward would be the basic unit on democratic government which were similar to New England Townships and would allow for citizens’ direct local governance. Public schools, militia duty, opposition to tyranny from other branches of government could all be begun here. He also included the “care of the poor” and “care of the roads”.

Many American libertarians seem to claim Jefferson as their ideological forbear or hero or icon as the advocate of “limited government”, states rights, and Lockean principles of government. Van Bryant, II, debunks the notion of Jefferson as a libertarian president, noting that “a peculiar trait found among a majority of libertarians” which is “the desire to elevate Thomas Jefferson to the heroic status of intellectual forebear of their ideology.” Bryant says that “From state’s rights and secession, to individual freedoms, peace, and the role of central government, Jefferson talked the talk, but never walked the walk. Far from an ideologue or proto-libertarian (lol), Jefferson was simply a successful politician, a well-read master of rhetoric and propaganda… And a statist.”

 Bryant adds: “The Louisiana Purchase stands out as one of America’s greatest ‘internal improvement subsidies,’ with a number of foreign and domestic interests receiving their share of the wealth of the U.S. citizenry. In fact, part of the deal included the U.S. assuming $3.75 million in debt owed to private U.S. citizens by the French government. ‘Paying it to ourselves,’ indeed. As a side note: Many people are also unaware of the private banking interests in both England and the Netherlands that were involved in financing this deal. For all of his writings against the ‘monied aristocracy’ , Jefferson was more than willing to work through the wealthy bankers to achieve his goals. One must finally ask: where was Jefferson’s ‘strict Constitutionalism’ when he pushed the Louisiana Purchase Act through Congress without amendment?”

The general point I am attempting to make is that Jefferson, like any mortal imperfect human serving as president was a creature of his times, having to deal with immensely difficult and complex issues and not able to live up to anyone’s idealizations 200 years later, particularly if these idealizations are constructions of cherry-picked facts. Jefferson possessed a massive intellect and polymath education, but this gargantuan mind left behind a thicket of enigmas and contradictions as the “American sphinx” described by Joseph J. Ellis whose characterization of the American icon treads a path between vilification and hero worship in order to formulate a plausible portrait of the man who still today “hovers over the political scene like one of those dirigibles cruising above a crowded football stadium, flashing words of inspiration to both teams.” For, at the grass roots, Jefferson is no longer liberal or conservative, agrarian or industrialist, pro- or anti-slavery, privileged or populist. He is all things to all people. His own obliviousness to incompatible convictions within himself (which left him deaf to most forms of irony) has leaked out into the world at large–a world determined to idolize him despite his foibles.

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson


The fact does remain that Jefferson was the father of the anti-federalist movement that became the democratic-republican party versus the federalist party led by Alexander Hamilton. These two men both served under George Washington as secretaries of state and treasury and butted heads over what the proper role and function of the national government should be vis a vis the individual states. This particular massive topic will require its own blog post which means Alexander Hamilton will be included on an equal billing with Jefferson.

Author Elvin T Lim notes that the anti-federalists had their “first founding” under the 1781 Articles of Confederation and that the Constitution ratified in 1789 was the “second founding”.

“The United States has had not one, but two Foundings. The Constitution produced by the Second Founding came to be only after a vociferous battle between Federalists and Anti-Federalists. The Federalists favored a relatively powerful central government, while the Anti-Federalists distrusted the concentration of power in one place and advocated the preservation of sovereignty in the states as crucibles of post-revolutionary republicanism — the legacy of the First Founding. This philosophical cleavage has been at the heart of practically every major political conflict in U.S. history, and lives on today in debates between modern liberals and conservatives.”

Source: The Lovers’ Quarrel: The Two Foundings and American Political Development by Elvin T. Lim

Lim’s assessment of the quarrel between Jefferson’s anti-federalists vs Hamilton’s federalists dramatically sets the stage for part II of this blog installment.

Written by joethebohemian

April 19, 2015 at 7:04 pm

Posted in politics

The Many Faces of Libertarianism, Part VI: Benjamin Tucker

leave a comment »


Caveat: The various movements put under the elusive “libertarian” category differ considerably. I am not a fan of the free-market-idealizing capitalist movement headed up by Ron Paul, nor am I fan of anarcho-capitalism created as a term by Murray Rothbard, the same fellow who boasted of his movement stealing the term “libertarian” from the “enemy” he described as “left-wing anti-private property anarchists”. I state this so that my readers won’t assume I support everything I write about, but I think it’s important to study all these movements.

Benjamin Tucker is a theoretically prolific and unique contributor to a form of individualist anarchism that at times appears to be “proto-capitalist” libertarianism that may not have been recognized as such in its time, but appears as such in retrospect.

Brian Doherty, modern American capitalist libertarian author, radiates a warm glow over individualist anarchist kingpin Benjamin Tucker (1854-1939), calling him “the linchpin of the American individualist anarchist movement”, which Tucker called “unterrified Jeffersonianism”. Doherty notes (page 44, Radicals for Capitalism): “Trucker held no truck with the violence of the stereotypical bomb-throwing anarchists… Tucker was no pacifist, but he considered bomb throwing to be a less productive strategy than education”.  

He was a Bostonian from a well-to-do Unitarian family. He blended the beliefs of his various American forebears and dedicated his life to a plumb-line, no-retreat, no-sellout defense of them. Doherty connects Tucker to the modern American anarcho-capitalist, Murray Rothbard: “Tucker’s role for his intellectual movement presaged Murray Rothbard’s in his. After reading Tucker in the light of Rothbard, one seems to hear eerie echoes sounding backward in time. They shared a similar tone, a passionate belief in the moral illegitimacy the state…”

Radicals for Capitalism, A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, p. 37

This movement which Tucker presaged, anarcho-capitalism, is defined by the Mises Institute as “a libertarian and individualist political philosophy that advocates the elimination of the state in favor of individual sovereignty in a free market… In an anarcho-capitalist society, law enforcement, courts, and all other security services by voluntarily-funded competitors such as private defense agencies rather than through taxation, and money would be privately and competitively provided in an open market… Personal and economic activities would be regulated by the natural laws of the market and through private law rather than through politics.”

Benjamin Tucker made his debut in liberty-minded circles 1876, when Heywood published Tucker’s first ever English translation of  Proudhon’s classic work What is Property?. From August 1881 to April 1908, he published the periodical, Liberty, “widely considered to be the finest individualist-anarchist periodical ever issued in the English language”.

He called his own philosophy “anarchistic socialism” and explained that “the most perfect socialism is possible only on the condition of the perfect individualism”. At this time in history “socialism” was a broader term before the Marxist statism took it over. Tucker was opposed to collective ownership of the means of production as he was opposed to the state ownership thereof and of property in general. His individualist anarchism advocated distribution of property in AN UNDISTORTED NATURAL MARKET AS A MEDIATOR OF EGOISTIC IMPULSES AND A SOURCE OF SOCIAL STABILITY (emphasis is mine).

He noted “the fact that one class of men are dependent for their living upon the sale of their labour, while another class of men are relieved of the necessity of labour by being legally privileged to sell something that is not labour. . . . And to such a state of things I am as much opposed as any one. But the minute you remove privilege. . . every man will be a labourer exchanging with fellow-labourers . . . What Anarchistic-Socialism aims to abolish is usury . . . it wants to deprive capital of its reward.

He contrasted the wage-workers who depended on selling their labor against the capitalists who had the legal privilege to sell something other than labor. To Tucker, removing “capitalist privilege” will make a man a laborer exchanging with felllow laborers. He maligned anarchistic socialism for wanting to to abolish usury which is to deprive capital of its reward. He said interest was theft, rent was robbery, and profit only another name for “plunder”, YET HE UPHELD THE RIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE TO ENGAGE IN IMMORAL CONTRACTS (emphasis is mine).

His explanation was: “Liberty, therefore, must defend the right of individuals to make contracts involving usury, rum, marriage, prostitution, and many other things which are believed to be wrong in principle and opposed to human well-being. The right to do wrong involves the essence of all rights.” He asserted that anarchism is meaningless unless it includes the liberty of the individual to control his product or whatever his product has brought him through exchange in a free market – that is, private property.

Tucker argued that the poor condition of American workers resulted in 4 legal state monopolies: 1) Money and banking monopoly

He opposed state protection of the ‘banking monopoly’ – the requirement that one must obtain a charter to engage in the business of banking. He hoped to raise wages by deregulating the banking industry, reasoning that competition in banking would drive down interest rates and stimulate enterprise. Tucker believed this would decrease the proportion of individuals seeking employment, and wages would be driven up by competing employers. “Thus, the same blow that strikes interest down will send wages up.”He did not oppose individuals being employed by others, but due to his interpretation of the labor theory of value, he believed that in the present economy individuals do not receive a wage that fully compensates them for their labor. He wrote that, if the four “monopolies” were ended, it will make no difference whether men work for themselves, or are employed, or employ others. In any case they can get nothing but that wages for their labor which free competition determines.  

2) Land monopoly:

He acknowledged that “anything is a product upon which human labor has been expended,” but would not recognize full property rights to labored-upon land: It should be noted, however, that in the case of land, or of any other material the supply of which is so limited that all cannot hold it in unlimited quantities, Anarchism undertakes to protect no titles except such as are based upon actual occupancy and use. Tucker opposed granting title to land that was not in use; he argued that an individual should use land continually, in order to retain exclusive right to it. He believed that if this practice were not followed, there was a ‘land monopoly’.

3) Tariffs and (4) Patents: 

Tucker opposed protectionism, believing that tariffs caused high prices, by preventing national producers from having to compete with foreign competitors. He believed that free trade would help keep prices low and therefore would assist laborers in receiving their “natural wage”. Tucker did not believe in intellectual property rights in the form of patents, on the grounds that patents and copyrights protect something which cannot rightfully be held as property. He wrote that the basis for property is “the fact that it is impossible in the nature of things for concrete objects to be used in different places at the same time.” Property in concrete things is “socially necessary” since successful society rests on individual initiative, it is necessary to protect the individual creator in the use of his concrete creations by forbidding others to use them without his consent. Because ideas are not concrete things, they should not be held and protected as property. Ideas can be used in different places at the same time, and so their use should not be restricted by patents. This was a source of conflict with the philosophy of fellow individualist Lysander Spooner who saw ideas as the product of “intellectual labor” and therefore private property.

Doherty remarks that Tucker failed to significantly turn America in an anarchist direction which began to wear on him. His brand of individualist anarchism suffered from having no clear constituency that directly benefited from it, unlike labor agitators’ attraction to socialism or big business’s attraction to progressive centralization. (Radicals for Capitalism, p. 47)

  Tucker’s historical legacy is cemented by the modern mutualist and individualist Kevin Carson as noted in a lengthy wikipedia passage:

Kevin Carson’s critique: Tucker’s concept of the four monopolies has been discussed by Carson in his book Studies in Mutualist Political Economy. Carson incorporates the idea into his thesis that the exploitation of labor is only possible due to state intervention. However, he argues that Tucker failed to notice a fifth form of privilege: transportation subsidies. One form of contemporary government intervention that Tucker almost entirely ignored was transportation subsidies. This seems odd at first glance, since “iinternal improvements” had been a controversial issue throughout the 19th century, and were a central part of the mercantilist agenda of the Whigs and the Gilded Age GOP. Indeed, Lincoln has announced the beginning of his career with a “short but sweet” embrace of Henry Clay’s program: a national bank, a high tariff, and internal improvements. This neglect, however, was in keeping with Tucker’s inclination. He was concerned with privilege primarily as it promoted monopoly profits through unfair exchange at the individual level, and not as it affected the overall structure of production. The kind of government intervention that James O’Connor was later to write about, that promoted accumulation and concentration by directly subsidizing the operating costs of big business, largely escaped his notice. Carson believes that Tucker’s four monopolies, and transportation subsidies, created the foundation for the monopoly capitalism and military-industrial-complex of the 20th century.] Ironically, Carson has also noted that the heavy use of this new monopoly by the state may be grounds for optimism that Tucker was unaware of. As, in order to maintain the corporate system, the state has been forced to continually ratchet up the level of subsidies that it provides until it is very close to bankruptcy.

Written by joethebohemian

April 16, 2015 at 11:29 am

Posted in politics

The Many Faces of Libertarianism, Part V: Individualist Anarchists

with 3 comments

The individualist anarchism movement within the anarchist ideology emphasizes the individual and his/her will over external determinants such as groups, society, traditions, and ideological systems. Individualist anarchism is not a single philosophy but refers to a group of individualistic philosophies that sometimes are in conflict. Thereafter, it expanded through Europe and the United States. Benjamin Tucker (to be discussed in Part VI) a famous 19th-century individualist anarchist, held that “if the individual has the right to govern himself, all external government is tyranny”.This particular movement is a crucial ideological bridge connecting the original classical liberal ideas of John Locke and Adam Smith to those of 20th century American capitalist libertarians. The American anarchists described in Part V of my blog are especially influential: Josiah Warren and Lysander Spooner–truly rugged individualists whose lives and works highlighted the stark contrast between the creative enterprising individual and the oppressive stifling state.

 In his 2007 book: Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, self-described libertarian (in the modern American capitalist sense) author, Brian Doherty,  discusses the highly influential individualist American anarchists along with many other historical figures whom he deems important to the evolution of libertarianism leading up to America’s 20th century libertarian “radicals for capitalism”. The American individualist anarchists represented a small but ultimately important sidestream in what Doherty calls “19th century American radicalism” and they shared a passionate belief in the moral illegitimacy of the state. 

Doherty’s interview upon writing Radicals for Capitalism:

Contemporary individualist anarchist Kevin Carson characterizes American individualist anarchism saying that “Unlike the rest of the socialist movement, the individualist anarchists believed that the natural wage of labor in a free market was its product, and that economic exploitation could only take place when capitalists and landlords harnessed the power of the state in their interests. Thus, individualist anarchism was an alternative both to the increasing statism of the mainstream socialist movement, and to a classical liberal movement that was moving toward a mere apologetic for the power of big business.”

Josiah Warren (1798-1874) was the first American anarchist and author of the first anarchist periodical, The Peaceful Revolutionist. In his younger days he joined social utopianist Robert Owen’s communist colony in New Harmony, Indiana, arriving in May of 1825, but leaving after 2 years convinced that the complete individualization of interests was necessary to cooperation. He considered Owen’s experiment “communism” which he rejected in no uncertain terms, but he developed a warm and lasting respect for Robert Owen and his sons.

Like Proudhon, the first self-declared anarchist, Warren chose the path of anarchism and individualism and espoused the principle of sovereignty of the individual and is credited by Benjamin Tucker as “the first man to expound and formulate the doctrine now known as Anarchism”. John Stuart Mill said Warren’s philosophy, “though being a superficial resemblance to some of the project of the Socialists, is diametrically opposed to them in principle, since it recognizes no authority whatever in Society, over the individual, except to enforce equal freedom of development for all individuals.”

Warren’s individualistic philosophy arose out of his rejection of Owen’s communist movement from having participated in it and witnessing in person its failure. He wrote: “It seemed that the difference of opinions, tastes, and purposes increased just in proportion to the demand for conformity… It appeared that it was nature’s own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us… Our ‘united interests’ were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances and the instinct of self-preservation.” He said there should be absolutely no community of property and all property should be individualized, and “those who advocated any type of communism with connected property, interests, and responsibilities were doomed to failure because of the individuality of the persons involved in such an experiment.”

Josiah Warren wrote in his manifesto: “The formation of societies or any other artificial combinations IS the first, greatest, and most fatal mistake ever commited by legislators and reformers. That all these combinations require the surrender of the natural sovereignty of the INDIVIDUAL over her or his person, time, property, and responsibilities, to the government of the combination. That this tends to prostrate the individual—To reduce him to a mere piece of a machine ; involving others in responsibility for his acts, and being involved in responsibilities for the acts and sentiments of his associates ; he lives & acts, without proper control over his own affairs, without certainty as to the results of his actions, and almost without brains that he dares to use on his own account; and consequently never realizes the great objects for which society is professedly formed.”

He believed that goods and services should trade according to how much labor was exerted to produce them and bring them to market, instead of according to how individuals believed them to be subjectively worth. Therefore, he “proposed a system to pay people with certificates indicating how many hours of work they did. They could exchange the notes at local time stores for goods that took the same amount of time to produce.” To charge more labor for something that entailed less labor was “cannibalism,” according to him. Moreover, he believed that trading according to “cost the limit of price” would promote increasing efficiency in an economy. He set up an experimental “labor for labor” store in Cincinnati where trade was facilitated by notes backed by a promise to perform labor. The store operated successfully for 3 years.

Brian Doherty views Warren’s “antistate radicalism” as arising in a different intellectual climate from that of mid-20th Century American libertarianism but finds modern libertarians would give “enthusiastic nods of assent” to his individualism. Both Warren and Proudhon saw themselves leading a worldwide socialist revolution, which is alien to the main thrust of 20th century American libertarianism. The main goal for these two individualist anarchists’ movement was to eliminate the causes of exploitation and repression that keep the laborer from what is properly his. As an anarchist contrary to statist socialists like Marx, eliminating the state was the clearest, most just path toward the goal of individual sovereignty.

The illustrious individualist anarchist, Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) is the most revered by modern libertarians, according to Doherty. Spooner became an enemy of the state early on and succeeded in repealing a state statute that prevented him from getting a law degree without attending college. Before beginning his copious writings on the criminal nature of the state, he practiced some competitive anarchism: running a private post office. Spooner’s American Letter Mail Company, launched in 1844, was cheaper and more efficient than its government competition, and was driven out of business by Congress. For those who want to explain Spooner’s relentless assaults on every ethical excuse for the government as arising from personal pique, one could look to that, and to the fact that the state of Ohio drained a river and damaged the land that Spooner owned on the shore.

Spooner attained his greatest fame as a figure in the abolitionist movement. His most famous work, a book titled The Unconstitutionality of Slavery to great acclaim by many abolutionists. From the publication of this book until 1861 Spooner actively campaigned against slavery. In the late 1850’s, copies of his book were distributed to Congress sparking some debate over their contents. Even Senator Albert Gallatin Brown of Mississippis, a slavery proponent, praised the argument’s intellectual rigor and conceded it was the most formidable challenge he had seen from the abolutionists to date. In 1858, Spooner circulated a “Plan for the Abolition of Slavery”, calling for the use of guerrilla warfare against slaveholders by black slaves and non-slaveholding free Southerners, with aid from Northern abolitionists. Spooner also conspired wih John Brown to promote a servile insurrection in the South, and participated in an aborted plot to free Brown after his capture following the failed raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). 

Although he denounced the institution of slavery, Spooner recognized the right of the Confederate States of America to secede as the manifestation of government by consent, a constitutional and legal principle fundamental to Spooner’s philosophy; the Northern states, in contrast, were trying to deny the Southerners that right through military force.  He vociferously opposed the Civil War, arguing that it violated the right of the southern states to secede from a Union that no longer represented them”. He believed they were attempting to restore the Southern states to the Union, against the wishes of Southerners. He argued that the right of the states to secede derives from the natural right of slaves to be free. This argument was unpopular in the North and in the South after the War began, as it conflicted with the official position of both governments. 

Spooner advocated for people to be self-employed so they could fully enjoy the fruits of their labor rather than share them with an employer. He was opposed to the government intervening in the free market to make it difficult for people to start their own businesses. He opposed laws against usury because those with capital needed compensation for the high risk of not being repaid. In order for the worker to obtain capital on credit, it is necessary that he be allowed to contract for such a rate of interest as will induce that man with surplus capital, to afford to make the loan, for the capitalist cannot, consistently with natural law, be compelled to loan his capital against his will. All legislative restraints upon the rate of interest, are, therefore, nothing less than arbitrary and tyrannical restraints upon a man’s natural capacity amid natural right to hire capital, upon which to bestow his labor.The effect of usury laws, then, is to give a monopoly of the right of borrowing money, to those few, who can offer the most approved security.

Part VI will delve into the important contributions of the American individualist anarchist, Benjamin Tucker, whose voluminous output merits its own blog post. 

Written by joethebohemian

April 13, 2015 at 12:37 am

Posted in politics

The Many Faces of Libertarianism, Part IV: Anarchism and Libertarian Socialism

leave a comment »

Now it’s time to get back to anti-capitalist libertarianism, which can be called both anarchism and libertarian socialism. The last two installments, Parts II and III, focused on classical liberalism and the political events surrounding it, so that some form of representative government with a parliament answerable to the people replaces an absolutist monarchy where kings acted like dictators. The historical context was one where feudalism was giving way to capitalism and getting the government to serve the capitalists, the owners of property whom John Locke was addressing with his classical liberalism triad of life, liberty, and property.

Contrary to the capitalist libertarianism most of us are accustomed to in the United States, the original French version of libertarianism was “socialist” in that the means of production were to be socially owned and run, that is, by the workers cooperating with one another in contrast to the hierarchical capitalist system. Furthermore, there is anti-state socialism or anarchism versus the state socialism of Marx. So the French libertarians of the 1800’s were anti-state anti-capitalist socialists who called themselves both anarchists and libertarian socialists. The French word libertaire was used to evade the French ban on anarchist publications. In this tradition, the terms “libertarianism” and “libertarian socialism” are generally used as synonyms for anarchism, derived from the Greek ἀναρχία, i.e. (from ἄναρχος, anarchos, meaning “one without rulers”

The first modern proponent of anarchism, under the influence of the French Revolution, was Englishman William Godwin (1756-1836) whose aim was the complete overthrow of all existing political, social, and religious institutions. He said monarchy was unavoidably corrupt and he desired a government of the simplest construction, came to consider “government by its very nature counteracts the improvement of the original mind”. He argued that government is a corrupting force in society, perpetuating dependence and ignorance, but that it will be rendered increasingly unnecessary and powerless by the gradual spread of knowledge and the expansion of human understanding. He follows Tom Paine’s view in Common Sense that “society is in every state a blessing… government even in its best state is but a necessary evil” by seeing society as antecedent to government with its principles setting the bounds of its legitimacy.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) was the first person to declare himself an anarchist, founder of the mutualist philosophy, considered by many to be the “father of anarchism”. Hubert Largardelle credits Proudhon with being the first anarcho-syndicalist. The syndicalist school of anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism, states the state’s primary purpose is to protect private property and therefore economic, social, and political privilege, thereby denying most citizens  the material independence and social autonomy enjoyed by the aristocrats running the state. The workers organize and govern themselves in solidarity, through direct action and direct democracy. Anarcho-syndicalists maintain that a Marxist “worker’s state” cannot be successful in serving the workers over the ruling capitalist elites. The state will inevitably empower itself or the existing elite at the expense of the workers.

Proudhon is famous for saying “property is theft” which meant that the landowner or capitalist stole profits from the workers. He favored workers’ associations or co-operatives, as well as individual worker/peasant possession, over private ownership or nationalization of land and workplaces. He considered social revolution to be achievable in a peaceful manner.

He clarified that anarchy is order without power and that property is freedom, referring to property as the product of an individual’s labor. In fact, he regarded labor as the only legal innate source of property. What one produces is his property and anything beyond that is not, asserted Proudhon. He declared property defined as such is the only power that can act as a counterweight to the state. As an anti-capitalist or libertarian socialist he favored collective ownership of the means of production.

He was not a communist and strenuously rejected the ownership of the products of labor by society. “The right means is common; the right to product is exclusive”. He called the use-ownership “possession” and his economic system mutualism. He opposed both capitalism and state ownership of property, arguing for small-scale property ownership associated with peasants and artisans.. He believed that property should be equally distributed and limited to size to that actually used by individuals, families, and workers’ associations. In his vision, self-employed artisans, peasants, and cooperatives would trade their products on the market. For Proudhon, factories and other large workplaces would be run by “labor associations” operating on directly democratic principles. The state would be abolished; instead, society would be organized by a federation of “free communes” (a commune is a local municipality in French). In 1863 Proudhon said: “All my economic ideas as developed over twenty-five years can be summed up in the words: agricultural-industrial federation. All my political ideas boil down to a similar formula: political federation or decentralization.”

Proudhon opposed the charging of interest and rent, but did not seek to abolish them by law: “I protest that when I criticized… the complex of institutions of which property is the foundation stone, I never meant to forbid or suppress, by sovereign decree, ground rent and interest on capital. I think that all these manifestations of human activity should remain free and voluntary for all: I ask for them no modifications, restrictions or suppressions, other than those which result naturally and of necessity from the universalization of the principle of reciprocity which I propose.

Proudhon criticized the authoritarian socialists of his time period, including the state socialist Louis Blanc. He made few public criticisms of Marx who at that time was a relatively minor thinker. Proudhon’s book What is Property?influenced the young Karl Marx’s ideas on the abolition of private property.

Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy, written as a refutation of Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Poverty, was the beginning of a historic rift between libertarian and authoritarian Socialists and between anarchists and Marxists. After Proudhon’s death, the First International Working Men’s Association dissolved in the feud between Marx and Proudhon’s disciple Mikhail Bakunin. After Bakunin’s death, his libertarian socialism diverged into anarchist communism and collectivist anarchism, with notable proponents such as Peter Kropotkin and Joseph Déjacque.

Proudhon also clashed with Joseph Déjacque, the anarcho-communist noted in Part I as the first self-described libertarian. Proudhon emphasized the worker is entitled to the product of his labor whereas Déjacque said
“It is not the product of his or her labor that the worker has a right to, but to the satisfaction of his or her needs, whatever may be their nature.

There are other important anarchists we’ll see in Part V. 

Written by joethebohemian

April 8, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Posted in politics, Uncategorized

The Many Faces of Libertarianism, Part III: The Birth of the Constitutional Monarchy

with 2 comments

I have put forth the notion that libertarianism has many faces, ranging from anti-capitalist to pro-capitalist. The last installment, Part II, was essentially the first part of examining historical events contributing to classical liberalism which was specific to Great Britain and its political turbulence in the 1600’s. Ideologues like John Locke and Adam Smith responded to this turbulence with their ideas of government and economics. The events and the thinkers responding to the events lived where capitalism began, Great Britain. 

My generic all-purpose definition of “libertarian” is anyone wanting an alternative to absolutist despotism which in current time refers to the coalescence of a crony-capitalist cabal and the elected government officials of the United States more inclined to serve the cabal than the “99%”. The libertarian alternative to despotism is comprised of individuals who govern themselves or seek a government based on their consent. Classical liberalism which is the ideological basis of the capitalist version of libertarianism currently in vogue in the United States. This is different from the socialist or anarchist types of libertarianism that came about in the wake of the French Revolution. In order to see the common ground for all types of libertarianism I look at the absolutist monarchies of both England and France, both of which had kings who claimed the “divine right of kings” where God is claimed to have chosen someone as His representative on earth to rule a nation. France’s famous King Louis XIV (reigned from 1643 to 1715) ruled as the prototype of absolutism having said “L’état, c’est moi” meaning “I am the state”. His heirs, Louis XV and XVI carried on the absolutist tradition until Louis XVI was guillotined in 1793.

England’s King Charles I, the arrogant absolutist, was not able to get along with his parliament and even suspended it from 1629 to 1640 and was beheaded in 1649 after his side, the Royalists, lost to the Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell and the monarchy was replaced by what was termed a “republic” or “Commonwealth” led by Cromwell and the grandees (senior members) of his New Model Army. There were various smaller versions of Parliament: Rump, Barebones, and the Protectorate. In 1653 this Rump Parliament was dissolved because Cromwell couldn’t get along with it and he became “Lord Protector” until his death in 1658 when his son, Richard, succeeded him as Lord Protector but was removed by the Grandees of his dad’s New Model Army in May 1659 and the Rump Parliament was reinstalled.  Attempts to restore the monarchy started on 4 April 1660, Scottish General George Monck sent a secret message to Charles II who then issued the Declaration of Breda, which made known the conditions of his acceptance of the crown of England. Monck organised the Convention Parliament which met for the first time on 25 April. On 8 May it proclaimed that King Charles II had been the lawful monarch since the execution of  Charles I in January 1649. Charles returned from exile on 23 May. He entered London on 29 May. To celebrate “his Majesty’s Return to his Parliament” May 29 was made a public holiday, popularly known as Oak Apple Day. He was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661.

The tale of classical liberalism continues in Part III.  King James II (reigned 1685-1688) was England’s last Catholic king and he abused his power, alienating many of his subjects. He enlarged the standing army.  This alarmed his subjects, not only because of the trouble soldiers caused in the towns, but because it was against the English tradition to keep a professional army in peacetime. Like a dictator, James suspended Parliament in November 1685, never to meet again in his reign. The proverbial “last straw” was when his wife, Queen Mary, finally gave birth to a Roman Catholic son and heir, James Francis Edward in June of 1688. Prior to that his 2 successors were his two protestant daughters, but the birth of the son opened up the possibility of a permanent Catholic dynasty and the Anglicans were having none of this. On June 30, 1688, a group of 7 Protestant nobles invited William, Prince of Orange, Charles I’s grandson and James II’s son in law to come to England with an army.

The inability of James II to work with Parliament, combined with his reckless Catholic appointments, brought both the political and religious spheres of the monarchy under fire again. The situation reached its climax in 1688. James established an alliance with Catholic France; arrested Archbishop Sancroft and six other bishops for failing to proclaim the Catholic faith; tampered with private property and historic rights; and produced a male heir after abandoning Anglicanism for Catholicism, which destroyed Parliament’s hopes that the crown would pass to the Protestant children of James’ first marriage. Parliament appealed to William of Orange, urging him to save England from a Catholic takeover. William gathered his forces and landed in England in November of 1688. William’s professional troops and the welcome they received from the English landholders intimidated James. James was captured while fleeing from London, but William ensured him safe passage to France. James, feeling alone and realizing his lack of popular support, abdicated and accepted his exile in France. James made one attempt to regain the crown, but his French and Irish forces were soundly defeated at the Battle of Boyne and James returned to France to live the rest of his life in exile.

Parliament, although victorious in unseating James, was faced with a dilemma. They wanted the throne to be the sole possession of Mary, with William serving as Prince Consort, but Mary refused due to her self-imposed subservience to her husband. William was reluctant to accept the throne by means of conquest, preferring to be named king by Parliament through birthright. Parliament succumbed to the wishes of William and Mary, and the pair acceded as co-rulers. As the reign unfolded, however, Parliament’s original plan became the reality of the situation. William was considerably more concerned with his holdings and the Protestant-Catholic conflicts on the continent, leaving Mary behind in England to rule. William and the English populace were conspicuously indifferent to each other, but Mary loved England and the English people loved her.William was married to James’ daughter, Mary, and was the grandson of Charles I, and importantly he was a Protestant and the desired successor to James II by those parliament members opposed to him.  William landed at Torbay on 5 November 1688, in 463 ships unopposed by the Royal Navy, and with an army of 14,000 troops which gathering local support grew to over 20,000 and advanced on London in what became known as ‘The Glorious Revolution’. James fled to France, and in February 1689 William and his wife were crowned King William III and Queen Mary II. Parliament passed the Bill of Rights which prevented Catholics for succeeding to the throne ensuring that Mary’s sister Anne would become the next queen, and after the autocratic rules of Kings Charles II and his brother James II limited the powers of monarchs so that they could neither pass laws nor levy taxes with parliamentary consent.

William’s intentions to invade were public knowledge by September 168 With a Dutch army, William landed at Brixham in southwest England on 5 November 1688. He came ashore from the ship Brill, proclaiming “the liberties of England and the Protestant religion I will maintain”. William had come ashore with approximately 11,000-foot and 4,000 horse soldiers. James’s support began to dissolve almost immediately upon William’s arrival; Protestant officers defected from the English army (the most notable of whom was Lord Churchill of Evemouth, James’s most able commander), and influential noblemen across the country declared their support for the invader. James at first attempted to resist William, but saw that his efforts would prove futile. He sent representatives to negotiate with William, but secretly attempted to flee on 11 December. A group of fishermen caught him and brought him back to London. He was allowed to escape to France in a second attempt on 23 December. William permitted James to leave the country, not wanting to make him a martyr for the Roman Catholic cause.

The political reaction to a Catholic absolutist king was to give parliament much more power and the consent of the governed is through parliament’s representing the English people. The rule of law was placed above the arbitrary whims of someone acting like a dictator “on behalf of God”.

The Bill of Rights

In February 1689, Parliament, with Tories and Whigs participating created the Declaration of Rights. In December this was amended and became the Bill of Rights, a bill that embodied terms of Parliament’s offer to William and Mary to rule as joint sovereigns. It was a list of grievances against James II, laws agreed to by William and Mary. In accordance with these new laws,

  • Parliament was to meet frequently.
  • The crown retained the right to veto bills and to pardon whomever he or she chose.
  • Freedom of speech was guaranteed.
  • The crown was not allowed to interfere in the selection of members of Parliament.
  • The crown was to keep no standing army without the consent of Parliament.
  • People had the right to petition government.
  • People were to be free from cruel and unusual punishments, and they were guaranteed freedom from excessive bail.

 In the euphoria of a bloodless revolution and unity against Catholicism, Parliament also passed the Toleration Act: people were no longer to be punished if they were not members of the Church of England, and people were not to be compelled to become members of the Church of England.

To sum things up, the Glorious Revolution enabled England to move from absolutism to a Constitutional monarchy and the ideas of classical liberalism began to be translated into actual government. This happened a full 100 years before the French Revolution which inspired the socialists and anarchists to respond with their own ideas of liberty and government some of whom called themselves “libertarian”.

Written by joethebohemian

April 4, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized