Bohemian Tangents

This site is my primary blogging place.

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

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I see (read) a lot of selfish people supporting individuality at the cost of the many like the Paul family does in regards to civil rights. The right of the confederate states to have slaves? That is a crime.

    That’s what I dislike about so many libertarians: the selfishness and the greed. No wonder so many Americans like that ideology. PTxS


    April 15, 2015 at 11:05 am

    • These American individualists are the rugged pioneer types, maybe not as selfish and not really the capitalist shills like the Ron Paul fans because they were part of he agrarian-era America when few people lived in the cities. But you can see them moving toward the 20th century capitalist libertarian movement


      April 16, 2015 at 7:43 am

      • Okay. I mostly meant Spooner and Doherty and the antistatists. PTxS

        Thomas Snograss

        April 22, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: