Bohemian Tangents

This site is my primary blogging place.

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

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: