Benjamin Tucker, c. 1908.
April 17, 1854|
South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, United States
June 22, 1939 (aged 85)|
|Occupation||Editor, publisher, writer|
Benjamin Ricketson Tucker (; April 17, 1854 - June 22, 1939) was a 19th-century proponent of American individualist anarchism, which he called "unterrified Jeffersonianism," and editor and publisher of the individualist anarchist periodical Liberty.
Tucker made his editorial debut in libertarian circles in 1876, when Heywood published Tucker's English translation of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's classic work What is Property?. In 1877, Tucker published his first original journal, Radical Review, which ran for only four issues. 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". In 1892, he moved the Liberty from Boston to New York.
Tucker said that he became an anarchist at the age of 18. Tucker's contribution to American individualist anarchism was as much through his publishing as his own writing. Tucker was also the first to publish an English translation of Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own - which Tucker claimed was his proudest accomplishment. Tucker also translated Mikhail Bakunin's book God and the State. In the anarchist periodical Liberty, he published the original work of Stephen Pearl Andrews, Joshua K. Ingalls, Lysander Spooner, Auberon Herbert, Dyer Lum, Victor Yarros, and Lillian Harman (daughter of the free love anarchist Moses Harman), as well as his own writing.
According to Frank Brooks, an historian of American individualist anarchism, it is easy to misunderstand Tucker's claim to socialism. Before Marxists established a hegemony over definitions of socialism, "the term socialism was a broad concept." Tucker, as well as most of the writers and readers of Liberty, understood socialism to refer to one or more of various theories aimed at solving "the labor problem" through radical changes in the capitalist economy. Descriptions of 'the problem', explanations of its causes, and proposed solutions (for example, abolition of private property, cooperatives, state-ownership, and so on) varied among socialist philosophies.
However, not all modern economists believe Marxists established a hegemony over definitions of socialism. As the modern economist Jim Stanford states:
But capitalism is not the only economic system which relies on markets. Pre-capitalist economies also had markets-where producers could sell excess supplies of agricultural goods or handicrafts, and where exotic commodities (like spices or fabrics) from far-off lands could be purchased. Most forms of socialism also rely heavily on markets to distribute end products and even, in some cases, to organize investment and production. So markets are not unique to capitalism, and there is nothing inherently capitalist about a market.
Karl Marx acknowledged the theory of market socialism, though he strongly disagreed with the theory, especially the theory of Proudhon who happened to be an influence on Tucker's individualist anarchism.
According to James J. Martin, a historian on individualist anarchism, the individualist anarchists (including the views of Tucker and his support for the labor theory of value), made the individualist anarchists and their form of American mutualism an alternative to both capitalism and Marxism.
Tucker said socialism was the claim that "labor should be put in possession of its own," while holding that what "state socialism" and "anarchistic socialism" had in common was the labor theory of value. However, "Instead of asserting, as did..." other "....anarchists, that common ownership was the key to eroding differences of economic power," and appealing to social solidarity, Tucker's individualist anarchism advocated distribution of property in an undistorted natural market, as a mediator of egoistic impulses and a source of social stability.
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.
Tucker first favored a natural rights philosophy, in which an individual had a right to own the fruits of his labor; then he abandoned it in favor of "egoism" (influenced by Max Stirner), in which he believed that only the "right of might" exists, until overridden by contract.
He denounced Marx as the representative of "the principle of authority which we live to combat." He thought Proudhon the superior theorist and the real champion of freedom. "Marx would nationalize the productive and distributive forces; Proudhon would individualize and associate them."
Tucker connected his economic views which included his opposition to non-labor income in the form of profit, interest, and rent with those of Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Josiah Warren and Karl Marx in the following form:
The economic principles of Modern Socialism are a logical deduction from the principle laid down by Adam Smith in the early chapters of his "Wealth of Nations," - namely, that labor is the true measure of price...Half a century or more after Smith enunciated the principle above stated, Socialism picked it up where he had dropped it, and in following it to its logical conclusions, made it the basis of a new economic philosophy...This seems to have been done independently by three different men, of three different nationalities, in three different languages: Josiah Warren, an American; Pierre J. Proudhon, a Frenchman; Karl Marx, a German Jew...That the work of this interesting trio should have been done so nearly simultaneously would seem to indicate that Socialism was in the air, and that the time was ripe and the conditions favorable for the appearance of this new school of thought. So far as priority of time is concerned, the credit seems to belong to Warren, the American, - a fact which should be noted by the stump orators who are so fond of declaiming against Socialism as an imported article. Benjamin Tucker. Individual Liberty
Liberty was a nineteenth-century anarchist periodical published in the United States by Benjamin Tucker, from August 1881 to April 1908. The periodical was instrumental in developing and formalizing the individualist anarchist philosophy through publishing essays and serving as a format for debate. Contributors included Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Gertrude Kelly, Auberon Herbert, Dyer Lum, Joshua K. Ingalls, John Henry Mackay, Victor Yarros, Wordsworth Donisthorpe, James L. Walker, J. William Lloyd, Florence Finch Kelly, Voltairine de Cleyre, Steven T. Byington, John Beverley Robinson, Jo Labadie, Lillian Harman, and Henry Appleton. Included in its masthead is a quote from Pierre Proudhon saying that liberty is "Not the Daughter But the Mother of Order."
Tucker argued that the poor condition of American workers resulted from four legal monopolies based in authority:
His focus, for several decades, became the state's economic control of how trade could take place, and what currency counted as legitimate. He saw interest and profit as a form of exploitation, made possible by the banking monopoly, which was in turn maintained through coercion and invasion. Tucker called any such interest and profit "usury" and he saw it as the basis of the oppression of the workers. In his words,
interest is theft, Rent Robbery, and Profit Only Another Name for Plunder.
Tucker believed that usury was immoral; however, he upheld the right of all people to engage in immoral contracts.
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 would become 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.
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'.
Tucker also 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.
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.
According to Victor Yarros:
He [Tucker] opposed savagely any and all reform movements that had paternalistic aims, and looked to the state for aid and fulfillment...For the same reason, consistent, unrelenting opposition to compulsion, he combated "populism," "greenbackism," the single-tax movement, and all forms of socialism and communism. He denounced and exposed Johann Most, the editor of Freiheit, the anarchist-communist organ. The end, he declared, could never justify the means, if the means were intrinsically immoral - and force, by whomsoever used, was immoral except as a means of preventing or punishing aggression.
Tucker rejected the legislative programs of labor unions, laws imposing a short day, minimum wage laws, forcing businesses to provide insurance to employees, and compulsory pension systems. He believed instead that strikes should be organized by free workers rather than by bureaucratic union officials and organizations. He argued,
strikes, whenever and wherever inaugurated, deserve encouragement from all the friends of labour. . . They show that people are beginning to know their rights, and knowing, dare to maintain them.
as an awakening agent, as an agitating force, the beneficent influence of a strike is immeasurable. . . with our present economic system almost every strike is just. For what is justice in production and distribution? That labour, which creates all, shall have all.
Tucker envisioned an individualist anarchist society as
each man reaping the fruits of his labour and no man able to live in idleness on an income from capital....become[ing] a great hive of Anarchistic workers, prosperous and free individuals [combining] to carry on their production and distribution on the cost principle.
rather than a bureaucratic organization of workers organized into rank and file unions. However, he did hold a genuine appreciation for labor unions (which he called "trades-union socialism"), and saw it as "an intelligent and self-governing socialism" saying, "[they] promise the coming substitution of industrial socialism for usurping legislative mobism."
In Tucker's Individualist Anarchism, governments would exist consisting of any belief, and in any shape, or form but the governments would be supported by voluntary taxation and those who chose not to pay the taxes would not get the benefits or protection of the voluntary government. Historian James Martin states:
The abolition of compulsory taxation would mean the abolition of the state as well, Tucker asserted, and the form of society succeeding it would be on the line of a voluntary defensive institution... There were two methods of government...The other was the anarchist method of "leadership", inducing the individual to the "goal of an ideal civilization" through persuasion and "attraction"...Two aims of anarchist activity, the abolition of compulsory taxation and the abolition of legally-protected money and land monopolies, form the main theme of his critical writing...
Tucker did not have a utopian vision of anarchy, where individuals would not coerce others. He advocated that liberty and property be defended by private institutions. Opposing the monopoly of the state in providing security, he advocated a free market of competing defense providers, saying "defense is a service like any other service; ... it is labor both useful and desired, and therefore an economic commodity, subject to the law of supply and demand."
He said that anarchism
does not exclude prisons, officials, military, or other symbols of force. It merely demands that non-invasive men shall not be made the victims of such force. Anarchism is not the reign of love, but the reign of justice. It does not signify the abolition of force-symbols but the application of force to real invaders.
Tucker expressed that the market-based providers of security would offer protection of land that was being used, and would not offer assistance to those attempting to collect rent:
"The land for the people" . . . means the protection by . . . voluntary associations for the maintenance of justice . . . of all people who desire to cultivate land in possession of whatever land they personally cultivate . . . and the positive refusal of the protecting power to lend its aid to the collection of any rent, whatsoever.
Tucker abandoned natural rights positions and converted to Max Stirner's Egoist anarchism. Rejecting the idea of moral rights, Tucker said that there were only two rights, "the right of might" and "the right of contract." He also said, after converting to Egoist individualism, "In times past...it was my habit to talk glibly of the right of man to land. It was a bad habit, and I long ago sloughed it off....Man's only right to land is his might over it." In adopting Stirnerite egoism (1886), Tucker rejected natural rights which had long been considered the foundation of libertarianism.
This rejection galvanized the movement into fierce debates, with the natural rights proponents accusing the egoists of destroying libertarianism itself. So bitter was the conflict that a number of natural rights proponents withdrew from the pages of Liberty in protest even though they had hitherto been among its frequent contributors. Thereafter, Liberty championed egoism although its general content did not change significantly. This led to a split in American Individualism between the growing number of Egoists and the contemporary Spoonerian "Natural Lawyers". Tucker came to hold the position that no rights exist until they are created by contract. This led him to controversial positions such as claiming that infants had no rights and were the property of their parents, because they did not have the ability to contract. He said that a person, who physically tries to stop a mother from throwing her "baby into the fire", should be punished for violating her property rights. He said that children would shed their status as property, when they became old enough to contract "to buy or sell a house" for example, noting that the precocity varies by age and would be determined by a jury in the case of a complaint.
He also came to believe that aggression towards others was justifiable if doing so led to a greater decrease in "aggregate pain" than refraining from doing so. He said:
the ultimate end of human endeavor is the minimum of pain. We aim to decrease invasion only because, as a rule, invasion increases the total of pain (meaning, of course, pain suffered by the ego, whether directly or through sympathy with others). But it is precisely my contention that this rule, despite the immense importance which I place upon it, is not absolute; that, on the contrary, there are exceptional cases where invasion - that is, coercion of the non-invasive - lessens the aggregate pain. Therefore coercion of the non-invasive, when justifiable at all, is to be justified on the ground that it secures, not a minimum of invasion, but a minimum of pain. . . . [T]o me [it is] axiomatic - that the ultimate end is the minimum of pain
Tucker now said that there were only two rights, "the right of might" and "the right of contract." He also said, after converting to Egoist individualism, that ownership in land is legitimately transferred through force unless contracted otherwise. In 1892, he said "In times past...it was my habit to talk glibly of the right of man to land. It was a bad habit, and I long ago sloughed it off. Man's only right to land is his might over it. If his neighbor is mightier than he and takes the land from him, then the land is his neighbor's, until the latter is dispossessed by one mightier still."
However, he said he believed that individuals would come to the realization that "equal liberty" and "occupancy and use" doctrines were "generally trustworthy guiding principle of action," and, as a result, they would likely find it in their interests to contract with each other to refrain from infringing upon equal liberty and from protecting land that was not in use. Though he believed that non-invasion, and "occupancy and use as the title to land" were general rules that people would find in their own interests to create through contract, he said that these rules "must be sometimes trodden underfoot."
In 1906, he opened Tucker's Unique Book Shop in New York City - promoting "Egoism in Philosophy, Anarchism in Politics, Iconoclasm in Art". In 1908, a fire destroyed Tucker's uninsured printing equipment and his 30-year stock of books and pamphlets. Tucker's lover, Pearl Johnson - 25 years his junior - was pregnant with their daughter, Oriole Tucker. Six weeks after Oriole's birth, Tucker closed both Liberty and the book shop and retired with his family to France. In 1913, he came out of retirement for two years to contribute articles and letters to The New Freewoman which he called "the most important publication in existence."
Later Tucker became much more pessimistic about the prospects for anarchism. In 1926, Vanguard Press published a selection of his writings entitled Individual Liberty, in which Tucker added a postscript to "State Socialism and Anarchism", which stated
Forty years ago, when the foregoing essay was written, the denial of competition had not yet effected the enormous concentration of wealth that now so gravely threatens social order. It was not yet too late to stem the current of accumulation by a reversal of the policy of monopoly. The Anarchistic remedy was still applicable.
But, Tucker argued,
Today the way is not so clear. The four monopolies, unhindered, have made possible the modern development of the trust, and the trust is now a monster which I fear, even the freest banking, could it be instituted, would be unable to destroy. ... If this be true, then monopoly, which can be controlled permanently only for economic forces, has passed for the moment beyond their reach, and must be grappled with for a time solely by forces political or revolutionary. Until measures of forcible confiscation, through the State or in defiance of it, shall have abolished the concentrations that monopoly has created, the economic solution proposed by Anarchism and outlined in the forgoing pages - and there is no other solution... [It] will remain a thing to be taught to the rising generation, that conditions may be favorable to its application after the great leveling. But education is a slow process, and may not come too quickly. Anarchists who endeavor to hasten it by joining in the propaganda of State Socialism or revolution make a sad mistake indeed. They help to so force the march of events that the people will not have time to find out, by the study of their experience, that their troubles have been due to the rejection of competition.
By 1930, Tucker had concluded that centralization and advancing technology had doomed both anarchy and civilization.
The matter of my famous 'Postscript' now sinks into insignificance; the insurmountable obstacle to the realization of Anarchy is no longer the power of the trusts, but the indisputable fact that our civilization is in its death throes. We may last a couple of centuries yet; on the other hand, a decade may precipitate our finish. ... The dark ages sure enough. The Monster, Mechanism, is devouring mankind.
According to James Martin, when referring to the world scene of the mid-1930s in private correspondence, Tucker wrote: "Capitalism is at least tolerable, which cannot be said of Socialism or Communism" and went on to observe that, "under any of these regimes a sufficiently shrewd man can feather his nest.".
Susan Love Brown claims that this unpublished, private letter, which does not distinguish between the anarchist socialism Tucker advocated and the state socialism he criticized, served in "providing the shift further illuminated in the 1970s by anarcho-capitalists."
However, according to the editors of the 1970 edition of individualist anarchist historian James J. Martin's book Men Against the State, the editors state on the back cover they believed a "...new generation has prompted the reissuance of this book..."  pointing to renewed interest in the views of Tucker and the other Individualst Anarchists and their market socialism  rather than capitalism or anarcho-capitalism.
Tucker died in Monaco in 1939, in the company of his family. His daughter, Oriole, reported,
Father's attitude towards communism never changed one whit, nor about religion.... In his last months he called in the French housekeeper. 'I want her,' he said, 'to be a witness that on my death bed I'm not recanting. I do not believe in God!
In the alternate history novel The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith, as part of the North American Confederacy Series in which the United States becomes a libertarian state after a successful Whiskey Rebellion and the overthrowing and execution of George Washington by firing squad for treason in 1794, Tucker served as the 17th President of the North American Confederacy from 1892 to 1912.