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Sep 1, 1979

American Libertarians

“The most consistent version of right libertarianism was developed by Benjamin Tucker and the circle of writers around Liberty.”

David De Leon
University of Maryland, Baltimore

“Right Libertarianism,” in The American as Anarchist: Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.

The dominant characteristic of “right libertarianism” is opposition to the power of the state. One can distinguish several different varieties of this type of political doctrine, of which individualist anarchism is the most extreme.

The emphasis on individualism in American Literature is noteworthy. For example, Emerson stressed the authority of the self over the state: “with the appearance of the wise man the State expires.” Individualism assumed a more egoistic form in the poetry of Whitman.

Thoreau gave individualism a distinctly political form in his well-known opposition to the paying of a poll-tax. Henry George developed a much more systematic version of individualist politics. His single-tax position,

if carried out, would mean that the state would have little to do beyond collecting the land tax and preserving order.

The most consistent version of right libertarianism was developed by Benjamin Tucker and the circle of writers around Liberty. Tucker’s views express the interests of some small tradesmen and manufacturers. He assumed that no government was necessary. Disputes among individuals would be settled by private bargaining, and, if necessary, by boycotts, Tucker, as well as writers such as Lysander Spooner, emphasized the lack of consent of individuals to the state. Tucker’s views developed out of his youthful experience of the New England reform tradition.