Tucker, Benjamin R. (1854-1939)
Benjamin R. Tucker was a writer, an editor, and a publisher. Tucker is arguably the most significant figure in American individualist anarchism. Through his periodical Liberty: Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order, published from 1881 to 1908, Tucker made the case for a stateless society in clear and uncompromising prose. In addition to Tucker’s writings, Liberty published articles by such notable libertarians as Lysander Spooner, Auberon Herbert, and Wordsworth Donisthorpe. It also featured pieces by Irish literary critic George Bernard Shaw and Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, as well as early translations of the work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Tucker’s views, like those of most 19th-century individualist anarchists, seem somewhat eclectic—if not odd—to modern libertarians. The principal reason lies in Tucker’s self-identified socialism. In perhaps his most famous essay, “State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree, and Wherein They Differ,” originally published in March 1886, Tucker argued that individualist anarchism should be viewed as part of the broader socialist movement. But he was quick to draw the distinction between Marxian socialism, which he defined as “the doctrine that all the affairs of men should be managed by the government, regardless of individual choice,” and his own view, “the doctrine that all the affairs of men should be managed by individuals or voluntary associations, and that the State should be abolished.”
Like Marx, Tucker was a proponent of the labor theory of value. But he did not believe that socialism could be achieved through greater state action. In fact, Tucker maintained that socialism required breaking government monopolies in four areas: money, land, tariffs, and patents. Such a program, Tucker argued, would put labor “in possession of its own.” One can trace many of Tucker’s economic theories to his association with Josiah Warren, the author of The Emancipation of Labor, who introduced Tucker to anarchism in his teens. Tucker also drew from the writings of William B. Greene, Ezra Heywood, and Stephen Pearl Andrews.
In addition to discussions of economic reform, Tucker devoted much space in Liberty to debates over natural rights. In its early years, Liberty published many intellectuals who were strongly influenced by the English philosopher Herbert Spencer, such as Henry Appleton, Gertrude Kelly, and M. E. Lazarus, who argued that natural rights provided the proper foundation for libertarian anarchism. Eventually, however, proponents of natural rights theory virtually disappeared from the pages of Liberty as Tucker became more enamored with the egoism of German writer Max Stirner. In fact, in 1907, Tucker, who also owned a bookstore, published the first English translation of Stirner’s The Ego and His Own.
A fire destroyed Tucker’s offices in January 1908, and with it Liberty, which ceased publication with the April 1908 issue. Tucker moved to Europe shortly thereafter, eventually settling in Monaco, where he died on June 22, 1939. In his later years, Tucker became more pessimistic about the chances for libertarian reform. Indeed, according to Wendy McElroy, who has written extensively about individualist anarchism, “It was no longer clear to Tucker that a free market alone could overcome the problems created by a government monopoly.”
Brooks, Frank H., ed. The Individualist Anarchists: An Anthology of Liberty (1881-1908). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1994.
Martin, James J. Men against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827–1908. Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles Publisher, 1970.
McElroy, Wendy. “Benjamin Tucker, Individualism, and Liberty: Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order.” Literature of Liberty 4 no. 3 (Autumn 1981): 7–39.
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