Libertarianism and socialism once looked alike. Tucker shows the Socialists’ error: they became infected by statism.

Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One

Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One

Part Five: Socialism

Socialism: What It Is.

(published in Liberty on May 17, 1884)

“Do you like the word Socialism?” said a lady to me the other day; “I fear I do not; somehow I shrink when I hear it. It is associated with so much that is bad! Ought we to keep it?”

The lady who asked this question is an earnest Anarchist, a firm friend of Liberty, and—it is almost superfluous to add—highly intelligent. Her words voice the feeling of many. But after all it is only a feeling, and will not stand the test of thought. “Yes,” I answered, “it is a glorious word, much abused, violently distorted, stupidly misunderstood, but expressing better than any other the purpose of political and economic progress, the aim of the Revolution in this century, the recognition of the great truth that Liberty and Equality, through the law of Solidarity, will cause the welfare of each to contribute to the welfare of all. So good a word cannot be spared, must not be sacrificed, shall not be stolen.”

How can it be saved? Only by lifting it out of the confusion which obscures it, so that all may see it clearly and definitely, and what it fundamentally means. Some writers make Socialism inclusive of all efforts to ameliorate social conditions. Proudhon is reputed to have said something of the kind. However that may be, the definition seems to broad. Etymologically it is not unwarrantable, but derivatively the word has a more technical and definite meaning.

To‐​day (pardon the paradox!) society is fundamentally anti social. The whole so‐​called social fabrice [sic] rests on privilege and power, and is disordered and strained in every direction by the inequalities that necessarily result therefrom. The welfare of each, instead of contributing to that of all, as it naturally should and would, almost invariably detracts from that of all. Wealth is made by legal privilege a hook with which to filch from labor’s pockets. Every man who gets rich thereby makes his neighbor poor. The better off one is, the worse off the rest are. As Ruskin says, “every grain of calculated Increment to the rich is balanced by its mathematical equivalent of Decrement to the poor.” The Laborer’s Deficit is precisely equal to the Capitalist’s Efficit.

Now, Socialism wants to change all this. Socialism says that what’s one man’s meat must no longer be another’s poison; that no man shall be able to add to his riches except by labor; that in adding to his riches by labor alone no man makes another man poorer; that on the contrary every man thus adding to his riches makes every other man richer; that increase and concentration of wealth through labor tend to increase, cheapen, and vary production; that every increase of capital in the hands of the laborer tends, in the absence of legal monopoly, to put more products, better products, cheaper products, and a greater variety of products within the reach of every man who works; and that this fact means the physical, mental, and moral perfecting of mankind, and the realization of human fraternity. Is that not glorious? Shall a word that means all that be cast aside simply because some have tried to wed it with authority? By no means. The man who subscribes to that, whatever he may think himself, whatever he may call himself, however bitterly he may attack the thing which he mistakes for Socialism, is himself a Socialist; and the man who subscribes to its opposite and acts upon its opposite, however benevolent he may be, however pious he may be, whatever his station in society, whatever his standing in the Church, whatever his position in the State, is not a Socialist, but a Thief. For there are at bottom but two classes,—the Socialists and the Thieves. Socialism, practically, is war upon usury in all its forms, the great Anti‐​Theft Movement of the nineteenth century; and Socialists are the only people to whom the preachers of morality have no right or occasion to cite the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal!” That commandment is Socialism’s flag. Only not as a commandment, but as a law of nature. Socialism does not order; it prophesies. It does not say: “Thou shalt not steal!” It says: “When all men have Liberty, thou wilt not steal.”

Why, then, does my lady questioner shrink when she hears the word Socialism? I will tell her. Because a large number of people, who see the evils of usury and are desirous of destroying them, foolishly imagine they can do so by authority, and accordingly are trying to abolish privilege by centring all production and activity in the State to the destruction of competition and its blessings, to the degradation of the individual, and to the putrefaction of Society. They are well‐​meaning but misguided people, and their efforts are bound to prove abortive. Their influence is mischievous principally in this: that a large number of other people, who have not yet seen the evils of usury and do not know that Liberty will destroy them, but nevertheless earnestly believe in Liberty for Liberty’s sake, are led to mistake this effort to make the State the be‐​all and end‐​all of society for the whole of Socialism and the only Socialism, and, rightly horrified at it, to hold it up as such to the deserved scorn of mankind. But the very reasonable and just criticisms of the individualists of this stripe upon State Socialism, when analyzed, are found to be directed, not against the Socialism, but against the State. So far Liberty is with them. But Liberty insists on Socialism, nevertheless,—on true Socialism, Anarchistic Socialism: the prevalence on earth of Liberty, Equality, and Solidarity. From that my lady questioner will never shrink.

Armies That Overlap.

(published in Liberty on March 8, 1890)

Of late the Twentieth Century has been doing a good deal in the way of definition. Now, definition is very particular business, and it seems to me that it is not always performed with due care in the Twentieth Century office.

Take this, for instance: A Socialist is “one who believes that each industry should be co‐​ordinated for the mutual benefit of all concerned under a government by physical force.”

It is true that writers of reputation have given definitions of Socialism not differing in any essential from the foregoing,—among others, General Walker. But it has been elaborately proven in these columns that General Walker is utterly at sea when he talks about either Socialism or Anarchism. As a matter of fact this definition is fundamentally faulty, and correctly defines only State Socialism.

An analogous definition in another sphere would be this: Religion is belief in the Messiahship of Jesus. Supposing this to be a correct definition of the Christian religion, none the less it is manifestly incorrect as a definition of religion itself. The fact that Christianity has overshadowed all other forms of religion in this part of the world gives it no right to a monopoly of the religious idea. Similarly, the fact that State Socialism during the last decade or two has overshadowed other forms of Socialism gives it no right to a monopoly of the Socialistic idea.

Socialism, as such, implies neither liberty nor authority. The word itself implies nothing more than harmonious relationship. In fact, it is so broad a term that it is difficult of definition. I certainly lay claim to no special authority or competence in the matter. I simply maintain that the word Socialism having been applied for years, by common usage and consent, as a generic term to various schools of thought and opinion, those who try to define it are bound to seek the common element of all these schools and make it stand for that, and have no business to make it represent the specific nature of any one of them. The Twentieth Century definition will not stand this test at all.

Perhaps here is one that satisfies it: Socialism is the belief that progress is mainly to be effected by acting upon man through his environment rather than through man upon his environment.

I fancy that this will be criticised as too general, and I am inclined to accept the criticism. It manifestly includes all who have any title to be called Socialists, but possibly it does not exclude all who have no such title.

Let us narrow it a little: Socialism is the belief that the next important step in progress is a change in man’s environment of an economic character that shall include the abolition of every privilege whereby the holder of wealth acquires an anti‐​social power to compel tribute.

I doubt not that this definition can be much improved, and suggestions looking to that end will be interesting; but it is at least an attempt to cover all the forms of protest against the existing usurious economic system. I have always considered myself a member of the great body of Socialists, and I object to being read out of it or defined out of it by General Walker, Mr. Pentecost, or anybody else, simply because I am not a follower of Karl Marx.

Take now another Twentieth Century definition,—that of Anarchism. I have not the number of the paper in which it was given, and cannot quote it exactly. But it certainly made belief in co‐​operation an essential of Anarchism. This is as erroneous as the definition of Socialism. Co‐​operation is no more an essential of Anarchism than force is of Socialism. The fact that the majority of Anarchists believe in co‐​operation is not what makes them Anarchists, just as the fact that the majority of Socialists believe in force is not what makes them Socialists. Socialism is neither for nor against liberty; Anarchism is for liberty, and neither for nor against anything else. Anarchy is the mother of co-operation,—yes, just as liberty is the mother of order; but, as a matter of definition, liberty is not order nor is Anarchism co‐​operation.

I define Anarchism as the belief in the greatest amount of liberty compatible with equality of liberty; or, in other words, as the belief in every liberty except the liberty to invade.

It will be observed that, according to the Twentieth Century definitions, Socialism excludes Anarchists, while, according to Liberty’s definitions, a Socialist may or may not be an Anarchist, and an Anarchist may or may not be a Socialist. Relaxing scientific exactness, it may be said, briefly and broadly, that Socialism is a battle with usury and that Anarchism is a battle with authority. The two armies—Socialism and Anarchism—are neither coextensive nor exclusive; but they overlap. The right wing of one is the left wing of the other. The virtue and superiority of the Anarchistic Socialist—or Socialistic Anarchist, as he may prefer to call himself—lies in the fact that he fights in the wing that is common to both. Of course there is a sense in which every Anarchist may be said to be a Socialist virtually, inasmuch as usury rests on authority, and to destroy the latter is to destroy the former. But it scarcely seems proper to give the name Socialist to one who is such unconsciously, neither desiring, intending, nor knowing it.

Socialism and the Lexicographers.

(published in Liberty on January 30, 1892)

Liberty is informed that the Collectivists expect to prove their claim to a monopoly of the name Socialism by reference to the Century Dictionary as an indisputable authority. They will find that the Anarchistic Socialists are not to be stripped of one half of their title by the mere dictum of the last lexicographer. If the dictionary‐​makers were in substantial agreement in making Socialism exclusive of Anarchism, the demand that Anarchists should cease to call themselves Socialists might be made with some grace. But that there is no approach to unanimity among them on this point will be seen from the following definitions of Socialism taken from various cyclopædias and dictionaries, for the compilation of which Liberty is largely indebted to the industry of Comrade Trinkaus.

Stormonth’s Dictionary of the English Language:

That system which has for its object the reconstruction of society as the basis of a community of property, and association instead of competition in every branch of human industry; communion.


The science of reconstructing society on entirely new bases, by substituting the principle of association for that of competition in every branch of human industry.

In the various forms under which society has existed, private property, individual industry and enterprise, and the right of marriage and the family have been recognized. Of late years several schemes of social arrangement have been proposed, in which one or all of these principles have been abandoned or modified. These schemes may be comprehended under the general term Socialism.

Allgemeine deutsche Real‐​Encyklopädie:

The body of teachings developed into a system which aim at removing the evils of existing society by the establishment of a social order based on a new distribution of wealth, labor, and industry, and thereby creating the lasting welfare of all, but especially of the classes without capital, within a general grand development of humanity.

Globe Encyclopædia:

A term which is practically synonymous with Communism, though, strictly speaking, there is distinction between the two words, which is explained in the article Communism.

Communism means the negation of private property; it describes a society in which the land and instruments of production would be held as joint property and used for the common account, industry being regulated by a magistrate, and the produce being publicly divided in equal shares, or according to wants, or one some other principle of distributive justice.

Socialism does not necessarily involve the abolition of private property; it merely insists … that the land and instruments of production should be the property of the association or government.


A theory or system of social reform which contemplates a complete reconstruction of society, with a more just and equitable distribution of labor.

Encyclopædia Americana:

Socialism, in general, may be described as that movement which seeks by economic changes to destroy all existing inequalities of the world’s social conditions. … Into all Socialistic schemes the idea of governmental change enters, with this radical difference, however: some Socialists rely upon the final abolition of existing forms of government and seek the establishment of a pure democracy, while others insist upon giving to government a paternal form, thus increasing its function instead of diminishing it.

Encyclopædia Britannica:

A new form of social organization, based on a fundamental change in the economic order of society. Socialists believe that the present economic order, in which industry is carried on by private competitive capital, must and ought to pass away, and that the normal economic order of the future will be one with collective means of production and associated labor working for the general good. [The Britannica, in the same article, cataloguing the varities of Socialism, includes in the list Anarchism, of which it calls Proudhon the acknolwedged father.]

Meyer’s Konversations‐​Lexicon:

Literally a system of social organization, commonly a designation for all those teachings and aspirations which contemplate a radical change of the existing social and economical order, in favor of a new order more in harmony with the requirements of the general welfare and the sense of justice than the existing order.

Sander’s Wörterbuch der deutscher Sprache:

A system according to which civil society is to be founded on the community of labor and the proportional distribution of the product.

Johnson’s Universal Cyclopædia:

Socialism holds an intermediate position between pure Communism and simple co‐​operation. Unlike Communism, it does not advocate the absolute abolition of property, but aims simply at a more just and equitable distribution of it. Every man according to his capacity, and every capacity according to its work, is the great maxim laid down by Saint Simon, and to carry out this maxim is the great goal of all Socialistic movements.

Chambers’s Encyclopædia:

The name given to a class of opinions opposed to the present organization of society, and which seeks to introduce a new distribution of property and labor, in which organized co‐​operation rather than competition should be the dominating principle.

American Cyclopædia:

The doctrine that society ought to be organized on more harmonious and equitable principles. Communism and co‐​operation are its principal divisions or varieties. Communism and Socialism are sometimes used as synonymous; but generally the former term refers to the plans of social reform based on or embracing the doctrine of a complete community of goods. Co‐​operation is understood to be that branch of Socialism which is engaged exclusively with theories of labor and methods of distributing profits, and which advocates a combination of many to gain advantages not to be realized by individuals. Viewed as a whole, Socialistic doctrines have dealt with everything that enters into the life of the individual, the family, the Church, or the State, whether industrially, morally, or spiritually.

Universal Cyclopædia:

A system which, in opposition to the competitive system at present prevailing, seeks to reorganize society on the basis, in the main, of a certain secularism in religion, of community of interest, and in co‐​operation in labor for the common good.

Blackie’s Modern Cyclopædia:

The name applied to various theories of social organization, having for their common aim the abolition of that individual action on which modern societies depend, and the substitution of a regulated system of co‐​operative action. The word Socialism, which originated among the English Communists, and was assumed by them to designate their own doctrines, is now employed in a larger sense, not necessarily implying any system which requires that the land and the instruments of production shall be the property not of individuals, but of communities, or associations, with the view to an equitable distribution of the products.

Lalor’s Cyclopædia of Political Science:

An analysis of this word may be reduced to this: In every human society, whether it advances or retrogrades, modifications more or less profound are always going on,—modifications which are more or less perceptible, and which, with or without the knowledge of such society, act upon its economy. Apparently such a society remains the same; but in reality it is daily affected by changes of which it becomes entirely conscious only after time has fixed them in the habits and customs of the people, and marked them by its sanction. This is the course of civilizations which are being perfected, or which are declining. The honor of a generation is to add something to the inheritance it has received, and to transmit it improved to the generation which comes after it. To employ what has been acquired as an instrument of new acquisition, to advance from the verified to the unknown,—such is the idea of progress as it presents itself to well‐​ordered minds. But such is not the idea of the Socialists. In their eyes the situation given is a false one, and the process too simple. Reforms in detail do not seem to them worthy of attention. They have plans of their own, the first condition of which is to make a tabula rasa of everything that exists, to cast aside existing laws, manners, customs, and all the guarantees of personal property. It seems to them that we have lived thus far under the empire of a misconception, which it is urgent should cease; our globe, according to them, is an anticipated hell, and our civilization a coarse outline only. What is the remedy? There is only one,—to try the treatment of which the Socialists hold the secret. That treatment varies according to the sect. There are Socialists with mild remedies and Socialists with violent remedies; the only difficulty is in the choice. But, with all their differences, there is one point on which they agree,—the formal condemnation of human societies as they are at present constituted, and the necessity of erecting on the ruins of things more conformable to the instincts of man and to his destiny here below.

Century Dictionary:

Any theory or system of social organization which would abolish, entirely or in great part, the individual effort and competition on which modern society rests, and substitute for it co‐​operative action, would introduce a more perfect and equal distribution of the products of labor, and would make land and capital, as the instruments and means of production, the joint possession of the members of the community.

Littre’s Dictionary of the French Language:

A system which, subordinating political reforms, offers a plan of social reforms. Communism, Mutualism, Saint‐​Simonism, Fourierism, are Socialisms.


A political doctrine tending to establish égalitaire association as the basis of government.

Dictionary of the French Academy:

The doctrine of those who desire to change the condition of society and reconstruct it on an entirely new plan.

Cassell & Co.’s Encyclopædic Dictionary (1887):

Scientific Socialism embraces:

  1. Collectivism: An ideal Socialistic state of society, in which the functions of the government will include the organization of all the industries of the country. In a Collectivist State every person would be a State official, and the State would be coextensive with the whole people.
  2. Anarchism (meaning mistrust of government and not abandonment of social order) would secure individual liberty against encroachment on the part of the State in the Socialistic commonwealth. They are divided into Mutualists, who hope to attain their ends by banks of exchange and free currency, and Communists, whose motto is, “From every man according to his capacity, to every man according to his needs.”

From this interesting assortment of broad‐​gauge and narrow‐​gauge definitions the Anarchists can glean as much encouragement as the Collectivists. None of them are authoritative. The makers of dictionaries are dependent upon specialists for their definitions. A specialist’s definition may be true or it may be erroneous. But its truth cannot be increased or its error diminished by its acceptance by the lexicographer. Each definition must stand on its own merits. With this remark as a preface, I offer once more the definition of Socialism which I printed in these columns nearly two years ago, and am willing to am willing to leave it to the reader whether it meets the requirements of a scientific definition more or less satisfactorily than the definitions in the dictionaries:

“Socialism is the belief that the next important step in progress is a change in man’s environment of an economic character that shall include the abolition of every privilege whereby the holder of wealth acquires an anti‐​social power to compel tribute.”