Lysander Spooner’s most direct heir introduces his “plumb‐line” primer on individualist, libertarian anarchism.
Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One
Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
Here begins our collection of individualist‐anarchist Benjamin Tucker’s most significant and amusing articles. Instead of a Book, by a Man Too Busy to Write One was Tucker’s attempt to compile two decades of libertarian editorial work into a single, if “fragmentary,” “exposition of philosophical anarchism.” Tucker’s school of thought was young and small, but rapidly growing. His own journal Liberty was in the vanguard of anarchist thought and activism. Tucker spent much of his life navigating the rough intellectual and experiential currents that divided Marxist‐communist and individualist‐libertarian anarchists, and Instead of a Book was intended to be a primer or textbook espousing the “plumb‐line” as Tucker understood it. After the death of Lysander Spooner (or “Nestor,” as Tucker affectionately called him), Tucker was probably the most significant living American anarchist, and no one was better positioned to do such a service for anarchism.
Throughout our series of articles from Instead of a Book, we will often let Tucker stand on his own, without editorial comment. When we do have occasion to place Tucker’s comments within historical context, we will do so; and when appropriate to criticize him, we will do so. As it stands, though, Tucker’s attempt at a primer remains one of the more challenging, relevant, and powerful expositions of libertarian thought there is–and as Tucker himself concludes the Preface, “I challenge the most searching examination of the central positions taken. Undamaged by the constant fire of [a century] of controversy, they are proof, in my judgment, against the heaviest guns.”
“Instead of a book!” I hear the reader exclaim, as he picks up this volume and glances at its title; “why, it is a book.” To all appearance, yes; essentially, no. It is, to be sure, an assemblage within a cover of printed sheets consecutively numbered; but this alone does not constitute a book. A book, properly speaking, is first of all a thing of unity and symmetry, of order and finish; it is a literary structure, each part of which is subordinated to the whole and created for it. To satisfy such a standard this volume does not pretend; it is not a structure, but an afterthought, a more or less coherent arrangement, each part of which was created almost without reference to any other. Yet not quite so, after all; otherwise even the smallest degree of coherence were scarcely possible.
Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One: A Fragmentary Exposition of Philosophical Anarchism
The facts are these. In August, 1881, I started in Boston, in a very quiet way, a little fortnightly journal called Liberty. Its purpose was to contribute to the solution of social problems by carrying to a logical conclusion the battle against authority, – to aid in what Proudhon had called “the dissolution of government in the economic organism.” Beyond the opportunity of thus contributing my mite I looked for little from my experiment. But, almost before I knew it, the tiny paper had begun to exert an influence of which I had not dreamed. It went the wide world over. In nearly every important city, and in many a country town, it found some mind ripe for its reception. Each of these minds became a centre of influence, and in considerably less than a year a specific movement had sprung into existence, under Proudhon’s happily chosen name, Anarchism, of which Liberty was generally recognized as the organ. Since that time, through varying fortunes, the paper has gone on, with slow but steady growth, doing its quiet work. Books inspired by it, and other journals which it called into being, have made their appearance, not only in various parts of the United States, but in England, France, Germany, and at the antipodes. Anarchism is now one of the forces of the world. But its literature, voluminous as it already is, lacks a systematic text‐book. I have often been urged to attempt the task of writing one. Thus far, however, I have been too busy, and there is no prospect that I shall ever be less so. Pending the arrival of the man having the requisite time, means, and ability for the production of the desired book, it has been determined to put forth, as a sort of makeshift, this partial collection of my writings for Liberty, giving them, by an attempt at classification, some semblance of system; the thought being that, if these writings, scattered in bits here, there, and everywhere, have already influenced so many minds, they ought in a compact and cumulative form to influence very many more.
The volume opens with a paper on “State Socialism and Anarchism,” which covers in a summary way nearly the entire scope of the work. Following this is the main section, “The Individual, Society, and the State,” dealing with the fundamental principles of human association. In the third and fourth sections application of these principles is made to the two great economic factors, money and land. In these two sections, moreover, as well as in the fifth and sixth, the various authoritarian social solutions which go counter to these principles are dealt with, – namely, Greenbackism, the Single Tax, State Socialism, and so‐called “Communistic Anarchism.” The seventh section treats of the methods by which these principles can be realized; and in the eighth are grouped numerous articles scarcely within the scheme of classification, but which it has seemed best for various reasons to preserve. For the elaborate index to the whole the readers are indebted to my friends Francis D. Tandy and Henry Cohen, of Denver, Colo.
The matter in this volume is largely controversial. This has frequently necessitated the reproduction of other articles than the author’s (distinguished by a different type), in order to make the author’s intelligible. A volume thus made must be characterized by many faults, both of style and substance. I am too busy, not only to write a book, but also to satisfactorily revise this substitute. With but few and slight exceptions, the articles stand as originally written. Much they contain that is personal and irrelevant, and that would not have found its way into a book specially prepared. It would be strange, too, if in writings covering a period of twelve years there were not some inconsistencies, especially in the terminology and form of expression. For such, if any there be, and for all minor weaknesses, I crave, because of the circumstances, a measure of indulgence from the critic. But, on the other hand, I challenge the most searching examination of the central positions taken. Undamaged by the constant fire of twelve years of controversy, they are proof, in my judgment, against the heaviest guns. Apologizing, therefore, for their form only, and full of faith in their power, I offer these pages to the public INSTEAD OF A BOOK.