essays

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Nov 1, 1897

After Nestor: A Smattering of Subjects

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

In a troubling set of quotations, Tucker derides age of consent laws, displays plenty of misogyny, and shows more concern for butter than child welfare.

Editor’s Note

As a general rule, our publishing something doesn’t constitute an endorsement—indeed, we frequently publish antithetical opinions on a given topic, or even non-libertarian pieces we think will be of interest to our audience.

I wanted to remind readers of that fact by way of introduction to these selections from Benjamin Tucker’s Instead of a Book, which are presented in the interest of giving a comprehensive profile of the man and his thinking, even when that thinking was deeply mistaken or troubling.

Grant Babcock
Associate Editor, Libertarianism.org

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

Part Two: The Individual, Society, and the State

 

A Word About Capital Punishment.

(first published in Liberty August 30, 1890)

Since the execution of Kemmler, I have seen it stated repeatedly in the press, and especially in the reform press, and even in the Anarchistic press, that the execution was a murder. I have also seen it stated that capital punishment is murder in its worst form. I should like to know upon what principle of human society these assertions are based and justified.

If they are based on the principle that punishment inflicted by a compulsory institution which manufactures the criminals is worse than the crime punished, I can understand them and in some degree sympathize with them. But in that case I cannot see why capital punishment should be singled out for emphatic and exceptional denunciation. The same objection applies as clearly to punishment that simply takes away liberty as to punishment that takes away life.

The use of the word capital makes me suspect that this denunciation rests on some other ground than that which I have just suggested. But what is this ground?

If society has a right to protect itself against such men as Kemmler, as is admitted, why may it not do so in whatever way proves most effective? If it is urged that capital punishment is not the most effective way, such an argument, well sustained by facts, is pertinent and valid. This position also I can understand, and with it, if not laid down as too absolute a rule, I sympathize. But this is not to say that the society which inflicts capital punishment commits murder. Murder is an offensive act. The term cannot be applied legitimately to any defensive act. And capital punishment, however ineffective it may be and through whatever ignorance it may be resorted to, is a strictly defensive act,—at least in theory. Of course, compulsory institutions often make it a weapon of offence, but that does not affect the question of capital punishment per se as distinguished from other forms of punishment.

For one, I object to this distinction unless it is based on rational grounds. In doing so, I am not moved by any desire to defend the horrors of the gallows, the guillotine, or the electric chair. They are as repulsive to me as to any one. And the conduct of the physicians, the ministers, the newspapers, and the officials disgusts me. These horrors all tell most powerfully against the expediency and efficiency of capital punishment. But nevertheless they do not make it murder. I insist that there is nothing sacred in the life of an invader, and there is no valid principle of human society that forbids the invaded to protect themselves in whatever way they can.

 

On Picket Duty.

Bullion thinks that “civilization consists in teaching men to govern themselves and then letting them do it.” A very slight change suffices to make this stupid statement an entirely accurate one, after which it would read: “Civilization consists in teaching men to govern themselves by letting them do it.”—Liberty, August 20, 1881.

People in general, and the governmental Socialists in particular, think they see a new argument in favor of their beloved State in the assistance which it is rendering to the suffering and starving victims of the Mississippi inundation. Well, such work is better than forging new chains to keep the people in subjection, we allow; but it is not worth the price that is paid for it. The people cannot afford to be enslaved for the sake of being insured. If there were no other alternative, they would do better, on the whole, to take Nature’s risks and pay her penalties as best they might. But Liberty supplies another alternative, and furnishes better insurance at cheaper rates. The philosophy of voluntary mutualism is universal in its application, not omitting the victims of natural disaster. Mutual banking, by the organization of credit, will secure the greatest possible production of wealth and its most equitable distribution; and mutual insurance, by the organization of risk, will do the utmost that can be done to mitigate and equalize the suffering arising from its accidental destruction.—Liberty, April 1, 1882.

Democracy has been defined as the principle that “one man is as good as another, if not a little better.” Anarchy may be defined as the principle that one government is as bad as another, if not a little worse.—Liberty, May 12, 1883.

In a lecture in Milwaukee a short time ago Clara Neyman of New York said that “if women could have the right to vote, they would devise better means of reform than those of narrow prohibition.” Yes, indeed; there would be nothing narrow about their prohibition; it would be the broadest kind, including everything from murder to non-attendance at church.—Liberty, May 12, 1883.

Eighteen men and women who had been punished once for all the crimes they had ever been convicted of committing, and against whom there was no shred of evidence of having committed any new crime, or of harboring any intention of committing any new crime, were taken into custody by the New York police on Thursday, August 6, on no pretext whatever save that these persons had the reputation of being professional pick-pockets, and that it was the part of prudence to keep such characters in jail until after the Grant obsequies, when they might be arraigned in court and discharged for want of evidence against them. That is to say, eighteen persons, presumably innocent in the eye of the law, had to be deprived of their liberty and kept in dungeons for four days, in order that some hundreds of thousands of people, half of them numskulls and the other half hypocrites, might not be obliged to keep their hands on their pocket-books while they shed crocodile tears at the grave of one of the foremost abettors of theft and plunder which this century has produced. And the upholders of governments continue to prate of the insecurity that would prevail without them, and to boast of the maxim, while thus violating it, “it is better that ninety-nine guilty men should escape than that one innocent man should suffer.”—Liberty, August 15, 1885…

 “No man who puts any conscience into his voting, or who acts from proper self-respect,” says the Boston Herald, “will consider himself bound to support a dishonest or unfit candidate merely because he was ‘fairly nominated’ by the majority of his party.” But the Herald believes that every man who puts any conscience into his conduct, or who acts from proper self-respect, should consider himself bound to support and obey a dishonest or unfit official merely because he was fairly elected by the majority of his countrymen. Where is the obligation in the latter case more than in the former? “Our country, right or wrong,” is as immoral a sentiment as “our party, right or wrong.” The Herald and its mugwump friends should beware of their admissions. They will find that the “divine right to bolt” leads straight to Anarchy.—Liberty, September 12, 1885.

To the Czar of Russia is due the credit of applying practically to taxation the reductio ad absurdum. Heretofore all his subjects have enjoyed at least the highly estimable privilege of praying for their rights free of cost. Any morning any of them could put in as many petitions as they chose to Alexander himself or any of his ministers for relief from any grievance whatsoever. Now, however, this state of things is no more. The last liberty of the Russian has been taken from him. The right of petition has been made the subject of a tax. Before the aggrieved citizen can make his grievance officially known, he must pay sixty kopecks into the treasure of His Imperial Nibs for the purchase of a stamp to put upon his document. Other sovereigns have taxed every other right under the sun, but it was left for Alexander III to tax the right to demand your rights. No citizen of Russia can now ask his “dear father” to let him alone without paying sixty kopecks to ask. This is the act of a notoriously cruel despot. See now how much wiser the policy of a reputedly benevolent one, Dom Pedro of Brazil. He also is the author of a novelty in taxation. No Brazilian husband, who, becoming suspicious of his wife, detects her and her lover in flagrante delicto, can hereafter legally establish such discovery until he has first poured into the State’s coffers a sum slightly exceeding two dollars and a half. This is a use of tyranny that almost inclines me to wink at it. Bleeding domestic tyrants is better business than political tyrants are wont to engage in. If there must be a tax-gatherer, I shall vote for Dom Pedro.—Liberty, November 14, 1885.

The latest piece of governmental infernalism is the proposition to raise the “age of consent” to eighteen years. It sounds quite harmless, and belongs to that class of measures which especially allure stiff-necked moralists, pious prudes, “respectable” radicals, and all the other divisions of the unco guid. But what does it mean? It means that, if a girl of seventeen, of mature and sane mind, whom even the law recognizes as a fit person to be married and the mother of a family, shall love a man and win his love in return, and if this mutual love, by the voluntary and deliberate act of both parties, shall find sexual expression outside of the “forms of the law” made and provided by our stupid legislatures, the man may be found guilty of committing rape and sent to prison for twenty years. Such is the real nature of this proposition, whatever attempts may be made to conceal it beneath the garments of sentimentalism and moralism. It is an outrage on manhood, and on womanhood, not only an outrage, but an insult. And yet it is put forward in the interest of young girls’ honor. Honor, forsooth! As if it were possible to more basely dishonor a woman already several years past the age at which Nature provided her with the power of motherhood than by telling her that she hasn’t brains enough to decide whether and in what way she will become a mother!—Liberty, April 17, 1886.

In these days of boycott trials a great deal of nonsense is being talked and written regarding “blackmail.” This is a question which the principle of Liberty settles at once. It may be well to state the verdict boldly and baldly. Here it is: Any individual may place any condition he chooses, provided the condition be not itself invasive, upon the doing or not doing of anything which he has a right to do or not do; but no individual can rightfully be a party to any bargain which makes a necessarily invasive condition incumbent upon any of the contracting parties. From which it follows that an individual may rightfully “extort” money from another by “threatening” him with certain consequences, provided those consequences are of such a nature that he can cause them without infringing upon anybody’s rights. Such “extortion” is generally rather mean business, but there are circumstances under which the most high-minded of men might resort to it without doing violence to his instincts, and under no circumstances is it invasive and therefore wrongful, unless the act threatened is invasive and therefore wrongful. Therefore to punish men who have taken money for lifting a boycott is oppression pure and simple. Whatever may be the “common law” or the “statute law” of blackmail, this—to use Mr. Spooner’s phrase—is the natural law that governs it.—Liberty, July 31, 1886…

The Providence People lays it down as one of three “fundamentals” that “every child should be guaranteed a free complete education, physically, mentally, morally, and industrially.” What is a complete education? Who’s got one that he can guarantee? Who, if he had one and nothing else, could afford to impart it to another free of charge? Even if he could afford to, why should he do so? Why should he not be paid for doing so? If he is to be paid, who should pay him except the recipient of the education or those upon whom the recipient is directly dependent? Do not these questions cut under the “fundamental” of the People? Is it, then, a fundamental, after all?—Liberty, December 3, 1887.

Not content with getting the “age of consent” raised from ten to thirteen, a bevy of impertinent and prudish women went up to the Massachusetts State House the other day and asked that it be raised again,—this time to eighteen. When a member of the legislative committee suggested that the age be placed at thirty-five, since the offence aimed at was as much a crime at thirty-five as at eighteen, the petitioners did not seem to be terrified of his logic. Evidently these ladies are not afraid that their consent will ever be asked at all.—Liberty, February 11, 1888.

At the end of a protest against the addition of the higher branches of education to the curriculum of the public schools, the Winsted Press says: “The common district school, thoroughly well conducted, is good enough for common folks. Let the uncommon folks have uncommon schools and pay for them.” True enough; but, if common folks should not be made to pay for uncommon schools, why should uncommon folks be made to pay for common schools?—Liberty, April 28, 1888.

A New Jersey court has decided that the will of a citizen of that State, by which Henry George was given a large sum of money for the circulation of his books, is invalid on the ground that the bequest is not educational or charitable, but intended for the spread of doctrines contrary to the law of the land. Probably the judge who rendered this decision thinks regarding the determination of economic truth, as Mr. George thinks regarding the issue of money, the collection of rents, the carrying of letters, the running of railroads, and sundry other things, that it is “naturally a function of government.” And really, if Mr. George is right, I do not see why the judge is not right. Yet I agree that Mr. George has correctly branded him as an “immortal ass.”—Liberty, May 26, 1888.

A California friend sends me a copy of the Weekly Star of San Francisco containing an article which, if a tenth part of it be true, shows that city and State to be under the pestilent control of a band of felons. At the end of the article the writer, regardless of the fact that this state of things is the direct outgrowth of the government of man by man, proposes to add to the powers of this government the exclusive management of the telegraph system, of the banking system, and of corporate enterprises, as well as a vast new field of judicature. To this political servant, who has not even the grace to hide in the earth the talent intrusted to him, but insists on using it as a scourge upon mankind, the editor of the Weekly Star says: “Thou hast been unfaithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things.” I am not surprised to find from another column of the same paper that the editor looks upon Anarchists as pestilent mischief-makers and noisy blatherskites.—Liberty, July 7, 1888.

Colonel Ingersoll has recently promulgated the theory that the husband should never be released from the marriage contract unless the wife has violated it, but that the wife should be allowed a divorce merely for the asking. Presumably this is intended for chivalry, but it really is an insult to every self-respecting woman. It is a relic of the old theory that woman is an inferior being, with whom it is impossible for a man to treat as an equal. No woman worthy of the name and fully understanding the nature of her act would ever consent to union with a man by any contract which would not secure his liberty equally with her own.—Liberty, August 18, 1888…

The allopathic physicians of Massachusetts, having worked in vain for several years to obtain a legal monopoly of the practice of medicine, have concluded that a sure half loaf is better than a steadily diminishing slice, and so have gone into partnership with one or two factions of the “quacks” to prevent all other “quacks” from following their profession. This year the allopaths have taken the homœopaths and eclectics into the ring, and by this political manœuvre they hope to secure the valuable privilege which they are aiming at, on the plea which privileged classes always make,—that of protecting the masses. The battle is being stubbornly fought at the State House, and at a recent hearing before the judiciary committee Geo. M. Stearns of Chicopee, who appeared for the “quacks,” made one of the wittiest, keenest, and most uncompromising speeches in favor of absolute liberty in medicine that ever fell from a lawyer’s lips. It is a pitty that some of his clients who followed him were not equally consistent. For instance, Dr. J. Rhodes Buchanan, who is a sort of quack-in-chief, in the course of a long argument made to convince the committee of the right of the patient to choose his own doctor, declared that he would favor a bill which would make treatment of cancer with a knife malpractice. The old story again. In medicine as in theology orthodoxy is my doxy and heterodoxy is your doxy. This “quack,” who is so outraged because the “regulars” propose to suppress him, clearly enough aches for a dictator’s power that he may abolish the regulars. He reminds one of those Secularists whose indignation at being compelled to pay taxes for the support of churches in which they do not believe is only equalled by the delight which they take in compelling church-members to pay taxes for the support of schools to which they are opposed. And yet there are good friends of Liberty who insist that I, in condemning these people, show an inability to distinguish between friends and foes. The truth is that, unlike these critical comrades, I am not to be blinded by the distinction between friends and foes by a mere similarity of shibboleth.—Liberty, February 23, 1889…

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a very clever man on its editorial staff. His editorials are far above the ordinary literary level of the journalist, are often sensible, and always show a decided inclination to serious consideration of the subjects with which they deal, and to independent and original thought. But occasionally his originality carries him too far. Witness the following original discovery, which he gave to the world unpatented in a recent editorial against woman suffrage: “Nobody who is not an Anarchist in theory, if not in practice, ever pretended that suffrage was a natural right; but from the Anarchist point of view that suffrage is a natural right, you can just as easily argue, as Anarchists do, that ‘property is robbery.’” If this editor had ever investigated Anarchism, of course he would know that most Anarchists do not believe in natural rights at all; that not one of them considers sufffrage a natural right; that, on the other hand, they all agree on the central proposition that rule is evil, and on the corollary that it is none the better for being majority rule. Anarchism is as hostile to the ballot as peace is to gunpowder.—Liberty, August 29, 1891.

I wonder if the people of Massachusetts know that their law-makers made a law this year punishing with imprisonment for life every criminal or pauper who has the syphilis. Such is the astounding fact. To be more specific, the law provides that any inmate of a State penal or charitable institution who, at the expiration of his term of imprisonment, shall be afflicted with syphilis shall not be discharged, but shall be detained in the institution until cured. As syphilis is seldom cured, this means in most cases life-imprisonment. Hereafter, in Massachusetts, only the rich and the law-abiding are to be allowed to have the syphilis and liberty too.—Liberty, August 29, 1891…

There has been a law on the Pennsylvania statute books since 1885 prohibiting the manufacture and sale of butterine. Under the decisions of the United States courts, however, producers outside the State are able to ship their goods into the State and sell them in the original packages. An increasing number of dealers buy these packages, open them, and retail from them in violation of the law. So prevalent has this practice become that the Pennsylvania butchers, who used to sell their fats to the butterine factories, and now have to sell them in Holland much less advantageously, are taking advantage of it to prosecute the guilty parties in the hope of securing a repeal of the obnoxious law. Meanwhile the dear and protected people, instead of eating sweet and wholesome butterine, are forced to eat strong butter, for which they pay a monopoly price to the protected farmers and dairymen. The people are protected in their right to be robbed, and the farmers and dairymen in the right to rob. All these protections should be wiped out. The only protection which honest people need is protection against that vast Society for the Creation of Theft which is euphemistically designated as the State.—Liberty, May 14, 1892.

Talk about bloodthirsty Anarchists! Listen to this. It is the editor of the American Architect who speaks. “So far as principle goes, we would like to see any interference with the employment of a man willing to work, any request or demand—direct or indirect—for the discharge of a faithful workman, or any attempt at coercion of a workman, by threats of any sort, to leave his work, punishable with death.” Here we have Archism in full flower. If John Smith politely asks Jim Jones to discharge or not to employ industrious and faithful Sam Robinson, kill him. Such is capitalism’s counsel to the courts. If it should be acted upon, I hold that the people would have better cause to charge the Architect editor with conspiracy to murder, find him guilty, and dynamite him, than had the State of Illinois to find a similar verdict against Spies and his comrades and hang them. I wonder if the Architect editor would be willing to see his principle carried out impartially. Fancy, for instance, the electrocution of Col. Eliot F. Shepard for blacklisting an industrious and faithful Fifth Avenue stage-driver on account of his use of profane language and asking the superintendents of horse-car lines not to employ him. If incendiary counsel shall bring on a bloody revolution, the chief sin thereof will lie upon the capitalists and their hired advocates, and bitterly will they pay the penalty. In these modern days there are many Foulons, some of whom may yet eat grass.—Liberty, May 21, 1892.

In the State of New York an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide is punishable as a crime. It is proposed that Anarchists of foreign birth shall not be allowed to become citizens. Attorney-General Miller wishes suffrage to be made compulsory by the disenfranchisement of all who neglect to use the ballot. The New York Health Inspectors, when on a fruit-condemning expedition the other day, after seizing a push-cart full of green peaches turned it over to two messenger-boys, in consequence of which some fifty urchins had a feast and possibly several funerals. A government that gives away the germs of disease which it will not allow others to sell; a government that insists on disenfranchising people who will not vote; a government that refuses to naturalize people who refuse to be naturalized; a government that refuses life to people who refuse to live,—well, for a good farce such a government is certainly a good farce.—Liberty, August 13, 1892…

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