Sep 1, 1981
Benjamin Tucker, Individualism, & Liberty: Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order
“Not until Tucker and…Liberty [was libertarianism] a distinct, independent movement functioning in its own name toward its own unique…goals.”
I.: Introduction to Liberty
“Formerly the price of Liberty was eternal vigilance, but now it can be had for fifty cents a year.” So wrote Benjamin Tucker (1854–1939) on the first page of the first issue of Liberty. The American journalLiberty, edited and published by Benjamin Ricketson Tucker from August 1881 to April 1908, was arguably the finest libertarian periodical ever published in the English language. During its 27 year life span, issuing first from Boston and then from New York (1892), Liberty chronicled the personalities and shifting controversies of radical individualism in America and abroad. It also created them. The list of contributors to Liberty reads like an honor roll of nineteenth-century individualism and libertarianism: Lysander Spooner, Auberon Herbert, Joshua K. Ingalls, John Henry Mackay, Victor Yarros, and Wordsworth Donisthorpe are a partial listing. Speaking with a cosmopolitan and avant-garde voice, Liberty also published George Bernard Shaw’s first article in America, the first American translation of Nietzsche, and reports from economist Vilfredo Pareto on the political conditions in Italy. Of seminal importance in the history of ideas, Tucker’s journal served as the main conduit of Stirnerite egoism and radical Spencerian thought in America. Liberty was both an innovator in libertarian theory and a mainstay of the libertarian tradition.
Liberty was remarkable for the consistently high quality of its content and for the clarity of its style. It debated sophisticated issues with a contemporary ring, ranging over such topics as children’s rights, intellectual property, natural rights, and theories of rent and interest. Contributors to Liberty as well as other contemporary individualists often found themselves on the defense against Tucker’s demand for “plumb-line” consistency in all things. As a professional journalist, Tucker also insisted upon a clear, precise style and took great pride in raising Liberty far above the journalistic standard for radical periodicals of its day.
Tucker’s Background and the Social Context of Liberty
Coming from a Quaker and radical Unitarian family, Tucker grew up in an atmosphere of dissent and free inquiry. At his parents’ prompting, he attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology for three years during which time he became involved in labor reform and convinced that economic reform must underlie all other steps toward freedom. He integrated freethought and free love with this conviction to formulate a system of individualist-anarchism which became identified with him as “philosophical” or “Boston Anarchism.” Although he was a prolific writer, virtually all of his work appeared as articles inLiberty; some of these he subsequently issued as pamphlets. Tucker’s one book, Instead of a Book by a Man Too Busy to Write One (1893), was a compilation of articles from Liberty with the subtitle, A Fragmentary Exposition of Philosophical Anarchism. In the late nineteenth century, Tucker andLiberty were the vital core around which a libertarian movement formed and grew. It is difficult to overemphasize their importance to the libertarian tradition in America.
In a wider social and cultural context, Liberty was one of a flood of radical periodicals published in America near the turn of the nineteenth century (1860–1910). This was a time of growth and change with many voices calling for reform; state socialism, single-tax, temperance, women’s suffrage, populism, progressivism, anarchism, unions, land reform, state education—a wide range of movements offered different solutions to societal problems. Few of these movements were individualistic. True to the maxim “War is the Health of the State,” the Civil War was nearly the death of individualist libertarianism. The rampant growth of government caused by the War and its aftermath established an environment hostile to individual rights. Internal conflicts and compromises over supporting the War splintered the movement so that libertarianism thereafter was basically expressed, not as a movement in its own right, but as the radical faction within other movements such as freethought and free love. It was against this broader backdrop that Liberty began its career.
II.: The Roots of Liberty: The Influence of Individuals
In the same vein, Liberty, as part of a continuing tradition, did not arise from nor operate within an intellectual vacuum. The purpose of this essay, accordingly, is to trace the roots of Tucker’s journalLiberty (especially in America), to examine contemporary individualist periodicals which bore some relationship to Liberty, and, finally, to assess its impact and influence.
American libertarianism of the nineteenth century was commonly called individualist-anarchism. It revolved around two themes: the sovereignty of the individual, sometimes expressed in terms of self-ownership; and the labor theory of value, often expressed as “cost the limit of price.” Sovereignty of the individual referred to the absolute moral jurisdiction of each person over the use and disposal of his or her own body. The labor theory of value, which claimed that all wealth was created by labor and usually implied that it therefore belonged to the laborer, was considered to be a direct extension of self-ownership.
Josiah Warren (1798–1874) brought together these two themes, the sovereignty of the individual and the labor theory of value. An early Owenite who advocated economic reform through experimental communities, Warren was an original participant in the New Harmony Community of Equity in Indiana (1826–1827). This experience helped to mold his philosophy. However, he became critical of the community’s bureaucracy, fearing it would replace voluntary cooperation and the primacy of the individual with a system of authority. Warren insisted that the individual should remain the primary unit of society. As he wrote later:
Society must be so converted as to preserve the SOVEREIGNTY OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL inviolate,…it must avoid all combinations and connections of persons and interests and all other arrangments which will not leave every individual at all times at liberty to dispose of his or her own person, and time, and property in any manner in which his or her feelings or judgment may dictate, WITHOUT INVOLVING THE PERSONS OR INTERESTS OF OTHERS.
With the demise of New Harmony, Warren moved to Cincinnati, where he put his economic theories into practice through operating a Time Store. Warren’s Store exchanged commodities such as flour for Labor Notes representing the labor hours of the bearer.
In January 1833, Josiah Warren began the first American anarchist periodical, The Peaceful Revolutionist, a two-column weekly offered at thirty-seven cents for a six month subscription. Here, Warren expounded the individualistic, anti-statist philosophy which so influenced future libertarians. His experience in voluntary communities and his commitment to self-ownership led him to condemn invasive laws. “If the word law has ever meant one thing more than another,” Warren declared, “that thing has been the will of those in power.” On political office, he wrote: “We are told that our destinies depend on the election of this or that man to office! Why? This shows that it is men and not laws or principles that govern society.” The Peaceful Revolutionist was short-lived, being revived in the eventful year 1848 as the organ of Utopia, a Fourierite community.
In 1841 Warren briefly published and edited another anarchist periodical, The Herald of Equity, from Cincinnati. This was followed in 1842 by the Gazette of Equitable Commerce which, in a four year period, was reported to have only four subscribers. Warren’s The Periodical Letter on the Principles and Progress of the Equity Movement (1854–1858) was a monthly issued from Modern Times, Long Island, and then from Boston as a means of explaining the philosophy of the experimental community, Modern Times. Although its circulation was small, it had subscribers throughout America and from as far away as Ireland and England. The Periodical Letter was the only one of Warren’s periodicals mentioned in Liberty. (Since Tucker rarely commented on any but contemporary publications, this reference is significant.)
Josiah Warren’s main influence upon Tucker and Liberty was personal and inspirational. Tucker, in fact, began his anti-statist career in the spring of 1872 at the age of eighteen, largely as the result of meeting Josiah Warren and William B. Greene at a gathering of the New England Labor Reform League. Tucker greatly admired both men and quickly joined a cadre of young admirers who met with Warren to discuss economics and philosophy. “Josiah Warren,” Tucker subsequently wrote, “was the first man to expound and formulate the doctrine now known as Anarchism; the first man to clearly state the theory of individual sovereignty and equal liberty…” Warren’s Equitable Commerce (1847) was a pioneering work, standing as the first significant presentation of individualist-anarchism in America. A revised, enlarged edition of Warren’s work, renamed True Civilization, was reprinted by Tucker and advertised in Liberty. Linking himself with the tradition of Warren, Tucker referred to his own Libertyas “the foremost organ of Josiah Warren’s doctrines…”
Thus, if the roots of Liberty can be traced to any one American, that man is Josiah Warren. The dedication in Tucker’s first book, Instead of a Book (1893), acknowledged this clearly: “To the memory of my old friend and master, Josiah Warren, whose teachings were my first source of light, I gratefully dedicate this volume…”
Pierre Joseph Proudhon
If the roots of Liberty can be traced to any one foreign individual, it would be Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), the first thinker to adopt the label of anarchist. Tucker esteemed him as the “profoundest political philosopher that has ever lived.” Tucker’s homage to Proudhon is evident from his first major accomplishment, at the age of 21, a translation from French to English of Proudhon’s What is Property? Likewise Tucker devoted part of his first trip to Europe (1874) carefully studying Proudhon’s works in both published and manuscript form. Liberty, Tucker frankly stated, is “a journal brought into existence almost as a direct consequence of the teachings of Proudhon.” The full title of Tucker’s journal (Liberty: Not the Daughter But the Mother of Order), of course, pays tribute to Proudhon’s famous quotation. In addition, one of the most ambitious endeavors of Liberty was the “Proudhon Library,” a projected series of Proudhon translations sold by subscription. This “Library” featured the “publication in English of the entire works of P.J. Proudhon…[E]ach number contains sixty-four elegantly printed octavo pages of translation from one of Proudhon’s works.”
The great similarity between the economic theories of Warren and Proudhon was undoubtedly a common element in Tucker’s attraction to both men.
Only the influence of the German philosopher of egoism, Max Stirner (nè Johann Kaspar Schmidt, 1806–1856), as expressed through The Ego and His Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum) compared with that of Proudhon. In adopting Stirnerite egoism (1886), Tucker rejected natural rights which had long been considered the foundation of libertarianism. This rejection galvanized the movement into fierce debates, with the natural rights proponents accusing the egoists of destroying libertarianism itself. So bitter was the conflict that a number of natural rights proponents withdrew from the pages ofLiberty in protest even though they had hitherto been among its frequent contributors. Thereafter,Liberty championed egoism although its general content did not change significantly.
III.: The Roots of Liberty: The Influence of Radical Movements
The influence radical movements exerted upon Liberty as compared to that of individuals is more difficult to trace. The roots of libertarianism in America are firmly within abolitionism, particularly within the radical faction of the anti-slavery movement, which sought an immediate cessation to slavery on the grounds that every man was a self-owner; that is, every human being had moral jurisdiction over his or her own body. The main organ of abolitionism was William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator(1831–1866), which openly condemned the U.S. Constitution as “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.” Tucker’s only significant reference to Garrison within Liberty, however, was a criticism of his sanctioning the Civil War. Tucker tempered his criticism, however, with the statement, “It was an ugly blot on an otherwise great career.” The loquacious Tucker remained virtually silent on abolitionism, slavery, and the civil War; and it is only in passing that Garrison’s Liberator and the Anti-Slavery Society are mentioned. It was perhaps Tucker’s commitment to free enterprise and freethought that distanced him from the compromising economic policies and the religious conviction of Garrison. Unlike Garrison, Tucker did not share the pietistic outlook which led so may abolitionists to engage in temperance work and other attempts to reform personal vice. Another exception to this pietism was Lysander Spooner (1808–1887), author of Vices Are Not Crimes, with whose pamphlets on slavery Tucker was familiar. Tucker particularly praised Spooner’s The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845).
Despite its absence from Liberty, there is no question that abolitionism influenced Tucker. As a young man in Massachusetts he frequented the New Bedford Lyceum at which many prominent abolitionists lectured. Moreover, his close association with the abolitionists Ezra Heywood and Lysander Spooner, both of whom opposed the Civil War, must have had an impact. Nevertheless, using the reliable standard of whom and what Tucker explicitly credited in developing his philosophy, abolitionism was not a significant factor.
Another movement which did not seem to influence Liberty directly was homesteading. The homesteading movement, most active in the 1840s and 1850s, attracted a number of libertarians including George Henry Evans, editor of the Working Man’s Advocate, Young America, and The Radical. Evans’ name, however, appears only twice in passing within Liberty. This is in contrast with the land reformer Joshua K. Ingalls with whose theories of land occupation and use Tucker became familiar through Ezra Heywood’s The Word. Ingalls was one of the first contributors to Libertyto write under his own name rather than anonymously or under a pseudonym.
Tucker’s theories on land were fortified by his fascination with the Irish No-rent movement which demanded radical land reform in Ireland. The main organ of this movement was Patrick Ford’s Irish World; “Liberty is not always satisfied with it,” Tucker wrote, “but, all things considered, deems it the most potent agency for good now at work on this planet.” Two of Liberty’s most frequent contributors—Henry Appleton and Sidney H. Morse—wrote columns for Irish World under the pseudonyms of Honorius and Phillip, respectively; Joshua K. Ingalls also contributed. Some early issues of Libertywere virtually devoted to the no-rent question, which seems to have had more influence than comparable land reform efforts in America.
Tucker was also impressed by reading the New England Transcendentalists, especially Thoreau and Emerson, whose names appeared often in Liberty. In his younger days, Tucker consciously imitated Thoreau’s refusal to pay a poll tax. Like Thoreau, he was imprisoned. Much to Tucker’s displeasure, however, the fee was paid by a well-intentioned friend, and he was released. There is no indication that Tucker was familiar with Transcendentalist periodicals such as The Dial.
The radical movements primarily defining the nature of Liberty were: freethought, free love, and the labor movement. Although all three were vehicles for nineteenth-century libertarianism, this was particularly true of freethought and free love. Neither movement was explicitly libertarian, but their goals were consistent with libertarianism and libertarians formed a radical faction within them.
Freethought in America was an anticlerical, anti-Christian movement which sought to separate the state from all religious matters, leaving them to the conscience and reason of the individual.
There was a history of intersection between libertarianism and freethought. The freethought periodicalThe Free Enquirer (1828–1832), originally the New Harmony Gazette (1825–1828), was edited by Robert Dale Owen and Francis Wright, both associates of Josiah Warren. In 1829, when the paper moved to New York, Owen prevailed upon Warren to delay plans to establish a community in Ohio in order to join with The Free Enquirer on a similar, larger venture in New York. Although this did not materialize, Warren continued to publish his labor theories in this periodical. George Henry Evan’s The Working Man’s Advocate coupled labor reform with freethought through the advertising of such freethought classics as Palmer’s Principles of Nature and Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary. The libertarian Lysander Spooner, whose freethinking deism was unpalatable to the more religious abolitionists, first published A Deist’s Reply serially (1836) in the Cleveland Liberalist. Another pamphlet by Spooner was entitled The Deist’s Immortality.
Robert Reitzel’s Arme Teufel (Poor Devil), launched on December 6, 1884 from Detroit, blended freethought with anarchism. The German-American periodical spoke out against organized religion and religious thought. When an Anglican Bishop in Hong Kong replaced the sacramental wine with tea, Reitzel gleefully and sacrilegiously pointed out that following this geographical logic the Blood of Christ would be beer in Germany, whiskey in Ireland, and water in Kansas. Reitzel considered Tucker to be a fellow-traveller, sharing an enthusiasm for Stirner. In turn, Tucker called Arme Teufel “Liberty’s brave and brilliant Detroit contemporary.” Like Tucker, Reitzel inspired disciples, and Arme Teufel clubs sprang up in cities with large German-speaking populations such as Toledo and Cincinnati.
Freethought was probably the first radical influence in Tucker’s life. Born, as previously mentioned, of a Quaker father and a radical Unitarian mother, he was raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts, then a center of Quakerism and religious dissent. In this atmosphere of religious freedom, Tucker clearly recalled “’sitting steadily under the radical preaching” of the Reverend Mr. Potter, who rejected all dogmatic authority, whether of church organizations, scriptures, or creeds, and asserted individual freedom of belief.” He received an excellent education from the New Bedford Friends’ Academy which was uncoventional enough to debate a resolution on banning patriotic speeches as contrary to Quaker principles.
As a young man Tucker began reading two important freethought periodicals: The Boston Investigatorand The Index (formerly the Free Religious Index). The first paper, The Boston Investigator, was a weekly founded by Abner Kneeland in 1831, and it remained one of the most prominent freethought periodicals until it merged with the Truth Seeker in 1904. The Boston Investigator, edited by Horace Seaver (1839–1889) and published by J.P. Mendum, impressed Tucker. The second paper, The Index, was also a weekly, published from Toledo (1870–1872) and then from Boston (1873–1886), and was edited in turn by Francis Abbot, W.J. Potter, and B.F. Underwood. Tucker published his first defense of the labor theory of value in the pages of The Index (1873). During Liberty’s life span, Tucker reprinted articles from both papers and reported upon their progress. In turn the freethinking Boston Investigator welcomed the first issue of Liberty in 1881 with the words:
Liberty is one of the grandest words in the language; and of course it is a grand name for a paper…we mean such as Mr. Benj. R. Tucker’s Liberty…As Mr. Tucker has ability and industry, radicalism and independence, he will make an interesting and suggestive paper.
Of the Investigator, Tucker declared: “The paper has a glorious record, and all Liberals should unite in rewarding its valiant struggle against superstition by stanch support in its honorable and still vigorous old age.” But Tucker later criticized the Investigator’s relatively conservative editor Seaver for his refusal to extend religious freedom to Mormons on the issue of polygamy. A hostile exchange followed, which ended with Seaver accusing Tucker of advocating polygamy and with Tucker retorting that Seaver was a peevish old man. From his early association with The Index, Tucker’s opinion of the periodical seemed to decline. On the occasion of Under-wood’s assuming the editorship of The Index, Tucker observed: “The new editor, Mr. Underwood, has reconstructed its anatomy to advantage. If, in addition, he will infuse some blood into its colorless veins, it will become a readable and valuable journal.” This hope was not realized.
The importance of freethought to Tucker’s development can also be gauged by his observation upon theRadical Review (1877–1878), his first periodical, of which only four issues appeared. “I once published a magazine called the Radical Review,” he wrote later, “which many competent judges pronounced…the handsomest freethought magazine ever published in America.” Tucker thus considered the Radical Review to be, at least partially, a freethought periodical.
The Truth Seeker (1873–), the most prominent American freethought paper, was connected withLiberty in several ways. Liberty reprinted its articles and Tucker appraised its editor. When D.M. Bennett of The Truth Seeker upbraided Ezra Heywood for his “bad taste” in being arrested under the Comstock obscenity laws, Tucker bristled: “In this connection we must express our indignation at the cowardly conduct of D.M. Bennett…who prates about Mr. Heywood’s taste and methods…It is not a question of taste, but of Liberty, and no man who fails to see this and act accordingly can ever fairly call himself a Liberal again.” The third editor of the Truth Seeker was George E. Macdonald, an individualist-anarchist and a contributor to Liberty. As a personal friend of Tucker, Macdonald referred to him as “my uncle Benjamin”—an allusion to a book published by Tucker entitled My Uncle Benjamin. In response, Tucker called Macdonald “my nephew”. Macdonald also co-edited a San Francisco magazine entitled Freethought (1888–1890) with Samuel P. Putnam which elicited mixed reviews from Tucker who disliked Putnam. Nevertheless, Freethought was quoted fourteen times within Liberty.
A small but subsequently significant freethought paper was the Valley Falls Liberal (1881), an organ of the National Liberal League. Moses Harman and A.J. Searle informally directed the first issues. In 1882 it became the Kansas Liberal under the editorship of Moses Harman. In 1883 its title changed again toLucifer the Light Bearer (1883–1907), and under that name it evolved into the foremost free love periodical in America as well as an important vehicle of libertarian thought.
This link between freethought and Tucker’s Liberty was further demonstrated by the many freethought works advertised by Liberty. A partial list includes: Church and State (Tolstoi); The Deist’s Immortalityand A Deist’s Reply (Spooner); Dieu et L’Etat (“Bakounine”); Freethinkers’ Magazine (H.L. Green, T.B. Wakeman, editors); The Freethought Directory; The Boston Investigator (Horace Seaver); Three Dreams in a Desert (Schreiner); Kansas Liberal (Moses Harman, editor); and the Truth Seeker (D.M. Bennett, editor).
The crossover of individuals active in both the freethought and libertarian movements was impressive. Lysander Spooner, Moses Harman, E.C. Walker, Benjamin Tucker, Voltairine de Cleyre, George Macdonald, Dyer D. Lum—all played this dual role.
Free love was the movement which sought to separate the state from sexual matters such as marriage, birth control, and adultery, insisting that such matters properly concerned only the individuals involved.
The relationship between libertarianism and freethought was similar to that between libertarianism and freethought. Free love advocates, who sometimes traced their roots to Josiah Warren and experimental communities, viewed sexual freedom as a clear, direct expression of an individual’s self-ownership. Free love particularly stressed women’s rights since most sexual laws discriminated against women. Although Tucker agreed with the goals of free love, significant differences of strategy distanced him from the movement as a whole.
The free love periodical with which Tucker was most closely associated was Ezra and Angelina Heywood’s The Word (1872–1890, 1892–1893), issued from Princeton and then from Cambridge, Massachusetts. After the Civil War, Heywood turned his attention toward the labor movement and eventually free love. The Heywoods’ The Word, subtitled “A Monthly Journal of Reform,” was connected to libertarianism through its editors and its contributors, including Josiah Warren, Benjamin Tucker, and J.K. Ingalls. Initially, The Word presented free love within a labor reform format but later evolved into an explicitly free love periodical. Its prospectus (1872) exemplified the nineteenth-century libertarian blending of civil liberties with the labor theory of value:
THE WORD favors the abolition of speculative income, of woman’s slavery, and war government; regards all claims to property not founded on a labor title as morally void…
Through his association with Ezra Heywood and The Word, Tucker acquired much of the background from which Liberty sprang. In April 1875, he became an associate editor of The Word, but as the paper deemphasized economics to stress free love he grew dissatisfied. Finally, Tucker resigned in December 1876 and established The Radical Review, a quarterly that published Pearl Andrews, Heywood, Ingalls, Greene, and Spooner.
It is probable that Tucker’s long-term friendship with Lysander Spooner (1808–1887) began during this period. Tucker’s admiration for Spooner was immense. One of the most moving articles in Liberty was Tucker’s eulogy to his deceased friend entitled “Our Nestor Taken From Us.” Tucker describes the elderly Spooner on one of his daily visits to the Boston Library:
Had the old man chanced to raise his head for a moment, the visitor would have seen, framed in long and snowy hair and beard, one of the finest, kindliest, sweetest, strongest, grandest faces that ever gladdened the eyes of man. But however impressed by the sight, few realized that they had been privileged with a view of one whose towering strength of intellect, whose sincerity and singleness of purpose, and whose frank and loving heart would endear him to generations to come…
In contrast, Tucker’s relationship with Heywood grew more distant. When Heywood was imprisoned from August to December 1878 under the Comstock laws Tucker abandoned the Radical Review in order to assume editorship of Heywood’s The Word. After Heywood’s release from prison, however, The Word became a free love journal; it flouted the law by printing birth control material and openly discussing sexual matters. Tucker’s disapproval of this policy stemmed from his conviction that “Liberty, to be effective, must find its first application in the realm of economics, and nowhere has that view been emphasized more continually than in this journal.” This difference of emphasis did not prevent Heywood from welcoming Tucker’s Liberty into the libertarian movement. In response to the first issue, he wrote: “Liberty is intelligent and vigorous, has opinions, character and will command attention from its first issue; a bright, smart, timely journal which live people will find it unsafe not to subscribe.”
Another free love influence was the notorious Victoria Woodhull who edited the Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly with her sister Tennie Claflin. Tucker and Woodhull became acquainted when town authorities tried to prevent her from lecturing on “The Principles of Social Freedom” and Tucker, among others, came to her defense. Literally seduced by Woodhull, he joined the circle of male admirers surrounding her. He travelled to Europe with her, but became disillusioned, presumably upon discovering that lectures and articles bearing her name were ghost written, often by Stephen Pearl Andrews.
The most important American free love journal was Lucifer the Light Bearer (1883–1907) edited by Moses Harman first from Valley Falls, Kansas, then from Topeka (1890), and finally from Chicago (1896). Tucker’s relationship with Lucifer started well. At one point, he exclaimed:
I say, Messrs. Harman and Walker, editors of “Lucifer,” I wish you wouldn’t make absolutely every number of your paper so good and true and live and keen and consistently radical…since your advent, you have kept me in a state of perpetual doubt and anxiety lest Liberty’s light be dimmed by Lucifer’s. In mercy’s name, let up a little, and give a toiling torch-bearer an occasional chance to recuperate.
Gradually, however, the relationship between the two periodicals became strained over disagreements which were largely over strategy in advancing liberty.
Tucker became increasingly hostile to civil disobedience as a strategy. Early in Liberty’s history, Tucker had been so outraged by the post office’s refusal to carry Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass due to its alleged obscenity that he published his own edition and flaunted its sale. Addressing the post office and District Attorney Stevens, he wrote: “You are hereby distinctly notified—all of you in general, and you, Oliver Stevens, in particular that I have now in my possession, and do now offer for sale, copies…Yours, disrespectfully.” Gradually, Tucker’s attitude changed and he became firmly committed to the strategy of education rather than civil disobedience, especially when that disobedience was likely to guarantee martyrdom or more stringent and repressive laws. With the Chicago Haymarket incident (May 4, 1886) and the hysterical repression of radicalism which followed it, Tucker observed first-hand the disastrous consequences of a rash act and concluded the cost outweighed any benefit.
In contrast, Harman’s Lucifer pursued a policy of baiting the law, particularly the Comstock postal obscenity law. Harman established an “open word” rule for Lucifer whereby no contributions would be edited because of explicit language. Accordingly, Lucifer published the Markland letter which analyzed forced sex within marriage as rape and graphically described the plight of a woman whose life was imperilled by her husband’s refusal to leave her alone after an operation. For this and two other letters, the staff of Lucifer were jointly and separately charged with 270 counts of obscenity; subsequently, the charges were dropped against all but Harman. The rebellious acts of which Tucker disapproved were exemplified by Harman’s reprinting of Genesis 38 within Lucifer while awaiting trial. By reprinting this portion of the Bible depicting Onan’s coitus interruptus and adultery, Harman tried unsuccessfully to goad the court into declaring it obscene.
Moses Harman was imprisoned for the Markland letter, the first of a series of his imprisonments for obscenity; he suffered the last term of one year at hard labor when he was in his seventies. Many libertarians hurried to support Harman. Most notably, Ezra Heywood republished one of the offending articles from Lucifer and was also arrested. Tucker did not feel able to support Harman with enthusiasm. However, he decried the injustice and solicited money for the Harman Defense Fund, originated and advertised in Liberty. “Obscene or not,” Tucker declared, “it was Mr. Harman’s right to print it…” However, he continued by observing that “to precipitate a struggle on the issue of liberty to print the most extreme obscenity and suffer defeat on it, would be to lay a foundation for more serious invasions of the liberty of printing that would be likely to interfere with the achievement of economic liberty.” Tucker believed that Harman’s rash actions imperilled the freedom of radicals to discuss anarchism and economic reform, two far more important issues.
A number of Liberty’s contributors were quite critical of Tucker for this stand on strategy. A.H. Simpson wrote an article which concluded: “I shall be sorry and disappointed if I do not hear of your sallying forth to the aid of any comrade, who makes a clear fight for liberty, whether he be rash or timid.” This was one of the few occasions upon which Tucker’s position on an important matter was not in the mainstream of the libertarian movement.
An earlier incident had also created distance between the Harmans’ and Tucker’s periodicals. The non-state, non-church wedding of E.C. Walker and Lillian Harman (Moses Harman’s sixteen year old daughter) resulted in the couple’s imprisonment. Their union had been an explicit test of the marriage laws, and Tucker firmly disagreed with the tactic of requesting the state to recognize their union as a marriage. To his mind, this extended the law rather than restricted it. He later offered Harman an ambiguous apology;: “I wish my readers to learn that I have done the “Lucifer” people great injustice in underrating their intellectual capacities and cleanness of perception and in making out that they fail to understand the absurdity of their position…” The “apology” was not well received.
The relationship between E.C. Walker and Tucker improved with time, perhaps because Walker also disagreed with Harman’s “open word” policy. Walker resigned from Lucifer and used his new periodicalFair Play, a four page weekly at 75 cents per year, to attack Lucifer’s determined martyrdom. Although E.C. Walker continued contributing to Lucifer, it is significant that when Fair Play ceased (1891) he transferred the subscriptions to Liberty.
There is no question but that Tucker identified more with the labor movement than with freethought or free love.
1872 was a pivotal year for the young Benjamin Tucker. While attending M.I.T. in lukewarm pursuit of an engineering degree, he founded a Greeley Brown Club in New Bedford and attended meetings of the New England Labor Reform League at which he had his fateful encounter with Warren and Greene. The League was a broad reform alliance formed in 1869 by a group including Warren, Andrews, Heywood, and Wendell Phillips. It presented an anti-statist, anti-monopoly, anti-corporation philosophy, with a strong emphasis on the labor theory of value. The League’s favored strategy was boycott, the strategy of last resort at Warren’s Modern Times. The League also took a keen interest in monetary theory, viewing the monopoly of money as a primary means by which the privileged rich profited from the laborer.
In November 1872, Tucker wrote to Ezra Heywood. “I hope to do some work for the labor cause,” he stated, “but first wish to study the question that I may thoroughly understand it…” Shortly thereafter he began publishing in The Word, then a labor reform paper. Through The Word, he became conversant with Warren’s labor theory of value and William B. Greene’s theory of mutual banking. Of Greene, Tucker wrote: “I am indebted to Col. Greene’s Mutual Banking more than to any other single publication for such knowledge as I have of the principles of finance…” In 1873, he defended the Warren-Greene theory of money and interest in the pages of The Index, and engaged in a debate with the editor on the issue. Upon resigning from The Word Tucker declared: “I wish to give myself first and emphatically to the advocacy of justice to labor.” This statement was the raison d’etre of the Radical Review; it applied equally to Liberty.
Tucker’s association with Lysander Spooner undoubtedly strengthened this commitment to labor. Three of Spooner’s economic works—Our Financiers: Their Ignorance, Usurpations, and Frauds; The Law of Prices: A Demonstration of the Necessity for an Indefinite Increase of Money; and Gold and Silver as Standards of Value—first appeared in Tucker’s Radical Review. Tucker was also acquainted with Spooner’s What is a Dollar? and Financial Imposters published in the New Age, a weekly edited by J.M.L. Babcock.
Labor reform (under its various manifestations of interest, money, banking, rent, capital, unions, and strikes) was the topic most discussed in Liberty. Tucker believed that labor reform lead to anarchism through the honest consideration of the following nine key questions:
Are not the laboring classes deprived of their earnings by usury in its three forms,—interest, rent, and profit?
Is not such deprivation the principal cause of poverty?
Is not poverty, directly or indirectly, the principal cause of illegal crime?
Is not usury dependent upon monopoly, and especially upon the land and money monopolies?
Could these monopolies exist without the State at their back?
Does not by far the larger part of the work of the State consist in establishing and sustaining these monopolies and other results of special legislation?
Would not the abolition of these invasive functions of the State lead gradually to the disappearance of crime?
If so, would not the disappearance of crime render the protective functions of the State superfluous?
In that case, would not the State have been entirely abolished?
These labor, economic, and political questions dominated Liberty.
As well as providing a forum for such discussion, Liberty advertised a wide range of labor reform literature, much of which was published by Tucker. “Liberty’s Library” was the most advertised group of titles. They included: Captain Roland’s Purse (Ruskin), The Great Strike (Heywood), Hard Cash(Heywood), International Address (Greene), The Labor Dollar (Andrews), Mutual Banking (Greene),Work and Wealth (Ingalls), Yours or Mine (Heywood). Of the fourteen titles constituting “Liberty’s Library” twelve specifically addressed economic reform while the other two, Anarchism or Anarchy(Tucker) and the Radical Review, had some direct relevance.
Liberty had connections with several labor periodicals. The Age of Thought (1896–98), edited by Edward H. Fulton was directly inspired by Liberty. The first two issues of this eight-page weekly discussed land and money from an anarchist perspective. Francis Tandy, William Holmes, and Henry Cohen—referred to by Tucker as the “Denver circle”—were contributors, as was William Trinkhaus. Tucker’s announcement of the Age of Thought encouraged readers to ‘send a dollar…for a year’s subscription.” Of Fulton, he wrote approvingly: “He is young and ardent, and, situated as he is in the west, where the financial battle is waging, he will be able to lend more efficient aid to Cohen, Tandy and other comrades.”
The Auditor, a free banking paper, was another labor-economic periodical, published from Chicago (1891) by Alfred Westrup, a contributor to Liberty and the corresponding secretary of the Mutual Bank Propaganda of Chicago. The stated purpose of this organization was “the establishment of an equitable monetary system as an essential factor in economic science.” Westrup quizzed Tucker on money, the central disagreement being whether or not there was “such a thing as a measure or standard of value.” Westrup’s works, Citizens’ Money and The Financial Problem; or, the Principles of Monetary Science, were advertised in Liberty.
In 1886, the most frequent contributor to the first volumes of Liberty, Henry Appleton, became editor of The Newsman, the monthly organ of newsdealers published by the Mutual News Company of Boston. Tucker welcomed his editorship, saying: “In it he will wage steady and unrelenting war upon monopolies in general and the American News Company in particular. While in Liberty he will continue to do the same incomparable work that he has been doing ever since its start.” Although The Newsman was not uniquely a labor paper, Tucker emphasized this aspect of it. There was a caveat thrown into Tucker’s congratulation of Appleton, however: “Will he pardon me if I add that I look with grave doubts upon his advice to newsdealers to join the Knights of Labor?…The seeming magnitude of immediate results should never induce a man of intellect to encourage principles and methods the ultimate evil consequences of which are sure to far outweigh all temporary benefits.” The “principles and methods” referred to were the acceptance and use of the political means of achieving social goals. This disagreement between Tucker and Appleton raged into a bitter conflict within Liberty, eventually impelling Appleton to withdraw from its pages.
Tucker did not oppose labor unions per se. He greeted the July 16, 1881 revival of the International Working People’s Association, describing it as a “momentous event, which marks an epoch in the progress of the great labor movement.” His editorial ended: “We hail its revival with delight and renewed hope…Vive L’Association Internationale!” In response to the 1881 National Socialistic-Revolutionary Congress, he declared: “Nothing is more essential…than the mutual understanding and intercommunication of socialists in all parts of the world and no instrumentality was ever so effective in establishing this as the International Working-People’s Association.” Tucker’s antipathy to unions and labor organizations grew in direct proportion to their participation in politics.
The Kansas City Sun (1887) was another labor paper linked to Liberty through its editor Charles T. Fowler who with Tucker had attended parlor meetings in Boston, the central figure of which was Josiah Warren who spent most of the evenings answering torrents of questions. Upon Fowler’s death, Tucker lamented: “Mr. Fowler’s share of this work was a large one, and he had it well mapped out and far…the task cannot be completed by his originating hand, and for this we mourn.”
Liberty’s connection with labor papers was often based upon the editor’s being a contributor to Liberty. The influential Joseph Labadie (1850–1933), whose articles in Liberty charted his gradual conversion to libertarianism was an editor of the Advance and Labor Leaf. Similarly, John Beverley Robinson (1853–1923), a major Stirnerite contributor to Liberty and a personal friend of Tucker, was earlier a publisher of the Free Soiler (1884), an organ of the American Free Soil Society.
Another class of labor periodical, which, however, Liberty generally viewed with hostility, was single tax journals. Tucker severely criticized Henry George, the founder of the single-tax movement, and he devoted considerable space in Liberty to refuting George, only once quoting him with favor in regard to patents. The two single-tax papers significantly mentioned in Liberty were the Philadelphia Justice and Henry George’s The Standard. Another class was the quasi-libertarian periodicals which Tucker considered allies, one example being the weekly San Franciscan edited by J. Goodman and A. McEwan.
IV.: Liberty Appears
Liberty appeared on August 6, 1881 from Boston with an introduction typical of Tucker. “It may be well to state at the outset,” he declared, “that this journal will be edited to suit its editor, not its readers.” Despite this caveat, Liberty was a relatively open forum for libertarian debate with many of the early unsigned editorials, often ascribed to Tucker, being written by Lysander Spooner and Henry Appleton. The subtitle of Liberty was a quotation from Proudhon—‘Liberty: not the daughter but the mother of order”—and the journal’s primary commitment was to economic reform. It was broad enough in its interests, however, to feature a portrait of Sophie Perovskaya, a Russian nihilist martyr, in the center of its front page. The first page, as in all issues thereafter, was entitled “On Picket Duty” and presented a survey/commentary on contemporary periodicals, events, and personalities. The remainder of the issue dealt with labor, freethought, and anti-statism.
Liberty served as a clearing house for contemporary individualist periodicals, with Tucker ever alert to the appearance of a relevant new journal in America or abroad, ever poised to jump on the deviations of an established journal. He reprinted appropriate articles and often praised or engaged in debate with editors and contributors. Debates were especially common with British individualists such as J. Greevz Fisher, with whom Liberty disputed economic theories of interest and children’s rights.
The first major debate within Liberty, however, was among the American anarchists over Stirnerite egoism (1887–); specifically, this debate centered on whether egoism or natural rights formed the proper basis of libertarianism.
One of the notables in the egoist debate was James L. Walker (1845–1904). Walker contributed toLiberty under the pseudonym of Tak Kak, published the first twelve chapters of his pioneering work,Philosophy of Egoism, in the May 1890 to September 1891 issues of Egoism. Egoism (1890–1897), edited by Georgia and Henry Replogle from California, was a vehicle of Stirnerite egoism. Even before this series, Liberty had introduced egoism through the articles of Walker and George Schumm. The March 6, 1886 issue of Liberty printed an article by Walker entitled “What is Justice?” which advanced the egoist perspective.
The furor that raged over egoism in the next volume of Liberty revolved around the egoists’ rejection of natural rights as unfounded abstractions; Walker referred to such ideas as “right,” “wrong,” and “justice” as “merely words with vague, chimerical meanings.” The natural rights advocates, most of whom were influenced by Herbert Spencer responded by insisting that egoism destroyed the very foundation of libertarianism and removed all moral objection to the initiation of force. Gertrude Kelly well expressed this position in writing: “My friends, my friends, have you completely lost your heads? Cannot you see that without morality, without the recognition of others’ rights, Anarchy, in any other than the vulgar sense, could not last a single day?” Although the egoists agreed that there could be no moral objection to force, they maintained that egoism was a more solid foundation for freedom and so would strengthen the movement. This controversy polarized libertarianism prompting many of the natural rights advocates to withdraw from the pages of Liberty.
Thereafter, Liberty leaned toward egoism though the content changed little as a result. The first English translation of Max Stirner’s Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum (The Ego and His Own) was published by Tucker and given such priority that he omitted the February 1907 issue of Liberty in order to concentrate upon it. “Thanks to Mr. Byington, the translator,” Tucker wrote, “it is superior to any translation that has appeared in any other language and even to the German original.” Tucker’s commitment to egoism may be judged by his statement: “I have been engaged for more than 30 years in the propaganda of Anarchism, and have achieved some things of which I am proud; but I feel that I have done nothing for the cause that compares in value with my publication of this illuminating document.”
Several periodicals were undoubtedly influenced by Liberty’s presentation of egoism. They included: Ipublished by C.L. Swartz, edited by W.E. Gordak and J.W. Lloyd (all associates of Liberty); The Egoand The Egoist, both of which were edited by Edward H. Fulton. Among the egoist papers that Tucker followed were the German Der Eigene, edited by Adolf Brand, and The Eagle and The Serpent, issued from London. The latter, the most prominent English-language egoist journal, was published from 1898 to 1900 with the subtitle “A Journal of Egoistic Philosophy and Sociology”; after June 1900 the subtitle read: “A Journal of Emersonian Philosophy and Sociology.” This bi-monthly was edited by John Basil Barnhill under the pseudonym of Erwin McCall.
Victor S. Yarros was virtually the only Spencerian to remain with Liberty after the egoism debate. He defended the radical Spencerian tradition exemplified by Herbert Spencer’s The Right to Ignore the State (1844, chapter in Social Statics). In advancing the radical Spencerian position as the only consistent one, he incurred the displeasure of individualist papers which considered themselves Spencerian not despite their conservative positions, but because of them. Anarchism was the greatest stumbling block. The Denver Individualist, formerly the Arbitrator, (1889–1890) attacked Tucker on this point. In an article published in the Individualist entitled “Why I am An Individualist,” its editor, Frank Stuart, challenged anarchism and Tucker. The Spencerian Today (formerly Waterman’s Journal), edited by J. Morrison-Fuller called upon Liberty to produce evidence supporting anarchism. On this exchange, the more radical Yarros commented: “Today occupies considerable space with an attempt to answer a recent Liberty paragraph.” He continued by criticizing Today’s rejection of anarchism without which, he declared, it will “remain a voice crying in the wilderness.” E.L. Youmans’Popular Science Monthly was the most prominent vehicle of Spencerian thought in America. Although it did not openly respond to Liberty, Tucker reprinted several articles from its pages.
Contemporary Individualist Periodicals
Other periodicals influenced by Liberty were not devoted to a specific issue such as labor but to individualism in general terms. E.H. Fulton, mentioned previously as the editor of The Age of Thought, The Ego, and The Egoist, was a Tuckerite who published several individualist-anarchist periodicals:The Alturian (1895); The 1776 American (1920); The New Order (1919), which listed Stephen Byington as a contributing editor; and The Mutualist (1925–1928), to which C.L. Swartz contributed. George and Emma Schumm borrowed the title of Tucker’s first periodical, The Radical Review, publishing a short-lived version of their own from Chicago. The Radical Review was advertised in Liberty, as was the individualistic The Whim. Published in 1901, The Whim fell under the editorship of E.H. Crosby in February 1902. Its advertisement in Liberty described its orientation: “The Whim is an independent, anti-military, anti-government journal, claiming relationship to Thoreau and Tolstoy, but owning no master.” Georgia and Henry Replogle’s Equity (1886–1887), a fortnightly journal from Liberal, Missouri stated its purpose to be the “emancipation from sex, wage, monopolistic and custom slavery, and state superstition.” Tucker described it as “a tiny sheet, but a brave one.”
Another individualist paper, The Twentieth Century (N.Y., 1888–1898), elicited mixed reviews from Tucker. Under the editorship of Hugh Pentecost and T.L. M’Cready (associate editor), the Twentieth Century became virtually libertarian. Its advertisement in Liberty stated: “This Journal advocates Personal Sovereignty in place of State Sovereignty, Voluntary Co-operation as opposed to Compulsory Co-operation.” Although Tucker’s opinion of M’Cready was high, he grew increasingly critical of Pentecost, eventually questioning his integrity. Pentecost responded in kind, aiming subtle insults atLiberty in the pages of Twentieth Century. Tucker reported on one such incident: “This meant, I could not help perceiving, a condemnation of the personnel of Liberty’s office. We are fighters, and therefore savages, according to Mr. Pentecost, and this fact stands to our dishonor.”
Tucker also had a mixed response to the periodical Alarm, raising questions on the proper use of force. Originated by Albert R. Parsons, one of the Haymarket martyrs, the paper’s editorship was assumed by Dyer D. Lum (1887) upon Parsons’ arrest and subsequent execution; with Lum, the paper acquired individualistic tendencies. Lum was on cordial terms with Liberty, having contributed a series entitled “Eighteen Christian Centuries: or, the Evolution of the Gospel of Anarchy,” but he became severely critical of Tucker’s stand on the Haymarket incident. Tucker, on the one hand, roundly condemned the authorities and maintained the innocence of the arrested men; he excoriated those who sanctioned the hangings. (His pamphlet Henry George, Traitor was written to prove “that the leader of the Single Taxers was a hypocrite and coward in his sanctioning of the hanging of the Chicago Communists.” But, nevertheless, he refused to use the incident as a rallying point. Some of the accused men were open advocates of force and Tucker was afraid that rallying around such a violent event might only encourage more force. He considered even purely defensive force to be the last possible solution to any problem and never a desirable one.
Tucker’s attitude toward the use of force polarized the anarchist movement. The individualist-anarchists, who generally opposed all but defensive force on moral grounds, were labelled “Boston anarchists” since Liberty was issued from Boston. The communist-anarchists, who often accepted the use of force as a strategy, were labelled “Chicago anarchists” since Chicago was the site of the violent Haymarket affair in 1886. Burnette G. Haskell, editor of the San Francisco Truth, first applied these polarizing labels; ironically, Haskell later attempted to demonstrate the fundamental similarity between individualist and communist anarchism. Tucker was not sympathetic to this interpretation, nor to Haskell.
Another periodical which became libertarian by virtue of a change in editors, was the American Idea. When C.M. Overton left the paper, M.D. Leahy, (a head of the Freethought University in Liberal, Missouri) and W.S. Allison assumed the editorship. In Tucker’s words, it became “a stanch and straight advocate of Anarchism,” which he requested subscribers to “encourage…by generous subscription to his paper.”
Many contributors to Liberty were involved in individualist publishing efforts of their own. Clara Dixon Davidson, whose brilliant article on children’s rights illuminated that debate, published the Enfant Terrible (1891) from San Francisco. The Progressive Age was edited by Voltairine de Cleyre from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
C.L. Swartz, and later J.W. Lloyd, edited The Free Comrade (1900–1902, 1910–1912). The Galveston Daily News achieved prominence in Liberty through the work of its chief editorial writer, James L. Walker, whose articles Tucker frequently reprinted. For a short time, the Chicago Evening Post was co-edited by Victor Yarros, an associate editor of Liberty. An unusually high percentage of those who contributed to Liberty were professional journalists or experienced “amateurs” who, true to the definition of that word, pursued publishing for the love of it.
V.: Liberty Abroad: International Libertarianism
Tucker and Liberty were hybrids. Their roots were imbedded in both the uniquely American tradition of individualist-anarchism and some distinctively foreign traditions. The cosmopolitan Tucker acknowledged no intellectual boundaries and tolerated no political ones; national boundaries were simply the physical manifestation of government, an institution he adamantly rejected. This internationalism was reflected in the articles Liberty reprinted from foreign journals and the correspondents who reported on the progress of liberty in their native countries. These correspondents included David Andrade (Australia), Vilfredo Pareto (Italy) and Wordsworth Donisthorpe (England). Distinctly foreign events and concerns such as the plight of Russian nihilists or Irish tenants often received more attention from Liberty than American ones. Tucker was outraged by the imprisonment of the Italian Amilcare Cipriani, the trial of Louise Michel, and the plight of Russian refugees in Paris. His attempt to establish libertarianism as an international movement was best exemplified by Libertas(1888), a German language version of Liberty, published by Tucker and edited by George and Emma Schumm. “This will be the only thoroughly Anarchistic German journal ever published in the world…” Tucker wrote in announcing Libertas. “The paper will be of the same shape and size as the EnglishLiberty, and the two will alternate in the order of publication—the English appearing one week and the German the next.” Libertas was short-lived.
In terms of contributing articles and engaging in debate, the British individualists were the most active foreign presence in the pages of Liberty. The British Individualists differed from their American contemporaries in several ways. For the most part, they advocated limited government and, like their mentor Herbert Spencer, they shied away from anarchism. The labor theory of value, so integral toLiberty’s philosophy, was not widely accepted among the British Individualists, and one of Liberty’s lengthiest debates pitted the American Hugo Bilgram against the British J. Greevz Fisher on the justice of interest. Another major debate, children’s rights, pointed up a third difference between the two groups. This exchange was, at bottom, the fundamental conflict of egoism versus natural rights. The egoists claimed that rights derived from contract and, thus, were unhappily led to conclude that children were unable to contract any rights whatsoever. The British, however, had not participated in the earlier egoism controversy in Liberty and took a straight natural rights stand. To them, children had all the rights that any human being could claim.
In sum, the British differed from the Americans in their rejection of anarchism, the labor theory of value, and egoism.
Auberon Herbert’s Free Life (1890–1901), quoted nineteen times in Liberty, was perhaps the most prominent British libertarian periodicals. Its prospectus, as it appeared in Liberty, read: “We shall oppose all hereditary privilege, all religious establishments, all artificial regulations tending to monopoly in land; and we shall equally oppose all attacks upon property of every kind… Of Free Lifeand Herbert, Tucker Wrote: “In a letter to me, written when he was contemplating the establishment ofThe Free Life, Mr. Herbert proposed that, in case of any friendly discussion between his journal and mine, each should reprint all that the other might say. Mr. Herbert will observe that I have been prompt to act upon his suggestion, and I have no doubt that he will reciprocate…” The “friendly discussion” referred to involved anarchism, which Herbert rejected.
Wordsworth Donisthorpe, the British correspondent of Liberty and its most frequent British contributor, edited Jus: A Weekly Organ of Individualism (1885–1888). Jus originated as an organ of the Liberty and Property Defense League; it ceased with Donisthorpe’s resignation from the League in protest over its marked tendency to defend privilege rather than liberty. On the demise of Jus, Tucker wrote: “There are no more than two papers on Liberty’s exchange list which the cause of Liberty could not have better spared…it is comforting to think that, as this good ship went down…it nailed to its mast-head colors more unmistakable than ever, and thus made its death more glorious than its life.” This referred to Donisthorpe’s explicit embrace of anarchism in Jus’ final issue. Donisthorpe’s association with Tucker undoubtedly moved him in that direction.
Another British journal was the Personal Rights Journal, the organ of the English National Association for the Defense of Personal Rights, and was edited by J.H. Levy for over 30 years. Much of Liberty’s discussion of the Personal Rights Journal revolved around its defense of government. “On the whole,” Victor Yarros observed, “we find plenty of evidence that these are times that try English Individualists’ souls. That the most thoughtful of them will finally frankly accept the anarchist position is a foregone conclusion. Let us watch them now.” Unfortunately, one of the things Yarros watched the Personal Rights Journal subsequently do was to review unfavorably his pamphlet “Anarchism: Its Aims and Methods”; the Personal Rights Journal remained an adherent of limited government.
Albert Tarn’s The Herald of Anarchy (1890–1892), a London monthly, was an exception to the British Individualists” rejection of anarchism. In its advertisement in Liberty, The Herald of Anarchy declared that it “seeks to destroy the authority and prestige of national government as well as to combat all other forms of tyranny; advocates free access to land, the abolition of national monetary laws and restrictions on credit, free contract and free love.” The debate between Tarn and Herbert on anarchism was followed by Liberty.
Henry Seymour was another English anarchist. In his periodical, The Anarchist, a four-page monthly beginning in 1885, he published George Bernard Shaw and Henry Appleton, both of whom contributed to Liberty. “It is gratifying,” Tucker wrote of The Anarchist, “to observe that it is to wage uncompromising war on lines precisely parallel to those of Liberty. Later, however, Tucker indicated that The Anarchist was leaning toward communist-anarchism. After this periodical, Seymour edited the London Revolutionary Review (1889), a monthly which lasted less than a year.
The Eagle and the Serpent, a bi-monthly from London (1898–1902), an exception to the British insistence upon natural rights as the basis for individualism. Edited by John Basil Barnhill under the pseudonym of Erwin McCall, this periodical presented the egoist sage from Nietzsche—‘The proudest animal under the sun [the Eagle] and the wisest animal under the sun [the Serpent] have set out to reconnoitre.” Welcomed by Liberty, The Eagle and the Serpent was the London agent for Georgia and Henry Replogle’s Egoism.
John Morley’s Pall Mall Gazette from London was among those British periodicals which received lukewarm attention from Tucker. He considered the Pall Mall Gazette to be “a moderately liberal journal, but prone to eschew that intensity of utterance to which men engaged in vigourous battle for great ideas generally give vent.” The London Freedom (1886–1927) received attention, probably due to its editor Pierre Kropotkin, whom Tucker admired. The prospectus of the individualist The Whirlwind (1890), edited by Herbert Vivian and Stuart Erskine, was reprinted in Liberty under the heading “Welcome the Whirlwind”; it read: “In politics we shall be individualists, instantly protesting against the encroaching tyranny of our grandmother, the state… Although it was generally well received, Yarros criticized The Whirlwind’s anti-Semitism.
Liberty also maintained ties with British free thought and free love groups. It reprinted articles from G.W. Foote’s Freethinker and reported the activities of Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant. George Bedborough’s free love periodical, The Adult: A Journal for the Advancement of Freedom in Sexual Relationships, received some mention as the organ of the Legitimation League. Liberty, however, had little enthusiasm for this League, critically reviewing a pamphlet entitled “Legitimacy” by J. Greevz Fisher, a vice president of the League. The Adult and the Legitimation League were more closely associated with the free love interests of Lucifer the Light Bearer and Moses Harman.
Given the immense influence Proudhon had upon Tucker, Liberty naturally felt strong ties to radical movements in France. These ties manifested themselves in two ways: translations and reprints. Tucker, along with several of Liberty’s associates, was a bilingual Francophile and translated many works from French to English. Some of these were reprinted within Liberty; others were offered for sale independently, and were advertised within Liberty. The shorter translated pieces were generally articles rendered directly from French periodicals. The State: Its Nature, Object and Destiny by Proudhon, for example, was translated directly from La Voix du Peuple by Tucker. Since Tucker was an ardent fan and collector of Proudhon’s periodicals, one of Liberty’s greatest expressions of pleasure came as the result of a particular gift from John Henry Mackay. Tucker exclaimed:
Through the thoughtful kindness of my friend, John Henry Mackay, of Germany, I experienced a few days ago one of the pleasantest surprises of my life. For many years it has been my wish to obtain possession of a file of the newspapers which Proudhon edited in Paris during the years 1848, 1849, and 1850. Mackay has gratified this desire…I now have on my desk a complete file of “Le Peuple”, and a file of ‘Le Représentant du Peuple,’ which lacks only the half-dozen numbers that the French government confiscated.
The periodical from which articles were most frequently translated and reprinted in Liberty was Henri Rochefort’s L’Intransigeant. Next in importance was George Clemenceau’s L’Aurore. Le Révolté(subsequently La Révolté) edited by Pierre Kropotkin received praise from Tucker as “our ardent and admirable contemporary.” Tucker was especially pleased by Le Révolté’s condemnation of those American socialists who refused to protest laws against Chinese immigration into America. Le Tempsand L’Audace were also quoted briefly.
David Andrade, Liberty’s Australian correspondent contributed several excellent articles on the progress of libertarianism in Australia. Part of this progress was Andrade’s Honesty (1887–1889), an anarchist periodical from Melbourne. This twelve-page monthly was published by the Cooperative Publishing Company at 85 cents per year. Liberty was its role model; Honesty’s advertisement proclaimed: “It is sufficient description of Honesty’s principles to say that they are substantially the same as those championed by Liberty in America.” Honesty listed Tucker’s name and address for subscriptions.
W.R. Winspear’s Australian Radical from Hamilton was also associated with Liberty. According to Tucker, the Australian Radical changed its format in 1888 from state socialism to anarchism. This weekly reprinted articles from Liberty.
Other Foreign Connections
Although the German egoist Max Stirner had immense impact upon Liberty, German periodicals were not followed with the same interest as British or French ones. Tucker’s inability to read German fluently may have accounted for this. Much of his knowledge of Stirner and other matters requiring translation came from the bilingual George Schumm. Adolf Brand’s Der Eigene and Johann Otten’sZeitschrift für den Individualistischen Anarchismus were commented upon by Tucker. German-American papers monitored by Liberty included: Heinzen’s Pionier, Reitzel’s Arme Teufel, Der Wecker, and Der Freidenker.
It is difficult to assess Liberty’s connection with Spanish periodicals. Revista Social and La Revolucion Social were mentioned briefly, and Stephen Byington engaged in debate over individualist-anarchism with the editor of A Vida. A Vida had printed a Spanish translation of an article Byington had submitted to Tucker. A Vida’s source for the article was a French paper which had translated directly from Liberty. Whether foreign periodicals were in the habit of translating and reprinting Liberty is speculation.
Although Tucker exhibited great interest in Russian nihilism and the assassination of the Czar (1881), few Russian periodicals were mentioned in Liberty. Victor Yarros who had fled Russia to avoid arrest was probably the only associate of Liberty with enough background to appreciate and translate the various periodicals. There is, however, no evidence that he did so. Liberty did, nevertheless, follow the career of Leo Tolstoi.
VI.: Liberty and Literature
Literature was a prominent aspect of Liberty’s emphasis on internationalism. Tucker kept current on the state of art in France, England, and America. When Max Nordau published his anti-modernistDegeneration (Entartung), Tucker was discerning enough to solicit a critique from the one man best able to handle it—George Bernard Shaw. This essay, entitled “A Degenerate’s View of Nordau,” was the first article by Shaw to appear in America. Among the literary works Liberty translated and published were: Claude Tillier’s My Uncle Benjamin, Zola’s Money and Modern Marriage, Octave Mirabeau’s A Chambermaid’s Diary, Felix Pyat’s The Rag Picker of Paris, and Sophie Kropotkin’s The Wife of Number 4,237.
This fascination with cosmopolitan literature lead Tucker to publish The Transatlantic (1889–1890), a biweekly literary magazine. The advertisement in Liberty promised: “Every number has a complete translated novelette, a piece of European Music, a Portrait of a Foreign Celebrity and part of a translated European Serial.” The Transatlantic consisted of “the cream of the European press translated into English.” predictably, much of the literature which interested Tucker had political implications. When Oscar Wilde’s plea for penal reform, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, was widely criticized, Tucker enthusiastically endorsed the poem, urging all of his subscribers to read it. Tucker, in fact, published an American edition. From its early championing of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grassto a series of short stories by Francis du Bosque in its last issues, Liberty was a vehicle of controversial, avant-garde literature.
VII.: The Demise of Liberty
Liberty came to a sudden, tragic end. In January, 1908 Tucker’s bookstore was consumed by a fire which he described in what was to be the last issue of Liberty: “[T]his composing room, together with the entire wholesale stock of my publications and nearly all my plates, was absolutely wiped out by fire. As I had deliberately refused to insure…the loss was total.”
He continued: “It is my intention to close up my business next summer, and, before January 1, 1909, go to Europe, there to publish Liberty (still mainly for America, of course) and such books and pamphlets as my remaining means may enable me to print.” These plans did not materialize. The April 1908 issue of Liberty was the last.
Tucker moved to Europe, settling in Monaco where he died at the age of eighty-five on June 22, 1939. Born seven years before the start of the Civil War, he died the same year that World War II began. In many ways, Tucker exemplified the golden age of libertarianism which faltered in the face of growing statism and militarism. Like other individualists, Tucker watched this growth of the State and became pessimistic. From Europe he wrote: “I hate the age in which I live, but I do not hate myself for living in it.” During this advance of statism, his views began to shift. In a postscript to the 1911 London edition of State Socialism and Anarchism, he commented that when he wrote the essay twenty-five years before, “The denial of competition had not yet effected the enormous concentration of wealth that so gravely threatens social order.” It was no longer clear to Tucker that a free market alone could overcome the problems created by government monopoly. His pessimism increased with time. In a letter to his old friend C.L. Schwartz, a despondent Tucker wrote, “[T]he insurmountable obstacle to the realization of anarchy is no longer the power of the trusts, but the indisputable fact that our civilization is in its death throes.” Perhaps it was this despair coupled with his love of French culture that lead Tucker to support the Allies in World War I. Although he supported Sacco and Vanzetti against persecution by the state, Tucker displayed less and less interest in American affairs. Two days after his death, he was buried in Monaco with a private, civil ceremony; Tucker was survived by his wife and daughter. Other than writing to the editors of various journals, Tucker’s last years were unproductive. His death, like that of Herbert Spencer, marked the end of an era. Libertarianism as an organized movement in America would not appear again for many years.
VIII.: Liberty: Success or Failure?
The question of whether Liberty or nineteenth-century libertarianism in general was successful inevitably arises. Often, the standard of success employed is whether the present society reflects the philosophy and goals of these early libertarians. Since it does not, libertarianism is said to have failed. A more reasonable approach, however, would be to assess the movement’s imposed limitations and ascertain how much it achieved in spite of them.
The last decades of the nineteenth century were a golden age for radicalism in America. Anarchists in the United States issued nearly 500 periodicals in a dozen languages ranging from French to Yiddish. Only a minority of these periodicals were individualistic, for individualism was not the dominant philosophy of reform; the dominant philosophy was socialism.
The Civil War dealt such a severe blow to individualism that it never recovered. The War ushered in conscription, suspension of habeas corpus, censorship, military law, political prisoners, legal tender legislation, and soaring taxes and tariffs. The status and functions of government inflated as never before. Equally important, the prevailing view of government changed. With the Declaration of Independence and the cry of “no taxation without representation,” government was considered to rule through the consent of the people. When the North refused to permit the South to withdraw its consent through secession and when it imposed an unpopular government upon the South, the consensual view of government was weakened and, with the “One Union under God” motto, mystification of the coercive State was underway.
Schisms within the libertarian movement resulting from the Civil War were equally destructive. Some of the abolitionists welcomed the conflict as a holy war to end slavery. Others considered it an inevitable evil and so supported the North as the lesser of two evils which at least promised the desirable goal of emancipation. Even the staunch pacifist William Lloyd Garrison supported the North much to the horror of Ezra Heywood and Lysander Spooner, who saw the War as a massive violation of life and property, which could not be justified by any goal. By the end of the Civil War, libertarianism had been so compromised and the state had achieved such prominence that individualism in America was no longer a dominant driving force.
After 1865, libertarianism existed as the radical faction within various other reform movements such as freethought, free love, and the labor movement. Although the basis of a systematic philosophy was present in the writing of such theorists as Josiah Warren and Lysander Spooner, libertarianism lacked cohesion. Not until Tucker and the publication of Liberty did libertarianism become a distinct, independent movement functioning in its own name toward its own unique set of goals. Tucker’sLiberty was important for discussing and interrelating ethics, economics, and politics to build a system of philosophy and, over a period of three decades, it provided a core around which a revitalized movement could sprout and grow.
In the late nineteenth century, libertarianism was not “an idea whose time had come.” David De Leon inThe American as Anarchist observed: “Nineteenth century anarchism failed primarily because it seemed archaic in the twentieth century.” Libertarianism further hindered itself by clinging to the labor theory of value and by refusing to incorporate marginal utility and other rising economic theories. Socialism became the dominant philosophy of reform, offering all the appeal of a new, untried idea and of a quick, political solution to social injustice.
In broad terms, the achievements of Benjamin R. Tucker’s journal Liberty were: its influence upon people, its role in the creation and sustenance of an autonomous movement; and the preservation of a tradition without which modern libertarianism could not exist.