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<HTML>
<HEAD>

<TITLE>G.7 Lysander Spooner: right-Libertarian or libertarian socialist? </TITLE>
</HEAD>
<BODY>
<p>
<H1>G.7 Lysander Spooner: right-Libertarian or libertarian socialist?</H1>
<p>
Murray Rothbard and others on the "libertarian" right have argued that
Lysander Spooner is another individualist anarchist whose ideas support
"anarcho"-capitalism's claim to be part of the anarchist tradition. As
will be shown below, however, this claim is untrue, since it is clear that
Spooner was a left libertarian who was firmly opposed to capitalism. 
<p>
That Spooner was against capitalism can be seen in his opposition to wage
labour, which he wished to eliminate by turning capital over to those who
work it. Like Benjamin Tucker, he wanted to create a society of associated
producers -- self-employed farmers, artisans and co-operating workers --
rather than wage-slaves and capitalists. For example, in his <b>Letter to
Cleveland</b> Spooner writes: 
<blockquote>
<i>"All the great establishments, of every kind,
now in the hands of a few proprietors, but employing a great number of
wage labourers, would be broken up; for few or no persons, who could hire
capital and do business for themselves would consent to labour for wages
for another."</i> [quoted by Eunice Minette Schuster, <b>Native American 
Anarchism</b>, p. 148]
</blockquote><p>
This preference for a system based on simple commodity production in which
capitalists and wage slaves are replaced by self-employed and co-operating
workers puts Spooner squarely in the <b>anti-capitalist</b> camp with other
individualist anarchists, like Tucker. And, we may add, the rough
egalitarianism he expected to result from his system indicates the
left-libertarian nature of his ideas, turning the present <i>"wheel of
fortune"</i> into <i>"extended surface, varied somewhat by inequalities, but
still exhibiting a general level, affording a safe position for all,
and creating no necessity, for either force or fraud, on the part of
anyone, to enable him to secure his standing."</i> [Spooner quoted by
Peter Marshall in <b>Demanding the Impossible</b>, pp. 388-9]
<p>
Right "libertarians" have perhaps mistaken Spooner for a capitalist
because of his claim that a "free market in credit" would lead to low
interest on loans or his <i>"foolish"</i> (to use Tucker's expression) ideas on 
intellectual property. But, as noted, markets are not the defining feature of
capitalism. There were markets long before capitalism existed. So the fact
that Spooner retained the concept of markets does not necessarily make him
a capitalist. In fact, far from seeing his "free market in credit" in
capitalist terms, he believed (again like Tucker) that competition between
mutual banks would make credit cheap and easily available, and that this
would lead to the <b>elimination</b> of capitalism! In this respect, both
Spooner and Tucker follow Proudhon, who maintained that <i>"reduction of
interest rates to vanishing point is itself a revolutionary act, because
it is destructive of capitalism"</i> [cited in Edward Hyams, <b>Pierre-Joseph
Proudhon: His Revolutionary Life, Mind and Works</b>, Taplinger, 1979].
Whether this belief is correct is, of course, another question; we have
suggested that it is not, and that capitalism cannot be "reformed away" by
mutual banking, particularly by competitive mutual banking.
<p>
Further evidence of Spooner's anti-capitalism can be found his book
<b>Poverty: Its Illegal Causes and Legal Cure</b>, where he notes that under
capitalism the labourer does not receive <i>"all the fruits of his own
labour"</i> because the capitalist lives off of workers' <i>"honest industry."</i>
Thus: <i>". . . almost all fortunes are made out of the capital and labour of
other men than those who realise them. Indeed, except by his sponging
capital and labour from others."</i> [quoted by Martin J. James, <b>Men Against
the State</b>, p. 173f] Spooner's statement that capitalists deny workers 
<i>"all the fruits"</i> (i.e. the full value) of their labour presupposes
the labour theory of value, which is the basis of the <b>socialist</b>
demonstration that capitalism is exploitative (see <a href="secCcon.html">section C</a>). 
<p>
This interpretation of Spooner's social and economic views is supported by
various studies in which his ideas are analysed. As these works also give
an idea of Spooner's ideal world, they are worth quoting : 
<p><blockquote>
<i>"Spooner envisioned a society of pre-industrial times in which small
property owners gathered together voluntarily and were assured by their
mutual honesty of full payment of their labour."</i> [Corinne Jackson, <b>The
Black Flag of Anarchy</b>, p. 87]
<p>
Spooner considered that <i>"it was necessary that every man be his own
employer or work for himself in a direct way, since working for another
resulted in a portion being diverted to the employer. To be one's own
employer, it was necessary for one to have access to one's own capital."</i>
[James J. Martin, <b>Men Against the State</b>, p. 172] 
<p>
Spooner <i>"recommends that every man should be his own employer, and he
depicts an ideal society of independent farmers and entrepreneurs who have
access to easy credit. If every person received the fruits of his own
labour, the just and equal distribution of wealth would result."</i> [Peter
Marshall, <b>Demanding the Impossible</b>, p. 389]
<p>
<i>"Spooner would destroy the factory system, wage labour [and the business
cycle]. . . by making every individual a small capitalist [sic!], an
independent producer."</i> [Eunice Minette Schuster, <b>Native American Anarchism</b>, 
p. 151]
</blockquote><p>
It is quite apparent, then, that Spooner was against wage labour, and
therefore was no capitalist. Hence we must agree with Marshall, who
classifies Spooner as a <b>left</b> libertarian with ideas very close to
Proudhon's mutualism. Whether such ideas are relevant now, given the vast
amount of capital needed to start companies in established sectors of the
economy, is another question. As noted above, similar doubts may be raised
about Spooner's claims about the virtues of a free market in credit. But
one thing is clear: Spooner was opposed to the way America was developing
in the mid 1800's. He viewed the rise of capitalism with disgust and
suggested a way for non-exploitative and non-oppressive economic
relationships to become the norm again in US society, a way based on
eliminating the root cause of capitalism -- wage-labour -- through a
system of easy credit, which he believed would enable artisans and
peasants to obtain their own means of production. This is confirmed
by an analysis of his famous works <b>Natural Law</b> and <b>No
Treason</b>.
<p>
Spooner's support of "Natural Law" has also been taken as "evidence" that
Spooner was a proto-right-libertarian (which ignores the fact that support 
for "Natural Law" is not limited to right libertarians). Of course, most 
anarchists do not find theories of "natural law," be they those of 
right-Libertarians, fascists or whatever, to be particularly compelling. 
Certainly the ideas of "Natural Law" and "Natural Rights," as existing 
independently of human beings in the sense of the ideal Platonic Forms, 
are difficult for anarchists to accept per se, because such ideas are 
inherently authoritarian (as highlighted in section <a href="secF7.html">F.7</a>). Most anarchists
would agree with Tucker when he called such concepts <i>"religious."</i>
<p>
Spooner, unfortunately, did subscribe to the cult of <i>"immutable and
universal"</i> Natural Laws and is so subject to all the problems we
highlight in section <a href="secF7.html">F.7</a>. If we look at his "defence" of Natural
Law we can see how weak (and indeed silly) it is. Replacing the
word <i>"rights"</i> with the word <i>"clothes"</i> in the following passage
shows the inherent weakness of his argument:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"if there be no such principle as justice, or natural law, then every
human being came into the world utterly destitute of rights; and
coming so into the world destitute of rights, he must forever remain
so. For if no one brings any rights with him into the world, clearly
no one can ever have any rights of his own, or give any to another.
And the consequence would be that mankind could never have any rights;
and for them to talk of any such things as their rights, would be
to talk of things that had, never will, and never can have any
existence."</i> [<b>Natural Law</b>]
</blockquote><p>
And, we add, unlike the "Natural Laws" of <i>"gravitation, . . .of light,
the principles of mathematics"</i> to which Spooner compares them, he
is perfectly aware that his "Natural Law" can be <i>"trampled upon"</i>
by other humans. However, unlike gravity (which does not need
enforcing) its obvious that Spooner's "Natural Law" has to be
enforced by human beings as it is within human nature to steal.
In other words, it is a moral code, <b>not</b> a "Natural Law" like gravity.
<p>
Interestingly, Spooner did come close to a <b>rational,</b> non-religious
source for rights when he points out that <i>"Men living in contact
with each other, and having intercourse together, cannot avoid
learning natural law."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>] This indicates the <b>social</b> nature
of rights, of our sense of right and wrong, and so rights can exist 
without believing in religious concepts as "Natural Law." 
<p>
In addition, we can say that his support for juries indicates an 
unconscious recognition of the <b>social</b> nature (and so evolution) 
of any concepts of human rights. In other words, by arguing strongly
for juries to judge human conflict, he implicitly recognises that the
concepts of right and wrong in society are <b>not</b> indelibly inscribed in
law tomes as the "true law," but instead change and develop as society
does (as reflected in the decisions of the juries). In addition, he states
that <i>"Honesty, justice, natural law, is usually a very plain and simple
matter, . . . made up of a few simple elementary principles, of the truth
and justice of which every ordinary mind has an almost intuitive
perception,"</i> thus indicating that what is right and wrong exists in
"ordinary people" and not in "prosperous judges" or any other small group
claiming to speak on behalf of "truth."
<p>
As can be seen, Spooner's account of how "natural law" will be
administered is radically different from, say, Murray Rothbard's, and
indicates a strong egalitarian context foreign to right-libertarianism. 
<p>
As far as "anarcho"-capitalism goes, one wonders how Spooner would regard
the "anarcho"-capitalist "protection firm," given his comment in <b>No
Treason</b> that <i>"[a]ny number of scoundrels, having money enough to start
with, can establish themselves as a 'government'; because, with money,
they can hire soldiers, and with soldiers extort more money; and also
compel general obedience to their will."</i> Compare this to Spooner's
description of his voluntary justice associations: 
<blockquote><p>
<i>"it is evidently desirable that men should associate, so far as they
freely and voluntarily can do so, for the maintenance of justice among
themselves, and for mutual protection against other wrong-doers. It is
also in the highest degree desirable that they should agree upon some plan
or system of judicial proceedings"</i> [<b>Natural Law</b>] 
</blockquote><p>
At first glance, one may be tempted to interpret Spooner's justice
organisations as a subscription to "anarcho"-capitalist style protection
firms. A more careful reading suggests that Spooner's actual conception is
more based on the concept of mutual aid, whereby people provide such
services for themselves and for others rather than buying them on a
fee-per-service basis. A very different concept. 
<p>
These comments are particularly important when we consider Spooner's
criticisms of finance capitalists, like the Rothschilds. Here he departs
even more strikingly from all "Libertarian" positions. For he believes
that sheer wealth has intrinsic power, even to the extent of allowing the
wealthy to coerce the government into behaving at their behest. For
Spooner, governments are <i>"the merest hangers on, the servile, obsequious,
fawning dependents and tools of these blood-money loan-mongers, on whom
they rely for the means to carry on their crimes. These loan-mongers, like
the Rothschilds, [can]. . . unmake them [governments]. . .the moment they
refuse to commit any crime"</i> that finance capital requires of them. Indeed,
Spooner considers <i>"these soulless blood-money loan-mongers"</i> as <i>"the 
real rulers,"</i> not the government (who are their agents). [<b>No Treason</b>].
<p>
If one grants that highly concentrated wealth has intrinsic power and may
be used in such a Machiavellian manner as Spooner claims, then simple
opposition to the state is not sufficient. Logically, any political theory
claiming to promote liberty should also seek to limit or abolish the
institutions that facilitate large concentrations of wealth. As shown
above, Spooner regarded wage labour under capitalism as one of these
institutions, because without it <i>"large fortunes could rarely be made at
all by one individual."</i> Hence for Spooner, as for social anarchists, to be
anti-statist also necessitates being anti-capitalist. 
<p>
This can be clearly seen for his analysis of history, where he states:
<i>"Why is it that [Natural Law] has not, ages ago, been established
throughout the world as the one only law that any man, or all men, could
rightfully be compelled to obey?"</i> Spooner's answer is given in his
interpretation of how the State evolved, where he postulates that the
State was formed through the initial ascendancy of a land-holding,
slave-holding class by military conquest and oppressive enslavement of a
subsistence-farming peasantry. 
<p><blockquote>
<i>"These tyrants, living solely on plunder, and on the labour of their
slaves, and applying all their energies to the seizure of still more
plunder, and the enslavement of still other defenceless persons;
increasing, too, their numbers, perfecting their organisations, and
multiplying their weapons of war, they extend their conquests until, in
order to hold what they have already got, it becomes necessary for them to
act systematically, and cooperage with each other in holding their slaves
in subjection. 
<p>
"But all this they can do only by establishing what they call a
government, and making what they call laws. ...
<p>
"Thus substantially all the legislation of the world has had its origin in
the desires of one class of persons to plunder and enslave others, <b>and
hold them as property.</b>"</i> [<b>Natural Law</b>] 
</blockquote><p>
Nothing too provocative here; simply Spooner's view of government as a
tool of the wealth-holding, slave-owning class. What is more interesting
is Spooner's view of the subsequent development of (post-slavery)
socio-economic systems. Spooner writes:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"In process of time, the robber, or slaveholding, class -- who had seized
all the lands, and held all the means of creating wealth -- began to
discover that the easiest mode of managing their slaves, and making them
profitable, was <b>not</b> for each slaveholder to hold his specified number of
slaves, as he had done before, and as he would hold so many cattle, but to
give them so much liberty as would throw upon themselves (the slaves) the
responsibility of their own subsistence, and yet compel them to sell their
labour to the land-holding class -- their former owners -- for just what
the latter might choose to give them."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>]
</blockquote><p>
Here Spooner echoes the standard anarchist critique of capitalism. Note
that he is no longer talking about slavery but rather about economic
relations between a wealth-holding class and a 'freed' class of
workers/labourers/tenant farmers. Clearly he does <b>not</b> view this relation
--wage labour -- as a voluntary association, because the former slaves have
little option but to be employed by members of the wealth-owning class.
<p>
Spooner points out that by monopolising the means of wealth creation while
at the same time requiring the newly 'liberated' slaves to provide for
themselves, the robber class thus continues to receive the benefits of the
labour of the former slaves while accepting none of the responsibility for
their welfare. 
<p>
Spooner continues:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"Of course, these liberated slaves, as some have erroneously called them,
having no lands, or other property, and no means of obtaining an
independent subsistence, had no alternative -- to save themselves from
starvation -- but to sell their labour to the landholders, in exchange only
for the coarsest necessaries of life; not always for so much even as
that."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>] 
</blockquote><p>
Thus while technically "free," the liberated working/labouring class lack
the ability to provide for their own needs and hence remain dependent on
the wealth-owning class. This echoes not right-libertarian analysis of
capitalism, but left-libertarian and other socialist viewpoints. 
<p><blockquote>
<i>"These liberated slaves, as they were called, were now scarcely less
slaves than they were before. Their means of subsistence were perhaps even
more precarious than when each had his own owner, who had an interest to
preserve his life."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>]
</blockquote><p>
This is an interesting comment. Spooner suggests that the liberated slave
class were perhaps <b>better off as slaves.</b>  Most anarchists would not go
so far, although we would agree that employees are subject to the power of
those who employ them and so are no long self-governing individuals -- in
other words, that capitalist social relationships deny self-ownership and
freedom. 
<p><blockquote>
<i>"They were liable, at the caprice or interest of the landholders, to be
thrown out of home, employment, and the opportunity of even earning a
subsistence by their labour."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>]
</blockquote><p>
Lest the reader doubt that Spooner is actually discussing employment here
(and not slavery), he explicitly includes being made unemployed as an
example of the arbitrary nature of wage labour. 
<p><blockquote>
<i>"They were, therefore, in large numbers, driven to the necessity of
begging, stealing, or starving; and became, of course, dangerous to the
property and quiet of their late masters."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>]
</blockquote><p>
And thus:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"The consequence was, that these late owners found it necessary, for their
own safety and the safety of their property, to organise themselves more
perfectly as a government <b>and make laws for keeping these dangerous
people in subjection</b>. . . . "</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>]
</blockquote><p>
In other words, the robber class creates legislation which will protect
its power, namely its property, against the dispossessed. Hence we see the
creation of "law code" by the wealthy which serves to protect their
interests while effectively making attempts to change the status quo
illegal. This process is in effect similar to the right-libertarian
concept of a "general libertarian law code" which exercises a monopoly
over a given area and which exists to defend the "rights" of property
against "initiation of force," i.e. attempts to change the system into a
new one. 
<p>
Spooner goes on:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"The purpose and effect of these laws have been to maintain, in the hands
of robber, or slave holding class, a monopoly of all lands, and, as far as
possible, of all other means of creating wealth; and thus to keep the
great body of labourers in such a state of poverty and dependence, as would
compel them to sell their labour to their tyrants for the lowest prices at
which life could be sustained."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>]
</blockquote><p>
Thus Spooner identifies the underlying basis for legislation (as well as
the source of much misery, exploitation and oppression throughout history)
as the result of the monopolisation of the means of wealth creation by an
elite class. We doubt he would have considered that calling these laws
"libertarian" would in any change their oppressive and class-based
nature.
<p><blockquote>
<i>"Thus the whole business of legislation, which has now grown to such
gigantic proportions, had its origin in the conspiracies, which have
always existed among the few, for the purpose of holding the many in
subjection, and extorting from them their labour, and all the profits of
their labour."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>]
</blockquote><p>
Characterising employment as extortion may seem rather extreme, but it
makes sense given the exploitative nature of profit under capitalism, as
left libertarians have long  recognised (see <a href="secCcon.html">section 
C</a>). 
<p>
In summary, as can be seen, there is a great deal of commonality between
Spooner's ideas and those of social anarchists. Spooner perceives the same
sources of exploitation and oppression inherent in monopolistic control of
the means of production by a wealth-owning class as do social anarchists.
His solutions may differ, but he observes  exactly the same problems. In
other words, Spooner is a left libertarian, and his individualist
anarchism is just as anti-capitalist as the ideas of, say, Bakunin,
Kropotkin or Chomsky. 
<p>
Spooner was no more a capitalist than Rothbard was an anarchist.
<p>
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