Posts tagged Lysander Spooner

Re: @Jeremy Weiland: Is there any liberal argument for #hcr that even acknowledges we have a Constitution?

You have a Constitution? Sorry to hear it. But you must’ve known that this is the kind of shit you end up with when you have Constitutions. That’s why I got rid of all mine years ago. Liberty is a social relationship, not a paper document.

(For what it’s worth, the official party line is that it’s authorized under the Interstate Commerce Clause. Is it really? Who cares? Either the Interstate Commerce Clause does authorize this massive corporatist screwjob, or else it has proven that it can do nothing effectual to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.)

Re: Zinnconsistent

vidyohs: I guess I have to spend more time with Lysander, as so far in my readings I haven’t got to the part about him being an anarchist, or least I have come to that interpretation yet. . . . Note I didn’t say you were wrong about Lysander, I just said that, in my quite likely more meager reading of Lysander, I had not made that interpretation. Now that you’ve suggested it, I’ll look closer.

Well, from the sounds of it you’ve already read No Treason. If you haven’t yet gotten the anarchistic implications of Spooner’s view, you might consult his later books, in which he most clearly argues that he views any form of government whatever as illegitimate, e.g. his “Letter to Thomas F. Bayard: Challenging his right — and that of all the other so-called senators and representatives in Congress — to exercise any legislative power whatever over the people of the United States” at or his short book “Natural Law; or The Science of Justice: A Treatise on Natural Law, Natural Justice, Natural Rights, Natural Liberty, and Natural Society; showing that all legislation whatsoever is an absurdity, a usurpation, and a crime” at . Spooner makes it pretty clear there.

I know that workers at various times have risen up and seized the farm from its owners, but my point was that in most cases they probably didn’t get a whole hell of a lot from it, hardly worth the effort unless life in general where the farm is located is also just a living hell for everyone. I guess I am saying that in my view, and in general, while a farm may produce a tidy wealth for one man, typically that wealth divided amongst many men isn’t going very far.

Well, um, in situations where peasants get together and seize control over farms, it has typically been the case that they were seizing control over farms that they were already working on as their primary means of subsistence. The difference is that before they had to work according to the requirements set by a government-privileged landlord, and to turn a hefty share of the fruits of their labor over to him, whereas afterwards they didn’t have to do that. They were already surviving on shares of the income generated from a single (typically very large) farm or plantation; the difference is that, after the expropriation, the shares they got were no longer reduced by the leeching of government-appointed tax farmers and landlords. (* Government-appointed because the landlord typically owed his control over the land to a grant from the Crown or the State based on nothing more than the naked exercise of government power and privilege (to conquest and feudalism in Russia or France; to conquest and colonialism in European-colonized territories in Latin America or Africa).

Re: Censorship Express


I see.

Since you haven’t identified a specific comment of mine to justify your gloss of my views on land ownership, there’s only so much I can say by way of a specific response. However, as a general thing, it seems likely to me that you’ve made two serious mistakes. First, you are mistaken if you think that my views about land ownership are identical to Kevin Carson’s. They’re not; while I respect Kevin and have agreed with him about the right (just, rights-respecting) outcome in specific disputes over land ownership, I came to those conclusions for different reasons from Kevin’s. Kevin believes in a strict occupancy-and-use for persistent ownership of land, as endorsed by Benjamin Tucker; I do not. (My view is a version of what Kevin Carson would call a “sticky” view on property claims to land.)

But, second, you are also grossly misinterpreting Kevin’s views if you think that his views amount to an “argument against a property right in improved land.” Kevin explicitly argues that each of us has an individual right to improved land, in virtue either of homesteading or consensual transfer from a previous owner. In fact he has repeatedly argued that the denial of that right by the State is the root cause of many social and economic evils. His occupancy-and-use criteria have nothing at all to do with a denial of “a property right in improved land”; it has to do with a specific theory about what constitutes abandonment of land that one used to own. That is no more a denial of a property right in improved land than it is a denial of a property right in quarters if I argue that I have a right to keep a quarter I found dropped on the street. You may of course disagree with Kevin about whether the criteria he suggests for constructive abandonment of land are good criteria. (I, for one, do disagree with him.) But it is a complete distortion of his views to claim that he is somehow simply denying property rights to improved land.

As for my own views, everything that I have ever written about rights to land (see, for example, 1, 2, 3) is based on the principle that legitimate homesteaders earn an individual property right to the improved land they homestead, which cannot be nullified by the arbitrary dictates of feudal, mercantile, colonial, or other equally arbitrary state-imposed allocation of land titles. You may very well disagree with me that the homesteaders I defend are legitimate homesteaders; you may think the land that I would argue to be abandoned, unowned, or otherwise available for homesteading is not really so. Fine; but, again, to claim that I am simply denying a property right to improved land — when in fact my whole position is based upon a property right to improved land — is to grossly distort my views.

I’ll be glad to discuss in greater detail the particular points of any particular argument if you produce some particular argument to discuss.

As for the second claim, that I (repeatedly) “appeal to a supposed lack of any possibility of objective criteria for rights,” you cite p. 161 of my essay in Anarchism/Minarchism, and my endorsement of Roy Childs’s “Open Letter to Ayn Rand,” as support. For those who do not have the book, the passage in question is now available for your inspection at Fair Use Blog. In it I argue (echoing Childs) that Ayn Rand’s theory of limited government is inconsistent, because any monopoly government must either forcibly suppress competing defense agencies that have not initiated force (thus violating the “limits” to which Ayn Rand claimed legitimate governments must be subject), or else must be willing to coexist on equal terms with non-force-initiating defense agencies (thus ceasing to be a monopoly, and ceasing to be a “government” in any sense objectionable to individualist anarchists). I would like for you, Adam, if you can, to find and point out a single claim or argument in that passage which at any point “appeals to a supposed lack of any possibility of objective criteria for rights,” either as a conclusion or as part of the argument to some further conclusion. Where do I make this appeal you claim that I make?

I submit you won’t be able to find one, because I don’t believe any such thing. (Neither did Roy Childs.) In fact, the passage you cite implicitly depends on a claim that the content of individual rights (thus what counts as an “initiation of force”) must be objective and discoverable by means of human reason, independently of government dictates; in fact, as you’ll notice on pp. 165-166 of the same book, my argument takes that implicit claim and makes it explicit, in the service of an argument against government monopoly on legislative authority: “But what must be appreciated here is that the obligation to follow those laws [that command justice or forbid injustice], and the right to enforce them, derives entirely from the content of those laws and not from their source. The government is justified in enforcing those laws only because anybody would be justified in enforcing justice, whether or not self-styled legislators have signed off on a document stating ‘Murder is a crime most foul.’ The document itself is idle; it neither obliges nor authorises anyone to do anything they were not already obliged or free to do. The government is not so much making new laws that impose obligations, but (at best!) making declarations that recognise preexisting obligations–which could be objectively specified by anyone, with or without official approval from anyone. Any right to override another’s assessment would derive from objective and impersonal considerations of justice, demonstrated through argument or attested on the basis of expertise, not from political prerogatives invested in the so-called legislature.” And, in p. 165 n. 24, you will find a note indicating a portion of Childs’s essay in which Childs explicitly makes more or less the same move (cf. his replies to quotes 2, 3 and 4 from Rand’s “The Nature of Government”).

Of course, nothing I’ve said here has yet established that I am right, or that Roy Childs is right, about individualist anarchism. Or that, whoever may be right, it would be worth your time and energy to try to work on projects with anarchists who believe in what we believe in.

Speaking frankly, I’m not very interested in hashing out the former argument yet again in the space of a comments thread. And I’m just as dubious as you are about the fruitfulness of collaborative projects between anarchists and minimal-statists, although possibly for reasons that are different from yours.

But, be all that as it may, while I’m not much concerned whether or not you agree with me, I do care about being misrepresented. To take arguments like the one you mention, and then insist that the arguer is denying the possibility of objective criteria for rights — when the whole argument is based on the principle that there are objective criteria for rights — is the worst sort of up-is-down, black-is-white distortion of your interlocutor’s views.

Re: Worth reading


Thank you for your kind words.

You write: “But I also think there’s specialization and craft in these pursuits, just as there is in, say, cabinetmaking or watchmaking.”

Probably so, although I’m inclined to think that there is, or ought to be, much LESS specialization and craft than the professionalized government enforcers and judges would have you believe. To be sure, the government laws that are on the books today are tremendously complicated and require years of specialized training and practice to even begin to get a good grip on a relatively small specialty. But I think that that’s precisely because the people who make and use the laws have a political and a professional interest in making those laws extremely complicated, and in having them cover an extremely wide and not very well defined scope of human affairs. Libertarians and anarchists believe that regularized enforcement should cover a much more precisely delimited and a much, much smaller field than it currently does, so to some extent the problem vanishes along with the laws that libertarians and anarchists believe ought to be abolished.

For example, labor relations law as it presently exists is extremely complicated — it requires making a lot of very fine distinctions, balancing many different prerogatives granted to and regulatory limitations imposed upon unions, individual employees, and employers, etc. etc. etc. It takes a lot to even understand the basics of the situation, and the tricky details of a concrete case often can’t even be resolved without hashing out the issues in bureaucratic negotiations through the NLRB or in federal court. But the complexity of the legal situation is clearly a function of its being channeled through the federal regulatory bureaucracy. That situation clearly benefits NLRB bureaucrats and professional labor lawyers; it’s much less clear that it benefits the rank-and-file workers for whose benefit this sort of thing was supposedly constructed, but who are substantially deprived of any real control over the process by putting so much of it into the hands of professional legal experts. If agreed-upon norms of justice and enforcement were (as anarchists believe that they should be) limited only to the issue of protecting innocent people from being attacked by physical force, or vindicating their rights after the fact if they should be attacked — with all the rest to be handled by free contracts between the individual parties, unregimented by a government bureaucracy, and by whatever forms of nonviolent leverage and activism that the creativity of organized workers and a fighting union might devise — then it’s much less clear what need for specialization or professionalization there would be. (There might still be a lot of need for impartial arbitrators; but impartiality is distinct from technical expertise, and is something you can get by finding any third party of good will and good sense for the duration of the arbitration; it doesn’t require a distinct class of professional arbitrators.)

Generalizing from that case, I agree with Lysander Spooner that if the realm of enforcement were strictly limited to questions of interpersonal justice, then, quote:

“No objection can be made to these voluntary associations upon the ground that they would lack that knowledge of justice, as a science, which would be necessary to enable them to maintain justice, and themselves avoid doing injustice. Honesty, justice, natural law, is usually a very plain and simple matter, easily understood by common minds. Those who desire to know what it is, in any particular case, seldom have to go far to find it. It is true, it must be learned, like any other science. But it is also true that it is very easily learned. Although as illimitable in its applications as the infinite relations and dealings of men with each other, it is, nevertheless, made up of a few simple elementary principles, of the truth and justice of which every ordinary mind has an almost intuitive perception. And almost all men have the same perceptions of what constitutes justice, or of what justice requires, when they understand alike the facts from which their inferences are to be drawn.

“Men living in contact with each other, and having intercourse together, CANNOT AVOID learning natural law to a very great extent, even if they would. The dealing of men with men, their separate possessions and their individual wants, and the disposition of every man to demand, and insist upon, whatever he believes to be his due, and to resent and resist all invasions of what he believes to be his rights, are continually forcing upon their minds the questions, Is this act just? or is it unjust? Is this thing mine? or is it his? And these are questions of natural law; questions which, in regard to the great mass of cases, are answered alike by the human mind everywhere.”

–Lysander Spooner (1882), Natural Law, or the Science of Justice, section 4.

And I would follow up your second point by urging that it is dangerous, and to some degree irresponsible, to adopt large-scale systems of law and practice that practically require ordinary citizens to abandon the questions of political and interpersonal justice to a privileged, insular, and easily corrupted class of specialists.

But, secondly, I would also argue, further, that even if the requirements of justice ARE complicated enough in some particular case that it requires some specialized training and expertise to sort them out, or where correctly applying and implementing them requires specialized training and expertise in something else (e.g., for enforcers, training and expertise in de-escalating potentially violent situations may be a form of specialization well worth having), that seems to me like an argument for leaving the field open to many specialists, who can offer their services to anyone who is interested in retaining them (e.g. many private associations for arbitration and/or defense, which people go to on the basis of choice rather than being forced to go to one in particular on the basis of fixed territorial monopolies). Not so much an argument for limiting the field to a single fixed, institutionalized class of specialists (e.g. a government court or a government police force with rigidly and exclusively defined territorial or topical jurisdictions).

The first (non-monopolistic) solution really would make the business of law a skilled trade or profession, much like watchmaking or medicine, where people go to acknowledged experts freely, but aren’t forced to choose one particular expert on the basis of political status, and can choose another, on the basis of their own considered judgment and comfort levels, or for that matter can still choose none at all, if they decide to hazard the risks and trouble of doing it for themselves.

The second, monopolistic solution doesn’t make the business of law so much like skilled trades and professions, but rather like a feudal or command economy, in which people are assigned particular experts and forced to turn matters over to that particular expert rather than another, on the basis of the political status of the experts rather than on the basis of broadly and consensually acknowledged expertise. It’s that which, as an anarchist, I really object to.

Does that help? What do you think?

Re: Socioeconomic Creationism

For example, if some have much more wealth than others, the socioeconomic creationist believes that this is the product of government policies specifically designed to transfer wealth from the many to the few, rather than the natural result of market transactions between people of disparate abilities and preferences.

Well. Isn’t it empirically true that there are specific government policies which, either through design or through unintended consequences, tend to profit the rich, hinder and impoverish the poor, or do both at the same time? If you doubt it, I can name some examples.

Can you think of any actual examples of people who fall back on the claim that poverty is substantially caused by government policies, rather than by voluntary market forces, who do so because they’re simply unable to understand how spontaneous orders work? Every proponent of such a claim that I can think of (Kevin Carson, Roderick Long, Brad Spangler, Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Gabriel Kolko…) is relatively clear on the notion of spontaneous order; they get to the conclusion that government policies cause poverty not by explanatory default, but rather because they can point to a bunch of concrete examples of government policies that really do this.

In my experience, most of the real “socioeconomic creationists” with regard to wealth, tend to attribute poverty to tightly coordinated conspiracies (“international bankers” and the like), or else to the personal greed and vices of individual business people, not to structural factors like government policy.

If the average man makes more than the average woman, the socioeconomic creationist concludes that this must be due to the misogynistic oppression of women, rather than the natural outcome of men and women having different preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities.

You seem to be presupposing that “misogynistic oppression of women” and “spontaneous order” are two mutually exclusive explanations of the situation. But why make that claim? There’s nothing in the concept of a spontaneous order that requires that all spontaneous orders be benign. It may be that if certain kinds of ignorance, folly, or vice are widely distributed throughout the population, then lots of little individual acts of stupidity or evil will, without the design of the participants, add up to a large-scale, malign spontaneous order that goes beyond the intentions of the participants.

“Preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities” aren’t the only factors that can contribute to the individual decisions from which a spontaneous order emerges. And not all “preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities” are independent of prevalent prejudices and traditions, either.

Re: The Ron Paul Flap – Short Version

Sabotta: All the serious traitors … up here in Seattle ….

“Traitors” to what?

If you mean that the people you have in mind are “serious traitors” to the United States, or some other political fabrication, who cares? <a href=”’>I hear that some dude wrote an essay demonstrating that so-called treason against non-consensual governments is no crime, indeed not even a vice.

If you mean that they are “serious traitors” to liberty, or anarchy, or something like that, then I wonder how many of the people you have in mind really ever professed loyalty to liberty, or anarchy, in any way that matters. To betray you first have to be a friend. Most people in the world, and the worst exponents of statism in particular, never were friends of liberty, or anarchy, or anything of the sort, and never really claimed to be; to that extent they are not traitors, but open enemies.

Re: Gene Callahan Joins the Smearbund


But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.


In a perfect world, in a world of the theoretical, of course he is correct.

Actually, part of Spooner’s point, if you’re paying attention, is that here in the real world, the strategy of using paper constitutions to limit the invasiveness of governments is demonstrably impractical. There’s little if any evidence that his views on the theoretical, in-principle relationship between the natural law and the U.S. Constitution changed substantially between The Unconstitutionality of Slavery and No Treason No. 6. (For details, see Roderick Long’s paper.) What did change was that he became convinced, in light of the recent triumph of bayonet-point Unionism, that it was practically useless to go on citing the Constitution as a basis for attacking tyrannical laws, and that a new strategy was called for. Hence the shift to arguments explicitly based on natural law and directed against all forms of government authority, including governments based on paper constitutions.


Far better for us all if these great men would have ENGAGED more and FOUGHT more than they did.

Frederick Douglass:

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? … The time for such argument is past. At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.


I can’t prove it, but I’d wager you anything you like, at any odds, that If we took a plebiscite on whether people wished to live under the Constitution or not, that they would vote in the affirmative, and so would the rest of the world.

Well, so?

I can’t for the life of me see what this has to do with Spooner’s explanation of the criminality of government legislators, judges, executives, etc. My point is precisely that Spooner’s argument have nothing at all to do with the outcome of majoritarian voting games.

As for your claim that the same cabal of usurpers who, under the auspices of the United States Constitution, claimed the right to pass fugitive slave laws and crush the Whiskey Rebellion by force of arms, somehow believed that the Constitution allowed for a right of individual dissenters to freely withdraw from the political obligations that they sought to impose (!), I guess your understanding of the Constitutionalists is different from mine. As it is from the understanding of Spooner, who never made such a risible claim about the motives or expectations of the minority faction who wrote and signed off on the Constitution. (He did believe that the legal meaning of the text sometimes conflicted with their motives and expectations in writing it; but that’s an entirely different claim.)


Yeah, [enslaving hundreds of people] was pretty shitty of Jefferson. He was also a hypocrite, a rapist, and President of the United States, all of which I think were pretty shitty of him. What’s your point?


As much as any single man in history, he was the force, a goddamned genius of liberty, the POWERHOUSE behind what freedoms we DO have today.

Maybe so. Certainly, if the dude is the best there is on offer by way of concrete historical achievements towards liberty, then I guess that could help explain why we’re in such a sorry state today.

In any case, my point is that the presumption that anarchists would just have to recognize and respect the obvious merit of a slaver, rapist, hypocrite, and President is a pretty weird presumption from which to start your argument.


You seem to be presuming that trying to get somebody elected President of the United States is the only way to get “things [to] improve”. But it’s not the only way. It’s not the best way, either, or even a particularly plausible way. Or, at least, if you think that it is, that’s certainly not a self-evident truth that you can just presuppose. It’s a tendentious claim that you’ll have to justify with some kind of argument.


At least you qualified this with the words “seem & “presuming”, otherwise that’s exactly what you would have been doing. The argument you suggested for me; that WOULD be a pretty stupid argument I made, eh?

I charitably suggested that you might be presupposing that premise, or something like it, because if you’re not presupposing that getting Ron Paul elected President is the only way to improve the situation, all you have the following argument:

  1. These folks here aren’t contributing to efforts to get Ron Paul elected President. (given)
  2. Therefore, these folks here aren’t contributing to improving the political situation. (conclusion)

… which is a flat non sequitur. As yet there’s no reason at all to suppose that (2) follows from (1). If you add the extra premise I suggested, then you’ll have:

  1. Getting Ron Paul elected President is the only way to improve the political situation. (implicit)
  2. These folks here aren’t contributing to efforts to get Ron Paul elected President. (given)
  3. Therefore, these folks here aren’t contributing to improving the political situation. (conclusion)

Not all of these premises are true (the implicit premise 0 is clearly false), but it is at least formally valid; if all the premises were true, the conclusion would have to follow.

If I was being too charitable, well, I’m sorry. I take it back. If you’re not actually presuming what I said you seem to be presuming, then your conclusion isn’t supported by question-begging premises; it’s not supported by anything at all.


Doctor Paul, inspired THOUSANDS of people like me to go out and fight these degenerates.

Yep. Let’s all measure the inputs to the allocation process instead of measuring the outputs.

But, well, I guess when you’ve got a prior commitment to methods that require enlisting tens of millions of other people and harnessing tens of millions of dollars, which don’t even operate but for a few months out of every four-year cycle, and which operate on winner-take-all rules that require you to win just about everything before you can win just about anything — methods which, in short, have no plausible hope of even minor progress on the margins for decades to come — measuring the inputs is about all you can do. There are no outputs to measure, and there won’t be in the forseeable future.

Re: Gene Callahan Joins the Smearbund

Matt Polzkill:

Of course Spooner greatly respected the Constitution, that’s why he devoted a large chunk of his life to studying it & writing about it (his treatise on how chattel slavery is unconstitutional is genius). His MAIN problem with it is that no one follows it.

Lysander Spooner, No Treason No. 6: The Constitution of No Authority:

Inasmuch as the Constitution was never signed, nor agreed to, by anybody, as a contract, and therefore never bound anybody, and is now binding upon nobody; and is, moreover, such an one as no people can ever hereafter be expected to consent to, except as they may be forced to do so at the point of the bayonet, it is perhaps of no importance what its true legal meaning, as a contract, is. Nevertheless, the writer thinks it proper to say that, in his opinion, the Constitution is no such instrument as it has generally been assumed to be; but that by false interpretations, and naked usurpations, the government has been made in practice a very widely, and almost wholly, different thing from what the Constitution itself purports to authorize. He has heretofore written much, and could write much more, to prove that such is the truth. But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.

That’s some kind of respect he’s got there.

Matt Polzkill:

He correctly explains that paper can’t magically create a just society & that the people calling themselves “the government” are in fact the greatest criminals because they ignore or subvert it.

That is certainly not Spooner’s explanation of why the people calling themselves “the government” are the greatest criminals.

His explanation of why they are the greatest criminals is that they impose binding political obligations on free and independent people without the latter’s genuine individual consent.

Matt Polzkill:

Yeah, and Jefferson had slaves and…my god, what a way to go about things!

Yeah, that was pretty shitty of Jefferson. He was also a hypocrite, a rapist, and President of the United States, all of which I think were pretty shitty of him. What’s your point?

Matt Polzkill:

I’m sure liberty will just drop in your laps someday, or maybe Jesus Christ will come down. Have a nice wait, if things improve, the rest of us will know who NOT to thank.

You seem to be presuming that trying to get somebody elected President of the United States is the only way to get “things [to] improve”. But it’s not the only way. It’s not the best way, either, or even a particularly plausible way. Or, at least, if you think that it is, that’s certainly not a self-evident truth that you can just presuppose. It’s a tendentious claim that you’ll have to justify with some kind of argument.

Re: Smearbund Funnies

Have I been inducted into the Beltwaytarian Illuminati without having heard about it? If so, I eagerly await my imminent influx of cocktail party invites and Kochtopus cash.


The declarations of states are not reflective of their citizens …

No, but they are reflective of the opinions of the state governments at the time that those state governments determined to secede.

Of course, many if not most people in many southern states at the time felt differently. For starters, many if not most people in many southern states at the time were black slaves.

The white southerners who fought as common soldiers often had very different views of the import and justification for the war than those held by their governments. But of course it was their governments, and not they, who made the political and military decisions that we’re discussing here.

Charles H.,

I agree with you that any honest review of what the secessionists said (especially what they said at the time of the secession debate, rather than when they wrote their memoirs in the 1870s) would very quickly reveal that the perpetuation and expansion of race slavery was absolutely central to the Confederate cause. However, it would be an ignoratio elenchi to follow that evidence with the conclusion that ending or limiting race slavery must have been absolutely essential to the Union cause.

When people claim that the Southern states had the “right” to secede, what they mean is that a minority– adult white male landowners– had the right to decide for everyone else what form of government they would live under, and whether their basic human rights would be recognized.

I’m sure that when many people claim that, that is indeed what they mean, but I don’t think it’s at all fair to impute that meaning to most of the writers at or the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Whatever faults they may have (and some of them have a lot), most of the people in question are anarchists, who believe that no government whatever, state, federal, or other, has any legitimate right to compel anyone’s allegiance. Their point about the right of secession is that adult white male Southern landowners had a right to determine for themselves (and themselves alone) what form of government, if any, they should live under, a right which any principled and honest believer in the principle of government by consent would have to concede they do have. The obvious and hideous atrocity of southern race slavery hardly justifies military invasion and bayonet-point Unionism; what it justifies is the (Garrisonian) strategy of embracing peaceful disunion, and then supporting southern slaves in their efforts to secede from the from the illegitimate government created by their quasi-secessionist slave-drivers.

If you’re not already familiar with it, I’d like to recommend J.R. Hummel’s excellent book, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, which ably defends the Garrisonian-disunionist position and presents a much more accurate and sophisticated libertarian analysis of the war than the stuff churned out by, for example, Tom DiLorenzo or Tom Woods.


I think the issues at hand are a bit more complex than cultural affinities. When I see Yankees like Tom DiLorenzo running around affecting a fondness for the ol’ Moonlight-and-Magnolias, I just find it ridiculous. But when I see them actively distorting history for polemical purposes, in order to whitewash rabid slave-driving statists like John C. Calhoun, Robert E. Lee, or Jefferson Davis (cf. for example 1, 2, 2, 3, etc., not to mention DiLorenzo’s periodic attempts to portray Lysander Spooner, the author of the Plan for the Abolition of Slavery and a conspirator in an abortive attempt to rescue John Brown from the gallows, as an advocate for “peaceful” gradualist emancipation, I think there is something deeper and nastier at work that needs to be exposed and confronted.

Of course, those people who, in the name of “moderation” or “compromise” or politesse, attempt to water down or dissemble about libertarian principles on hard cases, or who try to marginalize radical libertarians for simply for making uncomfortably libertarian points — a group that intersects with, but certainly does not exhaust and certainly is not limited to — the staff at Cato and Reason deserves nothing but contempt for that kind of hand-wringing opportunism. But I don’t think it’s true that that’s the only reason that the Paulitarians and the VMI/LRC crew draw the kind of flak that they draw from within libertarian circles, or even from the Cato and Reason crowds specifically.

Re: Gene Callahan Joins the Smearbund

Matt Polzkill defends Ron Paul by comparing him to Lysander Spooner:

What IS wrong with you guys?!? Who do you support for president? Who that ran, was light years closer to Spooner?

Meanwhile, Lysander Spooner joins the Smearbund:

SIR, — Your inaugural address is probably as honest, sensible, and consistent a one as that of any president within the last fifty years, or, perhaps, as any since the foundation of the government. If, therefore, it is false, absurd, self-contradictory, and ridiculous, it is not (as I think) because you are personally less honest, sensible, or consistent than your predecessors, but because the government itself — according to your own description of it, and according to the practical administration of it for nearly a hundred years — is an utterly and palpably false, absurd, and criminal one. Such praises as you bestow upon it are, therefore, necessarily false, absurd, and ridiculous.

… You have not so much as the honest signature of a single human being, granting to you or your lawmakers any right of dominion whatever over him or his property.

You hold your place only by a title, which, on no just principle of law or reason, is worth a straw. And all who are associated with you in the government — whether they be called senators, representatives, judges, executive officers, or what not — all hold their places, directly or indirectly, only by the same worthless title. That title is nothing more nor less than votes given in secret (by secret ballot), by not more than one-fifth of the whole population. These votes were given in secret solely because those who gave them did not dare to make themselves personally responsible, either for their own acts, or the acts of their agents, the lawmakers, judges, etc.

These voters, having given their votes in secret (by secret ballot), have put it out of your power — and out of the power of all others associated with you in the government — to designate your principals individually. That is to say, you have no legal knowledge as to who voted for you, or who voted against you. And being unable to designate your principals individually, you have no right to say that you have any principals. And having no right to say that you have any principals, you are bound, on every just principle of law or reason, to confess that you are mere usurpers, making laws, and enforcing them, upon your own authority alone.

… But the falsehood and absurdity of your whole system of government do not result solely from the fact that it rests wholly upon votes given in secret, or by men who take care to avoid all personal responsibility for their own acts, or the acts of their agents. On the contrary, if every man, woman, and child in the United States had openly signed, sealed, and delivered to you and your associates, a written document, purporting to invest you with all the legislative, judicial, and executive powers that you now exercise, they would not thereby have given you the slightest legitimate authority. Such a contract, purporting to surrender into your hands all their natural rights of person and property, to be disposed of at your pleasure or discretion, would have been simply an absurd and void contract, giving you no real authority whatever.

… Every man has, by nature, the right to maintain justice for himself, and for all other persons, by the use of so much force as may be reasonably necessary for that purpose. But he can use the force only in accordance with his own judgment and conscience, and on his own personal responsibility, if, through ignorance or design, he commits any wrong to another.

But inasmuch as he cannot delegate, or impart, his own judgment or conscience to another, he cannot delegate his executive power or right to another.

The result is, that, in all judicial and executive proceedings, for the maintenance of justice, every man must act only in accordance with his own judgment and conscience, and on his own personal responsibility for any wrong he may commit; whether such wrong be committed through either ignorance or design.

No one could justify, or excuse, his wrong act, by saying that a power, or authority, to do it had been delegated to him, by any other men, however numerous.

For the reasons that have now been given, neither any legislative, judicial, nor executive powers ever were, or ever could have been, delegated to the United States by the constitution; no matter how honestly or innocently the people of that day may have believed, or attempted, the contrary.

… Such, Mr. Cleveland, is the real character of the government, of which you are the nominal head. Such are, and have been, its lawmakers. Such are, and have been, its judges. Such have been its executives. Such is its present executive. Have you anything to say for any of them?

Yours Frankly, LYSANDER SPOONER. BOSTON, MAY 15, 1886.