De Cleyre, Tucker, and the Anarchist Tradition


Jeff Riggenbach offers a very detailed look at some of the stars of what he calls America's "first libertarian movement"–the set of individualist anarchists and economic socialists exemplified by Voltairine De Cleyre and the crew surrounding Benjamin Tucker and his late 19th century Liberty magazine. He compares and contrasts, in what will surely constitute fightin' words for many, the allies chosen by the Tuckerites and those chosen by the contemporary post-war American individualist anarchist libertarians:

[I]nstead of allying themselves with socialists and with other anarchists, the libertarians of the 1960s and '70s, the founders of the second libertarian movement, allied themselves with people who claimed to favor individual liberty but said they believed that a limited State was the best means of attaining that goal. In the 1960s and '70s, such people were called "limited government libertarians;" in the 1890s, such people were called "liberals." And just as, during the 1890s and after, many liberals were lured away from the true path by the mirage of progressivism, so today, many limited government libertarians have been lured away from the true path by the mirage of "national security." The scare quotes are necessary, because we are talking here about "libertarians" who, with straight faces, describe the bombing of innocent civilian populations in other countries as "self defense;" who prattle neo-conservative nonsense about exporting democracy to prevent war; who call for the destruction by nuclear bomb of entire populations in certain parts of the world. This is even worse, and even more disastrous for the libertarian cause, than the problem Benjamin R. Tucker and Voltairine de Cleyre faced a hundred years ago, when certain of their fellow anarchists called for communal interference "with the freedom of individual production and exchange" in the ultimate free society.

Riggenbach's piece is longer than Web-average, but for those interested in anarchist intellectual history, it's valuable throughout.