History

Clarence Thomas' Favorite Anarchist

The radical anti-statism of Lysander Spooner

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Lysander Spooner: American Anarchist, by Steve J. Shone, Lexington Books, 138 pages, $55

In his concurring opinion in the landmark gun rights case McDonald v. Chicago, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas offered a sweeping account of how the anti-slavery movement laid the foundations for the 14th Amendment, which declares, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." As Thomas explained, the authors and ratifiers of the 14th Amendment wanted the recently freed slaves to enjoy all of the rights they had long been denied, including the rights protected by the Second Amendment. The evidence he cited included the writings of the Massachusetts abolitionist Lysander Spooner (1808–1887), who argued that among its many crimes, slavery violated the "natural right of all men 'to keep and bear arms' for their personal defence."

It was a rare high-profile acknowledgment of Spooner. Although mostly forgotten today, he was a key figure in the abolitionist movement and one of the most innovative legal and political thinkers of the 19th century. At a time when abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison denounced the Constitution as a pro-slavery "covenant with death and an agreement with hell," Spooner responded with a powerful book titled The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845), making him a hero to the anti-slavery Liberty Party and a major influence on the abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass. A champion of property rights and free trade, Spooner also argued that banking should be completely unregulated and that intellectual property could be held "in perpetuity." An individualist anarchist and tireless foe of government overreach, Spooner published a brilliant defense of jury nullification, argued that victimless crime laws should be taken off the books, and eventually held that the Constitution itself "has no authority" over anyone.

"At first glance," Winona State University political scientist Steve J. Shone writes in his short and illuminating new book Lysander Spooner: American Anarchist, "Spooner looks to be inconsistent, to agree with thinkers of both the left and right, or even to defy categorization." Yet as Shone argues, that's because Spooner exemplified a uniquely American form of anti-statism, one that saw the free market as a check on the power of big business and considered government to be an unnecessary evil. Using today's political labels, Shone calls Spooner "partly a leftist, and partly a libertarian."

Born in Athol, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1808, Spooner launched the first of his many campaigns against the government in 1835, when, in open violation of Massachusetts law, he set up shop as a lawyer without first completing the five-year apprenticeship required for those without a college degree. Observing that those who did have a degree were only required to apprentice for three years, Spooner denounced the law in the pages of the Worchester Republican for discriminating against the poor (who could not always afford college) while helping the legal establishment "keep up prices, and shut out competitors." The legislature agreed and changed the law in 1836.

Spooner then set his sights on the U.S. Postal Service, which enjoyed—as it still does—a government-enforced monopoly over the delivery of first-class mail. To demonstrate the superiority of the free market, Spooner founded the American Letter Mail Company in 1844 and began illegally competing with the Postal Service on select routes. Once again, Spooner published a spirited legal defense of his actions. And while he enjoyed a brief victory as an entrepreneur by providing a cheaper, more reliable service than the government did, the ensuing legal battle forced him out of business.

By then, like most Americans, Spooner was increasingly focused on the impending national crisis over slavery. With the financial support of the New York abolitionist and philanthropist Gerrit Smith, Spooner joined the battle in 1845 with The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, a masterful attack on the legality of the peculiar institution.

Unlike the slaveholders and the Garrisonian abolitionists, who both saw the Constitution as permitting human bondage, Spooner held that the document in fact forbade slavery and empowered the federal government to wipe it out. Slavery, he argued, violated every tenet of "Natural Law," and could therefore only be justified by positive, or man-made, legal strictures. Yet in order for such laws to possess any validity, they would have to be "clear, definite, distinct, express, explicit, unequivocal, necessary and peremptory," leaving no doubt whatsoever about their pro-slavery agenda. After all, the stated purpose of the Constitution was to "secure the Blessings of Liberty." If the document were to permit slavery—the most extreme violation of liberty short of murder—it had to be absolutely clear about it. Yet just look at the Constitution, Spooner instructed, where "not even the name of the thing, alleged to be sanctioned, is given."

Take the infamous Three-Fifths Clause (Article I, Section 2), which states that for the purposes of taxation and political representation, state populations shall be counted "by adding to the whole Number of free persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons." What to make of these "other persons"?

The Three-Fifths Clause has long been understood as an implicit acknowledgment of slavery. James Madison's published notes on the proceedings of the 1787 Constitutional Convention make it clear that the subject of slavery dominated many of the debates that summer in Philadelphia. "The great division of interests," Madison wrote, "did not lie between the large & small States; It lay between the Northern & Southern." Terms such as "other persons" were introduced to alleviate this division. As convention delegate Luther Martin later put it, the Framers "anxiously sought to avoid the admission of expressions which might be odious to the ears of Americans."

Yet for Spooner, such secret intentions had no bearing on the Constitution's text. "This is the true test for determining whether the constitution does, or does not, sanction slavery," he wrote. "Whether a court of law, strangers to the prior existence of slavery or not assuming its prior existence to be legal—looking only at the naked language of the instrument—could, consistently with legal rules, judicially determine that it sanctioned slavery. Every lawyer, who deserves that name, knows that the claim for slavery could stand no such test."

Among those who adopted Spooner's argument was Frederick Douglass, the escaped former slave who would later become the most influential black leader of the post–Civil War era. A one-time protegé of William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass had previously damned the Constitution as an "agreement with hell," but in an 1851 editorial he said "a careful study of the writings of Lysander Spooner" prompted him to change his mind. "Take the Constitution according to its plain reading," Douglass told the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society on July 5, 1852. "I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it." In fact, Douglass told the crowd, "Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document."

While Douglass barnstormed the North on behalf of that liberty document, Spooner was busy contemplating a new front in the battle for individual rights: trial by jury. In 1850 Spooner published A Defence for Fugitive Slaves, Against the Acts of Congress on February 12, 1793 and September 18, 1850, where he argued that juries "are judges of the law, as well as the fact" and are therefore justified in nullifying federal fugitive slave laws. "No man can be punished for resisting the execution of any law," Spooner wrote, "unless the law be so clearly constitutional, as that a jury, taken promiscuously from the mass of the people, will all agree that it is constitutional." Today we call this radical approach "jury nullification."

Two years later, in Trial by Jury, Spooner developed his argument in full, expertly tracing the right of jury nullification back to the Magna Carta. "It is indispensable that the people, or 'the country,' judge of and determine their own liberties against the government," he wrote. "How is it possible that juries can do anything to protect the liberties of the people against the government; if they are not allowed to determine what those liberties are?" According to Spooner, it was essential to distinguish between trial by jury, which meant trial by the people, chosen by lot, and trial by government, which was an illegal usurpation of the people's power. "If the government may decide who may, and who may not, be jurors," he wrote, "it will of course select only its partisans, and those friendly to its measures." Furthermore, he said, if the government had its way, it "may also question each person drawn as a juror, as to his sentiments in regard to the particular law involved in each trial…and exclude him if he be found unfavorable to the maintenance of such a law."

Of course, that's exactly what happens today when potential jurors who oppose the death penalty are prevented from serving on death penalty cases or when those who oppose drug prohibition are excluded from drug cases, thereby stacking the jury in the government's favor. As Spooner presciently observed, "if the government may dictate to the jury what laws they are to enforce, it is no longer a 'trial by the country,' but a trial by the government."

Shone makes a good case for the contemporary relevance of this issue, arguing that Spooner's arguments "give us clear, rational reasons for having nullification," unlike "the piecemeal, haphazard, and contradictory precedents and constitutional sources" typically advanced by judges and lawyers who oppose nullification. It would be a welcome development indeed for Spooner's views on jury nullification to enjoy a revival.

The end of the Civil War inspired the final phase of Spooner's radicalism. Like most abolitionists, Spooner believed that the Civil War was justifiable only as a struggle to abolish slavery, not as a war to preserve the union. For Frederick Douglass, this position translated into the slogan, "No war but an Abolition war; no peace but an Abolition peace." As the war came to a close in 1865, Douglass began the tireless work of securing that "Abolition peace." This meant explaining to lawmakers, voters, journalists, and anyone else who would listen why "no class of people could live and flourish in this country" without "the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box." Blacks required the same right to life, liberty, and property as whites, Douglass declared. Nothing less would do.

Spooner took a different line. "The number of slaves, instead of having been diminished by the war, has been greatly increased," he wrote in 1867. "For a man, thus subjected to a government that he does not want, is a slave. And there is no difference, in principle—but only in degree—between political and chattel slavery." Three years later, in No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority, Spooner persuasively argued that "the Constitution is no contract; that it binds nobody, and never did bind anybody; and that all those who pretend to act by its authority, are really acting without any legitimate authority at all."

So what happened to Spooner the constitutionalist? Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett, who dedicated his 2004 book Restoring the Lost Constitution to Spooner (and James Madison), observed that "despite its having resulted in the abolition of slavery, the Civil War and its forcible suppression of the South seems to have greatly radicalized Spooner."

The contrast with Frederick Douglass is telling. Both men despised slavery; in fact, they were both loosely associated with the radical abolitionist John Brown, who attempted to seize the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in the hope of sparking an armed slave rebellion. Spooner even went so far as to mastermind a plan to kidnap Virginia Gov. Henry Wise and hold him hostage in exchange for Brown, although nothing ever came of it.

Yet Spooner was first and foremost a political theorist. In the secluded world of his desk and his papers he was free to extend his powerful arguments as far as they would go. Douglass enjoyed no such luxury. He was a former slave for whom the political was deeply personal, desperately working to secure the liberation of his people and then preserve their rights in the face of government hostility. Douglass still needed the anti-slavery Constitution; Spooner was apparently more interested in the pursuit of intellectual purity.

In the end, Spooner reveals both the benefits and the costs of unbending radicalism. As a principled abolitionist, he crafted compelling arguments that helped bring about the end of slavery. Yet at precisely the moment when the "Abolition peace" was descending into new forms of state-sanctioned violence against black people, Spooner made a ridiculous comparison between the former Confederates and their former slaves, arguing that both were now equally the property of the federal government.

Douglass managed to balance his principles and his politics. As the Bancroft Prize–winning historian David W. Blight observed, Douglass "never relinquished his commitment to laissez-faire individualism" during the Reconstruction era. If Lysander Spooner had tried to strike a similar balance, we might today be quoting from what could have been his greatest work, an attack on the South's incipient Jim Crow regime.

Damon W. Root (droot@reason.com) is an associate editor at reason.

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  1. In fact, Douglass told the crowd, “Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document.”

    Except, of course, when it’s interpreted as saying only “General Welfare,” “Interstate Commerce,” “Necessary and Proper,” and “It’s a ‘collective’ right, not an individual right.”

    1. Don’t worry, you WILL be assimilated.

  2. Spooner made a ridiculous comparison between the former Confederates and their former slaves, arguing that both were now equally the property of the federal government.

    Not at all ridiculous.

    1. Not ridiculous at all. Absolutely true.

      That said, we should not conflate the old slavery with the new. The new slavery is brutal and limiting, whereas the old slavery was brutal and more limiting.

      1. So would you have said that the citizens of the confederate states were slaves to their state governments?

        I think “absolutely true” is perhaps a bit strong. You don’t really think that being property of another person is the same as being subject to a government.

        1. Military conscription seems the worst form of slavery to me, and Lincoln introduced it in this country.

          1. National conscription perhaps, but you’ll find that conscription was common in the states in the colonial period and during the Revolutionary War

  3. Oh wow, OK that makes a lot of sense to me dude.

    http://www.privacy-web.cz.tc

    1. Even mr spammer is an anarchist.

  4. Lysander Spooner was a key figure in the abolitionist movement

    As an “anarchist,” how did he propose to do away with slavery without the power of the state to enforce it? With happy thoughts? By politely asking the slave-owners to relinquish their entire economic system? Or by sitting back and waiting for the inevitable collapse of said system?

    A champion of property rights

    Being an “anarchist” and anti-Constitutionalist, how did he propose to protect those rights? By wishing it? And didn’t Southern plantation-owners consider slaves as “property”? How would anarchy, a “system” of non-absolutes, settle that debate?

    juries “are judges of the law, as well as the fact” and are therefore justified in nullifying federal fugitive slave laws

    Wait a minute. Under a “system” of anarchy, what would prevent competing juries from forming, each with its own rules and procedures? Where would objective law be found? And if there is no such thing as objective law, Spooner’s entire thesis collapses. Spooner steals several concepts in order to buttress his ideas, without which he has no foundation.

    1. “And didn’t Southern plantation-owners consider slaves as “property”? ”

      Sophomoric.

      Have you read his arguments and briefs?

    2. In addition to what Spencer Smith said, if you had RTFA you would see he went from a constitutionalist to anarchist after/during the civil war. His earlier writings really arent anarchist.

      1. I did read the article. And you haven’t answered any of my questions regarding anarchism’s incompatibility with human rights.

        1. he went from a constitutionalist to anarchist after/during the civil war.

          By the way, the name of the book is Lysander Spooner: American Anarchist, not Lysander Spooner: American Who Became an Anarchist Sometime During or After the Civil War. Maybe author Shone needs to RTFA.

        2. Human rights exist whether or not states are there to enforce them. States do not create rights.

          I’m not an anarchist, but we do share that simple assertion in common.

          1. Agreed. Rights exist. But they must be protected. Anarchy is the absence of any objective rule of law.

            1. People can protect their own rights. People interested in protecting other people’s rights can help them.

              The notion that anarchy must be a Hobbesian disaster says more about the person doing the asserting than anarchy itself.

              1. I think anarchy might be better than many dictatorships, but not as good as a proper government with a good constitution. How are honest disputes between honest men with different property protection firms to be resolved? Would they have to comprimise every time? What about dishonest men? Wouldn’t they be rewarded by a system of comprimise to resolve disputes? Really, I honestly don’t get it. Markets and force are incompatible. The proper role of government is to remove force from society by holding a monopoly on the retaliatory use of it.

                Government is necessary and it is a necessary good not a necessary evil.

            2. And with that, I bid you pseudo-anarchists and “libertarians” adieu. Have fun, now.

              1. Of course you do; those who argue that anarchism can’t work deny much of human history. But hey; denialism is a hallmark of your type.

                1. I deny it cant work, because an arch (or many of them) forms almost immediately.

                2. I deny that flying machines will ever work because all the stones I throw into the air fall to the ground. Gotta love your logic.

                  Because something has not been accomplished does not mean it is impossible. As history has shown time after time.

                  1. Stones and airplanes all fall back to the ground. With airplanes though, it is best to be under control at the point of landing.

                  2. True. But when you know why something can’t ever work, you can say that it is impossible.

                    We know why anarchism can never work. It’s not that difficult. There is no solution to the problem that would still be anarchism. Let it go, man.

            3. I’m sorry, but what does any real-world state or its power have to do with objective rule of law?

            4. How exactly does government provide “objective” rule of law? Government *might* provide consistent law (but we’re rarely that lucky), but it certainly does not provide objective law. I mean we put a woman on the Supreme Court who essentially admitted that she can’t separate her background and emotions from her duties as a judiciary (and I suspect that she was just stating the unstated for most judges). So you can’t really get objective law then–you merely get interpretations of an ever changing legal code. Certainly all the people who have been killed by the state wrongfully for crimes they didn’t commit would argue (from their graves, I suppose) that government run law is not objective.

              As usual, it is a failure of the imagination, more than anything, that leads to the presumption that we need a central authority to be, well, the final authority in our lives. And thus, you fall for the classic fallacy that equates no government with no law.

          2. Human rights are make-believe. You only get the “rights” some government gives you (which makes them “privileges”) or you take for yourself. In either case: might makes right.

        3. See below….

        4. I think you make a valid point.

        5. Hm. Actually what is incompatible with human rights is monopolistic government.

      2. rob, you are not only my favorite religious person, you now make my favorite anarchist list. You may not be proud of that, but it’s still something. NutraSweet, you are not–let’s be clear, not on the list. Unless you’re Phoebe Cates.

        1. Considering Im not an anarchist, seems weird.

          Although if Phoebe is on the list too…I can learn.

    3. “how did he propose to do away with slavery without the power of the state to enforce it?”

      Ridiculous. The institution of slavery depended on government enforcement. Without the fugitive slave laws, what would prevent slaves from running away to free states?

      1. By “it” I meant the power of the state to enforce abolition, not slavery. Absent the apparatus of a state, how would the North have implemented a ban on slavery? By asking nicely?

        1. No, by all THE FUCKING SLAVES RUNNING AWAY TO THE NORTHERN FREE STATES.

          This would have collapsed the southern economy completely.

          1. If the chances of actually escaping were higher, more would have done it. And they could have chosen to raise their own raiding parties of former slaves to go back and rescue family members. A lot of possibilities would have existed if the North was not complicit in helping the South enforce slavery.

            1. yeah, without the government’s involvement with such things as the fugitive slave acts it would have crumbled completely.

              However, the north needed the cheap agriculture of the slave owning south.

              1. that and the 87% of the federal revenue that the south provided because of tariffs.

        2. It’s really quite simple. Without government support, at the state or federal level, slavery would not be able to survive for very long.

        3. Slavery depends on the state to enforce the captivity of the slave. Absent the protection of the state the slaveholder has a much more difficult time keeping the slave in captivity.

          In the case of the state existing and the state recognizing the equal humanity of the enslaved people the would then start enforcing theft, assault, kidnapping and other laws against people who tried to hold other people to extract the benefits of their labor against their will.

          Slavery is a creation of the state. Freedom exists entirely separately from the state.

          In the case of a stateless society if the slave has friends or family that want him free, he will be free.

    4. As an “anarchist,” how did he propose to do away with slavery without the power of the state to enforce it? With happy thoughts? By politely asking the slave-owners to relinquish their entire economic system? Or by sitting back and waiting for the inevitable collapse of said system?

      Slavery is impossible without the state. The only reason slavery was possible in antebellum America was because the government subsidies of helping track down runaway slaves. Otherwise, the slaveowners would have to pay to track down runaways themselves, and that would be so expensive that they wouldn’t bother. Slavery ends.

      Being an “anarchist” and anti-Constitutionalist, how did he propose to protect those rights? By wishing it? And didn’t Southern plantation-owners consider slaves as “property”? How would anarchy, a “system” of non-absolutes, settle that debate?

      You explode your own argument from the start: how can a government possibly protect property rights? A government operates by extorting money under threat of violence, rape, and murder. That sounds like a violation of property rights to me. How can you protect property rights by violating property rights? That would be like saying “I don’t like slavery, so I’m going to enslave millions of people to stop slavery”. Oh wait…

      On the other hand, a free society could protect property in many ways, the most straightforward being me paying an organization to keep my property and person safe. Look up “dispute resolution organizations”.

      Wait a minute. Under a “system” of anarchy, what would prevent competing juries from forming, each with its own rules and procedures?

      Nothing would prevent it, and in fact it should be encouraged. Look up “dispute resolution organizations”.

      Where would objective law be found? And if there is no such thing as objective law, Spooner’s entire thesis collapses. Spooner steals several concepts in order to buttress his ideas, without which he has no foundation.

      There will be only 1 rule: don’t initiate force. It isn’t very hard to come up with, as it has been around for thousands of years. You learn it in kindergarten. Why throw it out when we get to adulthood?

      1. Best comment in this thread.

      2. Excellent points. Also, there is the claim that anarchy is impossible. But are we supposed to believe that limited government is a possible form of government? America was a limited gov for like what, 50 years tops. Same story with every other limited gov in history.

        1. No country has yet been able to establish the checks and balances necessary to keep government limited to the protection of the individual rights of it’s citizens, but America came far far closer than any other country before it.

          and here’s the important part…

          America didn’t exist before America.

          1. @Fiscal Meth

            No country has yet been able to establish the checks and balances necessary to keep government limited to the protection of the individual rights of it’s citizens, but America came far far closer than any other country before it.

            I agree. 30 million body bags later, how is that working out?

            1. You completely lost me. You might as well have said “I know you are but what am I”.

              1. My point is that you are correct, America was the best shot for limited government: it was built right into its constitution, and Americans in general have a distrust of government you don’t find in, say, Europe. But it didn’t work. It wasn’t even close to working. America is now one one of the biggest rights abusers there is, with about 30 million dead due to its foreign policy and millions of its own citizens imprisoned for “crimes” like owning the wrong pieces of vegetation.

                1. Nice to get all the cards on the table. Government causes more violence than it prevents.

                2. Before America, Greece came the closest. America was a tremendous improvement on Grecian Democracy. There’s plenty wrong with our constitution. A better constitution would have:
                  1.separation of church and state
                  2.separation of economy and state
                  3.separation of science and state
                  4.no commerce clause
                  5.no general welfare junk
                  6.an explicit declaration of self ownership and and property rights.

                  The next attempt to establish a government for the protection of the individual rights of its citizens will probably be much better than America’s and that fifty years you talked about might be more like 200 years and better next time.

                  1. I forgot voluntary taxation

              2. I’m still working on the idea that the government has threatened to rape him.

                1. @Fiscal Meth

                  The government would get big and simply ignore those things. And as someone else said below, the “50 years” thing was garbage. If you don’t believe me, look at what happened in the “whiskey rebellion” and “shay’s rebellion”.

                  And “voluntary taxation”? Come on! Governments by definition have absolute control over their citizens, moral authority, and zero accountability. I don’t think paying them is going to be voluntary. Really though, what you are proposing isn’t different from what I’m proposing, except my way would actually work. Look up what a DRO is, it basically performs the functions you want government to perform, but in a voluntary way:

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispute_resolution_organization

                  Of course, in a free society DROs might not be the best solution, there might be a better one that handles things differently. Great. Lets do that instead. But being forced to pay murderous thugs who use extortion, murder, rape and violence to get what they want and saying they will solve all our problems is not a solution. It is the opposite of a solution, there isn’t a way things could be worse.

                  @Mike

                  You’ve never heard of prison rape? It is sort of an expected punishment when you go to prison.

                  1. When you say things like “in a free society…”, it presupposes that a philosophical battle has been waged and won by the anarchists/voluntarists and that most people understand and prefer anarchy. I accept those terms because my ideal also depends on most people wanting it. That is why I take care not to say tired things like “It could never happen. Biggest gang wins, the people would revolt and install some sort of government or another”. Your attitude is not this respectful or honest. Your attitude is “Oh yeah well howz Obama workin out for ya?”. I claim that a country would not turn out this way with a more consistently pro-individual rights constitution and you say “Oh yeah well look at how we turned out. Look around at all the rape n stuff”.

                    I’m saying that you could keep a govt afraid of a well armed people with the help of a good constitution.

      3. Excellent points. Also, there is the claim that anarchy is impossible. But are we supposed to believe that limited government is a possible form of government? America was a limited gov for like what, 50 years tops. Same story with every other limited gov in history.

        1. Please go google “Whiskey Rebellion” on Bing. 50 years limited government? Not even five.

      4. So by your definition, “government operates by extorting money under threat of violence, rape, and murder.”

        That is a straw man argument. If people voluntarily pay another group of individuals to uphold private property rights, and be the sole adjudicator of conflicts, via a justice system, that is a moral form of government.

        What you described above is a gang.

        1. That is a straw man argument. If people voluntarily pay another group of individuals to uphold private property rights, and be the sole adjudicator of conflicts, via a justice system, that is a moral form of government.

          Perhaps I misunderstand what you are saying, but are you implying that taxes are voluntary? Of course if people voluntarily handed over their money to the government that would be a voluntary system and I can’t really argue against it. But I sort of thought if you didn’t pay your taxes you would have a group of heavily armed psychopaths show up at your door who are not there to deliver pizza. Then I sort of thought you would be thrown in one of the most violent institutions on the planet today, where you will be repeatedly beaten and raped. Not quite getting a “voluntary” vibe off of that sequence of events, myself, but maybe our definitions of “voluntary” differ.

          You are right about one thing, though, government is a gang, but they are far worse then the mafia.

      5. “slaveowners would have to pay to track down runaways themselves, and that would be so expensive that they wouldn’t bother. Slavery ends.”

        You misunderestimate the power of competition and innovation. Private firms competing for the slave owner dollar would surely design some affordible and effective slave returning systems or systems to prevent them getting away in the first place.

        1. You misunderestimate the power of competition and innovation. Private firms competing for the slave owner dollar would surely design some affordible and effective slave returning systems or systems to prevent them getting away in the first place.

          And this would be cheaper then, say, paying someone to work the field instead of the slaves? The police had a nationwide network on alert to catch these slaves and they didn’t really do that good a job of it, how effective are 2 fat guys with shotguns riding around on horses going to be? And how much are you going to have to pay them if there isn’t really a penalty for shooting them (self defense, after all)?

          It isn’t like slaves are free, either. You have to feed them, clothe them, shelter them, give them healthcare, etc etc. Why not just pay them proper wages and do away with paying for slave hunters?

          1. If force was a commercial option, people would get very, very good at it. And it would become extremely cheap.

            1. So do you have any evidence that paying your former slaves a few thousand dollars each would be more expensive than paying hundreds of thousands of dollars per person to a slave-catching company? Brazil ended slavery by not catching slaves, they didn’t make it illegal and go after the salveholders. It ended on its own.

              1. No, I have no evidence that a few thousand dollars is more than a hundreds of thousands of dollars. I do have evidence that technology and competition make everything, including force, more efficient. Force should not be a free market competition and cannot becuase the force part contradicts the free part. Government’s role is to remove force from the market by the retaliatory use of force against the initiator according to non-contradictory objective law.

                1. No, I have no evidence that a few thousand dollars is more than a hundreds of thousands of dollars. I do have evidence that technology and competition make everything, including force, more efficient.

                  Force is in and of itself an inefficiency, and therefore a free market would work to eliminate it. People don’t like to work with people who initiate force.

                  Force should not be a free market competition and cannot becuase the force part contradicts the free part.Force should not be a free market competition and cannot becuase the force part contradicts the free part.

                  So…we should hand over the right to initiate force to an unaccountable organization with unlimited guns, absolute moral authority and zero accountability instead of giving them to organizations with finite guns, no moral authority and accountability to their customers? That doesn’t sound like a good plan to me. Actually I know it isn’t a good plan, because we are doing that now and it sucks.

                  Government’s role is to remove force from the market by the retaliatory use of force against the initiator according to non-contradictory objective law.

                  Did you even read what you wrote? What you said is the opposite of what government does. The government initiates unbelievable amounts of force against innocents according to contradictory subjective law. If that is what you believe, how on earth can you defend the government?

                  1. “Force is in and of itself an inefficiency, and therefore a free market would work to eliminate it.”

                    Force is the most effective way to gain the unearned. There will always be people who desire the results of that which they did not do.

      6. There will be only 1 rule: don’t initiate force.

        And who, pray tell, will enforce your rule? You? Your gang? Well, I have a bigger gang, and I’m coming over to your house, stealing your stuff and kicking your ass. And what are you going to do about it in your anarchist utopia? Call the cops? There aren’t any! Call your “enforcement gang”? Like I said, mine is bigger, and we are better armed. Sue me? There aren’t any courts. So it’s my gang against yours, and you anarchist hippies won’t stand a chance.

        1. I’d call my DRO, who would stop you. They have more guns then you and your gang. Obviously you wouldn’t want to mess with them, and if you did your lifespan would be short. Even if the DRO didn’t exist your life would be short, as people generally respond to break-ins with buckshot to your face.

          Why couldn’t the situation you describe happen now, anyway? I could get a few of my buddies and I certainly could out-gun you. What are you going to do, call the cops? So they show up an hour after everything dies down to tag some toes?

          But it doesn’t happen, at least not very often, because if you do that for a living you get ventilated really fast.

          1. Nice evasion. When you can tell me who will enforce your “everybody play nice” rule, get back to me. Meanwhile, good luck being stuck in the hell that is your personal fantasy world.

            1. If you had read my comment, you would have known:
              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D…..ganization

              Of course, that is just one way that it could happen, there might be a better way. And you didn’t tell me why what you say could happen doesn’t happen now, as the statist society does not have a way of preventing it either. And you haven’t explained why the only way to prevent your ridiculous example from happening is creating a violent institution with unlimited guns, zero accountability, and absolute moral authority over everyone, who already do worse then what you tried to describe. Even if your moronic example of “what will totally happen” is true; it is still an improvement over what currently happens.

              Good luck being stuck in the hell that is our reality.

        2. And this, my friends, is how terrorism gets started. If I can’t beat you, I’m not just going to join you. But I can sure make people afraid to talk to you and I can make sure that you never sleep easy while I’m alive. If we can’t agree to get along, and you’re going to threaten me, why should I play fair? You don’t.

    5. Somebody’s been reading too much Ayn Rand.

      1. That’s not possible.

        1. You’re kidding, right? It’s inherently required. She wrote too much, therefore reading anything she wrote is to read too much. Her ideas were fine enough. Too bad she clouded them in such overwrought prose. 😉

  5. I just like the name Lysander. If I had a son, I would have named him Lysander.

    Of course, then I would have also had to teach him how not to get his ass kicked in school.

    1. The bad thing is when the home schooled kids get their ass kicked at school.

      1. It’s even worse when home schooled kids date their teachers.

        1. The Love that dare not speak its surmame.

        2. It’s like a Shakespeare play and a Van Halen song all rolled into one!

    2. Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules, of hectoring Lysander, and such great names as these.

      Wait, wait! that’s not quite right…

  6. His eyes say “I know what I’m talking about” but his beard says “I’m fucking crazy”.

    1. Quite possibly, the reason he was crazy was that he knew what he was talking about.

      1. FUUUUUUUU

  7. Spooner persuasively argued that “the Constitution is no contract; that it binds nobody, and never did bind anybody; and that all those who pretend to act by its authority, are really acting without any legitimate authority at all.”

    “persuasively argued”? Damon, you’re easily persuaded.

    1. Im not sure that statement requires any pursuasion, seems intuitively obvious.

      Much like the “social contract” isnt a contract either.

    2. Have you read “no treason”? It is VERY persuasive. It is logically sound. Give it a read.

    3. Are you aware of any decent arguments that the Constitution actually IS a contract?

      1. The government has guns. They tell us that the Constitution is legitimate. Sounds like a decent argument to me 🙂

      2. A contract with who? I never got my copy of the contract to sign or to reject. They just assumed I’m their property from the get-go.

  8. Hey Forker … do a little reading.
    “In 1858, Spooner circulated a “Plan for the Abolition of Slavery,” calling for the use of guerrilla warfare against slaveholders by black slaves and non-slaveholding free Southerners, with aid from Northern abolitionists.”
    http://praxeology.net/LS-PAS.htm

    Something that should probably be tried on the Hill and in the House once in a while.
    “We specially advise the flogging of individual Slave-holders. This is a case where the medical principle, that like cures like, will certainly succeed. Give the Slave-holders, then, a taste of their own whips. Spare their lives, but not their backs.”

  9. While we’re at it Forker, here’s the bestest argument against the War on Drugs EVER!!
    http://www.lysanderspooner.org…..Crimes.htm

    While personally i can vacillate between a incremental minarchist libertarian and hard core, anarch principle >> utilitarian consequences.
    Any day of the week.

    1. I’d settle for an incrementally less statist form of government!! Good luck even with that.

      1. Agreed.
        Still, by immediately going to consequential arguments, one completely cedes the high ground of 1st principles from the get-go.
        JS Mills should only be invoked as a last resort (specially considering he has no problem with sin taxes .. grr)

  10. Another thing i appreciate bout Spooner: practicing law w/o a ‘license’. Gives traffic court judges FITS. So far i’m 1 for 2 WITH the cop showing up.
    *grin*

    1. If you are representing only yourself, then you are not practicing law. You don’t need a license to go pro se.

      1. True, but as told to me by a couple of lawyers in more social settings (lingerie bar in one case, LOL) … it annoys the ‘system’ to no end.
        Fully worth it imho.

        1. +1

  11. “Anarchy, as a political concept, is a naive floating abstraction: . . . a society without an organized government would be at the mercy of the first criminal who came along and who would precipitate it into the chaos of gang warfare. But the possibility of human immorality is not the only objection to anarchy: even a society whose every member were fully rational and faultlessly moral, could not function in a state of anarchy; it is the need of objective laws and of an arbiter for honest disagreements among men that necessitates the establishment of a government.

    If a society provided no organized protection against force, it would compel every citizen to go about armed, to turn his home into a fortress, to shoot any strangers approaching his door?or to join a protective gang of citizens who would fight other gangs, formed for the same purpose, and thus bring about the degeneration of that society into the chaos of gang-rule, i.e., rule by brute force, into perpetual tribal warfare of prehistorical savages.”

    1. Ayn Rand was dead wrong. Government is the foremost criminal enterprise in society. It is, by definition, gang rule by brute force.

      1. In a republic such as ours, the people elect and appoint the “gang” you speak of to represent them and their interests, and they have the power to remove them. If you believe that these same people, acting on their own and without a government, would somehow be more virtuous, you have either never read a history book, or you are woefully delusional.

        1. In a republic such as ours, the people elect and appoint the “gang” you speak of to represent them and their interests

          I haven’t seen any evidence of that. What I have seen is a popularity contest between 2 rich people vomited up through political machinations deep within the bowels of unaccountable political parties. I haven’t seen any of my interests reflected by any of them. I would be happy if they would simply leave me alone, but because they are a gang of brutal thugs with unaccountable psycopaths at their command, that won’t happen.

          and they have the power to remove them

          How often has this happened, like 10 times? Throughout the entire history of the US government? What a joke. I’ll be impressed when at least some of the people responsible for murdering millions are brought to justice. I won’t hold my breath.

          If you believe that these same people, acting on their own and without a government, would somehow be more virtuous, you have either never read a history book, or you are woefully delusional.

          If the US turned anarchist and got rid of the Govenrment, and entire towns were then butchered by…an angry mob? Would you consider this a failure of anarchism? If, in this anarchist “country”, systematic genocide of certain groups of people occurred, would you consider this a failure of anarchism? If this same anarchist group of individuals started a war halfway around the world in a country most people couldn’t even point to on a map, and 7 MILLION PEOPLE died in this war, would you consider this a failure of anarchism? If these things happened, would you point to them and say “this is why anarchism can’t work?”

          1. That is a horrible and stupid argument.

            1. I believe he was arguing that anti-anarchists were holding anarchy to a much higher standard than the status quo, which already involves a lot of murder and violence, just in an orderly and lawful fashion, with ample rationalization.

              1. Yep. I think that anarchy can work without the violence everyone claims will happen. Somalia had a decent amount of violence at first, but it has calmed down quite a bit and many things people say are impossible in an anarchist society flourish in Somalia, especially compared to the neighboring countries and the Marxian dictatorship that Somalia had pre-collapse. And much of the violence was caused by outside agents anyway. I think if Somalia can prevent the government tumor from taking hold, they will absolutely flourish in the coming years.

                But even if there was some violence after anarchy took hold, it would absolutely pale in comparison to the violence that already takes place. Vietnam was just one example: it took the lives of many Americans that were sent over, and ruined the lives of many who made it back. Who knows how many Vietnamese lives it ruined. How could such a tragedy possibly happen in an anarchist society, especially one with a well-defined court system and dispute resolution organizations?

                1. There is no anarchy in Somalia, they have many archs in fact.

                2. omg, somalia will never flourish. you say calmed down quite a bit, it is in reality a place of frequent and non ending violence, where every group has their private enforcement in response to offenses against a member or members of their group. and some groups are weaker and more at the mercy of other groups.
                  Flourishing requires a high level of law and order which somalia does not have. people such as yourself end up defeating your own point by taking it to ridiculous extremes. Limited government is one thing. Somalia is another.

              2. In other words:

                Nobody panics when the expected people get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds!

            2. i dunno, if you just replace “anarchism” w/ “statism” it seems like a prety good argument…

          2. omg –
            I’m with you on most of what you’re saying, but part of the legitimate role of government (as I see it) is to enforce a dispute in a contract that was freely entered by two parties. (I understand there are perfectly good private ways to arbitrate disagreements) but if the loser says, “Too bad, I won’t follow the arbitration’s ruling.” What then? Just say, “Oh well, hopefully no one else will do business with them.” That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow if its your livelihood that’s been damaged.

            Another point you may have missed about the direct comparison between government and gangs. Even if the contest is between two options that are pathetic and useless, when has a gang leader EVER just stepped down from power? I know it’s not much, but the fact that we have peaceful transfers of power is saying something.

            1. @Sean L.

              …but if the loser says, “Too bad, I won’t follow the arbitration’s ruling.” What then? …

              That is a rather complicated question. There are ways to handle this without the government, however. The best example we have right now is (I think) Amazon marketplace. A while back I entered into a voluntary contract with a seller on Amazon marketplace in which I would provide a decent amount of money, and the seller would provide a boxed set of a TV show. I provided the money, but the boxed set never appeared. So I talked to Amazon, who refunded my money and went after the seller personally, probably confiscating resources the seller had made available just in case something like this happened.

              No government required, and I got my money back without court fees, and lawyer fees, and all the hassle of trying to work the statist system. As another example, a former landlord never paid me my security deposit back, and disconnected their phone service so they could not be reached. I could have tried to get my money back, but it would mean going through the court system in a state I no longer lived in. Why bother? I just gave up and ate a few hundred bucks instead of going through the hassle.

              when has a gang leader EVER just stepped down from power?

              Has this never happened before? I imagine at some point in time an older gang member would want to “retire” and leave the operations to someone else. I don’t really care about that, though, as I don’t really care who is in power at any point in time in our current system. No matter who holds the power, the violence continues.

        2. If you really believe the government acts with consent of the people I have a bridge to sell you.

          Anarchy doesn’t require people to be virtuous any more than government. If men aren’t virtuous, how do you expect them to behave when they get government power?

    2. The quote by Madison is often used to argue for the necessity of government:
      If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

      But in actuality, the quote demonstrates why government can’t be expected to perform the task it claims to do. Men ARE NOT angels and since government is composed of men, it is doomed to become a tool of personal power and oppression.

      1. If men were angles, they would need no government. If they were devils, they dare not have one.

        I thought Paine said that?

      2. The point though is to retard that progression. Yes, eventually all forms of government will move toward that which oppresses and rules over the people, rather than serving them, but in the meantime we’re going to form a civilized gang with as many checks as possible.

    3. Lets see if we can ‘downsize’ DC to maybe pre LBJ’s Great Society (let alone Lincoln’s War of N. Aggro) before we worry about teh Somalia in America, K?

    4. On pure moral principal, I am basically an anarchist. No one has a right to use force to compel anyone to do anything.

      But it seems to me inevitable that something so like to government that it is indistinguishable is bound to arise eventually in any situation of anarchy.

      1. I have a hard time seeing why it must be inevitable forever and ever amen. I would say that people are capable of learning from past mistakes.

      2. “Anarchy” and the “state” are useful abstractions, but the reality is that powerful people or groups of people would soon arise from complete chaos, and, on the other hand, some amount of anarchy is always present even in a repressive state like North Korea. Every human being that lives now, has ever lived, or will ever live, exists in an environment that lies on a spectrum somewhere between complete personal freedom and being subjected to someone else’s domination.

        Probably, the best the human race can do is if we evolve so that most people believe:

        * It’s a good idea to develop one’s own personal power. Rather than give oneself over completely to the service of a protector, whether it be a government, your family, your union boss, etc. People should at least realize that today’s protector can always turn into tomorrow’s exploiter.

        * That too much concentration of power in one place is dangerous. That distributed power is better.

        * That there is virtue in voluntarily restraining from using one’s power to dominate others when possible. That there is a creative challenge in figuring out rules for society where volunteerism and peaceful persuasion can replace force.

      3. Oh, and I realize that the word, anarchy, isn’t meant to be synonymous with chaos. And that one definition of the word more or less describes a society in which people think and act along the lines laid out in my preceding comment.

    5. You pretty much describe the evolution of government in the first place. Give Spooner’s essay “Natural Law” a read.

  12. Here’s another good early American anarchist – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Tucker

    1. Robert Anton Wilson loved that guy.

      1. Tucker lost me when he said “If a woman were about to throw her child into a fire, anyone who stopped and intervened would be violating her right to property.”

        1. From my (albeit cursory) view of Tucker, his philosophy basically boiled down to might-makes-right, which I find it hard to square with libertarianism.


  13. A champion of property rights and free trade, Spooner argued that banking should be completely unregulated

    Can you imagine depositing money into a bank and there is no regulation as for your rights to that money you just deposited?

    Can you imagine depositing money into a band and then the bank weasels out of paying any interest or even giving you the money back?

    What is one to do? Sue the bank?

    If I do sue the bank and WIN, without regulations, the bank can just keep on doing it right?

    1. I know the argument I’m about to hear:

      ” yea yea yea, if a bank did that then nobody would do business with that bank…long live free market ”

      If this is what u guys want…then I’m opening up a bank once this policy is established.

      1. You have revealed yourself to be a Tony-level idiot so many times that you are not worth arguing with.

        1. It’s tough being right on this one.

      2. If you look at the actual track record of relatively unregulated Scottish banks, it wasn’t so much this effect that kept big bank disasters from happening. It was:

        * The owners of the banks were personally liable for the failure. I.e. there wasn’t a corporate entity shielding them from failure.

        * Customers were much more careful about selecting banks to do business with. And didn’t put all their money in one place.

        * Other banks used the few minor failures that did occur to pick up new customers, by offering to pay switchers a fraction on the lost deposits from the failed bank.

      3. No one would bank with you. Seriously. If there were no regulations the amount of credibility a bank would need to establish would be enormous.

        1. So, I’ll build up the credibility for a few years and then they’ll be calling me Alice Mad-off

          1. And whoever’s backing your certification would be auditing you all the way… Do you know how many standards organizations there are *now*?

            How many do you think there would be if there were no regulations to offset participant risk? (You know, like the SEC does? Like whoever ‘regulated’ offshore drilling? Like licensing boards that protect establi- erm… consumers?)

            1. There would be no auditing or standards organization. That’s the beauty of no regulations.

              1. You mean no government regulations. You’re so stuck on your narrative that you can’t conceive of there being organizations that would certify the trustworthiness of banking (among others) companies. In a free market such organizations are going to have their noses to the asses of the banks to know what they had for dinner, otherwise they will lose out to more capable organizations.

                1. Of course I can conceive of such organizations…THEY ARE CALLED REGULATORS.

                  1. Without governmental force then involvement all around is voluntary, not forced. Also, as I stated earlier the government has legalized fractional reserve banking, and pushes out of the market those who would compete with 100% reserves. This means that the form of regulation is radically different. Even those regulators now must still meet approval from the government, rather than letting the market dictate the most appropriate and efficient practices.

          2. You mean like the federal reserve, or say social security.

      4. Sure there are regulations…me and my boys show up and get our money back.

        The banker has more boys and is better armed? What you mean like the government which is already taking my money now?

        There is also the fact that it is the government that has legalized fractional banking and then given their definition of banks a monopoly. Let’s go back to banks to being warehouses for your money, and their loans based on actual holdings, along with people being responsible to find out the practices of the banks.

    2. I think it depends what you mean by “regulations”. I dont contract law or laws against theft or fraud to be “regulations” in the sense being referenced above.

      There are laws, then there are regulations.

    3. Can you imagine depositing money into a bank and there is no regulation as for your rights to that money you just deposited?

      Yes, I can imagine buying a safe and keeping my money in that. I can imagine it very easily.

  14. I hear ya.

    I received a ZERO PERCENT (0%) credit card offer from my bank for balance transfers. It’s an introductory offer for one year. Then, the rate goes to 11%. It’s not until you read the back in the fine print that there is 3% transfer fee…making the effective introductory rate 3% and not 0%. I see no problems with REGULATIONS requiring banks to STOP calling it 0%. This regulation I can live with.

    1. Or maybe you should just read the offers more carefully. People who sign things without reading the whole thing deserve what happens to them.

      1. I’m afraid I know all about small print Ryan. I’m saying that 0% is misrepresented. This is not merely a marketing ploy for the idiots in society. (Remember, we live in a country where people put their gold jewelry in an envelop and mail it to a PO BOX in Miami in hopes of getting a fair shake).

      2. Look, we can get rid of regulations and the statues of fraud and simply allow companies to trick dumb, unsophisicated, and un-aware people out of their money. I’m just not for this. I’d rather the dumb people be protected. I don’t want to live in a country where a Big dude can come to a little dude, smack him around, and take everything he’s got. It’ll make for a rather violent society.

        1. AGAIN!!! You mean like the government already does?? Only it’s not just the dumb people, but those that are informed but outgunned, or too busy trying to just live life, or not as organized.

          Disagree with the government taking your money, well you’ll see violence. Why don’t you start flying carrying around large amounts of cash and see you don’t experience some of smacking around and taking?

    2. Compared to the lies that governments tell, a bank calling one thing 0% interest and the other thing a 3% transfer fee is pure refreshing honesty.

    3. Why not point out that bankers are fraudsters and let the ‘free market’ take care? Do you shop in a grocery store that sells you rotten food? I don’t think so.

      Do you think people are so stupid that they can’t read the fine print? And tell me, who ENFORCES the fine print anyway? Uh Oh. It turns out that banks can cheat people because the GOVERNMENT HELPS THEM.

  15. The absence of a Federal Government with power to regulate banks does not mean that banking would go unregulated. I seriously doubt that people would put “all their money” in one banking firm rather than spread their deposits among several banks. There would also be networks, formal and informal, that provided information about which banks were the most trustworthy. Competition is a powerful force in the marketplace; I get the impression that banks exist in people’s minds on some alternate plane from regular, non-banking businesses. They’re businesses, and are subject to the same market incentives as pizzerias and mini-storage facilities. The only thing that changes the banking business model is the FedGov’s allowance of fractional reserve banking. Imagine a mini-storage facility that was legally allowed to rent out your furniture and old tv sets…you might get a cut of the rental fee, of course, but you might also never see your grandma’s antique sofa again. “Unregulated banking” would, due to competitive pressures, most likely bring us a 100% reserve system for deposits, along with loan agreements, whereby the depositor agrees by contract to not withdraw a certain amount of money that is then lent out by the bankers, who would have working relationships with borrowers that the depositor doesn’t have the time or expertise to develop.

  16. And as for whether anarchism could work or not; a form of anarchism (certainly an environment that existed without formal government) can be studied in American history:
    http://www.independent.org/pub……asp?a=803

    also this:

    http://mises.org/journals/jls/3_1/3_1_2.pdf

  17. >> Spooner made a ridiculous comparison between the former Confederates and their former slaves, arguing that both were now equally the property of the federal government.

  18. Spooner made a ridiculous comparison between the former Confederates and their former slaves, arguing that both were now equally the property of the federal government.
    Not a ridiculous comparison at all. For those who may be interested, I highly recommend that you read Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s book titled Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War.

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