Benjamin Tucker, Liberty And Individualist Anarchism

by Wendy McElroy(1)

"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, these three; but the greatest of these is Liberty. Formerly the price of Liberty was eternal vigilance, but now it can be had for fifty cents a year."(2) So wrote Benjamin Ricketson Tucker (1854-1939) on the first page of the first issue of Liberty.(3)(4)

The American periodical Liberty , edited and published by Tucker from August 1881 to April 1908, is widely considered to be the finest individualist-anarchist periodical ever issued in the English language. Over its twenty-seven year life span, during which it issued first from Boston and then from New York (1892), Liberty chronicled the personalities and the shifting controver- sies of radical individualism in the United States and abroad.

It also fostered those personalities and controversies. The scroll of contributors to Liberty reads like an honor roll of nineteenth-century individualism: Lysander Spooner, Auberon Herbert, Joshua K. Ingalls, John Henry Mackay, Victor Yarros, and Wordsworth Donisthorpe are only a partial listing. Speaking with a cosmopolitan and avant-garde voice, Liberty also published such items as George Bernard Shaw's first original article to appear in the United States, the first American translated excerpts of Friedrich Nietzsche , and reports from economist Vilfredo Pareto on the political conditions in Italy.(5)(6)

Of seminal importance in the history of individualist ideas, Tucker's periodical also served as the main conduit of Stirnerite egoism and of radical Spencerian thought from Europe to America. As such, Liberty was both an innovator in individualist theory and a mainstay of that tradition.(7)

The periodical was also remarkable for the consistently high quality of its content and for the clarity of its style. The issues debated within its pages have a sophisticated, almost contemporary, ring, and the discussions ranged from radical civil liberties to economic theory -- from children's rights to ques- tioning the basis of rent and interest. Contributors to Liberty, as well as other individualists who published articles elsewhere, often found themselves on the defense against Tucker's intransigent demand for 'plumb line' consistency in all things.

As a professional journalist , Tucker also insisted upon a clear, precise style and he took great pride in raising Liberty far above the standards for layout and grammar that were employed by most other radical periodicals of the day.(8)

Tucker's Background

On April 17, 1854, Tucker was born in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.(9) Coming from both a Quaker and a radical Unitarian background, Tucker grew up in an atmosphere of dissent and free inquiry, and attended the Friends Academy in New Bedford, a nearby seaport. At his parents' prompting, he later attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts for three years.

In Boston, Tucker became politically involved with the 1872 presidential campaign of Horace Greeley, and made the acquaintance of the veteran individualist anarchists Josiah Warren and William B. Greene through attending a convention of the New England Labor Reform League in Boston, a veritable hotbed of individualists. Greene, who served as the chairman, made an immediate and deeply favorable impression upon the young M.I.T. student.(10) The introduction to both Greene and Warren had been facilitated by the abolitionist and labor reformer Ezra Heywood. Tucker would later look back upon these initial encounters as the pivotal point in his career as a radical. At the convention, Tucker purchased Greene's book entitled Mutual Banking and Warren's True Civilization, along with some of Heywood's pamphlets.

An ongoing association with Heywood, the publisher of the Princeton labor reform periodical The Word, soon followed.(11) From his involvement in the labor reform movement, Tucker became convinced that economic reform must underlie all other steps toward freedom. From a later admiration of the radical abolitionist Spooner, Tucker's voice acquired a radical anti-political edge as well. To these influences were added the European flavor of Herbert Spencer, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Max Stirner, and Michael Bakounine.

In editing Liberty, Tucker both filtered and integrated the theories of such European thinkers with the uniquely American labor, freethought and free love movements in order to produce a rigorous system of individualist anarchism which subsequently became identified with him.(12) It became known as "philosophical anarchism" or, in a phrase that was often applied derogatorily, "Boston Anarchism."

In 1876, in what may be considered Tucker's debut into radical circles, Heywood published Tucker's English translation of Proudhon's classic work What is Property?. Shortly afterward Tucker commenced the publication of a freethought publication entitled Radical Review (New Bedford, Mass, 1877-1878), which lasted only four issues. A substantial portion of the four issues, however, were devoted to publishing a partial translation of Proudhon's Systems of Economical Contradictions, also translated into English by Tucker.

Although Tucker was a prolific writer, virtually the entire body of his work, other than those titles constituting translations, appeared as articles in Liberty; some of these articles were subsequently issued as pamphlets. Tucker's key work, entitled Instead of a Book by a Man Too Busy to Write One (1893), was a selected compilation of articles from Liberty with the subtitle, A Fragmentary Exposition of Philosophical Anar- chism.

The Social Context of Liberty

In the late nineteenth century, Tucker and Liberty were the vital core around which a radical individualist movement reconstituted itself and grew. In a wider social and cultural context, however, Liberty was merely one of a flood of radical periodicals published in America near the turn of the nineteenth century.

The post Civil War decades were a time of social turmoil and erratic growth, with many voices calling for reform. The ideologies expressed ranged from state socialism, to populism, progressivism, and anarchism. A jumble of issues fought for space in newsprint: single-tax, temperance, women's suffrage, labor unions, land reform, birth control, state funded education... A wide and deep range of movements offered different solutions to societal problems. Few of these movements were individualistic.

True to the maxim "War is the Health of the State," the Civil War had nearly killed the radical individualist movement in America. The rampant growth of government caused by the War and its aftermath had established an environment that was increasingly hostile to individual rights. Moreover, the groups and personalities who had constituted the driving core of the individualist movement -- such as William Lloyd Garrison and his abolitionist cadre -- had been badly divided by internal conflicts, largely caused by the question of whether or not to support the Civil War.

After the devastation, radical individualism had been basically expressed, not as an integrated movement in its own right, but as an extreme faction within other movements, particularly within labor reform, freethought and free love. It is against this broader social and political backdrop that Liberty began its career, and became the point around which a distinctive individualist movement coalesced and revitalized.

Major Themes

Radical individualism in 19th century America is commonly called individualist anarchism. As part of this continuing ideo- logical tradition, Liberty did not emerge from nor did it operate within an intellectual vacuum. The tradition from which Liberty arose revolved around two fundamental themes.

The first theme of 19th century American individualist anarchism is called 'the sovereignty of the individual', which is sometimes expressed by the term 'self-ownership' -- a term popularized by Garrisonian abolitionism. Self-ownership is the tenet that every human being -- simply by being a human being -- has an inalienable moral jurisdiction over his or her own body and over what he or she produces. This universalizable right, or claim, was what Tucker meant whenever he used the Spencerian phrase 'the law of equal liberty'.

As Tucker phrased it, "Equal liberty means the largest amount of liberty compatible with equality and mutuality of respect, on the part of individuals living in society, for their respective spheres of action."(13)

The second theme of individualist anarchism was economic: in general, the movement espoused a version of the labor theory of value, which it often expressed through the phrase "cost 14 the limit of price".(14) The labor theory of value claimed that all wealth is created by labor and usually implied that, therefore, all wealth belongs unquestionably to the laborer. Individualist anarchism considered this concept to be a direct extension of self ownership. As Tucker phrased it: "It will be seen from this definition that Anarchistic property concerns only products. But anything is a product upon which human labor has been expended. It should be stated, however, that in the case of land, or of any other material the supply of which is so limited that all cannot hold it in unlimited quantities, Anarchism undertakes to protect no titles except such as are based on actual occupancy and use."(15)

Liberty Appears

Liberty first issued on August 6, 1881 from Boston with an introduction that was typical of Tucker, then a journalist in the editorial department of the Boston Globe.(16) "It may be well to state at the outset," he declared of Liberty, "that this journal will be edited to suit its editor, not its readers."(17) Despite this caveat, Liberty was a relatively open forum for radical individualist debate with many of the early unsigned editorials, which are often ascribed to Tucker, being actually written by Spooner or Henry Appleton.

Fittingly, the subtitle of Liberty was a quotation from Proudhon -- "Liberty: not the daughter but the mother of order" -- and the journal's primary commitment was to economic reform. The periodical was broad enough in its interests, however, to feature a portrait of Sophie Perovskaya, a Russian nihilist martyr, in the center of its front page. The first page, as in issues thereafter, was entitled "On Picket Duty" and presented a survey/commentary upon contemporary periodicals, events, and personalities. The remainder of the issue dealt with labor, freethought, rights theory, and other anti-statist issues.

Liberty served as a clearing house for contemporary individualist periodicals, with Tucker ever alert to the appearance of a relevant new journal in America or abroad, ever poised to jump on the deviations of an established one. He re- printed appropriate or egregious articles, and often praised or engaged in debate with editors and contributors. Debates were especially common with British individualists such as J. Greevz Fisher, with whom Liberty disputed economic theories of interest and the tangled question of children's rights.(18)

Debating Egoism and Natural Rights

Chronologically, Liberty's first major debate was an internal one among its own regular contributors over the newly emerging ideology of Stirnerite egoism. The debate was sparked by Stirner's pivotal work on law, property, and the State, which was entitled The Ego and His Own. Sketching this debate provides a window into the tone and level of intellectual discussion which Liberty promoted.

Stirner, whose real name was Johann Kaspar Schmidt, had published Der Einzige in German in 1845 to widespread but short-lived acclaim. In the late 1880s, interest in Stirner among American intellectuals was stirred by the translations and popu- larization provided by James L. Walker, Steven T. Byington , and John Beverly Robinson.(20) Walker published the first twelve chapters of his pioneering work, Philosophy of Egoism, in the May 1890 to September 1891 issues of the anarchistic Egoism.(21) Even before this series, however, Liberty had introduced egoism through the articles of Walker and George Schumm, a close associate of Tucker who spent much of his life as a proof reader for the liberal weekly The Nation. The debate that ensued centered on whether egoism or natural rights formed the proper basis of radical individualist theory.

The March 6, 1886 issue of Liberty printed an article by Walker, who often wrote for Tucker under the pseudonym of Tak Kak. With his pivotal article, entitled "What is Justice?", the debate was afoot. Walker referred to such ideas as "right," "wrong," and "justice" as "merely words with vague, chimerical meanings."(22) Up to this point, natural law had been widely assumed to be the foundation of individualism, radical or not. Now egoism rejected the concept of 'ought' as a proper factor in governing man's emotions or behaviour, and claimed instead that enlightened self-interest was the only realistic basis for human conduct.

Natural rights theorists -- John F. Kelly, Gertrude Kelly, Sidney H. Morse, William J. Lloyd -- claimed there was an objective right and wrong to human behaviour which was based on the nature of man and of reality. Only by having an objective standard of values could people have a framework against which to judge whether or not government laws were just.

The Stirnerite egoists were no less anti-government than their natural rights counterparts. They merely constructed anarchism along different lines. They rejected the State because it sought to chain the individual to the general will. This argument was not a rejection or society, or of its value, which Stirner called 'union by advantage'. Society provided true and invaluable benefits to the individual, benefits which the State disrupted.

But the egoistis rejected more than natural rights: they abandoned the concept of 'principles' itself. Tak Kak declared that "the devotee of a fixed idea is mad. He either runs amuck, or cowers as mesmerized by the idea."(23)

In early 1887, John Kelly, who was a staunch Spencerian, accurately assessed Tak kak as saying, "...that the idea of right is a foolish phantasy, or that there are no rights but mine,--that is to say, that there are not rights, only mights."(24) The natural rights side of the debate accused the egoists (Tak Kak, Tucker, Schumm) of destroying not only natural rights but also individualist anarchism.

The egoists argued that they were merely reducing the concept of rights to its proper place as an artificial, useful construct with which to organize society. Converted to egoism, Tucker continued to believe in what he called 'society by contract', but he came to view rights as by-products of contracts between individuals, not as entities existing on their own. Tucker suggested that rights were "...a tacit agreement or understanding between human individuals living in daily contact and dependent upon some sort of cooperation with each other for the satisfaction of their daily wants, not to trespass upon each other's individualism, the motive of thes agreement being the purely egoist desire of each for the peaceful preservation of his own individuality..."(25)

John Kelly leaped to attack Tucker's version of rights as springing full grown from the act of contracting as being self-contradictory. He wrote, "What I contend is that it is impossible to base a society upon contract unless we consider a contract as having some binding effect, and that the binding effect of a particular contract can not be due to the contract itself..."(26)

By this statement, Kelly pointed out what he believed to be the major philosophical flaw of egoism. A contract presupposed a moral system -- for what does it mean to contract if not to voluntarily exchange what is mine for what is yours? Embedded in the very idea of contract is the concept of a voluntary versus a forced exchange, and the concept of property -- of something being mine rather than yours. And property, the natural rights advocates maintained, was a moral concept.

Otherwise stated, the simple act of contract presupposes a context in which things are owned and, thus, can be exchanged voluntarily. To claim that rights spring from contract is to invert the logical order. Contracts can occur only due to the context of rights, not vice versa.

From this tantalizing point of division, the debate became more heated and complex. Eventually, the controversy polarized the contributors to Liberty, prompting many of the natural rights advocates to withdraw permanently from its pages.

Thereafter, Liberty decidedly leaned toward egoism though the content changed little as a result. The first English translation of Stirner's The Ego and His Own was published by Tucker and given such priority that he decided not to issue the February 1907 Liberty in order to concentrate upon that work. "Thanks to Mr. Byington, the translator," Tucker wrote, "it is superior to any translation that has appeared in any other language and even to the German original."(27) Tucker's commitment to egoism may be judged by his statement, "I have been engaged for more than 30 years in the propaganda of Anarchism, and have achieved somethings of which I am proud; but I feel that I have done nothing for the cause that compares in value with my publication of this illuminating document."(28)

(1) Wendy McElroy is a fellow of the Independent Institute.

(2) "On Picket Duty", Liberty I (August 6, 1881): 1.

(3) Representative excerpts from Liberty are available in Benjamin R. Tucker's Instead of a Book by a Man too Busy to Write One (1893 and Individual Liberty Clarence Lee Swartz (ed.) 1926.

(4) The periodical began in a four-page newspaper format and went to an eight-page format on May 17, 1884. It returned to a four-page format in July 25, 1891, varied from sometimes twelve to mostly eight-pages from February 24, 1894 until the February, 1906 issue, in which Tucker announced a format and publication change that would continue until close to Liberty's last issue in April, 1908. "Liberty expects to greet its readers bimonthly hereafter, in the form given to the present issue -- a pamphlet of sixty-four pages." During its run, Liberty varied from a weekly to a fortnightly and, then finally to a monthly schedule.

(5) The article was a critique of Max Nordau's Degeneration, but reprints of Shaw's work had appeared earlier. The first such reprint was entitled "What's In A Name?" and it appeared in the April 11, 1885 issue. This was only a month after it had appeared in Henry Seymour's British periodical The Anarchist in March 1885.

(6) These excerpts were translated by George Schumm at Tucker's request. Tucker wrote: "I believe that my friend George Schumm, to whom I am indebted for the little knowledge of Nietzsche that I have, could either write, or translate from other sources, a much truer account of this new influence in the world of thought. Will he not do so, and thus make Liberty the means of introducing to America another great Egoist . . ." Liberty IX (October 1, 1892): 3.

(7) 19th century 'American' anarchism tended to run along differ- ent ideological lines, depending on whether it is based on native or immigrant thought. The native tradition ran from the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, through William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, Josiah Warren, William Greene and Lysander Spooner directly to the individualist-anarchism of Tucker. The more recent immigrant tradition owed much to the influx especially of German socialists and it eventually evolved into communist or socialist anarchism (among other positions).

(8) Tucker was an editorial writer for the Boston Globe and later for the Engineering Magazine (N.Y), although he refused to write articles which might compromise his anarchist princi- ples. Tucker was especially proud of Liberty's typography upon which he expounded at length.

(9) Perhaps the best portrait of Tucker, the man, remains Paul Avrich's "Benjamin Tucker and his Daughter" in Anarchist Portraits (1988) p.144-152.

(10) Greene's main impact seemed to be to serve as a conduit to Tucker for Proudhonian ideas.

(11) Although The Word clearly began as a vehicle for labor re- form, Heywood's personal commitment to promoting birth control resulted in its pages becoming increasingly devoted to free love issues -- much to Tucker's dismay.

(12) The Freethought movement demanded the complete separation of church and state. Free Love demanded that all sexual arrangements be left to the consent and consciences of those adults involved, with no reference to legislation.

(13) Instead of a Book, pg. 65. (14) This key phrase was the title of the second section of Science of Society, Stephen Pearl Andrews' presentation of Warren's philosophy. Liberty serialized it, October 30, 1886 to December 31, 1887. Thereafter, it was published by Sarah E. Holmes, an intimate of Tucker's, and it was advertised by Liberty.

(15) Instead of a Book p. 61.

(16) In 1892, Liberty moved from Boston to New York as a consequence of Tucker becoming the editor of the N.Y. periodical Engineering Magazine.

(17) Liberty I (August 6, 1881): 1. During the span of Liberty, it showed the imprint of several hands, not the least of which were A.P. Kelly and Victor Yarros, each of whom were associate editors for a period.

(18) To the ears of modern individualists, the economic theories of the British individualists sound more Austrian and contemporary.

(19) The Ego and His Own was published in an English translation by Steven T. Byington in 1907. Before then, much of American egoism was based on the secondary material produced by radicals who read German.

(20) Some ambiguity exists about the spelling of Byington's name. It sometimes appears within Liberty as 'Steven', and certain secondary sources favor this spelling, but, at other times, Liberty lists him as 'Stephen'. For example, the article "Mar- riage and Kindred Contracts" in Liberty XIV (December, 1900) 2-3.

(21) Egoism (1890-1897), edited by Georgia and Henry Replogle from California, was also a significant vehicle of Stirnerite philoso- phy. Egoism had considerable influence upon Tucker. When Tucker agreed with the natural rights position of J. Greevz Fisher on children, its editor, Henry Replogle (under the pseudonym of "H") rushed to correct him. "'H' very properly takes me to task," Tucker commented in Liberty XI (June 29, 1895): 3. Tucker changed his position to conform with this criticism.

(22) Liberty III (March 6, 1886): 8. James L. Walker apparently formulated his theory of egoism independently, only later discovering the great similarity to Stirner.

(23) "Egoism", Liberty IV (April 9, 1887), 5-7.

(24) "Morality and Its Origin", Liberty IV (February 26, 1887), 7.

(25) "What is Justice", Liberty III (March 6, 1886), 8.

(26) "A Final Statement", Liberty IV (July 30, 1887), 7.

(27) "On Picket Duty", Liberty XVI (April, 1907), 1.

(28) Ibid.

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Part Two

by Wendy McElroy

Liberty and Literature

Politics and social theory may have been the focus of Liberty, but Tucker was also keenly aware of the impact and importance of culture on societal attitudes.

For example, literature played a prominent role in Liberty's emphasis on internationalism. Tucker kept current on the state of art and letters in France, England, and America. When Max Nordau published his anti-modernist work Degeneration (Entartung), Tucker was discerning enough to solicit a critique from the one man best able to handle it -- Shaw. Shaw's subsequent essay, entitled "A Degenerate's View of Nordau," was one of the first articles by the British literary giant to appear in America. Among the literary works Liberty translated and published were: Claude Tillier's My Uncle Benjamin(1) , Emile Zola's Money(2) , Octave Mirabeau's A Chambermaid's Diary(3) , Felix Pyat's The Rag Picker of Paris(4) , and Sophie Kropotkin's The Wife of Number 4,237(5) -- an account of her experience with her husband Pierre Kropotkin at Clairvaux prison.

This fascination with cosmopolitan literature lead Tucker to publish The Transatlantic (1889-1890), a biweekly literary magazine. The advertisement for this publication in Liberty promised: "Every number has a complete translated novelette, a piece of European Music, a Portrait of a Foreign Celebrity and part of a translated European Serial." The Transatlantic was said to consist of the "cream of the European press translated into English. Not only from foreign periodicals, but from books as well."(6) Predictably, much of the literature which interested Tucker had political implications. When Oscar Wilde's plea for penal reform The Ballad of Reading Gaol , was widely criticized(7), for example, Tucker enthusiastically endorsed the poem, urging all of his subscribers to read it. Tucker, in fact, published an American edition. From its early championing of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass(8) to a series of short stories by Francis du Bosque in its last issues, Liberty was a vehicle of controversial, avant-garde literature.


>Liberty Abroad

Tucker and Liberty were hybrids. Their roots were embedded both in the uniquely American tradition of individualist anarchism and in some distinctively foreign traditions. The cosmopolitan Tucker acknowledged no intellectual boundaries and tolerated no political ones; national boundaries were simply the physical manifestation of government, an institution he adamantly rejected.

Tucker's stress on internationalism was apparent from the first page of the first issue of Liberty on which, under the column "About Progressive People" he reported news of foreigners such as Percy Shelley whose son had died, Patrick Egan who had just purchased the "Dublin Irishman", and Lord Kimberley who had been suddenly converted to the cause of Land Reform. Here, and in subsequent issues, Tucker made particular note of foreign periodicals. For example, he declared to America that "the first number of a weekly journal called 'Victor-Hugo' recently appeared in Paris."(9)

His embrace of international anarchism was reflected in the many articles Liberty reprinted from foreign journals and in the correspondents who reported on the progress of liberty in their native countries. These correspondents included David Andrade (Australia), Pareto (Italy) and Donisthorpe (England), founder of the Liberty and Property Defense League.

Distinctly foreign events and concerns, such as the plight of Russian nihilists or of Irish tenants, often received more attention from Liberty than American concerns. Tucker was outraged by the imprisonment of the Italian Amilcare Cipriani, the trial of Louise Michel, and the plight of Russian refugees in Paris. His attempt to establish individualist anarchism as an international movement was best exemplified by Libertas, a German-language version of Liberty, published by Tucker and edited by George and Emma Schumm. "This will be the only thoroughly Anarchistic German journal ever published in the world. . ." Tucker wrote in announcing Libertas. "The paper will be of the same shape and size as the English Liberty, and the two will alternate in the order of publication-the English appearing one week and the German the next."(10) Libertas was short-lived.

The Demise of Liberty

Liberty came to a sudden, tragic end.

In 1907, Tucker rented a ground floor space at 502 Sixth Avenue in New York City which housed 'Benj.R. Tucker's Unique Book Shop'. Some blocks away, at 225 Fourth Avenue in a structure known as the Parker Building, Tucker stored the stock of the books he published and the equipment to set print for Liberty. On January, 1908 the Parker Building was consumed by a fire which he described in what was to be the last issue of Liberty.(11)

Tucker, who had been publishing and stockpiling material for thirty years, had pursued a deliberate policy of not holding insurance in order to protest the artificially high premiums which were propped up by the legal system. To offset the total loss, friends of Liberty launched a fund raising drive, and Tucker continued to sell the stock that had survived by virtue of being at the Sixth Avenue address.

The efforts to salvage Liberty were not successful, however, and Tucker was forced to conclude, "It is my intention to close up my business next summer, and, before January 1, 1909, go to Europe, there to publish Liberty (still mainly for America, of course) and such books and pamphlets as my remaining means may enable me to print."(12)

These plans never materialized. The April 1908 issue of Liberty was the last. Tucker moved to Europe, living first in France until World War I erupted, then settling in Monaco where he died at the age of eighty-five on June 22, 1939. Born seven years before the start of the Civil War, he died the same year that World War II began. For the last decades of his life, Tucker's writing efforts were largely limited to correspondence with friends and acquaintances.

In many ways, Tucker exemplified the golden age of radical individualism which faltered in the face of growing statism and militarism. Like other individualists, Tucker watched this growth of the State and became pessimistic. From Europe he wrote, "I hate the age in which I live, but I do not hate myself for living in it."(13)

During the advance of statism, his views began to shift. It was no longer clear to Tucker that economic freedom alone could overcome the problems created by government monopoly. His pessimism increased with time. In a letter to his old friend C.L. Swartz, a despondent Tucker expressed his belief that civilization was in its death throes. Perhaps it was this despair, coupled with his love of French culture, that led Tucker to support the Allies in World War I. Although he supported the communists Sacco and Vanzetti against persecution by the American state, Tucker increasingly displayed less and less interest in American affairs. Two days after his death, he was buried in Monaco with a private, civil ceremony; Tucker was survived by his wife and daughter.

Other than writing a few articles and conducting a correspondence with the editors of various journals, Tucker's last years were unproductive. His death, like that of Spencer, marked the end of an era. Individualist anarchism as an organized movement in America would not appear again for many years.

Liberty: Success or Failure?

The question of whether Liberty or, more generally, nineteenth-century radical individualism was successful inevitably arises. Key to the answer is the standard of success being employed. By its own stated goals of changing society toward individual freedom and away from state control, there is no question: radical individualism was a failure. Or, at least, it is extraordinarily difficult to assess the extent of its success, largely because one of Tucker's greatest achievements lies in his many translations of foreign radicals, such as Proudhon, Bakounin, Hugo, Tolstoy and Chernyshevsky.(14) History is more likely to credit the impact of these works to the author rather than to the translator.

A more generous approach to Liberty's legacy, however, is to assess the movement's externally imposed limitations and to ascertain how much it achieved in spite of them. First, what were the imposed limitations?

The last decades of the nineteenth century were a golden age for radicalism in America. Anarchists in the United States issued nearly 500 periodicals in a dozen languages ranging from French to Yiddish. Only a minority of these periodicals were individualistic, for the dominant radical philosophy of the day was socialism in its many incarnations.

In essence, the Civil War had dealt such a severe blow to the individualist movement that it never recovered. The War ushered in conscription, the suspension of habeas corpus, widespread censorship, military law, political prisoners, legal tender legislation, as well as soaring taxes and tariffs. The status and functions of government inflated as never before.

Equally important, the prevailing view of government changed. With the Declaration of Independence and the cry of "no taxation without representation," government had been deemed to rule through the consent of the people. When the North refused to permit the South to withdraw its consent through secession and when it imposed an unpopular government upon the protesting antebellum South, the consensual view of government was severely weakened. Moreover, instead of viewing the relatively autonomous states as forming a loose federal union -- as being "These United States" -- a new description arose -- "The United States". And this centralized nation was deemed to be "One Union under God". Mystification of the American State was underway.

In addition, the Civil War had caused extremely divisive schisms within the individualist movement. Some of the abolitionists had welcomed the conflict as a holy war to end slavery. Others had considered it to be an unavoidable evil in pursuit of good and, so, supported the North as the least objectionable alternative. Even the staunch pacifist Garrison had supported the North. His support had horrified other abolitionists, such as Heywood and Spooner, who saw the War as a massive violation of life and property, which could not be justified by reference to any goal. By the end of the Civil War, individualist principles had been so compromised and the state had achieved such prominence that the individualist anarchist movement could not be a significant force in American politics.

After 1865, radical individualism existed as an extreme faction within various other reform movements such as freethought, free love, and the labor movement. Although the basis of a systematic philosophy was present in the writings of such theorists as Warren and Spooner, it lacked cohesion. Not until Tucker and the publication of Liberty did radical individualism become a distinct, independent movement functioning in its own name toward its own unique set of goals.

This was the primary accomplishment of Liberty. It discussed and integrated ethics, economics, and politics to build a sophisticated system of philosophy. Over a period of three decades, it provided a core around which a revitalized movement could sprout and grow. For close to thirty years, Tucker issued an unremitting flood of pamphlets and books promoting individualist thought. Even in the last days of Liberty, translations such as Paul Eltzbacher's Anarchism appeared. Eltzbacher's classic Anarchism: Exponents of the Anarchist Philosophy was translated by Byington. As with many of the translations offered by Liberty, the imprint of the anarchist translator was keenly felt, not only in the word choices but also in Byington's many added notes and 15 his preface. Tucker himself was acutely aware of the slow progress that seemed endemic to social reform. He wrote, "The fact is that Anarchist society was started thousands of years ago, when the first glimmer of the idea of liberty dawned upon the human mind, and has been advancing ever since -- not steadily advancing, to be sure, but fitfully, with an occasional reversal of the current."(16)(17)

Yet radical individualism hindered itself. The historian David De Leon in The American as Anarchist observed: "Nineteenth century anarchism failed primarily because it seemed archaic in the twentieth century."(18) Perhaps most destructively, individualism clung to the labor theory of value and refused to incorporate the economic theories which were rising within other branches of individualist thought, theories such as marginal utility.

Unable to embrace statism, the stagnant movement also failed to ade- quately comprehend the logical alternative to the state -- a free market.


Andrews, Stephen Pearl. 1852. The Science of Society New York.

Avrich, Paul. 1988. Anarchist Portraits, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.

De Leon, David. 1978. The American as Anarchist. Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

Eltzbacher, Paul. 1960. Anarchism: Exponents of Anarchist Phi losophy. Plainview, New York: Books for Libraries Press. Translated by Steven T. Byington, edited by James J. Martin.

Greene, William Bradford. 1850. Mutual Banking. West Brookfield, Mass.

Martin, James J. 1970. Men Against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827-1908. Colorado Springs: Ralph Myles Publisher, Inc.

Proudhon, Pierre Joseph. 1968. What Is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government. N.Y: Fertig Publishers.

Pyat, Felix. The Rag-Picker of Paris. New York: B.R.Tucker, 1890.

Stirner, Max. 1845. Der Einzige und Sein Eigenthem, translated by Steven Byington. 1907 The Ego and His Own, New York.

Tillier, Claude. 1890. My Uncle Benjamin. Boston, Mass.: B.R. Tucker.

Tucker, Benjamin R. 1926. Individual Liberty N.Y.: Vanguard Press, 1926, edited by C.L. Swartz.

---------------------. 1893. Instead of a Book, by a Man Too Busy to Write One; A Fragmentary Exposition of Philosophical Anarchism. New York: B.R. Tucker.

---------------------. 1970. Liberty; Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order. New York: Greenwood Reprint.

Walker, James L. 1905. The Philosophy of Egoism. Denver.

Warren, Josiah. 1863. True Civilization an Immediate Necessity and the Last Ground of Hope for Mankind. Being the Results and Conclusions of Thirty-nine Years' Laborious Study and Experiments in Civilization As It Is, and in Different Enterprises for Reconstruction. Boston.

Warren, Josiah. 1869. True Civilization: A Subject of Vital and Serious Interest to All People But Most Immediately to Men and Women of Labor and Sorrow. Cliftondale, Mass.

Wilde, Oscar. 1899. The Ballad of Reading Gaol. New York: B.R.Tucker.

Woodcock, George. 1962. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Cleveland: Meridian Books.

Zola, Emil. 1890. Money. Boston: B.R.Tucker.


(1) This 312 page novel was translated from the French by Tucker and published in both cloth and paper. It was first advertised in Liberty VII (November 29, 1890), 7.

(2) This 435 page novel was translated from the French by Tucker and published in both cloth and paper. It was first advertised in Liberty VII (April 4, 1891), 8.

(3) This 460 page novel was translated from the French by Tucker and published in both cloth and paper. It was first advertised in Liberty XIV (December, 1900), 8

(4) This 325 page novel was translated from the French by Tucker and issued in both paper and cloth. It was first advertised in Liberty VII (July 12, 1890), 8.

(5) This material was translated from the French by Sarah E. Holmes at Tucker's request and reprinted in five segments, beginning in March 6, 1886.

(6) The Transatlantic, subtitled A Mirror of European Life and Letters, was first advertised in Liberty VI (October 5, 1889): 8, as being issued on the 1st and 15th of the month. Herbert Gutman, in the introduction to the Greenwood reprint of Liberty mentions another literary periodical, Five Stories A Week.

(7) Tucker published both a cloth and paper edition, which were first advertised in Liberty XIII (May, 1899), 8.

(8) First advertised in Liberty I (July 22, 1882), 4, Tucker appended a challenge to various officials responsible for the suppression of Leaves of Grass. He advised them of his intention to sell the work and offered to deliver a copy of it to them at their place of choice to be used in evidence against him. There were no takers.

(9) "About Progressive People", Liberty I (August 6, 1881): 1.

(10) "Anarchy in German" in Liberty V (December 31, 1887): 4.

(11) The date of the fire is reported in the usually reliable tome Men Against the State by James J. Martin as being April, 1908, and as January 10, 1908 in Paul Elzbacher "Benjamin R. Tucker" in Anarchism: Exponents of Anarchist Philosophy. Actually an account of the fire was published in the April, 1908 issue of Liberty in which Tucker announced ambiguously, "No later than January 10 this composing room, together with the entire stock of my publications and nearly all my plates, was absolutely wiped out by fire."(p.1)

(12) "On Picket Duty", Liberty XVII (April, 1908), 1-3.

(13) Letter to Ewing C. Baskette, November 7, 1934. The New York Public Library maintains the Tucker Papers, with letters and documents relating to Benjamin Tucker.

(14) Tucker's influence extended beyond the political sphere. From Eugene O'Neill who claimed that Tucker had deeply affected 'his inner self' to Whitman who exclaimed 'I love him: he is plucky to the bone' [Woodcock Anarchism, pg.459.] Tucker's influence was considerable.

(15) For example, in footnote 11 to Chapter VIII "Benjamin R. Tucker", Byington comments upon what he considers to be a misinterpretation of Tucker's words 'the law of equal liberty', "TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Eltzbacher does not seem to perceive that Tucker uses this as a ready-made phrase, coined by Herbert Spencer and designating Spencer's well-known formula that in justice 'every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not on the equal freedom of any other man.'"

(16) Liberty, December 1900.

(17) As a sad note, Tucker himself seemed to lose faith in the inevitability of liberty. In an interview with Paul Avrich, his daughter Oriole reported, "I was never really an anarchist. I don't think it would ever work. Neither did Father at the end. He was very pessimistic about the world and in his political outlook." Anarchist Portraits, p.152.

(18) De Leon, The American as Anarchist, page 82.

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