Benjamin Tucker: American Anarchist

Benjamin Tucker was arguably the leading figure of individualist anarchism in America in the 19th century. He was the editor and chief of the classic anarchist periodical "Liberty", which involved many key figures in early individualist anarchism such as Lysander Spooner, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Auberon Herbert, Joshua Ingalls and Victor Yarros. Tucker once half-jokingly said that anarchists are just unterrified Jeffersonian Democrats. Tucker's influences ranged from Proudhon to Max Stirner. In fact, he was the first person to have translated Max Stirner's "The Ego And His Own" and Proudhon's "What Is Property?" in America. He also was an early American translator of Friedrich Neitzsche's works prior to H.L. Mencken.

Tucker highlighted and opposed what he called "the four monopolies": the land monopoly, the money monopoly, the patent monopoly and the tariff monopoly. Hence, Tucker opposed institutional absentee landlordism, central banking, intellectual property law and international protectionism. He thought that various state interventions created and sustained monopolies and artifically concentrated capital. Tucker did not normatively oppose wage labor, but he thought that genuine free competition would improve the wage system and make the difference between wages and the alternatives start to become nullified or indistinguishable. He thought that large-scale institutional landlordism is dependant on state interventions. While he held some geoist or quasi-geoist views on land, he did not propose any kind of land value tax like the Goergists do.

Tucker also explicitly advocated voluntary defense institutions as an alternative to the state. Like Proudhon, while Tucker is classified as a socialist, he contextually supported private or individual property. While Tucker supported voluntary labor organization, he also opposed labor legislation. He was opposed to state-backed union bureaucracries and in favor of more organic worker organization. In Tucker's view, the labor legislation was only a reactionary and ultimately reformist measure added on top of the initial pro-capital legislation. The solution was to eliminate the initial pro-capital legislation and industrial welfare or to counteract it through voluntary social organization, not to favor or use the power of the state in misguided although perhaps well-intended attempts at philanthropy. Tucker rejected communism and even many of the popular trends in the more general movement of socialism, of which Tucker was a part for a while.

Tucker's earlier anarchism made use of natural rights philosophy, but eventually he came to adopt an egoist position influenced by Max Stirner, which does away with any formal concept of rights and ethics and justice. This change of Tucker's could be seen as a transition into what some today may classify as "post-left" anarchism. Tucker's egoist variant of individualist anarchism is in some ways a philosophical drifting away from classical liberalism and socialism. In either case, individualist anarchism split from that point onwards between natural rights proponents and egoists. This egoism was also partially picked up by other anarchist factions, even some anarcho-communists. In either case, Tucker's egoism lead him to take some positions that horrified some of his fellow natural rights proponents, and it could be argued that this is a factor responsible for the initial individualist anarchist movement fragmenting.

Tucker's influence on the history of anarchism and libertarian thought is notable. Murray Rothbard was a fan of Tucker's, despite some mild criticism of Tucker's enonomics in an article he wrote from the 1970's. In fact, the only significant thing that separates Tucker's classic individualist anarchism from Murray Rothbard's initial "anarcho-capitalism" is that Tucker favored a labor theory of value, while Rothbard integrated individualist anarchism with austrian economics. During the 60's and early 70's, arguably Rothbard classified as a classic individualist anarchist in some ways and was considered to be an individualist anarchist, only he was effectively trying to revive individualist anarchism in a different historical and cultural context. Tucker's legacy is also carried on by modern mutualists and individualist anarchists such as Kevin Carson. In either case, it is clear that modern market anarchism is dependant on the pre-existing history of individualist anarchism, which sets up its foundation, and the significance of Tucker's role as a leader of individualist anarchism in the 19th century is clear.


# wombatron said on 29 January, 2009 10:50 PM

Excellent post!  Your series on the historical anarchists and fellow-travelers is very interesting.

# atrickpay said on 01 March, 2009 01:30 AM

Ya, no doubt wombatron. The series reminds me of when I was read Brian Doherty's book "Radicals for Capitalism" last year. Doherty touches on everybody in Brainpolice's series except for Bakunin.