Individualist anarchism

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Individualist Anarchism is a philosophical tradition that opposes collectivism and has a particularly strong emphasis on the supremacy and autonomy of the individual. The tradition appears most often in the United States, most notably in regard to its advocacy of private property. Individualist anarchism's roots includes Europeans such as William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Emile Armand, Oscar Wilde, Han Ryner and Max Stirner (who is also connected to the existentialist philosophy), though the individualist anarchist tradition draws heavily on American independent thinkers, including Josiah Warren, Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Ezra Heywood, Stephen Pearl Andrews, and Henry David Thoreau. The writer and poet John Henry Mackay is also considered an individualist anarchist. Contemporary individualist anarchists include Robert Anton Wilson, Joe Peacott, Daniel Burton, Kevin Carson, and Keith Preston. Individualist anarchism is sometimes seen as an evolution of classical liberalism, and hence, has been called "liberal anarchism" [1].

Some individual anarchists, such as Benjamin Tucker, referred to themselves as socialists [2], though not completely as it is commonly defined today - in particular, individualist anarchists are supportive of private ownership of the means of production.



William Godwin, a radical liberal and utilitarian. There is a lack of consensus as to whether he was an individualist, a communist, or neither.
William Godwin, a radical liberal and utilitarian. There is a lack of consensus as to whether he was an individualist, a communist, or neither.

There is significant variance between the philosophies of different individualist anarchists. Almost all, following Proudhon, support individual ownership of the particular form of private property he referred to as "possession". Stirner supports private property but rejects the notion of a right to property. Godwin is an altruist, Stirner an egoist. Warren espouses natural law as a basis for individual liberty, while Tuckers premises it upon egoism. Tucker opposes intellectual property while Spooner advocates it. However, what these philosophers all have in common is a rejection of both capitalist economics and collectivist notions of society and a pronounced focus on individuality.

William Godwin, of England, wrote essays advocating a society without government that are considered some of the first, if not the first, anarchist treatises. As such, some consider the liberal British writer to be the "father of philosophical anarchism." There is a lack of consensus as to whether Godwin was an individualist or a communist. He is regarded by some as one of the first individualist anarchists, although his philosophy has some communist-like characteristics. He advocates an extreme form of individualism, proposing that all sorts of cooperation in labor should be eliminated; he says: "everything understood by the term co-operation is in some sense an evil." Godwin's individualism is to such a radical degree that he even opposes individuals performing together in orchestras. The only apparent exception to this opposition to cooperation is the spontaneous association that may arise when a society is threatened by violent force. One reason he opposes cooperation is he believes it to interfere with an individual's ability to be benevolent for the greater good. Godwin opposes the existence of government and expressly opposes democracy, fearing oppression of the individual by the majority (though he believes democracy to be preferable to dictatorship). Godwin supports individual ownership of property, defining it as as "the empire to which every man is entitled over the produce of his own industry." However, he does advocate that individuals give to each other their surplus property on the occasion that others have a need for it, without involving trade (see gift economy). This was to be based on utilitarian principles; he says: "Every man has a right to that, the exclusive possession of which being awarded to him, a greater sum of benefit or pleasure will result than could have arisen from its being otherwise appropriated." However, benevolence was not to be enforced but a matter of free individual "private judgement." He does not advocate a community of goods or assert collective ownership as is embraced in communism, but his belief that individuals ought to share with those in need was influential on anarchist communism later. Some consider Godwin both an individualist and a communist rather than than a strict individualist for this reason. [3] Some, such as Murray Rothbard, do not regard Godwin as being in the individualist camp at all [4] (Some restrict "individualist anarchism" to the market anarchists). Others consider him an individualist anarchist without reservation. [5] Some writers see a conflict between Godwin's advocacy of "private judgement" and utilitarianism, as he says that ethics requires that individuals give their surplus property to each other resulting in an egalitarian society, but, at the same time, he insists that all things be left to individual choice. [6] Communist-anarchist Peter Kropotkin says in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica that Godwin "entirely rewrote later on his chapter on property and mitigated his communist views in the second edition of Political Justice." Godwin's basis in utilitarianism and ethical altruism contrasts with later individualists, such as Max Stirner and Benjamin Tucker, who ground their philosophy on egoism or self-interest (though not all are egoists). Also, Godwin's aversion to cooperation and a market economy is not typical among the individualists.

While individualists typically assert property as a right, Germany's Max Stirner that a "right" to property is an illusion, or "ghost"; property is only a matter of control --it is not based in any moral right but solely in the right of might: "Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property.". Stirner considers the world and everything in it, including other persons, available to one's taking or use without moral constraint --that rights do not exist in regard to objects at all. He sees no rationality in taking the interests of others into account unless doing so furthers one's self-interest, which he believes is the only legitimate reason for acting. His embrace of egoism is in stark contrast to Godwin's altruism. He denies society as being an actual entity, calling society a "spook" and that "the individuals are its reality" (The Ego and Its Own). Whether individualist anarchism is properly justified by self-interest (egoism) or natural law has been a subject of debate among the individualists. For example, Lysander Spooner holds that there are natural property rights, but egoists such as Benjamin Tucker agree with Stirner that there are no natural property rights but hold that property can come only about by contract between individuals.

France's Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was the first philosopher to label himself an "anarchist." He was particularly influential among the American individualists, mainly by way of Benjamin Tucker who had translated and studied his works. Proudhon opposes government privilege that protects banking and land interests, and any form of coercion that led to the accumulation or acquisition of property, which he believes hampers competition and keeps wealth in the hands of the few. Proudhon favors a right of individuals to retain the product of their labor as their own property, but believed that any property beyond that which an individual produced and could possess was illegitimate. Thus, he saw private property as both essential to liberty and a road to tyranny, the former when it resulted from labor and the latter when it resulted from extortion (interest, tax, etc). He says: "Where shall we find a power capable of counter-balancing the... State? There is none other than property... The absolute right of the State is in conflict with the absolute right of the property owner. Property is the greatest revolutionary force which exists." Proudhon maintains that those who labor should retain the entirety of what they produce, and that monopolies on credit and land are the forces that prohibiting such. He advocated an economic system that included private property as possession and exchange market but without profit, which he called mutualism. It is Proudhon's philosophy that was explicitly amended by Joseph Dejacque in the inception of anarchist-communism, with the latter asserting directly to Proudhon in a letter that "it is not the product of his or her labor that the worker has a right to, but to the satisfaction of his or her needs, whatever may be their nature." Proudhon said that " the very denial of society in its foundation..." (Philosophy of Poverty) and was famous for declaring that "property is theft" in reference to the capitalist practices of his time.

After Dejacque and others split from Proudhon due to the latter's support of individual property and an exchange economy, the relationship between the individualists, who continued in relative alignment with the philosophy of Proudhon, and the anarcho-communists was characterised by various degrees of antagonism and harmony. For example, individualists like Tucker on the one hand translating and reprinted the works of collectivists like Mikhail Bakunin, while on the other hand rejecting the economic aspects of collectivism and communism as incompatible with anarchist ideals.

While individualist anarchism is often seen as including William Godwin and Max Stirner, it is most often associated with the market anarchism found in the native American tradition, which advocates individual ownership of the produce of labor and a market economy where this property may be bought and sold. However, this form of individualist anarchism is not exclusive to the Americans. It is also found in the philosophy of other radical individualists, such as those in England and France though almost all were influenced by the early American individualists. Individualist anarchism of this type is in contrast to "social anarchism" (e.g. communist anarchism) which holds that productive property should be in the control of the society at large in various forms of worker collectives and that the produce of labor should be collectivized. Most of the individualist anarchists in the 19th and 18th centuries adhered to a labor theory of value, and hence, saw profit as subverting natural law. However, there have been a few theorists in the 19th and 18th centurues that did not adhere to labor-value. These include Jakob Muavillon, Julius Faucher, Gustave de Molinari, Auberon Herbert, and Herbert Spencer.

The American tradition

Josiah Warren was the first known American anarchist
Josiah Warren was the first known American anarchist

Individualist anarchism, while being advocated among some European philosophers in various forms, has a distinctive flavor in The United States of America. American individualist anarchism is sometimes regarded as a form of "liberal-anarchism" by those who see it is a radicalized version of classical liberalism (American Liberal-Anarchism), while a few collectivist and individualist anarchists refer to classical individualism as a form of socialism[7][8], although, it is not socialism in the sense of collective ownership of the means of production as is commonly defined today [9]. The most famous individualist anarchist, Benjamin Tucker refers to his philosophy as "unterrified Jeffersonianism." The individualists adhere to a labor theory of value and therefore find profit in trade to be exploitation that is made possible by coercive "monopolies," backed or created by the state, which reduce competition. Despite the rejection of capitalism (in the sense of a profit-making system) by classical individualists, anarcho-capitalists who adopt the subjective theory of value have no such opposition to profit. Some anarcho-capitalists, such as Wendy McElroy, refer to themselves simply as "individualist anarchists." However, the term is usually used in reference to the classical individualists, and its use by anarcho-capitalists is highly contentious. Most of the radical American individualists oppose the initiation of coercion and fraud, believing that force should be reserved for defense.

Early individualist anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th century in America (historically called "Boston anarchism" at times, often derogatorily) include Josiah Warren, Ezra Heywood, Joshua K. Ingalls, William B. Greene, Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Stephen Pearl Andrews, John William Lloyd, Henry Bool, Steven T. Byington, Victor Yarros, Joseph Labadie, Laurance Labadie, Henry Appleton, and Clarence Lee Swartz.

Contemporary theorists of the same philosophical strain include Joe Peacott, Larry Gambone, and Kevin Carson.

The origin of the American tradition draws heavily on Josiah Warren and France's Pierre Proudhon, though both working without association or apparent knowledge of the other.

The tradition bases its philosophy on what Warren calls the "Soveriegnty of the Individual", which holds that an individual has the exclusive right to dominion over his own body, however he sees fit, against the claims of others. As corollary to this, the classical individualists hold that all individuals own the produce of their labor individually. This contrasts with anarcho-communism where the produce of an individual does not become his property but is pooled collectively with the community. It also differs from capitalism where it is not considered unethical for an individual to be paid less than the "full produce" of his labor, thereby profitting the purchaser of that labor or its produce.

Liberty, published by Benjamin Tucker, was the leading journal of radical individualist thought from 1881-1908
Liberty, published by Benjamin Tucker, was the leading journal of radical individualist thought from 1881-1908

Private property rights for american individualists includes a right to own the means of production. There is an important exceptions: Most individualist anarchists hold that land cannot be looked at as property in the same way that the products of labor can be. In this they joined many of the liberals who came before them. For example, Thomas Jefferson says: "Whenever there is any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural rights. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on."

In a similar vein, most individualists believed that unused land should not be protected from those who would like to use it (Warren and Andrews are notable exceptions). They maintain that titles to land should not be granted unless it is occupied or in use since untransformed land is not the product of labor. However, they take this a step further in advocating that title should only be granted to the individual occupying or using the property, as this ensures that an individual cannot charge rent (being paid without laboring). Unused land is not considered to be the collective property of the community --it is simply unowned and therefore no permission is needed to put it to private use and no compensation is due to the community (contrast geoanarchism). Benjamin Tucker said: "Anarchism holds that land belongs not to the people but the occupant and user..." (Liberty X May 19 1894).

However, the produce of cultivating land is regarded as private property as it is result of labor. Maintaining that the value of anything is the amount of labor that was performed to produce or acquire it (see the labor theory of value), they assert that equal amounts of labor should therefore be paid equal wages. Or, in other words, an individual who labors for another should be always be paid his "full produce," rather than an employer who was labored less retaining a portion as profit.

The individualists believe that capital is concentrated in the hands of a privileged few as a result of restrictions on entering the banking business and issuing currency, as well as a result of enforcement of land titles that are not in use. They believe that if any individual is allowed to issue and lend his own currency and enter the banking business, without requiring charters from government, that competition would be so prevalent that the possibility of profiting through lending capital would be nearly non-existent (see free banking). They support private ownership of capital, but they oppose coercive privilege that they believe keeps capital concentrated in the hands of a few. They do not not aim for equality in wealth, but rather equal freedom. Individualist anarchist Laurance Labadie says: "In a world where inequality of ability is inevitable, anarchists do not sanction any attempt to produce equality by artificial or authoritarian means. The only equality they posit and will strive their utmost to defend is the equality of opportunity. This necessitates the maximum amount of freedom for each individual. This will not necessarily result in equality of incomes or of wealth but will result in returns proportionate to services rendered" (Anarchism Applied to Economics, Labadie's emphasis).

Benjamin Tucker says in State Socialism and Anarchism: "Just as the idea of taking capital away from individuals and giving it to the government started Marx in a path which ends in making the government everything and the individual nothing, so the idea of taking capital away from government-protected monopolies and putting it within easy reach of all individuals started Warren and Proudhon in a path which ends in making the individual everything and the government nothing....though opposed to socializing the ownership of capital, they aimed nevertheless to socialize its effects by making its use beneficial to all instead of a means of impoverishing the many to enrich the few."

In contrast to anarcho-communism

Individualist anarchists regard the most foundational differences between their economic philosophy (mutualism) and anarcho-communism to be the issue over the ownership of the produce of labor. Individualists believe that the produce of labor should be regarded as property of the individual and the wages should be paid for labor, though they generally argued in favor of equal wages for equal labor. Anarcho-communists oppose individual ownership and believe that the produce of labor should be owned by a collective and that wages should be abolished. In anarcho-communism, one who labors does not individually own his produce, but may only use as much as he needs, being ethically obliged to share surplus production with others who need it. In individualist anarchism, the individual privately owns his produce, having absolute dominion over it, with no ethical obligation to share it with others. This includes labor-produced means of production such as tools and machines. To some degree one may accumulate the produce of labor and keep it from those who may "need" it, or sell it. Where the distribution of goods and services in anarcho-communism can been seen as "to each according to his needs," in individualist anarchism distribution is "to each according to his labor." Proudhon, who was influential on the Americans through Benjamin Tucker, says: "To each according to his works, first; and if, on occasion, I am impelled to aid you, I will do it with a good grace; but I will not be constrained." In anarcho-communism wealth would naturally be evenly-distributed as it is collectively owned. In individualist anarchism, wealth distribution is more uneven as production would vary among the individuals. Benjamin Tucker explicitly supports the social equality of socialism [10], but holds that moderate wealth disparity is the natural result of liberty: "... there are people who say: 'We will have no liberty, for we must have absolute equality. I am not of them. If I go through life free and rich, I shall not cry because my neighbor, equally free, is richer. Liberty will ultimately make all men rich; it will not make all men equally rich. Authority may (and may not) make all men equally rich in purse; it certainly will make them equally poor in all that makes life best worth living." Anarcho-communism was not universally accepted as even being form of anarchism among the traditional labor-value individualist anarchists. For example, Benjamin Tucker referred to it as "Pseudo-anarchism" (Labor and its Pay) when admonishing Peter Kropotkin for opposing wages. Henry Appleton said: "All Communism, under whatever guise, is the natural enemy of Anarchism, and a Communist sailing under the flag of Anarchism is as false a figure as could be invented." (Anarchism, True and False (1884)) Victor Yarros says "no logical justification, no rational explanation, and no "scientific" reasoning has been, is, will be, or can be advanced in defence of that unimaginable impossibility, Communistic Anarchism" (A Princely Paradox). Clarence Lee Swartz says, in What is Mutualism: "One of the tests of any reform movement with regard to personal liberty is this: Will the movement prohibit or abolish private property? If it does, it is an enemy of liberty. For one of the most important criteria of freedom is the right to private property in the products of ones labor. State Socialists, Communists, Syndicalists and Communist-Anarchists deny private property."

Individualist anarchists

Josiah Warren

Main article: Josiah Warren

Josiah Warren is generally considered to be the first individualist anarchist in the American tradition. He also issued what some believe to be the first anarchist periodical ever published, called The Peaceful Revolutionist in 1833. Warren had participated in a failed collectivist experiment headed by Robert Owen called "New Harmony" and came to the conclusion that such a system is inferior to one where individualism and private property is allowed. In Practical Details he expresses his conclusions in regard to this collectivist experiment.

In a quote from that text that illustrates his radical individualism, he makes a vehement assertion of individual negative liberty: "Society must be so converted as to preserve the SOVEREIGNTY OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL inviolate. That it must avoid all combinations and connections of persons and interests, and all other arrangements which will not leave every individual at all times at liberty to dispose of his or her person, and time, and property in any manner in which his or her feelings or judgment may dictate. WITHOUT INVOLVING THE PERSONS OR INTERESTS OF OTHERS" (Tucker's capitalization).

In True Civilization Warren equates "Sovereignty of the Individual" with the Declaration of Independence's assertion of the INALIENABLE right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." He claims that an person's "instinct" to sovereignty "cannot be alienated or separated from that organism," and that therefore, "this instinct being INVOLUNTARY, every one has the same absolute right to its exercise that he has to his complexion or the forms of his features, to any extent, not disturbing another." Beyond this, Warren coined the phrase, "cost the limit of price", to refer to his interpretation of the labor theory of value.

The labor theory holds that the value of a commodity is equal to the amount of labor required to produce or acquire it. From this, Warren concluded that it was unethical to charge a higher price for a commodity than the cost incurred in producing, acquiring, and bringing it to market. He called his normative maxim "Cost the limit of price." In addition, according to Warren, if labor is the ultimate source of value then equal amounts of labor from two different individuals are of equal value.

In 1827, Warren put his theories into practice by starting a business called the Cincinnati Time Store where goods were trade was facilitated by private currency backed by labor. This labor-note experiment is considered to be the first practice of the economic theory of mutualism, which Pierre-Joseph Proudhon later theorized. Warren and Proudhon developed similar philosophies though they had worked without association or apparent knowledge of the each other. Benjamin Tucker says that the idea that profit is exploitative due to its violation of the labor theory of value "was Proudhon's position before it was Marx's, and Josiah Warren's before it was Proudhon's" (Liberty or Authority)."

Warren, like all the American individualists that followed, is a strong supporter of the right of individuals to retain the product of their labor, including means of production, as private property. He had early on stated opposition to the state granting land titles believing it to create special privileges and monopoly, but, as indicated later in Equitable Commerce, he accepted a right to own, purchase, and sell land. But, he advocated that that it be sold without profit. This position was shared by fellow anarchist Stephen Pearl Andrews. It was not until later that other individualist anarchists began opposing ownership of land itself and advocated mere occupation and use.

Warren says that "by dispensing with government we shake off the greatest invader of human rights" (Equitable Commerce). James J. Martin says, in Men Against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America: "The fundamental structure of American anarchism is without doubt based upon the social and economic experiments and writings of Josiah Warren." The writings of later individualists speak of him with noticeable reverence.

Stephen Pearl Andrews

Stephen Pearl Andrews was an individualist anarchist and close associate of Josiah Warren. Andrews was formerly associated with the Fourierist movement, but after becoming acquainted with the work of Warren, converted to radical individualism. Like Warren, he holds the principle of "individual sovereignty" as being of paramount importance.

Andrews says that when individuals acted in order to serve their own self-interest that they incidentally contribute to the well-being of others. He maintains that it is a "mistake" to create a "state, church or public morality" that individuals must serve rather than pursuing their own happiness. In Love, Marriage and Divorce, and the Sovereignty of the Individual he says: "Give up...the search after the remedy for the evils of government in more government. The road lies just the other way--toward individualism and freedom from all government...Nature made individuals, not nations; and while nations exist at all, the liberties of the individual must perish."

Warren and Andrews established the individualist anarchist colony called "Modern Times" on Long Island, NY. In tribute to Andrews, Benjamin Tucker said: "Anarchist especially will ever remember and honor him because he has left behind him the ablest English book ever written in defense of Anarchist principles" (Liberty, III, 2).

William B. Greene

William B. Greene did not become a full-fledged anarchist until the last ten years of his life, however, being involved with the movement for much longer he was instrumental in developing the economic ideas of the individualists. Whereas Warren provided the basis of the individualists' economics in asserting "Cost the limit of price," Greene is best known for expanding on this by being instrumental in bringing the idea of a "mutual bank" to American anarchism (though, Spooner had previously developed mutualist banking ideas in his writings, working without association with the other anarchists until later). He is sometimes called the "American Proudhon," for the similarities of his mutualist banking ideas with those of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

His famous and widely reprinted is entitled Mutual Banking. Benjamin Tucker said: "I am indebted to Col. Greene's Mutual Banking more than to any other single publication for such knowledge as I have of the principles of finance--the most compact, satisfactory, keen and clear treatise upon mutual money extant" (Liberty VI, 1).

Greene saw a great need for banks, holding that they perform the service of being a medium so that those with capital to spare could provide it to those with a need for capital. He believed that the requirement of that one must obtain permission from government (charter) to establish a bank, severely thwarted the meeting of these with mutual interests by reducing the number of banks that would otherwise arise. Greene acknoweldged that rates are set by supply and demand, but believed that if truly free competition were allowed in lending that interest rates would seek a level that would accord with the "natural rate," which he believed would be one that would not accommodate the possibility of profit.

He proposed that these mutual banks should be an agreement among individuals to monetize any property of their choice, and severely criticized the government enforcement of government-issued money being the "legal tender" in payment of debts. Greene and other notable individuals campaigned assiduously to obtain a charter from government, but were denied permission to establish a mutual bank. This only emboldened the individualist anarchists opposition to the "banking monopoly."

Ezra Heywood

Ezra Heywood is another individualist anarchist, influenced by Warren and other classical liberals, who was an ardent slavery abolitionist and feminist. He wrote one of the first feminist anarchist essays. Heywood saw what he believed to be the disproportionate concentration of capital in the hands of a few to be the result of government-backed priveleges to certain individuals and organizations.

He says: "Government is a northeast wind, drifting property into a few aristocratic heaps, at the expense of altogether too much democratic bare ground. Through cunning legislation, ... privileged classes are allowed to steal largely according to law."

He believed that there should be no profit in rent of buildings. He did not oppose rent, but believed that if the building was fully paid for that it was improper to charge more than what is necessary for transfer costs, insurance, and repair of deterioriation that occurs during the occupation by the tenant. He even asserted that it may be encumbent on the owner of the building to pay rent to the tenant if the tenant keeps his residency in such a condition that saved it from deterioration if it was otherwise unoccupied. Whereas, Warren, Andrews, and Greene supported ownership of unused land, Heywood believed that title to unused land was a great evil.

This, and several other issues, were a source of conflict with Warren, though they maintained respectful relationships. Heywood's philosophy was instrumental in furthering individualist anarchist ideas through his extensive pamphleteering and reprinting works of Warren and Greene.

Benjamin Tucker

Benjamin Tucker, being influenced by Warren (who he credits as being his "first source of light"), Greene, Heywood, Proudhon's mutualism, and Stirner's egoism, is probably the most famous of the American individualists. Tucker defines anarchism as "the doctrine that all the affairs of men should be managed by individuals or voluntary associations, and that the State should be abolished" (State Socialism and Anarchism).

Like the individualists he was influenced by, he rejected the notion of society being a thing that has rights, insisting that only individuals can have rights. And, like Spooner, he opposes the governmental practice of democracy, as it allows a majority to decide for a minority. Tucker main focus, however, is on economics. He opposes profit, believing that it is only made possible by the "suppression or restriction of competition" by government and vast concentration of wealth.

He believes that restriction of competition is accomplished this by the establishment of four "monopolies": the banking monopoly, the land monopoly, the tariff monopoly, and the patent and copyright monopoly --the most harmful of these, according to him, being the money monopoly. He believes that restrictions on who may enter the banking business and issue currency, as well as protection of unused land, were responsible for wealth being concentrated in the hands of a privileged few.

However, Tucker makes clear his opposition to collectivist notions such as economic egalitarianism, believing unequal wealth distribution to be a natural result of liberty (Economic Rent). Like most anarchists Tucker argued against state socialism, proposing that anarchism was based on "stateless" socialism, "The two principles referred to are Authority and Liberty, and the names of the two schools of Socialistic thought which fully and unreservedly represent one or the other of them are, respectively, State Socialism and Anarchism. Whoso knows what these two schools want and how they propose to get it understands the Socialistic movement. For, just as it has been said that there is no half-way house between Rome and Reason, so it may be said that there is no half-way house between State Socialism and Anarchism." [The Anarchist Reader, p. 150]"

Tucker believes that economic monopolies forced nearly everyone to engage in usury. But, again, he believes this would not be possible with the abolition of the banking monopoly --the "chief sinner" is the State which makes it possible and the "chief usurers" are not ordinary individuals who pursue profit, but those who enjoy the monopoly privileges (Capital, Profits and Interest). Though Tucker regarded the taking of interest to be "usury," he opposed forbidding individuals from taking interest, believing that individuals should be allowed to contract for whatever terms they wish, so long as these contracts were not enforced to the point of causing human suffering or death: "In defending the right to take usury, we do not defend the right of usury" (Liberty I,3). He believed that if everyone were allowed to lend, rather than requiring charters from a government, that the increased competition would result in the practical inability to lend at a profit. Hence, government was the chief usurer that made usury possible by intervening in economic affairs and protecting monopoly privilege for capital. "Laissez Faire was very good sauce for the goose, labor, but was very poor sauce for the gander, capital." (State Socialism and Anarchism)

Tucker, opposes protection of unused land, asserting that titles should only be granted for land being occupied or used. He believes that private ownership of capital would be more diffused across society if these "monopolies" were broken. This, in turn, would result in increased competition in lending and employment markets, rendering profit-making nearly impossible. Tucker inititially premised his philosophy on natural law. But, by the influence of his reading of Stirner's egiost individualism, he maintained that morality and rights did not exist without contract and that therefore contract, guided by self-interest, is the proper basis of private law. .

Tucker published a periodical called Liberty that was instrumental for the development of individualist anarchist theory. Tucker describes his philosophy as "unterrified Jeffersonianism." He advocates private defense of individual liberty and private property property [11] including "private police" [12].

Tuckers says that "defense is a service like any other service; that it is labor both useful and desired, and therefore an economic commodity subject to the law of supply and demand; that in a free market this commodity would be furnished at the cost of production; that, competition prevailing, patronage would go to those who furnished the best article at the lowest price; that the production and sale of this commodity are now monopolized by the State; and that the State, like almost all monopolists, charges exorbitant prices;... and, finally, that the State exceeds all its fellow-monopolists in the extent of its villainy because it enjoys the unique privilege of compeling all people to buy its product whether they want it or not" (Instead of a Book).

Lysander Spooner

Lysander Spooner is an individualist anarchist who apparently worked with little association with the other individualists of the time except for brief periods later in his life when he wrote his most noted essays, but came to approximately the same conclusions. In this time, his philosophy evolved from appearing to support a limited role for the state to opposing its existence altogether. Spooner was a staunch advocate of "natural law," maintaining that each individualy has a "natural right" to be free to do as one wishes as long as he refrains from initiating coercion on others or their property.

With this natural law came the right of contract, which Spooner found of extreme importance. He holds that government cannot create law, as law already exists naturally; anything government does that is not in accordance with natural law (coercion) is illegal. Maintaining that government does not exist by contract of every individual it deems to govern, he came to believe that government itself is in violation of natural law, as it finances its activities through taxation of those who have not contracted. He rejects the popular idea that a majority, in the case of democracy, can consent for a minority; a majority is bound to the same natural law against coercion that individuals are bound: "...if the majority, however large, or the people enter into a contract of government called a constitution by which they...destroy or invade the natural rights of any person or persons whatsoever, this contract of government is unlawful and void" (The Unconstitutionality of Slavery).

Spooner, like his compatriots, strongly emphasizes private property. He says that "...the principle of individual property... says that each man has an absolute dominion, as against all other men, over the products and acquisitions of his own labor." He says that there are two ways private property may come about: "first, by simply taking possession of natural wealth, or the productions of nature; and, secondly, by the artificial production of other wealth." (The Law of Intellectual Property).

He asserts that merely by picking a piece of fruit, for example, it becomes private property since labor has been exerted to procure it, and includes land as property by the application of labor: "A man must take possession of the natural fruits of the earth, and thus make them his property, before he can apply. them to the sustenance of his body. he must take possession of land, and thus make it his property, before he can raise a crop from it, or fit it for his residence" (Law of Intellectual Property).

He asserts that it is only by natural resources becoming private property through labor that man is able to rise above the level of a " shivering savage," asserting that "The only way, in which ["the wealth of nature"] can be made useful to mankind, is by their taking possession of it individually, and thus making it private property." (Law of Intellectual Property). However, unlike Tucker, he also maintains that the ideas of an individuals should be considered their private property; he supports intellectual property rights. He says: "So absolute is an author's right of dominion over his ideas that he may forbid their being communicated even by human voice if he so pleases."

Spooner does not oppose the charging of interest, but merely thinks interest rates are kept artificially high by government restrictions on whom may start a bank. He says: "All legislative restraints upon the rate of interest are arbitrary and tyrannical restraints upon a man's natural capacity amid natural right to hire capital, upon which to bestow his labor." Spooner's argument is that government putting a upper legal limit on interest rates locks out those with modest means from obtaining capital, since the lender will not be willing to lend to them if he cannot raise rights to compensate for the increased risk of not being repaid (Poverty: Its Illegal Causes and Cure). Spooner also has no opposition to employee/employer arrangements: "And if the laborer own the stone, wood, iron, wool, and cotton, on which he bestows his labor, [he] is the rightful owner of the additional value which his labor gives to those articles. But if he be not the owner of the articles, on which he bestows his labor, he is not the owner of the additional value he has given to them; but gives or sells his labor to the owner of the articles on which he labors." (The Law of Intellectual Property) However, Spooner did advocate that individuals go into business for themselves so as to relieve themselves of the necessity of profiting employers. And, as indicated in a Letter to Cleveland Spooner, he believed that if capital were freed from government monopoly that "no persons, who could hire capital and do business for themselves would consent to labour for wages for another."

Spooner started and operated a private mail delivery business called American Letter Mail Company to compete with the United States Post Office by offering lower rates, but was thwarted by the U.S. Government which enforces the USPS's coercive monopoly. Benjamin Tucker called Spooner "one of the profoundest political philosophers that ever added to the knowledge of mankind" (Liberty VII, 6).

Voltairine de Cleyre

Voltairine de Cleyre was an individualist anarchist for several years before abandoning the philosophy. In contrasting herself to anarcho-communist Emma Goldman she said: "Miss Goldman is a communist; I am an individualist. She wishes to destroy the right of property, I wish to assert it. I make my war upon privilege and authority, whereby the right of property, the true right in that which is proper to the individual, is annihilated. She believes that co-operation would entirely supplant competition; I hold that competition in one form or another will always exist, and that it is highly desirable it should." However, de Cleyre argued in defense of her after she was imprisoned for urging the hungry to expropriate food. In her spech, she condoned a right to take food when hungry but stopped short of advocating it "I do not give you that advice...not that I do not think one little bit of sensitive human flesh is worth all the property rights in N. Y. city... I say it is your business to decide whether you will starve and freeze in sight of food and clothing, outside of jail, or commit some overt act against the institution of property and take your place beside TIMMERMANN and GOLDMANN." De Cleyre said that the "essential institutions of Commercialism are in themselves good, and are rendered vicious merely by the interference by the State," and that "the system of employer and employed, buying and selling, banking, and all the other essential institutions of Commercialism" would exist in individualist anarchy. De Cleyre later abandoned individualism and embraced anarchism without adjectives, reasoning that: "Individualism and Mutualism, resting upon property, involve a development of the private policeman not at all compatible with my notion of freedom."


Contemporary American individualist anarchists include Robert Anton Wilson, Joe Peacott, James J. Martin, Kevin Carson, Larry Gambone, and Keith Preston.


Main articles: Anarcho-capitalism, Individualist anarchism and anarcho-capitalism

Anarcho-capitalism differs from traditional individualist anarchism in that it does not accept the labor theory of value. As a result, anarcho-capitalists do not regard profit as exploitative. Also, whereas most of the classical individualists oppose titles to unused land, anarcho-capitalists support it as long as it was acquired by the possessor through labor (in the case of unowned land) or trade --it need not be in continual use to retain title.

As economic theory advanced, the popularity of the labor theory of value of classical economics was superceded by much greater acceptance of the subjective theory of value of neo-classical economics. This marginalist revolution influenced the thoughts of some radical individualists, whose theories were eventually termed anarcho-capitalism. Most anarcho-socialists do not accept anarcho-capitalism as a "true" form of anarchist thought, as anarchism as been traditionally opposed to capitalism.

Terminological disputes

The tradition of individualist anarchism that originated in the 1800's is opposed to profit-making, and hence, capitalism as it is commonly defined today. Nevertheless, anarcho-capitalism, which has no opposition to profit, is sometimes regarded as a form of individualist anarchism. For example, contemporary individualist anarchist Daniel Burton says that anarcho-capitalism is a type of individualist anarchism, though he states that most individualists today are anti-capitalist Individualist anarchism vs. Anarcho-capitalism. Contemporary individualist in the anti-capitalist tradition, Joe Peacott, argues that individualist anarchism rejects capitalism, but also states that, "the capitalist anarchists, like Wendy McElroy, Sam Konkin, Murray Rothbard, David Friedman, and the Voluntaryists, are individualists" (Individualist Reconsidered). Other individualist anarchists, like Larry Gambone, believe that anarchism itself is incompatible with capitalism. Gambone states, "for anarchists, capitalism is the result of the development of the state and therefore, all capitalism is in one sense, state capitalism." [13] But, Gambone points out that there is a definitional problem. He says that when "classical anarchists" speak of capitalists, they are referring to "those who had gained wealth from the use of governmental power or from privileges granted by government" whereas modern free market libertarians refer to capitalism as "free exchange" and oppose "government aided business"; he says that what the libertarians call "mercantilism", which they oppose, is what classical anarchists call "capitalism" (Any Time Now Spring 1998 No. 4). Hence, anarcho-capitalists also oppose capitalism as the classical anarchists define it. The view that in the absence of a state there could be no capitalism in the sense of profit-making is made by contemporary anti-capitalist individualist anarchists Kevin A. Carson (The Iron Fist...). Anarcho-capitalist Wendy McElroy calls herself an individualist anarchist, and Italian anarcho-capitalist Guglielmo Piombini regards anarcho-capitalism as a form of individualist anarchism (Per l'Anarco-Capitalismo). Historian Ralph Raico regards it as "a form of individualist anarchism" (Authentic German Liberalism...). However, historian Peter Sabatini argues that capitalist claims to anarchism are void of meaning ([14]). Individualist anarchist author Iain McKay argues that individualism is essentially anti-capitalist and that anarcho-capitalists claims to the tradition require reading individualist anarchists out of context ([15]). Simon Tormey, in his book Anti-Capitalism: A Beginner's Guide places no anti-capitalist restriction on being an individualist anarchist: "Pro-capitalist anarchism is, as one might expect, particularly prevalent in the US where it feeds on the strong individualist and libertarian currents that have always been a part of the American political imaginary. To return to the point, however, there are individualist anarchists who are most certainly not anti-capitalist and there are those who may well be."

Further discussion of the relationship between individualism and anarcho-capitalism can be found in the article individualist anarchism and anarcho-capitalism.

Conflicts within American individualist anarchism

There has been much debate on whether individualist anarchism is properly justified in natural law or egoism. Josiah Warren and Lysander Spooner base their philosophical system on inalienable natural rights, while others such as Benjamin Tucker believe that rights can only exist by contract. Tucker says: "I see no reason, as far as moral obligation is concerned, why one [man] should not sub-ordinate or destroy the other. But if each of these men can be made to see that the other's free life is helpful to him, then they will agree not to invade each other; in other words, they will equalize their existences, or rights to existence by contract. . . Before contract is the right of might. Contract is the voluntary suspension of the right to might. The power secured by such suspension we may call the right of contract. These two rights -the right of might and the right of contract -are the only rights that ever have been or ever can be. So-called moral rights have no existence."

Comparison of property systems

Note: Not all theorists in the various camps agree on everything; for that reason, it is not necessarily true that this table is representative of all anarcho-communists, individualist anarchists, or anarcho-capitalists.
Philosophies Anarcho-communism Individualist Anarchism (labor-value) Anarcho-capitalism
Is private ownership of natural resources legitimate? No Yes Yes
Is land legitimate tradable private property? No No (some say yes) Yes
Is the product of labour legitimate private property? No Yes Yes
Are privately-owned capital goods permissible? No Yes Yes
Is profit from labor exploitative? Yes; such profits should be confiscated. Yes; but should not be prohibited. No

(NRxCol) "The land, and all natural resources, are the common property of everyone, but will be used only by those who cultivate it by their own labor. Without expropriation, only through the powerful pressure of the worker’s associations, capital and the tools of production will fall to those who produce wealth by their own labor." - Michael Bakunin, Revolutionary Catechism.

(NRxInd) "The only way, in which ['the wealth of nature'] can be made useful to mankind, is by their taking possession of it individually, and thus making it private property." - Lysander Spooner, Law of Intellectual Property. "That there is an entity known as the community which is the rightful owner of all land anarchists deny. I...maintain that the community is a non-entity, that it has no existence, and is simply a combination of individuals having no prerogative beyond those of the individuals themselves." -Benjamin Tucker, Liberty

(NRxAC) "The only 'natural' course for man to survive and to attain wealth, therefore, is by using his mind and energy to engage in the production-and-exchange process. He does this, first, by finding natural resources, and then by transforming them (by 'mixing his labor' with them, as Locke puts it), to make them his individual property, and then by exchanging this property for the similarly obtained property of others." Murray Rothbard, The Anatomy of the State.

(LdxCol) see (NRxCol) above.

(LdxInd) Though, most labor-value individualists oppose buying and selling of land itself, they maintain that an individual should be allowed exclusive of use of land against any claims of the community. "Anarchism holds that land belongs not to the people but the occupant and user..." - Benjamin Tucker Liberty X May 19 1894. But Warren, Andrews, and Greene supported an individual holding transferable title to land itself; for example, "the prime cost of land, the taxes, and other contingent expenses of surveying, etc., added to the labor of making contracts, would constitute the equitable price of land purchased for sale." -Josiah Warren, Equitable Commerce

(LdxAC) "If Columbus lands on a new continent, is it legitimate for him to proclaim all the new continent his own, or even that sector 'as far as his eye can see'? Clearly, this would not be the case in the free society that we are postulating. Columbus or Crusoe would have to use the land, to 'cultivate' it in some way, before he could be asserted to own it.... If there is more land than can be used by a limited labor supply, then the unused land must simply remain unowned until a first user arrives on the scene. Any attempt to claim a new resource that someone does not use would have to be considered invasive of the property right of whoever the first user will turn out to be. There is no requirement, however, that land continue to be used in order for it to continue to be a man’s property." -Murray Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State

(PoLxCol) "It is not the product of his or her labor that the worker has a right to, but to the satisfaction of his or her needs, whatever may be their nature." -Joseph Dejacque, Letter to Proudhon "If we preserved the individual appropriation of the products of labour, we would be forced to preserve money, leaving more or less accumulation of wealth according to more or less merit rather than need of individuals." -Carlo Cafiero, Anarchism and Communism "In other words, labour and its products must be exchanged without price, without profit, freely, according to necessity. This logically leads to ownership in common and to joint use. Which is a sensible, just, and equitable system, and is known as Communism." -Alexander Berkman, ABC of Anarchism

(PoLxInd) "One of the tests of any reform movement with regard to personal liberty is this: Will the movement prohibit or abolish private property? If it does, it is an enemy of liberty. For one of the most important criteria of freedom is the right to private property in the products of ones labor. State Socialists, Communists, Syndicalists and Communist-Anarchists deny private property." -Clarence Swartz, What is Mutualism "...the principle of individual property... says that each man has an absolute dominion, as against all other men, over the products and acquisitions of his own labor." -Lysander Spooner, The Law of Intellectual Property

(PoLxAC) The labor theory of value is erroneous. Profit is not exploitative and contract is supreme. "The capitalist, then, is a man who has labored, saved out of his labor (i.e., has restricted his consumption) and, in a series of voluntary contracts has (a) purchased ownership rights in capital goods, and (b) paid the laborers for their labor services in transforming those capital goods into goods nearer the final stage of being consumed. Note again that no one is preventing the laborers themselves from saving, purchasing capital goods from their owners and then working on their own capital goods, finally selling the product and reaping the profits. In fact, the capitalists are conferring a great benefit on these laborers, making possible the entire complex vertical network of exchanges in the modern economy." - Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty.

(CGxCol) The means of production are owned by the community in collective. "The revolution as we understand it will have to destroy the State and all the institutions of the State, radically and completely, from its very first day. The natural and necessary consequences of such destruction will be: ... f. the confiscation of all productive capital and of the tools of production for the benefit of workers’ associations, who will have to have them produced collectively." - Bakunin, The Program of the International Brotherhood.

(CGxInd) All products of labor are the property of the individual, regardless of in the form of capital or not."Proudhon scoffed at this distinction between capital and product. He maintained that capital and product are not different kinds of wealth, but simply alternate conditions or functions of the same wealth. ... For these and other reasons Proudhon and Warren found themselves unable to sanction any such plan as the seizure of capital by society." - Benjamin Tucker, State Socialism and Anarchism.

(CGxAC) "Production begins with natural resources, and then various forms of machines and capital goods, until finally, goods are sold to the consumer. At each stage of production from natural resource to consumer good, money is voluntarily exchanged for capital goods, labor services, and land resources. At each step of the way, terms of exchanges, or prices, are determined by the voluntary interactions of suppliers and demanders. This market is "free" because choices, at each step, are made freely and voluntarily." - Rothbard, Free Market.

(LrxCol) Will you stand up for that piece of chicanery which consists in affirming 'freedom of contract'? Or will you uphold equity, according to which a contract entered into between a man who has dined well and the man who sells his labor for bare subsistence, between the strong and the weak, is not a contract at all?" -Peter Kropotkin, An Appeal to the Young

(LrxInd) It is considered exploitative to pay an individual for less than the "full produce" of his labor. - "The price is not sufficient: the labor of the workers has created a value; now this value is their property. But they have neither sold nor exchanged it; and you, capitalist, you have not earned it. That you should have a partial right to the whole, in return for the materials that you have furnished and the provisions that you have supplied, is perfectly just. You contributed to the production, you ought to share in the enjoyment. But your right does not annihilate that of the laborers, who, in spite of you, have been your colleagues in the work of production. Why do you talk of wages? The money with which you pay the wages of the laborers remunerates them for only a few years of the perpetual possession which they have abandoned to you. Wages is the cost of the daily maintenance and refreshment of the laborer. You are wrong in calling it the price of a sale. The workingman has sold nothing; he knows neither his right, nor the extent of the concession which he has made to you, nor the meaning of the contract which you pretend to have made with him. On his side, utter ignorance; on yours, error and surprise, not to say deceit and fraud." - Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

(LrxAC) see (PoLxAC) above.

See also

External links

  • Individualist Anarchist Resources
  • A Vindication of Natural Society: or, a View of the Miseries and Evils arising to Mankind from every Species of Artificial Society by Edmund Burke - some regard this liberal essay to be the first to advocate anarchy
  • Enquiry Concerning Political Justice by William Godwin
  • The Ego and his Own by Max Stirner, translated by Christian individualist anarchist Steven T. Byington
  • Manifesto by Josiah Warren
  • Equitable Commerce by Josiah Warren
  • State Socialism and Anarchism: How far they agree, and wherein they differ. by Benjamin Tucker (1886)
  • Anarchist Individualism as Life and Activity by E. Armand (1907)
  • I. Liberal-Anarchism VIII. Libertarianism from The Conquest of Power, by Albert Weisbord[16] discusses individualism of Godwin and Stirner
  • American Liberal-Anarchism from The Conquest of Power, by Albert Weisbord[17]
  • American Anarchism by Wendy McElroy 19th Century Individualist Anarchism in America
  • Bad Press Contemporary Individualist Anarchist Publications
  • Individualist-Anarchist.Net
  • The Schism Between Individualist and Communist Anarchism
  • Proudhon and Anarchism by Larry Gambone
  • Individualist Anarchist Society at UC Berkeley
  • State Socialism and Anarchism: How far they agree, and wherein they differ, Economic Rent and Liberty, Land, and Labor by Benjamin Tucker
  • The Boston Anarchists by Henry Appleton
  • Bibliographical Essay by James J. Martin from his book Men Against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827-1908
  • Benjamin R Tucker & the Champions of Liberty: A Centenary Anthology edited by Edited by Michael E. Coughlin, Charles H. Hamilton and Mark A. Sullivan
  • Ingalls, Hanson, and Tucker: Nineteenth Century American Anarchists by Jack Schwartzman
  • American Anarchism, The Schism Between Individualist and Communist Anarchism, and Individualist Anarchism vs. "Libertarianism" and Anarchocommunism by Wendy McElroy
  • American Liberal-Anarchism from The Conquest of Power, by Albert Weisbord
  • Manifesto, Plan of the Cincinnati Labor for Labor Store and Equitable Commerce by Josiah Warren
  • Mutual Banking by William B. Greene
  • Uncivil Liberty: An Essay to Show the Injustice and Impolicy of Ruling Woman Without Her Consent (1873) by Ezra Heywood
  • The Law of Intellectual Property: or an essay on the right of authors and inventors to a perpetual property in their ideas. by Lysander Spooner, 1855
  • Henry Bool’s Apology for His Jeffersonian Anarchism by Henry Bool, 1901
  • Links to various documents dealing with American individualist anarchism
  • Anarchist Socialism and Anarchist-Mutualism by John William Lloyd, contributor to Liberty and one-time individualist anarchist, who tried to reconcile individualist and communist anarchism
  • Individualism Reconsidered and An Overview of Individualist Anarchist Thought by Joe Peacott
  • The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand: Corporate Capitalism As a State-Guaranteed System of Privilege by Kevin A. Carson
  • Individualist Anarchist Society of UC Berkeley