An Anarchist FAQ - G.7 Lysander Spooner: right-Libertarian or libertarian socialist?

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G.7 Lysander Spooner: right-"libertarian" or libertarian socialist?

Murray Rothbard and others on the "libertarian" right have argued that Lysander Spooner is another individualist anarchist whose ideas support "anarcho"-capitalism's claim to be part of the anarchist tradition. It is fair to say that Spooner's critique of the state, rooted in "natural rights" doctrine, was quoted favourably by Rothbard on many occasions, making Spooner the 19th century anarchist most likely to be referenced by him. This is understandable as Spooner was undoubtedly the closest to liberalism of the individualist anarchists, making him more amenable to appropriation than the others (particularly those, like Tucker, whocalled themselves socialists).

As will be shown below, however, any claim that Spooner provides retroactive support for "anarcho"-capitalist claims of being a form of anarchism is untrue. This is because, regardless of his closeness to liberalism, Spooner's vision of a free society was fundamentally anti-capitalist. It is clear that Spooner was a left-libertarian who was firmly opposed to capitalism. The ignoring (at best) or outright dismissal (at worse) of Spooner's economic ideas and vision of a free society by right-"libertarians" should be more than enough to show that Spooner cannot be easily appropriated by the right regardless of his (from an anarchist position) unique, even idiosyncratic, perspective on property rights.

That Spooner was against capitalism can be seen in his opposition to wage labour, which he wished to eliminate by turning capital over to those who work it. Like other anarchists, he wanted to create a society of associated producers -- self-employed farmers, artisans and co-operating workers -- rather than wage-slaves and capitalists. For example, Spooner writes:

"every man, woman, and child. . . could . . . go into business for himself,or herself -- either singly, or in partnerships -- and be under no necessity toact as a servant, or sell his or her labour to others. All the great establishments, of every kind, now in the hands of a few proprietors, but employing a great numberof wage labourers, would be broken up; for few, or no persons, who could hirecapital, and do business for themselves, would consent to labour for wages foranother." [A Letter to Grover Cleveland, p. 41]

 

Wage-labour, Spooner argued, meant that workers did not labour for their own benefit "but only for the benefit of their employers." The workers are "mere tools and machines in the hands of their employers." [Op. Cit., p. 50] Thus he considered that "it was necessary that every man be his ownemployer or work for himself in a direct way, since working for another resultedin a portion being diverted to the employer. To be one's own employer, it was necessary for one to have access to one's own capital." [James J. Martin,Men Against the State, p. 172] This was because wage labour resulted inexploitation:

 

"When a man knows that he is to have all the fruits of his labour,he labours with more zeal, skill, and physical energy, than when heknows -- as in the case of one labouring for wages -- that a portionof the fruits of his labour are going to another. . . In order thateach man may have the fruits of his own labour, it is important, asa general rule, that each man should be his own employer, or workdirectly for himself, and not for another for wages; because, in thelatter case, a part of the fruits of his labour go to his employer,instead of coming to himself . . . That each man may be his own employer,it is necessary that he have materials, or capital, upon which to bestowhis labour." [Poverty: Its Illegal Causes and Legal Cure,p. 8]

 

This preference for a system based on simple commodity production in which capitalists and wage slaves are replaced by self-employed and co-operating workers puts Spooner squarely in the anti-capitalist camp with other anarchists. And, we may add, the egalitarianism he expected to result from his system indicates the left-libertarian nature of his ideas, turning thepresent "wheel of fortune" into "an extended surface, variedsomewhat by inequalities, but still exhibiting a general level, affordinga safe position for all, and creating no necessity, for either force orfraud, on the part of anyone, to enable him to secure his standing." [quoted by Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, pp. 388-9] Thus:

 

"That the principle of allowing each man to have, (so far as it isconsistent with the principles of natural law that he can have,) allthe fruits of his own labour, would conduce to a more just and equaldistribution of wealth than now exists, is a proposition tooself-evident almost to need illustration. It is an obvious principleof natural justice, that each man should have the fruits of his ownlabour . . . It is also an obvious fact, that the property producedby society, is now distributed in very unequal proportions amongthose whose labour produced it, and with very little regard to theactual value of each one’s labour in producing it." [Poverty:Its Illegal Causes and Legal Cure, p. 7]

 

For Spooner, as with other left-libertarians, equality was seen as the necessary basis for liberty. As he put it, the "practice of each man'slabouring for himself, instead of labouring for another for wages" would "be greatly promoted by a greater equality of wealth." Not only that, it "would also contribute to the increase of labour-savinginventions -- because when a man is labouring for himself, and is to haveall the proceeds of his labour, he applies his mind, with his hands, muchmore than when he is labouring for another." [Op. Cit., p. 42] As he stressed equality will have many positive outcomes beyond the abolition of wage labour and increased productiveness:

 

"Extremes of difference, in their pecuniary circumstances, divide societyinto castes; set up barriers to personal acquaintance; prevent or suppresssympathy; give to different individuals a widely different experience, andthus become the fertile source of alienation, contempt, envy, hatred, andwrong. But give to each man all the fruits of his own labour, and a comparativeequality with others in his pecuniary condition, and caste is broken down;education is given more equally to all; and the object is promoted of placingeach on a social level with all: of introducing each to the acquaintance ofall; and of giving to each the greatest amount of that experience, wealth,being common to all, enables him to sympathise with all, and insures to himselfthe sympathy of all. And thus the social virtues of mankind would be greatlyincreased." [Op. Cit., pp. 46-7]

 

Independence in producing would lead to independence in all aspects of life, for it was a case of the "higher self-respect also, which a man feels, andthe higher social position he enjoys, when he is master of his own industry,than when he labours for another." [Op. Cit., p. 35] It is quiteapparent, then, that Spooner was against wage labour and, therefore, was nosupporter of capitalism. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Spooner (like William Greene) had been a member of the First International. [George Woodcock, Anarchism, p. 393]

Whether Spooner's ideas are relevant now, given the vast amount of capital neededto start companies in established sectors of the economy, is another question.Equally, it seems unlikely that a reversion to pre-industrial forms of economy is feasible even if we assume that Spooner's claims about the virtuesof a free market in credit are correct. But one thing is clear: Spooner wasopposed to the way America was developing in the 19th century. He had noillusions about tariffs, for example, seeing them as a means of accumulating capital as they "enable[d] the home producers . . . to make fortunes byrobbing everybody else in the prices of their goods." Such protectionism "originated with the employers" as the workers "could not have had no hope of carrying through such a scheme, if they alone were to profit; because they could have had no such influence with governments." [ALetter to Grover Cleveland p. 20 and p. 44] He had no illusions that the state was anything else than a machine run by and for the wealthy.

Spooner viewed the rise of capitalism with disgust and suggested a way fornon-exploitative and non-oppressive economic relationships to become the normagain in US society, a way based on eliminating a root feature of capitalism --wage-labour -- through a system of easy credit, which he believed would enableartisans and farmers to obtain their own means of production and work forthemselves. As we stressed in section G.1.2 capitalism is based not on property as such but rather property which is notowned by those who use it (i.e., Proudhon's distinction between property andpossession which was echoed by, among others, Marx). Like more obvious socialistslike Proudhon and Marx, Spooner was well aware that wage labour resulted inexploitation and, as a result, urged its abolition to secure the worker thefull produce of their labour.

As such, Spooner's analysis of capitalism was close to that of social anarchists and Marxists. This is confirmed by an analysis of his famous works NaturalLaw (unless otherwise indicated, all subsequent quotes are from this work).

Spooner's support of "Natural Law" has also been taken as "evidence" that Spooner was a proto-right-"libertarian." Most obviously, this ignores thefact that support for "Natural Law" is not limited to right-"libertarians"and has been used to justify, among other things, feudalism, slavery, theocracy,liberty, fascism as well as communism. As such, "natural rights" justificationfor property need not imply a support for capitalism or suggest that those whohold similar views on them will subscribe to the same vision of a good society.Of course, most anarchists do not find theories of "natural law," be they thoseof right-"libertarians", fascists or whatever, to be particularly compelling.Certainly the ideas of "Natural Law" and "Natural Rights," as existingindependently of human beings in the sense of the ideal Platonic Forms, aredifficult for most anarchists to accept per se, because such ideas areinherently authoritarian as they suggest a duty to perform certain actions forno other reason than obedience to some higher authority regardless of theirimpact on individuals and personal goals. Most anarchists would agree withTucker when he called such concepts "religious" (Robert Anton Wilson'sNatural Law: or don't put a rubber on your willy is an excellentdiscussion of the flaws of such concepts).

Spooner, unfortunately, did subscribe to the cult of "immutable anduniversal" Natural Laws. If we look at his "defence" of Natural Law wecan see how weak (and indeed silly) it is. Replacing the word "rights"with the word "clothes" in the following passage shows the inherentweakness of his argument:

 

"if there be no such principle as justice, or natural law, then every human being came into the world utterly destitute of rights; and comingso into the world destitute of rights, he must forever remain so. For ifno one brings any rights with him into the world, clearly no one can everhave any rights of his own, or give any to another. And the consequencewould be that mankind could never have any rights; and for them to talk ofany such things as their rights, would be to talk of things that had, neverwill, and never can have any existence."

 

And, we add, unlike the "Natural Laws" of "gravitation, . . . of light, the principles of mathematics" to which Spooner compares them, he is perfectly aware that his "Natural Law" can be "trampled upon" by other humans. However, unlike gravity (which does not need enforcing)it is obvious that Spooner's "Natural Law" has to be enforced by human beingsas it is within human nature to steal. In other words, it is a moral code,not a "Natural Law" like gravity. Appeals to make this specific moral code to be considered the universal one required by nature are unconvincing, particularly as such absolutist schemes generally end up treating the rights in question (usually property related ones) as more important than actualpeople. Hence we find, for example, supporters of "natural rights" to property (like Murray Rothbard) willing to deny economic power, the restrictions of liberty it creates and its similarity to the state in the social relations it creates simply because property is sacred (see section F.1).

Interestingly, Spooner did come close to a rational, non-metaphysical sourcefor rights when he pointed out that "Men living in contact with each other, andhaving intercourse together, cannot avoid learning natural law." This indicatesthe social nature of rights, of our sense of right and wrong, and so rightsand ethics can exist without believing in religious concepts as "Natural Law." Inaddition, we can say that his support for juries indicates an unconscious recognitionof the social nature (and so evolution) of any concepts of human rights. Inother words, by arguing strongly for juries to judge human conflict, he implicitlyrecognises that the concepts of right and wrong in society are not indeliblyinscribed in law tomes as the "true law," but instead change and develop as society does (as reflected in the decisions of the juries). In addition, he states that"[h]onesty, justice, natural law, is usually a very plain and simple matter," which is "made up of a few simple elementary principles, of the truth and justiceof which every ordinary mind has an almost intuitive perception," thus indicatingthat what is right and wrong exists in "ordinary people" and not in "prosperous judges"or any other small group claiming to speak on behalf of "truth."

As can be seen, Spooner's account of how "natural law" will be administered is radicallydifferent from, say, Murray Rothbard's and indicates a strong egalitarian contextforeign to right-libertarianism. As we noted in section G.3, Rothbard explicitly rejected Spooner's ideas on the importance of jury driven law (for Spooner, "the jurors were to judge the law, and the justice of the law." [Trial by Jury, p. 134]). As far as "anarcho"-capitalism goes, one wonders howSpooner would regard the "anarcho"-capitalist "protection firm," given his commentthat "[a]ny number of scoundrels, having money enough to start with, can establishthemselves as a 'government'; because, with money, they can hire soldiers, and withsoldiers extort more money; and also compel general obedience to their will."[No Treason, p. 22] This is the use of private police to break strikes and unions in a nutshell. Compare this to Spooner's description of his voluntary justiceassociations:

 

"it is evidently desirable that men should associate, so far as they freely and voluntarily can do so, for the maintenance of justice among themselves, and for mutual protection against other wrong-doers. It is also in the highest degree desirable that they should agree upon some plan or system of judicial proceedings"

 

At first glance, one may be tempted to interpret Spooner's justice organisationsas a subscription to "anarcho"-capitalist style protection firms. A more carefulreading suggests that Spooner's actual conception is more based on the concept ofmutual aid, whereby people provide such services for themselves and for othersrather than buying them on a fee-per-service basis. A very different concept. As he put it elsewhere, "[a]ll legitimate government is a mutual insurance company" in which "insured persons are shareholders of a company." It is likely that this would be a co-operative as the "free administration of justice . . . must necessarily be a part of every system of government which is not designed to be an engine in the hands of the rich for the oppression of the poor." It seems unlikely that Spooner would have supported unequalvoting rights based on wealth particularly as "all questions as to therights of the corporation itself, must be determined by members of the corporation itself . . . by the unanimous verdict of a tribunal fairlyrepresenting the whole people" such as a jury [Trial by Jury, p. 223,p. 172 and p. 214]

These comments are particularly important when we consider Spooner's criticisms of finance capitalists, like the Rothschilds. Here he departs even more strikingly from right-"libertarian" positions. For he believes that sheer wealth has intrinsic power, even to the extent of allowing the wealthy to coerce the government into behaving at their behest. For Spooner, governments are "the merest hangers on, the servile, obsequious, fawning dependants and tools of these blood-money loan-mongers, on whom they rely for the means to carry on their crimes." Thus the wealthy can "make [governments] and use them" as well as being able to "unmakethem . . . the moment they refuse to commit any crime we require of them, orto pay over to us such share of the proceeds of their robberies as we see fit to demand." Indeed, Spooner considers "these soulless blood-moneyloan-mongers" as "the real rulers," not the government (who aresimply their agents). Thus governments are "little or nothing elsethan mere tools, employed by the wealthy to rob, enslave, and (if need be) murder those who have less wealth, or none at all." [No Treason,p. 50, p. 51, p. 52 and p. 47] This is an extremely class conscious analysis of the state, one which mirrors the standard socialist one closely.

If one grants that highly concentrated wealth has intrinsic power and may be used in such a Machiavellian manner as Spooner claims, then simple opposition to the state is not sufficient. Logically, any political theory claiming to promote liberty should also seek to limit or abolish the institutions that facilitate large concentrations of wealth. As shown above, Spooner regarded wage labour under capitalism as one of these institutions, because without it "large fortunes could rarely be made at all by one individual." Hence for Spooner, as for social anarchists, tobe anti-statist also necessitates being anti-capitalist.

This can be clearly seen for his analysis of history, when he asks: "Whyis it that [Natural Law] has not, ages ago, been established throughout theworld as the one only law that any man, or all men, could rightfully becompelled to obey?" Spooner's answer is given in his interpretation ofhow the State evolved, where he postulates that it was formed throughthe initial ascendancy of a land-holding, slave-holding class by militaryconquest and oppressive enslavement of the peasantry:

 

"These tyrants, living solely on plunder, and on the labour of their slaves,and applying all their energies to the seizure of still more plunder, and theenslavement of still other defenceless persons; increasing, too, their numbers,perfecting their organisations, and multiplying their weapons of war, they extendtheir conquests until, in order to hold what they have already got, it becomesnecessary for them to act systematically, and co-operate with each other in holdingtheir slaves in subjection.

 

"But all this they can do only by establishing what they call a government, andmaking what they call laws . . . Thus substantially all the legislation of theworld has had its origin in the desires of one class of persons to plunder andenslave others, and hold them as property."

 

Nothing too provocative here, simply Spooner's view of government as a tool of thewealth-holding, slave-owning class. What is more interesting is Spooner's view ofthe subsequent development of (post-slavery) socio-economic systems:

 

"In process of time, the robber, or slaveholding, class -- who had seized all thelands, and held all the means of creating wealth -- began to discover that theeasiest mode of managing their slaves, and making them profitable, was notfor each slaveholder to hold his specified number of slaves, as he had done before,and as he would hold so many cattle, but to give them so much liberty as wouldthrow upon themselves (the slaves) the responsibility of their own subsistence,and yet compel them to sell their labour to the land-holding class -- their formerowners -- for just what the latter might choose to give them."

 

Here Spooner echoes the standard anarchist critique of capitalism. Note that he isno longer talking about slavery but rather about economic relations between awealth-holding class and a 'freed' class of workers and tenant farmers. Clearly hedoes not view this relation --wage labour -- as a voluntary association,because the former slaves have little option but to be employed by members of thewealth-owning class. As he put it elsewhere, their wealth ensures that they have"control of those great armies of servants -- the wage labourers -- from whom all their wealth is derived, and whom they can now coerce by the alternative of starvation, to labour for them." [A Letter to Grover Cleveland, p. 48]Thus we have the standard socialist analysis that economic power, wealth itself,is a source of coercion.

Spooner points out that by monopolising the means of wealth creation while at the same time requiring the newly 'liberated' slaves to provide for themselves, the robber class thus continues to receive the benefits of the labour of the former slaves while accepting none of the responsibility for their welfare. "Of course," Spooner continued "these liberatedslaves, as some have erroneously called them, having no lands, or otherproperty, and no means of obtaining an independent subsistence, had noalternative -- to save themselves from starvation -- but to sell theirlabour to the landholders, in exchange only for the coarsest necessariesof life; not always for so much even as that." Thus while technically"free," the apparently liberated working class lack the ability to providefor their own needs and hence remain dependent on the wealth-owning class.This echoes not right-"libertarian" analysis of capitalism, but left-libertarianand other socialist viewpoints:

 

"These liberated slaves, as they were called, were now scarcely less slaves than they were before. Their means of subsistence were perhaps even more precarious than when each had his own owner, who had an interest to preserve his life."

 

This is an interesting comment. Spooner suggests that the liberated slave class were perhaps better off as slaves. Most anarchists would not go so far, although we would agree that employees are subject to the power of those who employ them and so are no long self-governing individuals -- in other words, that capitalist social relationships deny self-ownership and freedom. Spooner denounced the power of the economically dominant class,noting that the workers "were liable, at the caprice or interest of thelandholders, to be thrown out of home, employment, and the opportunity ofeven earning a subsistence by their labour." Lest the reader doubt thatSpooner is actually discussing employment here (and not slavery), he explicitlyincludes being made unemployed as an example of the arbitrary nature of wagelabour and indicates that this is a source of class conflict and danger for the ruling class: "They were, therefore, in large numbers, driven to thenecessity of begging, stealing, or starving; and became, of course, dangerousto the property and quiet of their late masters." And so the "consequencewas, that these late owners found it necessary, for their own safety and the safetyof their property, to organise themselves more perfectly as a government andmake laws for keeping these dangerous people in subjection."

In other words, the robber class creates legislation which will protect its power,namely its property, against the dispossessed. Hence we see the creation of "lawcode" by the wealthy which serves to protect their interests while effectivelymaking attempts to change the status quo illegal. This process is in effectsimilar to the right-"libertarian" concept of a judge interpreted and developed "general libertarian law code" which exercises a monopoly over a given area andwhich exists to defend the "rights" of property against "initiation of force,"i.e. attempts to change the system into a new one. Spooner goes on:

 

"The purpose and effect of these laws have been to maintain, in the hands of robber, or slave holding class, a monopoly of all lands, and, as far as possible, of all other means of creating wealth; and thus to keep the greatbody of labourers in such a state of poverty and dependence, as would compel them to sell their labour to their tyrants for the lowest prices at which life could be sustained."

 

Thus Spooner identified the underlying basis for legislation (as well as the source of much misery, exploitation and oppression throughout history) as the result of the monopolisation of the means of wealth creation by an elite class. We doubt he would have considered that calling these laws "libertarian" would in any change their oppressive and class-based nature. The state was an instrument of the wealthy few, not some neutralmachine which furthered its own interests, and so "the whole businessof legislation, which has now grown to such gigantic proportions, had itsorigin in the conspiracies, which have always existed among the few, forthe purpose of holding the many in subjection, and extorting from themtheir labour, and all the profits of their labour." Characterisingemployment as extortion may seem rather extreme, but it makes sense giventhe exploitative nature of profit under capitalism, as left libertarianshave long recognised (see section C.2).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Spooner's rhetorical denunciation of the state as being a gang of murderers and thieves employed by the wealthyfew to oppress and exploit the many, he was not shy in similarly extremerhetoric in advocating revolution. In this (as in many other things) Spoonerwas a very atypical individualist anarchist and his language could be, at times, as extreme as Johann Most. Thus we find Spooner in 1880 "advocat[ing] that the Irish rise up and kill their British landlords since be believedthat when a person's life, liberty, and property -- his natural rights -- are denied, that person has a natural right to kill those who would deny these rights. Spooner called for a class war." [Wm. Gary Kline, TheIndividualist Anarchists, p. 41] Elsewhere he thundered:

 

"Who compose the real governing power in the country? . . . How shall wefind these men? How shall we know them from others? . . . Who, of ourneighbours, are members of this secret band of robbers and murderers? How can we know which are their houses, that we may burn or demolishthem? Which their property, that we may destroy it? Which theirpersons, that we may kill them, and rid the world and ourselves of such tyrants and monsters?" [No Treason, p. 46]

 

 

It should be noted that this fierce and militant rhetoric is never mentioned bythose who seek to associate social anarchism with violence.

 

Spooner's analysis of the root causes of social problems grew more radical and consistent over time. Initially, he argued that there was a "class ofemployers, who now stand between the capitalist and labourer, and, by meansof usury laws, sponge money from the former, and labour from the latter, andput the plunder into their own pockets." These usury laws "are thecontrivances, not of the retired rich men, who have capital to loan . . . butof those few 'enterprising' 'business men,' as they are called, who, in andout of legislatures, are more influential than either the rich or the poor;who control the legislation of the country, and who, by means of usury laws,can sponge money from those who are richer, and labour from those who are poorerthan themselves -- and thus make fortunes. . . . And they are almost the onlymen who do make fortunes . . . large fortunes could rarely be made at all byone individual, except by his sponging capital and labour from others." If "free competition in banking were allowed, the rate of interest would be brought very low, and bank loans would be within the reach of everybody." [Poverty: Its Illegal Causes and Legal Cure, p. 35, p. 11 and p. 15]

This is a wonderfully self-contradictory analysis, with Spooner suggestingthat industrial capitalists are both the only wealthy people around and,at the same time, sponge money off the rich who have more money thanthem! Equally, he seemed to believe that allowing interest rates to risewithout legal limit will, first, produce more people willing to take outloans and then, when it fell below the legal limit, would produce more richpeople willing to loan their cash. And as the aim of these reforms was topromote equality, how would paying interest payments to the already verywealthy help achieve that goal? As can be seen, his early work was directedat industrial capital only and he sought "the establishment of a sort ofpartnership relation between the capitalist and labourer, or lender andborrower -- the former furnishing capital, the latter labour." However, he opposed the idea that debtors should pay their debts in case of failure, stating "the capitalist is made to risk his capital on the final successof the enterprise, without any claim upon the debtor in case of failure" and this "is the true relation between capital and labour, (or, what isthe same thing, between the lender and borrower.)" [Op. Cit.,pp. 29-30] It is doubtful that rich lenders would concur with Spooner on that!

However, by the 1880s Spooner had lost his illusions that finance capital was fundamentally different from industrial capital. Now it was a case, like the wider individualist anarchist movement he had become aware of and joined, of attacking the money monopoly. His mature analysis recognised that "the employers of wage labour" were "also the monopolists of money" and so both wings of the capitalist class aimed to "reduce [the public] to the condition of servants; and to subject them to all the extortions as their employers -- the holders of privileged money -- may choose to practice upon them." "The holders of this monopoly now rule and rob this nation; and the government, in all its branches, is simply their tool." [ALetter to Grover Cleveland, p. 48, p. 39, p. 48] Thus Spooner came to see, like other socialists that both finance and industrial capital share a common goal in oppressing and exploiting the working class and that the state is simply an organ of (minority) class rule. In this, his politics became more in line with other individualist anarchists. This analysis is, needless tosay, a left-libertarian one rather than right-"libertarian."

Of course, it may be objected that Spooner was a right-Libertarian" because he supported the market and private property. However, as we argued insection G.1.1 support for the market does not equate to support for capitalism (no matter how often the ideologues of capitalism proclaim it so). As noted, markets are not the defining featureof capitalism as there were markets long before capitalism existed. So thefact that Spooner retained the concept of markets does not necessarily makehim a supporter of capitalism. As for "property", this question is more complex as Spooner is the only individualist anarchist to apparentlyreject the idea of "occupancy and use." Somewhat ironically, he termed the doctrine that "which holds that a man has a right to lay his hands on any thing, which has no other man's hands upon it, no matter who may have been the producer" as "absolute communism" and contrasted this with "individual property . . . which says that each man has an absolute dominion, as against all other men, over the products andacquisitions of his own labour, whether he retains them in his actual possession or not." This Spooner subscribed to Locke's theoryand argued that the "natural wealth of the world belongs tothose who first take possession of it . . . There is no limit, fixed by the law of nature, to the amount of property one may acquire, simply by taking possession of natural wealth, not already possessed, except the limit fixed by power or ability to take such possession, without doing violence to the person or property of others." [The Law of Intellectual Property, p. 88 and pp. 21-2] From this position he argued that theinventor should have intellectual property rights forever, a positionin direct contradiction to the opinions of other anarchists (and even capitalist law and right-"libertarians" like Murray Rothbard).

Unsurprisingly, Tucker called Spooner's work on Intellectual Property "positivelyfoolish because it is fundamentally foolish, -- because, that is to say, itsdiscussion of the acquisition of the right of property starts with a basicproposition that must be looked upon by all consistent Anarchists as obviousnonsense." This was because it "defines taking possession of a thing as thebestowing of valuable labour upon it, such, for instance, in the case of land, ascutting down the trees or building a fence around it. What follows from this?Evidently that a man may go to a piece of vacant land and fence it off; that hemay then go to a second piece and fence that off; then to a third, and fence thatoff; then to a fourth, a fifth, a hundredth, a thousandth, fencing them all off; that, unable to fence off himself as many as he wishes, he may hire other men todo the fencing for him; and that then he may stand back and bar all other menfrom using these lands, or admit them as tenants at such rental as he maychoose to extract. According to Tucker, Spooner "bases his opposition to. . . landlords on the sole ground that they or their ancestors took theirlands by the sword from the original holders . . . I then asked him whetherif" a landlord "had found unoccupied the very lands that he now holds, and hadfenced them off, he would have any objection to raise against [his] title toand leasing of these lands. He declared emphatically that he would not. WhereuponI protested that his pamphlet, powerful as it was within its scope, did not go tothe bottom of the land question." [Liberty, no. 182, p. 6] For Tucker,the implications of Spooner's argument were such that he stressed that it was not,in fact, anarchist at all (he called it "Archist") and, as a result, rejected them.

Thus we have a contradiction. Spooner attacked the government for it "denies the natural right of human beings to live on this planet. This it does by denying their natural right to those things that are indispensable to the maintenance of life." [A Letter to Grover Cleveland, p. 33] Yet what happens if, by market forces, all the land and capital becomes owned bya few people? The socio-economic situation of the mass of the population is in exactly the same situation as under a system founded by stealing the land by the few. Equally, having to pay for access to the land results in just asmuch a deduction from the product of work as wage labour. If property is a"natural right" then they must be universal and so must be extended to everyone-- like all rights -- and this implies an end to absolute property rights("Because the right to live and to develop oneself fully is equal for all," Proudhon argued, "and because inequality of conditions is an obstacle to the exercise of this right." [quoted by John Enrenberg, Proudhon and his Age, pp. 48-9]). However, saying that it is fair to suggest, given his arguments in favourof universal self-employment, that Spooner did not think that his system of property rights would be abused to produce a landlord class and, as such, did not see theneed to resolve the obvious contradictions in his ideology. Whether he was correctin that assumption is another matter.

Which indicates why Spooner must be considered an anarchist regardless of his unique position on property rights within the movement. As we argued in section A.3.1, only a system where the users ofland or a workplace own it can it be consistent with anarchist principles. Otherwise,if there are bosses and landlords, then that society would be inherently hierarchicaland so Archist. Spooner's vision of a free society, rooted as it is inself-employment, meets the criteria of being genuinely libertarian in spite of theproperty rights used to justify it. Certain "anarcho"-capitalists may subscribe toa similar theory of property but they use it to justify an economy rooted in wagelabour and so hierarchy.

Somewhat ironically, then, while certain of Spooner's ideas were closer to Rothbard's than other individualist anarchists (most notably, a "natural rights" defence ofproperty) in terms of actual outcomes of applying his ideas, his vision is theexact opposition of that of the "anarcho"-capitalist guru. For Spooner, ratherthan being a revolt against nature, equality and liberty were seen to be mutuallyself-enforcing; rather than a necessary and essential aspect of a (so-called)free economy, wage labour was condemned as producing inequality, servitude and aservile mentality. Moreover, the argument that capitalists deny workers "all thefruits" of their labour is identical to the general socialist positionthat capitalism is exploitative. All of which undoubtedly explains why Rothbardonly selectively quoted from Spooner's critique of the state rather and ignoredthe socio-economic principles which underlay his political analysis and hopesfor a free society. Yet without those aspects of his ideas, Spooner's politicalanalysis is pressed into service of an ideology it is doubtful he would haveagreed with.

As such, we must agree with Peter Marshall, who notes that Spooner "recommendsthat every man should be his own employer, and he depicts an ideal society ofindependent farmers and entrepreneurs who have access to easy credit. If everyperson received the fruits of his own labour, the just and equal distribution ofwealth would result." Because of this, he classifies Spooner as a leftlibertarian as "his concern with equality as well as liberty makes him aleft-wing individualist anarchist. Indeed, while his starting-point is theindividual, Spooner goes beyond classical liberalism in his search for a formof rough equality and a community of interests. [Op. Cit., p. 389]This is also noted by Stephan L. Newman, who writes that while right-"libertarians" are generally "sympathic to Spooner's individualist anarchism, they fail to notice or conveniently overlook its egalitarian implications . . . They accept inequality as the price of freedom" and "habour no reservations about the social consequences of capitalism." Spooner "insist[s] that inequality corrupts freedom. [His] anarchism is directed as much against inequality asagainst tyranny." Spooner "attempt[s] to realise th[e] promise of social harmony by recreating [a] rough equality of condition" and so joins the"critics of modern capitalism and champions of the Jeffersonian idea of the autonomous individual -- independent yeoman and the self-employed mechanic." Liberalism at Wit's End, p. 76, p. 74 and p. 91]

In summary, as can be seen, as with other individualist anarchists, there is agreat deal of commonality between Spooner's ideas and those of social anarchists.Spooner perceives the same sources of exploitation and oppression inherent inmonopolistic control of the means of production by a wealth-owning class as dosocial anarchists. His solutions may differ, but he observes exactly the sameproblems. In other words, Spooner is a left libertarian, and his individualist anarchism is just as anti-capitalist as the ideas of, say, Bakunin, Kropotkin or Chomsky. Spooner, in spite of his closeness to classical liberalism, was no morea capitalist than Rothbard was an anarchist.