Benjamin Tucker

Benjamin Tucker books and biography


Benjamin Tucker

Benjamin Ricketson Tucker

Benjamin Ricketson Tucker (April 17, 1854 – June 22, 1939) was the leading proponent of American individualist anarchism in the 19th century.



Tucker's contribution to American individualist anarchism was as much through his publishing as his own writing. In editing and publishing the anarchist periodical Liberty, Tucker both filtered and integrated the theories of such European thinkers as Herbert Spencer and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon with the thinking of American individualist activists, Lysander Spooner, William B. Greene and Josiah Warren, as well as the ideas of the free thought and free love movements in order to produce a rigorous system of philosophical- or individualist anarchism that he called Anarchistic-Socialism. He defined 'socialism' in a very individualist manner contrary to collectivist socialists, since he supported individual ownership of property. Victor Yarros writes:

He [Tucker] opposed savagely any and all reform movements that had paternalistic aims and looked to the state for aid and fulfillment...For the same reason, consistent, unrelenting opposition to compulsion, he combatted "populism," "greenbackism," the single-tax movement, and all forms of socialism and communism. He denounced and exposed Johann Most, the editor of Freiheit, the anarchist-communist organ. The end, he declared, could never justify the means, if the means were intrinsically immoral—and force, by whomsoever used, was immoral except as a means of preventing or punishing aggression.[1]

Tucker shared with the advocates of free love and free thought a disdain for prohibitions on non-invasive behavior and religiously-based legislation, but he saw the poor condition of American workers as a result of four monopolies based in authority:

  1. the money monopoly,
  2. the land monopoly,
  3. tariffs, and
  4. patents.

His focus for several decades became the state's economic control of how trade could take place, and what currency counted as legitimate. He saw interest and profit as a form of exploitation, claiming that while not directly examples of coercion[citation needed] (or "invasion" as Tucker preferred to say), they were nevertheless made possible by banking monopoly, which was in turn maintained through coercion and invasion, usually at the hands of the state. Any such interest and profit, Tucker called "usury" and he saw it as the basis for the oppression of the workers.

He asserted that anarchism is meaningless "unless it includes the liberty of the individual to control his product or whatever his product has brought him through exchange in a free market—that is, private property." But, he made an exception "in the case of land, or of any other material the supply of which is so limited that all cannot hold it in unlimited quantities."[2] Tucker opposed title to land that was not in use, arguing that an individual would have to use land continually in order to retain exclusive right to it. If this practice is not followed, he believed it results in a "land monopoly."

Tucker also opposed state protection of the banking monopoly, the requirement that one must obtain a charter to engage in the business of banking. He hoped to raise wages by deregulating the banking industry, reasoning that competition in banking would drive down interest rates and stimulate entrepreneurship. Tucker believed this would decrease the proportion of individuals seeking employment and therefore wages would be driven up by competing employers. "Thus, the same blow that strikes interest down will send wages up."[3]

Tucker opposed protectionism, believing that tariffs cause high prices by preventing national producers from having to compete with foreign competitors. He believed that free trade would help keep prices low and therefore would assist laborers in receiving their "natural wage." Tucker did not believe in a right to intellectual property in the form of patents. This was a source of conflict with the philosophy of fellow individualist Lysander Spooner who saw ideas as the product of labor.[citation needed]

Like many individualists, Tucker did not have a utopian vision of anarchy where individuals would not coerce others.[1] He advocated that liberty and property be defended by private institutions. Opposing the monopoly of the state in providing security, he advocated a free market of competing defense providers, saying "defense is a service like any other service; ... it is labor both useful and desired, and therefore an economic commodity subject to the law of supply and demand." [4] He said that anarchism "does not exclude prisons, officials, military, or other symbols of force. It merely demands that non-invasive men shall not be made the victims of such force. Anarchism is not the reign of love, but the reign of justice. It does not signify the abolition of force-symbols but the application of force to real invaders."[5]

Tucker was the first to translate into English Proudhon's What is Property? and Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own — which Tucker claimed was his proudest accomplishment.

In his column Liberty, he published the original work of Lysander Spooner, Auberon Herbert, Victor Yarros, and Lillian Harman, daughter of the free love anarchist Moses Harman. He also published such items as George Bernard Shaw's first original article to appear in the United States and the first American translated excerpts of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Tucker's periodical also served as the main conduit of Stirnerite Egoism, of which Tucker became a proponent. This led to a split in American Individualism between the growing number of Egoists and the contemporary Spoonerian "Natural Lawyers". Both Egoists and Natural Law theorists rejected coercive authority, involuntary legislation, and the notion of a "social contract." However, they differed over the philosophical basis for their individualism: Natural Law theory derived it from a conception of a natural individual right to be free from coercion, whereas Egoism defended anarchism as a pragmatic compromise in a system where each individual sought only self-interest. As a result of Tucker's egoist foundation, he began to favor utilitarian outcomes over axiomatic absolutes. For example, he believed that it was wrong to enforce contract on those faced with death and suffering. He said:

"the ultimate end of human endeavor is the minimum of pain. We aim to decrease invasion only because, as a rule, invasion increases the total of pain (meaning, of course, pain suffered by the ego, whether directly or through sympathy with others). But it is precisely my contention that this rule, despite the immense importance which I place upon it, is not absolute; that, on the contrary, there are exceptional cases where invasion--that is, coercion of the non-invasive--lessens the aggregate pain. Therefore coercion of the non-invasive, when justifiable at all, is to be justified on the ground that it secures, not a minimum of invasion, but a minimum of pain. . . . [T]o me [it is] axiomatic--that the ultimate end is the minimum of pain [6]

Having rejected the moral philosophy of Lysander Spooner, Liberty also abandoned the remaining advocates of natural rights, considering their moral philosophy to be old-fashioned and superstitious.

In his later years Tucker said: "Capitalism is at least tolerable, which cannot be said of Socialism or Communism", speaking of the state forms of these systems, and he continued to oppose anarcho-communism, claiming that "'Anarchism' in Spain is a misnomer" and that Spanish anarchists are a "crazy bunch".[7]

Dates, places and events

Born April 17, 1854 in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

  • 1872 — While a student at M.I.T., Tucker attended a convention of the New England Labor Reform League in Boston, chaired by William B. Greene, author of Mutual Banking (1850). At the convention, Tucker purchased Mutual Banking, True Civilization, and a set of Ezra Heywood's pamphlets. Furthermore, Free-love anarchist, Ezra Heywood introduced Tucker to William B. Greene and Josiah Warren, author of True Civilization (1869).
  • 1876 — Tucker's debut into radical circles: Heywood published Tucker's English translation of Proudhon's classic work What is Property?.
  • 1877-1878 — Published his original journal, Radical Review, which lasted four issues.

August 1881 to April 1908 — published the periodical, Liberty, "widely considered to be the finest individualist-anarchist periodical ever issued in the English language."

  • 1892 — moved Liberty from Boston to New York
  • 1906 — Opened Tucker's Unique Book Shop in New York City — promoting "Egoism in Philosophy, Anarchism in Politics, Iconoclasm in Art".
  • 1908 — A fire destroyed Tucker's uninsured printing equipment and his 30-year stock of books and pamphlets. Tucker's lover, Pearl Johnson — 25 years his junior — was pregnant with their daughter, Oriole Tucker. Six weeks after Oriole's birth, Tucker closed both Liberty and the book shop and moved his family to France.
  • 1913 — Tucker comes out of retirement for two years to contribute articles and letters to The New Freewoman which he called "the most important publication in existence"
  • 1939 — Tucker died in Monaco, in the company of his lover Pearl Johnson and their daughter, Oriole, who reported, "Father's attitude towards communism never changed one whit, nor about religion.... In his last months he called in the French housekeeper. 'I want her,' he said, 'to be a witness that on my death bed I'm not recanting. I do not believe in God!"[8]

See also

  • Anarchism in the United States
  • Liberty (1881-1908) Liberty, Tucker's periodical


  1. ^ a b Victor Yarros (1936). "Philosophical Anarchism: Its Rise, Decline, and Eclipse" 41 (4): 470-483.
  2. ^ Tucker, Benjamin, "Instead of a Book", page 61
  3. ^ [1] Libertarian Heritage No. 23. ISSN 0959-566X ISBN 1-85637-549-8, Libertarian Alliance, 2002.
  4. ^ "On Picket Duty." Liberty. Jul 30, 1887; 4, 26. p4.
  5. ^ Tucker, Benjamin. Liberty October 19, 1891.
  6. ^ "Land Tenure Again." Liberty. Oct 19, 1895; 11, 12; p.3.
  7. ^ Letters from Benjamin R. Tucker to Ewing C. Baskette (1933-1935). Baskette Collection.
  8. ^ Paul Avrich (1996). “Oriole Tucker Riché”, Anarchist Voices. Princeton University Press, 11. ISBN 0-691-04494-5. 

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