When Libertarians Were Socialists

I read these two articles years ago, and spent some time tracking them back down today. The main purpose of this post is to place links to these essays here so that I can refer back to them later. I pass them on with context, but no comment.

1. State Socialism and Anarchism by Benjamin Tucker, a proponent of individualist anarchism, a predecessor to modern libertarianism. The essay was written in 1886. The position put forward in this piece is summarized on the Wikipedia entry on Tucker:

According to historian of American individualist anarchism, Frank Brooks, it is easy to misunderstand Tucker’s claim of “socialism.” Before Marxists established a hegemony over definitions of “socialism, “the term socialism was a broad concept.” Tucker (as well as most of the writers and readers in Liberty) understood “socialism” to refer to any of various theories and demands aimed to solve “the labor problem” through radical changes in the capitalist economy; descriptions of the problem, explanations of it causes, and proposed solutions (for example, abolition of private property, cooperatives, state-ownership, and so on.) varied among “socialist” philosophies. Tucker said socialism was the claim that “labor should be put in possession of its own,” holding that what “state socialism” and “anarchistic socialism” had in common was the labor theory of value. However, “Instead of asserting, as did socialist anarchists, that common ownership was the key to eroding differences of economic power,” and appealing to social solidarity, Tucker’s individualist anarchism advocated distribution of property in an undistorted natural market as a mediator of egoistic impulses and a source of social stability. Tucker said, “the fact that one class of men are dependent for their living upon the sale of their labour, while another class of men are relieved of the necessity of labour by being legally privileged to sell something that is not labour. . . . And to such a state of things I am as much opposed as any one. But the minute you remove privilege. . . every man will be a labourer exchanging with fellow-labourers . . . What Anarchistic-Socialism aims to abolish is usury . . . it wants to deprive capital of its reward.”

From the essay:

The economic principles of Modern Socialism are a logical deduction from the principle laid down by Adam Smith in the early chapters of his Wealth of Nations,—namely, that labor is the true measure of price. But Adam Smith, after stating this principle most clearly and concisely, immediately abandoned all further consideration of it to devote himself to showing what actually does measure price, and how, therefore, wealth is at present distributed. Since his day nearly all the political economists have followed his example by confining their function to the description of society as it is, in its industrial and commercial phases. Socialism, on the contrary, extends its function to the description of society as it should be, and the discovery of the means of making it what it should be. Half a century or more after Smith enunciated the principle above stated, Socialism picked it up where he had dropped it, and in following it to its logical conclusions, made it the basis of a new economic philosophy.

The abandonment of the labor theory of value is one difference between the anarchism of then and the libertarianism of today.

2. Herbert Spencer, Labortarian, a blog post including two excerpts from Herbert Spencer‘s book Principles of Sociology Part VIII: Industrial Institutions (published in 1896), one on the subject of labor unions and one on the subject worker cooperatives. In short, Spencer believes both are valuable and that the latter could possibly solve major problems in labor.

Spencer, well known in his time, is perhaps best remembered as the original Social Darwinist and coiner of the term “survival of the fittest” (though he may not fit the stereotype of a Social Darwinist). He too was an influence what became modern libertarianism.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for posting this. Good reference for future discussions in the next 12 months or so.

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