Benjamin Ricketson Tucker (/ˈtʌkər/; April 17, 1854 – June 22, 1939) was a 19th century proponent of American individualist anarchism, which he called "unterrified Jeffersonianism," and editor and publisher of the individualist anarchist periodical Liberty.
1 Early life and influences 2 Anarchism
3 The Four Monopolies
3.1 Land monopoly 3.2 Money and banking monopoly 3.3 Tariffs and patents 3.4 Yarros on Tucker 3.5 Attitude towards unions 3.6 Anarchist society
4 Private defense forces 5 Embrace of "egoism" 6 Later life 7 In popular culture 8 References 9 Further reading 10 External links
Early life and influences
Tucker made his editorial debut in libertarian circles in 1876, when
Heywood published Tucker's English translation of Pierre-Joseph
Proudhon's classic work What is Property?. In 1877, Tucker published
his first original journal, Radical Review, which ran for only four
issues. From August 1881 to April 1908, he published the periodical,
Liberty, "widely considered to be the finest individualist-anarchist
periodical ever issued in the English language". In 1892, he moved
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Tucker said that he became an anarchist at the age of 18. Tucker's contribution to American individualist anarchism was as much through his publishing as his own writing. Tucker was also the first to publish an English translation of Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own – which Tucker claimed was his proudest accomplishment. Tucker also translated Mikhail Bakunin's book God and the State. In the anarchist periodical Liberty, he published the original work of Stephen Pearl Andrews, Joshua K. Ingalls, Lysander Spooner, Auberon Herbert, Dyer Lum, Victor Yarros, and Lillian Harman (daughter of the free love anarchist Moses Harman), as well as his own writing. According to Frank Brooks, an historian of American individualist anarchism, it is easy to misunderstand Tucker's claim to 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 of Liberty, understood socialism to refer to one or more of various theories aimed at solving "the labor problem" through radical changes in the capitalist economy. Descriptions of 'the problem', explanations of its causes, and proposed solutions (for example, abolition of private property, cooperatives, state-ownership, and so on) varied among socialist philosophies. However, not all modern economists believe Marxists established a hegemony over definitions of socialism. As the modern economist Jim Stanford states:
But capitalism is not the only economic system which relies on markets. Pre-capitalist economies also had markets-where producers could sell excess supplies of agricultural goods or handicrafts, and where exotic commodities (like spices or fabrics) from far-off lands could be purchased. Most forms of socialism also rely heavily on markets to distribute end products and even, in some cases, to organize investment and production. So markets are not unique to capitalism, and there is nothing inherently capitalist about a market.
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
Tucker first favored a natural rights philosophy, in which an individual had a right to own the fruits of his labor; then he abandoned it in favor of "egoism" (influenced by Max Stirner), in which he believed that only the "right of might" exists, until overridden by contract. He objected to all forms of communism, believing that even a stateless communist society must encroach upon the liberty of individuals.
He denounced Marx as the representative of "the principle of authority which we live to combat." He thought Proudhon the superior theorist and the real champion of freedom. "Marx would nationalize the productive and distributive forces; Proudhon would individualize and associate them."
Tucker connected his economic views which included his opposition to
non-labor income in the form of profit, interest, and rent with those
of Pierre Joseph Proudhon,
The economic principles of Modern
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v t e
Tucker argued that the poor condition of American workers resulted from four legal monopolies based in authority:
the money monopoly the land monopoly tariffs 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, made possible by the banking monopoly, which was in turn maintained through coercion and invasion. Tucker called any such interest and profit "usury" and he saw it as the basis of the oppression of the workers. In his words,
interest is theft, Rent Robbery, and Profit Only Another Name for Plunder.
Tucker believed that usury was immoral; however, he upheld the right of all people to engage in immoral contracts.
Liberty, therefore, must defend the right of individuals to make contracts involving usury, rum, marriage, prostitution, and many other things which are believed to be wrong in principle and opposed to human well-being. The right to do wrong involves the essence of all rights.
He asserted that anarchism would become 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.
Land monopoly He acknowledged that "anything is a product upon which human labor has been expended," but would not recognize full property rights to labored-upon land:
It should be noted, however, that in the case of land, or of any other
material the supply of which is so limited that all cannot hold it in
Tucker opposed granting title to land that was not in use; he argued that an individual should use land continually, in order to retain exclusive right to it. He believed that if this practice were not followed, there was a 'land monopoly'. Money and banking 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 enterprise. Tucker believed this would decrease the proportion of individuals seeking employment, and wages would be driven up by competing employers. "Thus, the same blow that strikes interest down will send wages up." He did not oppose individuals being employed by others, but due to his interpretation of the labor theory of value, he believed that in the present economy individuals do not receive a wage that fully compensates them for their labor. He wrote that, if the four "monopolies" were ended,
it will make no difference whether men work for themselves, or are employed, or employ others. In any case they can get nothing but that wages for their labor which free competition determines.
Tariffs and patents Tucker opposed protectionism, believing that tariffs caused 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 intellectual property rights in the form of patents, on the grounds that patents and copyrights protect something which cannot rightfully be held as property. He wrote that the basis for property is "the fact that it is impossible in the nature of things for concrete objects to be used in different places at the same time." Property in concrete things is "socially necessary":
since successful society rests on individual initiative, [it is necessary] to protect the individual creator in the use of his concrete creations by forbidding others to use them without his consent.
Because ideas are not concrete things, they should not be held and protected as property. Ideas can be used in different places at the same time, and so their use should not be restricted by patents. This was a source of conflict with the philosophy of fellow individualist Lysander Spooner, who saw ideas as the product of "intellectual labor" and therefore private property. Yarros on Tucker According to Victor Yarros:
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 combated "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.
Attitude towards unions Tucker rejected the legislative programs of labor unions, laws imposing a short day, minimum wage laws, forcing businesses to provide insurance to employees, and compulsory pension systems. He believed instead that strikes should be organized by free workers rather than by bureaucratic union officials and organizations. He argued,
strikes, whenever and wherever inaugurated, deserve encouragement from all the friends of labour. . . They show that people are beginning to know their rights, and knowing, dare to maintain them.
as an awakening agent, as an agitating force, the beneficent influence of a strike is immeasurable. . . with our present economic system almost every strike is just. For what is justice in production and distribution? That labour, which creates all, shall have all.
Anarchist society Tucker envisioned an individualist anarchist society as
each man reaping the fruits of his labour and no man able to live in idleness on an income from capital....become[ing] a great hive of Anarchistic workers, prosperous and free individuals [combining] to carry on their production and distribution on the cost principle.
rather than a bureaucratic organization of workers organized into rank and file unions. However, he did hold a genuine appreciation for labor unions (which he called "trades-union socialism"), and saw it as "an intelligent and self-governing socialism" saying, "[they] promise the coming substitution of industrial socialism for usurping legislative mobism." In Tucker's Individualist Anarchism, governments would exist consisting of any belief, and in any shape, or form but the governments would be supported by voluntary taxation and those who chose not to pay the taxes would not get the benefits or protection of the voluntary government. Historian James Martin states:
The abolition of compulsory taxation would mean the abolition of the state as well, Tucker asserted, and the form of society succeeding it would be on the line of a voluntary defensive institution... There were two methods of government...The other was the anarchist method of "leadership", inducing the individual to the "goal of an ideal civilization" through persuasion and "attraction"...Two aims of anarchist activity, the abolition of compulsory taxation and the abolition of legally-protected money and land monopolies, form the main theme of his critical writing... 
Private defense forces Tucker did not have a utopian vision of anarchy, where individuals would not coerce others. 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." 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.
Tucker expressed that the market-based providers of security would offer protection of land that was being used, and would not offer assistance to those attempting to collect rent:
"The land for the people" . . . means the protection by . . . voluntary associations for the maintenance of justice . . . of all people who desire to cultivate land in possession of whatever land they personally cultivate . . . and the positive refusal of the protecting power to lend its aid to the collection of any rent, whatsoever.
Embrace of "egoism"
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v t e
Tucker abandoned natural rights positions and converted to Max
Stirner's Egoist anarchism. Rejecting the idea of moral rights, Tucker
said that there were only two rights, "the right of might" and "the
right of contract." He also said, after converting to Egoist
individualism, "In times past...it was my habit to talk glibly of the
right of man to land. It was a bad habit, and I long ago sloughed it
off....Man's only right to land is his might over it." In adopting
Stirnerite egoism (1886), Tucker rejected natural rights which had
long been considered the foundation of libertarianism.
This rejection galvanized the movement into fierce debates, with the
natural rights proponents accusing the egoists of destroying
libertarianism itself. So bitter was the conflict that a number of
natural rights proponents withdrew from the pages of
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
Tucker now said that there were only two rights, "the right of might"
and "the right of contract." He also said, after converting to Egoist
individualism, that ownership in land is legitimately transferred
through force unless contracted otherwise. In 1892, he said "In times
past...it was my habit to talk glibly of the right of man to land. It
was a bad habit, and I long ago sloughed it off. Man's only right to
land is his might over it. If his neighbor is mightier than he and
takes the land from him, then the land is his neighbor's, until the
latter is dispossessed by one mightier still."
However, he said he believed that individuals would come to the
realization that "equal liberty" and "occupancy and use" doctrines
were "generally trustworthy guiding principle of action," and, as a
result, they would likely find it in their interests to contract with
each other to refrain from infringing upon equal liberty and from
protecting land that was not in use. Though he believed that
non-invasion, and "occupancy and use as the title to land" were
general rules that people would find in their own interests to create
through contract, he said that these rules "must be sometimes trodden
In 1906, he opened Tucker's Unique Book Shop in New York City –
promoting "Egoism in Philosophy,
Forty years ago, when the foregoing essay was written, the denial of competition had not yet effected the enormous concentration of wealth that now so gravely threatens social order. It was not yet too late to stem the current of accumulation by a reversal of the policy of monopoly. The Anarchistic remedy was still applicable.
But, Tucker argued,
Today the way is not so clear. The four monopolies, unhindered, have
made possible the modern development of the trust, and the trust is
now a monster which I fear, even the freest banking, could it be
instituted, would be unable to destroy. ... If this be true, then
monopoly, which can be controlled permanently only for economic
forces, has passed for the moment beyond their reach, and must be
grappled with for a time solely by forces political or revolutionary.
Until measures of forcible confiscation, through the State or in
defiance of it, shall have abolished the concentrations that monopoly
has created, the economic solution proposed by
By 1930, Tucker had concluded that centralization and advancing technology had doomed both anarchy and civilization.
The matter of my famous 'Postscript' now sinks into insignificance;
the insurmountable obstacle to the realization of
According to James Martin, when referring to the world scene of the
mid-1930s in private correspondence, Tucker wrote: "
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!
In popular culture
In the alternate history novel
The Probability Broach by L. Neil
Smith, as part of the
North American Confederacy Series in which the
^ David Hart. "Gustave De Molinari And The Anti-Statist Liberal
Tradition". The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. VI, No. 1 (Winter
1982), p. 87 (online; PDF p. 5): "Tucker was definitely aware of
Molinari's work and at least one of Molinari's books was reviewed in
Tucker's magazine. He shared Molinari's view that the production of
security was an economic commodity which could be better supplied by
the free and unhampered market, thus going beyond the criticism of
Herbert and Spencer and, arguing with Molinari, that the market could
offer a positive and practical alternative to state monopoly defense."
^ Tucker translated Mikhail Bakunin's book
God and the State
Steelman, Aaron (2008). "Tucker, Benjamin R. (1854–1939)". In Hamowy, Ronald. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. pp. 513–14. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n313. ISBN 978-1-4129-6580-4. LCCN 2008009151. OCLC 750831024.
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Instead of a Book, by a Man Too Busy to Write One (1893, 1897)
Travelling in Liberty: a complete online archive of Tucker's journal
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