Liberty and Labor

Excerpted from the book;
Individual Liberty: Selections From the Writings of Benjamin R. Tucker
Vanguard Press, New York, 1926
Kraus Reprint Co., Millwood, NY, 1973.


The industrial problem has always been an acute one in Great Britain, and the politicians have been struggling with it for a great many years. From time to time the editor of Liberty recorded and commented upon the efforts of the more clear-sighted economists in that country to solve the problem, hence his welcome of a new book on the subject:

Auberon Herbert, whose essay, "A Politician in Sight of Haven," creates such an enthusiasm for Liberty in the minds of all thinking people who read it, has recently published still another book of similar purport and purpose. He calls it "The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State: A Statement of the Moral Principles of the Party of Individual Liberty, and the Political Measures Founded Upon Them." It consists of a series of papers written for Joseph Cowen's paper, the Newcastle Chronicle, supplemented by a letter to the London Times on the English factory acts. Dedicated to Mr. Cowen's constituents, "The Workmen of Tyneside," it appeals with equal force to workmen the world over, and their welfare and their children's will depend upon the readiness with which they accept and the bravery with which they adhere to its all-important counsel. The book is a magnificent assault on the majority idea, a searching exposure of the inherent evil of State systems, and a glorious assertion of the inestimable benefits of voluntary action and free competition, reaching its climax in the emphatic declaration that "this question of power exercised by some men over other men is the greatest of all questions, the one that concerns the very foundations of society," upon the answer to which "must ultimately depend all ideas of right and wrong." This is a bold and, at first sight, an astonishing claim; but it is a true one, nevertheless, and the fact that Mr. Herbert makes it so confidently shows that he is inspired by the same idea that gave birth to this journal, caused it to be christened Liberty, and determined it to labor first and foremost for Anarchy, or the Abolition of the State.

This is no fitful outburst on Mr. Herbert's part. He evidently has enlisted for a campaign which will end only with victory. The book in question seems to be the second in a series of "Anti-Force Papers," which promises to include special papers dealing more elaborately, but in the light of the same general principle, with the matters of compulsory taxation, compulsory education, land ownership, professional monopolies, prohibitory liquor laws, legislation against vice, State regulation of love regulations, etc., etc. I know no more inspiring spectacle in England than that of this man of exceptionally high social position doing battle almost single-handed with the giant monster, government, and showing in it a mental rigor and vigor and a wealth of moral fervor rarely equaled in any cause. Its only parallel at the present day is to be found in the splendid attitude of Mr. Ruskin, whose earnest eloquence in behalf of economic equity rivals Mr. Herbert's in behalf of individual liberty.

This thought leads to the other, that each of these men lacks the truth that the other possesses. Mr. Ruskin sees very clearly the economic principle which makes all forms of usury unrighteous and wages for work the only true method of sustaining life, but he never perceives for a moment that individual human beings have sovereign rights over themselves. Mr. Herbert proves beyond question that the government of man by man is utterly without justification, but is quite ignorant of the fact that interest, rent, and profits will find no place in the perfect economic order. Mr. Ruskin's error is by far the more serious of the two, because the realization of Mr. Herbert's ideas would inevitably result in the equity that Mr. Ruskin sees, whereas this equity can never be achieved for any length of time without an at least partial fulfillment of individual liberty. Nevertheless it cannot be gainsaid that Mr. Herbert's failure to see the economic results of his ideas considerably impairs his power of carrying them home to men's hearts. Unfortunately, there are many people whom the most perfect deductive reasoning fails to convince. The beauty of a great principle and its harmonizing influence wherever it touches they are unable to appreciate. They can only see certain great and manifest wrongs, and they demand that these shall be righted. Unless they are clearly shown the connection between these wrongs and their real causes, they are almost sure to associate them with imaginary causes and to try the most futile and sometimes disastrous remedies. Now, the one great wrong that these people see today is the fact that industry and poverty commonly go hand in hand and are associated in the same persons, and the one thing that they are determined upon, regardless of everything else whatsoever, is that hereafter those who do the work of this world shall enjoy the wealth of this world. It is a righteous determination, and in it is to be found the true significance of the State-Socialistic movement which Mr. Herbert very properly condemns and yet only half understands. To meet it is the first necessity incumbent upon the friends of Liberty. It is sure that the workers can never permanently secure themselves in the control of their products except through the method of Liberty; but it is almost equally sure that, unless they are shown what Liberty will do for them in this respect, they will try every other method before they try Liberty. The necessity of showing them this Mr. Herbert, to be sure, dimly sees, but, the light not having dawned on himself, he cannot show it to others. He has to content himself, therefore, with such inadequate, unscientific, and partially charitable proposals as the formation of voluntary associations to furnish work. to the unemployed. The working people will never thus be satisfied, and they ought not to be.

But Mr. Herbert can satisfy them if he can convince them of all that is implied in his advocacy of "complete free trade in all things." To many special phases of this free trade he does call marked attention, but never, I believe, to the most important of all, free trade in banking. If he would only dwell upon the evils of the money-issuing monopoly and emphasize with his great power the fact that competition, in this as in other matters, would give us all that is needed of the best possible article at the lowest possible price, thereby steadily reducing interest and rent to zero, putting capital within the comfortable reach of all deserving and enterprising people, and causing the greatest liberation on record of heretofore restricted energies, the laborers might then begin to see that here lies their only hope; that Liberty, after all, and not Government, is to be their saviour; that their first duty is to abolish the credit monopoly and let credit organize itself; that then they will have to ask nobody for work, but everybody will be asking work of them; and that then, instead of having to take whatever pittance they can get, they will be in a position to exact wages equivalent to their product, under which condition of things the reign of justice will be upon us and labor will have its own. Then Mr. Herbert's work for Liberty will no longer be a struggle, but an unmixed pleasure. He will no longer have to breast the current by urging workmen to self-denial; he can successfully appeal to their self-interest, the tide will turn, and he will be borne onward with it to the ends that he desires.


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