Liberty and Organization

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.


Thirty-five years ago the Personal Rights Journal of London, at that time edited by J. H. Levy, was a valiant champion of what was then known as Individualism. This latter was practically Anarchism, but that fact was not realized by Levy, Wordsworth Donisthorpe and other contributors to the columns of the Journal, which led to discussions between those gentlemen and the editor of Liberty concerning Anarchism and organization, taxation, etc. Mr. Tucker's remarks are here set forth:

Names aside, the thing that Individualism favors is organization to maintain the widest liberty equally for all citizens. Well, that is precisely what Anarchism favors. Individualism does not want such organization any longer than is necessary. Neither does Anarchism. Mr. Levy's assumption that Anarchism does not want such organization at all arises from his failure to recognize the Anarchistic definition of government. Government has been defined repeatedly in these columns as the subjection of the non-invasive individual to a will not his own. The subjection of the invasive individual is not government, but resistance to and protection from government. By these definitions government is always an evil, but resistance to it is never an evil or a poison. Call such resistance an antidote if you will, but remember that not all antidotes are poisonous. The worst that can be said of resistance or protection is, not that it is an evil, but that it is a loss of productive force in a necessary effort to overcome evil. It can be called an evil only in the sense that needful and not especially healthful labor can be called a curse.

Government is invasion, and the State is the embodiment of invasion in an individual, or band of individuals, assuming to act as representatives or masters of the entire people within a given area. The Anarchists are opposed to all government, and especially to the State as the worst governor and chief invader. From Liberty's standpoint, there are not three positions, but two: one, that of the authoritarian Socialists, favoring government and the State; the other, that of the Individualists and Anarchists, against government and the State.

I may add, in conclusion, that very probably the disposition of the Individualist to give greater prominence than does the Anarchist to the necessity of organization for protection is due to the fact that he seems to see less clearly than the Anarchist that the necessity for defence against individual invaders is largely and perhaps, in the end, wholly due to the oppressions of the invasive State, and that when the State falls, criminals will begin to disappear.


"Whatever else Anarchism may mean, it means that State coercion of peaceable citizens, into co-operation in restraining the activity of Bill Sikes, is to be condemned and ought to be abolished. Anarchism implies the right of an individual to stand aside and see a man murdered or a woman raped. It implies the right of the would-be passive accomplice of aggression to escape all coercion. It is true the Anarchist may voluntarily co-operate to check aggression; but also he may not. Qua Anarchist, he is within his right in withholding such co-operation, in leaving others to bear the burden of resistance to aggression, or in leaving the aggressor to triumph unchecked. Individualism, on the other hand, would not only restrain the active invader up to the point necessary to restore freedom to others, but would also coerce the man who would otherwise be a passive witness of, or conniver at, aggression into co-operation against his more active colleague."

The foregoing paragraph occurs in any ably-written article by Mr. J. H. Levy in the Personal Rights Journal. The writer's evident intention was to put Anarchism in an unfavorable light by stating its principles, or one of them, in a very offensive way. At the same time it was his intention also to be fair; that is, not to distort the doctrine of Anarchism; and he has not distorted it. I reprint the paragraph in editorial type for the purpose of giving it, as an Anarchist, my entire approval, barring the stigma sought to be conveyed by the words "accomplice" and "conniver." If a man will but state the truth as I see it, he may state it as baldly as he pleases; I will accept it still. The Anarchists are not afraid of their principles. It is far more satisfactory to have one's position stated baldly and accurately by an opponent who understands it than in a genial, milk-and-water, and inaccurate fashion by an ignoramus.

It is agreed, then, that, in Anarchism's view, an individual has a right to stand aside and see a man murdered. And pray, why not? If it is justifiable to collar a man who is minding his own business and force him into a fight, why may we not also collar him for the purpose of forcing him to help us to coerce a parent into educating his child, or to commit another act of invasion that may seem to us for the general good? I can see no ethical distinction here whatever. It is true that Mr. Levy, in the succeeding paragraphs, justifies the collaring of the non-co-operative individual on the ground of necessity. (I note here that this is the same ground on which Citizen Most proposes to collar the non-co-operator in his communistic enterprises and make him work for love instead of wages.) But some other motive than necessity must have been in Mr. Levy's mind, unconsciously, when he wrote the paragraph which I have quoted. Else why does he deny that the non-co-operator is "within his right"? I can understand the man who in a crisis justifies no matter what form of compulsion on the ground of sheer necessity, but I cannot understand the man who denies the right of the individual thus coerced to resist such compulsion and insist on pursuing his own independent course. It is precisely this denial, however, that Mr. Levy makes; otherwise his phrase "within his right" is meaningless.

But however this may be, let us look at the plea of necessity. Mr. Levy claims that the coercion of the peaceful non-co-operator is necessary. Necessary to what? Necessary, answers Mr. Levy, "in order that freedom may be at the maximum." Supposing for the moment that this is true another inquiry suggests itself: Is the absolute maximum of freedom an end to be attained at any cost? I regard liberty as the chief essential to man's happiness, and therefore as the most important thing in the world, and I certainly want as much of it as I can get. But I cannot see that it concerns me much whether the aggregate amount of liberty enjoyed by all individuals added together is at its maximum or a little below it, if I, as one individual, am to have little or none of this aggregate. If, however, I am to have as much liberty as others, and if others are to have as much as I, then, feeling secure in what we have, it will behoove us all undoubtedly to try to attain the maximum of liberty compatible with this condition of equality. Which brings us back to the familiar law of equal liberty; the greatest amount of individual liberty compatible with the equality of liberty. But this maximum of liberty is a very different thing from that which is to be attained, according to the hypothesis, only by violating equality of liberty. For, certainly, to coerce the peaceful non-co-operator is to violate equality of liberty. If my neighbor believes in co-operation and I do not, and if he has liberty to choose to co-operate while I have no liberty to choose not to co-operate, then there is no equality of liberty between us. Mr. Levy's position is analogous to that of a man who should propose to despoil certain individuals of peacefully and honestly acquired wealth on the ground that such spoliation is necessary in order that wealth may be at the maximum. Of course Mr. Levy would answer to this that the hypothesis is absurd, and that the maximum could not be so attained; but he clearly would have to admit, if pressed, that, even if it could, the end is not important enough to justify such means. To be logical he must make the same admission regarding his own proposition.

But after all, is the hypothesis any more absurd in the one case than in the other? I think not. It seems to me just as impossible to attain the maximum of liberty by depriving people of their liberty as to attain the maximum of wealth by depriving people of their wealth. In fact, it seems to me that in both cases the means is absolutely destructive of the end. Mr. Levy wishes to restrict the functions of government; now, the compulsory co-operation that he advocates is the chief obstacle in the way of such restriction. To be sure, government restricted by the removal of this obstacle would no longer be government, as Mr. Levy is "quick-witted enough to see" (to return the compliment which he pays the Anarchists). But what of that? It would still be a power for preventing those invasive acts which the people are practically agreed in wanting to prevent. If it should attempt to go beyond this, it would be promptly checked by a diminution of the supplies. The power to cut off the supplies is the most effective weapon against tyranny. To say, as Mr. Levy does, that taxation must be coextensive with government" is not the proper way to put it. It is government (or, rather, the State) that must and will be coextensive with taxation. When compulsory taxation is abolished, there will be no State, and the defensive institution that will succeed it will be steadily deterred from becoming an invasive institution through fear that the voluntary contributions will fall off. This constant motive for a voluntary defensive institution to keep itself trimmed down to the popular demand is itself the best possible safeguard against the bugbear of multitudinous rival political agencies which seems to haunt Mr. Levy. He says that the voluntary taxationists are victims of an illusion. The charge might be made against himself with much more reason.

My chief interest in Mr. Levy's article, however, is excited by his valid criticism of those Individualists who accept voluntary taxation. but stop short, or think they stop short, of Anarchism.


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