Libertarian History: Mutualism (1927)

From: (Kevin P. Tyson)
Date: Mon, 18 May 92 22:32:51

I recently found a marvelous book which is the earliest reference to a self
proclaimed libertarian organization I've encountered.  It's titled ``What
is Mutualism?'', published by the Vanguard Press and copyrighted April,
1927.  Here are some extracts.  Remember, what you are about to read was
written in the 1920s by American libertarians!


MUTUALISM -- A Social System Based on Equal Freedom, Reciprocity, and the
Sovereignty of the Individual Over Himself, His Affairs, and His Products,
Realized Through Individual Initiative, Free Contract, Cooperation,
Competition, and Voluntary Association for Defense Against the Invasive and
for the Protection of Life, Liberty and Property of the Non-invasive.
Mutualism is a Libertarian (or Anti-Authoritarian) Socialist movement.
When Mutualists talk about "Property" they mean Personal Posessions -
things a man owns that are not used to exploit others, like a home
or a car. As opposed to Exploitive Private Property which are things
such as factories, non-lived-on (but rented to others) land,
interest-charging bank loans, etc.


This book is one of a series of Outlines of Social Philosophies published
by the Vanguard Press.  In publishing these outlines the Press has offered
to each definitely crystallized social movement the privilege of telling
its own story and presenting as cogently as possible the arguments which
support its social philosophy.  Each group arranged to have the material
prepared in the way that seemed most suitable to it.  All the outlines
follow the same plan, so that the student of social philosophy will find it
possible to make exact comparisons between any one and the others.  The
Mutualist Associates assumed responsibility for all arrangements covering
this book and collaborated with Mr. Swartz in its preparation.  As it is
now published it has the approval of important Mutualist and Libertarian
groups in the United States, particularly the following:

   The Mutualist associates
   The Libertarian League
   Foundation for Financial Research
   Mutual Credit League
   The Mutualist (E. H. Fulton, Publisher)


Mutualism Essentially Libertarian

Here, then, is where Mutualism offers its solution.  The Mutualist wants
every person to have an equal right to do whatever he wills, at his own
cost.  That demand is too moderate for the man who says that his freedom is
interfered with by a game of ball played on Sunday a mile or more away from
his church or his home.  It is too mild and too reasonable for him.  He
wants the freedom to do whatever he wills -- at the other fellow's cost.
He insists on doing on Sunday exactly what he wants to do, but also he
insists that everyone who doesn't want to do what he wants to do be
prevented from exercising the same liberty that he demands for himself.

Even prohibition has been saddled on the people in the name of freedom!
The man who eats bread that contains more than three per cent of alcohol,
and drinks tea, coffee, coca-cola and other highly sweetened beverages that
are converted into alcohol in the bodily processes, says that it is a
denial of his freedom for others to drink other beverages containing more
than one-half of one per cent of alcohol.  He doesn't prove such denial of
freedom; he merely asserts it.

It is, therefore, one of the purposes of Mutualists, not only to awaken in
the people the appreciation of and desire for freedom, but also to arouse
in them a determination to abolish the legal restrictions now placed upon
non-invasive human activities and to institute, through purely voluntary
associations, such measures as will liberate all of us from the exactions
of privilege and the power of concentrated capital.

Clearly enough, every product of a man's labor must be his own.  As a
corollary, any product of the labor of others, if it be given him or if he
acquires it by exchanging the products of his own labor therefore is also a
man's own.  A man's claim to such a "right" cannot be disputed.  But, in
any discussion of rights, the question always arises, With just what rights
is a human being born?

As a matter of elemental ethics, it can not be argued that a human being is
born with any right that he is not powerful enough to assert and maintain,
since those that precede him are in nowise bound to see that he obtains the
means of subsistence.  Purely as a matter of abstract right, it is no
concern of theirs whether the newcomer survive or perish.  In other words,
the theory that the world owes every man a living is a fallacy.
Nevertheless, the will to live is such that a human being will fight to the
limit for his existence if he is hindered or thwarted in his efforts to
secure the satisfaction of his bodily needs.

This being so, the history of civilization has been merely a record of
attempts to compromise between the old resident and the new arrival;
between the strong and the weak.  Vested rights and priority considerations
have been forced to yield here and there until today the masses are freer
from this domination of the classes than ever before.

And so the formulation of the principle of equal liberty, together with its
application and practicalization in the system of Mutualism, is simply an
attempt to carry this compromise to its logical conclusion


Trial by Jury

When the Magna Carta was wrested from King John, among the things which it
granted was a trial by a jury of one's peers.  The purpose of this
provision was to take from the king and from the nobles the power to send a
subject to prison for asserting the rights of the common man against the
man of privilege.

While the origin of trial by jury seems to be historically hazy, it is a
certainty that it came to be most thoroughly established by the Magna
Carta; and at that time trial by jury was, fundamentally, in a purer and
better form than it has been at any time since.  The obvious implications
of that great instrument were that the jury was to judge independently and
fearlessly everything involved in the charge, and especially its intrinsic
justice, and give its decision thereupon; and this meant that the jury was
to judge the law as well as the fact.  Within a century of the time of the
promulgation of that great instrument, its provisions had been so altered
that courts were beginning to take away from juries the power to determine
the justice of the laws.

In the seven hundred years that have passed since that charter was granted,
lawmakers and judges have so modified trial by jury that today the right of
a jury to judge the law is hardly recognized.  It is interesting to note,
however, that, in America, there has of late been a tendency to travel back
toward the original purpose and scope of trials by jury.  A case in point
is that of Scarf vs. United States (156 US 61), in which the view of the
majority of the court was that it is the duty of a jury in a criminal case
to receive the law from the court and to apply it as laid down by the
court, subject to the condition that in giving a general verdict the jury
may incidentally determine both law and fact as compounded in the issues
submitted to them in the particular case; and it was further held that the
power to give a general verdict enables the jury to take its own view of
the terms and the merits of the law involved.

If juries were properly chosen by lot, out of the whole population of a
community, and not, as they are now, taken out of a certain limited panel,
the jury would be representative of the sentiment of the community.

With all the invasive laws that are now on the books, and with all those
that the busybodies are adding from time to time, the ordinary citizen has
need of a new Magna Carta, so that he may not be smothered in this maze of
laws as the common man in King John's time was crushed by the privileges
exercised by the rulers of that day. A return to the kind of jury employed
in that period would partly do away with this maze, and invasive laws could
be vetoed by the simple expedient of declining to enforce them.

If any law is to be enforced, a jury must convict the alleged lawbreaker.
If the jury is representative of the general sentiment of the community
(and it will be, if fairly drawn by lot from the whole community), there
will be, on an average, the same proportion of men on the jury who are
opposed to the invasive law as there is among the people in general.  Let
it be supposed, for instance, that one-twelfth of the community is opposed
to a certain invasive law. This is only a small portion of the majority
necessary to repeal it by voting, and at the ballot box that one-twelfth
would be powerless.  But that one man, in every twelve, who is opposed to
that law can, if on a jury, prevent a verdict from being rendered. Thus, if
only nine per cent of the community are opposed to a bad law, they can
prevent its enforcement.  This is less than one-fifth of the number
necessary to repeal a law through the medium of an election.


[ed note: garbled and/or lost text at this point; it looks like the
following sentence began "Some would say that the ..."]  message of the
libertarian carries no weight.  Their eyes are blind to scenes of rapine
and murder; their ears are deaf to pleadings for justice; their hearts are
cold to appeals for fair-dealing; and, above all, their reasoning faculties
are impotent in the face of arguments of expediency.  But let all sentiment
be laid aside, and it may still be shown that freedom pays.  And it pays
from whatever point of view it is regarded.  It pays because it costs less
in actual cash; it pays because it is simpler and more easily applied; it
pays because it reduces the possibility of error to the lowest conceivable
point; it pays because it is in line with the process of evolution; and
finally, and this is the greatest asset of all, it pays because it is
productive of the largest degree of happiness.

The libertarian ideal is the only concept that paves the way for the
operation of Mutualism.  Perfect Mutualism could not exist under any form
of authority; it would be thwarted and emasculated at every turn.  Just as
today every social and economic evil that serves to enslave humanity is the
result of some form of governmental interference with freedom and with
natural processes, so would the same or similar forces tend to nullify and
counteract, to some extent, the advantages to be derived from the
application of the principles of Mutualism.  It is a plant that requires
the fertile soil of liberty in which to make its unimpeded growth.  On the
other hand, the merit of the system is that it may be inaugurated without
any cataclysmic disturbance of the present regime.  Indeed, for the most
important phase of Mutualism -- that of mutual banking -- but one federal
law, together with its counterpart in a number of states, would need to be
repealed in order to pave the way for the realization of this great
liberating idea.  Again, in other directions, Mutualism may be initiated in
spite of the untoward aspect of constituted authority.  In mercantile and
industrial lines, voluntary cooperation and other associative activities
may be carried on without any change in present laws.  In many instances,
such operations would be facilitated by the removal of certain legal
restrictions and obstacles, but the start can be made, once there are
enough individuals so minded, without the abolition of a single provision.

As a matter of fact, there are now many voluntary mutualistic associations
being conducted with fair success, whose activities would be immensely
simplified and whose accomplishments would be greatly augmented if they
could be relieved of the handicaps which the law now places upon them.  It
is one of the cardinal purposes of Mutualism to free them, as rapidly as
possible, of these obstacles.


Cooperation Is Libertarian

The Cooperative Movement is founded on the principle of voluntary
association.  Any member may withdraw from his Cooperative, taking with him
that which belongs to him.  In other words, he is free, in that respect.
And, since the ultimate aim of the movement is the gradual disappearance of
monopolistic and compulsory institutions, the individual will enjoy a
progressively larger freedom than he does now, if this aim is reached.  A
cooperative association can tolerate criticism; it can be threatened by any
member with non-support, or even with opposition; any number of members may
actually secede and be free to start a counter organization, without being
shot for treason.  In fact, a true cooperative is a creature of its
members; it has no power over them except what has been accepted by
voluntary agreement; they can overthrow it at any time; and it will only be
able to exist if it gives the service for which it was intended.  This is
freedom; and, because cooperators acknowledge this freedom, there is hope
that, in the course of time, they will acknowledge freedom as the most
important requirement in all the relations of men.  Moreover, they will, no
doubt, also find that the only liberty possible in human relations is equal
liberty -- that is, the largest amount of personal liberty that is
compatible with the like liberty of all.

The fact that the Cooperatives are purely voluntary associations, and are,
as far as they go, wholly libertarian, gives them a high place in the
esteem of Mutualists, who maintain that the world's best work is done in
the absence of compulsion, and in spite of, rather than with the aid of,
the arbitrary power of organized authority.  It is this characteristic of
their structure, in the view of Mutualists, that renders the Cooperatives
of peculiar value in advancing the principles of Mutualism and in
developing its processes.

It is a significant fact that the Bolsheviks, after trying to squeeze the
Russian Cooperative Movement into their State capitalism, were forced by
the bad results to give back to the Cooperatives their freedom, and that
they now expect more help in the cooperatives than from any other agency.
But, if these remain true cooperatives, the Communists will be sadly
disappointed in their expectations.


Rights Not Natural or Inalienable

In discussions, such as this, in which ethics is mingled with politics, the
word "rights" is often loosely and vaguely used. Fundamentally and
elementally, of course, there is only one right --the right of might.  To
talk about "natural" rights and "inalienable" rights is to talk about
something that does not exist. To speak of natural rights implies that
there is an unquestioned or an indisputable right of some kind that is
inherent in the individual when he is born.  If that were really true, then
the right of might could not operate against it.  In order that the right
of might could not so operate, the inherent or natural or inalienable right
would have to be of such a nature that no force could overcome it.  Merely
to state the case in that way is sufficient to show the nonsense of the
notion that there can be anything superior to the right of might; unless
there is some metaphysical meaning attached to those three adjectives that
is not fathomable by the finite mind.  The real truth of the matter is
that, since there is no right superior to that of might, all other rights,
of whatever nature, exist only by sufferance; in other words, by contract
or agreement.  For certain considerations (such as the desire for peace and
tranquillity and other things that make for happiness) the strongest have
agreed to yield, in certain fields, their prerogative; they have consented
to forego the privileges which their strength assures them -- and thereby
there come into existence the elements of modern society.

It should be emphasized that the term "society", as used herein, refers to
that social organism which, in its abstract sense, implies the union or sum
of relations by which the individuals of any group are associated, and not
to that political organization known as "government" or "state."

The difference between the two is fundamental and vital, and, if not
clearly distinguished in the mind of the student, serious confusion of
thought will result.  All political states and governments are founded on
physical force, and, as explained in Chapter I, are necessarily aggressive
and invasive in character.  Considering their origin and functions, they
must be of that nature in order to survive.

Society, on the other hand, has no such origin and has no such functions.
Out of it may issue and from it may be adapted any organization that, in
the course of evolution, may arise.

Society, then, as thus defined, is constituted of myriads of compacts, both
express and implied, which are supposed to enable all, regardless of
individual strength, to live in peace and harmony, since all recognize,
more or less clearly, that that is a necessary condition of happiness.  And
Mutualists, since they are keenly aware of this fundamental condition, are
concerned with what they consider to be the best adaptation of means to the
end. Accepting frankly the ethical concept outlined above, they hold that
they have devised a social system that will conform in the best possible
way to all the conditions of modern life, since it is based on equal
freedom and reciprocity and the sovereignty of the individual over himself,
his affairs, and the product of his labor, to be realized through
individual initiative, free contract, and voluntary association.

Mutualism means that there shall be no coercion by society of any person
who commits no antisocial act, and that all the collective affairs of
society shall be conducted by voluntary associations, wherein payment shall
be made for services rendered, and for nothing else.

                   [End of excerpts]

And these are only small extracts!  This book includes a condemnation of
communism in general and Soviet style communism in particular. The
discussion of what was wrong in the Soviet Union is very prophetic.  These
guys didn't need a weather man to tell which way the wind was blowing!
Interestingly the bio/bibliography at the back of the book includes
Benjamin Tucker, but excludes Lysander Spooner; it includes John Milton but
excludes John Locke.

The authors were clearly ``Social Revolutionaries'' in that the interests
of the ``working man'' are of prime importance to them. There is even a
section on the role of the trade union movement in bringing about a
Mutualist society.

This book raises some intersting questions.  What happened to the
Libertarian League?  Are there any active anarchist movements that follow
the mutualist philosophy today?  Shouldn't we expand the problem domain
from ``What's wrong with the LP'' to include the entire history of the
libertarian movement in this country?  Perhaps it's time for the
libertarian-anarchists to save the LP from anarcho-libertarians   :-)

Best regards,


Kevin P. Tyson (