Lysander Spooner

Whom do you really respect that most people don’t know about? Who is your hero that very few of your friends and family know about? For me, that’s Lysander Spooner. Let me introduce to you Mr Lysander Spooner. Why? Because he recognized the true meaning of human freedom and dignity. That means he was justifiably suspicious of majoritarian democracy. “The principle that the majority have a right to rule the minority, practically resolves all government into a mere contest between two bodies of men, as to which of them shall be masters, and which of them slaves.” 

Something in my nature rebels against the idea of the initiation of force. To me, that’s the only evil. No society is civilized that does not prohibit aggression. By that measure, unfortunately, no society is truly civilized.

I got to know of Lysander Spooner just a few years ago. I came across his monograph, “No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority“. When I read that, I could not believe my eyes that I was reading something that was at once so familiar to me and yet so rarely encountered. The whole idea was radical — in the true sense of the word as in “arising from or going to a root or source; basic.”

Lysander Spooner (1808 -1887) was an American political philosopher and abolitionist. To give you a sense of what he was about, here are a few quotes from the man.

“A man is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years. Neither are a people any the less slaves because permitted periodically to choose new masters. What makes them slaves is the fact that they now are, and are always hereafter to be, in the hands of men whose power over them is, and always is to be, absolute and irresponsible.” 

Slavery is a subtle business. Lots of people don’t realize that they are enslaved. I think this is a form of denial. It’s perhaps the same kind of denial as that of death. In the Mahabharat, one of my favorite bits is the episode of the questions and answers between a yaksha and Yudhisthira. One of the questions is “Of all the world’s wonders, which is the most wonderful?” Yudhisthira answers, “That no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believes that he himself will die.”

Back to Spooner. On taxation:

“If taxation without consent is not robbery, then any band of robbers have only to declare themselves a government, and all their robberies are legalized.” 

About the validity of the contract, which is the constitution he wrote —

“And yet we have what purports, or professes, or is claimed, to be a contract—the Constitution—made eighty years ago, by men who are now all dead, and who never had any power to bind us, but which (it is claimed) has nevertheless bound three generations of men, consisting of many millions, and which (it is claimed) will be binding upon all the millions that are to come; but which nobody ever signed, sealed, delivered, witnessed, or acknowledged; and which few persons, compared with the whole number that are claimed to be bound by it, have ever read, or even seen, or ever will read, or see.” 

He was in favor of jury nullification. I support his view.

“If the jury have no right to judge of the justice of a law of the government, they plainly can do nothing to protect the people against the oppressions of the government; for there are no oppressions which the government may not authorize by law.” 

His views on economics were good. For example, he was against anti-usury laws. By that same principle, he would have been against minimum wage laws, rent-control and other price controls.

I hold government in contempt. So did Spooner.

“The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life…The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful. The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber…Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful ‘sovereign,’ on account of the ‘protection’ he affords you.” 

The man was a clear thinker. Here’s a very small example. He distinguished between vices and crimes.

“Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another. Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.” 

Laws against vices are stupid. (The idiot Gandhi was at the other end of the spectrum from Lysander Spooner. He could not distinguish between vices and crimes.)

Go read Spooner. (By the way, if you knew about Spooner, do leave a comment. Thanks.)

Author: Atanu Dey


2 thoughts on “Lysander Spooner”

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: