It has been nearly 20 years since I read Spooner in high school, and my life has not been the same since. After wrestling with Spooner's tightly reasoned arguments against the state in "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority," you'll never look at the government the same way again.
Lawyer, abolitionist, radical, friend of liberty, one of the most fascinating figures in American history: that was Spooner. A ferocious opponent of slavery, he supported the right of secession. An ardent enemy of statist legislation, he was a brilliant jurist who put his faith in the law. An eloquent foe of prohibition of alcohol or drugs, he offered a moral defense of liberty.
Includes "Vices Are Not Crimes," "Natural Law," "Trial by Jury," "Letter to Thomas Bayard," "No Treason," and the eulogy for Spooner by American individualist-anarchist publisher Benjamin Tucker. -- Tom G. Palmer
From the Introduction by George H. Smith.
Somewhere, sometime a person will open this book not knowing what to expect, but curious about a man with the curious name of Lysander Spooner. I envy that reader, for that was me nearly twenty-five years ago when I encountered No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority. I could scarcely believe my eyes. Here were ideas radical yet commonsensical, subversive yet quintessentially American. Spooner challenged and excited me. Such experiences are rare because truly original thinkers are rare, and you can discover them but once.
Alas, my days of innocent discovery are over, the casualty of too much reading. I have read libertarian writers so obscure that even obscure libertarians have never heard of them. I doubt if my future holds many surprises, but it does hold many pleasures. This is one of them: introducing others to Lysander Spooner.
Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) was one of the greatest libertarian theorists of the nineteenth (or any other) century and a founding father of the modern movement. He was radical to the bone, a nonconformist among nonconformists who refused to toe any party line.
Trained as a lawyer, Spooner often wrote like a lawyer, citing precedents, statutes, and legal authorities. This legalistic style enshrouds some of his works with a dry, forbidding appearance. But huddled among his legal arguments are passages of literary and philosophic brilliance.
Spooner was no ordinary lawyer. he cited the Constitution when he believed it conformed with natural law; this led him to assert the unconstitutionality of charted banks, a monopolistic post office, legal tender law, slavery, and other offenses against liberty. In the final analysis, however, Spooner condemned the Constitution as possessing "no authority," and this distinguished him from many radicals of his day. He espoused individual anarchism (in substance if not in name), a radical no-government philosophy with roots deep in American history--Native American Anarchism, as Eunice Schuster has called it.
For Spooner, natural law and its corollary, natural rights, are the foundation of a free and just society. He was an unterrified Jeffersonian who refused to compromise the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. If man is endowed with inalienable rights, then no one, including government, should violate them. If government requires the consent of the governed, then a legitimate government must acquire the explicit consent of every person in its jurisdiction. If the people have right to resist usurpations and the right to overthrow tyrannical governments, then these rights may be enforced against the American government.
If such principles make it difficult for governments to function, then, as Spooner saw the matter, so much the better. Government is a standing threat to liberty, peace, prosperity, and social order.
Spooner's contempt for government was rivaled only by his contempt for fellow libertarians who compromised their principles under cover of expediency. Pure justice is a thing of beauty, and Spooner could not abide those who knowingly defaced it. Where others saw expediency, Spooner saw only cowardice or betrayal or ambition masquerading as practicality.
Includes "Vices Are Not Crimes," "Natural Law," "Trial by Jury," "Letter to Thomas Bayard," "No Treason," and the eulogy for Spooner by American individualist-anarchist publisher Benjamin Tucker.