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The Lysander Spooner Reader Hardcover – May, 1992


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Fox & Wilkes; 1st edition (May 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0930073061
  • ISBN-13: 978-0930073060
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,351,373 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

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

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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.

Customer Reviews

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I've since read this book and much more and have come to realize that this man was an intellectual giant.
John R. Boren
A fascinating and unique look through 19th century eyes at the right to trial by jury as embodied in the Magna Carta, the US Constitution and english common law.
Amazon Customer
As Smith notes in his introduction, it's easy to envy someone reading Spooner for the first time the thought-provoking challenge she's about to experience.
Andrew S. Rogers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
This edition contains:
1. A short introduction by George Smith that includes a thumbnail biographical sketch of Spooner's life. It's a good bio but a better one can be found in THE COLLECTED WORKS OF LYSANDER SPOONER, a more complete but hugely more expensive collection of Spooner's work.
2. OUR NESTOR- Benjamin Tucker's eulogy for Spooner, written in 1887. A short, touching farewell to a friend and fellow anarchist.
3. NATURAL LAW- Spooner says: "Natural Law [...] is naturally applicable and adequate to the rightful settlement of every possible controversy that can arise among men." Spooner envisions a stateless society built on natural law and voluntary associations. He has plenty of venom for 'legislators', calling all governments "a band of robbers who have associated for purposes of plunder, conquest, and the enslavement of their fellow men."
4. VICES ARE NOT CRIMES: A VINDICATION OF MORAL LIBERTY- An amazingly forward looking critique of consensual or victimless crime laws(keep in mind this was written in 1875!). As Spooner says, "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."
5. & 6. NO TREASON No. I & II- "No Treason" is a series of pamphlets that Spooner published shortly after the Civil War. He was a staunch abolitionist but also believed that the south had the right to secede from the union and authored this series to prove that confederates were not traitors to the union because they never owed it any allegiance. Numbers 3, 4, and 5 were never published and the manuscripts(if they ever existed) were destroyed in a fire.
7. NO TREASON No.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on September 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
It just so happens that the day I write this review is not only Constitution Day (the anniversary of the US Constitution being sent to the states for ratification), but also primary election day here in Seattle. That means there's no better day to re-read the works of Lysander Spooner -- a writer who, perhaps more than any other, can single-handedly change the way you look at both the Constitution and voting. This collection is the place to do that, including as it does nearly all of Spooner's most important work: "No Treason" (with "The Constitution of No Authority"), "Vices are not Crimes," "Trial by Jury," and his "Letter to Thomas F. Bayard."
Lysander Spooner was a fascinating man in his own right, as both the Introduction by editor George Smith and the first chapter, "Our Nestor Taken From Us," an obituary by Benjamin Tucker, make clear. Individualist anarchist, abolitionist, scholar, pamphleteer, radical -- it's a shame this Forgotten Hero is so obscure today. But given the skill and passion with which he slaughtered, barbecued, and served up America's most sacred cows, it's hardly surprising. It's a rare, almost forbidden, treat to find an original thinker any more. As Smith notes in his introduction, it's easy to envy someone reading Spooner for the first time the thought-provoking challenge she's about to experience.
Doctrinaires of the left and the right will be horrified by what they read between these pages. And those who still parrot the Received Wisdom of their junior-high "social studies" teachers (it's your duty to vote ... if you don't vote, you can't complain ... in a democracy, the people govern themselves ... "taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society" ...
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By eunomius on May 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
There are only a few major minds that every libertarian should be familiar with, and Lysander Spooner is one of them. Without a doubt, he was one of the most radical, consistent, and eccentric libertarians in all of history. Although he never explicitly identified himself as an anarchist, his works leave no doubt about his stance. Fortunately for the reading public, his most important works have been gathered in this fine, affordable edition. The pieces featured here include his wonderful "No Treason," in which he demonstrates the complete absurdity of popular conceptions and justifications of government, particularly those associated with the United States and its Constitution. His critique of government is further expanded upon in his brilliant "Natural Law." While the seasoned radical libertarian will be overjoyed and delighted by the force and eloquence of his writing, those of a more moderate bent may be startled by his conclusions. This however, is a good thing. In addition to several smaller pieces, this collection also features the work that perhaps should be considered as his magnum opus, viz. his "Trial By Jury." Here Spooner employs a massive amount of knowledge and erudition in order to defend what is commonly known as jury nullification, i.e. the theory that proposes that juries should have the right to judge the justness of the law as well as the facts of the individual case. This is especially significant for those anarcho-capitalists wishing to investigate the potentialities for a purely voluntary social order. Spooner's work suggests a system of decentralized law founded upon the right to trial by jury, and indeed, his ideas deserve serious consideration.
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