Part Two

by Wendy McElroy

Liberty and Literature

Politics and social theory may have been the focus of Liberty, but Tucker was also keenly aware of the impact and importance of culture on societal attitudes.

For example, literature played a prominent role in Liberty's emphasis on internationalism. Tucker kept current on the state of art and letters in France, England, and America. When Max Nordau published his anti-modernist work Degeneration (Entartung), Tucker was discerning enough to solicit a critique from the one man best able to handle it -- Shaw. Shaw's subsequent essay, entitled "A Degenerate's View of Nordau," was one of the first articles by the British literary giant to appear in America. Among the literary works Liberty translated and published were: Claude Tillier's My Uncle Benjamin(1) , Emile Zola's Money(2) , Octave Mirabeau's A Chambermaid's Diary(3) , Felix Pyat's The Rag Picker of Paris(4) , and Sophie Kropotkin's The Wife of Number 4,237(5) -- an account of her experience with her husband Pierre Kropotkin at Clairvaux prison.

This fascination with cosmopolitan literature lead Tucker to publish The Transatlantic (1889-1890), a biweekly literary magazine. The advertisement for this publication in Liberty promised: "Every number has a complete translated novelette, a piece of European Music, a Portrait of a Foreign Celebrity and part of a translated European Serial." The Transatlantic was said to consist of the "cream of the European press translated into English. Not only from foreign periodicals, but from books as well."(6) Predictably, much of the literature which interested Tucker had political implications. When Oscar Wilde's plea for penal reform The Ballad of Reading Gaol , was widely criticized(7), for example, Tucker enthusiastically endorsed the poem, urging all of his subscribers to read it. Tucker, in fact, published an American edition. From its early championing of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass(8) to a series of short stories by Francis du Bosque in its last issues, Liberty was a vehicle of controversial, avant-garde literature.

>Liberty Abroad

Tucker and Liberty were hybrids. Their roots were embedded both in the uniquely American tradition of individualist anarchism and in some distinctively foreign traditions. The cosmopolitan Tucker acknowledged no intellectual boundaries and tolerated no political ones; national boundaries were simply the physical manifestation of government, an institution he adamantly rejected.

Tucker's stress on internationalism was apparent from the first page of the first issue of Liberty on which, under the column "About Progressive People" he reported news of foreigners such as Percy Shelley whose son had died, Patrick Egan who had just purchased the "Dublin Irishman", and Lord Kimberley who had been suddenly converted to the cause of Land Reform. Here, and in subsequent issues, Tucker made particular note of foreign periodicals. For example, he declared to America that "the first number of a weekly journal called 'Victor-Hugo' recently appeared in Paris."(9)

His embrace of international anarchism was reflected in the many articles Liberty reprinted from foreign journals and in the correspondents who reported on the progress of liberty in their native countries. These correspondents included David Andrade (Australia), Pareto (Italy) and Donisthorpe (England), founder of the Liberty and Property Defense League.

Distinctly foreign events and concerns, such as the plight of Russian nihilists or of Irish tenants, often received more attention from Liberty than American concerns. Tucker was outraged by the imprisonment of the Italian Amilcare Cipriani, the trial of Louise Michel, and the plight of Russian refugees in Paris. His attempt to establish individualist anarchism as an international movement was best exemplified by Libertas, a German-language version of Liberty, published by Tucker and edited by George and Emma Schumm. "This will be the only thoroughly Anarchistic German journal ever published in the world. . ." Tucker wrote in announcing Libertas. "The paper will be of the same shape and size as the English Liberty, and the two will alternate in the order of publication-the English appearing one week and the German the next."(10) Libertas was short-lived.

The Demise of Liberty

Liberty came to a sudden, tragic end.

In 1907, Tucker rented a ground floor space at 502 Sixth Avenue in New York City which housed 'Benj.R. Tucker's Unique Book Shop'. Some blocks away, at 225 Fourth Avenue in a structure known as the Parker Building, Tucker stored the stock of the books he published and the equipment to set print for Liberty. On January, 1908 the Parker Building was consumed by a fire which he described in what was to be the last issue of Liberty.(11)

Tucker, who had been publishing and stockpiling material for thirty years, had pursued a deliberate policy of not holding insurance in order to protest the artificially high premiums which were propped up by the legal system. To offset the total loss, friends of Liberty launched a fund raising drive, and Tucker continued to sell the stock that had survived by virtue of being at the Sixth Avenue address.

The efforts to salvage Liberty were not successful, however, and Tucker was forced to conclude, "It is my intention to close up my business next summer, and, before January 1, 1909, go to Europe, there to publish Liberty (still mainly for America, of course) and such books and pamphlets as my remaining means may enable me to print."(12)

These plans never materialized. The April 1908 issue of Liberty was the last. Tucker moved to Europe, living first in France until World War I erupted, then settling in Monaco where he died at the age of eighty-five on June 22, 1939. Born seven years before the start of the Civil War, he died the same year that World War II began. For the last decades of his life, Tucker's writing efforts were largely limited to correspondence with friends and acquaintances.

In many ways, Tucker exemplified the golden age of radical individualism which faltered in the face of growing statism and militarism. Like other individualists, Tucker watched this growth of the State and became pessimistic. From Europe he wrote, "I hate the age in which I live, but I do not hate myself for living in it."(13)

During the advance of statism, his views began to shift. It was no longer clear to Tucker that economic freedom alone could overcome the problems created by government monopoly. His pessimism increased with time. In a letter to his old friend C.L. Swartz, a despondent Tucker expressed his belief that civilization was in its death throes. Perhaps it was this despair, coupled with his love of French culture, that led Tucker to support the Allies in World War I. Although he supported the communists Sacco and Vanzetti against persecution by the American state, Tucker increasingly displayed less and less interest in American affairs. Two days after his death, he was buried in Monaco with a private, civil ceremony; Tucker was survived by his wife and daughter.

Other than writing a few articles and conducting a correspondence with the editors of various journals, Tucker's last years were unproductive. His death, like that of Spencer, marked the end of an era. Individualist anarchism as an organized movement in America would not appear again for many years.

Liberty: Success or Failure?

The question of whether Liberty or, more generally, nineteenth-century radical individualism was successful inevitably arises. Key to the answer is the standard of success being employed. By its own stated goals of changing society toward individual freedom and away from state control, there is no question: radical individualism was a failure. Or, at least, it is extraordinarily difficult to assess the extent of its success, largely because one of Tucker's greatest achievements lies in his many translations of foreign radicals, such as Proudhon, Bakounin, Hugo, Tolstoy and Chernyshevsky.(14) History is more likely to credit the impact of these works to the author rather than to the translator.

A more generous approach to Liberty's legacy, however, is to assess the movement's externally imposed limitations and to ascertain how much it achieved in spite of them. First, what were the imposed limitations?

The last decades of the nineteenth century were a golden age for radicalism in America. Anarchists in the United States issued nearly 500 periodicals in a dozen languages ranging from French to Yiddish. Only a minority of these periodicals were individualistic, for the dominant radical philosophy of the day was socialism in its many incarnations.

In essence, the Civil War had dealt such a severe blow to the individualist movement that it never recovered. The War ushered in conscription, the suspension of habeas corpus, widespread censorship, military law, political prisoners, legal tender legislation, as well as soaring taxes and tariffs. The status and functions of government inflated as never before.

Equally important, the prevailing view of government changed. With the Declaration of Independence and the cry of "no taxation without representation," government had been deemed to rule through the consent of the people. When the North refused to permit the South to withdraw its consent through secession and when it imposed an unpopular government upon the protesting antebellum South, the consensual view of government was severely weakened. Moreover, instead of viewing the relatively autonomous states as forming a loose federal union -- as being "These United States" -- a new description arose -- "The United States". And this centralized nation was deemed to be "One Union under God". Mystification of the American State was underway.

In addition, the Civil War had caused extremely divisive schisms within the individualist movement. Some of the abolitionists had welcomed the conflict as a holy war to end slavery. Others had considered it to be an unavoidable evil in pursuit of good and, so, supported the North as the least objectionable alternative. Even the staunch pacifist Garrison had supported the North. His support had horrified other abolitionists, such as Heywood and Spooner, who saw the War as a massive violation of life and property, which could not be justified by reference to any goal. By the end of the Civil War, individualist principles had been so compromised and the state had achieved such prominence that the individualist anarchist movement could not be a significant force in American politics.

After 1865, radical individualism existed as an extreme faction within various other reform movements such as freethought, free love, and the labor movement. Although the basis of a systematic philosophy was present in the writings of such theorists as Warren and Spooner, it lacked cohesion. Not until Tucker and the publication of Liberty did radical individualism become a distinct, independent movement functioning in its own name toward its own unique set of goals.

This was the primary accomplishment of Liberty. It discussed and integrated ethics, economics, and politics to build a sophisticated system of philosophy. Over a period of three decades, it provided a core around which a revitalized movement could sprout and grow. For close to thirty years, Tucker issued an unremitting flood of pamphlets and books promoting individualist thought. Even in the last days of Liberty, translations such as Paul Eltzbacher's Anarchism appeared. Eltzbacher's classic Anarchism: Exponents of the Anarchist Philosophy was translated by Byington. As with many of the translations offered by Liberty, the imprint of the anarchist translator was keenly felt, not only in the word choices but also in Byington's many added notes and 15 his preface. Tucker himself was acutely aware of the slow progress that seemed endemic to social reform. He wrote, "The fact is that Anarchist society was started thousands of years ago, when the first glimmer of the idea of liberty dawned upon the human mind, and has been advancing ever since -- not steadily advancing, to be sure, but fitfully, with an occasional reversal of the current."(16)(17)

Yet radical individualism hindered itself. The historian David De Leon in The American as Anarchist observed: "Nineteenth century anarchism failed primarily because it seemed archaic in the twentieth century."(18) Perhaps most destructively, individualism clung to the labor theory of value and refused to incorporate the economic theories which were rising within other branches of individualist thought, theories such as marginal utility.

Unable to embrace statism, the stagnant movement also failed to ade- quately comprehend the logical alternative to the state -- a free market.


Andrews, Stephen Pearl. 1852. The Science of Society New York.

Avrich, Paul. 1988. Anarchist Portraits, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.

De Leon, David. 1978. The American as Anarchist. Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

Eltzbacher, Paul. 1960. Anarchism: Exponents of Anarchist Phi losophy. Plainview, New York: Books for Libraries Press. Translated by Steven T. Byington, edited by James J. Martin.

Greene, William Bradford. 1850. Mutual Banking. West Brookfield, Mass.

Martin, James J. 1970. Men Against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827-1908. Colorado Springs: Ralph Myles Publisher, Inc.

Proudhon, Pierre Joseph. 1968. What Is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government. N.Y: Fertig Publishers.

Pyat, Felix. The Rag-Picker of Paris. New York: B.R.Tucker, 1890.

Stirner, Max. 1845. Der Einzige und Sein Eigenthem, translated by Steven Byington. 1907 The Ego and His Own, New York.

Tillier, Claude. 1890. My Uncle Benjamin. Boston, Mass.: B.R. Tucker.

Tucker, Benjamin R. 1926. Individual Liberty N.Y.: Vanguard Press, 1926, edited by C.L. Swartz.

---------------------. 1893. Instead of a Book, by a Man Too Busy to Write One; A Fragmentary Exposition of Philosophical Anarchism. New York: B.R. Tucker.

---------------------. 1970. Liberty; Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order. New York: Greenwood Reprint.

Walker, James L. 1905. The Philosophy of Egoism. Denver.

Warren, Josiah. 1863. True Civilization an Immediate Necessity and the Last Ground of Hope for Mankind. Being the Results and Conclusions of Thirty-nine Years' Laborious Study and Experiments in Civilization As It Is, and in Different Enterprises for Reconstruction. Boston.

Warren, Josiah. 1869. True Civilization: A Subject of Vital and Serious Interest to All People But Most Immediately to Men and Women of Labor and Sorrow. Cliftondale, Mass.

Wilde, Oscar. 1899. The Ballad of Reading Gaol. New York: B.R.Tucker.

Woodcock, George. 1962. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Cleveland: Meridian Books.

Zola, Emil. 1890. Money. Boston: B.R.Tucker.


(1) This 312 page novel was translated from the French by Tucker and published in both cloth and paper. It was first advertised in Liberty VII (November 29, 1890), 7.

(2) This 435 page novel was translated from the French by Tucker and published in both cloth and paper. It was first advertised in Liberty VII (April 4, 1891), 8.

(3) This 460 page novel was translated from the French by Tucker and published in both cloth and paper. It was first advertised in Liberty XIV (December, 1900), 8

(4) This 325 page novel was translated from the French by Tucker and issued in both paper and cloth. It was first advertised in Liberty VII (July 12, 1890), 8.

(5) This material was translated from the French by Sarah E. Holmes at Tucker's request and reprinted in five segments, beginning in March 6, 1886.

(6) The Transatlantic, subtitled A Mirror of European Life and Letters, was first advertised in Liberty VI (October 5, 1889): 8, as being issued on the 1st and 15th of the month. Herbert Gutman, in the introduction to the Greenwood reprint of Liberty mentions another literary periodical, Five Stories A Week.

(7) Tucker published both a cloth and paper edition, which were first advertised in Liberty XIII (May, 1899), 8.

(8) First advertised in Liberty I (July 22, 1882), 4, Tucker appended a challenge to various officials responsible for the suppression of Leaves of Grass. He advised them of his intention to sell the work and offered to deliver a copy of it to them at their place of choice to be used in evidence against him. There were no takers.

(9) "About Progressive People", Liberty I (August 6, 1881): 1.

(10) "Anarchy in German" in Liberty V (December 31, 1887): 4.

(11) The date of the fire is reported in the usually reliable tome Men Against the State by James J. Martin as being April, 1908, and as January 10, 1908 in Paul Elzbacher "Benjamin R. Tucker" in Anarchism: Exponents of Anarchist Philosophy. Actually an account of the fire was published in the April, 1908 issue of Liberty in which Tucker announced ambiguously, "No later than January 10 this composing room, together with the entire stock of my publications and nearly all my plates, was absolutely wiped out by fire."(p.1)

(12) "On Picket Duty", Liberty XVII (April, 1908), 1-3.

(13) Letter to Ewing C. Baskette, November 7, 1934. The New York Public Library maintains the Tucker Papers, with letters and documents relating to Benjamin Tucker.

(14) Tucker's influence extended beyond the political sphere. From Eugene O'Neill who claimed that Tucker had deeply affected 'his inner self' to Whitman who exclaimed 'I love him: he is plucky to the bone' [Woodcock Anarchism, pg.459.] Tucker's influence was considerable.

(15) For example, in footnote 11 to Chapter VIII "Benjamin R. Tucker", Byington comments upon what he considers to be a misinterpretation of Tucker's words 'the law of equal liberty', "TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Eltzbacher does not seem to perceive that Tucker uses this as a ready-made phrase, coined by Herbert Spencer and designating Spencer's well-known formula that in justice 'every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not on the equal freedom of any other man.'"

(16) Liberty, December 1900.

(17) As a sad note, Tucker himself seemed to lose faith in the inevitability of liberty. In an interview with Paul Avrich, his daughter Oriole reported, "I was never really an anarchist. I don't think it would ever work. Neither did Father at the end. He was very pessimistic about the world and in his political outlook." Anarchist Portraits, p.152.

(18) De Leon, The American as Anarchist, page 82.

Return to Part One

Return to Subdirectory on Individualist Anarchism

Return to Home Page

Visit An Individualist Feminist Compendium -- a site dedicated to electronically reprinting classic individualist feminist works.

Contact author at Wendy McElroy