This month’s Lucaf Fits meeting (that’s my philosophy club) is centered on the nature of freedom. I did my best to try and separate my apolitical proclivities from the philosophy club, as I wanted to be a little more culturally ecumenical with the group’s prospective members, but the group demanded it. The difficulty with finding literature for such a discussion is that You have statist bullshit on one side and high-level praxeological works by anarchists on the other side, with a little bit of lefty garbage scattered between the two. However, there is a gem hidden in that grey zone between the two extremes: Lysander Spooner‘s “No Treason: The constitution of No Authority”.
As always, a bit of historical context is in order. Spooner was born at the beginning of the 19th century in America. He was a natural-born anarchist/agorist. He set up a law firm in Massachusetts and quickly became recognized as one of the best lawyers available, despite not having the required government permits to do so. He made a compelling legal case against licensure, but that cost him potential clients, as the government did everything in their power to keep him from acquiring new clients. After business dried up, he tried a few unsuccessful entrepreneurial efforts and eventually decided to set up a post office as an act of defiance against the violent monopoly that the US government held on postal services, and quickly outperformed his criminal competitors. Of course, that didn’t last very long, as the government violently shut him down. From that point on, he was a one-man publishing company, writing almost as much as Rothbard, himself, much to the same effect as Rothbard.
One can’t discuss a lawyer, activist, or political commentator in 19th century America without addressing slavery. Spooner was one of the many activists in the 19th century that has been stricken from the mainstream historical record for the heinous crime of not fitting the ex-post-facto justification for the war of northern aggression. He was a die-hard abolitionist AND he was a defender of the Confederacy’s right to secede from the Union and tend their own affairs. He wasn’t alone, but he is certainly one of the more prominent members of that elite group.
No Treason was actually written as a response to the war of northern aggression, pointing out how the lies written and perpetuated by the Federalists had lost any of their legitimacy when Lincoln (at the behest of criminal bankers) purportedly abolished chattel slavery by way of actively enslaving half of the inhabited continent of America by way of military conquest. In many ways, Spooner is the godfather of the sovereign citizen movement, using common law practices and contract law to point out the reality that the existing government is not only criminal but is, in fact, illegal. He met a similar fate as many Sovereign Citizens, as well… he was mostly ignored into obscurity.
That obscurity is unwarranted, though. In “No Treason”, Spooner presents a compelling case using common law and the contract law of his day, demonstrating the Constitution to be neither a legal document nor a reasonable declaration of intent. He attacks the rationale behind the “Social Contract” argument, demonstrating that the Constitution meets no necessary or sufficient conditions for being a legally-binding contract and that, even if it did, “We know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now… And the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them.”
He also demonstrates that the secret ballot undermines the legality of the contract and reveals the true nature of the government under the Constitution:
“What is the motive to the secret ballot? This, and only this: Like other confederates in crime, those who use it are not friends, but enemies; and they are afraid to be known, and to have their individual doings known, even to each other… In fact, they are engaged quite as much in schemes for plundering each other, as in plundering those who are not of them. And it is perfectly well understood among them that the strongest party among them will, in certain contingencies, murder each other by the hundreds of thousands (as they lately did do) to accomplish their purposes against each other. Hence they dare not be known, and have their individual doings known, even to each other. And this is avowedly the only reason for the ballot: for a secret government; a government by secret bands of robbers and murderers. And we are insane enough to call this liberty! To be a member of this secret band of robbers and murderers is esteemed a privilege and an honor! Without this privilege, a man is considered a slave; but with it a free man! With it he is considered a free man, because he has the same power to secretly (by secret ballot) procure the robbery, enslavement, and murder of another man, and that other man has to procure his robbery, enslavement, and murder. And this they call equal rights!”
He also consistently argues against the possibility that most, or even any, individuals consent to be governed under the Constitution. Citing the involuntary nature of taxation, the demonstrated propensity for the government to initiate violence to get its way, the illegality of putting a small group of unaccountable oligarchs in charge of a violent apparatus of coercion and theft, and so on. He also points out that, even though the government consists entirely of criminals, they are not even preferable to common criminals, because:
“The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.
The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, 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. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. 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. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.
The proceedings of those robbers and murderers, who call themselves “the government,” are directly the opposite of these of the single highwayman.
In the first place, they do not, like him, make themselves individually known; or, consequently, take upon themselves personally the responsibility of their acts. On the contrary, they secretly (by secret ballot) designate some one of their number to commit the robbery in their behalf, while they keep themselves practically concealed.”
Even if people consented to being enslaved by the government and found it preferable to the possibility of falling prey to common highwaymen, Spooner argues that there is no mechanism, physical, metaphysical, legal, or otherwise, by which one could accomplish such an end. Ignoring the performative contradiction of such an activity, Spooner argues: “If I go upon Boston Common, and in the presence of a hundred thousand people, men, women and children, with whom I have no contract upon the subject, take an oath that I will enforce upon them the laws of Moses, of Lycurgus, of Solon, of Justinian, or of Alfred, that oath is, on general principles of law and reason, of no obligation. It is of no obligation, not merely because it is intrinsically a criminal one, but also because it is given to nobody, and consequently pledges my faith to nobody. It is merely given to the winds.” This is a result of the secret ballot, the non-contractual nature of the Constitution, and the manner in which the Constitution is inflicted on those who do not assent and have never assented to be party to the contract.
Lysander Spooner writes with a command of both legal theory and language in a way so as to make slightly-complex legal concepts accessible to the reader while also maintaining a level of entertainment-value which allows one to read through the entire work. It is only about 75 pages long, so one can get through it in an afternoon if one really applies oneself. He touches on other ideas that are central to libertarian discourse, such as the idea of “voting in self defense” and the economic realities inflicted on the peasantry by international banking cartels. I argue that this work, like several others mentioned on the blog, ought to be on everyone’s reading list.
TL;DR: I’ll put the TL;DR version here, in Spooner’s own words:
“Inasmuch as the Constitution was never signed, nor agreed to, by anybody, as a contract, and therefore never bound anybody, and is now binding upon nobody; and is, moreover, such an one as no people can ever hereafter be expected to consent to, except as they may be forced to do so at the point of the bayonet, it is perhaps of no importance what its true legal meaning, as a contract, is. Nevertheless, the writer thinks it proper to say that, in his opinion, the Constitution is no such instrument as it has generally been assumed to be; but that by false interpretations, and naked usurpations, the government has been made in practice a very widely, and almost wholly, different thing from what the Constitution itself purports to authorize. He has heretofore written much, and could write much more, to prove that such is the truth. But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.”
Also, here’s a silly video from the Free Thought Project to a similar effect: