The Rand Paul filibuster, while it accomplished nothing in the way of policy changes and was clearly a politically calculated maneuver, did make for some excellent political theater. For starters, if nothing else, it did bring to the forefront the issues of Presidential assassinations and the ongoing, unchecked drone war. While those of us mired in the internetverse are well aware of these issues, the vast majority of mainstream Americans are still relatively unaware or unconcerned about these topics, and the fact that Senator Paul’s theatrics have thrust the issue into the national spotlight is certainly something to celebrate.
The best part about Rand Paul’s filibuster were the various references he cited throughout the 13-hour ordeal. From Lewis Carroll to F.A. Hayek to Glenn Greenwald, Senator Paul had a cornucopia of authors and philosophers on the ready when he walked to the Senate floor last week. To this anarcho-capitalist however, Paul’s filibuster will always be known as “That Time Lysander Spooner Was Referenced On The Senate Floor”. Spooner is one of the great anarchist philosophers of all-time, and his brief reference in Paul’s filibuster perked my ears up a bit.
Lysander Spooner is just plain awesome for several reasons. One is that he was an outspoken abolitionist long before it was cool. Not only did he advocate against the institution of slavery, he was also consistent in his opposition to the State and was able to separate the political issue of slavery from the Civil War. This led him, despite his virulent opposition to slavery, to defend the South in the Civil War 150 years before a bunch of “impressionable libertarian kids” would start doing the same.
Another awesomely anarchist thing Lysander Spooner did was start a mail service company intended to compete with the U.S. government’s claimed monopoly on mail service. In 1844 he founded the American Letter Mail Company. Legal challenges and harassment from the U.S. government would eventually force the American Letter Mail Company into bankruptcy.
It’s not just Rand Paul and myself that count Lysander Spooner amongst our influences. In case you were beginning to wonder if this was really Sundays with Spooner instead of Mondays with Murray you’d clicked on, fear not! That’s right, Murray Rothbard – the subject of this weekly column – also greatly respected and admired Spooner’s work, so much so that he wrote this introduction to a collection of Spooner’s works, Vices Are Not Crimes: A Vindication.
In this article, which also doubles as Day 15 of the Robert Wenzel’s 30 Day Libertarian Reading List, Rothbard discusses how through his writings Spooner emphasized the concepts of natural law and natural rights, concepts that had deteriorated from the minds of not only the general populace, but even of the so-called libertarians and anarchists of the time:
Yet, even in his own anarchist movement Spooner was the last of the Old Guard believers in natural rights; his successors in the individualist-anarchist movement, led by Benjamin R. Tucker, all proclaimed arbitrary whim and might-makes-right as the foundation of libertarian moral theory. And yet, Spooner knew that this was no foundation at all; for the State is far mightier than any individual, and if the individual cannot use a theory of justice as his armor against State oppression, then he has no solid base from which to roll back and defeat it.
With his emphasis on cognitive moral principles and natural rights, Spooner must have looked hopelessly old-fashioned to Tucker and the young anarchists of the 1870s and 1880s. And yet now, a century later, it is the latters’ once fashionable nihilism and tough amoralism that strike us as being empty and destructive of the very liberty they all tried hard to bring about. We are now beginning to recapture the once-great tradition of an objectively grounded rights of the individual. In philosophy, in economics, in social analysis, we are beginning to see that the tossing aside of moral rights was not the brave new world it once seemed — but rather a long and disastrous detour in political philosophy that is now fortunately drawing to a close.
Opponents of the idea of an objective morality commonly charge that moral theory functions as a tyranny over the individual. This, of course, happens with many theories of morality, but it cannot happen when the moral theory makes a sharp and clear distinction between the “immoral” and the “illegal”, or, in Spooner’s words, between “vices” and “crimes.” The immoral or the “vicious” may consist of a myriad of human actions, from matters of vital importance down to being nasty to one’s neighbor or to willful failure to take one’s vitamins. But none of them should be confused with an action that should be “illegal,” that is, an action to be prohibited by the violence of law. The latter, in Spooner’s libertarian view, should be confined strictly to the initiation of violence against the rights of person and property.
Indeed, in many ways Spooner was the 19th Century Murray Rothbard, in that he took the ideas of liberty a step further than his often more accepted contemporaries of the time. Like Rothbard, he refused to accept the idea that an entity with a coercive monopoly on violence – aka “government” – should hold some sort of moral high ground over the vices of others. Like Rothbard, Spooner felt the only “crimes” should be those involving physical aggression upon the natural rights of others.
Check out our past installments of Mondays with Murray:
– 3/4/13 – Rothbard on Statism
– 2/25/13 – Rothbard on John Bolton and Ann Coulter
– 2/18/13 – Rothbard vs. Krugman on $9 Minimum Wage
– 2/11/13 – Time To Hoard Nickels
– 2/4/13 – The Death of Keynesian Economics
– 1/28/13 – Competition and Monopoly
– 1/21/13 – Rothbard Down The Memory Hole?
– 1/14/13 – We Are Not The Government
– 1//7/13 – Why Does Someone Become A Statist?
– 12/10/12 – Rothbard on Conspiracy Theory
– 12/3/12 – Rothbard on Secession
– 11/26/12 – Rothbard on the Drug War
– 11/19/12 – Rothbard on the Euro Crisis
– 11/12/12 – Rothbard on the Lions of Liberty
– 11/5/12 – Rothbard on Voting and Gas Lines
– 10/29/12 – Mythbusting the “Free Market Cartel”
– 10/22/12 – Rothbard on the Two Party Charade
– 10/15/12 – Rothbard on Private Roads
– 10/8/12 – Rothbard on Private Law
– 10/1/12 – Rothbard on Ron Paul
– 9/24/12 – Rothbard on QE