In recent years, Americans have been burdened with historic expansions in government control, with a proliferation of fees, regulations, czars and bureaucracies, along with profligate spending that guarantees higher future taxes. Such dictates violate Americans’ inalienable self-ownership.
That is why Lysander Spooner, born January 19, deserves renewed attention. Spooner laid out why our natural right of self-ownership, combined with its implied right to enter voluntary arrangements, made government coercion of peaceful people illegitimate. Since we are rapidly accelerating away from that moral standard, we need to rediscover Spooner’s vision. In particular, his 1870 No Treason illuminates our current situation:
That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want … [is] self-evidently false … a man, thus subjected to a government that he does not want, is a slave. And there is no difference, in principle … between political and chattel slavery. [Each] denies a man’s ownership of himself and the products of his labor; and asserts that other men may own him, and dispose of him and his property, for their uses, and at their pleasure.
A man’s natural rights are his own … any infringement of them is equally a crime … whether committed by one man, calling himself a robber or by millions, calling themselves a government.
To say that majorities, as such, have a right to rule minorities, is equivalent to saying that minorities have, and ought to have, no rights, except such as majorities please to allow them.
The principle that the majority have a right to rule the minority, practically resolves all government into a mere contest between two bodies of men, as to which of them shall be masters, and which of them slaves.
How does [a man] become subjected to the control of men like himself, who, by nature, had no authority over him … as if their wills and their interests were the only standards of his duties and his rights … force, or fraud, or both.
A man finds himself environed by a government that … forces him to pay money, render service, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments.
Governments … [are] tyrannies to that portion of the people … compelled to support them against their will.
Getting the actual consent of only so many as may be necessary to keep the rest in subjection by force…is a mere conspiracy of the strong against the weak … a presumption that the weaker party consent to be slaves.
Government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” [But] The highwayman … does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit.
No government … can reasonably be trusted for a moment, or reasonably be supposed to have honest purposes in view, any longer than it depends wholly upon voluntary support.
If [Congress] own us as property, they are our masters, and their will is our law. If they do not own us as property, they are not our masters, and their will, as such, is of no authority over us.
On what ground can those who pretend to administer [The Constitution] claim the right to seize men’s property, to restrain them of their natural liberty of action, industry, and trade … at their pleasure or discretion?
A tacit understanding between A, B, and C, that they will, by ballot, depute D as their agent, to deprive me of my property, liberty, or life, cannot at all authorize D to do so. He is none the less a robber.
In an era where what remains of our self-ownership is threatened with further evisceration, rediscovering Spooner’s vision, which Murray Rothbard called “a great bulwark against the State’s eternal invasion of rights,” is crucial. Coerced obedience cannot be derived from our natural rights or our Constitution. The individual, rather than the ever-more-powerful State, must be re-established as the basis of our society.
Gary M. Galles is a professor of cconomics at Pepperdine University.