Benjamin Tucker


Benjamin Tucker (April 17, 18541939) was America's leading proponent of individualist anarchism in the 19th century.


Benjamin Ricketson Tucker's contribution to American anarchism was as much through his publishing as his own writing. In editing and publishing the anarchist periodical, Liberty, Tucker both filtered and integrated the theories of such European thinkers as Herbert Spencer and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon with the thinking of American individualist activists, Lysander Spooner, William Greene and Josiah Warren, as well as the ideas of the free thought and free love movements in order to produce a rigorous system of philosophical- or individualist anarchism.

Tucker shared with the advocates of free love and free thought a disdain for prohibitions on non-invasive behavior and religiously-based legislation, but he saw the poor condition of American workers as a result of four state-maintained monopolies:

  1. the money monopoly,
  2. the land monopoly,
  3. tariffs, and
  4. patents.

His focus for several decades became the state's economic control of how trade could take place, and what currency counted as legitimate. He saw interest and profit as a form of exploitation. Though not directly examples of coercion (or "invasion" as Tucker preferred to say), they were nevertheless artificially-inflated by the state-sponsored banking monopoly, which was in turn maintained through coercion and invasion. Any such state-sponsored interest and profit, Tucker called "usury" and he saw it as the basis for the oppression of the workers. He asserted that anarchism is meaningless unless "private property" is recognized and a "free market" exists. [1] (

He was the first to translate into English Proudhon's What is Property? and Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own — which Tucker claimed was his proudest accomplishment.

Liberty published the original work of Lysander Spooner, Auberon Herbert, Victor Yarros, and Lillian Harman, daughter of the free love anarchist, Moses Harman.

Liberty also published such items as George Bernard Shaw's first original article to appear in the United States and the first American translated excerpts of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Tucker's periodical also served as the main conduit of Stirnerite Egoism, of which Tucker became a proponent. This led to a split in American Individualism -- between the growing number of Egoists and the old guard of Spoonerian "Natural Lawyers". Both Egoists and Natural Law theorists rejected coercive authority, involuntary legislation, and the notion of a "social contract." However, they differed over the philosophical basis for their individualism: Natural Law theory derived it from a conception of a natural individual right to be free from coercion, whereas Egoism defended anarchism as a pragmatic compromise in a system where each individual sought only self-interest. Having abandoned the moral philosophy of Lysander Spooner (as well as of Warren and Proudhon, who Tucker considered to have been the first anarchists), Liberty also abandoned the remaining advocates of natural rights, now considering their moral philosophy to be old-fashioned and superstitious.

Dates, Places and Events

Born April 17, 1854 in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

1872 — While a student at M.I.T., Tucker attended a convention of the New England Labor Reform League in Boston, chaired by William Greene, author of Mutual Banking (1850). At the convention, Tucker purchased Mutual Banking, True Civilization, and a set of Ezra Heywood's pamphlets. Furthermore, Free-love anarchist, Ezra Heywood introduced Tucker to William Greene and Josiah Warren, author of True Civilization (1869).

1876 — Tucker's debut into radical circles: Heywood published Tucker's English translation of Proudhon's classic work What is Property?.

1877-1878 — Published his original journal, Radical Review, which lasted four issues.

August 1881 to April 1908 — published the periodical, Liberty, "widely considered to be the finest individualist-anarchist periodical ever issued in the English language."

1892 — moved Liberty from Boston to New York

1906 — Opened Tucker's Unique Book Shop in New York City — promoting "Egoism in Philosophy, Anarchism in Politics, Iconoclasm in Art".

1908 — A fire destroyed Tucker's uninsured printing equipment and his 30-year stock of books and pamphlets. Tucker's lover, Pearl Johnson — 25 years his junior — was pregnant with their daughter, Oriole Tucker. Six weeks after Oriole's birth, Tucker closed both Liberty and the book shop and moved his family to France.

1913 — Tucker comes out of retirement for two years to contribute articles and letters to The New Freewoman which he called "the most important publication in existence"

1939 — Tucker died in Monaco, in the company of his lover Pearl Johnson and their daughter, Oriole, who reported, "Father's attitude towards communism never changed one whit, nor about religion.... In his last months he called in the French housekeeper. 'I want her,' he said, 'to be a witness that on my death bed I'm not recanting. I do not believe in God!" J. William Lloyd wrote that ( "There was nothing he hated more than communism, and the Communist-Anarchists used to call him "the Pope"."

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