The Ideas of Lysander Spooner — Libertarian or libertarian Socialist?

By Iain MacSoarsa

This article analyses Lysander Spooner’s ideas and their relationship to Libertarian capitalist ideas and libertarian socialist (ie anarchist) ideas. It is partly based on my own research and an article I found on a newsgroup. The article included in this essay was originally posted by It ends with the anonymous author asking:

“One wonders whether Spooner has written much on the industrial revolution, already well under way during his youth. In particular, what are his views on wage labor and the employer-employee relationship?”

In part answer to the question, Spooner was opposed to wage labour, wanting that social relationship destroyed by turning capital over to those who work in it, as associated producers and not as wage slaves. Hence Spooner was anti-capitalist, prefering to see a society of self-employed farmers, artisans and cooperating workers, not a society of wage slaves and capitalists. This can be clearly seen from the following quote:

“All the great establishments, of every kind, now in the hands of a few proprietors, but employing a great number of wage laborers, would be broken up; for few or no persons, who could hire capital and do business for themselves would consent to labour for wages for another.”

— Letter to Cleveland

This shows that Spooner was opposed to capitalism, prefering an artisan system based on simple commodity production, with capitalists and wage slaves no more, being replaced by self-employed workers.

Further highlighting his anti-capitalist ideas, is this quote where he notes that under capitalism the labourer does not receive “all the fruits of his own labour” as the capitalist lives off of the workers “honest industry.”


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