By Jason Lee Byas, Center for a Stateless Society
Almost everyone today accepts at least one utopian idea: that slavery is so morally unacceptable that the practice must be stomped out wherever found, and any institution that depends upon it must immediately crumble.
It’s probably even an understatement to just say people accept that idea. It’s the very core of moral common sense; if any other idea even looks like it might under certain circumstances kind-of sort-of imply otherwise, that idea is out.
But like I said, it is a utopian idea. In the ancient world, there were some people who thought something like this – such as the Stoic Dio Chrysostom or the early Christian bishop Gregory of Nyssa – but they were few and far between. Even when we reach the mid-nineteenth century, on the eve of abolition, William Lloyd Garrison was nearly tarred and feathered in Boston for promoting it.
Garrison and others like him represented the radical fringe in denying that any person can ever own another. It is not surprising, then, that you would often hear some other utopian ideas in talking to abolitionists. As slavery’s apologists liked to remind people, Garrison also held to a “no-government doctrine.”
He was not alone among abolitionists in that doctrine. Alongside denunciations of slavery and exhortations to abolish it through insurrection, Lysander Spooner penned anarchist screeds proposing to overturn all legislatures and state courts in favor of a legal system that made no room for monopoly authority.