The first inclination I had to read Lysander Spooner’s work “No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority” was when I came across an argument Spooner gave which stated that southerners who fought against the United States in the War for Southern Independence, were not traitors. This was some time ago.
As I have continued my quest for self knowledge, I kept coming across references to this book. In fact Murray Rothbard called No Treason “the greatest case for anarchist political philosophy ever written.” Since I respect Rothbard’s work greatly, and am now looking to swim in the deep end of anarchist thought, I figured I’d give the book a try. I did not expect however that the book would change the way I viewed man’s relationship to the government, especially that in the United States with our written constitution.
As my views and opinions evolve along the freedom/slavery spectrum, I continued to think, “We’d be ok in the United States if we could just get back to the Constitution.” Then I came across the following quote by Spooner in the work. I’ve seen it before but to hear his entire case in this pamphlet spelled out, it hit home. Spooner writes, “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain-that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.”
Now keep in mind when this book was published. The book was published in 1867. If Spooner had these thoughts in 1867 what would he think now, with the addition of the income tax, the federal reserve, the draft, indefinite detention, coming internet censorship, drones patrolling our skies, TSA fondling in airports (and coming to a highway, train station, bus stop, mall or grocery store near you)? I’d only have to assume that he would be completely outraged by how far the U.S. has fallen. Sadly though, he’d likely have predicted it. After all he claimed over 150 years ago that the Constitution was unfit for the nation.
The crux of Spooner’s argument is as follows: The Constitution is a contract between government and people. Since the people living (in 1867, and now of course in 2012, or in any other time in our history) never signed and never consented to the Constitution, that the document is essentially invalid.
The point he makes is weighty and he spends time detailing how through various interactions with government or the apparatus of government, people still have no signed off and given their consent to the government or the Constitution.
Among some of the quotes I thought to be the most impactful are as follows:
“Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby meliorating their condition. But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to,”
“But this theory of our government is wholly different from the practical fact. The fact is that the government like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money or your life. And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.”
“A man is none the less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years.”
“No man can be my servant, agent, attorney, or representative, and be, at the same time, uncontrollable by me, and irresponsible to me for his acts.”
“The only idea they have ever manifested as to what is a government of consent, is this-that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot. This was the dominant one on which the war was carried on; and it is the dominant one, now that we have got what is called “peace”.”
The book/pamphlet is choc full of other examples such as the ones listed above. It has changed the way I view our government in the United States. With history as our guide, it’s plain to see that the Constitution has been ineffective to prevent the train of abuses from government and downright tyranny of the majority.
Let’s simply look at what the government is supposed to “protect”. The U.S. government was established to protect life, liberty and property. Ask yourself, if any of those are “protected” by government. How about our life? If men can still be drafted into military service, and they can be imprisoned for victimless crimes, I’d say our government utterly fails in this regard.
What about property? Are the fruits of our labor not our property? If so, then how can any government justify an income tax? How can they force young laborers to pay for the retired? What if you own your home free and clear of any mortgage, do you still owe property tax? Of course you do, we don’t own our land; we are simply renting from the state.
Now how about liberty? Where do we start here? Warantless wiretapping, indefinite detention, drones, NSA surveillance, air travel? The list here is endless. It looks like Spooner was right. The Constitution is inadequate. Only natural law and voluntary exchange are adequate for civilizations to flourish.
In all, Spooner’s pamphlet is a good read. It’s very short. I believe it’s listed as 90 pages. It can be read easily in one or two sittings. It’s also very cheap. I am sure it can be found for free online. I got my copy on Kindle for 99 cents. I guess the U.S. dollar can still buy something (for the time being). If you are looking for an introductory primer to some anarchist thought, it’s here and well argued. He does use the same justification for many ideas, which do become a little redundant, but it’s well worth the time, and will provide you with some ammunition the next time someone question’s your beliefs.
– Raise the Black Flag –