a1 Philosophy, Tulane University
The main purpose of this essay is to articulate the ideas of the last powerful advocate of natural rights in nineteenth-century America. That last powerful advocate was the Massachusetts-born radical libertarian Lysander Spooner (1808-1887). Besides his powerful antebellum attacks on slavery, Spooner developed forceful arguments on behalf of a strongly individualistic conception of natural law and private property rights and against coercive moralism, coercive paternalism, and state authority and legislation. This essay focuses on the theoretical core of Spooner’s position which is his doctrine of natural rights—a doctrine that is primarily developed in Spooner’s The Law of Intellectual Property (1855), Natural Law (1882), and A Letter to Grover Cleveland (1886). I situate Spooner within the libertarian tradition in political thought by beginning this essay with an examination of two English writers whose radical writings (for the most part) preceded Spooner’s—Thomas Hodgskin (1787-1869) and the early Herbert Spencer (1820-1903). I emphasis the strongly Lockean character of Spooner’s thought and support this contention in part by showing how much more Lockean Spooner was than either Hodgskin or the early Spencer.
Eric Mack is Professor of Philosophy at Tulane University, where he is also a faculty member of the Murphy Institute of Political Economy. He specializes in social and political philosophy, ethics, and the philosophy of law. He is the editor of Auberon Herbert's The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State and Other Essays (1978) and Herbert Spencer's Man versus the State: With Six Essays on Government, Society, and Freedom (1981), and the author of John Locke (2009). Among his more recent essays are: “Individualism and Libertarian Rights” in Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy, “What is Left in Left-Libertarianism?” in Hillel Steiner and the Anatomy of Justice, “The Natural Right of Property” in Social Philosophy and Policy, “Nozickan Arguments for the More-Than-Minimal State,” forthcoming in Cambridge Companion to Anarchy, State, and Utopia, and “Friedrich Hayek on the Nature of Social Order and Law,” forthcoming in Twentieth Century Political Philosophy.
* I thank the editors of Social Philosophy and Policy for their extremely helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay.