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LYSANDER SPOONER: NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA'S LAST NATURAL RIGHTS THEORIST*

  • Eric Mack (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

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.

Abstract

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.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Locke 's A Letter Concerning Toleration, ed. James Tully (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1983)

David Bernstein , Rehabilitating Lochner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011)

David Stack , Nature and Artifice: The Life and Thought of Thomas Hodgskin (London: Royal Historical Society, 1997)

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Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
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