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By Owen Paine on Friday February 27, 2009 10:43 PM

"In order to understand the law of nature in regard to intellectual property, it is necessary to understand the principles of that law in regard to property in general. We shall then see that the right of property in ideas, is at least as strong as-and in many cases identical with-the right of property in material things....

"As a matter of public policy, the expediency of allowing a man a perpetual property in his ideas... is as clear as is that of allowing him a perpetual property in material things."

Provoked by a twisted piece of devilry by SMBIVA's own Al Schumann, recently I chanced upon this patch of whittled wisdom by the Sismondi of the hayfields, Sandy Spooner.

It's on the subject of our universal right to the fruits of our own intellectual products, and I strongly recommend it to any of you who haven't read it.

Like most "left-libertarian" logic rides, it has its fun moments -- not quite like crossing a raging river on ice cakes, but turveyish and strangely-cornered.

Then again, in its bottom-line utter wrongheadedness, it's a caution to all of us hedgehogs -- ultimately a warning against the seductions of socially isolated freethinking, no matter how fearless, decent, and bold.

Comments (25)

Those Kids Today:

I was actually very impressed with "MJS" when he admitted that he was against Obama's stimulus plan because it confiscating his own hard earned boomer wealth and giving it to shiftless, shall we say ahem people of color, who came a generation too late.

But now, making fun of Lysander Spooner, Ron Paul's favorite lefty abolitionist, without bringing up George Fitzhugh, the greatest American socialist who ever lived?

For shame.

Anyway, had you been more honest, you might have set up a contrast between Fitzhugh's "Slaves Without Masters" and Lysander Spooner. Then we might have had an interesting conversation.

Kinda funny that Spooner the abolitionist was a libertarian free trader and Fitzhugh the Marxist was an apologist for slavery, wasn't it?

Ha Ha

Al Schumann:

It's delicious in a bleak way that vulgar libertarians won't differentiate between social ownership of the means of production and the condition of complete subservience, whether to state capitalism or oligarchic capitalism backed by the state. In their daily life, they're subject to both, often to an excruciatingly painful and degrading degree. And their solution? A vulgar, sophomoric "the worse, the better" strategy, fully in keeping with Fitzhugh's platform of transcending servility through greater servility, and a gripe that they're bored. Of course they're bored! Who could fail to be bored by life in a piss-tested, cavity-searched, rent-a-cop enforced cubicle farm of the mind.

There's a considerable divide between the libertarians of the stateless society and the socialists, but one thing they both accept is the reality of the intrinsically servile nature of capitalism.

Those Kids Today:

You should read Fitzhugh before you critique him. He never said anything close to "let's transcend servility through greater servility."

He said that some people are meant to govern and some people are meant to be taken care of.

Then he went on to discuss how people in favor of a "free society" (the entire range of liberals from Adam Smith to Jefferson to extreme libertarians like Spooner) wind up hurting the poor by failing to recognize they can't govern themselves.

A "free society" subjects the poor and weak to the market, something most of them don't have the intellect to figure out.

Socialists, on the other hand, as Fitzhugh argues, recognize that most people need government and a lot more of it.

Lenin, Castro, Mao, and even Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales (notice how the latest crop of Latin American socialists all recognize how their own cult of personality is central to their "revolution" and want desperately to stay in office for life) agree with Fitzhugh. The poor need government to protect them. They need an elite to make sure the market doesn't through them into a competitive environment that victimizes them.

The whole debate about social security is just a comic book version of the debate between Fitzhugh and Spooner.

Spooner would argue that every individual is able to take his wages and set up a retirement plan for him or herself. Fitzhugh would argue that we all need the government to do it for us since most of the poor would just take the money and buy flat screen TVs or bottles of Hennesey.

What Fitzhugh and Spooner have that people here desperately need is the recognition that "Freedom isn't Free." They're two honest sides of the same coin.

Those Kids Today:

And to add a bit to that Al, I think we basically agree, me and the people who run this blog.

You're all (quite rightfully) concerned about Obama's cult of personality.

So am I. But I wouldn't call it "Obama's cult of personality." I'd call it "socialism."

As Fitzhugh pointed out, socialism is either about tradition or about a cult of personality (he pointed out Joseph Smith and Brigham Young as the two best examples of American socialists).

Socialism is good but what kind of socialism? Fitzhugh argued that when a "free society" destroys tradition, the inevitable result is socialist totalitarianism, Joseph Smith or Lenin. People NEED structure and hierarchy. So why not keep socialism around but make sure that socialism is limited by a respect for tradition. For example, the Catholic Church and the USSR are both good examples of socialist institutions. One turned monstrous because it was born out of the emptiness of a "free society" and the other didn't because it's been tempered by 1500 years of tradition.

The "cult of personality" around Obama (as was the cult of personality around Bush) is just the American longing for socialism. But fortunately, Obama won't be able to do very much because he's limited by tradition, by the Constitution, by the ruling class, by the media. At BEST he can act like a traditional watered down American New Deal Socialist.

And that's what you want right, New Deal Socialism? The only problem is that you're not honest enough to admit that socialism requires a cult of personality so you form your own cults of personality around figures who can't possibly come to power (Nader, McKinney, Kucinich, etc.) and you project onto them a longing for an older form of American socialism (ie the "Great Society" shorn of that messy business in Vietnam). In the end, it comes down to an argument that people born between 1945 and 1964 represent the tradition that we should respect. Obama, for you, is exactly what Joseph Smith was for Fitzhugh, socialism without tradition.

In other words, I'm your friend. I see your point.

And I respect the fact that you're basically afraid of a genuine Marxist revolution (if you wanted that you'd be trying to figure out how to mobilize the people around Obama in a genuinely revolutionary direction). All you want is a New Deal left that never real came to fruition.

What I'm asking you is to see that maybe you should just go all the way and argue in favor of the kind of real, individualistic society Spooner so eloquently described. It means a lot of people like lil ol stupid helpless me will lose.

It means that superior chaps like MJS and Al Schumann will win.

Al Schumann:

I've read Fitzhugh. It's silly to call him a socialist. The crackpot sociology of natural dominance and natural subservience appeals most to to those who imagine they will be spared the rigors of their application on the downside. Moreover, his solution to the conditions of early finance capitalism was indeed transcendence through expanding servility. That he never said as much, prescisely, is a quibble, and a silly one at that. Calhoun, too, railed against the banksters of his time and spouted paeans to egalitarianism -- an egalitarianism which, needless to say, must necessarily be circumscribed by the laws of natural dominance and natural subservience. Preaching liberty for the masses who, by coincidence I'm sure, are the massas who own the pulpit and the pews and the slaves and the debt of the parishioners is not exactly a liberation sermon.

We agree on nothing, save possibly the time of day, and even then I would be concerned that you're imputing an understanding of time that it is entirely alien.


Look, I dont have time to read Spooner or Ftizhugh, I'm trying to read Proust in French!

But I love any discussion of the origin of the "right to property". Spooner says it first comes simply from taking possession. Exactly! In other words, theft.


I'm not sure if Obama's the right man for the job. I'm still having trouble detecting any sign of a personality in him. Maybe if he grew a beard?

Those Kids Today:

Fitzhugh may not have been a "socialist" but he was certainly a "Marxist" (since he accepted the labor theory of value).

And I disagree with you. We agree on quite a bit.

In fact, think about what a laugh good old George Fitzhugh must be having about the 2008 election. A broken society of white people elects a "magical negro" thinking this "messiah" is going to solve all their problems. As Fitzhugh warned, a broken society without tradition looks for saviors.

And lest you think the term "magical negro" is racist, it wasn't Rush Limbaugh who invented it. It comes from a leftist web site called "The Black Agenda Report."

But it gets better than that, right and left critics of Obama are all Fitzhughites.

1.) Rush Limbaugh thinks that the "politically correct" media and university system trained a whole generation of young people to be afraid to criticize blacks. So when a slick black socialist named Barack Obama appears on the scene pretending to be "bipartisan" voila, every white American college student swallows it whole.

2.) The left (Nader supporters, McKinney supporters, Marxists, various left Democrats) also think Obama is the "magical negro". The "ruling class" had to call him up to prevent the "revolution" that was just around the corner as a result of Bush's incompetence. The left thinks that Obama will not only head off revolution at home but also make it easier to invade the Sudan.

In other words, both the left and right agree on one thing, the reason the "ruling class" (in the case of the left) or the "elites" (in the case of the right) needed a magical negro was because of a socialist impulse. In the case of Limbaugh, the purpose of the magical negro is to bring socialism. In the case of the left, it's to head off socialism. But it's still an appeal to socialism.

Now Al, here's why I like you. You see through both these positions and agree with me. Obama means very little. The American people never wanted socialism. They just wanted an easy, painless way to reject Bush and get over their guilt for destroying Iraq. Obama's being black provided that magical negro elixir. But NOTE, it's still an impulse on the left, a fake impulse for socialism, to be sure, but still a socialist impulse, not an impulse for patriotism, capitalism or traditional religion.

Ah, Fitzhugh's laughing his confederate ass off somewhere in the slaveowners loungue in hell. Calhoun is chuckling too.

Lysander Spooner, on the other hand, is weeping.

Those Kids Today:

This is wrong:

"Spooner says it first comes simply from taking possession. Exactly! In other words, theft."

Property rights come not from "theft" but from "use."

Thus, native Americans had the right to live on and use the land, but they didn't have the right to claim huge, uncultivated tracts of land as communal property.

The conflict between whites and natives in the 17th century had wrongs on both sides. The whites did hate and fear the natives and did steal their land. But also, some conflict came from the fact that the natives went to war over land they claimed but weren't using. The whites had a right to settle on and use uncultivated land.

On the other hand, when the crown gave huge tracts of land in Virginia to the Carters and Byrds just to sit on for 100 years, Spooner would have been opposed to that. He would have argued that the Carters and Byrds didn't own land they weren't using.

Whatcha smokin', TKT? Hemp of a rather old and red-hairy vintage, obviously.

Meanwhile, anybody who can call Barack Obama a socialist with a straight face is some village's lost idiot. Do you pay attention to the 21st century at all?

For starters, you might take a peep at this little precis of your socialist's core commitments:


Those Kids Today:

Looks as if we're all hung up on the definition of "socialist" although I thought I'd made it pretty clear that I was comparing the cult of Obama with George Fitzhugh's theory about how a breakdown of tradition leads to a "socialism of the personality cult" as opposed to the "socialism of tradition."

Al on the other hand won't accept the idea of Fitzhugh as a socialist even though Fitzhugh makes it perfectly clear that he's a collectivist who accepts the classic Marxist definition of value as created by labor.

I wonder how we all define "socialist" then? Do you have to wave a red flag with a hammer and a sickle? Or does Obama's partial nationalization of the banks count?

I guess you could say that partially nationalizing the economy is more "fascist" then socialist when it comes from the top. But if that's true, then it's tough for any member of the political elite to be called a socialist (even though Obama did mention something in the debates about how he wanted to be pushed to the left).

Or do you consider Obama's connection to the bankers to be something that disqualifies him from being a socialist?

Hmm. I wonder where that would leave Eduard Bernstein (who worked for a bank) or Engels (who owned a factory) or Lenin (who was partly created by the New York bankers to stop anarchism in its tracks).


Dear me, this has been fun.

On a purely personal note, I must protest that any "boomer wealth" I might have had was neither hard-earned -- I always got a free ride, as long as it lasted -- nor distributed to the undeservingly shiftless poor. As far as I can tell, it was distributed to the fiendishly industrious rich, except for a few small items of plunder which I keep in my saddlebags.

A socialist is a person who favors the public democratic control of major economic decisions and the use of public enterprise to enact them, whenever that is best.

Obama is not such a person, as he himself says and amply demonstrates. Using the state to subsidize corporate capital is not socialism. It's corporate capitalism.

Meanwhile, if adhering to the labor theory of value makes somebody a Marxist, then Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith, and David Ricardo were Marxists.

A Marxist is a person who think Karl Marx had a lot of vital things to say about capitalism, including the human race's ultimate need for socialist transcendence of it.


"Property rights come not from "theft" but from "use." (TKT)

No, he really says it -- the first right comes from mere possession; check out OP's link. I only add that possession usually starts with violence. If "use" was the origin of ownership, I'd own my apartment.

Those Kids Today:

Oh nonsense.

"A Marxist is a person who think Karl Marx had a lot of vital things to say about capitalism, including the human race's ultimate need for socialist transcendence of it."

Marx himself said "I'm not a Marxist."

Fitzhugh's a "Marxist" because he believes in the labor theory of value IN COMBINATION with a belief in authoritarian collectivism, the idea that the strong should take care of the weak, and in the idea that history is propelled by class conflict.

On that last note, he differs from Marx in the sense that he doesn't have an overarching theory of history being propelled upwards to a socailist utopia.

So I guess you could call him a "non Hegalian Marxist."

As for Spooner's idea that property rights start with violence, well DUH. He's describing history. Doesn't Marx say pretty much the exact same thing?

But you're taking one piece of Spooner's libetarianism out of context. If you read a bit more deeply you'd realize that his description of property as "theft" is a matter of fact description of history but his ideal is "property as use."

Had Spooner been presented as a "socialist" you would have looked through the text long enough to find something good about what he was saying and you would have managed to stumble across what he was really trying to say.

Did Marx believe that most property was "theft." Yes. Was that his idea? No.

What's different about Spooner from Marx (and Fitzhugh) is the idea of the individual. Spooner simply thinks individuals will compete and that it's a good thing. Marx and Fitzhugh think it's bad.

Oh well, I guess the longer I go on the more smugly confirmed you're all going to be in beliefs that you hold by faith, not by reason. Glad to be of help...



makes a nice toonish saurian counter

to spooners cracker box
angelic hope

Those Kids Today:

Maybe cartonnish

"makes a nice toonish saurian counter"

But a war that killed 600,000 Americans was fought by two sides who believed in both ideas.

Hint: Spooner's ideas won, both in 1865 and 1989.

Check out the career of Abe Lincoln's son Todd and you'll see what I mean.

Of course Frederick Douglas (probably a hero around these lefty parts) didn't think spooner was cartoonish at all. In fact, he credits Spooner with having converted him to the idea that the US Constitution was a basis for the end of slavery.

www reason com news show 36814 html

"At the same time, Douglass was studying legal theory and history, leading to what Colaiaco calls his "conversion to the Constitution." An 1851 North Star editorial announced the change, with Douglass declaring his new opinion that the Constitution opposed slavery. This view "has not been hastily arrived at," he insisted, but came only after "a careful study of the writings of Lysander Spooner, of Gerrit Smith, and of William Goodell," three leading proponents of an anti-slavery reading of the document.

Though Colaiaco places the most emphasis on Smith, a founding member of the abolitionist Liberty Party and a wealthy New York landowner whose patronage was crucial for many anti-slavery ventures, including The North Star, Spooner (1808-1887) also deserves special attention. A lawyer, a radical abolitionist, and the author of the anarchist classic No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority (1870), Lysander Spooner is one of America's great libertarian heroes. His magnificent treatise against the slave system, The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845), would spark a firestorm of debate and have a huge influence on Douglass' evolving legal ideas."

Ah. So easy to mock what we don't understand.

Those Kids Today:

And if you're interested in what Fitzhhugh thought about Gerrit Smith and Woodhull, check out Chapter X in "Cannibals All".

Fitzhugh believed that the lefty abolitionists were the best propaganda against the anti-slavery cause because he believed that they effectively proved their case that the abolition of slavery meant socialism. If enough attention was called to the real ideas of the lefty abolitionists, the northern capitalists would look at the 1848 Revolutions in Europe and say "uh oh we don't want that" and decide to keep slavery.

Now can't you admit that our current crop of lefty Marxists and Trotskyists would argue something similar. Imagine the headline on some "Revolutionary Proletariet" newspaper being hawked at anti-war rallies.


Ha Ha

So why didn't Fitzhugh just come out and declare himself a Revolutionary Marxist?

Because he saw how Stalin would follow 1917. He saw how the Italian Socialist Party would produce Mussolini. He saw how the "Great Society" would produce Vietnam. He saw how the hippies of the 1960s would produce Altamont, Charles Manson, and of course Jonestown.

So he became what Marx referred to in the "Communist Manifesto" as a "Reacionary Socialist" (keep feudalism and stop capitalism).

It makes you wonder what Marx would have labeled our current crop of Naderites, McKinneyites, Kucinichites and various other "left liberals" who think what we need is another go at socialism with the US Constitution, who hate liberty and capitalism but don't have the guts to go all the way and call for another 1917.

"Stalin would follow 1917. He saw how the Italian Socialist Party would produce Mussolini. He saw how the "Great Society" would produce Vietnam. He saw how the hippies of the 1960s would produce Altamont, Charles Manson, and of course Jonestown."

All that (and only that?) was inevitable, a result of the Working of Ideas? I thought you said this clown wasn't a Hegelian...

You've certainly succeeded in convincing me that Fitzhugh well deserves his place in the ashcan of history.

Al Schumann:

I'm wondering if TKT is in some kind of audition, or possibly performance art. If that's so, I think can help, maybe just a little.

The bonhomie comes across as fatuous and calumnious, like a cop's when he's trying to play Good Cop and sell a plea bargain, but isn't really paying attention to anything but the audience behind the CCTV. Bonhomie can be made sinister and decadent, but the sales aspect always reduces it to an unfunny farce. The contempt needs to stick with one trope. You can't mix "you have betrayed your gods" with "you have followed your gods only too well". That's jarring. Also, you need to stick with one set of gods, otherwise the effect is like a recitation of Ted Kaczynski's manifesto.

The ideological determinism is a creepy imitation of the liberals' ontological fundamentalism, itself a creepy imitation of the freepers' reductionist psychology. None of them work, either as plot devices or rhetorical tactics. Use of them is reserved, in any event, to established think tank scholars and MSM pundits, whose goal is creating a spectacular agitation ritual for their sponsors. Unlicensed use is not strictly forbidden; not exactly. It's not actionable, in most circumstances, but the performer can't expect compensation and may even draw the ire of professionals who want to maintain guild standards.

Those Kids Today:

It's not determinism if it's already happened. It's an explanation of history.

There has NEVER been a socialist experiment that hasn't degenerated into totalitarianism.

Jim Jones wasn't the inevitable result of the hippie movement. But he was the result that history gave us. Stalin and Mao weren't the inevitable result of Marxism, but they were the result reality threw up. It wasn't inevitable that Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez would throw all the energies of their "revolutions" into getting rid of term limits but they did, didn't they.

The only places socialism has, well, sort of worked in a limited way has been on a very small scale in racially homogenous societies.

Socialism sort of works in Israel but it's based on ethnic cleansing and apartheid. And what to say about Scandinavian social democracy? Unlike American capitalism, it can't handle immigration. When the Danes were confronted by specter of the Mohammaden Menace that social democracy sure turned into phil zionism before you could say "cartoons" didn't it. Britain? The slogan of the latest strike is "British jobs for British workers." It's "workers of the world stay out" and not "workers of the world unite.

I'd say Fitzhugh's held up pretty well.

And Al, you know you like me, if only in an Ivan Karamazov to Pavel Smerdyakov sort of way.


Socialism sort of works in Israel but it's based on ethnic cleansing and apartheid.

This guy, TKT is an idiot. He thinks Israel is a socialist country. His definition of socialism, like his fellow libertarian idiots, means Government is doing something he doesn't approve. That automatically makes it socialistic.

And these Libertarians are masters of redefinition and circular logic. Suppose Government is doing something that they approve then they would suddenly change gears and invent twisted arguments that "prove" what their government is doing is absolutely right.

And he has the gall to tell others " I guess the longer I go on the more smugly confirmed you're all going to be in beliefs that you hold by faith, not by reason. Glad to be of help"

It is you who is the professional idiot here, Mr TKT.


"I'm wondering if TKT is in some kind of audition"

Al he's conducting
his own trial
playing all the parts himself
oscar levant in
" american in paris '

showering in public
without a life guard

it's all
to avoid
our verdict
.......jury nullification


"professional idiot"

nice ajit and true
only his pay gets direct deposited
in the wrong bank account

most of us are just inspired amateurs
when it comes to the idiot department
seems invading beetle tkt
not only gets paid for his turns
he's also
totally beyond inspiration

TKT is a variant on the "John Howard" troll that appeared recently at Chris Floyd's blog. Apparently TKT's goal in this particular thread is to render the term "socialist" so flexible as to make it useful for TKT's assaults on everything he disagrees with from his own non-socialist position.

watch as TKT defines others, but never defines himself with the same direct accusatory style. his purpose is to criticize, while evading with slippery redefinitions of what he supposedly stands for.

he stands for nothing. he is just trying to set the world on fire, so he can watch it burn. not that it needs burning. not that he thinks the burning will do good.

he just likes destruction.


was that sufficiently accurate in emulating TKT's style, while describing his agenda with some veracity?

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