Liberty Forged

the State has no money of its own, so it has no power of its own. ` Nock

Radically hating the State

Posted by Jesse on March 9, 2009

Last on the Colbert Agenda was an author, I missed his name, but he mentioned Joseph Priestley. He made the claim that Priestley and others were very influential in the beginnings of the American nation, despite the fact its not exactly a household name.

In Rothbards Do you Hate the State? he credits Priestley among others of being radical in a true sense of the word.

Perhaps the word that best defines our distinction is “radical.” Radical in the sense of being in total, root-and-branch opposition to the existing political system and to the State itself. Radical in the sense of having integrated intellectual opposition to the State with a gut hatred of its pervasive and organized system of crime and injustice. Radical in the sense of a deep commitment to the spirit of liberty and anti-statism that integrates reason and emotion, heart and soul.

Furthermore, in contrast to what seems to be true nowadays, you don’t have to be an anarchist to be radical in our sense, just as you can be an anarchist while missing the radical spark. I can think of hardly a single limited governmentalist of the present day who is radical – a truly amazing phenomenon, when we think of our classical liberal forbears who were genuinely radical, who hated statism and the States of their day with a beautifully integrated passion: the Levellers, Patrick Henry, Tom Paine, Joseph Priestley, the Jacksonians, Richard Cobden, and on and on, a veritable roll call of the greats of the past. Tom Paine’s radical hatred of the State and statism was and is far more important to the cause of liberty than the fact that he never crossed the divide between laissez-faire and anarchism.

This in turn recalled a book I read last year: The Betrayal of the American Right. In Chapter 2 Rothbard mentions Priestley, among others. He says:

The conventional historical wisdom asserts that while the radical movements in America were indeed laissez-faire individualist before the Civil War, that afterwards, the laissez-fairists became conservatives, and the radical mantle then fell to groups more familiar to the modern Left: the Socialists and Populists. But this is a distortion of the truth. For it was elderly New England Brahmins, laissez-faire merchants and industrialists like Edward Atkinson, who had financed John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry, who were the ones to leap in and oppose the U.S. imperialism of the Spanish-American War with all their might. No opposition to that war was more thoroughgoing than that of the laissez-faire economist and sociologist William Graham Sumner or than that of Atkinson who, as head of the Anti-Imperialist League, mailed antiwar pamphlets to American troops then engaged in conquering the Philippines. Atkinson’s pamphlets urged our troops to mutiny, and were consequently seized by the US postal authorities.

In taking this stand, Atkinson, Sumner and their colleagues were not being “sports”; they were following an antiwar, anti-imperialist tradition as old as classical liberalism itself. This was the tradition of Price, Priestley, and the late eighteenth-century British radicals that earned them repeated imprisonment by the British war machine; and of Richard Cobden, John Bright, and the laissez-faire Manchester School of the mid-nineteenth century. Cobden, in particular, had fearlessly denounced every war and every imperial maneuver of the British regime. We are now so used to thinking of opposition to imperialism as Marxian that this kind of movement seems almost inconceivable to us today.1

See the article on Mises.org

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