The distinction not clearly made


For a long time, I considered the exquisite contrast drawn by the following to be the subtle but crucial thing the right didn’t understand about the left. I now often find myself wondering if this is the thing which the left no longer faces and understands about it’s own historically durable dual nature.

In any case, the book I take this from – “Instead of a Book” by Benjamin Tucker, which was first published in 1893, is a tiny bit rusty in terms of wording – but so brilliant, clear, heartfelt and hard to find in print, that I am considering publishing a Large Ess Small Press edition of it. There is something about viewing modern controversy through a long ago lens of high power and quality which can be especially illuminating – no one can ever claim that a guy who died eighty years ago and wrote to the century before that, was trying to exploit or manipulate the politics of today. I should also note, to be clear and fair, that he got this whole section from another writer – Ernest Lesigne – but considered it such a strong and excellent summary of his main points, he used it to end the first chapter.

There are two Socialisms.

One is communistic, the other solidaritarian.
One is dictatorial, the other libertarian.
One is metaphysical, the other positive.
One is dogmatic, the other scientific.
One is emotional, the other reflective.
One is destructive, the other constructive.

Both are in pursuit of the greatest possible welfare for all.

One aims to establish happiness for all, the other to enable
each to be happy in his own way.

The first regards the State as a society sui generis, of an
especial essence, the product of a sort of divine right outside
of and above all society, with special rights and able to exact
special obediences; the second considers the State as an association
like any other, generally managed worse than others.

The first proclaims the sovereignty of the State, the second
recognizes no sort of sovereign.

One wishes all monopolies to be held by the State; the
other wishes the abolition of all monopolies.

One wishes the governed class to become the governing
class ; the other wishes the disappearance of classes.

Both declare that the existing state of things cannot last.

The first considers revolution as the indispensable agent of
evolution ; the second teaches that repression alone turns evolution
into revolution.

The first has faith in a cataclysm.
The second knows that social progress will result from the
free play of individual efforts.

Both understand that we are entering upon a new historic phase.

One wishes that there should be none but proletaires.
The other wishes that there should be no more proletaires.

The first wishes to take everything from everybody.
The second wishes to leave each in possession of his own.

The one wishes to expropriate everybody.
The other wishes everybody to be a proprietor.

The first says : Do as the government wishes.’
The second says : Do as you wish yourself.’

The former threatens with despotism.
The latter promises liberty.

The former makes the citizen the subject of the State.
The latter makes the State the employee of the citizen.

One proclaims that labor pains will be necessary to the
birth of the new world.
The other declares that real progress will not cause suffering
to any one.

The first has confidence in social war.
The other believes only in the works of peace.

One aspires to command, to regulate, to legislate.
The other wishes to attain the minimum of command, of
regulation, of legislation.

One would be followed by the most atrocious of reactions.
The other opens unlimited horizons to progress.
The first will fail; the other will succeed.

Both desire equality.

One by lowering heads that are too high.
The other by raising heads that are too low.

One sees equality under a common yoke.
The other will secure equality in complete liberty.

One is intolerant, the other tolerant.
One frightens, the other reassures.

The first wishes to instruct everybody.
The second wishes to enable everybody to instruct himself.

The first wishes to support everybody.
The second wishes to enable everybody to support himself.

One says :

The land to the State.
The mine to the State.
The tool to the State.
The product to the State.

The other says:

The land to the cultivator.
The mine to the miner.
The tool to the laborer.
The product to the producer.

There are only these two Socialisms.

One is the infancy of Socialism; the other is its manhood.
One is already the past; the other is the future.
One will give place to the other.

To-day each of us must choose for one or the other of
these two Socialisms, or else confess that he is not a Socialist.

There are a few other copyright expired and hard to find titles and authors who I am considering printing in a Large Ess Small Press edition – but this one seems especially energetic and for the moment to me. So I thought I ought to ask – anyone else want to be able to sit and read it in spiffy modern type and sweet softcover trade format? (Because let’s face it – great books go a whole lot better with a bubble-bath than a computer chair!)


  1. I enjoy both pieces by Tucker, and would welcome such material on my bookshelf. There is a certain prescience about it, as there so often is in writings by people who could take their time to synthesize what they knew, rather than merely reacting to stimuli. However, I’ve also noted lately that our age has the dubious distinction of being one in which we are regularly presented with empirical data about our impending demise – and we seem reluctant to do anything about it. Arguments and strategies for economic degrowth have been picking up steam recently. But there are numerous important ethical issues that must be discussed head-on, in creating a broad and effective program that really works for everyone. Our hearts are in the right place, but are we willing to rigorously examine our assumptions about how to get to our destination?

    As members of an affluent society – even if we don’t identify as affluent at all – we may wish to extend our resources and opportunities all over the world, along with our “freedom” and our “way of life”. The existence of disparities, many of them quite glaring and others hidden, leads to the reasonable conclusion that wealth and opportunity can and must be “redistributed”. This is not only noble and altruistic, but a moral “must”. But it is also far more complicated than we have been led to believe.

    To a large extent, poverty was built-in to the dominant global economic system as a crucial factor in maintaining economic productivity. It is by no means limited to the third world, and those in “affluent” societies must not assume that affluence is, or ever was, their birthright. Disparities between countries can be hidden, as can disparities within a single society. Many benefit from this arrangement – even those who are exploited by it. The aspiration of “rescuing” the third world from deprivation, much of which is a direct result of colonialism, assumes a level of benefit accruing to the common people in the affluent democracies, and a degree of democratic agency to re-shape the global economy, that simply doesn’t exist. At the same time, and in apparent contrast to the foregoing, it wouldn’t be practicable for everyone to live anywhere near as resource-intensively as middle class westerners do. That aspiration is profoundly delusional, and causes more harm than good.

    We should make two lists of the “harm” and the “good” arising from that aspiration. Harms: encourages further destructive development / putting profits over people, and wide uncritical co-operation with such initiatives; discourages degrowth initiatives or green industry; fails to critically address problematic cultural practices that tend to reproduce poverty, desperation and the conditions of exploitation. Goods: Some people get to have nice things, including many people who might not otherwise have nice things.

    Neutral / ambiguous: Some people get to affirm their self-image as a good, altruistic person, while encouraging practices that are often very problematic. And this aids them in the enjoyment of the above-mentioned “Goods”.

    But there are also more touchy conversations about culture and religion that members of a “global village” should be prepared to engage in. (Tempting though it is to abstract these away.) Underneath the partisan cacophony, there’s an ominous silence. We should be discussing degrowth strategies, problems of access, and quality of life. Different societies have different attributes, and these elements of culture and spirituality influence what people consider themselves entitled to, and most grateful for. The sacrifices they are willing to make. How much stock they put in scientific data. How they respond to incentives, upon hearing news of environmentally destructive development in their region, for example. How they can effectively represent workers’ interests. How they view contraception and women’s reproductive rights – or women’s education.

    The take-away from this is that westerners, and in particular leftists or those neoliberals who believe that markets will rescue the world’s poor, must critically examine their assumptions about wealth. Some form of radical degrowth is needed, and this must be uncoupled, both rhetorically and practically, from threats to human rights and reasonable standards of living. The working classes of all nations have been subject to two delusions: 1) That the system can provide for them if they properly align themselves with its mandates and play by its rules, and 2) that the negative consequences of doing so can be mitigated by a moralizing fantasy of “redistribution” of the fruits of western colonialism.

    • Hi Ian

      Beautiful! Couldn’t agree with your conclusions in particular, more. Self-delusion is our most popular sport by a huge margin, and growing. Also agree about poverty being a feature of the system which we only think a bug – but that doesn’t mean taking it out is in any way easy. It may interest you to know that the other book I’m thinking would go well with Tucker, for a launch of this side-project, is a collection by CH Douglas, the engineer who invented Social Credit (probably the most influential non-Marxist leftist economic idea) based entirely around this exact problem – the ‘created scarcity’ within capitalism, and how to overcome it, in order to unlock individual self-realization, without giving away personal freedoms to an all-seeing all-controlling authoritarian state. (something far too many young people are insufficiently afraid of nowadays – as fundamentally counterrevolutionary as our culture undoubtedly is).

      The fact that none of these classic thinkers were dealing with the environment means we can only take them as springboards, rather than established gospel – but for all that, their emphasis on fairness and freedom of self-definition seems incredibly relevant for the moment. It is important to remind people that Marx is the angriest redistribution model, really not at all the best. (Proven by history to all but the most grotesquely stubborn racists in the west).

      Rebranding Anarchy as THE MOST PEACEFUL political philosophy strikes me as particularly important, and I even try to wedge Libertarian open a bit, so that we can connect to the Libertarian anarchist tradition without any scent of modern (incoherent and again, oblivious to history) Republicanism.

      Cheers man – really appreciate the open curiosity and realism on this one.

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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