Lysander Spooner (1808–1887) is the American individualist anarchist and legal theorist known mainly for setting up a commercial post office in competition with the government and thereby being shut down. But he was also the author of some of the most radical political and economic writings of the 19th century, and continues to have a huge influence on libertarian thinkers today. He was a dedicated opponent of slavery in all its forms — even advocating guerrilla war to stop it — but also a dedicated opponent of the federal invasion of the South and its postwar reconstruction. This collection was selected personally by Murray Rothbard as his best work. It includes "Trial by Jury," which argues for the idea of jury nullification, that is, the right of the jury to reject the law under which a defendant is tried. It also includes his "Letter to Grover Cleveland," which remains one of the most rigorous pieces of political argument ever penned. Finally, it includes his classic work "No Treason," which argues that the U.S. Constitution is not a social contract at all and that it cannot bind the current generation. Spooner was obviously a great dissident -- and one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 19th century and an American original. His influence has been quiet but very long and pervasive. The title here is of Rothbard's own choosing, it sums up the theme of his best work.
Spooner should be read and discussed far more widely. His arguments are carefully reasoned and logically flawless. "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority", found herein, thoroughly dismantles the legitimacy of loyalty oaths to the State, the value of voting, and the Constitution itself, and if it can disabuse just one reader of the notion that "restoring the Constitution" is a goal worth pursuing he will have done his job.
On voting: "The secret ballot makes a secret government; and a secret government is a secret band of robbers and murderers." On oaths to the State: "of no validity", "destitute of obligation".
But Spooner is a largely unsung hero in several areas, from his practicing law in open defiance of occupational licensing, to his struggle against the Postal Service monopoly, and his inspiration of an anti-statist, direct action abolitionist movement against slavery. I agree that a multi-volume set of Lysander Spooner's collected works would be welcome.
And the three works included here totally justify the purchase... but I wish there was more than just three! "Vices Are Not Crimes" and "Natural Law" would have been great additions, and I would have loved to see "The Unconstitutionality of Slavery" even if that would mean a 2-volume set. Spooner deserves a sleek multi-volume set just as much as Bastiat does.
Spooner is a lucid writer; his arguments are clear and easy to follow.
"No Treason" and "Letter to Grover Cleveland" are classics (especially to natural law adherents) and completely explode any claims of moral legitimacy of the state.
The real gem in this collection, though, is "Trial by Jury." Spooner details the foundations, workings, and history of common law trial as practiced under Magna Carta. It is incredibly informative and offers good insight into how a system of polycentric law might function.
Worth every penny.
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