Vice, crime, and Lysander Spooner

The great anarchist Lysander Spooner wrote  Vices are Not Crimes: A Vindication of Moral Liberty in 1875. It is also available in PDF. Lysander Spooner (January 19, 1808 – May 14, 1887) was an American individualist anarchist, political philosopher, legal theorist, and entrepreneur of the nineteenth century.

Spooner is known for his American Letter Mail Company which was so competitive with the government’s Post Office that it had to be forced out of business by the United States government by the raw force of governmental power. Tell that to anyone who says that the Post Office is a “public good” that could not be provided by the private sector.

Spooner started his essay with these words:

Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.

Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.

Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property. In vices, the very essence of crime — that is, the design to injure the person or property of another — is wanting.

It is a maxim of the law that there can be no crime without a criminal intent; that is, without the intent to invade the person or property of another. But no one ever practices a vice with any such criminal intent. He practices his vice for his own happiness solely, and not from any malice toward others.

Unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognized by the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property; no such things as the right of one man to the control of his own person and property, and the corresponding and coequal rights of another man to the control of his own person and property.

For a government to declare a vice to be a crime, and to punish it as such, is an attempt to falsify the very nature of things. It is as absurd as it would be to declare truth to be falsehood, or falsehood truth.

Can you imagine the difference that it would make if the US government really believed the above as it once did? The idea that a man was free to do as he pleased as long as he was not committing aggression against another man or his property is a notion that has long gone out of the public consciousness. Can you imagine the difference it would make if the government and the people still believed that “… the very essence of crime … is, the design to injure the person or property of another”?

To believe that a man is free to do as he pleases as long as he does not try to injure another person or his property is the very essence of libertarian philosophy: of libertarian law. Spooner was writing in the 19th century when the USA was in its most “Classic Liberal” phase and still believed in the freedom of its people so his words were not nearly as radical sounding then as they are now.

The obvious major difference that we would see if we followed Lysander Spooner’s sage descriptions and advice on the law would be that the drug war would have to end immediately. That would do great wonders in reducing the police state as well as releasing hundreds of thousands of innocent men and women from prison where they are unconstitutionally held. A great calming effect would be seen over the land if there were no drug laws enrich the drug gangs, fill the prisons, and clog up the courts. Perhaps the police could then look for murderers and other violent offenders as many mistakenly think they do now.

More importantly though, is that we would need to always prove the “guilty mind” of a person, and the harm done to some other person for any crime. That would invalidate the greater percentage of modern “law” in the US Empire. That, my friends, would be a wonderful thing to see!

If you don’t know Spooner or this essay, I encourage you to read him now. It is well worth your time.


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