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Lysander Spooner

“If, then, it became so difficult, so nearly impossible, in most cases, to determine what is, and what is not, vice; and especially if it be so difficult, in nearly all cases, to determine where virtue ends, and vice begins; and if these questions, which no one can really and truly determine for anybody but himself, are not to be left free and open for experiment by all, each person is deprived of the highest of all his rights as a human being, to wit: his right to inquire, investigate, reason, try experiments, judge, and ascertain for himself, what is, to him, virtue, and what is, to him, vice; in other words: what, on the whole, conduces to his happiness, and what, on the whole, tends to his unhappiness. If this great right is not to be left free and open to all, then each man’s whole right, as a reasoning human being, to ‘liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ is denied him.

We all come into the world in ignorance of ourselves, and of everything around us. By a fundamental law of our natures we are all constantly impelled by the desire of happiness, and the fear of pain… No one of us, therefore, can learn this indispensable lesson of happiness and unhappiness, of virtue and vice, for another. Each must learn it for himself.”


From sections V and VI of Lysander Spooner’s 1875 text Vices Are Not Crimes.

Thanks to my good friend C. for sending this text my way. C.’s unyielding libertarianism — or is it anarcho-capitalism? — has been refreshing to return home to, especially as I’ve left the warm centrist cocoon of Washington, D.C. George Orwell said that it is not what a person thinks that’s important, but rather how he thinks; and while I don’t subscribe to the what of C.’s arguments, I’m an unabashed fan of the how. It takes real intellectual will and moral independence to mount the case that the state itself — not just a party or faction — is illegitimate, but C. does this with total energy, seriousness and rigor.

I have different ideas on the matter, and try to play the part of the good sparring partner, but I like the breath of fresh air. The challenge to re-establish first principles is always worthwhile; to enjoy the dialectic of argument is amongst the most rewarding endeavors I know.