Spooner: Against Woman Suffrage

I just happened to come across this:

Against Woman Suffrage
by Lysander Spooner
New Age, February 24, 1877

Women are human beings, and consequently have all the natural rights that any human beings can have. They have just as good a right to make laws as men have, and no better; AND THAT IS JUST NO RIGHT AT ALL. No human being, nor any number of human beings, have any right to make laws, and compel other human beings to obey them. To say that they have is to say that they are the masters and owners of those of whom they require such obedience.

The only law that any human being can rightfully be compelled to obey is simply the law of justice. And justice is not a thing that is made, or that can be unmade, or altered, by any human authority. It is a natural principle, inhering in the very nature of man and of things. It is that natural principle which determines what is mine and what is thine, what is one man’s right or property and what is another man’s right or property. It is, so to speak, the line that Nature has drawn between one man’s rights of person and property and another man’s rights of person and property.

This natural principle, which we will call justice, and which assigns to each and every human being, is, I repeat, not a thing that has made, but is a matter of science to be learned, like mathematics, or chemistry, or geology. And all the laws, so called, that men have ever made, either to create, define, or control the rights of individuals, were intrinsically just as absurd and ridiculous as would be laws to create, define, or control mathematics, or chemistry, or geology.

Substantially all the tyranny and robbery and crime that governments have ever committed—and they have either themselves committed, or licensed others to commit, nearly all that have ever been committed in the world by anybody—have been committed by them under the pretence of making laws. Some man, or some body of men, have claimed the right, or usurped the power, of making laws, and compelling other men to obey; thus setting up their own will, and enforcing it, in place of that natural law, or natural principle, which says that no man or body of men can rightfully exercise any arbitrary power whatever over the persons or property of other men.

There are a large class of men who are so rapacious that they desire to appropriate to their own uses the persons and properties of other men. They combined for the purpose, call themselves governments, make what they call laws, and then employ courts, and governors, and constables, and, in the last resort, bayonets, to enforce obedience.

There is another class of men, who are devoured by ambition, by the love of power, and the love of fame.

They think it a very glorious thing to rule over men; to make laws to govern them. But as they have no power of their own to compel obedience, they unite with the rapacious class before mentioned, and become their tools. They promise to make such laws as the rapacious class desire, if this latter class will but authorize them to act in their name, and furnish the money and the soldiers necessary for carrying their laws, so called, into execution.

Still another class of men, with a sublime conceit of their own wisdom, or virtue, or religion, think they have a right, and a sort of divine authority, for making laws to govern those who, they think are less wise, or less virtuous, or less religious than themselves. They assume to know what is best for all other men to do and not to do, to be and not to be, to have and not to have. And they conspire to make laws to compel all those other men to conform to their will, or, as they would say, to their superior discretion. They seem to have no perception of the truth that each and every human being has had given to him a mind and body of his own, separate and distinct from the minds and bodies of all other men; and that each man’s mind and body have, by nature, rights that are utterly separate and distinct from the rights of any and all other men; that these individual rights are really the only human rights there are in the world; that each man’s rights are simply the right to control his own soul, and body, and property, according to his own will, pleasure, and discretion, so long as he does not interfere with the equal right of any other man to the free exercise and control of his own soul, body, and property. They seem to have no conception of the truth that, so long as he lets all other men’s souls, bodies, and properties alone, he is under no obligation whatever to believe in such wisdom, or virtue, or religion as they do, or as they think best for him.

This body of self-conceited, wise, virtuous, and religious people, not being sufficiently powerful of themselves to make laws and enforce them upon the rest of mankind, combined with the rapacious and ambitious classes before mentioned to carry out such purposes as they can all agree upon. And the farce, and jargon, and Babel they all make of what they call government would be supremely ludicrous and ridiculous, if it were not the cause of nearly all the poverty, ignorance, vice, crime, and misery there are in the world.

Of this latter class—that is, the self-conceited, wise, virtuous, and religious class—are those woman suffrage persons who are so anxious that women should participate in all the falsehood, absurdity, usurpation, and crime of making laws, and enforcing them upon other persons. It is astonishing what an amount of wisdom, virtue, and knowledge they propose to inflict upon, or force into, the rest of mankind, if they can but be permitted to participate with the men in making laws. According to their own promises and predictions, there will not be a single natural human being left upon the globe, if the women can but get hold of us, and add their power to that of the men in making such laws as nobody has any right to make, and such as nobody will be under the least obligation to obey. According to their programme, we are to be put into their legislative mill, and be run through, ground up, worked over, and made into some shape in which we shall be scarcely recognized as human beings. Assuming to be gods, they propose to make us over into their own image. But there are so many different images among them, that we can have, at most, but one feature after one model, and another after another. What the whole conglomerate human animal will be like, it is impossible to conjecture.

In all conscience, it is not for us even to bear the nearly unbearable ills inflicted upon us by the laws already made,–at any rate it is not better for us to be (if we can but be permitted to be) such simple human beings as Nature made us,–than suffer ourselves to be made over into such grotesque and horrible shapes as a new set of lawmakers would make us into, if we suffer them to try their powers upon us?

The excuse which the women offer for all the laws which they propose to inflict upon us is that they themselves are oppressed by the laws that now exist. Of course they are oppressed; and so are all men—except the oppressors themselves—oppressed by the laws that are made. As a general rule, oppression was the only motive for which laws were ever made. If men wanted justice, and only justice, no laws would ever need to be made; since justice itself is not a thing that can be made. If men or women, or men and women, want justice, and only justice, their true course is not to make any more laws, but to abolish the laws—all the laws—that have already been made. When they shall have abolished all the laws that have already been made, let them give themselves to the study and observance, and, if need be, the enforcement, of that one universal law—the law of Nature—which is “the same at Rome and Athens”—in China and in England—and which man did not make. Women and men alike will then have their rights; all their rights; all the rights that Nature gave them. But until then, neither men nor women will have anything that they can call their rights. They will at most have only such liberties or privileges as the laws that are made shall see fit to allow them.

If the women, instead of petitioning to be admitted to a participation in the power of making more laws, will but give notice to the present lawmakers that they (the women) are going up to the State House, and are going to throw all the existing statute books in the fire, they will do a very sensible thing,–one of the most sensible things it is in their power to do. And they will have a crowd of men—at least all the sensible and honest men in the country to go with them.

But this subject requires a treatise, and is not to be judged of by the few words here written. Nor is any special odium designed to be cast on the woman suffragists; many of whom are undoubtedly among the best and most honest of all those foolish people who believe that laws should be made.

This has essentially been the foundation of my argument against extending legal marriage to include gays: Gays have as good a right to have their marriages legally recognized as straights have; and that is no right at all.

58 thoughts on “Spooner: Against Woman Suffrage”

  1. “The only law that any human being can rightfully be compelled to obey is simply the law of justice. And justice is not a thing that is made, or that can be unmade, or altered, by any human authority. It is a natural principle, inhering in the very nature of man and of things. It is that natural principle which determines what is mine and what is thine, what is one man’s right or property and what is another man’s right or property. It is, so to speak, the line that Nature has drawn between one man’s rights of person and property and another man’s rights of person and property.”

    ridiculous. cannot draw up laws, and even if it could we’ d have know way of determining them. this is no better than theology.

  2. I think someone on here suggested that people who don’t share the moral intuitions of the rest of us are termed “psychopaths”. Maybe he means he is a psychopath? :)

  3. While I agree with Spooner in principle, I think what Scott is trying to say is that Spooner’s argument sounds a bit simplistic, as if Nature’s laws are obvious and clearly delineated, and that’s not always the case. There is a lot of thinking and analyzing required on our part.

  4. What I don’t understand isn’t the result of the Milgram experiments, but that people are shocked by them. In a culture with public schools that practically worship conformity and obedience, how could any other result be expected?

  5. What I don’t understand isn’t the result of the Milgram experiments, but that people are shocked by them. In a culture with public schools that practically worship conformity and obedience, how could any other result be expected?

    Isn’t that obvious? They don’t see themelves as a bunch of conformist morons. Every graduate of an American high school thinks of himslef as an “independent thinker” – the most widely-used self-compliment in the US today. The same education system also fills their minds with the ideas that they’re smart, compassionate, capable, and that their opinion counts. The reaction to the Milgram experiment is as expected as the results of the experiment themselves.

  6. When it comes to conformity and dogmatism, many private schools (e.g. Christian schools) are even worse in that regard than public ones.

  7. I don’t think it has much to do with public schools…

    Yah. Seems to me that there was a fair amount of indifferent brutality before American public schools were widely established:

    In 1830 the Congress of the United States passed the “Indian Removal Act.” Although many Americans were against the act, most notably Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett, it passed anyway. President Jackson quickly signed the bill into law.

    In one of the saddest episodes of our brief history, men, women, and children were taken from their land, herded into makeshift forts with minimal facilities and food, then forced to march a thousand miles(Some made part of the trip by boat in equally horrible conditions).

    About 4000 Cherokee died as a result of the removal.

    “I don’t make the law, I just enforce it”.

  8. I strongly suspect this is not a learned behavior at all but rather something to which men are generally predisposed.

    I think Milgram’s whole point was to show that this behavior is inherent and not learned. He recruited his subjects randomly, with disregard to education or other such parameters.

  9. Kennedy,
    Seemes to support much or the same, though it’s more anecdotal.

    No, in the Stanford Prison Experiment the “guards” were not instructed to abuse the prisoners – they did so on their own volition. The Stanford Experiment takes Milgram’s conculsions a step further – men will abuse other men for fun, not only when told to do so.

    Stefan,
    …your views were factually incorrect.

    What views are those, and how are they incorrect? I have a mountain of 169,000,000 innocent victims in the 20th century alone to support my pessimism. What do you have to support your optimism?

  10. I didn’t know Milgram’s were widely reproduced; I thought research ethics changed after the experiment to disallow such experiments in the future.

    What views are those, and how are they incorrect? I have a mountain of 169,000,000 innocent victims in the 20th century alone to support my pessimism.

    Oh come on, surely you can do better than that.

    What do you have to support your optimism?

    Mostly my beliefs about human nature. To my mind a great deal of the evil in the world arises from our backward, statist culture. That culture certainly has some biological factors in its origin and perpetuation, but I don’t think it changes the importance of culture in determining how people tend to behave.

  11. Oh come on, surely you can do better than that.

    Really? What can be “better” than 169 million bodies? That’s quite a body of evidence, don’t you think? Or should I only be concerned once we hit a billion?

    Milgram’s results have been widely reproduced but the Stanford experiment was a one-off, thus anecdotal.

    The Stanford experiment was very unethical, and therefore not reproduced. Despite whining from “ethicists” (i.e. bored tenured professors who think they know right and wrong better than we do), there was nothing inherently unethical about the Milgram experiment, because no one was hurt, and the electric shocks were a fake. The only thing that was unethical about it was the behavior of the subjects (an appropriate term in this context).

    Mostly my beliefs about human nature.

    Beliefs is the correct term, since they are not grounded in reality but in wishful thinking.

  12. To my mind a great deal of the evil in the world arises from our backward, statist culture.

    Who created that culture? Was it imposed upon us by some divine power?

  13. I must say it is kinda cool to see a page of my old defunct website still preserved somewhere. For those curious: back in the day I used to scour old bookstores and ebay for magazines, tracts and books of interest to libertarians and anarchists and then typed them up and published them. Thus the name of my site memoryhole.com. Named for the place that documents contrary to state interests ended up in Orwell’s classic novel.

    Actually I do have a six volume set of the complete works of Lysander Spooner that I bought years ago for a small fortune. It contains works by Spooner that I’ve never been able to find on the web, even at the venerable lysanderspooner.org which is no doubt the best Spooner resource out there. Someday I will get around to typing them up.

  14. Beliefs is the correct term, since they are not grounded in reality but in wishful thinking.

    Well, that’s just your opinion.

    Who created that culture? Was it imposed upon us by some divine power?

    Probably not. My best guess is that some people got together to rob some other people, and everything just kind of snowballed from there. I wouldn’t be surprised if government were present on all planets which evolved intelligent life.

  15. Humans created culture and humans propagate it. Blaming the culture for human behavior is almost like blaming a gun for a murder.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if government were present on all planets which evolved intelligent life.

    I would be. Government can only flourish on planets that did not evolve intelligent life, for example earth.

    Well, that’s just your opinion.

    I’m still waiting for evidence on your part. Until then, by definition, your beliefs are just, well, beliefs.

  16. …the Stanford experiment was a one-off, thus anecdotal.

    What about Abu-Ghraib? Guantanamo? The other secret prisons in Europe? The Stanford experiment’s results were validated, in real life, many times.

  17. Humans created culture and humans propagate it.

    If you haven’t noticed, culture also influences humans. It’s a two-way street dude.

    I’m still waiting for evidence on your part.

    I’m still waiting for evidence on your part.

    Until then, by definition, your beliefs are just, well, beliefs.

    Your opinions are by definition opinions. Also A is A.

  18. JK, how do you know what right is? and what is meant by right anyway? you can’t answer these questions without simply leading to others.

  19. JK, how do you know what right is? and what is meant by right anyway? you can’t answer these questions without simply leading to others.

    Exactly! That’s why you ask the man in the lab coat.

  20. Anecdotal: based on or consisting of reports or observations of usually unscientific observers (anecdotal evidence)

    So, what was anecdotal about the Stanford experiment? Was it not conducted by scientists? According to the definition you provided, being a one-off has nothing to do with being anecdotal. You’re changing your argument as you go.

    I’m still waiting for evidence on your part.

    I had given you evidence and you ignored it with a childish “surely you can do better than that”. It is clear that you are unaware of the difference between an informed opinion and a belief. Let’s put the cards on the table and poison the well once and for all: You are a religious man, aren’t you? The optimism, the belief in the inherent goodness of mankind, helping the bums (you call them the homeless), the inability to distinguish beliefs from opinions based on evidence – I can smell a beliver across a thousand miles of broadband. So cut the crap and just say what you think: God is all good and all powerful. God created us. Humans are inherently good because Father McKensey, or Pastor Johnson, or Sister Mary told me so. Now, isn’t that easier? No need for evidence, just good old theology.

  21. It is clear that you are unaware of the difference between an informed opinion and a belief.

    That’s just your uninformed opinion.

    Let’s put the cards on the table and poison the well once and for all: You are a religious man, aren’t you?

    And you’re unbelievably hilarious. I know I shouldn’t provoke you, but I can’t feeding the trolls.

    helping the bums (you call them the homeless)

    I don’t remember advocating helping homeless people, but if you want I’ll support that too. Let’s help homeless people.

    the inability to distinguish beliefs from opinions based on evidence

    I’ll spell it out for you: Saying that a zillion bodies dead at various statist hands doesn’t automatically prove whatever you want it to. Since you’re of such obviously superior intelligence, perhaps you could be more specific about your claim?

    So cut the crap and just say what you think: God is all good and all powerful. God created us. Humans are inherently good because Father McKensey, or Pastor Johnson, or Sister Mary told me so. Now, isn’t that easier? No need for evidence, just good old theology.

    Yes, you’ve discovered my deeply rooted religious faith. I’m a member of the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. May you be touched by His Noodly Appendage.

  22. When I help homeless people (which I do with a local group), it’s usually to help people within the city limits., April 25th, 2006 at Apr 25, 06 | 9:05 pm

    Wasn’t that you who wrote that, or was that one of your other personalities?

  23. Kennedy: I strongly suspect this is not a learned behavior at all but rather something to which men are generally predisposed.

    Why?

    scott: JK, how do you know what right is? and what is meant by right anyway? you can’t answer these questions without simply leading to others.

    The fact that you can raise a question does not guarantee that it is a cogent one. And the fact that there are outstanding philosophical questions about ethics does not mean that no-one can competantly reason about right and wrong (any more than the fact that there are outstanding scientific questions about matter means that no-one can competantly reason about tables and chairs).

  24. Wasn’t that you who wrote that, or was that one of your other personalities?

    You’ll note that the passage in question is justifying a particular type of help to the homeless, once it’s been decided that helping homeless people is justified. You said I had directly said the homeless should be helped. But of course I don’t have to explain such fine distinctions to a person of your intelligence. And you still haven’t made much of a coherent point amidst all your ramblings, although I admit they are fun to read.

  25. You said I had directly said the homeless should be helped.

    When did I say that, you lying piece of crap? Show me the quote.

    Stefie, you retardation is getting the worst of you. All I said is that you help the bums. When I help homeless people (which I do with a local group) – that sounds like you do, by your own words. I never said anything about whether they should be helped or not. I was simply pointing to a fact.

    You are a liar and a punk, Stefie. Go sort your noodle issues with your wife.

  26. “The fact that you can raise a question does not guarantee that it is a cogent one. And the fact that there are outstanding philosophical questions about ethics does not mean that no-one can competantly reason about right and wrong (any more than the fact that there are outstanding scientific questions about matter means that no-one can competantly reason about tables and chairs).”

    but first one must define right and wrong, which is a problem in itself.

  27. scott: but first one must define right and wrong, which is a problem in itself.

    Says who?

    “Right” and “wrong” are pieces of ordinary English. As a competant speaker of the language I am quite familiar with what they mean; I figure that you are too. One may, or may not, be able to say what they mean in the form of an articulate definition, but the ability to use them consistently and correctly isn’t dependent on being able to give the definition. It can be demonstrated simply by buckling down and applying them consistently and correctly in concrete cases.

  28. scott: ok john, what ought i do? or would you like to start a new blog entry for this never-ending issue?

    I think, in spite of your put-on of ignorance, you actually know some of the answer to this question, or at least some of the things that you need to get a start on answering it. In any case, if you don’t, there’s nothing I can do to help you.

    For, while we must begin with what is evident, things are evident in two ways–some to us, some without qualification. Presumably, then, we must begin with things evident to us. Hence any one who is to listen intelligently to lectures about what is noble and just and, generally, about the subjects of political science must have been brought up in good habits. For the fact is a starting-point, and if this is sufficiently plain to him [sic], he will not need the reason as well; and the man [sic] who has been well brought up has or can easily get starting-points. And as for him [sic] who neither has nor can get them, let him hear the words of Hesiod:

    Far best is he who knows all things himself;
    Good, he that hearkens when men counsel right;
    But he who neither knows, nor lays to heart
    Another’s wisdom, is a useless wight.

    –Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Bk. I, section 4.

  29. this is even more difficult, for john and scott – how can you define metaphorically what “right and wrong” signify, when they appear differently to all people? laws impose what a round about idea of what “right and wrong” may be, or what they define it as, but i myself have a very different personal way of living. my right may be your wrong, and vice versa. so how is it possible to gather everything into a group of what is and what isnt?

    try.

  30. Xamiax,

    …my right may be your wrong, and vice versa….

    What do you mean when you say something is right and something else is wrong?

    If you say the world is flat and I say it’s round does that make your flat my round, or is one of us wrong about the shape of the world?

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