A French View of Boston Anarchists (1888)

by Benjamin R. Tucker (1854-1939)

SR-BA.1 The March number of the “Journal des Économistes,” a magazine appearing monthly at Paris and generally conceded to be the foremost economic periodical of the world, contained an article from the pen of one of its regular contributors, Sophie Raffalovich, on “The Boston Anarchists.” It was fourteen pages in length, and devoted almost entirely to a review of Liberty and its propaganda. Written from the standpoint of the laissez-faire economists by one who had really examined the Anarchistic movement before passing judgment on it, it was in the main a very fair representation, entirely devoid of malice, pervaded in part by a tone of raillery, but as often lavish of generous and hearty compliment, and, whether praising or laughing or condemning, preserved always a perfect good nature. I lay this stress upon the tone of the article, because it is a novelty for Anarchism to receive decent treatment from either the bourgeois or the State Socialistic press.
SR-BA.2 If Liberty were a journal of large dimensions, the whole article should be translated and reproduced in these columns. But unfortunately it is not; so the best that I can do is to recommend those who understand French to hunt up the magazine and read it for themselves. [Online editor’s note: Given the smallness of Liberty’s print and margins in comparison with those of the Journal des Économistes, it’s far from obvious that Raffalovich’s article would be difficult to fit in. – RTL]
SR-BA.3 About the only criticism calling for any notice was offered in the concluding paragraph of the article, which was as follows:
Progress consists, not in abolishing the state, as the Boston Anarchists repeat, but in clearly fixing the limits of its influence and in rendering its action more restricted and more effective: this is more difficult than to destroy.
SR-BA.5 Since Mlle. Raffalovich frequently called attention in her article to the fact that I have drawn largely upon Proudhon for my ideas, I need feel no hesitation about borrowing from him again in answer to her criticism, which reminds me very strongly of that which the economist Blanqui . [Liberal economist Jérôme-Adolphe Blanqui (1798-1854); not to be confused with his younger brother, communist revolutionary Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881). – RTL] passed upon Proudhon’s “What is property?” In substance, he said to Proudhon: It is not property that we want to abolish, but the abuses of property. Proudhon thus answered him:
M. Blanqui acknowledges that property is abused in many harmful ways; I call property the sum of these abuses exclusively. To each of us property seems a polygon whose angles need knocking off; but, the operation performed, M. Blanqui maintains that the figure will still be a polygon, while I consider that this figure will be a circle.
SR-BA.7 Similarly, to Mlle. Raffalovich, who tells us that we must abolish, not the State, but its abuses, I reply: I call the State the sum of these absues. Abolish the abuses, and you have left, not a State, but a voluntary association for the defence of persons and property. The figure, now that the angles are gone, is no longer a polygon, but a circle.
SR-BA.8 By all means, “fix the limits of its influence.” That is just what the Anarchists are trying to do. And the limit they fix is the line which separates invasion from defence. If I understand them, the same limit is fixed, theroetically at least, by Mlle. Raffalovich and her editor-in-chief, M. de Molinari. Now, what difference does it make whether we define the State as an invasive instituion and advocate its abolition, leaving only defensive institutions, or define it as a defensive institution and advocate the abolition of all the invasion that is now connected with it? Plainly a difference of words only. Now the serious blunder in Mlle. Raffalovich’s article is her mistaking this difference of words for a difference of ideas.
SR-BA.9 But with its many virtues, and despite this blunder, it has done Liberty a very useful service, the first fruit of which readers of this issue will enjoy. It called the attention of an eminent Italian economist, Signor Vilfredo Pareto, of Florence, to the American Anarchistic movement, and so interested in it did he become that he offered to furnish a series of Letters from Italy setting forth the situation of affairs in that country and its bearing upon the question of liberty. That offer I promptly accepted, and in this number appears the first of the series. If not thoroughly Anarchistic, the letters will at least have an Anarchistic tendency, and it is easy to see from the first one that they will give much valuable information.

Liberty VI., no. 4 (whole no. 134; 29 September 1888), p. 4.

[Online editor’s note: The Journal des Économistes would take notice of Tucker and Liberty again, in 1902. – RTL]

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