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Lysander Spooner spells out his theory of “mine and thine”, or the science of natural law and justice, which alone can ensure that mankind lives in peace (1882)

The American radical individualist legal theorist and abolitionist Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) argued in his pamphlet on Natural Law (1882) that:

The science of mine and thine —– the science of justice —– is the science of all human rights; of all a man’s rights of person and property; of all his rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the science which alone can tell any man what he can, and cannot, do; what he can, and cannot, have; what he can, and cannot, say, without infringing the rights of any other person. It is the science of peace; and the only science of peace; since it is the science which alone can tell us on what conditions mankind can live in peace, or ought to live in peace, with each other.

The science of mine and thine —– the science of justice —– is the science of all human rights; of all a man’s rights of person and property; of all his rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is the science which alone can tell any man what he can, and cannot, do; what he can, and cannot, have; what he can, and cannot, say, without infringing the rights of any other person.

It is the science of peace; and the only science of peace; since it is the science which alone can tell us on what conditions mankind can live in peace, or ought to live in peace, with each other.

These conditions are simply these: viz., first, that each man shall do, towards every other, all that justice requires him to do; as, for example, that he shall pay his debts, that he shall return borrowed or stolen property to its owner, and that he shall make reparation for any injury he may have done to the person or property of another.

The second condition is, that each man shall abstain from doing so another, anything which justice forbids him to do; as, for example, that he shall abstain from committing theft, robbery, arson, murder, or any other crime against the person or property of another.

So long as these conditions are fulfilled, men are at peace, and ought to remain at peace, with each other. But when either of these conditions is violated, men are at war. And they must necessarily remain at war until justice is re-established.

Through all time, so far as history informs us, wherever mankind have attempted to live in peace with each other, both the natural instincts, and the collective wisdom of the human race, have acknowledged and prescribed, as an indispensable condition, obedience to this one only universal obligation: viz., that each should live honestly towards every other.

The ancient maxim makes the sum of a man’s legal duty to his fellow men to be simply this: "To live honestly, to hurt no one, to give to every one his due."

This entire maxim is really expressed in the single words, to live honestly; since to live honestly is to hurt no one, and give to every one his due.

About this Quotation:

Spooner’s distinction between natural law and legislation brings to mind two other theorists. Before Spooner began writing there was Thomas Hodgskin (1787-1869) who made the distinction between “natural and artificial rights”, the latter being created by government usually to favour special interests. After Spooner there was Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992), the Nobel Prize winning Austrian economist, who distinguished between “law” and “legislation” – the former with some approval, the latter with distain and warnings.

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