The Reading Room

Benjamin Tucker Today - War, Antisemitism, Lawyers

Benjamin Tucker’s Liberty in 1882 had a few things to say about our day’s concerns, such as war, antisemitism, and lawyers.
War and humanitarian concerns
War has again emerged between Israel and Palestine. Hamas’s coordinated attack brutalized Israeli civilians on October 7. In response, Israel has bombed, invaded, and ceased supplying Gaza with water, energy, food, and medicine. Casualty numbers for both sides are in the thousands – an astronomical figure for a region that is only a few million-strong.
While most of our blood boils, voices urging restraint may be a minority but are numerous enough to call the commentariat’s attention to international principles of just war, such as “proportionality.”
What would Benjamin Tucker say?
He might republish what he called, an “intrinsically excellent” and “remarkable” opinion piece in the Boston Globe, as he did in the June 24, 1882, issue of Liberty. The Globe wrote of “a grim absurdity . . . in the adoption by the principal governments of the world of the articles submitted by the Geneva Convention.” At the time, the First Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field had just been belatedly adopted by the United States at the insistence of the recently-constituted American Red Cross.
To the Globe, and by extension to Tucker, the “absurdity” was the very idea of states caring for the very people they send to war in the first place.
What a ghastly satire it is when the men who call themselves rulers meet and draw up, with great care and much pretence of charitable zeal, a grave agreement not to interfere with the binding up of the wounds they inflict. England, France, Germany, Turkey, are preparing their infernal machinery for blowing off arms and legs, smashing skulls, wounding, maiming, killing men who know not what they may be fighting for, and at the same time solemnly agreeing to tenderly pick up and care for the shattered wrecks of human beings from their fields of slaughter.. . . the gentlemen who ran the governments of the world had better stop breaking heads, and turn their attention to preventing organized murder. If the governments that hypocritically assent to the articles of the Geneva Convention were not in existence, there would be no necessity for a Society of the Red Cross.
This conflict in Israel and Gaza has sparked a rise in global antisemitism.
What would Benjamin Tucker say?
Just over a decade before the birth of modern Zionism, and at a time of racial prejudice and exclusion against Chinese in the western United States, Tucker lamented antisemitism in the October 28, 1882, issue of Liberty:
It is becoming the fashion to malign the Jews. The articles and caricatures now current picturing the faults and vices of the Hebrew character and neglecting its many virtues strongly remind us of the indictments of the Chinese. In fact, these race-hatreds are all alike. They belong on the same low level, and originate in the same spirit of devilish jealousy and sanctimonious pharisaism.
Lawyers in the halls of power
By late October this year, three attorneys aligned with former President Donald Trump have pled guilty in a Georgia criminal case related to Trump and his circle’s election actions in and after 2020. Many expect they will be witnesses against Trump. Legal commentator Paul Rosenzweig believes that their cooperation with prosecutors therefore means “the possibility exists that none of them will lose their law license, much less spend time in jail, despite being instrumental in a plot to overturn an election.”
Yet as of March this year, when it comes to professional repercussions, “Seventeen different lawyers have been sanctioned over failed lawsuits brought on the former president’s behalf. Their attempts include litigation seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and pushing a conspiracy theory blaming the Russia investigation on a smattering of Democratic party operatives.” In early July, one retired from practice and relinquished his law license.
What would Benjamin Tucker say?
He might republish an excerpt of a speech about lawyers by labor leader John Swinton, as he did in the June 24, 1882, issue of Liberty. Swinton complained not of lawyers mundanely working in courtrooms or drafting documents, but of lawyers “in legislatures and their lobbies and in every place of power and greatness.” In such positions, Swinton queried:
How often, when searching amid the ruins of popular liberties in the countries that once enjoyed them, do we come upon the tracks of the false lawyer? For what oppressor has he not found a legal subterfuge? For what deed of guilt has he not been ready to erect a legal bulwark? Do we not find him with a legal defense for any usurpation of every usurper, with a legal justification for any invasion of every birthright of man, . . . with legal mechanism for tearing out every pillar in the edifice of wrong?
To Tucker, this “withering denunciation of lawyers . . . cannot be commended too highly as a fiery and luminous index to the real sources of danger to the people’s liberties.”