Voltairine de Cleyre and Benjamin R. Tucker, “Some Questions and Criticisms” (1890)

Some Questions and Criticisms.

To the Editor of Liberty:

What is a nuisance? A nuisance. What is an encyclopædia? An encyclopædia. Will the Encyclopædia please inform the Nuisance by what peculiar system of contradictions he viciously prods believers in “duty,” yet labels the very column whence said prods proceed, “On Picket Duty”? (1)

I like your definition of socialism. I have but one objection,-too scholarly. Can’t you simplify it as to language? When I quote Spencer, Andrews, Tucker, Lum, or Walker, and lastly, not leastly, Yarros, I am frequently called upon to translate it. Intensely “average,” of the common common, myself, I have a profound sympathy for the fellow-creature who hasn’t the time to spend digesting words, which is absolutely necessary to the comprehension of nearly all the noted Anarchistic writers. (2)

I also like Mr. Labadie’s objection to your definition of Anarchism. When I read your reply to F. Q. Stuart, in which you cut at Spencer’s phrasing of “the Law of Equal Freedom,” by saying Anarchism eliminates the final clause of “Three times four are twelve, providing four times three are not thirteen,” it dawned upon me that I had for some time been parroting a very useless repetition. It seems to me that “every liberty except the liberty to invade,” is open to the same objection. To believe in every liberty excludes invasion, does it not? (3)

I observed that, although the “Twentieth Ccntury” did not make note of the criticism, its editor has recently seen fit to alter his definition of Socialism, or rather to specify that it was applicable only to State Socialism, from which I infer he read your correction, (4)

Fraternally, Voltairine de Cleyre.


(1) No encyclopædia is needed. A dictionanty will suffice to show Miss de Cleyre that the word “duty” has two meanings,-one involving moral obligation (to which Liberty objects), the other meaning simply a task to be performed, set by one’s self or by another. To duty in the latter sense Liberty has no objection. “Picket Duty” is a certain line of work that the editor has set himself.

(2) If the simple word” duty” call be thus misunderstood, why make great effort to be simple? Thereby one only loses in scientific accuracy without gaining in intelligibility. The mass of the people do not learn by studying books and definitions. Only the intelligent minority learns by that method. The mass learns by long rubbing against the minority.

(3) There is a subtle distinction here, which neither Miss de Cleyre nor Mr. Labadie has noticed. The liberty of every individual to do as he wills excludes the slavery of any individual. But to believe in every liberty-that is, every kind of liberty-does not exclude invasion. It is possible to conceive of a man enjoying every kind of liberty, including the liberty to invade. For instance, the Russian czar. But a state of liberty for every individual which would at the same time make some individual a slave is a contradiction in terms.

(4) Yes, Miss de Cleyre, all of us were “on.”


  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Some Questions and Criticisms,” Liberty 7 no. 4 (June 21, 1890): 5.
  • Benjamin Tucker, “Response to ‘Some Questions and Criticisms’,” Liberty 7 no. 4 (June 21, 1890): 5.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.