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Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)

The Libertarian Tradition
07/08/2010Jeff Riggenbach

What Thoreau was defending here, in 1849, was essentially the same concept the English philosopher Herbert Spencer defended two years later, in his book Social Statics , as "the right to ignore the State."... "Thoreau's condemnation of the state was more thorough, and in many other ways he fits more closely into the anarchist pattern than Emerson could ever do."

"I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least,'" Thoreau wrote,

and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe — "That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government.

Author:

Jeff Riggenbach

Jeff Riggenbach was a journalist, author, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A member of the Organization of American Historians and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute, he wrote for such newspapers as the New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle; such magazines as Reason, Inquiry, and Liberty; and such websites as LewRockwell.com, AntiWar.com, and RationalReview.com. His books include In Praise of Decadence (1998), Why American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction to Revisionism (2009), and Persuaded by Reason: Joan Kennedy Taylor & the Rebirth of American Individualism (2014). Drawing on vocal skills he honed in classical and all-news radio in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston, Riggenbach also narrated the audiobook versions of numerous libertarian works, many of them available on Mises.org.

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