Fair Use Blog

Now available: the “Plumb-Line or Cork-Screw” debate, on anarchism and political compromise, from the pages of Liberty, 1886


In the Spring and Summer of 1886, a number of the contributors to Benjamin Tucker’s individualist anarchist newspaper Liberty debated the value of political compromise. The debate intersected with other debates that Tucker, Henry Appleton and Gertrude B. Kelly, as well as Dyer Lum and others, were engaged in over participation in the Knights of Labor, the relationship between anarchist radicalism and organized labor movements, and other long-running debates over social reform, Irish land politics, Malthusianism, sexual liberation, and so on. In the debate, the images that Tucker used for reasoning from radical principle, and adopting compromise stances in an effort to persuade indirectly — the plumb-line and the cork-screw — remained as characteristic phrases in individualist anarchist literature throughout the remaining decades of Liberty and its circle, with the term plumb-line Anarchism or plumb-line Individualism came to be used often as a in-group label for Tucker’s school of individualist anarchist thought. (See, for example, Will and Lizzie Holmes’s reference to our old plumbline friends decades later in Instead of a Magazine.)

Now at fair-use.org, I’ve made available full HTML hypertext transcriptions of 11 articles from the debate, including contributions by Henry Appleton, Benjamin Tucker, Gertrude B. Kelly, Victor S. Yarros, J. William Lloyd, and the pseudonymous D.D. The debate as a whole is collected here, at fair-use.org; the individual articles now available online are:

  1. X. Anarchism and Expediency in Liberty IV.1 (#79). 4.
  2. T. Plumb-Line or Cork-Screw, Which? in Liberty IV.1 (#79). 4-5.
  3. Benjamin Tucker. On Picket Duty in Liberty IV.1 (#79). 1.
  4. X. and T. Liberty and Compromise in Liberty IV.2 (#80). 4-5.
  5. V. Yarros. The Plumb-Line at New Haven in Liberty IV.2 (#80). 8.
  6. J. Wm. Lloyd. Plumb-Centre in Liberty IV.4 (#82). 1.
  7. Benjamin Tucker. On Picket Duty in Liberty IV.4 (#82). 1.
  8. X. The Nub of It All in Liberty IV.5 (#83). 4.
  9. D.D. and Editor Liberty. Plumb-Line and Cork-Screw in Liberty IV.5 (#83). 4.
  10. Gertrude B. Kelly. Justice or Force, Which? in Liberty IV.5 (#83). 7.
  11. X. and T. Anarchistic Small Fry in Liberty IV.6 (#84). 4-5.

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