Egoism Explained – The Anarchist Library

    Prefatory Remarks and Introductory Definitions
    Egoist Origins: Max Stirner
    Egoist Origins: Friedrich Nietzsche
    Historical Fragments of Egoist Anarchism
      A. Benjamin Tucker
      B. Voltairine de Cleyre
      C. Emma Goldman
      D. John Henry Mackay
      E. Émile Armand
      F. Renzo Novatore and Enzo Martucci
    Why Anarchism Needs Egoism: A Polemic
    Anarchist Relationships: A Word on the “Union of Egoists”
    Egoist Anarchism in Thirteen Quotations
    Appendix: A Small Library Of Recommended Texts
“If freedom means utopia, a world with no more domination, then it’s a hopeless quest. By now we know that no god, no great revolution, is going to appear and take us to the promised land. Instead, living freely can only mean living fighting.” — Shahin, “Nietzsche and Anarchy”
In the 1990s when the Communalist, but then still anarchist, Murray Bookchin set pen to paper, it was often to bemoan a disquieting split in the ideas and practices of those who used the term “anarchist”. As far as Bookchin could tell at this time, there was a definitive split between those he thought of as “social anarchists” [who were his good guys] and those who were more idiosyncratic or individualist whom he, somewhat disparagingly, termed “lifestyle anarchists” [naturally, these made up Bookchin’s bad guys].
The way Bookchin typified these two groups may be insightful. The first were organizational sorts of anarchists. They believed in the need for the people at large [starting with the anarchists themselves] to be organized to begin with and probably then went on to suggest institutional forms of community as they set out their vision for communities based on anarchist lines. Bookchin, talking about these types of people, imagined the theory of those such as anarchist stalwarts Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin as examples of it and, to be honest, he went on to suggest that this was real anarchism where other forms were not. Thus, when Bookchin describes one or two of his lifestyle anarchists [which even seemed to include Emma Goldman, a person of whom Bookchin was dismissive regardless of her stated and repeated support for Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism, a man whom she travelled to meet several times in his life as well as being present at his Russian funeral in 1921], he is less than complementary. He sees them as unorganized, indulgent bohemians, people wrapped up in personal interests of no use whatsoever to the social reorganization of society in accordance with what he identifies as anarchist principles. The fact that some of these people actively resist being organized he regards as childish and demonstrative of an attitude which, in his view, makes any genuine anarchism impossible. Regarding classical anarchism as a much more Bakuninite or Kropotkinite phenomenon but seeing all around him in the 1990s only interlopers illegitimately stealing the name “anarchist”, Bookchin ends that decade by declaring anarchism has gone totally off the rails. He declares formally that he has left its ranks and takes his organization and his plans for institutions with him and calls it Communalism in future.
Bookchin’s critiques of anarchists and anarchism do not map exactly to what I want to talk about in this book but they provide some insight into it. This is to be a book about EGOISM or EGOIST ANARCHISM but, when it comes to terminology, we must immediately be both careful and precise for there are many pitfalls of misunderstanding to find here and it would be all too easy to fall into them. “Anarchism” has been a political orientation claimed by various people for over 180 years now and, truth to tell, not all those now associated with it in the 2020s even ever claimed to be anarchists. [One thinks, for example, of William Godwin or Max Stirner.] Of those who did claim to be anarchists, we would find people as seemingly opposed in their ideas and orientations as the aforementioned Peter Kropotkin, a firm believer in community, organization and communism, and Renzo Novatore, an Italian insurrectionist and illegalist who glorified in an individual freedom his writings openly push in people’s faces. Somewhere in between these two we would find, were we describing an “anarchist spectrum”, the aforementioned Goldman and Novatore’s fellow Italian, Errico Malatesta, those who both spoke towards social organization yet not without recognition of the need for some measure of personal autonomy and responsibility.
Things become more complicated if we begin to talk about “individualism” or even “individualist anarchists” as some may do of others and others may even of themselves. In this book I am going to talk about EGOISTS rather than INDIVIDUALISTS because the first term implies nothing specific about how such people might organize themselves whereas, in modern English usage at least, the latter term does – for it suggests they act as individuals. Egoism does not map precisely to individualism and neither does an egoist map precisely to an individualist and so its right that I distinguish them here. This is not to say, of course, that many egoists might not be those who act on their own recognisance. This, as we shall see, is something important to the egoist anarchist. But it must be formally noted that the egoist, strictly understood, is not simply a person attached to their own company and dismissive of anybody else’s, someone at odds with the idea of human community or acting in concert with others. This would be false and is exactly where a distinction should be drawn with the individualist, the latter being a term more preserved for just such a person. We can finish this point by adding that the egoist is therefore not automatically to be equated with the selfish, something which would be an abject misunderstanding of the term “egoist” as used here.
In talking about egoists, however, a distinction must also be drawn from another side with either what are today called “libertarians” or with those who see themselves as “rugged individualists” of the type eulogised by those such as Ayn Rand in her philosophy of “Objectivism”. The egoist, as discussed in this book, is not one obsessed with their own happiness to the exclusion of all others to whom they regard themselves as having no responsibility nor even any real connection in an “every man for himself” type of thinking. In this respect, it must be noted that the egoism discussed here is an anarchist egoism as opposed to a more libertarian [in the modern sense] or objectivist sort. It is, then, an egoist aspect of anarchism being discussed here – expressly as a discussion of a type of anarchism – rather than any other ideas that might attract the term “egoist” towards them. This has nothing to do with right wing individualism, laissez-faire capitalism or social ideas of ultimately liberal origin to the effect that life is a war of all against all, a survival of the fittest. In discussing the kind of egoism to be discussed here, then, it should be noted that it is not only important to note where it is we are to end up intellectually, but also to note how it is that we get there – through which intellectual territory we move. This will become much more apparent as we go through the text.
Such clarifications having been made and hopefully understood, we can now progress to a discussion of the egoist anarchism this book has been created to explain. My tale, of course, will be my own and other interpretations of my subject will always remain possible. So you should not take this text as definitive or canonical – although I hope it will be both educational and realistic in its portrayal of its contents. Instead, you should take it to be providing significant prods in egoist directions in an attempt to lay out an understanding of egoist anarchism that comes from someone who regards this as an important phenomenon within anarchism as a whole [essential to it, in fact] and as one who, in some sense, sees themselves as necessarily egoist in this respect. In previous books about anarchism I have included sections which specifically make mention of important figures of egoist anarchism [where others often don’t] exactly because I want to give rounded and holistic presentations of anarchism in my work for those for whom anarchism is of interest. In this text I want to both explain egoism in the context of anarchism and, to some degree, indicate its importance for anarchism as a whole. In having this dual aim, there is really only one place we can start. It is with the man eulogised in history today by his nickname, one Johann Kaspar Schmidt, better known as Max Stirner.
Aside from those obsessed with divining endless intellectual connections and conduits of influence, most people would begin an account of egoist anarchism with Max Stirner and more specifically with his book [which was originally written in German for Stirner was himself German] Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum. In English translation this book has become most popularly known as The Ego and Its Own although the English translation The Unique and Its Property is also an entirely valid [and more literally accurate] translation of the German title. If egoist anarchism were to have a Bible or Torah [and, to be entirely clear, it doesn’t and shouldn’t] then this book written by Stirner would probably be it. That’s how important Max Stirner and Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum is for an understanding of the subject of this book of my own. Consequently, I must devote a major portion of this work to a description of it for, if we miss this out or get it wrong, we shall be off course right from the very beginning of this “explanation” of egoist anarchism. Such a point of view, however, is not uncontroversial for Max Stirner himself never claimed to be an anarchist and, since his death in 1856, there have been those who have insisted he wasn’t really one, as we now understand the term “anarchist”, anyway. The egoism Stirner sets out in his major work, and with which he preferred to be identified if he must be identified with anything at all, is not simply “anarchism” as later political philosophy would understand it. So, in making Stirner part of an egoist anarchist origins story, we are going beyond what Stirner claimed for himself and presenting our own interpretation of both Stirner’s work and its significance for anarchism specifically. With that understood, we set to work.
Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum is the one thing in Stirner’s life that caught the public imagination. It is, to be blunt, the only reason anyone remembers he ever existed some 178 years later [it being published in October 1844]. Stirner’s life itself is a rather miserable affair when set out on paper as a list of supposedly significant facts. His father died when he was only one. His sister died when she was three. His mother suffered from mental illness and was institutionalized for the rest of her life when Stirner was in his early 30s. Stirner’s stepfather, his mother taking another husband after Stirner’s father died soon after his birth, also died around this time as well. Stirner would marry in the late 1830s but his wife, and the child she was carrying, would both die in the act of the baby’s birth. A few years later, now in the circle of Die Freien [The Free Ones], a group of “young Hegelians” or “post-Hegelians”, those influenced by the Berlin philosopher Georg Hegel, a pre-eminent German philosopher who would also influence Marx and Engels with his “dialectical” approach to things, Stirner would marry another, Marie Dähnhardt, a woman also loosely connected to the same group. Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum is, in fact, dedicated to her but she seems not to have appreciated the fact as she would soon leave Stirner and claim to never have loved him in the first place. In the 1850s, the fame of Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum now behind him, Stirner would suffer from debts to the extent that he had a couple of spells in Berlin debtors’ prisons. He died in Berlin in 1856 as the result of an infected insect bite or sting. We only know of him today because, in the years following, various anarchists, reading Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum in the original German or in translation, found what it had to say of astounding relevance to their understanding of a new political philosophy called Anarchism and its actualisation in their own lives. Stirner himself would have perhaps been surprised by this and who knows if he would have approved?
Max Stirner worked as a teacher at a girls’ school when he wrote Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum and he quit his job prior to its publication as he expected that its subject matter might cause a fuss. It did, briefly, and was the talk of the intellectuals in early 1845 such that even the likes of Ludwig Feuerbach, one notable of the “Young Hegelians” to which Stirner himself had belonged, felt the need to criticise it. Stirner would respond to some of these critics of his work in Stirner’s Critics to which I will also refer in my appraisal of Stirner’s main thesis. This thesis itself, and perhaps the thesis of egoist anarchism as a result, might best be summed up as the following:
No one and nothing, neither individual, institution nor collectivity, neither concept, idea nor moral, can obligate me to anything except I, the unique, myself. I am most myself in my uniqueness when I am my own and actualise this own-ness.
As such, such a thesis is essentially a declaration of egoistic autonomy and it is my suggestion that Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum, whatever the subject matter of each part of the text, is a consistent application and re-application of this single thesis.
Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum, as one might expect of a text written by a former student of Hegel that, amongst other things, includes critiques of other students of Hegel, is a technically philosophical work. It is interested in arguments, concepts and definitions [and, in one notable case, non-definitions]. In its context, the things it seeks to critique are ideas and the social setting for these ideas is in relation to the State and the Church which were the large institutions of the day. Stirner is aware of various social movements such as “communism” that are apparent in his day but he criticises them as ideas rather than in their political or social implications. As we might understand by interpreting Stirner’s chosen title – here put into English by me as The Unique and Its Property – Stirner is concerned with what “the unique” is and what it can be said to have [and how]. Stirner’s subject is then his own and he wishes to make his own contribution to debate, something which will, of course, transgress into other areas as well — and necessarily so. Given this description of his book, however, there are certain questions that will strike the reader as in need of explanation fairly obviously:
What is “the unique”?
What is its property?
What is egoism and why is it necessary?
What is the “Union of Egoists” Stirner talks about?
Is egoism selfishness and so an antisocial idea?
What is “ownness”?
There are other questions that could be asked but these go together to make a good start.
We might start interacting with such questions by addressing the subject of “Der Einzige”. This is not the German word for “ego” [and is why many criticise the English title “The Ego and Its Own”]. In the German text Stirner often talks about “Der Einzige” or the “I” but — although he uses various “ego- words” in German — calling “Der Einzige” “Ego” [which only comes originally from the Greek word which simply means “I”] is not one of them. “Der Einzige” is properly “The Unique” and that is meant in its most straightforward and honest sense in that each one of us is unique. But this “unique” is not a description or an explanation of the content of “the unique”. Stirner regards the unique as NOTHING. “Der Einzige” is just a name as opposed to a philosophical conceptual analysis. “The unique” is not the meaning of using “Der Einzige” and Stirner only uses this term to give “the unique” a label and so to linguistically distinguish it from other words. “The Unique”, Stirner writes in Stirner’s Critics where he addresses misunderstandings of the term in his usage, “has no content; it is indeterminacy in itself; only through you does it acquire content and determination.” “The Unique” is then NOTHING in itself [nothing in the sense of simple absence, void] and only acquires character through each individual’s actualisation of it. Just as your given name does not explain you, so neither does “The Unique” either.
Stirner, to my mind, actually does a better job of explaining this concisely for those new to such thought in Stirner’s Critics where he is forced by the misunderstandings of others to compactly explain himself. Thus, he says:
“The unique is an expression with which, in all frankness and honesty, one recognizes that he is expressing nothing. Human being, spirit, the true individual, personality, etc., are expressions or attributes that are full to overflowing with content, phrases with the greatest wealth of ideas; compared with these sacred and noble phrases, the unique is the empty, unassuming and completely common phrase…
The unique is a word, and everyone should always be able to think something when he uses a word; a word should have thought content. But the unique is a thoughtless word; it has no thought content. So then what is its content, if it is not thought? It is content that cannot exist a second time and so also cannot be expressed, because if it could be expressed, actually and wholly expressed, it would exist for a second time; it would exist in the ‘expression’…
Only when nothing is said about you and you are merely named, are you recognized as you. As soon as something is said about you, you are only recognized as that thing (human, spirit, christian, etc.). But the unique doesn’t say anything because it is merely a name: it says only that you are you and nothing but you, that you are a unique you, or rather your self. Therefore, you have no attribute, but with this you are at the same time without determination, vocation, laws, etc.”
In this context, Stirner goes on to say:
“The sentence ‘you are unique’ means nothing but ‘you are you,’ a sentence that logic calls nonsense, because it doesn’t make judgments on anything, it doesn’t say anything, because it is empty, a sentence that is not a sentence…
ng>You, inconceivable and inexpressible, are the phrase content, the phrase owner, the phrase embodied; you are the who, the one of the phrase. In the unique, science can dissolve into life, in which your this becomes who and this who no longer seeks itself in the word, in the Logos, in the attribute.”
This is no doubt philosophical stuff and if you are one of those put off by increasingly technical philosophical discussion you might be ready to zone out. But this gains interest when one considers what Stirner is NOT saying by describing “Der Einzige” this way. Stirner is not saying, for example, that you are exhausted by the label “human being”. You are not, as “unique”, simply an example of “humanity” [which is nothing other than an abstract concept]. In fact, giving such a name to individuals as “The Unique”, Stirner is trying to make the point that none of us are ABSTRACTIONS at all. In fact, we are all quite concrete and specific to ourselves, each with unique and specific sets of interests. So, as Stirner goes on to say, yet again in Stirner’s Critics:
“no one lives in any other world than his own… everyone is the centre of his own world. ‘World’ is only what he himself is not, but what belongs to him, is in a relationship with him, exists for him. Everything turns around you; you are the centre of the outer world and of the thought world. Your world extends as far as your capacity, and what you grasp is your own simply because you grasp it. You, the unique, are ‘the unique’ only together with ‘your property.’”
This goes some way to explaining what Stirner means when he says at the very end of Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum, “They say of God, ‘names name thee not’. That holds good of me : no concept expresses me, nothing that is designated as my essence exhausts me; they are only names.” So here we need to make the fundamental point that Stirner sets out to regard each person as unique. This distinguishes them both from generalising concepts [human being, male, female, black, white, straight, gay, etc.] but also from each other. Being “unique” — a name, not a matter of concepts or meaning – does not mean that people are not these other things or that people do not have things in common. But it does mean that there is only one of each of us – we are unique – and that categories and classifications do not exhaust us or our uniqueness, our ownness, our being ourselves. It follows from this, of course, that our INTERESTS [or property] will all necessarily be unique as well.
This observation is really what mandates egoism, the belief that, since we are all unique and consequently with our own interests, we should consciously seek out those interests and regard this as good. The problem with this, of course, is that 2,000 years of Christianity [amongst other things] has taught us that selflessness and self-sacrifice is “the good” and not seeking your own good. Egoism’s piquancy, its cutting edge, is, thus, only revealed when you start to extrapolate its consequences against such a social, cultural and moral background. Stirner is not shy about doing this, however, and he does it right from his first line in Der Einzige when he proclaims “All things are nothing to me” and then goes on immediately to say how public manners and morality require him, and everyone else, to do anything and everything but think of themselves. “Shame on the egoist who thinks only of himself!” as Stirner characterises this attitude.
It should be easy to see from here how Stirner’s egoist position, populated by a world of unique ones, mandates critique of all those ideas and conceptual systems of human thought and society which want to homogenise, dissolve or implicate the unique in other things – consequently diverting them from their own interests and perhaps even saying that this is what “morality”, “humanity”, “liberality” or “being a good Christian” is all about. [For those thinking ahead, this can also include being conformed to some idealist sense of anarchy or anarchism as well.] As such, such systems of thought can be seen to be all about betraying your unique self and its interests because you have been told, and educated to inherently believe, that those of others are more important. But for the one for whom “all things are nothing” this cannot be allowed to stand. For the egoist and the unique it cannot be that God’s cause or “the cause of mankind” or “the will of the state” or “the teaching of the church” [or the anarchist “council”] are what people should pledge themselves to. They should not simply accept their precepts and become inhabited by their values. As Stirner asks in Der Einzige, “Do truth, freedom, humanity, justice, desire anything else than that you grow enthusiastic and serve them?” These are all causes which can become all-consuming absolutes but which, in doing so, dissolve your uniqueness and rob you of your ownness [your unique set of interests] in the process. As causes, such things want that you pay them homage, observe their qualities, become moulded by and to them. As such, uniqueness is lost and homogeneity replaces it. People are no longer their own but they become servants of a cause made sacred, something set over and above them. To this, Stirner responds: “I am not nothing in the sense of emptiness, but I am the creative nothing, the nothing out of which I myself as creator create everything.” Stirner wants that people take responsibility for themselves, become their own cause, do things always from themselves and for the furtherance of that which is to them unique. As he ends his opening salvo in Der Einzige:
“The divine is God’s concern; the human, ‘man’s’. My concern is neither the divine nor the human, not the true, good, just, free, etc., but solely what is mine, and it is not a general one, but is unique, as I am unique. Nothing is more to me than myself!”
Stirner’s book, of course, is written in a specific time and place. As such, it responds to the felt concerns of the day. Stirner’s targets are consequently things like the divine, the tenets of liberalism and humanism which make of abstract creeds or ideas sacred “spooks” which don’t really exist but which are set over and above people and to which they are expected to conform, and the more material reality of the state which, nevertheless, exists based on absolute ideas of what it is and what it can demand of the individual. Stirner’s view is that we are not wholly and completely described when we are referred to as examples of humanity and taken up in descriptions of the human being and that neither is this the case if we are merely regarded as citizens of some state, much less subjects of some god. These are, putting this in the words of existentialism, a subject which traces some of its origins back to Stirner’s ideas, inauthentic descriptions of people thought of as “the unique”. If I am unique and have my ownness, my uniqueness, how can these things which try to possess me by describing me be allowed to stand?
Stirner suggests that “From the moment when he catches sight of the light of the world a man seeks to find out himself and get hold of himself out of its confusion, in which he, with everything else, is tossed about in motley mixture.” We might say here that, first of all, we become aware of our subjectivity or consciousness which, in the Hegelian language of one such as Stirner, is called Geist, a German word that can mean “mind”, “spirit” or even “intelligence”. Stirner writes:
“Mind is the name of the first self-discovery, the first undeification of the divine; that is, of the uncanny, the spooks, the ‘powers above’. Our fresh feeling of youth, this feeling of self, now defers to nothing; the world is discredited, for we are above it, we are mind. Now for the first time we see that hitherto we have not looked at the world intelligently [literally ‘with Geist’] at all, but only stared at it.”
Stirner than presents a picture of a kind of self-revealing of the unique and its surroundings to itself, a self-revelation of this spirit in which the world, our world, is made:
“As a visionary lives and has his world only in the visionary pictures that he himself creates, as a crazy man generates for himself his own dream-world, without which he could not be crazy, so the spirit must create for itself its spirit-world, and is not spirit until it creates it.
Thus its creations make it spirit, and by its creatures we know it, the creator; in them it lives, they are its world.”
Here Stirner makes the point that you only become a thinker in the act of thinking. It is not a name but an action. Yet the egoist difference, however, is that the egoist does not sacrifice themselves to “the spiritual”, that is, to ideas. The concrete unique one is [as Stirner puts it] “less than spirit” and the spirit, that is, ideas, remain outside the unique one. “’I’ and ‘spirit’ are not names for one and the same thing, but different names for completely different things.” This is to combat the idea that there is some spiritual or ideal essence of the unique one, something Stirner rejects. In being unique we remain conceptually undefinable, a nothing which creates itself. “I am neither God nor human, neither the supreme essence nor my essence.”
“Essences” are generally problematic throughout Stirner’s book [hence its relevance to the later philosophy of existentialism which lauds personal existence over general essence] and this is further tied to a regular opponent of Stirner’s throughout the text, the sacred. It might actually be said, in some senses, that all Stirner has done in Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum is write a book against the idea that ANYTHING can be generally sacred for individual human beings. It is the making things sacred or imposing sacredness on things which is detrimental to the unique for it coerces the unique to abandon uniqueness for that imagined to be sacred. This could be an idea like God or something like freedom or truth or a cause like nationalism or even an ethic like socialism or anarchism. Stirner’s view is that when we make things sacred in this way then they cannot be our own, indeed, they destroy what is our own and betray its interest. It is, thus, a deeply inauthentic move.
Yet we must be careful here for Stirner is NOT saying that any of these things are bad in themselves or off limits. In his understanding egoists could be any of these things if they chose them as a furtherance of their own interests and their own uniqueness as demonstrations of their ownness. What he is against is sacralising them, putting them over and above the unique, making them things holy before which one is obligated to bow. These sacred things are in fact “spooks” [a word that is perhaps today most associated with Stirner] and when you acknowledge such spookish, sacred essences you have, in fact, done nothing more than made yourself a religionist who wants to “realise non-sense” and give undue weight to inauthentic, non-egoistic, external, fixed ideas. Such people are “he who has never tried and dared not to be a good Christian, a faithful Protestant, a virtuous man, and the like, [and is] imprisoned and prepossessed by faith, virtuousness, etc.” In this the moral atheist would be regarded as exactly the same as the pious Christian. “Sacred God” is the same as “sacred good”.
It is here where Stirner criticises the project of dethroning God and turning him into sacred humanity – as humanism has tried to do. So, for instance, he says:
“To expel God from his heaven and to rob him of his ‘transcendence’ cannot yet support a claim of complete victory, if therein he is only chased into the human breast and gifted with indelible immanence. Now they say, the divine is the truly human!
The same people who oppose Christianity as the basis of the state, who oppose the so-called Christian State, do not tire of repeating that morality is ‘the fundamental pillar of social life and of the state’ . As if the dominion of morality were not a complete dominion of the sacred, a ‘hierarchy’.”
By the making of such moves, “It had to come to this, that the whole man with all his faculties was found to be religious; heart and affections, understanding and reason, feeling, knowledge, and will, in short, everything in man, appeared religious.” Stirner describes religion as “a condition of being bound” and he regards it as a possession by ideas. How this works out in liberal, humanist society is clear to see:
“Therefore man is to me — sacred. And everything ‘truly human’ is to me — sacred! ‘Marriage is sacred of itself. And so it is with all moral relations. Friendship is and must be sacred for you, and property, and marriage, and the good of every man, but sacred in and of itself.’ Haven’t we the priest again there? Who is his God? Man with a capital M! What is the divine? The human! Then the predicate has indeed only been changed into the subject, and, instead of the sentence ‘God is love’, they say ‘love is divine’; instead of ‘God has become man’, ‘man has become God’, etc. It is nothing more or less than a new – religion.”
Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum is split into two sections. The first is “Man” [this could also be translated “The Human” and it is that which, as we shall see below, Nietzsche also wants to overcome] and the second is “I”. The first section is mostly criticism of what is wrong from the egoist’s point of view whereas the second section puts the positive case for the egoist position. Stirner starts this “I” section in the following way:
“At the entrance of the modern time stands the ‘God-man’. At its exit will only the God in the God-man evaporate? And can the God-man really die if only the God in him dies? They did not think of this question, and thought they were finished when in our days they brought to a victorious end the work of the Enlightenment, the vanquishing of God: they did not notice that man has killed God in order to become now — ‘sole God on high’. The other world outside us is indeed brushed away, and the great undertaking of the men of the Enlightenment completed; but the other world in us has become a new heaven and calls us forth to renewed heaven-storming: God has had to give place, yet not to us, but to — man. How can you believe that the God-man is dead before the man in him, besides the God, is dead?”
This seems to summarise what has so far been said, both in Der Einzige and in this book: God is not dead, our servitude to such a God is not over, if all that was divine has simply been taken from God and smuggled into humanity or the human being. There remains yet this God, this sacredness, this holy idea, this essence of something pure and unassailable, this authority, to slay as well. [Stirner is here very prescient when one thinks of the thought of Nietzsche as we shall too shortly.] All of these things are the enemy of that which is unique, which has its own interest and property, which wants to direct its own self, to be the will which owns itself.
And so Stirner turns to “ownness”. He says: “I have no objection to freedom, but I wish more than freedom for you: you should not merely be rid of what you do not want; you should not only be a ‘freeman’, you should be an ‘owner’ too.” Here the point is that “freedom” is yet another spook, an essence, a high ideal. From the perspective of ownness, if it is not MINE then it is that which demands my fealty or servitude. As “freedom” it cannot be mine for it is an abstract idea. Stirner explains the difference between freedom and ownness in this respect in this way:
“‘Freedom lives only in the realm of dreams!’ Ownness, on the contrary, is my whole being and existence, it is I myself. I am free from what I am rid of, owner of what I have in my power or what I control. My own I am at all times and under all circumstances, if I know how to have myself and do not throw myself away on others. To be free is something that I cannot truly will, because I cannot make it, cannot create it: I can only wish it and — aspire toward it, for it remains an ideal, a spook. The fetters of reality cut the sharpest welts in my flesh every moment. But my own I remain.”
Freedom, in fact, Stirner regards as an “unattainable”, the abstract kind of desire which proves only that people are more attached to empty, unrealisable ideas than to the concrete interests which attach to the unique who has come to own themselves. Thus, he continues in regard to freedom:
“Freedom you all want, you want freedom. Why then do you haggle over a more or less? Freedom can only be the whole of freedom; a piece of freedom is not freedom. You despair of the possibility of obtaining the whole of freedom, freedom from everything — yes, you consider it insanity even to wish this? — Well, then leave off chasing after the phantom, and spend your pains on something better than the – unattainable.”
In this argument Stirner is actually trying to bring people to a point of revelation [even as he urges people quite openly to bring themselves to this point for themselves]. The revelation is that people should turn to themselves rather than to “your gods or idols” [i.e. spooks, essences, ideals, -isms]. People, says Stirner, should “bring out from yourselves what is in you, bring it to the light, bring yourselves to revelation.” The Greek word for “revelation”, as any Bible reader should know, is “apocalypsis” [apocalypse]. So Stirner is here saying as I myself said in chapter 7 of my previous book, A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection, which was titled “Anarchist Apocalypse”. The apocalypse that anarchists need to have is that they need to change their THINKING [which also means their VALUES and the MEANING of things] and, in Stirner’s egoist terms, this needs to be in the direction of the interests of the unique and of ownness. Stirner beefs up his charge with an apocalyptic warning: “the habit of the religious way of thinking has biased our mind so grievously that we are — terrified at ourselves in our nakedness and naturalness; it has degraded us so that we deem ourselves depraved by nature, born devils.” Teaching inauthenticity towards ourselves, we betray our own interests believing their sacrifice is the way. But for Stirner it is NOT the way. For Stirner egoism and ownness are the way and the commandments of gods, the idols of the mind, are what lead to disaster for everyone. While you have a god or idol, any god or idol, you are neither free nor your own!
“Here too, therefore, you are the main thing, and each must say to himself, I am everything to myself and I do everything on my account. If it ever became clear to you that God, the commandments, and so on, only harm you, that they reduce and ruin you, to a certainty you would throw them from you just as the Christians once condemned Apollo or Minerva or heathen morality…
And it was by this egoism, this ownness, that they got rid of the old world of gods and became free from it. Ownness created a new freedom; for ownness is the creator of everything, as genius (a definite ownness), which is always originality, has for a long time already been looked upon as the creator of new productions that have a place in the history of the world.
If your efforts are ever to make ‘freedom’ the issue, then exhaust freedom’s demands. Who is it that is to become free? You, I, we. Free from what? From everything that is not you, not I, not we. I, therefore, am the kernel that is to be delivered from all wrappings and — freed from all cramping shells. What is left when I have been freed from everything that is not I? Only I, and nothing but I. But freedom has nothing to offer to this I himself. As to what is now to happen further after I have become free, freedom is silent — as our governments, when the prisoner’s time is up, merely let him go, thrusting him out into abandonment.
Now why, if freedom is striven after for love of the I after all, why not choose the I himself as beginning, middle, and end? Am I not worth more than freedom? Is it not I that make myself free, am not I the first? Even unfree, even laid in a thousand fetters, I yet am; and I am not, like freedom, extant only in the future and in hopes, but even as the most abject of slaves I am – present.”
In this way Stirner argues that ownness is the path to real, meaningful freedom for freedom is only really for oneself. Yet, whilst “freedom” remains an abstract dream that can seemingly never be realised, ownness actualises that which is sought. If freedom is getting rid of things then ownness gets rid of everything, as Stirner says in this section:
“As own you are really rid of everything, and what clings to you you have accepted; it is your choice and your pleasure. The own man is the free-born, the man free to begin with; the free man, on the contrary, is only the eleutheromaniac, the dreamer and enthusiast.”
Eleutheros” there is the Greek for “freedom” and so Stirner references a “freedommaniac”. What Stirner advises is that people shake off their hypnotism by ideals such as “freedom” which, so he says, “precisely deprive you of yourselves”. A concrete experience of freedom and of “who you are” is ownly to be found in ownness. He concludes: “I secure my freedom with regard to the world in the degree that I make the world my own, ‘gain it and take possession of it’ for myself, by whatever might, by that of persuasion, of petition, of categorical demand, yes, even by hypocrisy, cheating, etc.; for the means that I use for it are determined by what I am.”
Stirner now turns to talk about “might” in this connection and, taken the wrong way, this might be understood as a selfish war of all against all. Yet listen to him carefully, understand him in the context of later anarchist verities, and a different meaning comes out:
“My freedom becomes complete only when it is my — might; but by this I cease to be a merely free man, and become an own man. Why is the freedom of the peoples a ‘hollow word’? Because the peoples have no might! With a breath of the living ego I blow peoples over, be it the breath of a Nero, a Chinese emperor, or a poor writer… Might is a fine thing, and useful for many purposes; for ‘one goes further with a handful of might than with a bagful of right’. You long for freedom? You fools! If you took might, freedom would come of itself. See, he who has might ‘stands above the law’. How does this prospect taste to you, you ‘law-abiding’ people? But you have no taste!”
Thought of individualistically, such a paragraph might indeed sound mean and selfish. But if we call “might” DIRECT ACTION, a thing of unimpeachable anarchist pedigree, then Stirner is saying nothing other than that the person who seeks freedom in ownness is a person of direct action, their “might”. Thus, “only the freedom one takes for himself, therefore the egoist’s freedom” is real freedom. This is bog standard fully orthodox anarchist education on freedom but set in an egoist context and using egoist language. Stirner further extrapolates this as the difference between the merely emancipated person [that is, emancipated by others] and the “self-liberated” person. Even an anarcho-communist like Errico Malatesta – who was far from an egoist – said “We do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves.” This is what Stirner the egoist is exactly saying here under the guise of “ownness”. He does not want people to be merely “free” – and so “a dog dragging a piece of chain”. He wants people of direct action who take responsibility for themselves, grab hold of their ownness and make it their business. THIS is the true understanding of freedom. Stirner is saying that if you make ownness your business then you can have your freedom too – and it will never be anybody else’s to give to, or take from, you.
It is in this respect that Stirner goes on to talk about “my selfishness” but, again, we should not then easily slip into the propaganda we have been taught all our lives about “selfishness”, what it is, and why it is “immoral”. Stirner notes, “Selfishness, in the Christian sense, means something like this: I look only to see whether anything is of use to me as a sensual man.” That is, selfishness is normally regarded as our self satisfaction, perhaps at the expense of others. It is thought through from the collective point of view where depriving the collective is immediately regarded as a sin. But Stirner notes that our ownness is not simply a matter of being this sensual person; sensuality does not contain us whole and entire. He says: “But is sensuality then the whole of my ownness? Am I in my own senses when I am given up to sensuality? Do I follow myself, my determination, when I follow that?” The answer, of course, is no:
“I am my own only when I am master of myself, instead of being mastered either by sensuality or by anything else (God, man, authority, law, state, church); what is of use to me, this self-owned or self-appertaining one, my selfishness pursues.”
“Selfishness” here, then, is something more like “that which is in the interests of my ownness” and is, once again, a matter of the direct action I recently referred to. The Christian or moral connotations of it do not necessarily follow at all or, at least, if they do then anarchism whole and entire is probably implicated as well from the moral point of view. For don’t anarchists want things? Don’t they act according to their own morality and self-interest? Do they not want to make things their own? Is this not “anarchist selfishness”? And so:
“If I am not concerned about a thing in and for itself, and do not desire it for its own sake, then I desire it solely as a means to an end, for its usefulness; for the sake of another end, as in oysters for a pleasant flavour. Now will not every thing whose final end he himself is, serve the egoist as means? And is he to protect a thing that serves him for nothing — for example, the proletarian to protect the state? Ownness includes in itself everything own, and brings to honour again what Christian language dishonoured. But ownness has not any alien standard either, as it is not in any sense an idea like freedom, morality, humanity, and the like: it is only a description of the – owner.”
What this is to say is AS THE OWNER, SO THE OWNNESS.
Stirner now turns to this owner and begins by contrasting it with the liberal human being. Here Stirner argues that human beings, within liberalism, are not seen in their ownness but as general examples of a class of human beings. Your individuality doesn’t matter; your generality as a member of the human species is what counts. [Any random member of a general workforce should know exactly what this feels like.] It gets worse, however, for “human being” is nothing other than a concept, an idea, A SPOOK. And so “The Christian takes hold of my spirit, the liberal of my humanity.” Neither of these is “the unique and its own” [another possible rendition of Stirner’s book title], however. Both the Christian and the liberal are not interested in the unique me but only in some idealistic essence that I am imagined to embody. So, as Stirner explains:
“The human religion is only the last metamorphosis of the Christian religion. For liberalism is a religion because it separates my essence from me and sets it above me, because it exalts ‘man’ to the same extent as any other religion does its God or idol, because it makes what is mine into something otherworldly, because in general it makes some of what is mine, out of my qualities and my property, something alien — namely, an ‘essence’; in short, because it sets me beneath man, and thereby creates for me a ‘vocation’.”
The point here is that liberalism, that which, as others have pointed out, is the basis of the modern idea of the nation state and, in fact, never manifests in the world without a state, is a creed with its own set of values, its own meanings, its own epistemology [system of knowledge] by which it creates itself AND US – if we will let it. Stirner argues that it is only really religion turned into humanism. That is, it is still, nevertheless, religious thinking, religion in which “the human being” is now the divine, the god. It might even be thought of as “state religion”, the religion of states which are the kingdoms of humanity as opposed to the kingdom of god. What follows from this? Well certainly not less than that “to every member of the state-community this community must be sacred, and the concept which is the highest to the state must likewise be the highest to him.” This, of course, implies a morality, the morality of “The Human” and “the State”. Stirner, once again, sees this as mere Christianity in humanist guise. But it sets the egoist on a collision course with the State for such conceptions and ideological constructions have no room for “the unique” [which it sees as an “unhuman”] or “ownness” which it sees as detrimental to the general embodied now paradigmatically in the State. Therefore:
“If the state must count on our humanity, it is the same if one says it must count on our morality. Seeing man in each other, and acting as men toward each other, is called moral behaviour. This is in every way the ‘spiritual love’ of Christianity. For, if I see man in you, as in myself I see man and nothing but man, then I care for you as I would care for myself; I nothing but man and you nothing but man, consequently I and you the same. Morality is incompatible with egoism, because the former does not allow validity to me, but only to the man in me. But, if the state is a society of men, not a union of egos [literally: “union of I’s”] each of whom has only himself before his eyes, then it cannot last without morality, and must insist on morality.
Therefore we two, the state and I, are enemies. I, the egoist, have not at heart the welfare of this ‘human society’. I sacrifice nothing to it, I only utilize it; but to be able to utilize it completely I transform it rather into my property and my creature; that is, I annihilate it, and form in its place the Union of Egoists [Verein von Egoisten].
So the state betrays its enmity to me by demanding that I be a man, which presupposes that I may also not be a man, but rank for it as an ‘un-man’; it imposes being a man upon me as a duty. Further, it desires me to do nothing along with which it cannot last; so its permanence is to be sacred for me. Then I am not to be an egoist, but a ‘respectable, upright’, thus moral, man. Enough; before it and its permanence I am to be impotent and respectful.”
As a consequence:
“The world which the believer (believing spirit) creates is called church, the world which the man (human or humane spirit) creates is called state. But that is not my world. I never execute anything human in the abstract, but always my own things; my human act is diverse from every other human act, and only by this diversity is it a real act belonging to me. The human in it is an abstraction, and, as such, spirit, abstracted essence.”
Besides the surely obvious point here that the unique with its ownness stands opposed to the liberal, humanist state no less than this state stands opposed to it in its need to make all people drones of its own making, there is the point that the egoist does not, and cannot, THINK or VALUE as the liberal humanist religionist does. The unique cannot share their morality or even recognise their morality [which is the dissolution of themselves, their interest, their property]. Liberal human religion bids human beings care for human beings AS human beings, not as John, Sue, Dave or Elisabeth. It doesn’t care about you or your interests. They might conceivably be your business but they are certainly not its. Hence Stirner’s preference for the “Union of Egoists” – which he also refers to here as the “union of I’s”. These are egoists seeking the furtherance of their ownness in tandem with others doing exactly the same. Here you are present, and act, in your uniqueness and in the pursuance of ownness and without any shame. It is about your autonomy, your agency and the freest of free associations. You act for yourself but, as can be seen, this does not mean you act as a hermit. Nothing about egoism, uniqueness or ownness means you have to hide away, be solipsistic, be antisocial. It is just that the social conception is grounded in a different understanding of why and how people might work together, cooperate or act in solidarity. Egoism does not mean antisocialism; it means that people are acting honestly in their own interest – but together with others.
This is why Stirner says that the egoist does not care for “human society”. It is, from the egoist’s perspective, something based on false and inauthentic foundations. But the egoist need not necessarily be against society as material reality. It is just that it must be based in egoism, in the uniqueness of each member and their ownness. Until then, society is just something the egoist uses to further their interests by means of their “might”, their direct action. They want to make it their property, their own, in action which gradually turns it from liberal humanist society into the Union of Egoists. This union demands not that you be a human being, that you regard people with the morality of “humanity”, but that you be unique, that you seek your ownness and that you use your might to create your property. The liberal State seeks only and always the continuance of itself; the Union of Egoists is nothing more or less than those who seek their own interest with others so long as that cooperation serves its purpose. It is a truly FREE association but it may end at any time. Putting this another way, Stirner says this:
“Man with a capital M is only an ideal, the species only something thought of. To be a man is not to realise the ideal of MAN, but to present oneself, the individual.”
In rejecting THE HUMAN as some holy, sacred spook, then, Stirner sees that we must reject its thought, its conceptions, its ideals, its values, its institutions, its states and even the meanings it gives to things. “Man”, says Stirner, “is the last evil spirit or spook, the most deceptive or most intimate, the craftiest liar with honest mein, the father of lies.” The egoist, in contrast, can only set out to DESECRATE such things for to the egoist “Nothing is holy”. Such an egoist could do this by themselves; but there is nothing about either egoism, uniqueness or ownness which says they must do. A union of egos or a union of the egoistic is always there as a possibility of human autonomy, agency and free association.
One of the modes of liberal humanist thought which Stirner specifically attacks in this context is that of “rights” – often today referred to as “HUMAN Rights” which is one definitive product of the liberal Enlightenment emanating from Western Europe. By means of such a description, of course, the game should already be given away from an egoist perspective. Stirner calls “rights” “the spirit of society” and queries if I should be “in the right” merely because society said I was. The answer, of course, is no because Stirner is not for a minute going to concede the ground that society should be something that decides or arbitrates rights. He says, “Whether I am in the right or not there is no judge but myself. Others can judge only whether they endorse my right, and whether it exists as right for them too.” As a consequence, Stirner thinks it best if we each keep our own rights to ourselves, as seems good to us in each case: “Let each keep this right unabridged for himself, then all exercise it spontaneously; let him not take care for all though – let him not grow zealous for it as for a right of all.” Here the danger is imagining general rights rather than rights we grasp for ourselves by our will and direct action. Such general rights [which are spooks] can soon enough become laws and then we each have a yoke around our necks fashioned out of thin air. What should matter to me, however, is MY rights even as what should matter to you is YOURS.
There are, of course, mentalities which imagine that people “have equal rights by nature”. Stirner mentions Communism in this respect. But Stirner denies its premise; he says that “men have no right at all by nature.” “Right”, in fact, he regards as “a religious concept, something sacred.” [Communism, therefore, is religious in this respect.] “Equality of rights” he therefore sees as yet more transformed Christianity and the “fraternity” of the French Revolution of 1789 as much the same. All such rights talk is then much the same again, a “flight into the religious domain, into the region of the sacred, of the ideal” from where it suffers from all the faults to which the egoist would ascribe such things. Stirner, you see, is a thoroughgoing believer in direct action or, as he often calls it, “power” or “might”. What you can achieve is what is yours, your property, and this, in turn, is earned by your own action on your own behalf. The integrity and authenticity of ownness and you as an owner demands this self-responsibility. This is its ethic and its point. And so: “What you have the power to be you have the right to. I derive all right and all warrant from me; I am entitled to everything that I have in my power” and “I am entitled by myself to murder if I myself do not forbid it to myself, if I myself do not fear murder as a ‘wrong’.” This may perhaps sound harsh, even horrifying, in state-taught humanist ears. But does the State act any differently itself? Why can the State kill who it likes, pursue with violence its own self-interest, but you or I cannot? Either I have its rights or there are no rights and all are equally our own. Therefore, “I decide whether it is the right thing in me, there is no right outside me. If it is right for me, it is right.”
This thought trespasses on the idea of property for there are such things imagined as “property rights” and these were most famously addressed [in anarchist context] at around the time Stirner was writing by Proudhon. Stirner does not agree with Proudhon that “property is theft” for he imagines this concedes the actual existence of property to make sense. Instead, he says: “ The position of affairs is different in the egoistic sense. I do not step shyly back from your property, but look upon it always as my property, in which I need to ‘respect’ nothing. Pray do the like with what you call my property!” Here he is against what he calls “sacred property” and he proposes, once more, that what is mine by my direct action is mine and the same applies to you as well. Yet there were also others, such as the communists, who had opinions on property too. Stirner quotes one August Becker in this respect who writes: “the earth belongs rightfully to him who tills it, and its products to those who bring them out.” Stirner, of course, does not agree. [If you have correctly swallowed whole the thesis I appended at the beginning of all this Stirner talk you should by now be getting a feeling for where everything is heading.] He says:
“I think it belongs to him who knows how to take it, or who does not let it be taken from him, does not let himself be deprived of it. If he appropriates it, then not only the earth, but the right to it too, belongs to him. This is egoistic right: it is right for me, therefore it is right. Aside from this, right does have ‘a wax nose’. The tiger that assails me is in the right, and I who strike him down am also in the right. I defend against him not my right, but myself.”
Again, we need to think of this in terms of the supremacy, for the unique, of DIRECT ACTION. In this context, what is mine is what I can use and, in so many words, have power over. The point is always it must come from me, the I, and not from abstractions or ideals which do not exist. We swap the imaginary for the concrete and go from there. And so I make my right.
But this, it should not be brushed over, is destructive. It is destructive of any ideal, any phantom, any spook, any institution, that would be set over me to control me or any hierarchy that others would attempt to place me within. Stirner bids us know our power in this respect. Laws, for example, are useless unless people can be coerced [with threats of violence] to obey them. The State, as the rights-maker and as the law-maker, stands opposed to the very idea “I make my right”. In fact, it stands, and must stand, ready to punish any such idea or action in pursuance of it. States are gods in this respect and they brook no blasphemy. But Stirner says:
“What do your laws amount to if no one obeys them? What your orders, if nobody lets himself be ordered? The state cannot forbear the claim to determine the individual’s will, to speculate and count on this. For the state it is indispensable that nobody have an own will; if one had, the state would have to exclude (lock up, banish, etc.) this one; if all had, they would do away with the state. The state is not thinkable without lordship and servitude (subjection); for the state must will to be the lord of all that it embraces, and this will is called the ‘will of the state’.
He who, to hold his own, must count on the absence of will in others is a thing made by these others, as the master is a thing made by the servant. If submissiveness ceased, it would be all over with lordship.
The own will of me is the state’s destroyer; it is therefore denounced by the state as ‘self-will’. Own will and the state are powers in deadly hostility, between which no ‘perpetual peace’ is possible. As long as the state asserts itself, it represents own will, its ever-hostile opponent, as unreasonable, evil; and the latter lets itself be talked into believing this — indeed, it really is such, for no more reason than this, that it still lets itself be talked into such belief: it has not yet come to itself and to the consciousness of its dignity; hence it is still incomplete, still amenable to fine words.”
Stirner thus knows very well that “Every state is a despotism.” But how do we change this? “Only by recognising no duty, not binding myself nor letting myself be bound. If I have no duty, then I know no law either.” The egoist is an insurrectionist and an outlaw [just as many anarchist insurrectionists and illegalists inspired by reading Stirner exactly became]. Stirner asserts that “My will nobody can bind and my disinclination remains free.” He speaks to what Saul Newman refers to in his work on Stirner, and as I reported in chapter 0.33 of A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection, as “voluntary inservitude”. I make my right, I refuse the State’s domination, I recognise my will and not its.
Here, of course, the State tries to steal and keep for itself that which is rightly the property of ownness, of the owner:
“Against the individual and his ‘self-will’. The state practices ‘violence’, the individual must not do so. The state’s behaviour is violence, and it calls its violence ‘law’; that of the individual, ‘crime’. Crime, then — so the individual’s violence is called; and only by crime does he overcome the state’s violence when he thinks that the state is not above him, but he is above the state.”
Stirner, however, requests nothing of the State. He asks “those who would be egoists” what they think the more egoistic: “to let laws be given them” or “to practice refractoriness, yes, complete disobedience”? Stirner himself suggests that he has no concern regarding “what is accepted in the nation and by the nation” and exposes what he regards as the false principle of its foundation:
“Solely from the principle that all right and all authority belong to the collectivity of the people do all forms of government arise. For none of them lacks this appeal to the collectivity, and the despot, as well as the president or any aristocracy, acts and commands ‘in the name of the state’. They are in possession of the ‘authority of the state’, and it is perfectly indifferent whether, were this possible, the people as a collectivity (all individuals) exercise this state-authority, or whether it is only the representatives of this collectivity, be there many of them as in aristocracies or one as in monarchies. Always the collectivity is above the individual, and has a power which is called legitimate, which is law.”
The only conclusion Stirner can come to given such workings out as these is that the egoist, in the eyes of state and government, must become a “criminal”. He states, “Every ego is from birth a criminal to begin with against the people, the state. Hence it is that it does really keep watch over all; it sees in each one an — egoist, and it is afraid of the egoist. It presumes the worst about each one, and takes care, police-care, that ‘no harm happens to the state’.” But it is not only those designated “police” that the egoist has to be aware of for “the people is full of police sentiments through and through. — Only the one who renounces their ego, who practices ‘self-renunciation’, is acceptable to the people.” What Stirner seems to suggest here is that people in general are often so totally shot through with the THOUGHT and VALUES of “society” and “state” that they become conformed to it, are agents of it, even if sometimes unconscious ones at that. Every person who tells you they “will not break the law” is exactly such a person. Everyone who might turn you in if you did is exactly the same. They have been possessed by the spook of the authoritative state. Yet, on the other hand, an egoist “who is his own cannot desist from being a criminal”.
Thus, we can state Stirner’s position on all this with these words of his:
“I do not demand any right, therefore I need not recognize any either. What I can get by force [direct action] I get by force, and what I do not get by force I have no right to, nor do I give myself airs, or consolation, with my imprescriptible right.”
We can here restate that thesis of Stirner’s which I attempted to formulate previously. Stirner states that “Liberalism appears as the last attempt at a creation of the liberty of the people, a liberty of the commune, of ‘society’, of the general, of mankind; the dream of a humanity, a people, a commune, a ‘society’, that shall be of age.” But “a liberty of the people is not MY liberty.” As such, “the individual is the irreconcilable enemy of every generality.” This is because “Everything sacred is a tie, a fetter.” It follows that “Everything sacred is and must be perverted by perverters of the law” who, as a consequence, seek “lawlessness”. Therefore, “As long as there still exists even one institution which the individual may not dissolve, the ownness and self-appurtenance of me is still very remote. How can I be free when I must bind myself by oath to a constitution, a charter, a law, ‘vow body and soul’ to my people?”
This now turns, once again, to how the people may relate to each other and have their intercourse, how they may get along with each other. The basic difference Stirner wants to example here is between that relation which is imposed upon us from above [this he calls society and its primary example is the State] and that relation which we make and pursue for ourselves [which he calls the union]. Obviously, the egoist seeks only the latter and commits themselves to the destruction of the former. That intercourse of the union Stirner regards as “mutuality” and “the action, the commercium, of individuals”. “Society”, Stirner suggests, “is not generated by me and you, but by a third factor which makes associates out of us two.” But it makes us a “prisoner” in its nature as an enforced association [literally like a prison in this case]. The mark of the union is precisely a reciprocity which comes from each I which “society”, as enforced, can never have. Examples of such societies can be the family and the church of believers as well as the State and these are all things which seek their own interests rather than MINE. Indeed, if I assert MINE it can only be to the detriment of such society. Such society, says Stirner, relies on enforced order for if egoistic disorder is introduced then society would be at an end. Thus, societies such as the State concentrate on creating serviceable members conformed to its existence.
As the prime example of “society” so described, Stirner describes the State in this way:
“The state always has the sole purpose to limit, tame, subordinate, the individual — to make him subject to some generality or other; it lasts only so long as the individual is not all in all, and it is only the clearly-marked restriction of me, my limitation, my slavery. Never does a state aim to bring in the free activity of individuals, but always that which is bound to the purpose of the state. Through the state nothing in common comes to pass either, as little as one can call a piece of cloth the common work of all the individual parts of a machine; it is rather the work of the whole machine as a unit, machine work. In the same style, everything is done by the state machine too; for it moves the clockwork of the individual minds, none of which follow their own impulse. The state seeks to hinder every free activity by its censorship, its supervision, its police, and holds this hindering to be its duty, because it is in truth a duty of self-preservation. The state wants to make something out of man, therefore there live in it only made men; every one who wants to be his own self is its opponent and is nothing. ‘He is nothing’ means as much as, the state does not make use of him, grants him no position, no office, no trade, and the like.”
Stirner in fact satirises the society of the state as “beehood” [thinking of bees] and contrasts this with the self-owned who “are going to fight for the unity willed by their own will, for union.” The State tried to make its own I but, says Stirner, “I am I only by this, that I make myself;… it is not another who makes me, but I must be my own work.” He also then uses the figure of Diogenes as a metaphor when he states that “the egoist is to himself the warder of the human, and has nothing to say to the state except ‘Get out of my sunshine’ [as Diogenes did to Alexander the Great].” He goes on, “I, this nothing, shall put forth my creations from myself.” Here Stirner also adds that egoists cannot, thus, be party or partisan people. The egoist is the unique, they “unite freely and separate freely again.” A party could be a union but only so on an egoistic basis: “the party ceases to be a union at the same moment at which it makes certain principles binding and wants to have them assured against attacks.” It is not a matter of honouring the party [an abstract idea or set of ideas] but of those “who unite with me without swearing allegiance to my flag.” As a consequence, “ownness knows no commandment of ‘faithfulness, devotion and the like’, ownness permits everything, even apostasy, defection.” Here no one can ask for a “confession of faith” for my faith is [in] my own. “So then an egoist could never embrace a party or take up with a party? Oh, yes, only he cannot let himself be embraced and taken up by the party. For him the party remains all the time nothing but a gathering: he is one of the party, he takes part.”
Thus, taking this idea and transferring it to property:
“The state has nothing to be more afraid of than the value of me, and nothing must it more carefully guard against than every occasion that offers itself to me for realizing value from myself. I am the deadly enemy of the state, which always hovers between the alternatives, it or I. Therefore it strictly insists not only on not letting me have a standing, but also on keeping down what is mine. In the state there is no property, no property of the individual, but only state property. Only through the state have I what I have, as I am only through it what I am. My private property is only that which the state leaves to me of its, cutting off others from it (making it private) ; it is state property.”
Once again, we see, this sets the unique and the state on a collision course:
“Egoism does not think of sacrificing anything, giving away anything that it wants; it simply decides, what I want I must have and will procure. All attempts to enact rational laws about property have put out from the bay of love into a desolate sea of regulations. Even socialism and communism cannot be excepted from this.”
Here Stirner comes closest to Thomas Hobbes when he states: “Take hold, and take what you require! With this the war of all against all is declared. I alone decide what I will have.” Yet this is only, I think, due to the primacy of the idea of direct action and not because of some idea of abstract “right” such as, for example, the communist might imagine to have when she tells you that the collectivity is all. Thus, as I said earlier, we must have respect for the intellectual terrain we traverse. Stirner’s justification is that “If men reach the point of losing respect for property, every one will have property, as all slaves become free men as soon as they no longer respect the master as master. Unions will then, in this matter too, multiply the individual’s means and secure his assailed property.” Stirner thus retains the individual’s interest in all property and never releases it to a collectivity [as do the communists]. He insists, “I am proprietor, and I only come to an understanding with others about my property.” Property is not sacred; it is MINE.
This, once again, to those taught to bow before an imposed morality of self-sacrifice and subservience to a “greater good”, might strike the reader as harsh. Yet Stirner insists he loves people in general:
“I love men too, not merely individuals, but every one . But I love them with the consciousness of egoism; I love them because love makes me happy, I love because loving is natural to me, because it pleases me. I know no ‘commandment of love’. I have a fellow-feeling with every feeling being, and their torment torments, their refreshment refreshes me too; I can kill them, not torture them.”
In contrast, of course, we might example the denizens of “civilization” who, as has been well known for centuries now, can torture, kill, rape and destroy their fellow human being at will. The ideal of “Mankind” has not done very much for those called “human”. It has, in fact, only led some to designate some as more human than others. Therefore, Stirner makes a different argument:
“love is not a commandment, but, like each of my feelings, property. Acquire, that is, purchase, my property, and then I will make it over to you. A church, a nation, a fatherland, a family, etc., that does not know how to acquire my love, I need not love; and I fix the purchase price of my love quite at my pleasure.”
Put, again, more contrarily:
“To the egoist nothing is high enough for him to humble himself before it, nothing so independent that he would live for love of it, nothing so sacred that he would sacrifice himself to it. The egoist’s love rises in selfishness, flows in the bed of selfishness, and empties into selfishness again.”
For all the trouble that the English word “selfishness” might give to the English reader accustomed to read that as a bad thing, I offer the word “authenticity” in mediation. If all people loved for their own satisfaction and formed unions in which to share their love, each for their own pleasure and satisfaction, would that be a BAD thing? Stirner concedes that some might not wish to call such a thing “love” and asks his readers to choose another word for it if they can. Yet what matters is not the word but that this “love” be MY OWN and for MY satisfaction – and that in every case. But does this not make everything, even love, just something I USE? Indeed! Stirner says:
“If I first said, I love the world, I now add likewise: I do not love it, for I annihilate it as I annihilate myself; I dissolve it. I do not limit myself to one feeling for men, but give free play to all that I am capable of. Why should I not dare speak it out in all its glaringness? Yes, I utilize the world and men! With this I can keep myself open to every impression without being torn away from myself by one of them. I can love, love with a full heart, and let the most consuming glow of passion burn in my heart, without taking the beloved one for anything else than the nourishment of my passion, on which it ever refreshes itself anew. All my care for him applies only to the object of my love, only to him whom my love requires, only to him, the ‘warmly loved’. How indifferent would he be to me without this — my love! I feed only my love with him, I utilize him for this only: I enjoy him.”
“Where the world comes in my way — and it comes in my way everywhere — I consume it to quiet the hunger of my egoism. For me you are nothing but — my food, even as I too am fed upon and turned to use by you. We have only one relation to each other, that of usableness, of utility, of use. We owe each other nothing, for what I seem to owe you l owe at most to myself.”
This theme of “owing to myself” is, of course, the consistent theme of Stirner’s book restated in yet another way. It follows through even into the field of money much, I am sure, to the chagrin of modern so-called “anarcho-capitalists” who sometimes use a misunderstood “Stirnerism” [of which Stirner himself would have totally disapproved] as their justification. But what does Stirner say about the moneygrubber and the soul acquisitive for financial gain? He says: “he, for whom he seeks the lucre, is a slave of lucre, not raised above lucre; he is one who belongs to lucre, the moneybag, not to himself; he is not his own. Must not a man whom the passion of avarice rules follow the commands of this master?” He continues: “So an avaricious man is not a self-owned man, but a servant; and he can do nothing for his own sake without at the same time doing it for his lord’s sake — precisely like the godly man.” The anarcho-capitalist crypto-bro is a slave. He does not even own himself. He is the little old lady who goes to church and says her prayers. He serves some empty ideal so does not own himself. Stirner laughs at him.
Thus, what Stirner seeks is that people can be unique, their own, creative nothings, in a world they can make their own, their property, by their own direct action, their might or power. Stirner can say, for example, “My selfishness has an interest in the liberation of the world, that it may become — my property.” He concedes that “society is man’s original state” but he says that the child soon grows to prefer “the intercourse that it enters into with its peers” and he calls this the dissolution of the imposed society and set of relations that is the family and the beginning of what he has called the Union. This Union is a COALITION in which members retain their ownness but can also experience intercourse [Stirner uses the German word “Verkehr” which is also the normal word for traffic or transport] and being united with others. But such a Union is never a matter of imposing authority or requiring subjection. It is a true free or voluntary association. It exists only as long as you or I regard that it serves our purpose. Such a Union, then, is in fact nothing but the will of those who make it up. It is entirely functional and not abstract in its construction [i.e. mandated from above or from outside the will of its members]. The Union exists to manifest ownness, mine but yours too. Therefore:
“let people not be summoned to sacrifice their special welfare for the general, for this Christian admonition will not carry you through; they will better understand the opposite admonition, not to let their own welfare be snatched from them by anybody, but to put it on a permanent foundation. Then they are of themselves led to the point that they care best for their welfare if they unite with others for this purpose, that is, ‘sacrifice a part of their liberty’, yet not to the welfare of others, but to their own. An appeal to men’s self-sacrificing disposition and self-renouncing love ought at least to have lost its seductive plausibility when, after an activity of thousands of years, it has left nothing behind but the — misery of today. Why then still fruitlessly expect self-sacrifice to bring us better times? Why not rather hope for them from usurpation? Salvation comes no longer from the giver, the bestower, the loving one, but from the taker, the appropriator (usurper), the owner. Communism, and, consciously, egoism-reviling humanism, still count on love.”
This is quite a slap in the face for those used to the insipid dogma “all you need is love” for – Stirner says bluntly – all you need is NOT love. For Stirner all you need is your own interest, ownness, “selfishness”, and to carry it through consistently. “Love” is, in fact, only the essence of society, that thing which kills, tortures and imprisons and tells you that you are its servant if you want to survive. “Love” is the property of that entity which wants to rob you of ownness and declare your power to act directly for yourself invalid. Oh yes, please love! Love yourself into an eternal prison cell watched over by society’s jailers! Love is “religion” and a “cult of society”. Instead, Stirner says, “But I would rather be referred to men’s selfishness than to their ‘kindnesses’ their mercy, pity, etc. The former demands reciprocity (as thou to me, so I to thee), does nothing ‘gratis’, and may be won and – bought.” Stirner, then, replaces “love” with “use” and “society” with “union”. It is only the union and use which allows people to retain their ownness and pursue their interests. It is only here each one can honestly pursue such things on an honest footing with others [as each acts for themselves openly]. Here there is no deference to ideals which are no one’s interest but, instead, a spookish third party. The union, says Stirner, “multiplies my force”. It is my agency but not mine alone for it is also associative. “The union does not possess you, but you possess it or make it of use to you.” This is not about “love” but function. It gets things done. Further:
“You bring into a union your whole power, your competence, and make yourself count; in a society you are employed, with your working power; in the former you live egoistically, in the latter humanly, that is, religiously, as a ‘member in the body of this Lord’; to a society you owe what you have, and are in duty bound to it, are – possessed by ‘social duties’; a union you utilize, and give it up undutifully and unfaithfully when you see no way to use it further… the union exists for you and through you, the society conversely lays claim to you for itself and exists even without you; in short, the society is sacred, the union your own; the society consumes you, you consume the union.”
At this point Stirner, who has a flair for poking a spear into the side of society, says something startling: “The poor are to blame for there being rich men.” But why? BECAUSE THEY ARE SUBSERVIENT AND REFUSE TO TAKE UP THEIR OWN INTEREST. If the poor refused to accept their poverty – even to the loss of their own life in fighting for more than poverty by presuming to TAKE what they need – then there would be no rich men. Society is a contractual whole but it completely falls apart if enough people refuse to observe it. The problem is all too many people, the mass as a whole in fact, DO observe it – and our collective servitude is the result. If the people at large became at once possessed of their ownness, however, this collective servitude would be at an end. What Stirner suggests we need in this case, however, is not a REVOLUTION but INSURRECTION. These are not the same and Stirner explains why:
“Revolution and insurrection must not be looked upon as synonymous. The former consists in an overturning of conditions, of the established condition or status, the state or society, and is accordingly a political or social act; the latter has indeed for its unavoidable consequence a transformation of circumstances, yet does not start from it but from men’s discontent with themselves, is not an armed rising, but a rising of individuals, a getting up, without regard to the arrangements that spring from it. The revolution aimed at new arrangements; insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and sets no glittering hopes on ‘institutions’. It is not a fight against the established, since, if it prospers, the established collapses of itself; it is only a working forth of me out of the established. If I leave the established, it is dead and passes into decay. Now, as my object is not the overthrow of an established order but my elevation above it, my purpose and deed are not a political or social but (as directed toward myself and my ownness alone) an egoistic purpose and deed.”
Here we see perfectly how the unique, ownness and egoism change the game and instantiate new priorities. Revolution, looked at this way, can, in fact, be seen as just more of the same – a new constitution, a new collectivity, new spooks to be possessed by [even including a spook called “anarchism”]. It is only INSURRECTION, as the instantiation of an attitude of egoism, which puts trust in ourselves – each as OUR OWN – and refuses to be arranged by others. It is in refusing to be arranged by others that the anarchist mantra of “No gods, no masters” truly begins. What is thus required is INSURRECTION whether revolution happens or not. I wrote my previous book A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection entirely in order to make exactly this point. So, as Max Stirner goes on to say:
“The revolution commands one to make arrangements, the insurrection demands that he rise or exalt himself. What constitution was to be chosen, this question busied the revolutionary heads, and the whole political period foams with constitutional fights and constitutional questions… The insurrectionist strives to become constitutionless.”
The egoist, the insurrectionist, then, is one who says, “my satisfaction decides about my relation to human beings, and that I do not renounce”. Such a person is one who recognises that “The idols exist through me; I need only refrain from creating them anew, then they exist no longer: ‘higher powers’ exist only through my exalting them and abasing myself.” Such a person also recognises that “A human being is ‘called’ to nothing, and has no ‘calling’, no ‘destiny’, as little as a plant or a beast has a ‘calling’.” The egoist is a starting point and not a goal, the one who says, “I am all and nothing.” In the egoist “being is as much conquered as thinking is. It is MY being, as the other is MY thinking.” For the egoist, “man is not the measure of all things, but I am this measure.” The egoist is their own truth for:
“As long as you believe in the truth, you do not believe in yourself, and you are a — servant, a — religious man. You alone are the truth, or rather, you are more than the truth, which is nothing at all before you. You too do assuredly ask about the truth, you too do assuredly ‘criticize’, but you do not ask about a ‘higher truth’ — namely, one that should be higher than you — nor criticize according to the criterion of such a truth. You address yourself to thoughts and notions, as you do to the appearances of things, only for the purpose of making them palatable to you, enjoyable to you, and your own: you want only to subdue them and become their owner, you want to orient yourself and feel at home in them, and you find them true , or see them in their true light, when they can no longer slip away from you, no longer have any unseized or uncomprehended place, or when they are right for you, when they are your property. If afterward they become heavier again, if they wriggle themselves out of your power again, then that is just their untruth — namely, your impotence. Your impotence is their power, your humility their exaltation. Their truth, therefore, is you, or is the nothing which you are for them and in which they dissolve: their truth is their nothingness.”
As such, “All truth by itself is dead, a corpse; it is alive only in the same way as my lungs are alive — namely, in the measure of my own vitality. Truths are material, like vegetables and weeds; as to whether vegetable or weed, the decision lies in me.” So, finally, “I am the criterion of truth, but I am not an idea, but more than idea, that is, unutterable.” The point here is that, “I do not develop men, nor as man, but, as I, I develop — myself. This is the meaning of the — unique one.”
Consequently, Max Stirner ends his book in the following way and with this my exegesis of his egoism comes to a close:
“I am owner of my might, and I am so when I know myself as unique. In the unique one the owner himself returns into his creative nothing, of which he is born. Every higher essence above me, be it God, be it man, weakens the feeling of my uniqueness, and pales only before the sun of this consciousness. If I concern myself for myself, the unique one, then my concern rests on its transitory, mortal creator, who consumes himself, and I may say: All things are nothing to me.”
If you’ve been reading my books of anarchy and anarchism then you will have come across Friedrich Nietzsche in them several times before. Like Max Stirner, however, he is no card-carrying anarchist. Unlike Stirner, he does not even claim to be an egoist. If anything, the history of his interpretation has affirmed him as some kind of aristocratic nihilist whose work was most famously, and disastrously, appropriated by the Nazis. I say it was ‘appropriated by the Nazis’ for Nietzsche himself was not a Nazi. He was, in fact, not even an anti-semite – although his overbearing sister, Elisabeth, married a man who certainly was and whom Nietzsche himself despised. Like the Nazis, Elisabeth was one who, after he fell into permanent illness at the beginning of 1889, made herself the controlling power in the utilization and sometimes publication of her brother’s works. She had no intellectual qualification for this and frankly just aimed to make capital out of them – much as the Nazis would try to do later on in an intellectual manner. This is ironic only because Nietzsche’s work itself, as one of its themes, foregrounds the necessity of INTERPRETATION and the seeming inevitability of perspectivism. By such things life seeks to prosper itself; and so we descend down Nietzsche’s rabbit hole…
To give an entire picture of Nietzsche and his philosophical thought in a book like this would take too much work and require so much space it would simply become a book about Nietzsche. His thought is complex with many attachments to other things that would risk derailing what is meant to be an “explanation” of egoism in anarchist context. My inquiry thus defined and restricted, we must interact with Nietzsche somewhere where it may be most useful. In this case I judge this to be his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a book which also happens to be Nietzsche’s favourite of his own and is an example of both literature and philosophy [being written as a faux story in a poetic style and including several ‘songs’]. It is also a book set in the middle period of Nietzsche’s writing career [which stretched from 1872–1888] which means it is written cognisant of what has come before and as a gateway to what follows. I will contextualise this as I need to but my main focus will thus be on Zarathustra.
Zarathustra is primarily notable for two main things. The first is the introduction of the Übermensch which I shall translate as “Overhuman” rather than “Superman” or “Overman”. “Über” is the regular German word for “over” and “Mensch” the regular German word for “person” or “human being” which would, in archaic English, have been translated as “Man” [as, in fact, happened in the case of Stirner when he was first translated into English]. The Overhuman is that human being who can bring themselves to the point of transcending humanity and so is immediately seen to be a subject compatible with the reading of Stirner and “Der Einzige” as set out above. Both Stirner and Nietzsche [who in the early twentieth century were sometimes interpreted together — so compatible were they imagined to be] have an interest in overcoming humanity and becoming something more, something their own. “Overhuman” is Nietzsche’s name for this as “Der Einzige” was Stirner’s.
The second thing Zarathustra is notable for is Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal recurrence which is sometimes called “eternal return” as well. The idea behind this is that one would overcome the human by living one’s life in such a way that one willed it eternally, that is, one would will one’s own life as if it would happen over and over again forever. Nietzsche is not saying this actually happens; he is not speaking about reincarnation. He is proposing such an idea as a thought experiment in order to articulate a life lived based on your WILL [something very like the ego or the unique with its ownness!], one that overcomes humanity by willing just exactly this life which I will to live from myself and out of my own creation. I hope that the similarity to things Stirner has said using his own language is suggestively apparent here [although please note that Stirner and Nietzsche are far from simply the same. Each construct their own ideas from themselves and use different language and terms].
Before we can delve into the guts of Zarathustra more deeply to extrapolate this thought further and see how it fits into my subject in this book, we need to set the scene for Zarathustra in relation to Nietzsche’s philosophy in several books up to this point. Nietzsche was a prodigious student who, as a boy, was sent to one of the top German schools, Schulpforta. At university he trained as a philologist which gave him an interest in words and in the Greek culture with which this subject had to do. He was awarded his PhD and given a teaching post at the University of Basel in Switzerland already by his mid twenties and, after a stint as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War, wrote his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, in 1872. It was not well received by academia and regarded as very idiosyncratic. In fact, the 1870s in general were a troublesome time for the new academic. He became increasingly beset by health problems [formerly thought to be because he caught syphilis whilst at war — although this explanation is now medically discredited and it is believed likely Nietzsche developed a tumour behind his right eye which would eventually send him insane and paralyse him for the last 11 years of his life] and went through a friendship with Richard Wagner which started in ecstatic joy and ended in them going their separate ways as people pulling in different intellectual directions. This separating of the ways coincided with Nietzsche having to end his academic career very prematurely due to the bouts of ill health his condition caused [which necessitated regular absences from his post for convalescence]. He would live the rest of his days on the meager pension his academic post was fortunate enough to provide for him, moving from boarding house to boarding house to find an environment which eased his medical discomfort. Such places would often include the French and Italian Rivieras or the Swiss mountains. Here Nietzsche would often take 6–8 hour walks and these were clearly inspirational in the writing of Zarathustra.
Meanwhile, in the mid 1870s, Nietzsche had produced four essays which he dubbed “Untimely Meditations” and which addressed subjects such as the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer [who also had an interest in the will] or the phenomenon of David Friedrich Strauss, a German academic who had exposed the Christian Gospels to academic fresh air and subsequently had his life ruined by the pious backlash. These essays made virtually no impact. Things would only pick up, and Nietzsche’s writing career really kick into high gear, intellectually and consistently, with the production, in 1878, of Human, All Too Human, a book with which Nietzsche began a project of writing for “free spirits” [this book’s subtitle is, in fact, “A Book For Free Spirits”]. Originally a single volume, in the two following years Nietzsche added two further parts to this, “Assorted Maxims and Opinions”, in which Nietzsche’s well known aphoristic style is very much to the fore, and “The Wanderer and His Shadow” as the final part of the book. That these had not been initially intended by Nietzsche when he first wrote the first part of this book is perhaps shown in that the final paragraph of this first part ends with a look forward to a “philosophy of the forenoon.” Nietzsche’s next book after Human, All Too Human was then called Daybreak and with this Nietzsche began an assault on MORALITY that would continue throughout most of the rest of his sensible life.
After Daybreak [Nietzsche was now febrile with ideas and would basically go from one book idea to the next until his collapse in early January 1889 in Turin] Nietzsche turned to a book called The Gay Science [“gay” here as in happy, cheerful. People not used to Nietzsche who have only heard his name or seen his picture might be surprised to learn how CHEERFUL and POSITIVE this man intends to be in his philosophy. He wants to be a YES sayer and not merely a NO sayer!]. This book links with Human, All Too Human and Daybreak as the third of three books basically impugning the thinking and the philosophy of the West, particularly in relation to its moralism and its erecting of idols or gods before which the human intellect must bow. The Gay Science, in its 125th section, is, in fact, the place where we find Nietzsche’s famous “God is dead and we have killed him.” Nietzsche, of course, means to symbolise much more than a deity by this use of the word “God”; he means to impugn any god-like formations of knowledge or god-like ideas as well – the very idea of gods we might in fact say. This is what leads to the charge of nihilism in the Nietzsche of these books as he deconstructs the basis of philosophical thought and does away with metaphysical ideas. And It is here, consequently, that we may say INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA for the initial edition of The Gay Science ends with a section introducing Zarathustra that Thus Spoke Zarathustra repeats almost word for word as its beginning in its prologue. Nietzsche’s intellectual destruction of the thinking of the West in his previous three books now requires an answer as to what should replace it. In Zarathustra, Nietzsche is to give that answer.
We may start by asking who “Zarathustra” is. Several answers could be given. Firstly, he is a figure of ancient Persian religion. Nietzsche was a man not without some historical knowledge and sensibility. He did not usually pick historical examples at random. Since Zarathustra here is the name of an imagined real person we may assume Nietzsche sees in his history something which makes him fit to be the prophet of the Overhuman and eternal recurrence Nietzsche here presents him as. Second, we might suggest that “Zarathustra” is a barely disguised Nietzsche himself. This would not be unusual. Later in his career Nietzsche will start referring to himself openly as “Dionysos”, the Greek god being a perpetual reference point for him, not least in relation to a necessary “intoxication” that the god’s festivals involved and which Nietzsche saw as spiritually necessary for life. Zarathustra may then be a mask Nietzsche wears to present aspects of himself. Thirdly, Zarathustra could be an example of everything the book inculcates, he is Overhuman and the one who wills and creates his life to be lived over and over again. Here we must also say it gets a little complicated. Another figure Nietzsche was somewhat obsessed with was Jesus of Nazareth [many allusions to the imagined life of Jesus and his words will be seen throughout the text] and so Nietzsche writes Zarathustra always with a consciousness of Jesus’ life and so there is always that context to the text. Yet its also true that Zarathustra’s path through the text in his various adventures is not smooth. Zarathustra is still presented as a human being, not as a god. His story thus includes the numerous pitfalls his message contains.
A further context here when approaching the book is that Nietzsche should primarily be thought of as a philosopher of LIFE and of life shaping thought and ideas. As already suggested, in Zarathustra Nietzsche wants to present a life-affirming philosophy, one which acts as response to the apparent meaninglessness and irrationality his previous books have diagnosed as the basis of systems of thought and morality presented as the basis of intellectual ideas. In his philosophizing in general, Nietzsche is often concerned with how thought shapes and directs life [and vice versa] and not merely with abstract truth. [It is, in fact, true to say that Nietzsche directly brings life and truth together since he concludes they must be intertwined. Truth, then, is not an abstract thing to begin with but one about life where life is an individually experienced thing.] As one of Nietzsche’s primary translators and interpreters into English, R.J. Hollingdale, writes in his introduction to the Penguin Classics translation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the truth in Zarathustra is, and can only be, “the truth which you yourself are” and “there is no truth [sense, meaning] in the world except the truth [sense, meaning] you yourself give it.” Truth, as Nietzsche had written a full ten years before Zarathustra in a then unpublished but pivotal essay of his, “On Truth and Lying in A Non-Moral Sense”, is nothing other than a concept of the human mind developed for its usefulness. It is pragmatic truth not metaphysical truth, the latter being nothing the human being is equipped to find in the first place. The issue for the human being, and so the problematic in Zarathustra, is that life has no meaning unless the human being gives it one. But, of course, knowing that it is the human being who gives it meaning leads itself to the question, “Is this enough?” “Truth” [sense, meaning] is thus an existential problem of LIFE [your life] itself.
Zarathustra begins with a prologue, the first section of which mirrors the end of The Gay Science, section 342 [the end of book four which was the original end of the book. Nietzsche will later write a fifth book for The Gay Science which ruins the neat connection]. Zarathustra is presented as a man who ups and leaves his life behind and seeks solitude “in the mountains” for ten years. We may compare this to Jesus who, as Nietzsche would have been all too aware, is also presented as one who also sought solace in the mountains, for example, in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 1. Zarathustra, however, enjoys “HIS spirit and HIS solitude” rather than communing with the divine. Zarathustra feels a desire to share his wisdom and wants to “give it away” in an image of superfluity. It is noteworthy that he needs “hands outstretched to take it” and so it apparently only comes to those who not only want it but reach out to grasp it. Such wisdom would apparently make the wise “happy in their folly” and the poor “happy in their wealth” – suggesting the wise aren’t really wise or the poor really poor. Zarathustra sets off down the mountain.
Presently he arrives in a forest and meets an old man who remembers him from the ten years previously and refers to him as a “dancer”. [Nietzsche imagines that the Overhuman should be one who dances with joy at their affirmation of life.] Zarathustra claims to “love humanity” and says he has a gift for them. The old man, Zarathustra remarks to himself, does not appear to have heard [as Nietzsche had previously announced in The Gay Science] that “God is dead”. Yet Zarathustra reveals to the old man that he gives no alms to humanity for he is “not poor enough” for that. Continuing on, Zarathustra emerges into that town which is nearest to the forest. Zarathustra [or perhaps human beings generally] is then typified as a “tightrope walker” and goes to the market square where the people are assembled and announces the following:
“I teach you the Overhuman. Human being is something that must be overcome. What have you done to overcome it? All creatures so far created something beyond themselves; and you want to be the ebb of this great flood and would even rather go back to animals than overcome humans?…
Behold, I teach you the Overhuman! The Overhuman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the Overhuman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth and do not believe those who speak to you of extraterrestrial hopes! They are mixers of poisons whether they know it or not. They are despisers of life, dying off and self-poisoned, of whom the earth is weary: so let them fade away!…
Truly, humanity is a polluted stream. One has to be a sea to take in a polluted stream without becoming unclean. Behold, I teach you the Overhuman: it is this sea, in it your great contempt can go under. What is the greatest thing that you can experience? It is the hour of your great contempt. The hour in which even your happiness turns to nausea and likewise your reason and your virtue. The hour in which you say: ‘What matters my happiness? It is poverty and filth, and a pitiful contentment. But my happiness ought to justify existence itself!’”
This is Zarathustra’s opening manifesto and the lines of his message are fairly clear. “Human being” [how one is and becomes and exists as a human being] is something to be overcome [presented in a somewhat evolutionary sense by reference to animals and hence as part of a constant process]. Zarathustra teaches this as “the meaning of the earth” and so as something to become OUR meaning. It is directly contrasted with extra-worldly hopes [i.e. proposed divinities, gods and heavens] and regards such religionists as antithetical to LIFE, poisoners, whereas, we must assume, his own mantra of the Overhuman is LIFE-AFFIRMING. Zarathustra further teaches that it is in becoming contemptuous of oneself and what one is that one experiences that thing which is the greatest thing any of us can experience. This is to say that the human being is not a static object, an exercise in self-indulgent perfection or completion we can rest on our laurels about, but is something in constant need of movement, of consistently going beyond oneself. [Another possible translation of Übermensch is “Beyond-Human”.] We must become sick at what we are and be motivated to surpass it, overcome it. Who we are and its happiness should be that which justifies existence itself. As such, this is a very pro-active, self-actualising message – if not a mission or commission from Zarathustra’s point of view. No longer content to be humans, creatures with a certain form of being which makes them everything they are, we must seek actively to overcome such a thing, and become Overhumans, those who have surpassed their humanity. This implicates “reason,” “justice,” “virtue” and “pity” and this Overhuman is “lightning” and “madness” [in the latter case one thinks of Dionysian intoxication or frenzy by comparison].
It soon becomes apparent that humanity itself is the tightrope upon which the tightrope walker walks. That is, human beings are a bridge between the animal and the Overhuman. They are not a project in themselves nor a terminus or destination. “They are a bridge and not a purpose,” as Zarathustra puts it. Zarathustra proclaims himself a lover of those who cross over and go under, those who despise, for those who despise can also venerate and long for something more – such as the farther shore in an image not foreign to those with some knowledge of Buddhism and the concept of “enlightenment”. In fact, this fourth section of Zarathustra’s prologue is a list of things Zarathustra loves. He loves those who “sacrifice themselves for the earth” rather than looking to the stars for salvation. He loves those with a thirst for knowledge [that is, knowledge which makes obsolete our human knowledge so that the Overhuman may be the revealer and experiencer of entirely new, Overhuman, knowledge]. He loves the one who “works and invents” in order that the Overhuman may come. He loves the one who “lives his virtue”, that is, who cares so much about his virtue that he never stops trying to perfect it. Zarathustra sees in this, yet again, evidence of the one who would go beyond themselves. In addition, Zarathustra loves the one “who makes of his virtue his desire and his doom”, i.e. one who puts all his eggs in the basket of his virtue. Zarathustra loves the one who wants to perish and so be reborn, an act which, he thinks, would justify those of the future and redeem those of the past. In a nutshell, Zarathustra loves those who would not preserve themselves!
Zarathustra intuits that the people in the town do not understand him. They cannot hear a message of contempt for everything human and that it must be overcome. This, Zarathustra muses, is their culture. Zarathustra gives another speech in which the keywords of the Overhuman are “longing,” “creation,” “love,” “dancing” and “star”. He speaks of the “Ultimate Human who makes everything small.” This is “the last human being” or, in other words, humanity’s apotheosis. Zarathustra is here parodying humanity as he sees it before him. Zarathustra says, for example, “Each wants the same, each is the same” in a parody of the desire for political equality or of the simple fact that outstanding people, people who want to be more or overcome, have ceased to exist in a phenomenon of dull levelling out. These are people who, as a society, think they are now clever and know everything. This is, in fact, the total ambition of human beings as Zarathustra sees it and he finds it depressing beside the possibility of the Overhuman.
A scene plays out in the market place as a man tries to cross the tightrope but a fool appears and chases him along the rope before jumping over him, knocking him off. He falls in front of Zarathustra who praises his broken and dying form, at least, for wanting to live dangerously [which is how those who would be Overhuman must live]. Zarathustra ponders: “Uncanny is human existence and still without meaning: a buffoon can be fatal to it.” Zarathustra wants to teach human beings that the Overhuman is the meaning of their existence, “the lightning from the dark cloud human”. But he realises again that people’s ears are deaf to such a message [much, in fact, as they had been already for the death of God in section 125 of The Gay Science previously]. The man who fell from the tightrope dies and Zarathustra picks him up to go and bury him himself as he had promised as reward for his living dangerously. Once more in a forest where he aims to bury the body, he speaks to himself in realisation: “I need companions, and living ones – not dead companions and corpses that I carry with me wherever I want. Instead I need living companions who follow me because they want to follow themselves – and go wherever I want to go.” Zarathustra thus learns that he must “lure many away from the herd”. He continues:
“Look at the good and the just! Whom do they hate most? The one who breaks their tablets of values, the breaker, the lawbreaker – but he is the creative one. Look at the faithful of all faiths! Whom do they hate most? The one who breaks their tablets of values, the breaker, the lawbreaker – but he is the creative one. Companions the creative one seeks and not corpses, nor herds and believers. Fellow creators the creative one seeks, who will write new values on new tablets. Companions the creative one seeks, and fellow harvesters; for to him everything stands ready for harvest… Companions the creative one seeks, and those who know how to whet their scythes. They shall be called annihilators and despisers of good and evil. But they are the harvesters and the celebrators.”[The comparison to Jesus in the Gospels with this last harvesting metaphor is overpowering.]
Thus Zarathustra, leaving his corpse buried in a hollow tree, inaugurates the time, and the search, for “companions and harvesters and rejoicers” who shall be Overhumans.
We come to Book One of Zarathustra. It is not arranged in any systematic order but seems to proceed from subject to subject with the theme of the Overhuman as a constant context. I do not intend to exegete it fully for that would take us too far away from my purpose here and so I must select relevant highlights. The book begins with “On the Three Metamorphoses” in which Zarathustra details “how the spirit becomes a camel, and the camel a lion, and finally the lion a child.” These are symbols and indicate that spirit which can carry a heavy load, which wills for itself rather than obeying a “thou shalt” and which is innocent and forgetting, able to become a new beginning. The relevance of these qualities or virtues in relation to the Overhuman should be obvious. I would particularly focus on the lion aspect of this where Zarathustra highlights “to create freedom… for new creation”. Zarathustra will continue to point out the necessity of new creation in relation to values, the necessary struggle of this [Nietzsche, in his writing in general, was not shy of pain or suffering and often saw them as necessary catalysts to greater self-achievement, life creating more of itself, as befits the theorist of “will to power”] and that creation also relates to the need for destruction as well.
The next two sections contrast Zarathustra’s teaching with that of others whom Zarathustra regards as leading people astray with their teaching [in regard to the necessity of the Overhuman]. This may be recognised as religious teachers of various sorts which, for Nietzsche generally, often means some criticism of Christianity is intended. [Nietzsche’s father and grandfather were, in fact, both protestant pastors and there is a strong religious sensibility to Nietzsche’s own work although it is reverence for material life and will that Nietzsche himself seems to have.] In this case “the teachers of virtue” are parodied as those who teach sleep and obedience [“Honour the authorities and practice obedience, even toward the crooked authorities! Thus good sleep demands”]. That Christianity is, indeed, a target seems obvious when Zarathustra references “the poor in spirit” from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5: “I also like very much the poor in spirit, they promote sleep. Blessed are they, especially when they are always told they are right.” Zarathustra here judges that in the past people chose those teachers of virtue who would send them to sleep, a lack of self-responsibility and creative endeavour – for which one must be necessarily wide awake. In this respect, the “Afterworldsmen” of the third section are those who put their hopes in spiritual other worlds [i.e. “heaven”] before God was dead in which, so Zarathustra says, even he used to believe. But this god was only human creation, “a poor piece of The Human and Ego”. And, says Zarathustra, he, “the sufferer”, overcame himself and taught himself “a new pride”, that being “no longer bury your head in the sand of heavenly things, but bear it freely instead, an earthly head that creates a meaning for the earth!”
The fourth section, “Of the Despisers of the Body” [this would seem to mean ascetics], acts as something of a prologue to the Nietzschean idea of the “will to power”, Nietzsche’s idea that life itself has a procreative and inexhaustible need [will] to overcome its circumstances. This idea will reappear later in the book more explicitly and the “power” it refers to is that of the German “Macht” rather than “Kraft”, that is, “might” rather than “force” or “strength”. [We will recall Stirner had talked about the exercise of one’s might or power too although, unlike Nietzsche, he had no materialistic theory for it.] When we add this to Nietzsche’s other ideas it begins to build a picture of the human individual as having a biological need to exert their might as a means to experiencing their own power which, in other Nietzschean language, might be described as an intoxication with life. In this Nietzsche describes the body as “a great intelligence” and continues:
“‘I’ you say and are proud of this word. But what is greater is that in which you do not want to believe – your body and its great reason. It does not say I, but does I. What the sense feels, what the spirit knows, in itself that will never have an end. But sense and spirit would like to persuade you that they are the end of all things: so vain are they. Sense and spirit are instruments and toys, behind them still lies the self. The self also seeks with the eyes of the senses, it listens also with the ears of the spirit. Always the self listens and seeks: it compares, compels, conquers, destroys. It rules and is also the ruler of the ego. Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, stands a powerful commander, an unknown wise man – he is called self. He lives in your body, he is your body.”
Zarathustra here speaks of the body as having its own “wisdom” and its own imperatives [the will to power is not a conscious, intellectual idea but one which comes along with life itself], the point being that “you serve your Self” [i.e. your will]. This idea leaks over into “Of Joys and Passions”, the next section, where Zarathustra says, “if you have virtue and it is your own virtue, you have it in common with no one.” Zarathustra praises and lauds this singularity of virtue, its personal connection to one person. He does not even want it named and so made common. He wants it to be said that, ““This is my good, I love this, thus I like it entirely, thus alone do I want the good. I do not want it as a divine law, I do not want is as a human statute and requirement. It shall be no signpost for me to overearths and paradises.” Zarathustra links cultivating your OWN virtue to overcoming The Human since he imagines we perish by our virtues. The will to power is a constant grasping for more for [and of] ourselves as is suggested in section 6 where Zarathustra implores “see to it that you yourselves justify life!”
Zarathustra turns to “Reading and Writing” but, as one might imagine, it is not tame or uncommitted versions of these things he is concerned with. He begins: “Of all that is written I love only that which one writes with his blood. Write with blood, and you will experience that blood is spirit.” [It is not unimportant here that, biblically speaking, blood is associated with life – as is {holy} spirit.] Zarathustra then criticises that reading might become common, diluting and so ruining it. [Are we already to say that the common is seen as weak and that which summons the might or will to walk its own path is strong?] Zarathustra continues:
“Whoever writes in blood and proverbs does not want to be read, but to be learned by heart. In the mountains the shortest way is from peak to peak, but for that one must have long legs. Proverbs should be peaks, and those who are addressed should be great and tall.”
Zarathustra then praises courage, courage which “scares away phantoms” and leads its possessor to laugh. This strong, courageous character is typified as a warrior [and will be soon again]. Zarathustra states:
“Courageous, unconcerned, sarcastic, violent – thus wisdom wants us: she is a woman and always loves only a warrior. You say to me: ‘Life is hard to bear.’ But why would you have your pride in the morning and your resignation in the evening? Life is hard to bear: but then do not carry on so tenderly! We are all of us pretty fine asses and assesses of burden!”
The theme of a cheerful, positive courage is eulogised when Zarathustra adds that, “I would only believe in a god who knew how to dance.” The theme has, perhaps, wandered away somewhat from “reading and writing” but it has introduced a description of the kind of character Zarathustra seeks to step forward into the Overhuman. They are bold, confident, honest and brave, ones who do not baulk at burdens or resistance but see it as a chance to show their might. Their “Yes!” will be their yes and their “No!” will be their no. And that with a contemptuous laugh to boot.
Skipping a couple of sections, Zarathustra comes to address “War and Warriors” specifically. These warriors are combative people “whose eyes always seek an enemy – your enemy.” He continues: “You should seek your enemy, wage your war and for your thoughts! And when your thought is defeated, then your honesty should cry out in triumph even for that!” So this is not always being right in blind ignorance that Zarathustra speaks of here for he is not speaking of constant victory. His Overhuman is not bound to be right about everything. Instead, they must have the honesty to even cheerfully and unashamedly acknowledge their defeats. Yet they should be those who welcome the opportunity for war and realise that in war their might be will tested [which, of course, it must be]. War destroys the enemy but is also the basis of setting up something new and one imagines that Nietzsche approves of both points here. Zarathustra, in fact, lauds that “the good war hallows every cause.” Bravery is once again regarded as necessary and that even unto death for “What good is long life? What warrior wants to be spared?” When I first read Zarathustra, at that time barely even understanding what anything Nietzsche said was remotely about, this one sentence stood out to me as a eulogy to fighting the battle for your values and yourself to the end, even unto death. And even that death would be no defeat! Such a warrior, in fact, goes beyond life and death.
Zarathustra talks, in the next section, about a subject close to the hearts of anarchists everywhere: the State, or, as he puts it “the new idol”. Zarathustra sees the state as a lying monster: “State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. It even lies coldly, and this lie crawls out of its mouth: ‘I, the state, am the people.’” Zarathustra thinks this a lie for he thinks that “peoples” were created by creators. Such creators gave people a “faith” and a “love” and they “served life” in doing so. States, in comparison, are seen as entities which want to destroy peoples. The state is a liar and all its possessions are stolen. States want to make themselves the greatest things on earth, even “the regulating finger of God”. Zarathustra says the state will give you everything – but you must “worship it” in return. The state lies about life where there is only, in fact, “universal slow suicide”. Zarathustra lambasts newspapers as the vomited bile of those perpetually sick and says the state is full of those who “acquire wealth and make themselves poorer with it.” They desire “power” and “money” but are actually “impotent”. The state is a “bad odour”.
Zarathustra contrasts with this judgment the solitary ones he favours by saying:
“Even now the earth stands open for great souls. Many seats are still empty for the solitary and solitary couples, fanned by the fragrance of silent seas. An open life still stands open for great souls. Indeed, whoever possesses little is possessed all the less: praised be a moderate poverty!”
This kind of person begins “where the State ceases” and is the way to the Overhuman. This bears somewhat upon Nietzsche’s own life, in fact, in that he had some friends with whom the idea was apparent to form a kind of “monastery of free spirits”. It never actually worked out in Nietzsche’s own life due to circumstances and one notable rejection by the only woman Nietzsche ever seemingly fell for yet it is clearly an idea Nietzsche felt had some merit. In it we see the need he feels to separate oneself from society where fresh air may be breathed and one’s own self both developed and magnified. In this respect, the charge of “a moderate poverty” [which Nietzsche himself actually had] is a making the best of having little, this fact itself meaning less encumbrances within the world of things, possession and acquisition. These things are distractions to the overcoming of oneself and of The Human.
There are two further sections of Book One of Zarathustra that I wish to highlight and these are “Of the Thousand and One Goals” and “Of the Way of the Creator”. The first of these addresses values and evaluating [which is also creation] and attaches this power – in former times – to peoples. There have been so many goals in the past because there were so many peoples. Indeed, Zarathustra seems to suggest that peoples come to be because they evaluate and because they do so differently from neighbouring peoples; this is how peoples distinguish themselves. These valuations Zarathustra characterises as “tables of values” that hang over every people and they are tables of “GOOD AND EVIL” which is to say: morality. Zarathustra describes this morality as the greatest power on earth. These tables of values, however, are more than this; they are tables of the people’s overcomings; they are “the voice of… will to power”. There follows a section worth quoting in full:
“Indeed, humans gave themselves all of their good and evil. Indeed, they did not take it, they did not find it, it did not fall to them as a voice from heaven. Humans first placed values into things, in order to preserve themselves – they first created meaning for things, a human meaning! That is why they call themselves ‘human,’ that is: the evaluator. Evaluation is creation: hear me, you creators! Valuating itself is the treasure and jewel of all valued things. Only through evaluation is there value, and without evaluating the nut of existence would be hollow. Hear me, you creators! Change of values – that is the change of creators. Whoever must be a creator always annihilates. First peoples were creators and only later individuals; indeed, the individual himself is still the youngest creation.”
Here Zarathustra describes HOW PEOPLE EXIST AND SURVIVE: BY THEIR VALUES! By the meanings they put into things. Putting meanings into things, giving them value, is the supreme act of creation. This is what gives substance and mass to existence. Consequently, “creators” are those with the will and strength to CHANGE VALUES which includes the might and the temperament to be able to annihilate. [New values must necessarily destroy the old and so the creator must have the stomach – the warrior’s stomach – for this.] Zarathustra argues that, formerly, the concept of the “individual” was one as yet unthought of. This is why he talks of peoples and we must assume he imagines people got their meaning from such collective sources. Zarathustra states, “Joy in the herd is older than joy in the Ego” [i.e. the “I”]. “And as long as good conscience is called herd, only bad conscience says: I.” A new confidence in the “I” Zarathustra sees as “the herd’s destruction”.
Yet when we come to “Of the Way of the Creator” we see that this is a solitary way [as previous sections have suggested and which is why this is of interest in a book about “egoism”]. It is set apart from that of “the herd”, something which brings its own problems. Zarathustra notes that “it is a crime to go apart and be alone” from the perspective of the crowd and this will ring true in the ears of anyone who has ever gone their own way and found themselves condemned for their breaking with common wisdom and group mentality just for that fact. The “individualist” is all too often regarded as a sinner for daring to walk alone. Zarathustra exegetes this as a matter of a different conscience and of this leading to “grief” for, even though one might have the independence of mind to walk alone, one still has the consciousness of the former group mentality within one. There will be separation anxiety; it will be experienced as an emotional event. Thus, Zarathustra names this “way to yourself” as “the way of your affliction” and says that it requires one to show a strength for it and a right to it. In other words, if you would go your own, creative way, you must demonstrate your right to it in might and will. It is not a mere intellectual choice or decision; one must show oneself worthy of such a way in order to deserve it or achieve it. One’s will [to power] must be up to the task. This is not about lusting for ambition or the desire for attention. It is not about empty pride.
Zarathustra wants to see what will to creation is actually in such people who would become Overhuman. Is there enough WILL at all? Freedom, he suggests, is not simply having escaped a yoke; it is having [and so creating] “a ruling idea”. He wants people who prove their worth through having escaped their yoke because they escape it FOR something. WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? Zarathustra says: “Can you furnish yourself with your own good and evil and hang up your own will above yourself as law? Can you be judge of yourself and avenger of your law?” The will this will require is the will of a new conscience for in creating YOUR law you must always be able to destroy THEIR law in yourself. Zarathustra highlights the solitude of such a will, “like a star thrown forth into empty space.” Not only must you “suffer from the many” on this path but “One day you will cry: Everything is false!” Such a solitary must be able to be a murderer, one who purposes to kill all truth and all morality of the herd. Everything will become a fiction and you must have the might for that. Either they die or you die and you must will to live “alone”. You must reckon that your walking your own path will cause others to despise you and that they will hold it against you. The solitary one is a hated one.
Yet Zarathustra also reassures the solitary one: “you are going the way to yourself!” This way “leads past yourself and your seven devils.” For this, “You will be a heretic to yourself and a witch and a prophet and an evil-doer and a villain.” Such a person must be ready to burn themselves to ashes in their own flame for only this way can they become new [i.e. after the destruction of everything old or former]. This is “the way of the creator” [of new values and new conscience, the Overhuman]. Zarathustra encourages such a person to “go apart and be alone” where, to create beyond oneself, one must perish.
Book One ends with Zarathustra departing from the “disciples” he has been teaching and counselling them not simply to swallow his teaching whole as an act of reverence but to be critical of it and to measure it by standards they have created for themselves. In a speech worth repeating, he says:
“Indeed, I counsel you to go away from me and guard yourselves against Zarathustra! And even better: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he deceived you. The person of knowledge must not only be able to love his enemies, but to hate his friends too. One repays a teacher badly if one always remains a student only. And why would you not want to pluck at my wreath? You revere me, but what if your reverence falls down some day? Beware that you are not killed by a statue! You say you believe in Zarathustra? But what matters Zarathustra! You are my believers, but what matter all believers! You had not yet sought yourselves, then you found me. All believers do this; that’s why all faith amounts to so little. Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me will I return to you.”
This is a powerful reminder that in this book Nietzsche is not using Zarathustra as the teacher of DOGMA; Zarathustra teaches an awareness, he teaches creation, evaluation, the will to power and to overcome. Zarathustra teaches people to be awake; but what they do with their awakenness is their responsibility. That you “find yourselves” is key.
We move into Book Two and to the second section of that book, “On the Blessed Isles” which, in my personal copy of Zarathustra, is the one I have personally marked and annotated the most. In order to contextualise this section a little knowledge of Greek mythology [such as Nietzsche had gathered from his academic work as a philologist] is required. The “Blessed Isles” in Greek myth were reserved for the greatest of heroes as a phenomenon of the afterlife. They constitute part of Elysium, the final resting place of the souls of heroes and virtuous human beings. It was an island paradise and can be conceived as a place of blessed reward for the most heroic and worthy of lives. In Book Two, as the end of Book One suggested, Zarathustra has once more withdrawn into his cave in the mountains where he resides with his animals [particularly a symbolic eagle and serpent]. There he speaks to himself about the Blessed Isles which he wants to visit, clearly thinking his teaching worthy of such a place. So important is this section that I need to quote it in full:
“The figs fall from the trees, they are good and sweet; and as they fall, their red skin ruptures. I am a north wind to ripe figs. Thus, like figs, these teachings fall to you, my friends: now drink their juice and their sweet flesh! It is autumn all around and pure sky and afternoon. See what fullness is around us! And from such superabundance it is beautiful to look out upon distant seas. Once people said God when they gazed upon distant seas; but now I have taught you to say: Overhuman.
God is a conjecture, but I want that your conjecturing not reach further than your creating will. Could you create a god? – Then be silent about any gods! But you could well create the Overhuman. Not you yourselves perhaps, my brothers! But you could recreate yourselves into fathers and forefathers of the Overhuman: and this shall be your best creating! – God is a conjecture: but I want your conjecturing to be limited to what is thinkable. Could you think a God? – But let this mean will to truth to you; that everything be transformed into what is humanly thinkable, humanly visible, humanly feelable! You should think your own senses to their conclusion!
And what you called world, that should first be created by you: your reason, your image, your will, your love itself it should become! And truly, for your own bliss, you seekers of knowledge! And how would you bear life without this hope, you seekers of knowledge? Neither into the incomprehensible nor into the irrational could you have been born.
But to reveal my entire heart to you, my friends: if there were gods, how could I stand not to be a god! Therefore there are no gods. I drew this conclusion to be sure; but now it draws me. – God is a conjecture: but who could drink all the agony of this conjecture without dying? Should the creating person’s faith be taken, and from the eagle its soaring in eagle heights? God is a thought that makes crooked everything that is straight, and causes everything that stands to turn. What? Should time be gone, and all that is not everlasting be merely a lie?
To think this causes whirling and dizziness to human bones and even vomiting to the stomach: indeed, the turning disease I call it, to conjecture such things. Evil I call it and misanthropic: all this teaching of the one and the plenum and the unmoved and the sated and the everlasting! All that is everlasting – that is merely a parable! And the poets lie too much.
But the best parables should speak about time and becoming: they should be praise and justification of all that is not everlasting! Creating – that is the great redemption from suffering, and life’s becoming light. But in order for the creator to be, suffering is needed and much transformation.
Indeed, much bitter dying must be in your life, you creators! Therefore you are advocates and justifiers of all that is not everlasting. In order for the creator himself to be the child who is newly born, he must also want to be the birth-giver and the pain of giving birth. Indeed, through a hundred souls I went my way and through a hundred cradles and pangs of birth. Many a farewell have I taken already; I know the heartbreaking final hours.
But thus my creating will wills it, my destiny. Or, to tell it more honestly to you: just such a destiny – my will wills. Everything that feels, suffers in me and is in prison; but my will always comes to me as my liberator and bringer of joy. Willing liberates: that is the true teaching of will and liberty – thus Zarathustra teaches it.
No more willing and no more evaluating and no more creating! Oh, if only this great weariness would always keep away from me! Even in knowing I feel only my will’s lust to beget and to become; and if there is innocence in my knowledge, then this happens because the will to beget is in it. Away from God and gods this will lured me; what would there be to create, after all, if there were gods? But I am always driven anew to human beings by my ardent will to create; thus the hammer is driven toward the stone.
Oh you human beings, in the stone sleeps an image, the image of my images! A shame it must sleep in the hardest, ugliest stone! Now my hammer rages cruelly against its prison. Shards shower from the stone: what do I care? I want to perfect it, for a shadow came to me – the stillest and lightest of all things once came to me! The Overhuman’s beauty came to me as a shadow. Oh, my brothers! Of what concern to me anymore – are gods! –
Thus spoke Zarathustra.”
I shall deal with this quotation paragraph by paragraph. The first begins with imagery of maturity and ripeness. It is a time for plucking ripe figs and enjoying their superabundant sweetness. Zarathustra is the metaphorical north wind which brings them to maturity. This, of course, signifies that it is time for the Overhuman which, as Zarathustra makes plain, has replaced the idea of gods. God, in fact, “is a conjecture”, moving to the next paragraph, but Zarathustra wants conjectures to be limited to the strictures of the “creating will”. It is this that will create the Overhuman but Zarathustra seems to concede that this may be the work of generations. This work is also to be a matter of “thinking” but this in turn is about “will to truth” and so whether or not thought can be made into something liveable, something that can be lived as truth. It is a work of “transformation” yet it must remain something tangible to our senses albeit that they must be pushed to the extent of their limitations. How far can the senses take us? We must find out according to the power of our will.
The first task, coming to the next paragraph, is to create “the world”. This should become “your reason, your image, your will, your love” and it should also be for “your bliss”. But Zarathustra calls these creators “seekers of knowledge” so is this a world that should be created as and by a knowledge? It seems clear here that a world should be created in which such “bliss” is honestly found [anticipating the eternal recurrence?]. Zarathustra names these creating ones neither “incomprehensible” nor “irrational” and this further suggests that these “seekers of knowledge” seek to create things they can recognise according to an epistemology but, if so, then this epistemology itself must be created, a “will to truth” that makes knowledge for oneself but that makes it knowingly AS A FICTION.
Zarathustra returns to God being a conjecture in the next paragraph but even conjectures have consequences. Zarathustra suggests this may be a lethal conjecture. [Belief in God kills all that is human experience of life in the believer.] This also steals the faith of the one who would create and so steals that thing, so Zarathustra suggests, that makes them what they are. [Remember, in a previous section Zarathustra denominated human beings “the evaluator”.] The idea of God is one which ruins everything for it makes the contingent a lie and sacralises the eternal [where human life is always contingent and never eternal]. It, thus, sets our values on heavenly, not earthly, things in contravention of the Overhuman [the will to create]. In the next paragraph this making of everything heavenly and divine brings human beings to sickness; it denies human life and experience which is what the Overhuman seeks to justify. Zarathustra calls the eternal a mere parable, the result of dishonest poets. And this brings us to the point: “the best parables should speak about time and becoming: they should be praise and justification of all that is transitory!” It is to find meaning and value in the life we actually experience that matters rather than to create it in eternal fantasies [then denominated “real”]. This is why CREATION is then the redemption from our suffering [from eternity made “real”]. In this, however, the suffering is necessary as is “much transformation”. The Overhuman are then, in some sense, alchemists transforming suffering into meaning. They must, as the next paragraph states, be “advocates and justifiers” of the contingent and transitory that is experience and that we are. The suffering is like giving birth, an image which links profundity with struggle and pain.
And, moving on yet again, you must will this as a destiny because [here a good egoist point is made] WILLING LIBERATES. It is this willing which is the source of the creator’s joy. This is a will to the suffering through which one must necessarily go if one would be a creator and herald of the Overhuman. This is a will to recreate human being as the Overhuman and it is no small or easy task. This, as the last paragraph states, is like a hammer against a stone that would reveal the image already inside [as sculptors think of the statue as already being within the block of stone. It is a revealing of what is already there that the sculptor undertakes]. Gods are now of no more interest and the Overhuman must be revealed.
We now move along to section 5 [and, latterly, section 7] of Book Two, “On the Virtuous” and “On the Tarantulas”. Here, first of all, Zarathustra complains that there are those that want to be paid for their virtue. By this he means that they have learnt a virtue of punishment and reward and that they want to be rewarded for being virtuous whilst those without it are punished. Zarathustra refutes such a teaching saying that such people love their virtue as a mother loves a child but that mothers do not expect to be paid for their love. Zarathustra says that, on the contrary, he does not even teach that virtue is its own reward. What must be done away with where virtue is concerned is “revenge, punishment, reward, retribution.” For example, Zarathustra complains that, “there are those who consider it virtue to say: ‘Virtue is necessary’; but at bottom they believe only that the police are necessary.” Zarathustra wants such people to “grow weary” and — pre-eminently – to “Grow weary of saying: ‘What makes a deed good is that it is selfless.’” Zarathustra wishes that “your self were in the deed like the mother is in the child: let that be your word on virtue!” This is the creating and the will to power that creates its own virtue in the deed and sees itself, wills itself, in what it has done. In section 7 a similar complaint is found in relation to justice and equality, things Zarathustra divines, in their current manifestation, as products of people wanting their revenge on others. Such things, however, are not things that can be forced upon people – no matter how strong the lust for revenge is. But what does Zarathustra teach instead? That: “Good and evil, and rich and poor, and noble and mean, and all the names of values: they shall be weapons and clanging signs that life must overcome itself again and again!” Life, says Zarathustra, “wants to climb and to overcome itself by climbing”, a very apt metaphor of constantly going on and on and beyond and beyond wherever and whatever you are now.
I want to highlight two further sections of Book Two of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and the most important of these is section 12, “On Self-Overcoming”. It is about Nietzsche’s philosophy of the will to power [which, changing an English word, might be a Stirnerite and egoistic “will to might” without doing violence to the original German vocabulary]. Zarathustra applies this now to the “thinkability of all being” which should become “smooth and subservient to the Geist [mind, spirit, intelligence], as its mirror and reflection.” This, says Zarathustra:
“is your entire will, you wisest ones, as a will to power; and even when you speak of good and evil and of valuations. You still want to create the world before which you could kneel: this is your ultimate hope and intoxication.”
Zarathustra here then clearly states that the Overhuman is a matter of [egoistic, “selfish”] will to power which wishes to OVERCOME valuations of good and evil and even all valuations themselves. This amounts to creating a world you will, knowingly and fictionally, but, nevertheless, still being able to do this to the point of becoming intoxicated with one’s own creation. The challenge here, then, is to deliberately create something on purpose, know it is fiction, but to will it beyond the point of that mattering anymore. It is to “kneel” before what you yourself have created and regard it as, in some sense, worthy of such recognition. It is, perhaps, no wonder that Nietzsche saw this as then the ultimate ideal, the “ultimate hope”. Such will to power is called “the unexhausted, procreating life-will.”
But then this gets even more interesting from an egoist perspective. Zarathustra describes living as “an obeying”. He states, “the one who cannot obey himself is commanded. Such is the nature of the living.” The potential Overhuman, then, must be able to command – themselves! Zarathustra judges such commanding as harder than obeying, indeed, “the living risks itself in doing so.” There is a price to be paid in commanding yourself in such a way for you must be prepared to become “the victim of your own law”. We will recall in the past that Zarathustra described the Overhuman as requiring giving ourselves up in order to see it come. A creating always requires a destroying beforehand. Here Zarathustra says that life spoke to him, saying: “I am that which must always overcome itself.” Zarathustra states himself ready to perish rather than to give this idea up and that seems the fate of the Zarathustran egoist, to die as herald of the Overhuman or to die in the trying and failing. Life, thinks Zarathustra, would rather die than forego its might!
At this point Zarathustra criticises the idea of a “will to existence” and regards it as logically unnecessary. Zarathustra identifies WILL with LIFE. What does not exist, he thinks, cannot will; this means that that which wills must already have existence and why would you have a will to that which you already had? “Only where life is, there is also will,” he continues. But this is not a “will to life” but a will to might, a will to power, a will to exerting oneself and one’s dynamism. But for such a thing “unchanging good and evil” will not do. Zarathustra states bluntly that it “does not exist”. You must have your own good and evil, or even have none: you must overcome yourself from out of yourself again and again. You are your own resources, “a stronger force grows out of your values and a new overcoming”. “You do violence with your values and words of good and evil, you valuators; and this is your hidden love and the gleaming, trembling and flowing-over of your souls,” Zarathustra adds. This comes down to destroying and creating, creating and destroying: “whoever must be a creator in good and evil – truly, he must first be an annihilator and break values… And may everything break that can possibly be broken by our truths! Many a house has yet to be built!”
Finally, in Book Two of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, I would turn to section 20, “On Redemption”. Here Zarathustra is once more talking about the will but this time more in the explicit context of eternal recurrence [the will to will over and over again]. In this section Zarathustra announces himself to his disciples only able to tolerate the present and the past by being able to see, will, create THE FUTURE and act as a bridge to it. He calls himself one who walks among human beings as “fragments of the future”. Here he speaks about “fragments”, “riddles” and “chance” [the lot of the human], describing the human as a “poet and reader of riddles and the redeemer of chance”. [Redeeming chance might here be usefully thought of as giving it a value or meaning.] What Zarathustra names “redemption” is “To redeem the past and to transform every ‘It was’ into an ‘I wanted it thus!’. This is the willing that accepts the thought experiment of the eternal recurrence and engages it to the full, the will which redeems past and present by willing it as it occurred and triumphing over that. It is to be noted here that the will itself can only potentially change the future by creating it and so, perhaps, change the present and the past. Yet this, once again, is only to create a deliberate fiction, one which one must will to such an extent that it becomes the proof of your virtue as well as your virtue itself. Zarathustra links this will to liberation and joy but Zarathustra also recognizes that “the will cannot will backwards”. It can only will a future. This leads to revenge and to suffering for what the will cannot do [i.e. will that the past were different]. This can, in turn, make life and its will a punishment: the human [but not Overhuman] condition.
In order to rectify this view of life and will as punishment Zarathustra says he taught “the will is a creator” as antidote. He continues:
“All ‘it was’ is a fragment, a riddle, a grisly accident – until the creating will says to it: ‘But I will it thus! I shall will it thus!’”
Here the will must become its own redeemer and its own “bringer of joy”. It must unlearn the “spirit of revenge” which ends in a bitter denial of life. The will must be a will to affirm life and must so function in order that it be affirmed unless people suffer from themselves. The will must learn, somehow, to will backwards.
I move now into Book Three of Thus Spoke Zarathustra which was the final book of the original edition. [In the mid 1880s Nietzsche added new books to several of his previous literary endeavours and that was when he would add Book Four of Zarathustra.] As such, it should not surprise that this book ends with “Seven Seals”, a “Song of Yes and Amen” which is an affirmation of all that Zarathustra has to say. Before we get to it, however, we must delve into the most relevant portions of this third book and flesh out especially the eternal recurrence which is fully revealed in this book. The book begins with a section called “The Wanderer”, itself reminiscent of The Wanderer and His Shadow, the third component of the earlier Nietzschean text, Human, All Too Human. When Zarathustra states here that “I am a wanderer and a mountain climber” his identification with Nietzsche, who spent his summers in the Swiss mountains around this time, is complete. Thus, when Zarathustra adds “whatever may come to me now as destiny and experience – it will involve wandering and mountain climbing: ultimately one experiences only oneself”, we may regard it as a confession – and a repeated Nietzschean thought. Elsewhere, in Human, All Too Human, section 513, Nietzsche had written some years previously:
Life as the product of life. However far human beings may extend themselves with their knowledge, however objective they may appear to themselves – ultimately they reap nothing but their own biography.”
This, in our situation here, seems to be exactly the point: for how can this be redeemed, valued and given meaning? Or is such a conclusion meant to lead to INCIPIT NIHILISMUS? Zarathustra asks in “The Wanderer”, “what could still come to me that was not already my own?” He then adds, “It is returning, at last it is coming home to me – my own Self and those parts of it that have long been abroad and scattered among all things and accidents.” I see in this some faint connection [which I don’t suggest is necessarily Nietzsche’s] to Buddhist ideas regarding that all one needs one already has. “Enlightenment”, as such, is the work of the self that isn’t “a Self”, an actualisation of oneself from out of one’s own resources. I find it useful to keep this in mind when thinking about these ideas.
In “The Wanderer” Zarathustra also says “I know my fate” and this acts as a prelude to the second section of Book Three, “Of the Vision and the Riddle”. This section is teasing the eternal recurrence. In doing so it is notable that it ends by teaching to courage: “courage is the best destroyer – courage that attacks: for in every attack there is a triumphant shout.” Courage also helps to “overcome every pain” [for, remember, Zarathustra has never suggested the way to the Overhuman or to will the eternal recurrence is anything less than pain and struggle]. Here Zarathustra also divines the seeing that sees the future as an abyss — and seeing itself as “seeing abysses”. Courage, he adds. “destroys giddiness at abysses”. Yet, most of all, courage is necessary to will the eternal recurrence, the life you would live over and over again: “Courage, however, is the best destroyer, courage that attacks: it destroys even death, for it says: ‘Was that life? Well then! Once more!’” Zarathustra regards this last saying as being said with “a great triumphant shout” and he makes of it a gospel truth when he finishes the section with “he who has ears to hear, let him hear,” an epithet regularly put on the lips of Jesus in the Gospels.
I move now to section 4, “Before Sunrise”. Zarathustra begins by praising the sky and its glorious inspirational powers. [If one has ever been awake to see the dawn very often one knows exactly what he means here.] But this becomes a poetic metaphor for his own “blessing” and “Yes” saying. Zarathustra wants to be one who affirms but one who affirms from himself and for himself. But this leads to ontological entanglements which Zarathustra poetically expounds in this key part of this section:
“I, however, am one who blesses and declares Yes, if only you are around me, you pure, luminous sky! You abyss of light I – then into all abysses do I carry my consecrating declaration Yes.
I have become one who blesses and one who declares Yes: and for that I wrestled long and was a wrestler, so that I might one day have my hands free for blessing.
This, however, is my blessing: To stand over everything as its own sky, as its round roof, its azure bell and eternal certainty: and happy is he who thus blesses! For all things are baptized at the fount of eternity and beyond good and evil; good and evil themselves, however, are only intervening shadows and damp afflictions and passing clouds.
Truly, it is a blessing and not a blasphemy when I teach: ‘Above all things stands the heaven of chance, the heaven of innocence, the heaven of accident, the heaven of wantonness.’
‘Lord Chance’ – he is the world’s oldest nobility, which I have given back to all things; I have released them from servitude under purpose.
I set this freedom and celestial cheerfulness over all things like an azure bell when I taught that no ‘eternal will’ acts over them and through them.
I set this wantonness and this foolishness in place of that will when I taught: ‘With all things one thing is impossible – rationality!’…
O sky above me, you pure, lofty sky! This is now your purity to me, that there is no eternal reason-spider and spider’s web in you”
Note the language here: “blessing, “consecrated,” “eternal,” “baptized,” “blasphemy,” “heaven”. Zarathustra’s words are soaked in RELIGIOUS intensity. Yet it is a religion of the irreligious for it is not God who blesses but the [potential] Overhuman. If this is the one who blesses and who says “Yes” then there can be no room for deities. This “heaven” is one of chance, innocence, accident, wantonness which is the destruction of “eternal values of good and evil”. Things lose the “purpose” that human beings had fictionally put into them and, once again, become “chance”. This is “freedom and celestial cheerfulness”. One should be happy to be released from good and evil, from eternal values and from purpose. It is, in fact, the destruction of the overarching value of “rationality”, the artificial “making sense” that human beings have clung to in order to ward off the ever present danger of nihilism, meaninglessness. This is a vision of an intellectual emancipation. As if to illustrate this, in the next section Zarathustra will say:
“I am Zarathustra the Godless: where shall I find my equal? All those who give themselves their own will and renounce all submission, they are my equals. I am Zarathustra the Godless: I cook every chance in my pot. And only when it is quite cooked do I welcome it as my food.”
This is Zarathustra rising to egoism, to a test of his might and a proof of his strength. Here, in section 5 of Book Three, he also says, “Always do what you will – but first be such as can will!” and adds “Always love your neighbour as yourselves – but first be such as love themselves – ‘such as love with a great love, such as love with a great contempt!’ Thus speaks Zarathustra the Godless.”
I want to move forward now to section 10 of Book Three as we move towards the climax of the original book. [I shall leave out commenting on Book Four which adds nothing of substance and is something of an afterthought.] In this section, “Of Three Evil Things”, Zarathustra recounts a dream he had in which he “weighed the world”. The dream concerns “sensual pleasure, lust for power [and] selfishness” as the three things which “have hitherto been cursed the most and held in the worst and most unjust repute”. It should come as no surprise to readers who know Nietzsche to be of Dionysian tastes and impulses that he intends to redeem and sanctify such things. Sensual pleasure, for example, Zarathustra calls, “innocent and free to free hearts, the earth’s garden-joy, an overflowing of thanks to the present from all the future.” Lust for power, Zarathustra says, is “the earthquake that breaks and bursts open all that is decayed and hollow; the rolling, growling, punitive destroyer of whitewashed sepulchres; the flashing question-mark beside premature answers.” And “selfishness” [which Zarathustra states his teaching here praises for the first time, and which is “the sound, healthy selfishness that issues from a mighty soul – from a mighty soul, to which pertains the exalted body, the beautiful, victorious, refreshing body, around which everything becomes a mirror;”] is “the self-rejoicing soul. The self-rejoicing of such bodies and souls calls itself: ‘Virtue’. Such self-rejoicing protects itself with its doctrines of good and bad as with sacred groves; with the names it gives its happiness it banishes from itself all that is contemptible.” Talk of “sacred groves” here makes the connection to Dionysos a solid one and we begin to think once more of a selfishness that rises to intoxication. Zarathustra concludes his speech in this section by saying, “he who declares the Ego healthy and holy and selfishness glorious – truly, he, a prophet, declares too what he knows: ‘Behold, it comes, it is near, the great noontide!’” The Noontide is Zarathustra’s symbol for the time of the Overhuman and will to eternal recurrence that he foretells.
The next three sections, “Of the Spirit of Gravity,” “Of Old and New Law Tables” and “The Convalescent” are probably the most important sections of the book. In them Zarathustra rises to his greatest spiritual intensity [remember that in German “spirit” is Geist and also includes “mind” and “intelligence”] and essentially distils his whole thought in an ecstatic outpouring. We might even equate it with a “speaking in tongues”. The “spirit of gravity” here is humanity, “earth and life”, a weight which burdens the Overhuman who would fly in the boundless sky: “He who will one day teach men to fly will have moved all boundary-stones; all boundary-stones will themselves fly into the air to him, he will baptize the earth anew – as ‘the weightless’.” The weightlessness and the moving of “boundary stones” are both important metaphors here. One who would fly must get rid of that which weighs them down and those who would be their own boundaries must move the boundary stones others set in place. “He who wants to become light and a bird must love himself – thus do I teach.” Loving oneself is here contrasted with loving one’s neighbour [a foretaste of Nietzsche’s book The Antichrist in which he contrasts himself explicitly with the teaching accorded to Jesus — although more to Christianity than to the man himself]. Zarathustra sees the latter as “oppressive to everybody” and of a piece with “good and evil”, something else that “the spirit of gravity” weighs human beings down with. The spirit of gravity in fact simply seeks to weigh human beings down by piling “words and values” upon them. “But he has discovered himself who says: This is my good and evil: he has silenced thereby the mole and dwarf who says: ‘Good for all, evil for all.’” Zarathustra honours those who do not “chew and digest everything”, those who have a taste of their own “that [has] learned to say ‘I’ and ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.”
An interesting comment here is the following one:
“I also call wretched those who always have to wait – they offend my taste: all tax-collectors and shopkeepers and kings and other keepers of lands and shops.
Truly, I too have learned to wait, I have learned it from the very heart, but only to wait for myself. And above all I have learned to stand and to walk and to run and to jump and to climb and to dance.”
It seems that in the former description Zarathustra speaks of those weighed down [“the spirit of gravity” is the section we are in] by worldly cares, by possession, by acquisitional economics. Zarathustra contrasts this with waiting for yourself. Climbing and dancing are activities Zarathustra lauds throughout the book and are metaphors for the Overhuman but here he regards them not as intuitive or immediate abilities but as things which must be worked up to. One must train oneself to be a “dancing star”. It is a project and requires commitment and consistency. It is, thus, virtuous and not trivial. Zarathustra makes this more plain in the following commentary:
“He who wants to learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and to walk and to run and to climb and to dance – you cannot learn to fly by flying! With rope-ladders I learned to climb to many a window, with agile legs I climbed up high masts: to sit upon high masts of knowledge seemed to me no small happiness – to flicker like little flames upon high masts: a little light, to be sure, but yet a great comfort to castaway sailors and the shipwrecked! I came to my truth by diverse paths and in diverse ways: it was not upon a single ladder that I climbed to the height where my eyes survey my distances. And I have asked the way only unwillingly – that has always offended my taste! I have rather questioned and attempted the ways themselves. All my progress has been an attempting and a questioning – and truly, one has to learn how to answer such questioning! That however – is to my taste: not good taste, not bad taste, but my taste, which I no longer conceal and of which I am no longer ashamed.”
It is fitting, then, that “the spirit of gravity” ends with the following question [challenge?]:
“‘This – is now my way: where is yours?’ Thus I answered those who asked me ‘the way’. For the way – does not exist!”
And when Zarathustra says “the way does not exist” he, of course, only means again that eternal values and overarching rationality are history, that which is to be overcome.
“Of Old and New Law Tables” is the major section of Book Three, a section itself split into 30 sections and so a mini-book in itself. It is a recapitulation of Zarathustra’s whole teaching to date – bar the eternal recurrence [which receives its greatest expression in the next section “The Convalescent”] and I will here try to tell it as a narrative.
The old law tables [values] are broken and half-written new ones lie nearby as Zarathustra waits for his moment. “No one tells me anything new; so I tell myself to myself,” says Zarathustra. We turn to human beings whom Zarathustra finds “sitting upon an old self-conceit” which is imagining to know “what is good and evil for human beings”. But Zarathustra teaches that “nobody yet knows what is good and evil – unless it be the creator!” Zarathustra teaches them to laugh at their “great masters of virtue and saints and poets and world-redeemers.” Zarathustra seeks a world of becoming to replace a world of being. And so he comes upon the Overhuman and the quest to overcome human being: “the human is a bridge and not a goal”. He repeats his mantra that “To redeem that past of humanity and to transform every ‘It was’, until the will says: ‘But I willed it thus! So shall I will it-’” This he considers his richest gift.
And with it comes a new law-table, a new value: “Do not spare your neighbour! Humanity is something that must be overcome.” This returns to the previous teaching about obeying and commanding and about how one should be one who can command oneself [and obey one’s own commands]. This spirit for command becomes a not wanting to live life for free: “This is the will of those of noble soul: they desire nothing gratis, least of all
life. He who is of the mob wants to live gratis; we others, however, to whom life has given itself — we are always considering what we can best give in return!” Such people, in other words, recognise their mission is one of effort, of giving back, of gratitude, of honesty. “What life has promised us, we shall keep that promise – to life!” This is about “enjoyment and innocence” and one should have them from oneself. But one should also look for “guilt and pain” for such as these will be called upon as sacrifices [in imagery reminiscent of the Jewish Torah] and, as we read before, those who are a bridge to the Overhuman do not wish to preserve themselves. To “go down and perish” is “going beyond”.
Zarathustra now argues that few are capable of this sacrifice and few are capable of TRUTH – least of all “the good”. Zarathustra says that “Good men never tell the truth”. They are obedient types but “he who obeys does not listen to himself!” Such people need to be big enough to encompass good and evil together but, instead, “all knowledge has grown up beside the bad conscience!” Such old values need to be shattered. Zarathustra contrasts a lying “order” with “Everything is in flux.” He announces, “O my brothers, is everything not now in flux? Have not all railings and gangways fallen into the water and come to nothing? Who can still cling to ‘good’ and ‘evil’?” He is announcing the end of a way of BEING which encompasses values and mentality. In the Overhuman people cannot BE what they were anymore. The point here is that the old values [the old law-tables] were deadly values; they did not honour life or truth. Zarathustra calls it a “sermon of death” [here Christianity is certainly meant]. Zarathustra calls what came before in such lying sermons “supposition, not knowledge”.
Zarathustra states that “a new nobility” is needed. He says: “you shall become begetters and cultivators and sowers of the future – truly, not to a nobility that you could buy like shopkeepers with shopkeepers’ gold: for all that has a price is of little value.” [This seems, once more, like an insult of base commerce. Overhuman nobility is not capitalistic or materialistic in this way.] Zarathustra wants where we are going to, not where we came from, to be our new honour. This honour is to be in becoming and going beyond:
“O my brothers, your nobility shall not gaze backward, but outward! You shall be fugitives from all fatherlands and fore-fatherlands! You shall love your children’s land: let this love be your new nobility – the undiscovered land in the furthest sea! I bid your sails seek it and seek it!”
This is giving as a new value and as the future being able to redeem the past.
Zarathustra is against those who defame life and the world [primarily this is Christianity in Nietzsche’s writing]. Thus, he is against the pious, against those who say “All is vanity”, against those who are against “desire”. Christianity, of course, is on the wrong side of all of these things and so Zarathustra’s work is a great work of cultural critique [which, it could be argued, is what Nietzsche’s books themselves are overall]. But Zarathustra teaches “willing liberates” and that “willing is for creating”. He says, “I form circles and holy boundaries around myself; fewer and fewer climb with me upon higher and higher mountains: I build a mountain-range out of holier and holier mountains.” In doing so he pictures himself helping Humanity to pass away. And it should be helped to pass away: “I say: That which is falling should also be pushed! Everything of today – it is falling, it is decaying: who would support it? But I – want to push it too!” Zarathustra honours bravery and the brave but he wants that they should choose worthy adversaries. There are hints that nationalists and petty capitalists are not such people [“shopkeepers” appear again] and Zarathustra urges people: “Go your ways! And let people and peoples go theirs!” This is to be a joyful, affirmative way populated by dancing and laughter.
Zarathustra foretells that one day soon “new peoples” will arise but he regards these new peoples as “experimenters” and they experiment in “who can command” and “who can obey”. Here he criticises the idea of society as “a contract” [a popular Enlightenment idea made most famous by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract] and wants the “soft-hearted” to be “shattered” by these experimenters who know how to command [will, being that thing most affirmative of life, over constant compromise and all the other societal ills and sicknesses Zarathustra diagnoses]. By far the worst of these is “the good” who, in Zarathustra’s view, do by far “the most harmful harm”. “Imprisoned in good conscience,” they are too clever to recognise their stupidity and they carry out their function of preserving things as they are [for “the good” should be unchanging for “the good” is good and so should not change]. This is why Zarathustra says that “The good have to crucify him who devises his own virtue!” and that “They hate the creator most: him who breaks the law-tables and the old values, the breaker – they call him the law-breaker.” This is obvious for “the good cannot create”; propagating the good is about stasis, not change, preservation not creation. And so the good “are always the beginning of the end”. Life itself is change; the Overhuman, which wants most of all to respect and affirm life, to create, must do the same. “The good”, in contrast, is death to life; the good “sacrifice the future to themselves”.
The good, in fact, have ruined everything: “The good taught you false shores and false securities; you were born and kept in the lies of the good. Everything has been distorted and twisted down to its very bottom through the good.” Once more Zarathustra urges going your own way; fatherland matters not, only “our children’s land”. Zarathustra wants that we should be “a great destiny”. He wants our will to be “my essential, my necessity, dispeller of need”. He rises once more to the idea of being intoxicated by this will in Dionysian fervour:
“That I may one day be ready and ripe in the great noontide: ready and ripe like glowing ore, like cloud heavy with lightning and like swelling milk-udder – ready for myself and my most secret Will: a bow eager for its arrow, an arrow eager for its star – a star, ready and ripe in its noontide, glowing, transpierced, blissful through annihilating sun-arrows – a sun itself and an inexorable sun-will, ready for annihilation in victory! O Will, my essential, my necessity, dispeller of need! Spare me for one great victory!”
The next section is headed “The Convalescent” and it is where Zarathustra preaches the eternal recurrence most forcefully. Here he calls himself “Zarathustra, the advocate of life, the advocate of suffering, the advocate of the circle” and regards the eternal recurrence as “my most abysmal thought”. They key section here is as follows:
“Everything goes, everything returns; the wheel of existence rolls for ever. Everything dies, everything blossoms anew; the year of existence runs on forever. Everything breaks, everything is joined anew; the same house of existence builds itself for ever. Everything departs, everything meets again; the ring of existence is true to itself for ever. Existence begins in every instant; the ball There rolls around every Here. The middle is everywhere. The path of eternity is crooked.”
Zarathustra adds to this that “every soul is a world of its own” and asks “how could there be an outside of me? There is no outside” in a way which recalls Jacques Derrida’s famous literary/philosophical riddle “‘Il n’y a pas de hors-texte” [there is no outside-text]. Zarathustra’s further insight here is that humanity must be the “most wicked” in order also to be the most good. One cannot have one without the other. Goodness requires wickedness in order for it to be good. But it is in humanity’s worst wickednesses that their strength is best shown and so humanity must “become wickeder”. Yet this humanity is itself “small”, too small, in fact. Zarathustra is disgusted with it and this disgust chokes him: “It is all one, nothing is worthwhile, knowledge chokes.” It is now that Zarathustra’s own fate is taught [Zarathustra’s animals are speaking to him in his cave]:
“Behold, you are the teacher of the eternal recurrence, that is now your destiny! That you have to be the first to teach this doctrine – how should this great destiny not also be your greatest danger and sickness! Behold, we know what you teach: that all things recur eternally and we ourselves with them, and that we have already existed an infinite number of times before and all things with us. You teach that there is a great year of becoming, a colossus of a year: this year must, like an hour-glass, turn itself over again and again, so that it may run down and run out anew: so that all these years resemble one another, in the greatest things and in the smallest, so that we ourselves resemble ourselves in each great year, in the greatest things and in the smallest.
And if you should die now, O Zarathustra: behold, we know too what you would then say to yourself – but your animals ask you not to die yet! You would say – and without trembling, but rather gasping for happiness: for a great weight and oppression would have been lifted from you, most patient of men! ‘Now I die and decay,’ you would say, ‘and in an instant I shall be nothingness. Souls are as mortal as bodies. But the complex of causes in which I am entangled will recur – it will create me again! I myself am part of these causes of the eternal recurrence. I shall return, with this sun, with this earth, with this eagle, with this serpent – not to a new life or a better life or a similar life: I shall return eternally to this identical and self-same life, in the greatest things and in the smallest, to teach once more the eternal recurrence of all things, to speak once more the teaching of the great noontide of earth and man, to tell man of the Overhuman once more. I spoke my teaching, I broke upon my teaching: thus my eternal fate will have it – as prophet do I perish! Now the hour has come when he who is going down shall bless himself. Thus – ends Zarathustra’s down-going.’”
A number of things may be said about this. The first is that the eternal recurrence imagined is of the life you have lived. Thus, Zarathustra would be fated to teach the Overhuman and the eternal recurrence over and over again. Second, it is in having a goal [to overcome the human, to go beyond] and a will that the nihilism of life is imagined to be redeemed. Third, that will to power is that which most honours and affirms life itself. Fourth, that you must will this life of eternal recurrence until it breaks you [only to do so again and again forever]. Fifth, that this is then much like Albert Camus’ later meditation on the myth of Sisyphus where, so Camus says, “we must imagine Sisyphus happy” to roll a rock up a hill, forever, knowing only that it will roll back down. Yet, as Zarathustra is made to say here, “as prophet do I perish” – and the important point is that even this perishing is willed. A sixth point here, then, is that this is a new valuation of life, a willed valuation of life, a creation of values that affirm life, and so a destruction of all values on which life has been based before. It is saying “Yes” to “thus I willed it” and saying “No” to herd mentality and society’s good and evil. It is the ultimate self-responsibility, self-actualisation and self-authenticity, a will to command and to be able to obey one’s own commands. The book then ends with Zarathustra singing songs to his love, this Eternity.
It was necessary to take some time to work through the texts of both Stirner and Nietzsche, if only to absorb the crux of their ideas by osmosis. Both focus on the will as the locus of human determination and action and both honour this as that which gives life meaning and value – not least when turned into direct action. Stirner and Nietzsche are important because, in anarchist context, in succeeding decades various people more readily identifiable as hitching their wagons to the anarchist cause either openly declare them as influences or can be seen to be clearly influenced by, or echoes of, them.
Most famous of all here is Emma Goldman who, in the preface to her book Anarchism and Other Essays – intended for those who were interested in an educated setting out of her beliefs — credits her reading of Stirner with her belief that “man has as much liberty as he is willing to take. Anarchism therefore stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral.” In the same preface she also defends both Nietzsche and Stirner as men who have suffered from having isolated texts ripped out of context and then misconstrued. “Stirner’s individualism”, Goldman writes, “contains the greatest social possibilities” whereas Nietzsche’s Overhuman “called for a state of society which will not give birth to a race of weaklings and slaves.” Goldman would also lecture extensively on Nietzsche’s relevance to world events in the second decade of the twentieth century but the contents of these lectures have been lost, a victim of the FBI raid on her home and offices which resulted in her 2 years of imprisonment for encouraging draft dodging and her eventual deportation from the USA.
But it is not just Goldman I am going to focus on in this section of my text — nor even on laboriously pointing out everywhere someone called “anarchist” makes some reference to either Stirner or Nietzsche in print or in some reported speech. Instead, here I want to give reference to a “second wave” of egoists [all also anarchists] who are, if you like, the children of Stirner and Nietzsche’s thinking. Interesting here will be how these people absorb their thinking and express it for themselves [for neither Stirner nor Nietzsche would have recognised in copies or clones people who had remotely even understood what they had been saying. A will to your own, new creation was what they both taught]. So these people will be further examples of the consequences of egoism or the creating of egoist anarchism and will show us how it could be expressed by various people in their own times and circumstances. Later in the book, I will then refer in passing to the relevance of egoist anarchisms such as these in the context of today, both as an ethos and approach to life and in regard to an egoist conception of relationships.
Yet we might, in fact, even make the argument that egoist — or at least “individualist” — anarchism was the original kind. By the 1840s, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have figures — Proudhon, Stirner, and Bellegarrigue in Europe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman in the United States [Emma Goldman thought these American “home grown” anarchists when she read them in prison for “incitement to riot” in 1894] – who demonstrate some measure of individualist or egoist concern [each in their own way as you would expect an egoist interest to manifest itself]. Even the earlier William Godwin, writing in the late 1700s, offers a form of political freedom which concerns individual rights and interests [however inadequate this approach would be for a Stirnerite egoist concern]. My point here is that this is a good 20–30 years [and in Godwin’s case almost 80 years] before Bakunins and Kropotkins and youthful Malatestas come along wanting to organise people and have committees and councils and communists decide how things shall be for the anarchists [if not also everyone else as well] as an expression of their more singularly anarcho-communist concerns. If, as I have argued in a number of previous books, anarchism must start from within the spirit of individual people and manifest itself from there, then, historically, it could be argued that this was the case as well.
The first egoist and anarchist might well have been Anselme Bellegarrigue [about whom I wrote in the final chapter of my previous book, A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection – and assuming we don’t argue it wasn’t, in fact, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon], a revolutionist of 1848 in France. He viewed people in general as “egoist” and thought that anyone who thought to the contrary was only deceiving themselves, acting in bad faith towards themselves and “thieving” from others in the process. He took the view that people should take a strong interest in deciding the course of their own lives, refuse to recognise any government [“where none obeys, none commands”] and get on with it. He conceded the possible need for town administration [in order to facilitate commercial intercourse between people] but no more than that.
This brings us to Benjamin Tucker, an American born in Massachusetts in 1854. He would be responsible for publishing Proudhon’s What is Property? in English for American readers and, later, Stirner’s The Unique and Its Property too. [He also published Bakunin’s God and the State in addition.] Tucker began as a believer in individual rights and as a disciple of Proudhon, whom he regarded as the individualizer and associator of people’s rights, but, in the mid 1880s, by then the publisher of the individualist anarchist journal Liberty, perhaps the pre-eminent individualist anarchist journal ever printed [from 1881–1908], he became an advocate of Stirner’s egoism – yet, we must say, never completely but more as a modification and modulation of previous positions held in regard to “rights”. [Perhaps one way of describing this is that he tries to amalgamate Proudhon and Stirner together and in American “individualist” context.] Tucker, in truth, wasn’t the first “American anarchist” [Josiah Warren, James L. Walker and John Badcock Jr are others] and is a strange bird in whom all kinds of variously individual beliefs somehow find a home in the same person. He could describe himself, for example, as an “anarchistic socialist” [who was interested in the views of Bakunin and Marx] but he was strongly against the idea of monopoly [specifically “four monopolies”: the money monopoly – such as the ability to create a bank – land monopoly, various economic tariffs and that of patents] believing that a genuinely free market was part of an anarchistic society. Yet he could also find himself arguing that children were the property of their parents and that parents had property rights over them and in regard to them. We should be able to see from this how both left and right libertarians of the future would be able to regard Tucker as an ancestor of their own belief and practice.
Tucker envisioned an individualist anarchist society as “each man reaping the fruits of his labor and no man able to live in idleness on an income from capital” until it became “a great hive of Anarchistic workers, prosperous and free individuals [combining] to carry on their production and distribution on the cost principle.” In many respects he simply wanted the workers, which he thought everybody should be, to get what they were worth without arbitrary compulsion from above or the theft of labour’s worth by richer and more powerful others [or state socialists]. It was envisioned as a kind of socialist free market system which, in so many words, imagined society much as it is today but with the compulsion removed from it. Tucker would come to believe in Stirnerite “rights of might” [that which I can take is mine, that which I can’t isn’t] and rights of contract. Tucker, through Liberty and his other publishing exploits, also did much to publicise a liberal individualist and, later, an egoist anarchism to the American public – the latter change provoking much argument amongst those within Liberty’s orbit as they argued about whether an egoist or a rights-based approach to individualist concerns was the right or the wrong one.
In his 1890 article “Why I Am An Anarchist”, originally published in the American Twentieth Century, Tucker sets out his reasons for his anarchist confession. He begins by saying that he cannot find a good reason to be anything else [and so he intimates that anarchism just seems like common sense to him]. Yet he goes on to say, “I am an anarchist because Anarchism and the philosophy of Anarchism are conducive to my own happiness” [an answer which combines Stirnerism and liberal individualism]. As a number of American anarchists of this time did [I shall soon introduce others], Tucker sees anarchism as a belief to which can be allied one of a number of “economic” plans for how this shall be imagined to work in practice and in general [for even “individualists” realised they did not live in a vacuum in a solipsistic manner]. So he can ask:
“what are the conditions of happiness? Of perfect happiness, many. But the primal and main conditions are few and simple. Are they not liberty and material prosperity? Is it not essential to the happiness of every developed being that he and those around him should be free, and that he and those around him should know no anxiety regarding the satisfaction of their material needs?”
This becomes “liberty and wealth” further on in this short article where “the former takes precedence as a factor in the production of happiness”. This is also seen further on where “on the whole, much liberty and little wealth would be preferable to much wealth and little liberty”. Yet, overall, he regards both as “requisites of happiness” and speaks a strong word in favour of “competition” and the free market, arguing that “it is not competition, but monopoly, that deprives labor of its product.” Linking his economic ideas to his penchant for liberty, Tucker can then argue:
“If, then, all these methods of extortion from labor rest upon denials of liberty, plainly the remedy consists in the realization of liberty. Destroy the banking monopoly, establish freedom in finance, and down will go interest on money through the beneficent influence of competition. Capital will be set free, business will flourish, new enterprises will start, labor will be in demand, and gradually the wages of labor will rise to a level with its product. And it is the same with the other monopolies. Abolish the tariffs, issue no patents, take down the bars from unoccupied land, and labor will straightway rush in and take possession of its own. Then mankind will live in freedom and in comfort.
That is what I want to see; that is what I love to think of. And because anarchism will give this state of things, I am an Anarchist. To assert that it will is not to prove it; that I know. But neither can it be disproved by mere denial. I am waiting for some one to show me by history, fact, or logic that men have social wants superior to liberty and wealth or that any form of Archism will secure them these wants. Until then the foundations of my political and economic creed will remain as I have outlined them in this brief article.”
The conundrum of Benjamin Tucker is, then, perhaps unravelled in the following quote from a later collection of his written works called Individual Liberty. There he writes, “The anarchists of the Liberty magazine are socialists only in the economic sense; in the political sense, they are arch-individualists.” We can thus see why he was an earlier adopter – and publisher – of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon for Proudhon himself wanted to find socially acceptable ways to mutualise individual interests. Here Tucker has described himself, and his readers, in much the same way. He had a belief in “equal liberty” but there is more modern argument about how much, or how little, love Tucker had for “capitalism” [all alike agree he despised an imposed Communism or State Socialism]. Later in his life, when Individual Liberty was published, collecting his essays of 30 or 40 years earlier together, he could say that “enormous concentration of wealth… gravely threatens social order.” [Nietzsche thought the same.] He would go on to say that:
“The four monopolies, unhindered, have made possible the modern development of the trust, and the trust is now a monster which I fear, even the freest banking, could it be instituted, would be unable to destroy… If this be true, then monopoly, which can be controlled permanently only for economic forces, has passed for the moment beyond their reach, and must be grappled with for a time solely by forces political or revolutionary. Until measures of forcible confiscation, through the State or in defiance of it, shall have abolished the concentrations that monopoly has created, the economic solution proposed by Anarchism and outlined in the forgoing pages – and there is no other solution… will remain a thing to be taught to the rising generation, that conditions may be favorable to its application after the great leveling. But education is a slow process, and may not come too quickly. Anarchists who endeavor to hasten it by joining in the propaganda of State Socialism or revolution make a sad mistake indeed. They help to so force the march of events that the people will not have time to find out, by the study of their experience, that their troubles have been due to the rejection of competition.”
A few years later, in a private letter and fearing the destruction of civilization, Tucker would confess, “The Monster, Mechanism, is devouring mankind.” So we can see that Tucker’s anarchism was not utopian and neither did he imagine that world circumstances were such that his societal vision was certain to work out.
One of the readers of Tucker’s Liberty was a sensitive American woman who had become involved in the American freethought movement by the name of Voltairine de Cleyre. She had been the lover of Dyer D. Lum, an anarchist in his own right, who was over 25 years de Cleyre’s senior. Lum himself had been the man who facilitated the Haymarket anarchist Louis Lingg’s suicide in jail whilst awaiting execution and he was a further intellectual influence on de Cleyre before he himself committed suicide in 1893 shortly after they had split. Yet it is de Cleyre herself who concerns me here even though, it is true to say, she was probably always in the shadow of the more attention-getting Emma Goldman, a woman she herself wrote in defence of in relation to her imprisonment of 1893–1894. Goldman, in turn, would publish de Cleyre quite often in her own publication, Mother Earth, and the two were sometimes co-speakers on anarchist platforms for various causes. Goldman’s Mother Earth it was who also published a collection of Voltairine’s essays in 1914 after her death in June 1912. It is Goldman, in fact, who speaks of de Cleyre [in a much later pamphlet she wrote to remember her] as a sensitive person and her life was hard, growing up in an unhappy and extremely poor family where her parents had sometimes to live apart to find work to raise their children, among them Voltairine [named after Voltaire, a favourite of her French-descended father]. De Cleyre had herself been sent away to a convent school when she was 12 which she instinctively and thoroughly hated, once even running away in order to walk back home, a feat which required swimming across a river and walking for miles. After 17 miles of walking the young Voltairine realised she wasn’t going to make it back to her family home and, meeting family friends along the way, she was returned to her father’s care and the convent school. This story, however, gives a flavour of the instinctiveness and impulsiveness of de Cleyre’s later anarchism. It came entirely from her heart.
Voltairine de Cleyre was a woman of staunch beliefs who could imbue her essays and speeches [and sometimes poetry] with both emotion and fervour and she was possessed of a natural [rather than ideological] egoism. For example, in 1890, whilst attached to Dyer Lum, she became pregnant by James B. Elliot, another freethinker, and gave birth to a son in June of that year. The pair had previously agreed that Voltairine would give up the baby to Elliot and this is what happened, Voltairine having no part in the child’s upbringing whatsoever. De Cleyre herself lived most of her activist life in Philadelphia among poor immigrants of Jewish extraction where sympathy for anarchism was not uncommon. She supported herself teaching English and music. Her remarked upon “sensitivity” seems to indicate some illness she suffered from throughout her life – Goldman speculating this was “some disease of the nervous system which she had developed in early childhood”. De Cleyre certainly suffered from depression on occasion and attempted suicide herself at least twice. Reading her essays, we can see her as a person of strong [and so perhaps sometimes uncontrollable] emotions and this recommends her to her readers as a person of utmost conviction. Yet her essays also show her to be a person of intellect and her journey from freethought, through Tucker’s brand of individualism to what would become her stated position of “anarchism without adjectives” was also solidly based on her own, logical thinking. She had, in fact, finally become an anarchist as a result of the Haymarket trial and the execution of several of the defendants. Until then, she had been unwilling to imagine that American justice was anything but just but this event shattered any such illusions in the free thinker.
Although on economic matters de Cleyre espoused various beliefs over her time as an active anarchist propagandist [leading to healthy discussion about if she ever embraced anarcho-communism fully, for example, as opposed to her earlier views more shaped by Tucker and his belief in private property and competition], she always had a strong egoist streak at the core of her being, a natural independence which required that she only bow to her own intellect first and foremost. We see this as soon as we turn to her written propaganda. As her biographer, Sharon Presley, suggests, “She remained distinctly individualistic in her outlook, even if not in her economic views, passionately espousing a belief in personal autonomy and individual freedom, most especially in her feminist works, the rest of her all too brief life.” [De Cleyre died aged only 45 after a life of illness. She had been shot and wounded in 1902 by a former student who had suffered from mental illness himself and this didn’t help matters.]
This is what stands out to me when I read her essays. All through these a “denial of authority over the individual” [as Presley puts it] remains regardless of how de Cleyre imagines some economic organisation of people and things can make this more or less possible. I also think it likely that Voltairine’s “anarchism without adjectives” was at least partly a desire that other anarchists not be forced into one particular “economic” straitjacket. Some thought one thing and others thought another. Didn’t individual liberty demand that people be allowed to come to their own conclusions about this and organise themselves accordingly? This seems very Voltairine de Cleyre to me. In one essay she even talks about the necessity of plurality, advising a “plurality of possibilities” and arguing that neither this nor that economic organisation, by itself, would guarantee freedom.
So let’s take a brief look at some of her essays. I start, naturally enough, with her own “Why I Am An Anarchist”. This was published in Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth in 1908 so towards the end of her life. It combines autobiography and theory and attempts to wed the two into a politics from the personal. This is demonstrated, in fact, almost at its beginning:
“The question ‘Why I am an Anarchist’ I could very summarily answer with ‘because I cannot help it,’ I cannot be dishonest with myself; the conditions of life press upon me; I must do something with my brain. I cannot be content to regard the world as a mere jumble of happenings for me to wander my way through, as I would through the mazes of a department store, with no other thought than getting through it and getting out. Neither can I be contented to take anybody’s dictum on the subject; the thinking machine will not be quiet. It will not be satisfied with century-old repetitions; it perceives that new occasions bring new duties; that things have changed, and an answer that fitted a question asked four thousand, two thousand, even one thousand years ago, will not fit any more. It wants something for today.”
This indicates a basic requirement of intellectual honesty in Voltairine that she would not let herself deny. Yet, shortly after this, de Cleyre also admits she is an anarchist out of sentiment: she has a feeling for those who suffer. Consequently, “my feelings have ever revolted against repression in all forms” and, moreover, “nobody ought to have such an awful lot more than anybody else.” Yet Voltairine also explains that, in her life, “there was a wild craving after freedom from conventional dress, speech, and custom; an indignation at the repression of one’s real sentiments and the repetition of formal hypocrisies, which constitute the bulk of ordinary social intercourse”. Life, she imagined, “afford[s] no opportunity of the individuality of the person to express itself in outward taste of selection of forms.” She wanted to “develop originality” and thought, in an excellent formulation of anarchist belief, that “the only desirable condition of society is one in which no one is compelled to accept an arrangement to which he has not consented.” Consequently, she went along with what she thought of as a common anarchist belief that “the land and all that was in it was the natural heritage of all, and none had a right to pre-empt it, and parcel it out to their heirs, administrators, executors, and assigns.” She did not believe that “the individual” should be “under the necessity of getting somebody’s permission to go to work” or that such a person should be “subject to decisions of a mass of managers” or “to regulations and regimentations without end”.
By 1908, at least, de Cleyre thought that “the way to get freedom to use land is by no tampering and indirection, but plainly by going out and settling thereon, and using it”. She also wanted to “get rid of money altogether”. Notice, however, that her respect for the individual ego remains intact when she adds:
“Let every community go ahead and try some member’s money scheme if it wants;—let every individual try it if he pleases. But better for the working people let them all go. Let them produce together, co-operatively rather than as employer and employed; let them fraternize group by group, let each use what he needs of his own product, and deposit the rest in the storage-houses, and let those others who need goods have them as occasion arises.”
This is clearly moving in an economically social direction. Yet she ends this essay as follows: “Anarchism:… comes as the logical conclusion of three hundred years of revolt against external temporal and spiritual authority—the word which has no compromise to offer, which holds before us the unswerving ideal of the Free Man.” Clearly, social organisation here is not to be traded against individual freedom.
If we move back seven years we come to Voltairine’s essay “Anarchy” published in Free Society in October 1901. Here she describes anarchism as “a theory of the relations due to man and comes as an offered solution to… societary problems” which makes it sound like something that Stirner’s union of egoists was also invented to fulfil. [There is no evidence that de Cleyre knew of Stirner and as, at this time, it had not yet been published in English, it is unlikely she had ever read it. Unlike Emma Goldman, for example, who had been brought up partly in German-speaking Königsberg, Voltairine could not read German.] Here, however, Voltairine can also describe anarchism as perhaps simply the latest expression of a spirit which wants to be free when she adds: “Anarchism, alone, apart from any proposed economic reform, is just the latest reply out of many the past has given, to that daring, breakaway, volatile, changeful spirit which is never content.” Such a definition can then be utilised in the workplace and the economic situation of the time in ways like this when contrasted with a more bucolic past:
“The individuality of the workman was a plainly recognized quantity: his life was his own; he could not be locked in and driven to death, like a street-car horse, for the good of the general public and the paramount importance of Society.”
Thus, in addressing anarchism to the contemporary worker, de Cleyre says this:
“This is the particular message of Anarchism to the worker. It is not an economic system; it does not come to you with detailed plans of how you, the workers, are to conduct industry; nor systemized methods of exchange; nor careful paper organizations of ‘the administration of things.’ It simply calls upon the spirit of individuality to rise up from its abasement, and hold itself paramount in no matter what economic reorganization shall come about. Be men first of all, not held in slavery by the things you make; let your gospel be, ‘Things for men, not men for things.’”
It is clear in this, however, that in Voltairine’s day it was customary to describe such an attitude of freedom as “what anarchism is” but to need to add to this some economic ideas about how it might be achieved with some reliability and stability. This is what necessitated the adjectives “individualist”, “mutualist”, “communist”, etc., which Voltairine de Cleyre would come to reject. Here, addressing the same imaginary worker, she says:
“Anarchy, having to do almost entirely with the relations of men in their thoughts and feelings, and not with the positive organization of production and distribution, an Anarchist needs to supplement his Anarchism by some economic propositions, which may enable him to put in practical shape to himself and others this possibility of independent manhood. That will be his test in choosing any such proposition,—the measure in which individuality is secured. It is not enough for him that a comfortable ease, a pleasant and well-ordered routine, shall be secured; free play for the spirit of change—that is his first demand.” [italics mine]
Notice that de Cleyre speaks of “individuality” in both of those last quotations and, in fact, makes securing its freedom the criterion and standard of freedom. It is, of course, true to say that de Cleyre is not here using an egoist vocabulary of a Stirner nor even the individually different expression of egoism and will to overcome of a Nietzsche but it is an example of her own fierce and entirely natural and intuitive independence, her belief that freedom is personal and comes from the personal. We see this, further, when later in the same essay she talks about “compulsion” as the anarchist issue and anything which “obliges unwilling persons to remain in a community whose economic arrangements they do not agree to”. Her expression, however, comes from the direction of a liberal understanding of rights [as Tucker’s had as she had no doubt read in the pages of Liberty] and, thus she can say that “every person of sense is willing to surrender his preferences at times, provided he is not compelled to at all costs” rather than more Stirnerite talk about doing things only because it pleases me so to do. But here her own proclivities are most obvious in that she wants to allow people to choose how they best actualise their own understanding of such individual freedom. She says:
“Therefore I say that each group of persons acting socially in freedom may choose any of the proposed systems, and be just as thorough-going Anarchists as those who select another. If this standpoint be accepted, we are rid of those outrageous excommunications which belong properly to the Church of Rome, and which serve no purpose but to bring us into deserved contempt with outsiders.”
People don’t need to be at odds, thinks Voltairine de Cleyre, if we permit them freedom to choose how they actualise their beliefs. As such, this attitude evinces a strong belief in individual, perhaps even egoistic, integrity.
Consequently, Voltairine “would see the instincts and habits of people express themselves in a free choice in every community.” Trying to honestly work through the consequences of such a belief for herself, she writes:
“Socialism and Communism both demand a degree of joint effort and administration which would beget more regulation than is wholly consistent with ideal Anarchism; Individualism and Mutualism, resting upon property, involve a development of the private policeman not at all compatible with my notions of freedom. My ideal would be a condition in which all natural resources would be forever free to all, and the worker individually able to produce for himself sufficient for all his vital needs, if he so chose, so that he need not govern his working or not working by the times and seasons of his fellows.”
But, even here, there is that echo of the song of ego once again:
“Are these all the aims of Anarchism? They are just the beginning. They are an outline of what is demanded for the material producer. If as a worker, you think no further than how to free yourself from the horrible bondage of capitalism, then that is the measure of Anarchism for you. But you yourself put the limit there, if there it is put. Immeasurably deeper, immeasurably higher, dips and soars the soul which has come out of its casement of custom and cowardice, and dared to claim its Self.”
There can be no doubt that Voltairine de Cleyre keeps the principle of individual satisfaction, expression and decision close to her heart. The individual is the basic unit of anarchism for her, not the mass. The anarchist is “no longer awed by outside powers of any order – recognizing nothing superior to oneself” and “all methods are to the individual capacity and decision.” Indeed, “Anarchism means freedom to the soul as to the body,—in every aspiration, every growth.” The conclusion of her whole essay is then quite obvious after she has named various anarchist worthies [Tolstoy, Johann Most, Tucker and Kropotkin included]: “Each choose that method which expresses your selfhood best, and condemn no other man because he expresses his Self otherwise.”
In “Events Are the True Schoolmasters” de Cleyre expounds upon the flexibility and plurality which marked her own views on the application of an anarchist belief. Criticising from the start those “who think that they possess the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, something she characterises as “intolerant”, she decries the idea that “the application of certain abstract principles” are able to “chalk-line the course of progress” or that “strictly adhered to” they lead to “an unquestionable triumph of these principles”. Introducing a little sarcasm, she has fun at the expense of those who imagine that people must be made subject to abstract ideas or eternal plans rather than these to people and their needs and desires themselves. Here, whether she knows it or not, she’s on the side of Stirner and Nietzsche in her dismissal of “plumb-line anarchists”. In this respect, it is not then inconsequential that she refers to “my individual course” as but one person among many in a “marketplace” of possibilities and opportunities and she asks “why exercise ourselves because someone conceived a different plan of free association from ours?” What is noticeable about this, in context, is that de Cleyre imagines that it is the responsibility of individuals to decide things for themselves, to take responsibility for their own course, to rely on their own thinking and intellect. It is such independence, in fact, which is what always survives over the years in Voltairine’s anarchism and whatever economic clothes she gives her belief to wear.
“Anarchism and American Traditions” is another essay of Voltairine’s that Emma Goldman published in Mother Earth. In it, Voltairine links her anarchism to the history of America and especially its revolutionary beginnings. Here she shows her past relation to the ideas of Tucker when she says that “equal liberty is the political ideal”. She uses this ideal to criticise American government in which candidates profess one thing on platforms before elections only to disregard it once they have won the power that was all they ever wanted to begin with. In the same way, she criticises majority rule, using “equal liberty” as an active measure of someone’s politics and their political actions. She herself imagines that equal liberty “may be best secured by leaving to the voluntary association of those interested” the “management of matters of common concern, without coercion of the uninterested or the opposed.” Once again, this is a “you choose your way, I will choose mine – and let us both leave each other in peace” kind of thinking. In declaring that “Anarchism declares private enterprise, whether individual or cooperative… equal to all the undertakings of society” she does not mandate cooperation but leaves it up to individuals to decide if such a thing is in their best interests or not.
This is an essay, though, in which she depicts America’s fall from a once revolutionary love of freedom into a people who care more for ease than for liberty. This, one can imagine, is where the spirit of anarchism and that of the revolutionary America part ways. As this happens the instrument of government itself becomes tyrannical and there is no one left to wave the flag of freedom once again and declare resistance to control and coercion of the people. In the face of this decline, Voltairine must raise the flag of Anarchy:
“Instruments which are set up to safeguard rights become the very whip with which the free are struck. Anarchism says, Make no laws whatever concerning speech, and speech will be free; so soon as you make a declaration on paper that speech shall be free, you will have a hundred lawyers proving that ‘freedom does not mean abuse, nor liberty license’; and they will define and define freedom out of existence. Let the guarantee of free speech be in every man’s determination to use it, and we shall have no need of paper declarations. On the other hand, so long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.”
This paragraph is strongly reminiscent of one of her last essays, “Direct Action” [which I will come to shortly], in that it preaches that only by a person’s own hands can their freedom be assured. Those who take no steps to secure such freedom will assuredly not get it and perhaps they don’t even deserve it. “Anarchism,” insists Voltairine, “affirms the economy of self-sustenance, the disintegration of the great communities, the use of the earth.” Anarchism “asks that [the American tradition of non-meddling] be carried down to the individual himself. It demands no jealous barrier of isolation; it knows that such isolation is undesirable and impossible; but it teaches that by all men’s strictly minding their own business, a fluid society, freely adapting itself to mutual needs, wherein all the world shall belong to all men, as much as each has need or desire, will result.”
Voltairine de Cleyre’s consistent holding to a personal view of freedom, regardless of economic beliefs – one is tempted to call it a belief in personal autonomy – is best shown when she writes about the oppression of women. One imagines that she felt such issues much more personally being a woman [as with the very similar situation of Emma Goldman] and here she is at her most impassioned. She is necessarily intersectional in addressing such issues and is one of those who contributed to a multi-faceted critique of society coming from a developing anarchafeminist position. Consider, for example, her lecture “Those Who Marry Do Ill”, an uncompromising title to begin with with. She originally presented it in debate with a speaker who was recommending marriage [her opponent’s lecture was “Those Who Marry Do Well”]. Voltairine’s lecture was subsequently published once again by Emma Goldman [who despised marriage equally with Voltairine].
She begins by setting out what she means by doing well or doing ill. She thus says:
“there is no absolute right or wrong; there is only a relativity, depending upon the continuously though very slowly altering condition of a social race in respect to the rest of the world. Right and wrong are social conceptions: mind, I do not say human conceptions. The names ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ truly, are of human invention only; but the conception ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ dimly or clearly, has been wrought out with more or less effectiveness by all intelligent social beings. And the definition of Right, as sealed and approved by the successful conduct of social beings, is: That mode of behavior which best serves the growing need of that society.”
She continues:
“The question now becomes: What is the growing ideal of human society, unconsciously indicated and consciously discerned and illuminated? By all the readings of progress, this indication appears to be the free individual; a society whose economic, political, social, and sexual organization shall secure and constantly increase the scope of being to its several units; whose solidarity and continuity depend upon the free attraction of its component parts, and in no wise upon compulsory forms… [So] this is the point at which I stand, and from which I shall measure well and ill-doing; viz.: that the aim of social striving now is the free individual, implying all the conditions necessary to that freedom.”
This sounds, in Voltairine’s own formulation and conception, quite close to things that Emma Goldman was saying in her own right at much the same time. Of course, neither woman, being fiercely independent, was the type to copy others. Each had to give voice to their own inner feelings and intuitions. But it is notable here how society is to exist for the growth and furtherance of the individual [and certainly not the other way around]. Free association and individual agency – personal autonomy — are paramount. Voltairine, who in a note in a 1907 edition of Mother Earth wanted to correct a previous misconception that she had ever been a communist by making it clear she had never been one, is most clear about that. Thus, in this marriage debate she goes on to say: “It is the permanent dependent relationship which, I affirm, is detrimental to the growth of individual character, and to which I am unequivocally opposed. Now my opponents know where to find me.” Further on, in relation to sexual fulfilment, she continues: “I would have men and women so arrange their lives that they shall always, at all times, be free beings in this regard as in all others. The limit of abstinence or indulgence can be fixed by the individual alone, what is normal for one being excess for another, and what is excess at one period of life being normal at another.” Further on still, she repeats: “the object of life should be the development of individuality.”
But the crux of all this is that this, for an anarchist of such autonomous convictions, can never be merely an ideological preference. It must have a path to realisation, which means, in turn, that it must lead to a new form of organisation. Thus, Voltairine furthers her anti-marriage argument by saying that “The necessity for food, shelter, and raiment,.. should at all times lie within the individual’s power to furnish for himself.” This is an argument against marital dependency because de Cleyre imagines that dependency of any kind is insufficient for liberty or individual development in itself. Principle meets consequence. You cannot be free if you are chained to someone else by material needs [as so many women legally were when Voltairine was writing]. What’s more, “In choosing one’s economic position in society, one should always bear in mind that it should be such as should leave the individual uncrippled—an all-around person, with both productive and preservative capacities, a being pivoted within.” This leads on to an argument that people are not the same and neither do they develop in parallel. Voltairine calls “this lack of parallelism… the greatest argument to be produced against marriage” and bemoans the fact that marriage so oftens requires “the sacrifice of individual freedom”.
Her closing from this essay is as follows and imagines unions infrequent, short-lived and at arms length:
“That love and respect may last, I would have unions rare and impermanent. That life may grow, I would have men and women remain separate personalities. Have no common possessions with your lover more than you might freely have with one not your lover. Because I believe that marriage stales love, brings respect into contempt, outrages all the privacies and limits the growth of both parties, I believe that ‘they who marry do ill.’”
In “The Case of Woman Versus Orthodoxy”, a much earlier essay from 1896, things are much the same. De Cleyre says here that “there never will be anything for [women] in orthodoxy but slavery” and argues that women have their lives mapped out for them according to task [child bearer and domestic servant] rather than according to their individuality. [This suggests that Voltairine gave her own son away to the father as she imagined she had no aptitude for it. And she may well have been right.] She further gives voice to a construction of the self at once poetic and autonomous when she says:
“soul, or mind, or whatever name may be given to the psychological aspect of the bundle called an ego, is one with the body, subject to growth, to expansion and to decay, adapting itself seasonably to time and to circumstances, modified always by material conditions, intimately connected with the stomach, indissolubly related to the weather, to the crops, and to all other baldly commonplace things.”
Human beings, Voltairine is saying here, are each uniquely formed individuals and each integrate to their circumstances individually. In their social relations, however, it is “material conditions [that] determine the social relations of men and women; and if material conditions are such as to make these relations impossible of maintenance, they will be compelled to assume others.” Here the issue of “Women’s Rights” comes to the fore and, at this time, especially that of the vote, which women did not have. Voltairine de Cleyre, as with her colleague, Emma Goldman, saw nothing for women in gaining the vote. Instead, she asked that the woman who wanted rights should “pitch the teachings of the priests overboard” [who taught, as some still do today, that women should obey their husbands] as well as “men of the scientific ‘cloth’” who were teaching similar, if secular, dogmas. Voltairine, as clear on her principles and on their consequences in 1896 as she was in 1908, makes the following appeal:
“The basis of independence and of individuality is bread. As long as wives take bread from husbands because they are not capable of getting it in any other way, so long will the decree obtain: ‘Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee,’ so long will all talk about political ‘right’” be empty vagaries, hopeless crying against the wind.”
In Voltairine’s imagination, then, “the modern woman” is one who “grasps her own self-hood” and, in doing so, “is laughing at the priest”. [Let us not forget here that de Cleyre was schooled by very Catholic nuns, with no doubt a priest or two thrown in for good measure.] Voltairine preaches, instead, “the right of self-maintenance”, a thought also echoed in an extract from a further lecture Voltairine once gave in Scotland called “The Woman Question”. Here she is clear that “Marriage is not in the interest of women” and that it “makes for slavery” and that, by being made domestic servants, women have no chance to develop that individuality which men can with all their various employments and other social activities. Voltairine’s ethic is well exampled here when she says: “with the development of diversity will come the irrepressible desire for its expression, and by consequence the necessity of such material conditions as will permit that expression.” To this end, she counsels that women “contemplating sexual union of any kind” should never live together with the object of their love in order to avoid the possibility she simply becomes a housekeeper as a result. She adds that women should “study sex, and control parentage”, consequently “never having a child unless you want it” and, perhaps even more importantly, “never to want it… unless you, yourself alone, are able to provide for it.” Perhaps here is more insight on why Voltairine gave up her own baby.
And so I come to the aforementioned essay “Direct Action”. I want to refer to this as, in my exegesis of Max Stirner, I referred to his concept of “might” as basically “direct action” in other, perhaps more philosophical, terms. This, in fact, is how it appears in this essay which is occasioned by the arrest and conviction of the McNamara brothers, two American union members who were implicated in the blowing up of the Los Angeles Times building in 1911 [the paper had a very anti-union editor]. In the essay Voltairine bemoans the fact that the notion of “direct action” has since become equated merely with violent bombings when the actual idea is both much broader than that in general and so normal that, de Cleyre suggests, everyone carries it out anyway. So she begins by pointing out just how regular and common what she calls “direct action” actually is:
“Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist… Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All cooperative experiments are essentially direct action.
Every person who ever in his life had a difference with anyone to settle, and went straight to the other persons involved to settle it, either by a peaceable plan or otherwise, was a direct actionist. Examples of such action are strikes and boycotts…
These actions are generally not due to any one’s reasoning overmuch on the respective merits of directness or indirectness, but are the spontaneous retorts of those who feel oppressed by a situation. In other words, all people are, most of the time, believers in the principle of direct action, and practicers of it…
there is nobody, nobody at all, who has ever been so ‘impossible’ as to eschew direct action altogether.”
De Cleyre is making the point here that “The majority of thinking people are really opportunists, leaning some perhaps more to directness, some more to indirectness as a general thing, but ready to use either means when opportunity calls for it.” Or, put another way, everybody, at some time or other, acts spontaneously, or sometimes with planning, in the matter of their own interests. They may not necessarily do this in a selfish sense for it may be entirely spontaneous and without much thought for its context. In other words, it is normal for people to act on their own behalf and to do so directly, not seeking to persuade others to do anything for them, but acting for themselves. Of course, here this includes far more, [and, almost always, entirely other] than planting bombs — as de Cleyre’s earlier examples have demonstrated. So it is not at all the case that “direct action” is violence and only violence. In fact, as de Cleyre has some fun in saying, the only purely non-violent people also happen to be those direct actionists who are determined pacifists. Political action, on the other hand, that kind which those opposed to direct action, violently understood, urge on people instead, [perhaps as “how democracy works”] is ALWAYS based in the ultimate threat of violence since “it finally rests on a club, a gun, or a prison” for its power to carry its actions out.
So de Cleyre contrasts a direct action it is quite normal for people to engage in [so much so, in fact, that they do it all the time] with a political action [and so a political apparatus] which is grounded in the threat of violence and, moreover, relies on persuading others to act on your behalf. Here, as I hope my readers can see, de Cleyre takes the side of Stirner with his egoists who utilise their “might” in order to secure their interests. This is to say that “direct action”, as Voltairine de Cleyre understands it, is the same thing as utilising your “might” as Max Stirner understands it. It is also to say that “direct action” as the anarchists understand it generally is pretty much the same thing that the egoist Stirner understood by utilising your might in “selfish” ways. For what is utilising your might and what is direct action? Nothing else but securing your interests. And, as Voltairine de Cleyre suggests, who doesn’t do that? So, in her context of interjecting in a debate about union violence, Voltairine rightly says, “direct action has always been used, and has the historical sanction of the very people now reprobating it.” [The only issue here, in fact, is the polemical one when one side in an argument will say people are wrong to take a certain direct action even though they may consider it legitimate to do the very same action themselves. Interest is the issue, not that it be direct action.]
De Cleyre goes on to say that even if we cannot rule out the idea entirely that political action through political channels may, on rare occasions, work for something good, this is only usually the case after some kind of direct action has been taken first in order to “push people in the right direction”. Or, as de Cleyre puts it herself, “never until individual rebellion, followed by mass rebellion, has forced it.” De Cleyre imagines direct action, action in your own interest, to be “the initiator, the clamorer”, the means by which ignorant others become aware that some interest is being denied or oppressed. Thus: “political action is never taken, nor even contemplated, until slumbering minds have first been aroused by direct acts of protest against existing conditions.” This is essentially a warning to always take care of your interests for yourself since these others in the political establishment are sure not to do so unless you bring your interests to their front doors. Indeed, in the context of a political establishment, de Cleyre adds that “there is a social war, inevitable so long as present legal-social conditions endure.”
Thus, de Cleyre argues that it is particularly impotent and pointless to tell strikers or boycotters to “use political channels” when such people may need immediate relief or assistance in their interests but political solutions may require elections that may be years away. She also points out that what amounts to “voting your interest into power” may be either a remote possibility or one several years hence as a possibility. Instead, she preaches the iron necessity of revolt, saying: “the forces of life will continue to revolt against their economic chains. There will be no cessation in that revolt, no matter what ticket men vote or fail to vote, until the chains are broken.” She also insists that, although direct action may sometimes be of a violent or unpleasant kind, it overwhelmingly delivers more good than bad whereas the opposite political action often results in actions which are either turned against those whose interests they were created to advantage or become “dead letters”. Only constant and consistent direct action in your own interest, in fact, is that kind of action which Voltairine de Cleyre imagines secures lasting benefits. “In the end,” de Cleyre suggests, “it is direct action that has to be relied upon anyway.”
But there is another side to this as well, i.e. what are people being taught who are being taught to rely on political or indirect action? De Cleyre says the following:
“the evil of pinning faith to indirect action… is that it destroys initiative, quenches the individual rebellious spirit, teaches people to rely on someone else to do for them what they should do for themselves; finally renders organic the anomalous idea that by massing supineness together until a majority is acquired, then through the peculiar magic of that majority, this supineness is to be transformed into energy. That is, people who have lost the habit of striking for themselves as individuals, who have submitted to every injustice while waiting for the majority to grow, are going to become metamorphosed into human high-explosives by a mere process of packing!”
Voltairine de Cleyre rejects this notion, preferring instead always acting in your own interest, that is, getting what you can get in your interest by the exercise of your own might [compare Stirner, above]. She insists workers “can win nothing permanent unless they strike for everything — not for a wage, not for a minor improvement, but for the whole natural wealth of the earth. And proceed to the direct expropriation of it all!” In this respect, she prefers direct action to voting [the pretend democracy the political classes always proffer to the direct actionist as the very heart of their insipid version of “democracy”] for she says more can be achieved by shutting down a workplace than an empty vote:
“But what the working-class can do, when once they grow into a solidified organization, is to show the possessing class, through a sudden cessation of all work, that the whole social structure rests on them; that the possessions of the others are absolutely worthless to them without the workers’ activity; that such protests, such strikes, are inherent in the system of property and will continually recur until the whole thing is abolished — and having shown that effectively, proceed to expropriate.”
In short, Voltairine de Cleyre is here pointing out that society, as it is and as it ever could be, only proceeds by the consent of those on whom it relies for its operation. People cannot be forced to make society work and, if they look to their interests and to their might – exactly as Stirner had already pointed out – then they can bend society to the satisfaction of their needs in a social context, something which is not bad for society either in this respect. So in this it is not that direct action or acting in your interests is bad or wrong – how can it be for EVERYONE does this – but that here anarchism and egoism, Voltairine de Cleyre and Max Stirner, are completely in alignment: both urge you to use your power to further your own interests in a conjunction which benefits society but which comes from the satisfaction of egoistic desires first and foremost.
A colleague and often a publisher of Voltairine de Cleyre in her final years before her unfortunately early death in 1912, aged only 45, was Emma Goldman. Goldman’s route to anarchism was not the same as Voltairine’s route, via the individualism of Tucker and his paper Liberty, but it was greatly inspired by the same event, the execution of the Haymarket anarchists in 1887. Goldman, again unlike Voltairine, who was born an American descendant of French immigrants, was born a Jew in the Russian Empire in what is now Kaunas in Lithuania. Her upbringing was in the Prussian Empire, in Königsberg, and in St Petersburg in Russia, giving her facility in both German and Russian as well as Yiddish and English. Emma had an unhappy childhood and times were hard, as with Voltairine. She was both intelligent and curious but her father, Abraham, who would occasionally whip her for her strong-mindedness and independence, had very regressive views about the place of women in society, thinking that the young Emma only needed to be able to do domestic work and bear children for any prospective husband. Consequently, she was not well educated even though she pleaded to be sent to school. Instead, she was set to work and already, by the age of 15 years old the subject of unwelcome and sometimes violent male attentions, put forward to be married off by her father. Emma was strongly against this and began to educate herself, however, and begged her father to be allowed to emigrate to the USA along with one of her older sisters who was planning to do this too [even sometimes under the threat of drowning herself in the Neva River in St Petersburg if this was not allowed]. Her father was against this but eventually gave in when Emma was 16 years old. And so Emma arrived in New York in 1885 in a change of location which would set the course for the rest of her life.
Her remaining teenage years in this new land were equally tumultuous. Whilst becoming aware of the social situation in America, a place of struggle for workers’ rights against rich bosses – with the police seemingly on the side of the bosses – Emma had personal traumas when she became involved with a young man, Jacob Kershner, who seemed to share her interests in literature and culture but was personally unable to satisfy her. She would marry him and then immediately regret it, divorcing him, before remarrying him again when he threatened to harm himself without her — before finally leaving him again for good. Her parents, who had by now also moved to the USA as well, were outraged by this behaviour, regarding Emma as a woman of loose morals. She was banished from the family home and moved to New York City from Rochester, New York State where the Goldman clan had settled.
This, however, was to be the event which was the making of Emma Goldman. In New York she met Alexander Berkman in a cafe for political radicals, himself a Jewish immigrant from the Russian Empire near Kaunas, and they immediately became firm friends and lovers. Berkman happened to have connection to the German anarchist, Johann Most, working for his Freiheit newspaper organisation, and Emma was quickly introduced into Most’s company were he took a personal and sexual interest in Emma himself [despite being 24 years her senior]. He intended to groom Emma as a protege and successor but this didn’t get off to the best start when Emma found it inauthentic to read out scripts Most had prepared for her. Eventually, seeking authenticity, and unwilling to be controlled by Most’s decisions and his desire to be recognised as the patron, Goldman and Berkman would split with him and join an autonomist group in New York instead. Further developing their own ideas, and seeking authentic expression for their developing anarchist beliefs, they planned to murder the union buster, Henry Clay Frick, with others, as an act of propaganda. Berkman was to commit the act and then Emma, it being assumed Berkman would be killed in the attempt, was to publicise why he had done what he did. Berkman did assault Frick, stabbing and shooting him, but Frick was not killed and, worse, Berkman was captured, subsequently being sentenced to 22 years in jail [serving 14 years]. This was something of a disaster for Berkman and Goldman — if showing that they were not of the kind to rest on their heels in their beliefs.
Now apart, Goldman would have to develop her own anarchism without Berkman – and it didn’t take long for her to come to public attention in her own right. The very next year, in fact, 1893, would find Goldman herself in New York in August speaking at impromptu meetings of hungry workers during yet another economic crisis. There is dispute about what Goldman actually said in both German and English to the crowds of agitated working men but it was reported as her urging the crowds to take bread by force and and to engage the rich in their own homes. A few days later, in Philadelphia, she would be arrested by police and brought back to New York where she would stand trial for incitement to riot. This would begin the myth of Emma Goldman as “the most dangerous woman in America” and it is in some respects a pivotal event in what I regard as Emma Goldman’s egoist anarchism.
This may seem a strange thing to say, however, not least since Goldman, unlike Voltairine de Cleyre, had teachers in anarchism who were of the social or communist branch such as Most and Berkman. In addition, she had read Bakunin and Kropotkin [whom she would later meet in person several times], regarding them as scions of the movement. Kropotkin would be one of those who denounced “Stirnerism” in later years, believing entirely in collective solutions for their own sake, and so it shows some independence of thought on Goldman’s part to begin with that “egoism” might even come into play at all. Yet around this time we have documentary evidence for both Berkman and Goldman calling themselves “egoists” [sometimes reported as “egotists”] and we know that when they left Most’s social anarchist group they joined the autonomists of the Die Autonomie newspaper instead. In 1893, prior to her arrest and subsequent jail time for incitement to riot, Goldman would meet and discuss with the Scottish German anarchist, John Henry Mackay [whom I will discuss in more detail below], who was a friend of Benjamin Tucker and probably the pre-eminent populariser of Max Stirner’s Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum in the world at that time. We know from Goldman’s later work that she became highly interested in both Stirner and Nietzsche [the latter whose books she discovered whilst taking a nursing course in Vienna in 1895 — Goldman, of course, could read German as a native speaker] and she mentions them in several essays and lectures throughout her American career, lecturing explicitly on Nietzsche as a singular topic in multiple cities in the decade before her American deportation.
Yet although Goldman accepted the necessarily social solution to political and economic problems it is not true to say that she did this in an abstract or merely intellectual and detached way. [In this respect we can clearly distinguish her from the calm, detached, scientific approach of Kropotkin.] Goldman’s anarchism was a matter of the emancipation of the individual person and if any revolution did not achieve this then it was pointless. We see this in the most famous “quote” attached to her: if I can’t dance, its not my revolution, a report of an event when a comrade wanted to stop her enjoying herself in public lest outsiders get the wrong impression about anarchists. But this was the impression that Emma Goldman wanted people to get about anarchists, that anarchists were people who valued individual enjoyment and fulfilment of life above all other things and who, consequently, wanted to reshape human relations in such a way as this could be achieved. So the point here is that Goldman embraced social and communist anarchism as social, political and economic solutions simply because she imagined them the best way to bring about the personal emancipation which she found most important of all. As Emma would say herself many times, often as something which brought her into conflict with other anarchists, even including Kropotkin in his own house, “anarchism not only teaches freedom in economic and political areas, but also in social and sexual life”.
It would be in an interview with Nellie Bly in the New York World published on September 17th 1893 that Emma Goldman would burst upon the American scene as a political thinker and personality in her own right. It was almost a month after her incendiary comments which would lead to her imprisonment and the interview was conducted in a New York jail as she was awaiting trial. Goldman was hesitant to agree to the interview and had the nervous attitude towards the press of one who did not expect a fair hearing. When asked by Bly why she was an anarchist, she gave the following answer:
“‘We are all egotists,’ she answered. ‘There are some that, if asked why they are Anarchists, will say, ‘for the good of the people.’ It is not true, and I do not say it. I am an Anarchist because I am an egotist. It pains me to see others suffer. I cannot bear it. I never hurt a man in my life, and I don’t think I could. So, because what others suffer makes me suffer, I am an Anarchist and give my life to the cause, for only through it can be ended all suffering and want and unhappiness.”
This answer is interesting not because the Goldman who had in the same year met John Henry Mackay describes herself as an egoist but because she imagines all anarchists are egoists too. Goldman’s point here is essentially that she cannot be happy if other people are not happy. So, in a way we can make compatible with the ideas of Stirner [and in a way she has put it which we can see incorporates Stirner’s thinking], she seeks her happiness in the happiness of others, she works as an anarchist because she is an egoist and anarchism is the means to the satisfaction of her egoism. Understood like this, it does not rule out the notion that an egoist may be a communist [and neither did Stirner either for that matter] for what Stirner was against was “sacred communism” not merely communism. Goldman at no point makes communism or anarchist communism sacred; she simply sees it as the best possible means to her actual goal which is better social, political and economic conditions for all because they will provide the best context for individual freedom and expression: they will satisfy her own unique self, and all other unique selves, the best.
As Goldman’s much later biographer, Vivian Gornick, then suggests in her book Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life:
“The conviction that revolution and the life of the senses dare not be mutually exclusive made Goldman eloquent in defense of causes—sexual freedom, birth control, marriage reform—that a majority of her fellow anarchists derided as trivializing the Cause; the comrades repeatedly took her to task for, as many of them said, interpreting anarchism as a movement for individual self-expression rather than a revolution of the collective. Hotly, she defended her need to define anarchism as she experienced it, with or without radical consensus. After all, what good was a revolution if at the end of the day one couldn’t speak one’s mind freely? To retreat from this insight, she insisted, was to ensure political disaster.”
As a consequence, Gornick goes on to argue that:
“Emma Goldman was a hybrid anarchist. Although she was formed by European (communistic) anarchism, and spent her life denouncing the state, she had a passion first for the work of the German philosophers of individualism (Friedrich Nietzsche and Max Stirner) and then for that of American dissenters like Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman whose romantic defense of the supremacy of the individual spoke even more directly to her emotional imagination; it was out of the language of the home grown American rebel that her anarchism found its great expressiveness and defiant originality. This passion for individuation, as old as the Greek discovery of consciousness, burned in her not only as an angry hunger to feel free within her own self but as an undying insistence that that freedom was a human birthright. To live in a world that denied one’s birthright was the intolerable prospect that fed her rebelliousness and, in turn, led her to the kind of insight that contributed substantially to the never-ending inquiry into the question of what a human being needs to feel human.”
I concur with this judgment and in previous writing on Goldman in chapter 11 of my book Being Human, Goldman being someone who I honestly confess is the most attractive of all anarchists of the past to me for her emotional and intellectual honesty and the fearless passion of her message, I have pointed out that she is, pre-eminently, that anarchist who combines personal and political or individual and social concerns most of all. This was because the personal ambitions of anyone for peace, happiness, enjoyment of life or cultural engagement could only be achieved by a new form, as yet undiscovered, of social human relations. What Goldman does, partly instinctively, partly as a response to her own experience of life and partly from her growing self-education [she claimed to have spent her money on a library of 300 books of her own around the time of her arrest in 1893], is find a way to marry the concerns of the individual with the concerns of the group, showing that one cannot be achieved without the other. What good is a society forced on individuals of any kind [even an anarchist kind] or of a society in which individuals do not find the opportunity for their own free development and personal expression? In anarchy, then, Goldman finds the means to marry these two approaches to anarchism with her own driving purpose. So, as I wrote in that previous chapter, just mentioned, “in the thought and life of Emma Goldman, the ‘egoism’ of an individualist anarchism and the ‘communism’ of a social anarchism are being married together to produce a happy union of them both.” But it is Goldman’s own egoism which, self-admittedly, drives her forward and motivates her intellectual conclusions and consistent actions – something she thinks applies to anarchists generally as well.
And we don’t need to look far to see the consequences of this in Goldman’s own life and work where this is marked by references to the likes of Kropotkin as the purveyor of that social solution to political problems which seems best but also to Stirner and Nietzsche as those who demonstrate what the individual could become – as well as being the basis from which they become it. Goldman herself is, in fact, a kind of demonstration of this, an example of “the Unique” or “the Overhuman”, one making her own values and creating her own self. This, in fact, is what sets her apart from nearly every other anarchist of the classical period for where else do we find one who would embrace Stirner or Nietzsche but then proceed to pronounce Kropotkin’s the best social realisation of the conditions for that? Certainly neither Tucker nor de Cleyre did that, most from an individualist background staying firmly indidivualist in their interests and ideas. Other, more European, individualists [and I will mention a few shortly] also shied away from communist ideas even as the communists themselves often excoriated individualist or egoist approaches as antithetical to social harmony and a war of all against all. [Many of their social anarchist descendants do exactly the same thing to this day. As an example, compare Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt in their book Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism who want to excommunicate Stirner from the anarchist ranks which they believe to be firmly consequent on the work of Bakunin and Kropotkin alone. Goldman would have completely disagreed with this judgment on the evidence of her own work which drew sustenance from both communist and egoist sources.] in fact, as I look back at my own work across three previous books I see evidence of a similar phenomenon in it too, Goldman’s approach itself rubbing off on me in turn. In the following section of this book where I offer some words on the necessity of egoism to anarchism I will hope to give some reasons why — even as Goldman’s own career itself may be taken to speak to just such a conclusion.
Goldman carried her approach through as well though – and how! Besides the autobiographical remembrance of dancing and revolution we have the case of Leon Czolgosz where she went into print to insult a murdered President as “president of the money kings and trust magnates of this country” and as a “modern Caesar” dying “at the hands of a Brutus”. Her support of Czolgosz in ”The Tragedy at Buffalo” lost her a lot of support personally [in terms of anarchists willing to associate with her and in terms of patrons willing to fund her] and led to a period of quiet hiatus in which she withdrew from public life entirely, taking the name E.G. Smith to work incognito as a nurse. Yet she had never had to write this piece and publish it in Free Society, bringing heat onto anarchists in so doing, in the first place – yet, being Emma Goldman, she couldn’t do anything else. Later on in life, now in Bolshevik Russia, she would pronounce their revolution inauthentic, be forced to leave her homeland again, and become a bad odour in the nostrils of communists and leftists across Europe because she would go on to openly and loudly denounce the communists in public and in yet more literature [My Disillusionment in Russia and My Further Disillusionment in Russia – although it must be granted she didn’t choose these titles and objected to them strongly.] Even when called to Spain for a last hurrah, working with the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, Goldman would criticise the anarchists’ tactics and any [as she saw it] misguided notions of “left unity”, an idea she found entirely at odds with anarchist principles which would lead to personal emancipation. In 1893, being interviewed in prison by Nellie Bly, she had told her, “I am willing to give my liberty and my life, if necessary, to further my cause. It is my mission and I shall not falter.” She did not disappoint.
A bare biography of John Henry Mackay tells of him as the Scottish born son of a Scottish father and a German mother. His father died before he was even 2 years old and his mother returned to Germany with her child where he grew up German. As an adult, Mackay is known as a writer of poetry and fiction which revolved around two subjects, homosexuality and anarchism, and these were the two driving concerns in his life, both of which had the potential to cause him trouble in a time when both were frowned upon, if not simply illegal. Mackay was neither a public speaker nor an organiser but a writer and the event that would change his life, if we must pick one, was his travelling to London for a year in 1887–1888 during which time he would meet the communist and autonomist anarchists [many exiled from their own countries like Louise Michel, Peter Kropotkin and several Germans] who would light the fire of anarchism in his belly.
It was also during this period in the English capital, however, that he first became aware of Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum by Max Stirner, at that time an almost totally forgotten book mentioned [usually very briefly] in barely a handful of philosophical reference works. Mackay happened to spot one of these references and sought out the book and, having read it, he would become almost single-handedly responsible for the popularisation of Stirner’s philosophy from that point on. [I have already remarked, in fact, that on a trip to America in 1893 he would meet with Emma Goldman who, soon after if not already before, was referring to herself in public interviews as an “egoist”.] Mackay would go on to write a biography of Stirner in the late 1890s [which scholars accused of having a hagiographic tone but for which he had to do all the original research since Stirner was forgotten] as well as both poetry and fiction created to promote an egoist anarchism. Examples here are his books The Anarchists and The Freedom Seeker. Mackay also wrote books aimed at promoting pederastic homosexuality using the pen name Sagitta and it should not be surprising, given his proclivities, that an egoistic anarchism of freedom and dissipation of morality suited him best.
One further notable biographical fact here is that Mackay became great friends over many decades with Benjamin Tucker [who had become a fan of Stirner even before Mackay, although, in his case, it was through reports about him from others, such as James L. Walker, and not from his own reading as Tucker could not read German.] Some have consequently argued that the anarchism Mackay spoke to in his work was an American Individualism, filtered to him through Tucker, to which his strong advocacy of Max Stirner was wedded. Whatever the case, it should be noted that in the following years Stirner’s ideas were reintroduced to German anarchism, translations of Der Einzige were made into Italian, French and eventually English [in the latter case through Tucker who arranged a translation for the American public just as “individualist” anarchism was dying out there and Tucker himself would soon move to France] and Stirner’s name became one that was first from the lips of egoists and individualists everywhere. Communists of the stature of Kropotkin even had to expend time and effort refuting the ideas of Stirner as a result of the popularity Mackay inspired. All these facts, in fact, can pretty much be laid down to the industry of Mackay in publicising Stirner at every possible opportunity.
Mackay’s friendship with Tucker also led to him publishing German tracts which were translations of some of Tucker’s English works. During the years from 1895 to 1922, Mackay issued a series of eight propaganda pamphlets in German, for the most part translations of Tucker’s articles made mostly by himself or by George Schumm, a German immigrant to the USA whom Tucker had previously engaged in order to write a German version of Liberty for the numerous German immigrants to the USA in the 1870s and 1880s [the project was a failure as most German immigrants were of the European, communistic kind of anarchist rather than the American individualist kind such as Tucker]. Five of these, Staatssozialismus und Anarchismus [State Socialism or Anarchism, 1895], Sind Anarchisten Mörder? [Are Anarchists Murderers? — 1899], Der Staat und das Individuum [The State and the Individual — 1899], Was ist Sozialismus? [What is Socialism? — 1902] and Die Stellung des Anarchismus zur Trustfrage [The Anarchist Position on the Trust Question — 1911], were written by Tucker and a sixth, Die Frauenfrage [The Woman Question — 1899], by two of Tucker’s associates. All together Mackay distributed about forty three thousand of these, no doubt to a large extent at his own expense. This gives some indication as to the commitment and extent of Mackay’s propagandism.
If Mackay was Tucker’s greatest convert, however, then Mackay’s greatest of his own was Rudolf Steiner, a Goethe scholar, mystic, occultist and ethical individualist, now known throughout the world as the leading spirit of anthroposophy. Steiner’s important work, Die Philosophie der Freiheit [The Philosophy of Freedom from 1894], first brought the two together but as Steiner became more and more mystical the friendship between the two cooled, for Mackay, although deeply emotional as a man and as his writing demonstrated, was also thoroughly materialistic and anti-religion or spirituality of any kind. Nevertheless, Steiner, his own fame rising, never forgot his former friend but mentioned him frequently in later years as a great poet and personality. In 1898, for example, a few weeks after the assassination of Empress Elizabeth of Austria by an alleged anarchist, when mobs were shouting for the blood of all who called themselves anarchists, Steiner horrified the readers of Das Magazin für Litteratur, which he was editing at the time, by publishing an exchange of letters between John Henry Mackay and himself, in which he pronounced himself an individualist anarchist like Mackay. It was an attempt by Steiner — a hopeless one, of course — to rescue the American anarchism he associated with Mackay from the inevitable confusion with its cousin of bad reputation, communist-anarchism, which was leading to violent attacks where its more peaceful, individualistic relative was not. Steiner would thereafter follow his own studies in mysticism as Mackay continued with that propaganda of his own.
As a result of these activities of Mackay, hardly any book or article on the egoist Max Stirner today fails to mention John Henry Mackay as Stirner’s discoverer and biographer. But Tucker’s part in the discovery of Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum is rarely mentioned, although, in actuality, Tucker knew Stirner’s work a few years before Mackay did. When Mackay first became acquainted with home grown American anarchism, a much more individualist flower which owed more to Emerson and Thoreau than it did to Bakunin and Kropotkin, it had already, and at least partially, incorporated into itself Stirner’s ethical code of absolute egoism in place of a Christian altruism at a time when Mackay’s Germany was almost completely unaware of this egg of its own laying. Nevertheless, Mackay was almost singularly instrumental in the later popularization of Stirner’s book, which eventually created wide interest, with eighteen translations in the fifteen years immediately following the appearance of Mackay’s biography of Stirner at the end of the 1890s. Stirner’s own ethical attitudes are, for their part, almost omnipresent in everything Mackay wrote after 1890, just as they seem implied in [or become relevant to] the text of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra which I have discussed above. Most especially this is the case, in relation to Mackay, with his real contribution to egoistic anarchism which lies primarily in the two semi-autobiographical novels he produced, Die Anarchisten [The Anarchists] and Der Freiheitsucher [literally: The Freedom Seeker].
Mackay himself always referred to these two books, along with his early and largely communist-anarchist collection of poems Sturm [Storm, published after his visit to London], as propaganda, in contrast to his other poems, novels, and short stories, which were expressions of pure art. The fact is, however, that these three books do contain detailed programs for a political and social movement while his other works are anarchistic only in the very wide sense that they are the expression of a sensitive gay poet’s yearning for a life of absolute individualism and egoism away from the harshness of societal reality. In Die Anarchisten, for example, there are two contrasting characters, one of which represents a philosophy of life that is clearly communist anarchism; the other, portrayed as a more intellectual person, is an individualistic anarchist and an egoist. Through the eyes of these two men we see the horrors of life among the London poor in 1887 [Mackay used his own visit as research] and the useless attempts of London radicals to wipe out the evils of the world by means of an effective social movement. The upshot is that only by the American individualism of a Tucker and the egoism of a Max Stirner can the world progress out of the misery, poverty, and wars produced by governments. The book, as such, is obviously aimed not only at the layman as propaganda to convince them of the merits of egoist anarchism but also at the communist-anarchists in an attempt to persuade them to drop their misguided ways and come over to the egoist camp. It was translated into English by Tucker’s associate George Schumm immediately after its appearance in German and published by Tucker in Boston for an American audience. Subsequently, it has been translated into multiple other languages and has sold slowly, if consistently, and is probably the best known of Mackay’s books. Today the interested reader can find it in English on The Anarchist Library.
Der Freiheitsucher is very different from Die Anarchisten. In the centre of the latter, Mackay put the London anarchists as a mass, and all through it he dealt with crowds: street crowds, unemployed demonstrations, mobs, and political assemblies. Now, in this, its companion book, he wished to show the mental and emotional development of a lone individual from childhood to a mature belief in the possibility of a world in which no one is forced to submit to unwanted government, a world in which everyone works out his own system of ethics without respect to laws and believes in his own God [if in any God at all]. This book was written during the four years of World War 1, its publication held up by the ensuing economic post-war distress until 1921, and the costs to produce it were met by the sale of the last piece of property that he then owned, his summer house in Silesia, which he had dubbed his “Freedom House”. Due to the harsh economic times, within a few months the rampant inflation swept away every source of income Mackay had left, except for stores of unsold and, for the most part, unsaleable books he still had in his possession.
In the main the story of Der Freiheitsucher is that of Mackay’s own life: it tells of his stern foster father, his loving, idolized mother, a rebellious child, school, university, important stays in London and Switzerland, long friendship with a non-German anarchist [i.e. Tucker], a womanless life, a brooding life, filled with attempts to fathom its meaning and to find solutions for its evils. More than half the book is devoted to the main character’s discoveries in the realm of thought and his gradual realization that governments are the causes of humanity’s troubles and what the solutions might be – along with the sudden dawning on him that he must be an anarchist to think as he does. The outline of American anarchism that had been given in Die Anarchisten in conversations among the various characters is here filled out in detailed essays to a complete worldview covering all phases of life. Of course, only the basic points are taken over from American anarchism; Mackay builds on this foundation a house of his own, German and not American, Mackay [via Stirner] and not simply Tuckerism. One American biographer of Mackay, and a scholar of German literature of Mackay’s period, Thomas A. Riley, has said of this book:
“To readers whose sympathies were already anti-state, anti-communistic, and anti-revolutionary, the book presented a beautiful expression of their views. Thoreau would have delighted in it. Indeed, American anarchism has in existence today a well-rounded body of literature produced by Josiah Warren, the founder; Benjamin Tucker, organizer and popularizer; Max Stirner, moralist; Pierre Proudhon, social theorist; and greatest of them all, the poet and artist, the synthesist, John Henry Mackay. In this literature is the mentality of a movement, a head whose body has disappeared into the air, as strange a sight as Alice’s cat.
Der Freiheitsucher is an anomaly in literature, for it is the acme of an American movement, reached not in America but in a foreign country and in a foreign language after the original movement had died out. Mackay was the greatest convert of American anarchism and its most stubborn adherent. He was in a way a genius, talented in the field of letters as none other of the many shrewd heads Benjamin Tucker attracted to his cause. For over thirty years the basic principles of the Americans, which included the egoism of Max Stirner, glowed in his intellect and emotions until he cast them in a master form, one that Tucker, Schumm, Robinson, Yarros, Walker, or Byington [all Tucker associates, the last the American translator of Stirner that Tucker used] could never have achieved, in a flow of language that their English was never capable of.”
Unfortunately, however, this book met with scarcely a mention or a review in the German press of the country where it was published, not even among the radical publications in which it might have been expected to appear. Die Anarchisten, published in the early 1890s, had, to the contrary, made Mackay low-key famous in cultured and political circles. An example of this here would be something Rudolf Rocker, the syndicalist of communist-anarchist extraction, would say in 1927:
“Those comrades who had known the underground period of the movement [1878–1890] were without exception followers of Communist-Anarchism. They knew nothing of any other form. Then there appeared in Zurich in 1891 J. H. Mackay’s novel ‘Die Anarchisten,’ which excited considerable attention in Anarchist circles of Germany although the theoretical bases are extremely weak and open to criticism. In the meetings and discussion groups there were now endless quarrels over the question: Communistic or Individualistic Anarchism? And not a few came to the decision that individualism incorporated in itself the real basic ideas of Anarchism.”
Rocker’s later words, then, testify to the impact in anarchist circles of Mackay’s earlier tome and the questions that it could lead to. Der Freiheitsucher however, brought Mackay almost to beggary. The mere fact that Der Freiheitsucher was never translated into English, in fact, shows how the American movement had disintegrated [since it was Americans, primarily Tucker and associates, who had been publishing his work in English years previously]. Mackay consequently wrote to George Schumm, in German, on October 20, 1921 in depressing terms:
“It is completely incomprehensible to me that my new book, by far the most important thing that I have ever written and my true life’s work, should be such a complete failure over there. And all the more incomprehensible when one remembers that you can have it for almost nothing, for about thirty cents according to the present state of the mark. And is there no one who is willing to take on a number and sell them with a profit to himself? Is the German social movement dead? Are there no German [radical] periodicals published over there any more?”
I have spoken here, of course, exclusively of Mackay’s expressly anarchist and egoist works, works influenced by the American anarchism of Tucker and the egoism of Stirner. But Mackay’s homosexuality, and how he experienced such sexuality that the state outlawed, is hardly irrelevant to the man and his work either. Riley, for example, describes his gay novels Der Schwimmer [The Swimmer] and Der Puppenjunge [The Doll-Boy, this title being a Berlin slang term for a male prostitute] as expressing:
“one philosophy only: the belief that a state is a monster that for its own pleasure and profit crushes the individual. Always Mackay’s suffering yet fighting individual [in his novels] is Mackay himself. The fictional Mackay, now named Fenny Skaller, now Ernst Forster or Franz Felder, is the real-life Mackay, who from earliest days of adolescence in the early 80’s found himself struggling against a society that had only jests or words of horror and disgust for his kind. Mackay by his whole life and work, perhaps consciously, made himself a symbolic figure–symbolic of the individual in arms against society.”
Riley continues, by way of final explanation and to wrap up my thoughts on Mackay, as follows:
“The key to understanding John Henry Mackay lies in one of his earliest poems, written at some time before he was twenty two years old. His “Unschuldig Verurteilt” [Innocent Convicted], in six pages of iambic pentameter, gives an account of a man’s being sentenced to prison for life although innocent of the crime he is accused of. Here we have the complete problem of Mackay’s life: the harmless and innocent individual at bay before a hostile society that attacks and crushes him unthinkingly and senselessly. Mackay felt his whole life long that he himself, because of certain, as he felt, harmless anomalies in his character, had been sentenced by society to a long prison life of shame… he fought that society through all those years, endeavoring to establish his innocence. In the London anarchist organ Die Autonomie [Autonomy] for June 17, 1888, just at the time when Mackay was in London and active in the Klub Autonomie, there appeared an announcement of the performance of a four-act play entitled Unschuldig Verurteilt. Although the author of the play is not mentioned, it seems probable that it was Mackay. Again in 1928 he published the short novel Staatsanwalt Sierlin [Attorney-General Sierlin], which might well have been entitled Unschuldig Verurteilt, for it is based on the same story as the poem of forty years before. The theme of Unschuldig Verurteilt appears again in Der Unschuldige [The Innocent, 1931]. Here the main character, Heinz von Solden, is not accused of the crime and imprisoned, but carries about with him for twenty-five years the fear that the state would accuse him and punish him for a murder that another man had committed. Fear of being innocently condemned ruins his life and brings him to an early death…
Nowhere in Mackay’s works is his attitude toward life better portrayed. He too had been condemned while innocent; he too had spent a lifetime avenging himself on society in a way that society could not stop and for which it could not punish him. Every one of his books is a part of that revenge. One of his earliest poems begins: ‘Ich hasse das Leben.’ [I hate life] and all his books reiterate the same hate. The man whom society has condemned to be a social outcast can bear no love for that society.
Because he felt himself to be regarded as an outcast, Mackay reacted by endeavoring to establish his belief in the sovereignty of the individual as opposed to the sovereignty of the state. Reaching manhood in a turbulent , rebellious period in the development of European letters and politics, he instinctively allied himself with the most radical trends in both fields, uniting recalcitrant literary and political thought in an art beautifully expressive of the rebellious spirit of the closing years of the nineteenth century , a hopeless rebellion against the mechanization and soul-killing regimentation of the individual. Seeking further justification of urges that seemed to him good and pure, he was delighted at finding in the work of Max Stirner a philosophy of life that fitted his needs as a glove fits a hand. His championing of Stirner’s single book seems to have been largely responsible for its sudden rise to international fame. Contrary to popular belief in his day, there is little in Mackay’s writing which must be considered propaganda and not art; however, he was never a prolific writer so that his complete works consist of a small body of beautifully expressed products of a highly individualized personality. Since the rebellion of the youth of the past century was lost and repressed by the reaction, since the mechanization of life and the regimentation of the individual have continued unabated, Mackay’s work has never been much read. His espousal of a sexual cause distasteful to the vast majority of people has served further in making the man unpopular and forgotten, even among the very small group that knew him and his work by personal acquaintance.” [Thomas A. Riley from Germany’s Poet-Anarchist: John Henry Mackay]
I turn now to Émile Armand who was the most prominent, and certainly the most long lasting, of a line of French egoists that would include those around the anarchist journals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, L’En-Dehors and L’Anarchie, and people such as Zo d’Axa, Albert Libertad, Han Ryner, the Bonnot Gang and others. Explicitly influenced by his reading of Stirner and Nietzsche, amongst others, Armand, the son of a Paris Communard, developed quite a full working out of what egoism would mean for him, and others, in his program of “amorous camaraderie” which extended into his old age, dying aged 90. Since I have already covered Armand quite comprehensively in my Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection in the chapter on anarchist ethics in regard to his view of anarchism as an ethic one commits oneself to, I shall concentrate on this aspect of his egoist anarchism here.
It is entirely appropriate that the ethical egoist, Émile Armand, finds precursors of anarchism in the Cynics and Stoics of ancient Greece. In his essay “Precursors of Anarchism” he says:
“the Cynics, from the negation of the values of Hellenic culture, came to the negation of its institutions: marriage, homeland, property, the State. It is certain that behind the barrel and lantern of Diogenes, there was more than mere mockery and words of wit. Diogenes pierced, with his biting sarcasms, the strongest and most feared among those who were already disputing the spoils of spirited Athens. And Plato, scandalized by the more than popular form of his preaching, had dubbed him ‘a Socrates in delirium’. Yet the Cynics, by equating manual labour with intellectual labour, by denouncing useless work, by declaring themselves citizens of the world, by regarding the generals as ‘donkey drivers,’ by ridiculing popular superstitions down to the demon of Socrates, and by reducing the purpose of life to the exercise and development of the moral person, could well be considered, like their teacher, physicians of the soul, heralds of freedom and truth. From the social point of view they were advocates of community, and extended this principle not only to things but to persons, a conception dear to many philosophers of antiquity…
The first teaching of Zeno – the leader of the Stoics – was very similar to that of the Cynics. In his ‘Treatise on the Republic’, he rejected customs, laws, sciences and arts, while claiming, like Plato, the community of goods. The essence or substance of the Stoic system is this: that the good of man is freedom, and that freedom is only gained by freedom. The wise man, according to the Stoics, is synonymous with the free man: he owes his good only to himself, and his happiness depends only on himself. Sheltered from the blows of fate, insensible to everything, master of himself, with no other need than himself, he finds in himself a serenity, a freedom and a happiness that has no limits. He is no longer a simple man: he is a god and more than a god, for the happiness of the gods is the privilege of their nature, while the happiness of the wise man is the conquest of his own freedom. Zeno logically denied the omnipotence, protection and control of the State; for man must serve exclusively himself, and it is from individual harmony that collective harmony must arise.”
Such remarks are entirely consistent with an anarchist and egoist who saw both as being formed almost entirely out of an ethical approach to life which took individual freedom seriously whilst, at the same time, taking any obligations one entered into with others seriously as well. We may say that Armand’s anarchism, in fact, was one of autonomy and association and, this being so, one had to ensure that both were carried out ethically.
One area in which this “ethical autonomy and association” is shown by Armand is in the area of sexuality. Armand developed ideas that he termed “amorous camaraderie” which came from an ethical place but which aimed to completely reconstitute the notion of human relationships. In “Anarchist Individualism and Amorous Comradeship” he speaks of “the emancipation of feelings”, stating:
“Sentiment is of an individual nature, but it is susceptible to education, to conversation, to intensive and extensive acculturation, like everything that is part of the domain of the senses, everything that pushes sensibility forth. One might wish to be more sentimental than one is, and this can be achieved, in the same way as one can come, through the appropriate care, to make a tree or the land produce more beautiful fruits, or larger thorns. One can, by looking carefully, learn to be a good lover, to be tender, affectionate, caring, as one can learn to be a sailor or a speaker of a foreign language. It is certainly a question of temperament, but it is also a question of will; of reflection, of the search for personal tastes.”
Armand, then, spoke to a theory of inner freedom which, necessarily, was a matter of both sentiment and sexuality, both of these being natural parts of the human being. On the matter of sexual freedom he says in the same essay that:
“When anarchist individualists demand sexual freedom, what do they mean? Is it ‘freedom to rape’ or of deprivation, that they want? Do they hope for the extermination of all feeling in amorous matters, the disappearance of tenderness or of affection? Do they glorify, perhaps, heedless promiscuity, or bestial sexual satisfaction? No. We simply want that every individual should have the right to dispose of their sexual life according to their own whim, and in all of the circumstances of that life — according to one’s own temperament, sentiment, or reason. Attention: this means one’s own sexual life, not that of others. We do not demand sexual freedom without sex education. We on the contrary believe that, gradually, in the period preceding puberty, human beings should ignore nothing concerning sex life — in other words, the unavoidable attraction of the sexes — whether considered in its sentimental, emotional, or physiological aspects.”
Here we see the ethics and the autonomy of this position. Armand does not think that a sexual libertarianism should be a matter of ignorance or carried out in ignorance. It should, in fact, be fully educated. Therefore:
“‘Freedom of sexual life’ is not a synonym of ‘perversion’ or of ‘loss of sexual sensibility’. Sexual freedom is exclusively of an individual order. It presupposes an education of the will that would permit each to determine for himself or herself the point at which one is no longer in control of one’s passions or inclinations, an education which perhaps would show itself to be much more instinctive than it seems at first glimpse. Like all freedoms, sexual freedom requires effort — not that of abstinence; abstinence is a proof of moral dissatisfaction, in the same way as deprivation is a sign of moral weakness — but of judgment, of discretion, of classification. In other words, it is not a question of the quantity or number of experiences, but of the quality of the experimenter. To conclude. The freedom of sexual life remains united, in the individualist sense, with preparatory sexual education and the power of individual determination.”
All this, of course, is to be opposed to marriage as traditionally understood and which Armand frowned upon. “All legal and obligatorily constituted societies can only be hostile to irregular loves,” he noted, in reference to his own ideas about these matters. He repeats several times that “love is of an individual nature” and so, he concludes, requires individual expression. In a Nietzschean formulation, he describes love as “beyond good and evil”, the title of the book Nietzsche wrote after Thus Spoke Zarathustra and in which Nietzsche attempted to leave past human evaluating behind. As a consequence, Armand believes that “it is insane to try to reduce love to an equation or to limit it to one form of expression. Those who attempt this will find right away that they’ve been walking the wrong road. The amorous experience knows no borders, no limits. It varies from individual to individual.” Here, interestingly, what Armand even means by “freedom” is described in a way quite obviously Stirner-inspired:
“Before putting forth the anarchist individualist perspective on the sexual question, it is necessary for us to clarify what we mean by the expression, ‘freedom’. It is known that freedom cannot be an end, since there is no absolute freedom, like there is no general truth, practically speaking. Only individual, particular freedoms exist. It is impossible to escape certain contingencies. One cannot be free, for instance, from breathing, from taking things in, from being unique. Freedom, like truth, purity, goodness, equality, is nothing but an abstraction. And an abstraction cannot be a goal.”
“This is precisely why only particular freedoms exist in possibility; leaving the domain of the abstract, placing ourselves on solid ground, we can affirm that ‘our needs and our desires’ — more than our ‘rights’, an abstract and arbitrary expression — have been refused us, mutilated or covered up by authorities of various kinds.
Intellectual life, artistic life, economic life, sexual life — the individualists demand the freedom for these things to manifest themselves fully, according to individuals, to the tune of their freedom, outside of the legalist conceptions, and of the religious or civil prejudices. They demand, considering them to be like great rivers from which human activity floods, that they be free to flow in their own direction without being dammed up by moralism or traditionalism. Even further, that they not be hindered by impetuous error, by over tensed nerves, by backwards impulses. Between life in the free air, and the life in the shop front, we choose life in freedom.”
Lest we remain blind to the Stirnerism of this, something Armand says earlier in the same document makes us realise that there can be no doubt about it: “Don’t be misled — anarchist individualists are negators, destroyers, demolishers. They are those who believe in nothing, and respect nothing — nothing, really, is safe from their all-encompassing critique. Nothing is sacred for them.”
Armand’s understanding of egoism [which he regularly refers to as “individualism”] was not one of isolation and in his writing he always comes across as remarkably social and sociable. In seeking to propagandise for “anarchist individualism” he can say “Our individualism is a creator of happiness, in us and outside of us. We want to find happiness wherever it is possible, thanks to our potential as seekers, discoverers, realizers.” He continues:
“We want an individualism that radiates happiness and benevolence, like a hearth radiates warmth. We want an individualism that shines even in the wintriest of hearts. An individualism of bacchantes, deliriously free, which extends itself, expands, and overflows, without owners, borders, or limits. Whoever doesn’t want to suffer nor carry heavy loads, but doesn’t want to make anyone else suffer or carry the weight for them. An individualism that doesn’t feel humiliated when called to apologize or to make up for damage caused by carelessness. Oh, what a rich, magnificent individualism!”
Yet, at the same time:
“The individualist does not live as a ‘friend’ in the ambiance that surrounds him. He concedes to society the least possible of himself, and tries to snatch what is in his reach, since he didn’t ask to be born, and, once he was submerged in the world, an irreparable act of authority was exercised over him, which excludes all possibilities of any bilateral contract being made.”
Here Armand conceives that life must contain personal risk for it is only in risk that one can experience reward; it is only with the possibility of loss that one may experience gain. Criticising social or communist conceptions of society, he states:
“The individual must conquer a full enjoyment of life by means of his own will and action. There, where the adventure has died, only what is regulated remains; there, where there are no more furtive hunters, remain the guards of the hunt. There, where risk is non-existent, there is nothing more than people carved according to a mold, people cut out of patterns. Robots, functionaries, managers. There, where the bohemian lifestyle disappears, there are only people whose lives are well organized and who are viciously cunning.”
“to refuse to take risks in one’s individual life is equivalent to making one’s self a robot. Without risks, life would end up reduced to a monotonous chain of known and precedented acts, whose repercussions would resemble hopeless litanies. That those who don’t see anything but a perfect producer and a perfect consumer in human beings, that the ‘hierarchizers’ continue with their annihilation of all risks, that’s OK. They’ve got character. The communists and the collectivists don’t know how to realize their ideal society without people who behave like robots.”
Here Armand has an ideal: that people live “like beings instead of like things”. He does not find this in civilization: “And this is what you call living? You, who are in love with the intensity of life, you, who adore ‘progress’, all of you, you who push forth the wheels of this blood-guzzling machine of a ‘civilization’ — I don’t call it living — I call it vegetating. I call it dying.” Armand conceives that modern society is more about “the equilibrium between production and consumption” than it is about “the concept of a union based on the sovereignty of the individual” and he regards that such “communitarians” as civilization creates can only find themselves “estranged” before such a new conception of human association. Armand asks, attempting to conceive of an “individualist city”:
“If the major worry of certain ‘unique beings’ on ‘our’ earth consists in living together without sacrificing any of their own individual autonomy, how can that problem be resolved? Liberty of solitude and liberty of company! Absolute respect for one’s person, for what belongs to someone and what depends on him or her, and the faithful respect of freely arrived-at conventions. These are some of the foundations on which the function and development of a city of this kind could base themselves, a city which would not have the pretence of being an example for anyone nor of prefiguring a future society, and less of resolving the social question. The objective would be simply to celebrate a permanent gathering in an established place, a place for friends, for individualist comrades, of ‘unique beings’ linked together by merit of similar thoughts, by a shared disdain for hypocrisy, two-facedness, social, moral, or intellectual prejudice, or anything else that makes the social environment a residence for dementia and an asylum of incoherence.”
Armand refers to this as “to live for the sake of living”, saying:
“To live for living’s sake, without oppressing others, without stepping on the aspirations or feelings of others, without dominating. Free beings, who resist with all their forces the tyranny of One Sovereign as much as they resist the suction of the multitudes. To live, not for Propaganda nor for the Cause, nor for the Future Society, since all these things are contained within Life, but only for everyone to live, in freedom, their own life. Neither bosses, nor equals, nor servants — these are the conditions in which we want to ‘live for the sake of living’.”
Yet this is also “the happiness of living” where “Life is beautiful for whoever goes beyond the borders of conventional existence, whoever evades the hell of industrialism and commercialism, whoever rejects the stink of the alleys and taverns. Life is beautiful for whoever constructs it without care for the restrictions of respectability, of the fear of ‘what they’ll say’ or of the gossips.” “A reasonable being”, claims Armand, “utilises”. “’Utilize one’s own passions”’yes, but for whose benefit? For one’s own benefit, to make one’s self someone ‘more alive’, that is, more open to the multiple sensations that life offers.” Yet here conceptions of what the human being even is, and so what the consequences of that should be, play a part:
“I do not deny that people are nothing but an appearance, an aspect or a momentary state of matter, a passage, a bridge, a relativity. I do not ignore that the I is nothing, in the end, but the sum of the flesh, bones, muscles, and diverse organs contained in a kind of sack called ‘skin’. In other words, that it is in this form that life for the individual being manifests itself. I admit all this. But as long as this bridge, this passage, this stage, this moment lasts, as long as this particular relativity gifted with consciousness lasts, my reason, upheld by scientific experience, and my feelings, guided by instinct, find it to be natural that this particular composite of aggregates would try to get the best out of all the faculties it possesses.”
Consequently, “The true enjoyment of life is a question of capacity, of attitude, of one’s personal conception of it” and “Life can only be beautiful for those who take upon themselves the desire to live their own lives.” We might then say that Armand concludes that, “Anarchist individualism presents no project, and instead proposes an ambiance in which the individual has precedence over the human mass. It is a new orientation of thought and sensibility more than the fictitious future construction of a new social order” and, as a consequence, “It is necessary, then, to start with the individual. This notion should be propagated from person to person — it is criminal to force someone to react in a different way than that which he or she feels to be useful, advantageous, or agreeable to his or her own life, his or her own growth, and his or her own happiness.” Armand was one who believed that “anarchism is the philosophy of anti-authoritarianism“ and so, for him, “Anarchist individualism is, as such, a practical conception of this philosophy, and it entreats every individual to seek out and discover in practice, in everyday life, his or her own theory.” Put simply, in Armand’s own words, then, such an anarchism “declares that the basis for all collectivities, for all societies, for all ethnic, territorial, economic, intellectual, moral, and religious entities is found in the individual. Without the individual none of the above would exist.”
Renzo Novatore was another who took Stirner and Nietzsche very seriously, making “the creative nothing” and “the Overhuman” explicit aspects of his personality and purpose. Believing absolutely that a communist appreciation of anarchism meant fetters for the emancipated individual as much as capitalist society, and committing totally to a life “beyond good and evil”, he lived a life of illegalism, nihilism and iconoclasm before being gunned down by Italian police in a shoot out in 1922. Enzo Martucci was only still a teenager when this happened, only being born in 1904, yet he still recounts with the fervour of a religionist who saw an apparition from heaven, the few, brief occasions when he met and conversed with the fugitive Novatore in woods around his home.
Martucci begins his reminiscence of Novatore titled “On Renzo Novatore” with words of Novatore’s from 1920:
Martucci no doubt felt common cause with the older egoist as they had both had similar starts in life. Novatore would steal fruit and chickens and sell them to buy books which he would read under a tree near his home in avoidance of the work his parents wanted him to carry out. Martucci himself was a teen who, in his own words, “had run away from home and my studies, freeing myself from my bourgeois family, who had done everything they could to stop my anarchist activities. Passing through Saranza on my way to Milan, I stopped to get to know Novatore, having read his article ‘My Iconoclastic Individualism’. Renzo came at once to meet me together with another anarchist called Lucherini.” Martucci reports Novatore as the one who holds that, “I am with you in destroying the tyranny of existing society but when you have done this and begun to build anew, then I will oppose and go beyond you.” Novatore was one who believed that:
“Anarchy is not a social form, but a method of individuation. No society will concede to me more than a limited freedom and a well-being that it grants to each of its members. But I am not content with this and want more. I want all that I have the power to conquer. Every society seeks to confine me to the august limits of the permitted and the prohibited. But I do not acknowledge these limits, for nothing is forbidden and all is permitted to those who have the force and the valour.
Consequently, anarchy, which is the natural liberty of the individual freed from the odious yoke of spiritual and material rulers, is not the construction of a new and suffocating society. It is a decisive fight against all societies — christian, democratic, socialist, communist, etc., etc. Anarchism is the eternal struggle of a small minority of aristocratic outsiders against all societies which follow one another on the stage of history.”
Novatore, then, as I wrote in my section on him in the final chapter of A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection, conceded that society was inevitable. We might even say he found it necessary as the thing against which the individual must rebel; but he did not find it legitimate in any form. And neither does his colleague and successor, Martucci. Let us look, for example, at a couple of short pieces Martucci wrote, “In Praise of Chaos” and “Unbridled Freedom”.
Martucci seemingly writes “In praise of Chaos”, which appeared in the British egoist/anarchist Sidney Parker’s journal Minus One towards the end of his life, against the idea that “anarchism” has anything to do with “communism” [thus in open defiance of what had been the generally or majority accepted idea for around 100 years]. He begins:
“Libertarian communism is also known, particularly in Latin countries, by the name of ‘anarchist communism.’ It is not. On the contrary, the two words are a contradiction in terms. Communism signifies a social condition in which the means of production and all material goods belong to the mass of the people who identify themselves with the totality or majority of society. Everyone has their goods disposed of according to the way decided by those who govern and whose law all must obey.
Anarchy signifies the absence of government: that is to say, a state of things in which the individual is not held in obedience to anyone, lives as he pleases, and is limited only by the extent of his power. He uses moral and material goods in the particular manner he prefers without having to get the approval of his fellows.”
Straightaway here Martucci is quick to define anarchism as “the absence of government”: that is, ANY government. There are no anarchist institutions here as Bookchin would have wanted, no community assemblies, no means of communal administration, councils, committees: nothing. So there can be no “communist anarchism” for Martucci because “communism” itself is a kind of government. As he continues:
“Communism… even if it is not authoritarian and Marxist, but libertarian and Kropotkinist, would be a society in which the legislative and executive power would be exercised either by acephalous mass assemblies (Populism) or by delegates elected by the masses (democracy). Both would mean that the individual would always be governed by the many. And this would be a government worse than any other, whether by one or a few, because the mass is stupid, ferocious, tyrannical, and worse than the lowest individual.
How could libertarian communism be brought about? It could be by means of absolute conformism to the industrial-machinist society that man has already achieved. This would reduce all to a mechanical equality, feeling, thinking, and acting identically – in this way making control and repression by the State unnecessary. Then there would be a standardized anarchy.”
For the likes of Novatore and Martucci there could be nothing more incoherent, more perverse, than “standardized anarchy”. The very concept of anarchy in their minds never gets past the notion of a personally creative freedom unlimited by societal agents. It is autonomy, association and agency writ large. Thus:
“Libertarian communism is no more than a system of federalism and like all social systems would oppress the individual with moral and judicial restraints. Only the superficiality of a Proudhon could give such a system the name of ‘anarchy’ which, on the contrary, means the negation of all government by ideas or by men.
Anarchists are opposed to authority both from below and from above. They do not demand power for the masses, but seek to destroy all power and to decompose these masses into individuals who are masters of their own lives. Therefore anarchists are the most decisive enemies of all types of communism and those who profess to be communists or socialist cannot possibly be anarchists.
Anarchy is the aggregation of innumerable and varied forms of life lived in solitude or in free association. It is the totality of experiences of individual anarchists trying to find new ways of non-gregarious living. It is the contemporary and polychromatic presence of every diverse mode of realization used by free individuals capable of defending their own. It is the spontaneous development of natural beings.”
This, as you will see, is not at all compromising or equivocal. But, instead of being negative in its intent, it can become positive, such as when Martucci goes on to say that, “In substance anarchy would mean the victory of polymorphism, which is opposed to the monism of all social systems, including libertarian communism… In a free world there would always be struggle, which is indestructible because it is natural. But it would be a struggle between the approximately equal forces of men strengthened by naturalism.” Martucci thus conceives that, “Anarchy, then, is neither continual warfare which would weary everyone, nor social harmony which would weaken everyone if it were possible [which it is not, due to the diversity of individual types and their conflicting needs and aspirations].” Anarchy is here “eternal revolt of the individual against a stifling society”. How it differs in terms of organisation is described by Martucci in this way:
“Between association and organization there is the same difference as between a free union and marriage. The first I can dissolve when I wish, the second I cannot dissolve or dissolve only under conditions and with certain permissions.
It is not by organizing into parties and syndicates that one struggles for anarchy, nor by mass action which, as has been shown, overthrows one barracks only to create another. It is by the revolt of individuals alone or in small groups, who oppose society, impede its functioning and cause its disintegration.”
There is no “dual power” or “prefiguration” in any of this [although “mutual aid” is not ruled out, as an associative form of behaviour. It is just left to the desire of the individual. Associationists of this type did help each other but only as and when and how they chose to]. The issue is how one achieves the freedom that all anarchists alike claim to seek and aim to instantiate. “Unbridled Freedom” takes this theme up, beginning:
“Stirner and Nietzsche were undoubtedly right. It is not true that my freedom ends where that of others begins. By nature my freedom has its end where my strength stops…
It is useless to speak to people of renunciation, of morality, of duty, of honesty. It is stupid to want to constrain them, in the name of Christ or of humanity, not to step on each other’s toes. Instead one tells each of them: ‘You are strong. Harden your will. Compensate, by any means, for your deficiencies. Conserve your freedom. Defend it against anyone who wants to oppress you.’
And if every human being would follow this advice, tyranny would become impossible. I will even resist the one who is stronger than me. If I can’t do it by myself, I will seek the aid of my friends. If my might is lacking, I will replace it with cunning. And balance will arise spontaneously from the contrast.
In fact, the only cause of social imbalance is precisely the herd mentality that keeps slaves prone and resigned under the master’s whip.”
The charge here is quite specific: it is how humans choose to organise themselves that creates the conditions of their constraint, their un-freedom. Martucci is then saying that people have, as a mass, chosen their chains to some extent but not given individual, egoistic freedom the prominence in their social organisation that it deserves. People are then, in some respects, willing the lack of freedom they then protest. It is our “mentality” that is to blame. But the interesting thing here is that it is not only regular society, nor even communist anarchism, which is to blame. Enzo Martucci even takes the ethical egoist, Émile Armand, to task as well! Attacking Armand’s ideas of associative autonomy which obligate people to common tasks but require that they live up to their obligations so as not to injure those they have associated with [hinted at above but more fully fleshed out in my ethics chapter of A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection] Martucci says:
“Émile Armand frees the individual from the state but subordinates him more strictly to society. For him, in fact, I cannot revoke the social contract when I want, but must receive the consent of my co-associates in order to release myself from the links of the association. If others don’t grant me such consent, I must remain with them even if this harms or offends me.”
Martucci argues that this is “societarian” and, in fact, too societarian. He continues:
“Just because yesterday, under the influence of certain feelings and certain needs, I wanted to associate, today, when I have other feelings and needs and want to get out of the association, I can no longer do so. I must thus remain chained to my desire of yesterday. Because yesterday I desired one way, today I cannot desire another way. But then I am a slave, deprived of spontaneity, dependent on the consent of the associates.
According to Armand, I cannot break relationships because I should care about the sorrow and harm that I will cause the others if I deprive them of my person. But the others don’t care about the sorrow and harm that they cause me by forcing me to remain in their company when I feel like going away. Thus, mutuality is lacking. And if I want to leave the association, I will go when I decide, so much the more if, in making the agreement to associate, I have communicated to the comrades that I will maintain my freedom to break with it at any time. In doing this, one does not deny that some societies might have long lives. But in this case, it is a feeling or an interest sensed by all that maintain the union. Not an ethical precept as Armand would like.”
This is a bind. Clearly, associations become impossible if no one can trust that anyone will adhere to any association that they may make. As of necessity, not every association can be for a few days or even a few hours. Some tasks that people may wish to take on together may require more protracted amounts of time or rely on people doing the part that they can play without the fear that they might wake up one day and decide they are done – thus ruining the reason for the association whole and entire for everyone involved. Therefore, as Armand would suggest, association implies ethical commitment and specifically the ethical commitment that one will finish what one commits oneself too [perhaps even by formal agreement], an action which respects both your own freedom and autonomy but also that of others who equally associated with you as you did with them. Martucci, however, seems not to see it like this and regards obligations, even ones that one can freely choose to put oneself under, as immediately revocable without any notice or care for the consequences at all. For Martucci “spontaneity” is a higher obligation. Thus:
“A freedom that, in all of its manifestations, is always controlled, reined in, led by reason, is not freedom. Because it lacks spontaneity. Thence, it lacks life. What is my aim? To destroy authority, to abolish the state, to establish freedom for everyone to live according to her nature as he sees and desires it. Does this aim frighten you, fine sirs? Well then, I have nothing to do. Like Renzo Novatore, I am beyond the arc. When no one commands me, I do what I want. I abandon myself to spontaneity or I resist it. I follow instincts or I rein them in with reason, at various times, according to which is stronger within me. In short, my life is varied and intense precisely because I don’t depend upon any rule… And all claim to catechize us, to lead us, to control us, to bridle us, offering us a prospect of earthly or supernatural punishments and rewards. But it is time for the free human being to rise up: the one who knows how to go against all priests and priestliness, beyond laws and religions, rules and morality. And who knows how to go further beyond. Still further beyond.”
Thus, Martucci sees in the Christian, the Kantian or in Armand that, “they all want to impose the rule that mutilates life and turns human beings into equal puppets that perpetually think and act in the same way.” He takes Stirner at his word, for example, in his essay “In Defence of Stirner” when he says:
“there is no contradiction if we call ourselves anarchists—that is, without government—and at the same time proclaim ourselves egoists. On the contrary, I want to be without government in order to be able to realize my egoism freely and completely, without being restrained and sanctioned by a sacred authority. But what is egoism? It is an incoercible need that impels every living creature to provide for itself, to satisfy and enjoy itself, to avoid pain and preserve its life. The individual has no other end than his own ego, he cannot get out of his skin and all that he does he does for himself. He does nothing for the sake of others. When I deprive myself of my last piece of bread and give it to my neighbour who is hungry, I do so because the pain in my generous heart at his torment is less bearable than my hunger. If his agony did not pain me I would not give him my bread. Therefore I am an egoist, as is the sadist across the street who enjoys torturing animals and beating his wife and children.”
He adds in this essay that: “I am for today. The sheep, even if they call themselves anarchists, long for tomorrow. And they die waiting for the sun of the future to rise. To the anti-Stirnerism of the bourgeoisie, the Marxists and the libertarian socialist [Bakuninists, Kropotkinists, Malatestaians] must be contrasted the pseudo—Stirnerism of John Henry Mackay and E. Armand.” And no doubt Voltairine de Cleyre and Emma Goldman would not have passed muster either [although Martucci’s reasoning was the same as Goldman’s above!]. Martucci, in fact, denies any egoism which seeks the aim of “social harmony” by means of egoism. Perhaps his idol, Novatore, even prophesied such ideas himself. In “Revolt of the Unique”, for example, Novatore writes:
“Every society you build will have its fringes, and on the fringes of every society, heroic and restless vagabonds will wander, with their wild and virgin thoughts, only able to live by preparing ever new and terrible outbreaks of rebellion! I shall be among them!.. And if materialistic ‘needs’ force me to go toward society, the ‘necessity’ to be free sets me against it and gives birth in me to a third ‘need.’ That of doing violence to it. Without scruples! This is my ‘anti-society’ perspective. And if we happened to speak of so-called ‘progress’ I could even affirm—without fear of going wrong—that the triumph and the glory of the human path are due only to the spirit that informs this anti-society principle of individualism.”
The consequences of this, and the necessity of egoism for anarchism as well as egoism’s ideas of anarchism, are what I hope to lay out in the following two chapters.
If one reads the very few pages of Nietzsche which are his total references to socialists and anarchists one comes to a singular conclusion [which those influenced by Nietzsche, such as Novatore and Martucci, seem to come to as well]. This is that communitarian projects on the left of politics are essentially secularized Christianity. This is as true of communitarian anarchist projects [such as those of Bakunin, Kropotkin or Malatesta] even as much as more simply socialist or social democratic ones. They are to Nietzsche, and to some egoists, all exactly the same in their consequences and effects, an “everyone should love one another” club that offers a future salvation in a Promised Land. And, in a nutshell, this is why anarchism needs egoism at all – because “secularized Christianity” is not “anarchy” at all.
This, of course, is a theoretical appreciation of the issues at hand. Others, like Goldman and de Cleyre above, were egoists out of impulse and temperament; they were those unwilling to be personally shackled and so made individual freedom and expression non-negotiable aspects of their anarchism, regardless of the means of their achieval. John Henry Mackay simply wanted to be left alone to be himself and struggled with the idea that some body called “the state”, which imagined to be the authentic voice of the mass, could interfere in his life and lifestyle. Émile Armand presumed to present a construction of society which put autonomy, education, ethics and association at its heart, which took freely entered into obligations seriously but which also took disassociation seriously too [you can’t have one without the other]. The egoist always starts from their own actuality and works out from there. Those who are egoist anarchists make the claim that anarchism must too if it wants to be something genuine that exists in the cause of real freedom rather than illusory emancipation arbitrated by yet more [supposedly benevolent] “organisation”.
So here we must get our egoist ducks in a row and show why and how egoism is an essential component of anything properly called anarchism. This, when thought about from an egoist perspective, should be an easy task for, when contrasted with the de-theologised Christianity that Nietzsche diagnosed as anarchism and socialism, it is easy to see the difference. This will be seen straightaway when we ask what egoism and anarchism share in common and the immediate answer of “freedom” comes back. But what is “freedom”? Different ideas of this have been given within anarchism, the main two being the freedom that I share with all others when they are all equally free [this is an anarchist communist idea that was shared by Bakunin and Malatesta, amongst others, which I discussed in chapter 7 of Being Human] and a more personal autonomy which I added to my list of “anarchist virtues and values” in the ethical chapter of A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection. Egoism, however, knows exactly what “freedom” is and it calls it “autonomy” and “agency”. It calls it my ability to express myself and to take actions on my own behalf, or on the behalf of others I choose to act on behalf of, from my own self. “Freedom”, for the egoist, is my might and my ability to make use of it. “Freedom” is the expression of my ownness and the will to obtain my property which might also be called the will to act in my own interests or the interests of those to whom I give my allegiance or by whom my allegiance is secured. “Freedom” is recognising no societal or organisational agency or institution which intends to interfere with these things. This, I suggest, should also be a basic component of any anarchism too.
This, of course, is to site the initial impetus and reason for anarchism in the egoistic individual, in the person who wants to be free. I believe in this whole-heartedly as the basis of anarchism and as the possibility for joining my interests with the interests of others that leads to an anarchist associationism. [I shall have more to say about this in the next chapter when I discuss egoist anarchist unions and associations as “relationships”.] As many egoists and some anarchists will say, it is the individual which is the concrete reality; the community, society or mass is an abstraction, nothing, in fact, but a concatenation of egoist interests brought into some form of cooperation or relationship, who knows for how long or on what changing terms? Freedom can then ONLY BE EXPERIENCED BY INDIVIDUALS; communities feel nothing for they are just ideas, a name for groups of real individual egos. Freedom, and the delight and satisfaction that it brings, can only be felt by real, individual people. Even in relationship, in fact, it is a matter of relationships of separate individuals. The relationship is a disposition of individuals towards each other and not an entity in itself.
The proper basis of anarchism then, as the egoist sees it, is the satisfaction of individuals in their specificity through the provision of the freedom to live their lives in peace and autonomy which utilises their agency to its fullest possibility. An egoist anarchism is, thus, about MY VALUES and my ability to instantiate them throughout the living of my life. This is what unites all those to whom I referred in the previous chapter: Tucker, de Cleyre, Goldman, Mackay, Armand, Novatore and Martucci. You will have noticed, I hope, that they weren’t all simply the same. This should not surprise you for people are not clones of each other and no egoist anarchism would want or require them to be. Egoist anarchism, in fact, requires SELF-ACTUALISED people who take responsibility for themselves and their lives to their fullest capacity. It teaches anarchism more widely that there is no anarchism where people don’t make their own freedom a matter of their concern in such a way as they are active in their pursuit of it. An egoist anarchism, springing from the insurrectionist insights of Max Stirner and the metaphors of willing your own life over and over again that come from Nietzsche, argues that MY freedom is MINE to give or to take away and that outsiders can never do so for it is not theirs to either give or take. The principle of OWNNESS, about which Stirner spoke, is very important here, a definitive egoist impetus to anarchism, the denial of authority to all others beyond ourselves BECAUSE WE WILL IT SO.
Anarchism, then, so the egoist charges, must always come from, and be based in, this individual reality. We are not, as anarchists, interested in serving abstract principles or living up to created and so artificial moral ideas. It comes from, and is about, the real experienced life of actual people. Any principles, desires, ideas or thoughts here should serve these real people and never the other way around. The same applies to any plans, organisations or institutions dreamed up from such things too. Real people should be everything, so the egoist anarchist maintains, and considers that anarchism, simply put, should too. This is why the egoist is much more likely to be an associationist than an institutionalist. It is not [or, rather, should not] be the job of anarchism to corral people anew along now imagined benevolent lines. Anarchism has, even by communist anarchists, always been understood to come from below. Its every association is a free, voluntary association. It can barely be organised; it should never be institutionalised. REAL PEOPLE ALWAYS COME FIRST. The initiative comes from how people wish to organise themselves – if they wish to organise themselves — and never from how someone or some idea wishes them to be organised. The egoist anarchist would, and should, never let any other kind of anarchist forget that. The egoist anarchist, as a self educated and self-actualised person with their own interests, bakes in this self-sufficiency and reluctance to be organised just as Max Stirner suggested the insurrectionist does not allow themselves to be organised.
This leads on to Stirner’s point that the anarchist should be a person of perpetual insurrection against the claims of hierarchical, societal order rather than a person with a utopian goal. Anarchists are not trying to get to the Promised Land. An anarchist, properly understood, should know that there are no Promised Lands but only the constant struggle against control and the revolt through which we express our freedom, autonomy and agency. The egoist teaches the anarchist to stop dreaming and to live in the present whilst wide awake, the only place any of us actually ever inhabits and also the only place where anything we do can be effective for change. The egoism is, in fact, a kind of existentialism and lends the existential to the nature of anarchism. We have responsibility, from moment to moment, for our lives and this is thrust upon us as a question we must continually answer. It is in this that our authenticity resides and our ability to demonstrate good faith towards ourselves exists. These, too, are ethical matters but not in any external sense; in terms of how we will see ourselves.
This leads to the major point about direct action, seen throughout everything I have written prior to this. If one were to ask how egoist anarchists proceed it would be “by direct action” for the egoist has no wish to rely on others and knows very well that that action will be best which people do authentically for themselves. This not only teaches people to rely on themselves but, consequently, to NOT rely on others and so to undermine all others who would presume to act on your behalf, or remove your agency to do so, as a matter of course and as a habit of life. Direct action is, then, both self-actualising [i.e. psychologically beneficial] and anti-authoritarian in one go. Anarchists as a group have also come to be those who recognise the necessity of direct action, however, for they have realised that political systems do not serve their interests, or those of the people more generally, and nor will they ever do so. It is important to see, however, that it is the egoist who leads and educates the anarchist here for the egoist teaches the anarchist that this must always be so to be an actualising, self-confident event become process. You will only ever get what you want, preserve your own interest and maintain your property if you act directly to do so yourself. To leave it to others or to expect others to do so is the most basic abdication of responsibility to yourself, a self-betrayal. As Voltairine de Cleyre showed earlier, however, almost everybody already acts directly in their own interest anyway and, in fact, can hardly help doing so; so it should not be too hard to make this a constant virtue of an egoist-educated anarchism.
In this respect egoism teaches anarchism that all it has are the people; in egoist terms, itself. But itself, as Stirner says, is nothing, a creative nothing. It is just this what I will to make myself become. It has no goal, no destination, no metanarrative; it desires to build no monument, no institution, no fixed system of organisation. In fact, it views systems generally in skeptical terms and regards systems, as Nietzsche did in Twilight of the Idols, as a “lack of integrity”, a lack of will to steer your own course. Egoism, in this respect, is then sharing the nothing you are. In this light, I propose that anarchism is sharing the nothing that you have – because it is enough, must be enough. Anarchism has never been based on rich patrons or large donations. It is not anything millionaires will ever lend their wealth and power to. It is the will and desire to live equally in freedom and to allow all people to share in freedom and expression and the resources that are naturally provided without undue interference from others. It aims at an arrangement of people and interests not prey to hierarchy and the centralised power it enables. But what better way to achieve this than the creative nothing, a network of nobodies sharing the nothing that they have yet, paradoxically, finding all they need? All we are is we ourselves, each unique. All we have is our ownness. In that ultimate ‘nothing decentralised’ is actually the anarchism anarchists say they’ve always wanted. It was never about creating an organisational something and always about an ad hoc decentralisation. And nothing.
A basic question for any anarchist is “What do you want?” Why are you an anarchist? Where are you going with it? Is it going anywhere – or does it just make you feel good? There is, of course, nothing wrong with doing something to feel good but here I more generally mean that we are back to the utopian scenarios and promised lands and far off anarchist heavens, bereft of their gods, but still with the stench of sacred places in the air. Some anarchist, we might wager, has been wafting the anarchist incense and saying their anarchist prayers that Kropotkin’s kingdom might come. Now you might be one of those, and they exist for they occasionally try to hold me to account for this, who say that real anarchists don’t believe things like this. But I would reply to them that if such anarchists, usually communist anarchists, don’t always exactly lay out the new heaven and the new earth like John the Revelator did at the end of the Book of Revelation, this is ultimately what it amounts too. Take, for example, the following from one of the communist anarchist icons, Errico Malatesta, writing about “Communism and Individualism” in 1926. Writing in response to an article on this subject by the anarchist historian, Max Nettlau, he writes:
“Nettlau is mistaken, in my view, to believe that the differences among anarchists who call themselves communists and those calling themselves individualists is really based on the idea that each has of economic life (production and distribution) in an anarchist society. After all, these are questions that concern a far distant future; and if it is true that the ideal, the ultimate goal, is the beacon that guides or should guide the conduct of men and women, it is even more true that what, more than anything else, determines agreement and disagreement is not what we want to do tomorrow, but what we do and want to do today.”
Does Malatesta not here imagine “a far distant future” and an “ultimate goal”? In fact, in this essay of Malatesta’s, although he imagines to describe the economic beliefs of “individualists”, he never once convinces me that he remotely understands the impulses and intuitions of the egoist. Such a person has no goals [save the satisfaction of their desires, the expression of their ownness and the creating of their will], passes no time dreaming of distant futures or works in any way towards ultimate goals. Malatesta, however, is often one who tries to modulate differences of anarchist opinion so that all can get along with each other [which is what this essay is about] and this is not a bad trait. Here he even says
“It is uncontested by anarchists that the real, concrete being, the being who has consciousness and feels, enjoys and suffers, is the individual and that Society, far from being superior to the individual, is that individual’s instrument and slave; must be no more than the union of associated men and women for the greater good of all. And from this point of view it could be said that we are all individualists”
and with this we cannot, of course, disagree. But we are always brought back to that “far distant future” and “ultimate goal”. “Solidarity and voluntary cooperation” must always be opposed to autonomy and agency as in when Malatesta, in this essay, claims that “The individualists give the greatest importance to an abstract concept of freedom and fail to take into account, or dwell on the fact that real, concrete freedom is the outcome of solidarity and voluntary cooperation.” Am I mistaken? Had not Stirner earlier claimed that the egoist’s freedom was the only real freedom and that a “social freedom” was an abstract? Did not Armand agree with this in the chapter before this one? If the individual is the “real, concrete being”, as Malatesta claims, and not society, then let us hear no talk of any “freedom” that is not someone’s possession and property! There is no “free society” but only free individuals in association and relationship with each other!
And this is the point here. If some anarchists have far distant futures and ultimate goals they dream about like evangelicals at a prayer meeting or Jehovah’s Witnesses with their lurid Watchtower covers, then how exactly are they proposing to bring them to pass? The egoist is invested in now and never looks beyond the now. The egoist imagines that THIS MOMENT is what matters, the creating of my will now is what’s important. But this kind of anarchist that Malatesta seems to be has dreams of a future and doesn’t that just seem as empty and hopeless as the Christian who dreams of Christ descending on the clouds of heaven? The egoist, then, is both more realistic and more focused on what matters – shaping today by means of their direct action — and expends no effort on fantasies of an “afterlife” foretold by anarchist saints who dreamed of perfect solidarity and cooperation. In the essay of Malatesta’s I have been referring to he wastes none of his words arguing that his two rival anarchist factions must find ways to work together in the present but, that being so, one wonders why he needs hopes and dreams beyond it. “Working together” is largely the anarchism he recommends more generally. If he achieves that then he has his destination right here, now, in the present. There won’t be any anarchist saints and, no doubt, precious few sacred spaces where one smells the scent of sweet anarchist incense in the air but it will be the only anarchism there ever was to find: real human beings working together in peace for common goals without authority or exploitation. There’s your “ultimate goal”, should you need one. Its not in heaven or the future but on earth right now in the associations of people who share their uniqueness and their ownness with each other.
Anarchism, so then this insight says, is something you do yourself as your existential experience of life whether you do it with others or not. Anarchism is not forced cooperation or put into operation only when you press the solidarity button. It can, of course, manifestly be seen in these things but they are not its mark and characteristic. Anarchism is personal and without the personal is shorn of everything that gives it life; it becomes mere performance. Anarchism is authentic WHEN IT IS MY OWN AND THE EXPRESSION OF MY OWN. It waits for no eschaton for it can be fully realised and actualised in and through me right now as the expression and actuality of my existence. It is, in this sense, a lot more real and realistic than utopias and promised lands as well as being a lot more in my power to effect. It is the realisation that FREEDOM IS ONLY GAINED BY ACTING AS IF YOU ARE FREE. Freedom is a doing and emancipation is made by rejecting your chains, moral and material, societal and ideological. Anarchism need not, and should not, be aimed at, or reserved for, a future remnant community of elevated souls who were clutched by the anarchist gods and salvaged for heaven. If anarchism does not mean the possibility and actuality of experienced freedom right now then of what use is it? If I cannot revolt against, combat and reject the forces of authority and exploitation right now and share what is mine with others who do the same right now then why bother with it? Egoism instructs us that the emancipation of the present moment is what matters not the long march to an artificially imagined communitarian safe space.
There is one more final point I would like to make before I finish this chapter and, for me, its really the one that seals the deal. You remember that earlier I pointed out that all my examples of “historical fragments” of egoism had been different? This leads to an anarchism of holism [there is a whole and we are all part of it whether we recognise it or not] and diversity. For a few years now I have thought of anarchism as diversity in action, as a “rainbow anarchy” of differences left to their own devices if you like. This comes about because, as no one doubts, everyone is different and anarchy is really then only the imagination to imagine this working WITHOUT it being a problem. [A big step, I know, but even I have my dreams.] As I have researched this book, reading egoist and communist anarchists and anarchists of no adjectives alike, all have really agreed that, when it comes down it, the ability to be diverse but for that not to cause a problem [otherwise known as “getting along”] is, in the end, the important thing. There is no doubt that, in terms of anarchism, this would always remain important. Recognising anarchism as a matter of holism and diversity then intersects with the claims of egoism serendipitously.
So, in this respect, egoism is an asset. Egoism also recognises that everyone is different, each is unique, each is their own. It is not bothered or perturbed by this for it sets its will only on the furtherance of its own. But, as Stirner was sure to make clear, being an egoist and being concentrated on your own does not mean you cannot be something else as well. Stirner, for example, was against “sacred communism” not being a communist. He was against sacred morality not having an ethical sensibility. This is why we can go from Emma Goldman, who assents to the scholarship and ideas of her friend Peter Kropotkin, to Novatore and Martucci who refuse anything but the satisfaction of their needs. [Martucci, in fact, even questions if we can rightly intervene in the lives who those who do themselves or others harm if its an honest expression of their desires. Their ability to maintain such desires in the face of those determined to stop them would presumably decide.] It is why Voltairine de Cleyre can keep her options open and why Benjamin Tucker can meld Proudhon, Stirner and his skeptical American ancestors like Thoreau who thought the less government the better. Egoism declares nothing out of bounds if it be an honest expression of your will and if you create it for yourself by your direct action. It asks only that you be honest to and with yourself in the maintenance of your uniqueness and your cause. An egoist anarchism is an anarchism of honest diversity carried out without apology, a network of interacting differences which together comprise the whole.
Egoism may seem quite selfish and, certainly, it has been presented by perhaps its most thoroughgoing proponents as a matter of “selfish interests”. Yet egoists are not solipsists and recognise that other people also exist and that, on occasion, it might even serve their interests to join forces with them. The egoist anarchist, in fact, makes the argument that it is this associationism which will lead to the anarchism that anarchists seek rather than through the deliberate manipulation and creation of organisations and institutions that many others imagine are necessary. Armand and Martucci, for example, in an early chapter were making this point quite openly besides the matter of Stirner’s “union of egoists”. But this leads me to thinking about anarchism, what it wants and how its meant to be achieved. I do this, of course, from an egoist perspective and, in my previous books, I have thought about this too but without being too explicit about where my thinking was leading. In this more openly egoistic context more suitable to the ideas I have come up with, it is now time to be plain and set my cards on the table. As against an anarchism of organisation and institution which many others have set out before — including the triumvirate of Bakunin, Kropotkin and Malatesta – I propose instead, thinking as an egoist anarchist, an anarchism of relationships.
Such an anarchism of relationships is a matter of forming or breaking associations and sees no real reason why we ever need go beyond that. [Thus, I am suggesting egoist anarchism is intuitively anti-organisational, anti-institutional, and does not insist on the authority or necessity of the group but rather on the integrity of the individual.] Such associations, which are always free and voluntary, may be more or less temporary – as those making the associations decide – but their basis is always the individuals’ desire to remain associated and so in relationship with the person or persons concerned. Earlier, I referred to Armand who was criticised by Martucci because he conceived of such free associations as ethical obligations and, for Martucci, this felt like binding people to relationships today which the individual might want to break tomorrow. But the fact is that the individual will always be able to break an association if they want to. The egoist insists on this as a principle even if it were not simply logically obvious. This is the case in Armand’s scenario as well. But Armand’s point is more the ethical one that if a person gets a reputation for making associations that they then fall short of or consistently break then their ethical reputation will be sullied and it is quite likely such people will find others less willing to associate themselves with such people to begin with. In other words, the free association is always free but there is an ethical context and consequence to how they are participated in. Those, like Armand, who care for such a reputation will practise their associations accordingly and perhaps even form stronger relationships with some than others; those, like Martucci, who care more strongly about their ability to remain free of obligations – even those entered into willingly by themselves – will pay less attention to the reputations they acquire with others.
Max Stirner’s term “Verein von Egoisten” was translated by Stephen Byington, Benjamin Tucker’s friend who first translated Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum into English for an American audience, as “union of egoists”. Translation is never an exact science and words have connotations in one language that they do not have in others. A “Verein” in Germany can be a sports team. It can be any informal club. “Verein” can be totally adequately translated into English with the word “association”: an association of egoists. People can be in clubs and in teams and in associations but they can also leave them if they are no longer willing to take part any more for they are themselves not necessary organisations but voluntary organisations. They only exist as long as people want them to. The point here that the “Verein von Egoisten” was meant to portray is the voluntary association or the association of volunteers. The impetus to take part in such a thing must come from the will of the individual and from nowhere else in an expression of something genuine.
Contrast this with the obligatory organisation of communist anarchists and Platformists who make of the organisation, or even the institution, something sacred. The egoist finds this something intolerable to even imagine and does not understand why their freedom depends on their being mandated to new forms of control at odds with their own will and interests. The egoist sees anarchism not in any formal or planned out form of organisation but only always in the free relationship of people as this seems best to them. To the organisationalist blinded by the idea of “order” this will seem like proposing that chaos is order: and this is exactly what the egoist is saying, and boldly so. For is that not exactly how the world’s ecosystems work anyway? It that not how the universe works, devoid of a mediating ethos or divine guiding hand? Egoists ask only that you grant to human relationships and interactions that which you have granted to the natural world: the freedom to be what it will be and go where it will go and amount to what it amounts to.
The egoist, then, sees in the organisationalist and the institutionalist someone who is contaminated with the dreaded disease “authority” that anarchists were supposed to be shedding themselves of. I referred to this historically in my chapter on anarchist organisation in A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection. The egoist prefers affinity, the association based on a task desirable to multiple people in common which serves all their purposes to achieve, or the cultivating of mutually beneficial relationships which further common interests as their means of interpersonal human intercourse and sees no reason to inaugurate bodies invested with authority which obligate or mandate people to things. The egoist is not interested in setting up “anarchist society” as a monolithic thing but is involved with the furtherance of their own interest in the most local and immediate way possible. This, if we would refer to the “scientific communism” of someone like Kropotkin, is exactly what all the animal societies he observed to help him write Mutual Aid were doing for animals do not have grandiose notions of what kind of society they want to live in; they just serve their own interests, and those of whom they associate with, and a bigger picture emerges by the interaction of all these interests all by itself without any guiding hand whatsoever. We human beings, in fact, are already a part of this larger picture – if too often infected with the idea that, for it to work, it must be coerced and controlled. I refute the idea that this is the case. In fact, trying to control the natural interactions of things has now resulted in the whole that is nature being threatened with ecological apocalypse. Shouldn’t we take the warning?
So the egoist notion, which the organisational and institutional authoritarian will always be blind to, is actually only an anarchist verity seen through to the end: that it is only freedom which begets freedom and that freedom cannot be organised, controlled or coerced. Freedom, in this holistic sense, is the emerging character of a situation in which free beings engage in their own diverse interests without any coercion, guidance or gerrymandering whatsoever. Freedom will not be organised; freedom is not something to be institutionalised. Freedom, in fact, must refuse any attempt to classify, control or corral it. This is why, as in my last chapter, freedom, and so anarchy, are not secularised Christianity, a new mapped out organisation of human society in line with fixed principles [which, of course, must then be “from above”]. Freedom is just free, uncoerced, decentralised, not moralised, beyond ability to control. Only in this way can people will their own lives — which is something anarchy is supposed to be entirely about. The egoist anarchist insists this be done without compromise and they see the organisationalist and the institutionalist as compromisers – if not as betrayers of the idea and actuality of freedom and of anarchy itself. The egoist sees freedom in a network of relationships and as intercourse between nodes on a network, intermittent and only intercoursing as each node deems necessary. The egoist imagines that an anarchist, one “without government”, takes that label seriously and sees it through to the end, any subsequent association or relationship always initiating in the will of the individual and never being exploited or manipulated from outside or from above. We do not need to create an “organisation” or an “institution” for the world is already a community of people and things. The egoist anarchist simply says we should leave it alone to forge its own way and find its own connections: and that it calls “anarchy”.
So this is what I take Emma Goldman to be talking about, for example, when, discussing anarchafeminist issues, she wants liberty for women to decide who they shall love or even how many or how frequently they shall love. She gives the responsibility to the individual woman, not to her husband or morality or the church or the state or the people’s anarchist community council. Emma Goldman imagines that the most intimate affairs of the heart are matters for individuals to decide what their best interests are and how they are best served. Even in discussing an anarchist communist organisation of society it is assumed by her that the will for this comes from each individual taking part and that, that will being lacking, such a person has the integrity to refuse and make their own way by some other means without prejudice. Every egoist thinks the same thing and must think the same thing for the egoist is convinced that the only coherent construction of anarchism, from the bottom up, begins and ends with the individual will and the pursuance of their own interests. Many anarchist communists, of course, concede this individual freedom too and acknowledge the importance of personal freedom. We saw that Malatesta, for instance, did so above. But, that being so, the egoist insists that such values must be seen through to the end lest anarchism be one thing in theory and another thing in practice. It would be no sort of “anarchist society” that could only exist be being coerced. Rather, and on the contrary, that society will be most anarchist when it is least coerced or, better, when, as in nature, it is not coerced at all. This then comes close to the Daoist verity that, doing nothing, nothing is left undone.
Perhaps I could extrapolate this further and go into any number of worked examples or paw over numerous anarchistic workings out of this in interaction with anarchists of the past. The fact remains, however, that this is the basics and I would expect that any anarchist worth their salt could begin unravelling the consequences of this in any number of possible or actual real life situations. Not all anarchists do this adequately enough. They assume, for example, the family unit or that people must do work through which they “earn their living” but a living should not have to be “earned”! It should simply be lived! And an anarchist should not ask for permission to live like this: they should just go on and do it to the best of their ability [which is their might]. Thinking of anarchism as a matter of relationships and not organisations [which, of course does not mean “without organisation” for relationships can be organised to achieve some task all are associated to achieve] is, perhaps, a change of thinking which anarchists need to accomplish and so it serves as a reminder that anarchism is not supposed to take the values and standards of now and make them more acceptable to people of anarchist principles. Anarchism, and so anarchist thinking, is a “not-now”, an exchange of one set of values for a completely different set: anarchism is completely other by the standards of today. And it must be for today works on the basis of control where an anarchist existence today cannot. So anarchism will then always be about CHANGING YOUR VALUES and without this change of values it is unimaginable that it could ever take place.
Anarchism, then, is about the dissolution of family, the destruction of “work”, the abolition of state schooling, the dismantling of the apparatus of control. It is about self-responsibility, self-education, self-actualisation. It is about serving your interests, making a community of those who find pleasure in their own satisfaction. None of this abolishes working with others, finding joy in their company, working together on things which make multiple people happy, the holistic reality of “community”. The egoist is not opposed to mutual aid or holding things in common [these two are things, in fact, which the egoist who is writing this has written at length about for themselves in other books]. The egoist is not one who would necessarily find living in a commune intolerable – provided, that is, the commune is not held as sacred and the egoist must sacrifice their concrete interests for its abstract interests. The egoist says that “union” is best which is the sum of individual wills and that, if such wills not be aligned, then it is better that they serve their interests as they will, building relationships and associations as they desire, rather than being forced to associate or being forced to relate. That the egoist must institute an insurrection against and that, so the egoist says, is not anarchy and so the anarchist must be called to arms against it too.
Anarchism, then, is a matter of free associations and voluntary relationships. Organisations and institutions be damned!
“Anarchy is not a social form, but a method of individualization. No society will concede to me more than a limited freedom and a well-being that it grants to each of its members. But I am not content with this and want more. I want all that I have the power to conquer. Every society seeks to confine me to the august limits of the permitted and the prohibited. But I do not acknowledge these limits, for nothing is forbidden and all is permitted to those who have the force and the valour. Consequently, anarchy, which is the natural liberty of the individual freed from the odious yoke of spiritual and material rulers, is not the construction of a new and suffocating society. It is a decisive fight against all societies — christian, democratic, socialist, communist, etc., etc. Anarchism is the eternal struggle of a small minority of aristocratic outsiders against all societies which follow one another on the stage of history.” — Renzo Novatore
“… the only desirable condition of society is one in which no one is compelled to accept an arrangement to which he has not consented.” — Voltairine de Cleyre
“We anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves.” — Errico Malatesta
“Every man is an egoist; anyone ceasing to be such becomes an object. Anyone claiming that he need not be so, is a thief… Up to now you have believed in the existence of tyrants. Well, you were mistaken. There are only slaves. Where none obeys, none commands.” — Anselme Bellegarrigue
“Oh!… Why wasn’t I born on a pirate ship, lost on the endless ocean, in the midst of a handful of rugged, brave men who furiously climbed aboard, singing the wild song of destruction and death? Why wasn’t I born in the boundless grasslands of South America, among free, fierce gauchos, who tame the fiery colt with the “lasso” and fearlessly attack the terrible jaguar?… Why? Why? The children of the night, my brothers, impatient with every law and all control, would have included me. These people, spirits thirsty for freedom and the infinite, would have known how to read the great book that is in my minds, an utterly marvellous poem of pain and conflict, of sublime aspirations and impossible dreams… My intellectual heritage would have been their intangible treasure, and at the clear fount of my satanic pride and eternal rebellion, they would have fortified their strength, already violently shaken by a thousand hurricanes. Instead, I was fatally born in the midst of the nauseating herd of slaves who lie in the filthy slime where the imperial ruling lie and hypocrisy exchange the kiss of brotherhood with cowardice. I was born into civilized society, and the priest, the judge, the moralist and the cop have tried to weigh me down with chains and transform my organism, exuberant with vitality and energy, into an unconscious and automatic machine for which only one word was supposed to exist: Obey. They wanted to kill me!… And when I rose in the violence of irresistible force and wild shouted my ‘no,’ the idiotic herd, amid the splashing of stinking slime, launched its vacuous insults.
Now, I laugh… The crowd is unable to understand certain spiritual depths, and doesn’t have a sharp enough gaze to penetrate the hidden recesses of my heart… You curse me, you curse me still, as now, stained with sloth, for sixty centuries, you consume the ritual of the lie; you curse me, applauding your laws and your idols… I will always cast the red flowers of my contempt in your face.” — Enzo Martucci
“Individualist anarchists do not want to be plus ones in the statistical millions of obedient citizens. They have counted themselves out from the herd and their anarchy exists in their strength to affirm themselves. They have severed their anarchism from all democratic and socialist myths. To hell with ‘the people want this’ or ‘the workers want that!’ Let us live our own lives, follow our own interests, and be ourselves. The individualist will go his own way, even if he must go it alone. He would not be much of an individual if he didn’t.” — Sidney E. Parker
“It is an idea presupposing a power that lays down a rule or law to which the individual owes respect and obedience. God is represented as the supreme egoist. My wishes must yield to his. This is God’s justice or law. Those who believe in God fear and obey — not I. Then comes society’s justice. ‘Society’, the egoist, orders what it wills. I must sacrifice my wishes to the family, to the State, to humanity. If the power exists and knows how to subject me, I must — not otherwise.
Shall I waste my life in setting up and obeying an idea that I must treat all men alike? They are not alike — not equally able or willing to sustain me in return. Society is the natural state of man, and holds each individual to “duties” so long as it can, or till he refuses to obey. When he comes to full consciousness, he sets up as his own master, and thereafter, if there be any use for the word justice, it must mean the rules for a union of egoists with benefits to at least balance duties; and these duties are simply matter of contract. The egoist will act as they see fit or prudent towards natural society.” — James L. Walker
“Revolution and insurrection must not be looked upon as synonymous. The former consists in an overturning of conditions, of the established condition or status, the state or society, and is accordingly a political or social act; the latter has indeed for its unavoidable consequence a transformation of circumstances, yet does not start from it but from men’s discontent with themselves, is not an armed rising, but a rising of individuals, a getting up, without regard to the arrangements that spring from it. The revolution aimed at new arrangements; insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and sets no glittering hopes on ‘institutions’. It is not a fight against the established, since, if it prospers, the established collapses of itself; it is only a working forth of me out of the established. If I leave the established, it is dead and passes into decay. Now, as my object is not the overthrow of an established order but my elevation above it, my purpose and deed are not a political or social but (as directed toward myself and my ownness alone) an egoistic purpose and deed.
The revolution commands one to make arrangements, the insurrection demands that he rise or exalt himself. What constitution was to be chosen, this question busied the revolutionary heads, and the whole political period foams with constitutional fights and constitutional questions, as the social talents too were uncommonly inventive in societary arrangements. The insurrectionist strives to become constitutionless.” — Max Stirner
“When I say I am an anarchist, I simply mean that, to the extent that I have the power, I refuse to let anyone or anything dominate me. In other words, I refuse to accept the power of any authority, any institution, any existing or would-be ruler, any ruler, etc., over me. This is why I also refuse to choose between potential rulers and rules. Doing so would express a willingness to give up my power to create my life, a willingness to surrender this power to others, and I am not willing to do this. I also am not willing to even temporarily hand my power over to any authority or institution to act for me. This is why I won’t turn to cops or courts to deal with any problem or conflict in my life. To the extent of my power, I avoid dealing with these institutions altogether.” — Wolfi Landstreicher
“The individualist anarchists in the meaning of the UNIQUE (of Stirner’s The Ego and His Own) do advocate a ‘society without coercion’. This implies the following demands, which are unqualified and without reservations. It is self-evident that these demands are to be realized, completely or partly, as far as is possible. Individualists of our kind recognize every society as a ‘Society without Coercion’ in which the State and any other aggressive power is eliminated, in which there is no longer any domination of man over man or over a sphere of society (and vice versa) and in which an exploitation of man by man or of man through social institutions (and vice versa) is impossible. Thereupon the following demands arise:
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to decide for oneself in all respects.
This means that every unit in society moves according to its own discretion, develops itself, gathers experiences in accordance with its own preferences, corresponding to its talents, reasoning and personal resolutions. In short, the individual is responsible only to himself (or to those to whom he has obliged himself) for all his actions. This freedom finds its limits where the equal freedom of others begins and the danger arises that others are harmed.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to chose and practise one’s profession and to utter one’s opinion orally and in writing, publicly and privately.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to join any association that has definite and predetermined purposes or any other association of any kind.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to decide for oneself either for or against any expression of solidarity, for and against any contractual obligation of whatever kind and in whatever sphere of human activity and without regard to its aims and its duration. Likewise, the right to freely decide upon withdrawal from a contractual situation, within the framework of clearly predetermined contractual conditions. One precondition is that, in case a contract offer is declined or a contract is dissolved, the dissenters are not penalized or maligned. But when a contract is dissolved then neither disadvantages nor any harm must arise for the partner that would be contrary to the form and contents of the contract.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for producers and consumers and other partners to negotiate, whether alone or in groups. Full and unrestricted right, regardless of the sphere of activities and their purpose, to select the persons and societies of one’s confidence and to authorize them, especially teachers, instructors, physicians, lawyers and arbitrators.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to determine and change the value or price of any goods, the own products or consumer goods, of whatever kind, according to one’s own discretion. Likewise untouchable is the right to negotiate in this respect, to use an arbitrator or to do without any determination of values.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for every individual and every association or group to use any money that applies as a means of exchange to themselves, for their goods and service exchanges, to issue it themselves or to accept that issued by others, provided that this is always done by agreement and not under any monopolistic coercion. The same applies to the so-called labour bonds and goods warrants and similar certificates, to bills, letters of credit etc., whether they are negotiable or not. Consequently, there is a definite right to utilize any voluntarily recognized means of payment for all economic transactions, as long as it is not subjected to any legal tender. With this is meant the unrestricted right to utilize any other kind of means of exchange, provided that an acceptor is found who decides for it without any coercion.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for individuals and groups, competing for any job or contract, provided that the applicants are not prevented from fully informing and improving themselves. Likewise untouchable are the rights to act creatively in accordance with one’s desires, to move and settle freely and to advertise one’s own cause or services.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to exhibit and realize in any sphere of culture and economics one’s opinions or services. There is no other limitation upon this than the condition that nothing may be forced upon others. They may freely decline whatever does not appeal to them. Under this condition the unrestricted right to freedom of expression applies and the right to propagate and teach a theory and to undertake experiments and gather experiences, even when this applies to economic, philosophic, scientific, religious, educational, artistic or any other spheres of activity.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to live from the returns of one’s own services or production, even alone, outside of any group or community or society itself, at one’s own risk. Likewise unrestricted is the right to seek to live together with a partner, in a family, in a patriarchal or matriarchal society, in free associations and communes, in close ideological association of whatever kind.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to decide for oneself to join any association or league whose libertarian aims embrace any kind of human activity or search for knowledge. This applies to associations for any economic, intellectual, ethical, emotional recreational or other purpose and, especially for all spheres of production, consumption, trade, communication, insurance against all possible risks, educational methods and systems, to the utilization of scientific discoveries and of naturally or artificially produced energies.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to secede from any kind of association, but in accordance with the principles and clauses agreed upon when it was established.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for any association, league, cooperative etc. to organize itself in a way that suits its members best. This includes the right to order internal affairs at one’s own discretion, in accordance with an internal constitution that applies only to the voluntary members.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to settle upon and utilize for oneself any non-inhabited and not claimed locality or real estate, provided that thereby the equal right of others is not infringed and no one else is exploited thereby. Under this condition the individual has an incontestable right to possess his means of production (tradesman’s tools, instruments, machines, land, minerals etc.). This requires also the freedom to dispose oneself over the returns from or product of one’s own labour — to the extent that no domination over or exploitation of others is involved. Moreover, the individual shall be guaranteed the unrestricted right to exchange or dispose of his products upon the market or in any other way, regardless whether he does so for payment or under any other condition. Any association or community has the equal right to apply within the own organization the principles here explained or similar ones.
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for each individual and, likewise, for any member of an organized society, to dispose freely over his personal property, i.e. over the utilization rights and the returns that he receives in exchange for his personal labour services and which assure him his support, his accommodation (and, especially for the individual, the means of production).
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to express affection for others and preference for anything, according to one’s own discretion, provided that neither any deception or any fraud is associated with this and, most importantly, no one is harmed, restricted or in any way reduced thereby.
DEMANDS THAT APPLY ESPECIALLY TO WOMEN AND MOTHERS: FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for every woman, whether alone or in partnership, to determine for herself her readiness to become a mother. A child shall remain only as long under supervision or custody until it has reached an age in which it can self-responsibly engage in contracts and associations. This applies also to the guardianship for a child. The mother possesses priority in this — which she may completely or partly transfer to another person or institution.
DEMANDS APPLYING ESPECIALLY TO CHILDREN: FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for the child, boy or girl, to demand an alteration or complete change in its wardship condition. The child may ask for an early declaration that it is of full legal age or for the clarification of any other problem. In this case the child has the right to arbitration and the right to chose the arbitrator or at least one of the arbitrators.” — Émile Armand
“As to methods. Anarchism is not, as some may suppose, a theory of the future to be realized through divine inspiration. It is a living force in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions. The methods of Anarchism therefore do not comprise an iron-clad program to be carried out under all circumstances. Methods must grow out of the economic needs of each place and clime, and of the intellectual and temperamental requirements of the individual. The serene, calm character of a Tolstoy will wish different methods for social reconstruction than the intense, overflowing personality of a Michael Bakunin or a Peter Kropotkin. Equally so it must be apparent that the economic and political needs of Russia will dictate more drastic measures than would England or America. Anarchism does not stand for military drill and uniformity; it does, however, stand for the spirit of revolt, in whatever form, against everything that hinders human growth. All Anarchists agree in that, as they also agree in their opposition to the political machinery as a means of bringing about the great social change.” — Emma Goldman
“Among the revolutionaries I met, for his global importance, I will cite prince Kropotkin, author of the most wonderful work of scientific imagination and erudition that has recently been published. It is entitled Mutual Aid.
Also, Elisée Reclus, who explored the eastern regions of the Guajira Peninsula, Colombia, about which he wrote a work entitled My Explorations in America. Reading this book instilled in many Spanish workers the idea of coming to settle in Colombia. They gave up on their desires when they learned of Reyes’ decree prohibiting individuals of a radical mind from entering the country.
I met Grave, author of The Moribund Society and Anarchy.
I met Malato, author of The Philosophy of Anarchism.
I met Sébastien Faure, Leverine, and Tanvión.
I met Lerroux and Ferrer, whose letters I showed to Dr. José Francisco Insignares on January 25,1908 and in which they said that the Spanish government was obligated to expel me by demand of the Colombian government.
I met Gori and Malatesta, Ferri and Furati.
But realize that with almost all of these great revolutionaries I had a clear disagreement.
“I am not an anarchist,” I told Kropotkin, “I am I. I do not abandon one religion for another, one party for another, one sacrifice for another. I am a freed, egoist spirit. I do as I feel. I have no cause but my own.”
And Malato responded: “Biófilo Panclasta is not an anarchist, but rather a fierce personalist who, not wanting to be dominated by anyone, wants to dominate everyone.”
One night, December 7th, 1907, I was invited by the “Social Studies” group to refute a conference entitled “Anarchy Against Life” given by Bestraud. The orator expounded the same ideas that form my philosophical mentality. I passed the right to speak to Matta and I waited… Once he was finished, I said: “None of you knows what anarchism is; those of you that call yourselves anarchists, are not, and those that don’t, are.” When I left I was sent right to jail.
And everyone was displeased with me because I have the courage to not adapt to any idea or principle. At most I adopt it.
And do not believe that Europe is a global revolutionary focal point. No sir. Argentina: here’s the nation of outlaws.” — Biófilo Panclasta
“Individualist! There is a misunderstood name…
One affects nearly always to believe that the individualist is a monster of egotism and wickedness; that he possesses all the faults; that he thinks of nothing but his personal satisfaction and that he is ready to wipe out the whole world in order to live better. This is not only false, but it is stupid. In effect, if the individualist would oppress and exploit his fellows he would not urge them to rebel . Is not the best means of ensuring servitude to use pompous and empty words?
When we say to the individual: be yourself, think for yourself, live for yourself, do not let yourself be duped, robbed and massacred by and for others, far from wanting to deceive those who listen to us, we show them, on the contrary, the only means by which they can never be deceived by no matter whom. We do not want to be tyrannized, but we do not want to be tyrants either. We are against all parties, because they all serve the privileges and interests of a handful of intriguers. We are against all evangels and creeds, because they rape the intelligence and atrophy the will. We are for free examination, independent criticism, and individual initiative. At the same time we reject the patriotic lie, religious dupery, capitalist resignation, socialist regimentation, and the communist chimera.
Only the individual counts. He alone feels, vibrates, suffers. All the rest is secondary to him. Society is always the enemy of the individual. We rebel against moral and material servitude, against the customs, the ‘everybody does it’ of imbecilic public opinion. We want to live, love, work in our own way as we please, without depending on anyone and we have the right because we do not inconvenience the tastes and aspirations of our neighbour. The individualist does not want to live like a beast in the country of the bourgeois. France and Germany are nothing to him.
He does not want to spend his energies enriching a boss. He does not want to disappear in the communist herd and be imprisoned by the vexations of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’ All dictatorships revolt us! We are for complete liberty of the individual, because there is no happiness in submission. That is why we fight. The bourgeois, insolent parasite and gross possessor, repels us. But the worker disgusts us as well for he is the same as the bourgeois. And often, when he is successful, he exceeds him in greediness. We do not look to the mockery of the vote, nor count on the great revolution of the ignorant mass.
It is by education and individual action that we would transform the social milieu and free our lives as much as possible. If you would be a man and live consciously, leave all the parties, all the sects, and liberate yourself, free yourself, educate yourself, react with all your force against stupidity, without awaiting the orders of anyone. Put your acts in
accord with your ideas: it is by this that one recognizes the libertarian individualist and rebel.” — The “Reveil De L’Eschlave” Group of Paris
Max Stirner’s The Unique and Its Property is, of course, essential as is Stirner’s Critics which is responses to critics. [Both are on The Anarchist Library. The translation by Wolfi Landstreicher of the former is more modern and sympathetic to the German text.]
Nietzsche must eventually be grappled with but is not for philosophical beginners.
Enemies of Society: an anthology of individualist & egoist thought by Ardent Press gives first hand texts and summaries of egoists’ lives and thought [on].
The works of Renzo Novatore, Enzo Martucci and Émile Armand are generally recommended [several of all on The Anarchist Library].
The works of Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre on The Anarchist Library [of which there are lots of both] showcase those with a concern for individual integrity whilst interacting with anarchism more widely — as well as other social issues.
Finally, Anselme Bellegarrigue’s Anarchy, A Journal of Order [on The Anarchist Library] gives an egoist take on society whilst Stirner was still alive.


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