Individualist Anarchism - Overview


Among the early influences on individualist anarchism were William Godwin, Henry David Thoreau (transcendentalism), Josiah Warren ("sovereignty of the individual"), Lysander Spooner ("natural law"), Pierre Joseph Proudhon (mutualism), Anselme Bellegarrigue, Herbert Spencer ("law of equal liberty"), and Max Stirner (egoism).

Individualist anarchism of different kinds have a few things in common. These are:

1. The concentration on the individual and his/her will in preference to any construction such as morality, ideology, social custom, religion, metaphysics, ideas or the will of others.

2. The rejection of or reservations about the idea of revolution, seeing it as a time of mass uprising which could bring about new hierarchies. Instead they favor more evolutionary methods of bringing about anarchy through alternative experiences and experiments and education which could be brought about today. This is also because it is not seen as desirable for individuals to wait for revolution to start experiencing alternative experiences outside what is offered in the current social system.

3. The view that relationships with other persons or things can be in one's own interest only and can be as transitory and without compromises as desired since in individualist anarchism sacrifice is usually rejected. In this way, Max Stirner recommended associations of egoists. Individual experience and exploration therefore is emphasized.

The egoist form of individualist anarchism, derived from the philosophy of Max Stirner, supports the individual doing exactly what he pleases – taking no notice of God, state, or moral rules. To Stirner, rights were spooks in the mind, and he held that society does not exist but "the individuals are its reality"– he supported property by force of might rather than moral right. Stirner advocated self-assertion and foresaw "associations of egoists" drawn together by respect for each other's ruthlessness.

For American anarchist historian Eunice Minette Schuster, american individualist anarchism "stresses the isolation of the individual—his right to his own tools, his mind, his body, and to the products of his labor. To the artist who embraces this philosophy it is "aesthetic" anarchism, to the reformer, ethical anarchism, to the independent mechanic, economic anarchism. The former is concerned with philosophy, the latter with practical demonstration. The economic anarchist is concerned with constructing a society on the basis of anarchism. Economically he sees no harm whatever in the private possession of what the individual produces by his own labor, but only so much and no more. The aesthetic and ethical type found expression in the transcendentalism, humanitarianism, and romanticism of the first part of the nineteenth century, the economic type in the pioneer life of the West during the same period, but more favorably after the Civil War." It is for this reason that it has been suggested that in order to understand American individualist anarchism one must take into account "the social context of their ideas, namely the transformation of America from a pre-capitalist to a capitalist society...the non-capitalist nature of the early U.S. can be seen from the early dominance of self-employment (artisan and peasant production). At the beginning of the 19th century, around 80% of the working (non-slave) male population were self-employed. The great majority of Americans during this time were farmers working their own land, primarily for their own needs." and so "Individualist anarchism is clearly a form of artisanal socialism... while communist anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism are forms of industrial (or proletarian) socialism."

In European individualist anarchism a different social context helped the rise of European individualist illegalism and as such "The illegalists were proletarians who had nothing to sell but their labour power, and nothing to discard but their dignity; if they disdained waged-work, it was because of its compulsive nature. If they turned to illegality it was due to the fact that honest toil only benefited the employers and often entailed a complete loss of dignity, while any complaints resulted in the sack; to avoid starvation through lack of work it was necessary to beg or steal, and to avoid conscription into the army many of them had to go on the run." And so a European tendency of individualist anarchism advocated violent individual acts of individual reclamation, propaganda by the deed and criticism of organization. Such individualist anarchist tendencies include French illegalism and Italian anti-organizational insurrectionarism. Bookchin reports that at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th "it was in times of severe social repression and deadening social quiescence that individualist anarchists came to the foreground of libertarian activity – and then primarily as terrorists. In France, Spain, and the United States, individualistic anarchists committed acts of terrorism that gave anarchism its reputation as a violently sinister conspiracy.".

Another important tendency within individualist anarchist currents emphasizes individual subjective exploration and defiance of social conventions. Individualist anarchist philosophy attracted "amongst artists, intellectuals and the well-read, urban middle classes in general." As such Murray Bookchin describes a lot of individualist anarchism as people who "expressed their opposition in uniquely personal forms, especially in fiery tracts, outrageous behavior, and aberrant lifestyles in the cultural ghettos of fin de siecle New York, Paris, and London. As a credo, individualist anarchism remained largely a bohemian lifestyle, most conspicuous in its demands for sexual freedom ('free love') and enamored of innovations in art, behavior, and clothing.". In this way free love currents and other radical lifestyles such as naturism had popularity among individualist anarchists.

For Catalan historian Xavier Diez, individualist anarchism "under its iconoclastic, antiintelectual, antitheist run, which goes against all sacralized ideas or values it entailed, a philosophy of life which could be considered a reaction against the sacred gods of capitalist society. Against the idea of nation, it opposed its internationalism. Against the exaltation of authority embodied in the military intitution, it opposed its antimilitarism. Against the concept of industrial civilization, it opposed its naturist vision".

In regards to economic questions, there are diverse positions. There are adherents to mutualism (Proudhon, Émile Armand, early Benjamin Tucker), egoistic disrespect for "ghosts" such as private property and markets (Stirner, John Henry Mackay, Lev Chernyi, later Tucker), and adherents to anarcho-communism (Albert Libertad, illegalism, Renzo Novatore). Anarchist historian George Woodcock finds a tendency in individualist anarchism of a "distrust (of) all co-operation beyond the barest minimum for an ascetic life".

On the issue of violence opinions have gone from a violentist point of view mainly exemplified by illegalism and insurrectionary anarchism to one that can be called anarcho-pacifist. In the particular case of Spanish individualist anarchist Miguel Gimenez Igualada, he went from illegalist practice in his youth towards a pacifist position later in his life.

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