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Egoist anarchism

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Egoist anarchism or egoist communism is a school of anarchist thought that originated in the philosophy of Max Stirner, a nineteenth century Hegelian philosopher whose "name appears with familiar regularity in historically-orientated surveys of anarchist thought as one of the earliest and best-known exponents of individualist anarchism."[1] Although historically associated with the individualist branch of anarchism, proponents of egoist anarchism have been both individualist and communist.[2]


Stirner's The Ego and Its Own (Der Einzige and sein Eigentum which may literally be translated as The Unique Individual and His Property[3]) was published in 1844. The book is considered by scholar David Leopold to be "a founding text in the tradition of individualist anarchism."[1] In it, Stirner outlined his view that the only limitation on the individual is his power to obtain what he desires.[4] He proposes that most commonly accepted social institutions—including the notion of State, property as a right, natural rights in general, and the very notion of society—were mere spooks in the mind. In the words of Ulrike Heider, Stirner wanted to "abolish not only the state but also society as an institution responsible for its members."[5]

Egoist anarchists argue that there are no rational grounds for any person to recognise any authority above her own reason or to place any goal before their own happiness.[6] Hence they reject morality, concluding that no one has any reason to accept any principles of conduct, except insofar as accepting those principles is strategically effective in promoting one’s own interests. The consistent anarchist, they argue, should accept no unchosen constraints, moral or political, on her own sovereign will.[6]

Stirner argued that property simply came about through might Template:bquote

This position on property is much different from the American natural law form of individualist anarchism, which defends the inviolability of the private property that has been earned through labor and trade.[7] In 1886, American individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker rejected the natural rights philosophy and, along with others, adopted egoism. This split the American individualists into fierce debate, as Wendy McElroy notes; "with the natural rights proponents accusing the egoists of destroying libertarianism itself."[8] Other egoist anarchists of the time included James L. Walker, Sidney Parker, and Dora Marsden.

In Russia, individualist anarchism inspired by Stirner combined with an appreciation for Friedrich Nietzsche attracted a small following of bohemian artists and intellectuals such as Lev Chernyi, as well as a few lone wolves who found self-expression in crime and violence.[9] They rejected organizing, believing that only unorganized individuals were safe from coercion and domination, believing this kept them true to the ideals of anarchism.[10]

Egoism has also influenced some libertarian communists and anarcho-communists. "For Ourselves Council for Generalized Self-Management" discusses Stirner and speaks of a "communist egoism," which is said to be a "synthesis of individualism and collectivism," and says that "greed in its fullest sense is the only possible basis of communist society."[11] Forms of libertarian communism such as that of the Situationist International are strongly Egoist in nature.[12] Anarchist communist Emma Goldman was influenced by both Stirner and Peter Kropotkin as well as the Russian strain of individualist anarchism, and blended these philosophies together in her own, as shown in books of hers such as Anarchism And Other Essays.[2][9]

Union of Egoists[edit]


Max Stirner was the first inspiration of the egoist individualist anarchists. Portrait by Friedrich Engels.

Stirner's idea of the "Union of Egoists" (Template:lang-de), first expounded in The Ego and Its Own, is central to egoist anarchism. The Union is understood as a non-systematic association, which Stirner proposed in contradistinction to the state.[13] The Union is understood as a relation between egoists which is continually renewed by all parties' support through an act of will.[14] The Union requires that all parties participate out of a conscious egoism. If one party silently finds themselves to be suffering, but puts up and keeps the appearance, the union has degenerated into something else.[14]

This union is not seen as an authority above a person's own will. Scholar Andrew Carlson argues that in this union people would be held together by mutual advantage, through common "use" of one another.[15] In joining the union an individual increases his own individual power—each person would through his own might control what they could. It does not imply though that there would be a region of universal rapacity and perpetual slaughter, nor does it mean the wielding of power over others. Each person would defend his own uniqueness. Carlson holds that once a person has attained self-realization of true egoism they would not want to rule over others or hold more possessions than they need because this would destroy their independence.[15]

The Union of Egoists is not communist in the traditional sense. It is essentially a non-formal group, that participants voluntarily engage in for personal gain. Since no one person is obligated to the group, they may leave if it ceases to serve their interests, making the benefit mutual to all members. Whereas in communism, individuals are obligated to one another in society, in Egoism, individuals are obligated only to themselves. Stirner saw this as the opposite of a state, government or society, which could use the individual for it's own gain, without benefiting the individual or truly being in his interest.[unverified]

There would be neither masters nor servants, only egoists. Everyone would withdraw into his own uniqueness which would prevent conflict because no one will be trying to prove themselves "in the right" before a third party; each individual would be "above" the Union.[13] It is claimed by egoist anarchists that egoism will foster genuine and spontaneous union between individuals. [15] Stirner held that only this form of organisation would not intrude on the individual's power, exerting neither moral influence nor legal constraint.[13]

Stirner does not develop in any detail the form of social organisation that the Union of Egoists might take, with some, such as Carlson, arguing that organization itself is anathema to Stirner's Union. Within the Union the individual will be able to develop himself. The Union exists for the individual. The Union of Egoists is not to be confused with society which Stirner opposes. Society lays claim to a person which is considered to be sacred, but which consumes an individual. The Union is made up of individuals who consume the Union for their own good.[15]



File:The Ego and Its Own - Tsuji Jun translation.jpg
Cover of the 1920 Japanese edition of Stirner's The Ego and Its Own, one of the founding texts of egoism.

Egoist anarchists reject notions of natural rights expounded by liberal economics, but reject traditional communist ideas about property and resources belonging to all of society also, presenting a view of property that is neither communist nor individualist. Stirner firmly stated that in his opinion, might meant right, and that it was the ability to physically control something which gave you the right to dispose of it how you willed. [unverified] This did not mean that he was hostile to socialist desires for a greater share of the wealth labourers produce, but only that if they wanted it, they should unite and take the wealth that they felt they were owed.[unverified] Stirner saw the employer-labourer relationship as exploitative, he simply refused to draw any moral conclusions from this fact. Thus, an egoist anarchist believes that nobody has a moral claim to wealth produced, and that in uniting with their fellow workers to take a greater share, they are acting rightly, in their self interest.[15]

Egoist anarchists argue that self-welfare should be the guiding principle to follow rather than law.[unverified] Stirner relates that you can get further with a handful of might than you can with a bagful of right.Template:citequote Law is argued to exist not because men recognize them as being favorable to their interests, but because men hold them to be sacred.[unverified] Anyone who breaks the law is violating what is sacred. Therefore there are no criminals except against something sacred.[unverified] If you do away with the sacrosanctity of the law then crime will disappear, because in reality a crime is nothing more than an act desecrating that which was hallowed by the state. There are, according to Stirner, no rights, because might makes right and an individual is entitled to everything he has the power to possess and hold. [unverified] The way to gain freedom, it is then argued, is through might because he who has might stands above the law. A person only becomes completely free when what he holds, he holds because of his might. [unverified] Then he is a self-owner and not a mere freeman. Stirner does not believe that a person is good or bad, nor does he believe in what is true, good, right, and so on. These are vague concepts which have no meaning outside a God-centered or man-centered world. it is argued that an individual should center his interest on self and concentrate on his own business. [15]

Stirner then argues to reject the state, as without law the state is not possible. The state, like the law, exists not because an individual recognizes it as favorable to his welfare, but because they considers it to be sacred. [15]

The welfare of the state is argued to have nothing to do with one's own welfare and one should therefore sacrifice nothing to it. The general welfare is not a person's own welfare but only means self-denial on their part. The state hinders an individual from attaining his true value, while at the same time it exploits the individual to get some benefit out of him.[15]

The state is argued to stand in the way between individuals, tearing them apart. Egoist anarchists would transform the state into their own property instead of being the property of the state and form in its place a Union of Egoists. It is argued that the state must be destroyed because it is the negation of the individual will as it approaches people as a collective unit. [15]

Later development[edit]

Benjamin Tucker[edit]

Main article: Benjamin Tucker
Benjamin Tucker.

Benjamin Tucker was a leading proponent of American individualist anarchism in the 19th century. In 1886 he abandoned natural rights doctrine and came to hold the position that no rights exist until they are created by contract. This led him to controversial positions such as claiming that infants had no rights and were the property of their parents, because they did not have the ability to contract. He said that a person who physically tries to stop a mother from throwing her "baby into the fire" should be punished for violating her property rights. He said that children would shed their status as property when they became old enough to contract "to buy or sell a house" for example, noting that the precocity varies by age and would be determined by a jury in the case of a complaint.[16]

He also came to believe that aggressing against other was justifiable if doing so led to a greater decrease in "aggregate pain" than refraining from doing so. He said:

the ultimate end of human endeavor is the minimum of pain. We aim to decrease invasion only because, as a rule, invasion increases the total of pain (meaning, of course, pain suffered by the ego, whether directly or through sympathy with others). But it is precisely my contention that this rule, despite the immense importance which I place upon it, is not absolute; that, on the contrary, there are exceptional cases where invasion--that is, coercion of the non-invasive--lessens the aggregate pain. Therefore coercion of the non-invasive, when justifiable at all, is to be justified on the ground that it secures, not a minimum of invasion, but a minimum of pain … [T]o me [it is] axiomatic--that the ultimate end is the minimum of pain [17]

Tucker said that there were only two rights, "the right of might" and "the right of contract." He also said that ownership in land is legitimately transferred through force unless contracted otherwise. In 1892, he said "In times was my habit to talk glibly of the right of man to land. It was a bad habit, and I long ago sloughed it off. Man's only right to land is his might over it. If his neighbor is mightier than he and takes the land from him, then the land is his neighbor's, until the latter is dispossessed by one mightier still."[18] However, he said he believed that individuals would come to the realization that "equal liberty" and "occupancy and use" doctrines were "generally trustworthy guiding principle of action," and, as a result, they would likely find it in their interests to contract with each other to refrain from infringing upon equal liberty and from protecting land that was not in use.[19] Though he believed that non-invasion, and "occupancy and use as the title to land" were general rules that people would find in their own interests to create through contract, he said that these rules "must be sometimes trodden underfoot."[17]


Main article: Illegalism

Illegalism is a form of egoist anarchism that developed primarily in France, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland during the early 1900s. The illegalists openly embraced criminality as a lifestyle.

Illegalism first rose to prominence among a generation of Europeans inspired by the unrest of the 1890s, during which Ravachol, Émile Henry, Auguste Vaillant, and Caserio committed daring crimes in the name of anarchism, in what is known as propaganda of the deed. The French Bonnot Gang were the most famous group to embrace illegalism.

The illegalists broke from anarchists like Clément Duval and Marius Jacob who justified theft with a theory of la reprise individuelle (Template:lang-en). Instead, the illegalists argued that their actions required no moral basis – illegal acts were performed not in the name of a higher ideal, but in pursuit of one's own desires.

As a reaction to this, French anarchist communists attempted to distance themselves from illegalism and anarchist individualism as a whole. In August 1913, the Fédération Communiste-Anarchistes (FCA) condemned individualism as bourgeois and more in keeping with capitalism than communism. An article believed to have been written by Peter Kropotkin, in the British anarchist paper Freedom, argued that "Simple-minded young comrades were often led away by the illegalists' apparent anarchist logic; outsiders simply felt disgusted with anarchist ideas and definitely stopped their ears to any propaganda."Template:citequote

Situationist International[edit]

Template:Situationists The Situationist International (SI) was a small group of international political and artistic agitators with roots in Marxism, Lettrism and the early 20th century European artistic and political avant-gardes that has had a significant influence on contemporary anarchism. Formed in 1957, the SI was active in Europe through the 1960s and aspired to major social and political transformations. In the 1960s it split into a number of different groups, including the Situationist Bauhaus, the Antinational and the Second Situationist International. The first SI disbanded in 1972.[20] The Situationist International was strongly Egoist in nature.[12]

In political terms, in the 1960s and 1970s elements of Situationist critique influenced anarchists, communists and other leftists, with various emphases and interpretations which combined Situationist concepts with a variety of other perspectives. Examples of these groups include the Provos in Amsterdam, and in the United Kingdom King Mob, the producers of Heatwave magazine (who later briefly joined the SI), and the Angry Brigade. In the United States, groups like Black Mask (later Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers), The Weathermen, and the Rebel Worker group also explicitly employed Situationist ideas.

Starting in the 1970s, Situationist ideas were taken up by a number of anarchist theorists, such as Fredy Perlman, Bob Black, Hakim Bey, and John Zerzan, who developed the SI's ideas in various directions away from Marxism. These theorists were predominantly associated with the magazines Fifth Estate, Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, and Green Anarchy. Later anarchist theorists such as the CrimethInc. collective also claim Situationist influence.[21] During the early 1980s English anarchist Larry Law produced a series of 'pocket-books' under the name of Spectacular Times which aimed to make Situationist ideas more easily assimilated into the anarchist movement.

See also[edit]



  1. 1.0 1.1 Template:sep entry
  2. 2.0 2.1 Goldman, Emma. Anarchism and Other Essays.
  3. Moggach, Douglas. The New Hegelians, Cambridge University Press.
  4. The Encyclopedia Americana: A Library of Universal Knowledge. Encyclopedia Corporation. p. 176
  5. Heider, Ulrike. Anarchism: Left, Right and Green, San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1994, pp. 95-96
  6. 6.0 6.1 Long, Roderick Egoism and Anarchy. Strike the Root. URL accessed on 2008-11-18.
  7. Weir, David. Anarchy & Culture. University of Massachusetts Press. 1997. p. 146
  8. Wendy, (1981). "Benjamin Tucker, Individualism, & Liberty: Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order," Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought (1978-1982), IV, .
  9. 9.0 9.1 Levy, Carl Anarchism. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2007. URL accessed on 2008-12-04.
  10. Paul, (1967). "The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution," Russian Review, 26, 341.
  11. For Ourselves (1974). The Right to Be Greedy: Theses On The Practical Necessity Of Demanding Everything.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Gray, Christopher. Leaving the Twentieth Century.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Thomas, Paul (1985). Karl Marx and the Anarchists, p. p.142, London: Routledge/Kegan Paul.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Nyberg, Svein Olav max stirner. Non Serviam. URL accessed on 2008-12-04.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 15.7 15.8 Carlson, Andrew (1972). "Philosophical Egoism: German Antecedents" Anarchism in Germany, Metuchen: Scarecrow Press. URL accessed 2008-12-04.
  16. McElroy, Wendy (2003). The Debates of Liberty, p. 77–79, Lexington Books.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Benjamin R., ({{{year}}}). "Land Tenure Again," Liberty, {{{volume}}}, 3.
  18. Benjamin R., ({{{year}}}). "Response to 'Rights,' by William Hansen," Liberty, {{{volume}}}, 1.
  19. Benjamin R., ({{{year}}}). "The Two Conceptions of Equal Freedom," Liberty, {{{volume}}}, 4.
  20. Karen Elliot. Situationism in a nutshell. Barbelith Webzine. URL accessed on 2008-06-23.
  21. Daniel, (2007). ""Give Us the Dumpsters -Or- Give Us Life": Res Derilictae and the Trash of Free Trade," Cultural Recycling, 3, .

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