Note that the site is in archived, read-only mode. You can browse and read, but posting is disabled.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

Note that the site is in archived, read-only mode. You can browse and read, but posting is disabled.


+5 votes
The title. I'd like an answer that is primarily sympathetic to Individualist Anarchism with perhaps a criticism on the side to reflect on. For your information, I am loosely familiar with Stirner, Armand, Novatore etc.
one great place to start, imo, is with the recent book "enemies of society". while there are some very useful pieces in the book itself, i found parts of the introduction to be fantastic at answering exactly this question.
I like to second funky@'s recommendation of 'enemies.' Also, I'd recommend both the intro *and* the glossary prior to the meat of the book.

3 Answers

+3 votes
Best answer
Part of the reason I'm drawn to Individualist Anarchism is very simple. I perceive individuals. I cannot see 'society,' 'humanity,' 'community,' 'morality,' 'ethics,' 'rights,' 'the future,' etc. This may not seem a complex answer, and perhaps will further justify the uncritical notion that I@ only draws unthinking knuckle-dragging opposed, of course, to more enlightened socially-oriented primates. But, please hear me out...

One might say I see anarchy as a phenomenological process, rather than a program. We already inhabit so many different levels of power relations, and each has its  logic of self-justification. In turn, each require, and have a long history of, abstraction, logo-centrism, metaphysical 'truths,' moralities, identities; all which attempt to provide a calculable, digestible, intelligible world in the form of ideology. This provides for some potent barriers of policing, imaginary though they are, between you and I. Some are self-policing and some require cops, most require a mixture of both. They share the common feature, however, of  inherently distancing us from the immediately real. We base our judgments of one another on these preconceived standards. We glace askew at one another, if we bother to glance at one another at all. Worse still, we prize these abstractions, which we cannot see, over that which can be seen, touched, smelled, heard, and on occasion, tasted. They are articles of faith by which we come to devalue appearance, presence, embodiment. It's a form of asceticism, world-renunciation. And they always serve the logic of power.

(you) and (i) are bodies. As bodies, living bodies, we act, interact, we relate. you -and - i. 'And' may seem a separation, but in the very activity of perceiving one another, we interact. This interaction, mutual perception, does not precede (you) and (I), as the ideologues would have it, but is possible only on condition of (you) and (i); as different  bodies, become a mutually recognized (you and i). Here, 'and' is the very matrix of sociability between (you) and (i), so as to form an instance of (you and i).*

For me, the more socially-oriented anarchists miss the mark much of the time because they place their primary focus upon idealism, and thus distance themselves from the immediately real. Put another way, they tend to mediate reality by way of idealism, lies we tell ourselves in the name of certitude/intelligibility. As stated above, this strikes me as a form of asceticism, and given the history of social-anarchism, has also led the way toward martyrdom and fanaticism which both characterizes and carries on the tradition of  ye olde tyme religion in political form. What I can do is encounter you, and from here, we may travel together, part ways, or interact ('socialize') in many other possible ways.

I  realize this answer is incomplete. :-)

* So as to ward-off some confusion here, I'm using parenthesis and hyphens in order to make my meaning a bit more perceptible.

Edited to clarify; grammar; typos (again)
by (7.5k points)
edited by
I really like your answer, AF.

Part of it reminds me of the lines from a song ("Eric's Song") by a very thoughtful singer/songwriter named Vienna Teng, which goes like this...

"for we don't realize our faith in the prize, unless it's been somehow swiftly we choose it...the sacred simplicity of you at my side..."

The song moves me, and so do your words.
I'm glad it resonated with you.
i agree, i like your answer a lot, af. while worded probably quite differently than i would, you touch on some excellent and hugely relevant points.

i may have more to say when i have a little more time... but meanwhile, i had to upvote you on this.
I look forward to any comments, funky@.
"I perceive individuals. "

that may seem, as you mentioned, a simplistic comment. and no doubt many folks think/say something similar. but i'm not sure how many have a real grasp on what that means, in the context of mass society and the (pseudo?) individualist gloss that capitalism (and government, in its own way) tries to wrap itself in. to paraphrase something dot brought up elsewhere, the fact that my dreads are purple and yours are green makes us unique individuals. ha!  many, many times have i said to folks, "i relate only to individuals". to which a common response might be: "yeah, me too. let's go hang out with the feminists."

"This interaction, mutual perception, does not precede (you) and (I), as the ideologues would have it, but is possible only on condition of (you) and (i); as different  bodies"

i like it. that whole paragraph, actually. point well made.

also the mention of policing and self-policing is hugely relevant to this discussion, imo.

i may take a shot at an answer myself at some point.
Thanks for the comments, f@.

'in the context of mass society and the (pseudo?) individualist gloss that capitalism'

I wouldn't quite say 'pseudo,' though my concession here ≠  the hasty, knee-jerk, conclusion (such as we've seen here recently) which equates I@ with capitalism. Both are simplistic assertions: the first assumes that the individualism promoted by capitalism is simply a veneer; the second that, despite all the ink spilled by I@'s to the contrary, I@ accepts the parameters which capitalism places upon individuals; what is entailed in being a living person.

Capitalism, as a system of logic predicated upon certain presuppositions, really does appeal to some deep-seated desires and needs. Becoming more sensitive to this may very well further and deepen our understanding of the mechanisms of why this logic is so fucking successful. Despite the popularity of passing capitalism off as crass and superficial, and its success due simply to State power, these latter positions don't offer us a deep enough access into that success-story. I'd say this type of 'analysis' actually keeps us in its grasp, perhaps more so, the more we fight it in this shallow way.

Perhaps, what is required, is that we may come to speak of a 'deep individualism'...which is in no way at absolute odds with a 'deep ecology' ( ye olde egoism vs biocentrism/ self vs society, etc., false dichotomies) as is sometimes depicted. Each is interwoven in a *tropical* relationship depending upon our emphasis in a given moment, rather than a higher ideal which to defend.

Edit for clarity and typos
I appreciate the desire for immediate and honest experience, and for that reason disagree with your conclusions. You write "I perceive individuals. I cannot see [list of other abstractions]." This is only true in the most trivial sense, that we see human people as physical objects. Even then our ability to perceive each other as lumps of meat is severely compromised relative to our ability to perceive, say, coffee mugs by our desire to achieve a more social perspective. In reality, the  individual in the sense that almost anyone refers to it is the most heavily abstracted collection of wishful thinking in common use. For this reason I usually stop listening any time someone starts talking about individuals in any general sense, because they're usually making stuff up.

Contrast this to community, which may have a less well defined physical locus but is just as real and more accessible. Social activities are immediately and intimately perceivable, and exhibit great diversity, whereas everyone eats sleeps and fucks similarly to within the limits of perception.
@Geomancer: "This is only true in the most trivial sense, that we see human people as physical objects."

1) 'Trivial' according to what and to whom?
2) Who said anything about seeing people (only?) as 'physical objects?' What does this 'physical objects' even mean?

Your comments come across, to me anyway, as heavy on the either/or.

Perhaps my comment here may elucidate further where I come from a bit further:
Very subjetivistic and metaphysical answer.
stunning analysis!
i am bummed that people downvoted iconoclast's answer. the historical/association lists are useful too, and are good for a more rounded sense of how to interpret and answer the (any) question.
i agree with you. i upvoted it, though the comment came across to me as kinda silly and rather petty.
labeling something can certainly be a distancing tactic, but presumably that's ok.

and it might be obvious to you that something is subjectivistic (i have never heard that word before), but it might be helpful to someone else to have a name for the personal perspective of the kind you describe. there is no need to assume bad faith, afaict. unless it's fun for you ;) .
no bad faith assumed necessarily, only prior experience with this person elsewhere (i'm about 99% sure it's the same person given the name and style used). they, or anyone else, can label away. it's easy enough to do via the webz. :)
+2 votes
Individualist Anarchism above all is the assertion that Anarchism and other such ideas are things that are to be used BY the individual, as opposed to an idea that one must strive for, like some future revolution. If one cannot fulfill their own desires for the sake of "being an anarchist", then what's the point? It is then just another moral code to be lived up to, that you will NEVER live up to because it's not YOURS.

A quote by Renzo Novatore sums up individualist anarchism perfectly:

"You are waiting for the revolution! Very well! My own began along time ago! When you are ready — God, what an endless wait! — it won’t nauseate me to go along the road awhile with you! But when you stop, I will continue on my mad and triumphant march toward the great and sublime conquest of Nothing!"
+2 votes
Individualist anarchism is a tendency within the anarchist movement which focuses on the individual person mainly advocating individual freedom in both body and mind. The diversity of interests and positions is big within individualist anarchism but all individualist anarchists will share this basic general perspective.

Most reliable sources will point to the origins of individualist anarchism to activists and authors such as William Godwin, Josiah Warren, Max Stirner, Henry David Thoreau and Anselme Bellegarrigue. From these early individualists we can indentify certain strong currents within individualist anarchism in general.

Godwin´s enlightenement rationalism and anti-authoritarianism points forward to rationalist and freethought currents which tended to be critical of organized religion and advocated non-authoritarian forms of education and spread of culture. Warren points to a current which, alongside Proudhon and Benjamin Tucker, seeked economic social change away from corporate capitalism protected by state intervention and which advocated a non capitalist market economy based mainly on self-employment and cooperative enterprises out of a criticism of wage labour relationships. Max Stirner developed a proto-existentialist individualist philosophy which advocated individual disobedience and sabotaje of outside limitations on an individual´s liberty and proposed the concept of "union of egoists" as a free form of association between free individuals. Thoreau projected a living example of a refractary lifestlye from the rising institutions of modern mass society and an ecologist sensibility which coexisted with a generally pacifist civil disobedience perspective.

Individualist anarchism in the United States has tended to have a strong tendency that keeps the focus on economics until today with contemporary authors such as Gary Chartier, Kevin Carson and Roderick T. Long who have updated the economic views of Tucker and Proudhon. It also has contained a strong freethought current critical of religion which was spread through publications such as Tucker´s "Liberty or "Lucifer: the Light Bearer" and individuals such as Voltairine de Cleyre or Ezra Heywood who interesected with the feminist movement and free love currents. Also there was a current which inherited the intentional community and lifestyle experimentalism of Warren which continued with Stephen Pearl Andrews and later american communalist currents. Stirner has also motivated an american "egoist" current in personalities as different with each other as Tucker, Enrico Arigoni, Hakim Bey or Feral Faun/Wolfi Landstreicher.

On the other hand individualist anarchism in Europe has seen a stronger influence of Stirner while the previously mentioned economicistic current has not been very important there. But it has been associated also with freethought and atheism. It has contained a tendency which emphasizes lifestyle experiments such as free love and intentional communities (Emile Armand, Adolf Brand), naturism (Emille Gravelle, Henri Zisly), aesthetic and artistic expression (Oscar Wilde). On the other hand, especially within France and Italy, it motivated illegalism and insurrectionist anarchist positions (Bande a Bonnot, Renzo Novatore) which emphasized living outside the law in constant combat with and avoidance of repressive state forces using violence as a form of resistance. In contrast there also emerged an individualist anarcho-pacifism inspired by Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy (Andre Arru, Charles Auguste Bontemps) but which could also associate itself with the existentialist anti-authoritarianism of Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche (Georges Palante). In the case of spanish individualist anarchist Miguel Gimenez Igualada we could find both an ilegalist lifestyle in his youth in Spain and later an embrace of anarcho-pacifism in his main theorectical work "Anarquismo" from 1968 in his exile in Mexico away from Franco´s dictatorship.
by (3.3k points)
edited by