Support C4SS with Voltairine de Cleyre’s “The Dominant Idea”

C4SS has teamed up with the Distro of the Libertarian Left. The Distro produces and distribute zines and booklets on anarchism, market anarchist theory, counter-economics, and other movements for liberation. For every copy of Voltairine de Cleyre‘s “The Dominant Idea” that you purchase through the Distro, C4SS will receive a percentage. Support C4SS with Voltairine de Cleyre‘s “The Dominant Idea“.


$1.50 for the first copy. $0.75 for every additional copy.

“The Dominant Idea” first appeared as a serialized article in Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman’s influential anarchist magazine, Mother Earth, with the first instalment in May 1910. Soon after, the Mother Earth Publishing Association printed a booklet edition of the article, which they sold through their catalogue from 1910 onward.

“Regnant ideas, everywhere! Did you ever see a dead vine bloom? I have seen it. Last summer I trained some morn­ing-glory vines up over a second story balcony; and every day they blew and curled in the wind, their white, purple-dashed faces wink­ing at the sun, radiant with climbing life. Then all at once some mis­chance hap­pened, some cut worm or some mis­chiev­ous child tore one vine off below. The sappy stem wilt­ed and began to wither; in a day it was dead, — all but the top which still clung longingly to its sup­port, with bright head lifted. But the next night there was a storm, a heavy, driving storm, with beat­ing rain and blind­ing lightning. I rose to watch the flashes, and lo! the won­der of the world! In the black­ness of the mid-night, in the fury of wind and rain, the dead vine had flower­ed. Five white, moon-faced blossoms blew gaily round the skel­e­ton vine, shining back triumphant at the red lightning. I gazed at them in dumb wonder. Dear, dead vine, whose will had been so strong to bloom, that in the hour of its sudden cut-off from the feed­ing earth, it sent the last sap to its blos­soms; and, not waiting for the morn­ing, brought them forth in storm and flash, as white night- glories, which should have been the child­ren of the sun. Over death and decay the Dominant Idea smiled: the vine was in the world to bloom, to bear white trumpet blossoms dash­ed with purple; and it held its will beyond death.

“I think this unqualified determinism of the material is a great, lamentable error in our modern progressive move­ment; the absolute sway of Matter is quite as mischievous an error as the unrelated nature of Mind; in its direct action upon personal con­duct, it has the more ill effect of the two. What we need is a true appraise­ment of the power and rôle of the Idea. Against the accept­ed form­u­l­a of modern Materialism, ‘Men are what circum­stances make them,’ I set the opposing declaration, ‘Circumstances are what men make them’; and I contend that both these things are true, up to the point where the combating powers are equalized, or one is overthrown….”

Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) was a popular Anarchist and feminist writer, speaker and activist. Her contemporary and friend Emma Goldman called her “the most gifted and brilliant anarch­ist woman America ever produced.” She published articles in Liberty, Twentieth Century, Free Society and Mother Earth, and worked closely with libertarian com­mun­ists, market anarch­ists, and mutualists within the Phila­delphia social an­arch­ist move­ment, but refused to commit herself to economic blueprints, adopting a pluralistic view of economic arrangements in any future free society.

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