Introduction: Who Was Emile Armand?
Emile Armand (a pseudonym for Ernest-Lucien Juin) is at the center of the collection Individualist Anarchism – Revolutionary Sexualism: Writings by Emile Armand (2012) published by Pallaksch Press and distributed by Little Black Cart.
Armand was a French egoist/individualist anarchist, arguably an early proponent of polyamory within the anarchist scene and among other things, a pacifist. He was one of the few anarchists from the late 19th century that not only remained an anarchist until he died but managed to live past the Spanish Revolution until his death in 1963. In doing so he outlived many other prominent figures such as Benjamin Tucker and Emma Goldman.
Being raised by a father who participated in the Paris Commune likely gave Armand a radical upbringing but it was the anarchist Jean Grave’s magazine Les Temps nouveaux that first got Armand into anarchism. At first, he argued for a Christian anarchism that was influenced by Tolstoy and Armand’s beginnings in the Salvation Army. However, Armand eventually moved on to anarchist communism until embracing individualist anarchism in 1911.
Armand was also an editor and publisher of multiple anarchist periodicals throughout his life. This included L’Ère nouvelle (1901–1911), L’Anarchie, L’EnDehors (1922–1939) and L’Unique (1945–1953). The latter two of which were Armand’s individualist anarchist periodicals.
Information on Armand’s life isn’t as plentiful in this collection or the internet more generally. But as far as I can tell Armand was imprisoned several times due to his anti-war activism. He was also sent to an internment camp in WWII for similar reasons.
Due to Armand’s pacifism he didn’t shoot cops or lob grenades at them unlike another egoist anarchist Renzo Novatore . In return, Armand lived a much longer life. But whether it was much happier one is another story and a story I don’t have enough details to tell. But it was certainly an influential one if nothing else, as the anarchist historian George Woodcock, in his book Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Thought (p. 324) called Armand one of the leading French individualist anarchists around WW1.
Amrand’s conflicts with violence in ideological terms wedged differences between him and Tucker as well as other anarchists. Originally finding himself able to call the “illegalist” a comrade to the anarchist he would disavow them for more pacifist-orientated and educational means later on.
In the introduction the translator A. de Acosta writes:
The compilation is intended as a contribution to the recent resurgence of interest in individualist and egoist strains in anarchism in the North American milieu.
I write this review with similar intentions and chiefly for myself, as it should be.
Armand’s individualism shares many striking similarities with Novatore whose collection of writings I’ve also reviewed. Like Novatore and other individualist anarchists, Armand shares with them a position marked by opposition to “the subjugation of the individual” (p. 8) and “against the absorption of the ego into the collectivity” (ibid). For Armand however, having a background in communist anarchism and perhaps Christian anarchism as well taught him more flexibility when it came to other schools of thought.
At least this is the impression he gives in his short but provocative What We Are For – What We Are Against. In it, he claims that the “economic question” is subsidiary insofar as the solutions to it are based around “liberty and free agreement against authority and imposed rule.” (p. 9) In addition, this form of liberty must also oppose castes, classes and rulers. Armand’s conception of anarchism then demands “individual responsibility” (p. 9) and an ability for individuals to freely express themselves.
But perhaps Armand’s most notable contribution to the individualist scene is his essay Mini-Manual of Individualist Anarchism (or; A Little Manual of the Individualist Anarchist in the collection) which was first published in 1911. Here, Armand gets at many of the central questions he only faintly touches in What We Are For – What We Are Against such as what constitutes anarchism, what differentiates individualist anarchism from other forms of anarchism, a descriptive (not prescriptive) account of what the individualist anarchist may or may not do given their position and much more within a short span of time.
One of my favorite quotes from Mini-Manual is when Armand remarks that,
An abyss separates anarchism from socialism in these different regards, including there syndicalism. (p. 13, emphasis mine)
On broad strokes it seems Armand can be ecumenical but it’s clear that Mini-Manual forced Armand to think more specifically about what it means to be an anarchist. And for Armand that can’t mean anything to do with “socialism” as Novatore also said.
The particular “regards” that Armand is referring to come from what he considers the work of anarchists to be, what it means to be an anarchist itself and who the enemies of the anarchist are. To Armand, the socialist cannot follow in these regards because they are not interested with making direct opposition to authority or exploitation. Instead, due to their lack of building their anarchism on the individual and instead focusing on the evils of capitalism and private property solely they miss the wider picture.
Further, the individualist anarchist, according to Armand, does recognize the legitimacy of some limited forms of property (p. 13). On the other hand, the communist would have the economy dominate the individual by maintaining that individuals don’t own anything. They might claim that things that individuals treasure when it does not hold any value to the community, should be stored for communal benefit. This would make the individual subject to a similar sort of good-will that currently dominates. Except at least in the current economy, the individual can briefly escape these conditions through anonymous market trades.
It’s true that these market trades are deformed by capitalism and the state, but the bare essentials of markets and their anonymity aren’t per se’ objectionable. In fact, they’re much more likely to be a laudable feature of markets than anything else.
Conversely, communists will often claim that the pitfall of the market is it’s anonymity or its lack of scrutiny to public perception and critique. But on the contrary this is precisely what makes markets so attractive. Not having everything subject to public opinion and approval, people can trade with other people and benefit each other in ways they might not be able to otherwise.
Whereas anarchist-capitalists underestimate material capital, anarchist-communists do the same with social capital.
Jason Lee Byas’s Towards an Anarchy of Production sums up the latter tendency well:
In market transactions, one does not have to convince the community at large of the goodness behind one’s use of a given resource in order to use it, they just have to provide value for value.
Sometimes socially conservative circles will attack the depravity of “crass commercialism,” frightened by the way markets threaten the existing order’s values.
There’s a good reason for that.
When your acquisition, use, and trade of resources cannot be regulated, the effects of one’s less-favored social status are likely to not be nearly as awful. Within a market, people can act more directly on what they believe is genuinely best for them, even when the reasons for that are difficult to communicate to those in more privileged positions.
By creating new profit opportunities geared toward those preferences of the oppressed, the seemingly impersonal market process becomes a never-ending social critique, always backed up by immediate direct action. Adverse social pressures like bare intimidation are not absent in markets, to be sure, but they are much less powerful.
This “never-ending social critique” ties in nicely to Armand’s conception of anarchism.
It takes us to another one of my other favorite quotes in his Mini-Manual piece:
The work of the anarchist is above all a work of critique. The anarchist goes, sowing revolt against that which oppresses, obstructs, opposes itself to the free expansion of the individual being.
He agrees first to rid brains of preconceived ideas, to put at liberty temperaments enchained by fear, to give rise to mindsets free from popular opinion and social conventions; it is thus that the anarchist will push all comers to make route with him to rebel practically against the determinism of the social environment, to affirm themselves individually, to sculpt his internal statue, to render themselves, as much as possible, independent of the moral, intellectual and economic environment.
He will urge the ignorant to instruct himself, the nonchalant to react, the feeble to become strong, the bent to straighten.
He will push the poorly endowed and less apt to pull from themselves all the resources possible and not to rely on others. (pp. 12-13)
When it came to what sort of property Armand supported he explicitly says that “…property in the means of production and the free disposition of the product as the essential guarantee of the autonomy of the person.” (p. 15). Quotes like that and how an “abyss” separates socialism and anarchism are helpful to keep in mind for historical reasons. This is especially true when anarchist-communists try claim that there were never supporters of markets within the long history of anarchism.
But I do not intend to rewrite history as Armand was by no means a market anarchist and he was certainly not an individualist anarchist in the sense I am. After all, Armand was an egoist and claimed that things like anti-moralism were a necessary part of being an anarchist. As an existentialist I can’t really agree as morality to me is simply the sum of free agreements when handled fairly.
Of course, the idea of morality being a “social contract” that you are forced into (pp. 85-85) is an interesting one and worth considering. To the credit of Armand and other egoists I do think their notion of “sacredness” is often a fair critique of how we treat certain subjects. Whether it’s God, the state, gender or something else, there are many concepts in society that we don’t think it’s appropriate to question on any sort of fundamental level.
The same goes for love, but we’ll get to that later.
Going back to the Mini-Manual Novatore has another great description of anarchists I can’t help but highlight:
He wants to live freely, to live his own idea of life. In his interior conscience, he is always asocial, a refractory, an outsider, marginal, an exception, a misfit. And obliged as he is to live in a society the constitution of which is repugnant to his temperament, it is in a foreign land that he is camped. If he grants to his environment unavoidable concessions — always with the intention of taking them back — in order to avoid risking or sacrificing his life foolishly or uselessly, it is because he considers them as weapons of personal defense in the struggle for existence.
The anarchist wishes to live his life, as much as possible, morally, intellectually, economically, without occupying himself with the rest of the world, exploiters or exploited; without wanting to dominate or to exploit others, but ready to respond by all means against whoever would intervene in his life or would prevent him from expressing his thought by the pen or by speech. (p. 11)
This first sentence is in line with Novatore’s ideas about the place of anarchists in a society or any society: an outsider and a critic first and foremost, “heroic and restless vagabonds”. Or, as Armand puts it, “the irreconcilable antagonist of every regime…” (12).
However, unlike Novatore, Armand remained resolute that there was no room for anarchism to involve the rule of majorities or elites (p. 12). This is a step up from Novatore’s more inconsistent elitist claims for what anarchism may look like in practice.
Also welcome is Armand’s subtle but important distinction that not only should the state be opposed but that any similar organizations (p. 15) should also be opposed. Armand’s anarchism may be individualist but it’s a bit thicker than Benjamin Tucker’s who claimed that only non-interference was necessary for anarchism to prevail.
And while I may not agree with all of Armand’s claims about what goes into making an anarchist (anti-moralism in particular), I can respect his opposition to dogmatism, social obligations and other forms of collective impositions on the individual.
But now that we’ve clarified his individualist anarchism, what would this look like in asocial terms? That is, if Armand does not desire a sort of society to be lived within, what sort of associations could be formed that would prove amicable to his preferences?
To this end, Armand favors relations based on the ethic of reciprocity which I see as a sort of “social individuality”. Associations are not cast aside just because we are individuals but rather informed by needs and desires. They are based on makeshift components from the individuals involved and exist insofar as they prove to expedient for said individuals. As such, contact for Armand are for certain “urgencies” , are short-term and on “short leashes” (p. 18).
Apio Ludd, a contemporary egoist speaks to this well in his piece I Want Friends, Not Community:
Community, as an ideal, stands in opposition to individuality, because it requires in the reining in of the unique for a supposed greater whole.
I recognize no greater whole to whom I am willing to give such power, so I have no interest in community.
Does this mean I want to be isolated? Well, at times, I do I value my solitude. But at times, I want to play with others. I simply don’t want to give myself over to any “greater whole”.
Armand elaborates on what sort of strategies individualist anarchists could advocate to get to such asocial/acommunal end:
The refusal of military service, or of paying taxes will have all his sympathy; free unions, single or plural, as a protestation against ordinary morals; illegalism as the violent rupture (and with certain reservations) of an economic contract imposed by force; abstention from every action, from every labor, from every function involving the maintenance or consolidation of the imposed intellectual, ethical or economic regime; the exchange of vital products between individualist-anarchist possessors of the necessary engines of production, apart from every capitalist intermediary; etc., are acts of revolt agreeing essentially with the character of individualist-anarchism. (p. 18)
The ones who will not partake in such activities, remains indifferent or especially those who will actively oppose them are those who have a lack of aspiration. They do not care to be but only to seem and as such there is no inner or external ability to recognize authenticity when they see it. The masses are concerned only with bowing before circumstances, crying out that “Ah! It’s not use!” instead of the radical who, according to anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre constantly says, “All false, all false and wrong.”
de Cleyre also discussed the concept of thing-worship as the dominant idea of the age that Armand also lived in, describing it as:
…the Much Making of Things, — not the making of beautiful things, not the joy of spending living energy in creative work; rather the shameless, merciless driving and over-driving, wasting and draining of the last lit of energy, only to produce heaps and heaps of things, — things ugly, things harmful, things useless, and at the best largely unnecessary.
The obsession in society then (and now as some may continue to argue) with perception above all else. The content of the message isn’t important or liable to be scrutinized.
Look at the popularity of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders for a good example of this. Both of their messages have very little content, particularly with Trump. But because they’re aesthetically so fed up with “the establishment” you have the young, the old, the authoritarians at heart and ghastly enough, some “libertarians” coming to support one or the other.
Because the lying murderer is nicer to think about than the honest one. The one who claims he didn’t really want to kill all of those children in the Middle East is much nicer than Trump who vomits out whatever opinions he may have. And even he has backtracked or rested his mouth for a few days to let the news cycles catch up with their moralism and fabricated outrage. Only to start making trouble once more and garner the attention of the media again and more votes.
It’s a show and a circus act and we’re the domesticated animals.
If such is the state of society and Armand’s opinions may not be the highest of society in general, who does he speak to? The curious, the thinkers, those who don’t bow before circumstances, for those tired of the masses.
After all, the individualist has no real place in a social revolution as Novatore makes clear:
The anarchist individualist is in the Social Revolution, not as a demagogue, but as a inciting element, not as an apostle, but as a living, effective, destructive force…
All past revolutions were in the end, bourgeois and conservative. That which flashes on the red horizon of our magnificently tragic time will have for its aim the fierce socialist humanism. We, anarchist individualists, will enter into the revolution for an exclusive need of our own to set fire to and incite spirits. To make sure that, as Stirner says, it is not a new revolution that approaches, but rather an immense, proud, reckless, shameless, conscienceless crime that rumbles with the lightning on the horizon, and beneath which the sky, swollen with foreboding, grows dark and silent.
And Ibsen: “There’s only one revolution I recognize – that was truly, thoroughly radical – … I’m referring to the ancient Flood! That one alone was truly serious. But even then the devil lost his due: you know Noah took up the dictatorship. Let’s make this revolution again, but more thoroughly. It requires real men as well as orators. So you bring on the roaring waters, I’ll supply the powder keg to blow up the ark.”
Now since dictatorship will be – alas! – inevitable in the somber global revolution that sends its bleak glow from the east over our black cowardice, the ultimate task of we anarchist individualists will be that of blowing up the final ark with bomb explosions and the final dictator with Browning shots. The new society established, we will return to its margins to live our lives dangerously as noble criminals and audacious sinners! Because the anarchist individualist still means eternal renewal, in the field of art, thought and action.
In summary then, it is the loose affiliation of individualist anarchists within a reciprocal but loose framework that is more likely to win the day. Anarchism is not a numbers game and it isn’t something to be trusted to the masses of society according to Novatore, Armand and other individualist anarchists.
Even today we can see similar arguments from fellow C4SS writers like William Gillis:
A very small minority can be such a grievous pain as to make large systems of power unsustainable. This much is obvious to everyone in our day and age. If three million people–less than 1% of the US population–launched an armed insurrection it would obviously be enough to bring all semblance of state power down. Of course that’s not precisely what we’re attempting, we are hardly blind to the non-state dynamics of power such a blithely single-minded campaign would ignore, but it is illustrative. Even the American Revolution–a campaign that sadly wasted much to replace one authority with another–was won with the support of barely over a third of the populace. You don’t need a majority to derail an injustice.
The strategy of the individualist anarchist then doesn’t revolve around numbers, mass movements or majoritarian impositions. Loose and loving associations based on never-ending critique, independent production disassociated from capitalism and an appreciation for individual property, autonomy and responsibility are better suited to the needs and desires of anarchists.
Mass movements, for Armand lead to “total repression” (pp. 29-30) even if they are based on notions of “class struggle” because individuals are inevitably sacrificed for common goods. Solidarity becomes less of a free flowing concept and more of a four letter word that must be bellowed from comrade to comrade as inorganically as possible. Non-combatants for “the cause” will have their expressions stifled or perhaps out-group biases will encourage violation of non-combatants individual liberties.
All of these reasons are also why Armand, even as an egoist, opposed wars under the state. So too must mass movements that stem from the idea of violence lead to ceaseless repression of individuals to make themselves consistent. Which isn’t even mentioning how it would fit neatly alongside the general trajectory of how violent revolutions more generally have worked out as Novatore noted.
Above all else the “war” of individualist anarchists for Armand is endless critique.
At every moment, in every milieu, through all available means (words, writings, deeds, individualist associations, multiplying such associations, free schools, by example, by contrast, etc.) against all established (or sacred) things, so that we may free ourselves.
Not for the sake of some “future society” since for at least many of the egoists, there is no future.
As Armand puts it, the “individualist work is essentially a present work and present achievement” (39). There’s no “topographical” as he brilliantly frames it, to do anarchy. Humanity should be seen as a “gigantic arena” (p. 41) and as a “dynamic type” (ibid) that will self-consciously organize against organizationalism. The self-perpetuating nature of organizations to insist on subordinating their individual members so that they may continue on.
To borrow a phrase from Armand, for the individualist anarchist life is an experiment.
It is outside laws, morality or customs and doesn’t care so much about the quantity of experiences so much as the quality. It makes us all unafraid to live and breathe and finally, be ourselves, as authentically and freely as possible.
These are the aspirations of individualist anarchists and individualist anarchism itself.
The second part of Armand’s book is a perhaps more challenging and interesting part for me and for readers of this site. This section of Armand’s writings focuses on what it means to have freedom within the topics of love, specifically free love.
To start, Armand makes an important distinction that is common among the individualist anarchist: Liberty is not an end. (p. 60)
For Armand, liberty can only apply to individuals and so there is no absolute sense in which liberty can apply to everyone. He gives the example that one cannot be “free” to not breathe or digest (p. 60). In other words there are certain freedoms we are not free from.
Here, I’d argue that Armand is conflating different kinds of liberty. It is true that unless we wish to take our life or (for the latter) starve ourselves because we’re fasting, etc. we must indulge in breath and digestion. At the same time, the idea of “freedom of expression” that Armand values so highly is clearly a different sort of liberty than the liberty to breathe or digest things.
But perhaps the fact that there are different kinds of liberty only reaffirms Armand’s point: That liberty can never be absolute and, in the end, is only an abstraction.
As an alternative to “absolute liberty” Armand proposes ideas that he feels are more “grounded” such as the “needs and desires” of individuals which I’ve gestured towards a few times already. To Armand, these are much more practical and intuitive ways to understand what we can or can’t do, should or shouldn’t do. We do not need the concept of “rights” which appeals to a sense of absolutism but rather our subjective mental states and how much they fulfill our needs.
There’s something tricky about this though: Our internal states of minds are always changing.
How can we make something grounded when our emotions are so clouded and hampered many times over? To be fair to Armand he doesn’t get anymore specific than “our needs and desires” but I cannot see what these things would be determined by except emotions first and foremost. If Armand sees a place for rationality and emotion then that seems plausible to me. But as I said Armand doesn’t clarify past “our needs and desires” so it’s hard to tell.
Nevertheless, defining liberty in needs and desires and not rights or gives enough headway for us to look at Armand’s definition of sexual liberty:
the possibility for every individual to dispose, as they wish and in all the circumstances of their sexual life – according to the variations of temperament, sentiment, and reason which are particular to them. (p. 62)
This is a fairly broad definition and as such would understandably concern readers now and certainly then. Armand clarifies beforehand that the call for “sexual liberty” isn’t the call for sexual aggression. It isn’t the call “unthinking promiscuity” or “animalistic sexual satisfaction” at “any time and place” (p. 62).
Armand reminds us that the sexual freedom of one doesn’t necessarily imply the freedom over others. Just because individuals are free to engage in their wishes for a particular sort of sexual life doesn’t necessitate that others are obligated to fulfill that need or desire. As it turns out, Armand will actually contradict himself later in this collection, but we’ll return to that later.
For now, we return to the topic of sexual education where Armand was ahead of his time. Armand tells us that discussions of sexuality should never have a moment where they cannot be discussed. Nor should anyone be ignorant of contraception or the way sexual experiences can happen. The sexual question shouldn’t treated any less seriously than the economic questions.
As such, the actions of the sexually liberated presume this sexual education. That is to say, we cannot find sexual liberation without sexual education, the two are intertwined. As long as the discussion of sexuality is shamed, hampered and laughed about there is little hope for an actual sexual revolution in our culture. It’s true that things have improved greatly since Armand’s time but there are still many schools that do not even teach basic sexual education. And in any case, as individualist anarchists we would rather children discover life through their actions, their parents and friends intellectual guidance, than the state-run schools.
There are some other issues with Armand’s arguments but within Sexual Fantasists they are mainly a matter his historical context. Still, I think it bears mentioning that his omissions of asexuality and aromantic individuals are a regrettable exclusion to say the least. Armand treats sexuality as a sort of de facto state that people work themselves to in a predictable fashion. But he doesn’t seem to allow for the fact that some individuals simply aren’t interested in sexual or romantic relations.
This thought doesn’t even seem to occur to him even though I’m sure had he looked beyond himself (a particular problem of the individualist anarchist I am happy to admit) he may have realized that romantic and sexual relations are not everything in life.
Still, Armand’s definition of just sexual and romantic relations are fairly succinct. Armand considers these relations moral (for lack of a better word on my part) so long as no violence or constraint is used. Given this I feel Armand would agree with the platitude (problematic as it may be) that “your kink is not my kink and that’s okay” that I’ve heard.
There are issues with this sort of definition and the idea of a “pure sexual impulse” which Armand mentions (p. 69) but again, we’ll touch on this later.
Revolutionary Sexualism is easily the longest essay in this collection at 40 pages but much of it feels as if it’s simply summarizing Armand’s earlier thoughts on sexual liberty contained in On Sexual Liberty and Sexual Fantasists.
Even so, there are still many aspects to praise and criticize in Revolutionary Sexualism, particularly Armand’s openness to open relations. Full disclosure: I am an advocate and practitioner of polyamory which is to say multiple relationships that involve committed and consensual long-term commitments, typically of a romantic sort.
So it’s understandable then that I have some favorable biases towards Armand’s rather extreme (even for me) idea that jealousy is caused by “ignorance, wickedness, dementia” (pp. 77). But even though I think Armand overstates his case here, I do agree that ending your relationship because someone broke a boundary is something people do out of either ignorance or “revenge” against the cheater. For me, cheating has always been a conversation starter and not a relationship ender. So in this respect I agree with Armand that jealousy should be handled better if love is to be freer. That doesn’t mean we all need to be polyamorous or agree with Armand on free love but that we should at least try to deal with our problems more constructively.
There are some regrettable elements though. For instance on page 78 Armand claims that a man cannot truly know a woman and vice versa until they consummate sexual relations. Now, it’s perfectly understandable to me that you may not understand people in particular ways if you never have sex with them. But many people seem to get along fine with each other and still end up loving each other deeply without engaging in sexual relations. Again, I’d point to the asexual community which loves and expresses this love in plenty of healthy ways with other individuals. And they do this even without engaging in sexual interactions in part or in whole.
When it came to issues of motherhood though, Armand was pretty dead on. He advocated for “voluntary motherhood” (p. 80) and throughout the book advocates for the rights of women to determine their own romantic and sexual relations. On the other hand, there’s some questionable bits about women duping men more than vice versa (pp. 83-84). But I find it hard to believe that in the early-mid 20th century women were in a position to systematically dupe men more than the other way around.
On the other hand, even if this was true I’d guess that women were in a much worse position than your average man. Duping men in many circumstances was likely a situation of life and death for them. While for men it was simply a matter of manipulating women and asserting their dominance. These are generalizations of course and based on historical averages and my own intuitions, but I don’t think it seems too unlikely that Armand is wrong here.
One particularly interesting part is when Armand discusses dead love:
I do not at all desire the death of love, but I hate dead love. I contrast the love that lives, that bursts the paunch of prejudices, lets the air out of the shame balloon, thumbs its nose in the moonlight love beyond good and evil, unbridled, unsaddled, drunk, Aphordisiacal, Silenic, plural, generous, love that does not refuse itself – I contrast that love to the love of pale colors, namby-pamby, state-at-home, limited, bounded, timid,ignorant of passion as well as of adventure, glued to its single form as a a snail to its shell, small-minded, which refuses itself because its hands are empty. (p. 89)
Contrast this with Emma Goldman’s famous quote on free love:
Free love? As if love is anything but free!
Man has bought brains, but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love.
Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love.
Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love.
Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. High on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and color. Thus love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king.
Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere. In freedom it gives itself unreservedly, abundantly, completely. All the laws on the statutes, all the courts in the universe, cannot tear it from the soil, once love has taken root.
Like Goldman, Armand sees liberated romantic relationships as having the potential to overthrow the established social order.
The prospects for this strategy seem mixed for me. I don’t deny that liberating love can help individuals in many important ways and thus may extend to society in general. But it seems that alternative relationships can also be assimilated into the current society just as much as it can subvert and challenge it. Even as a polayamorous person myself, I think that radicals must be wary of glamorizing supposedly “radical” relationships. No relationship can cleanly escape oppressive dynamics within society and thinking that this can be the case is a great way to hide toxic relationships or abusers.
On another note, there’s another aspect of the individualist anarchist spirit I respect: Its lack of compromise in comprising situations.
To put a finer point on this, Armand knows what he wants from a “feminine camaraderie” and if he’s not going to get it then he isn’t simply going to stay with this individual because other needs are being met. Though it’s worth pointing out there are some dangers to the sort of language Armand uses about this. He seems almost entitled to the expectation of sex with female comrades of him and if he doesn’t get this he feels quite at ease of disposing of them (p. 91). This is definitely a troubling sentiment that I’d want to oppose.
It’s also a sentiment that the translator A. de Acosta touches on in the next part of the collection so we’ll discuss that more then.
An interesting quote given by Armand via the egoist Max Stirner in his The Ego and His Own is of particular note:
A society which I join does indeed take from me many liberties, but in return it affords me other liberties; neither does it matter if I myself deprive myself of this and that liberty (such as by any contract). […] For the goal of association is not so much freedom, which it sacrifices to individuality, but this individuality itself. (p. 92 in Individualist Anarchism, p. 408 in The Ego and His Own, it is likely Acosta’s translation of Armand’s translation to turn”ownness” into “individuality”)
This goes back to Armand’s point about no absolute sense of liberty being possible. It’s true that I give up certain abilities or powers that I previously held at my disposal. However, this is not the issue with society because all association tends to diminish our liberties in some way, broadly speaking. We always make compromises in our personal abilities and powers to because of other people’s personal boundaries or something else we consider important.
Once more, these are not the issue with associations or societies more generally for the egoist. The problems come when their individuality itself (their “owness”) is being threatened in some sense by an association of any sort. The egoist requests that in these situations they be allowed free leave at any time. They have no obligation to give up whatever makes them feel like themselves in some way just for “the common good” or for any other individual in particular, be the individual a “ruler” or a would-be one.
Given I’m not an egoist but an individualist anarchist (of the Tuckerite pre-egoist sort) I don’t understand how this “owness” or “individuality” isn’t treated as some sort of essential feature. In other words, isn’t individuality being held in a sacred way here or treated as an absolute or abstraction? How does the egoist reconcile this? In reading Armand and Novatore I’ve yet to find answers, ditto to the collection Egoism and Apio’s work as well as from the few quotes of Stirner I’ve seen on sacredness.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t answers, only that I have not found them. But I encourage anyone and everyone to give me feedback on this quandary I have here. The egoists are a smart and resourceful lot at times and I’m sure they have answers.
One possible answer I can think of is the egoist biting the bullet and saying, “Yes, I hold myself in a sacred and abstract fashion. Why wouldn’t I? Is that not the point of egoism? That nothing is sacred but yourself and what makes you you?”
If so, fair enough. But then it seems as if this opposition to sacredness and absolutes has a notable exception. Does this prove a larger issue for egoism? I’m not sure, but I’m interested to see what other egoists think about this.
Another thing egoists tend to do is reclaim words commonly thought of as cultural insults denoting “lowness”. Armand engages with this on multiple levels when he revels in being called a “Satyr” or compared to various things associated with pleasure and desire. On the flip side there is an odd aversion to the word “pornographer” for according to Armand it denotes someone who is a “slave” to their desires.
Another great point Armand makes which ties back into his thick anarchism is his critique of the family:
The family is a micro-State, in which children are subject to contract resembling the social contract, an imposed contract.
I am not unaware that the question is greatly arduous and delicate, but, even given the best conditions, constantly remaining, in the same familiar milieu creates in the child a state of resignation, acquisition of habits, the practice of certain ethical routine the imprint of which he retains for a long while, all of which go against his autonomous formation.
The familial milieus where the child does not have to bend down to the average mentality, or pretend that he is doing so (which is worse) are rare. (pp. 96-97)
This critique of permanent relations is pivotal to Armand and also extends to romantic relationships, much like it does for de Cleyre on the subject of marriage:
But it is neither the religious nor the civil ceremony that I refer to now, when I say that “those who marry do ill.” The ceremony is only a form, a ghost, a meatless shell. By marriage I mean the real thing, the permanent relation of a man and a woman, sexual and economical, whereby the present home and family life is maintained.
It is of no importance to me whether this is a polygamous, polyandric or monogamous marriage, nor whether it is blessed by a priest, permitted by a magistrate, contracted publicly or privately, or not contracted at all. 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. (emphasis mine)
There are other aspects of Armand’s position that revel in a certain amount of freedom for children that is left out of most discussions today. Even with “school choice” becoming more mainstream, these choices are not made to optimize the children’s benefit but to give their parents the most amount of choices possible. School choice conversations tend to revolve around what parents can do to make the best accommodations for their children. And even if what the children want, in practice, matters, it isn’t explicitly said.
One of the most direct statements Armand makes in favor of autonomy for children is when he remarks:
For my part, I have always defended the child’s to the full and complete faculty of demanding any transformation or modification of his state of tutelage or the granting of his emancipation, having recourse to arbitration, for example. In these cases the choice of an arbiter, or at least one of the arbiters falls to him. (p. 101)
The question of youth liberation falls outside the scope of this essay but perhaps another time…
When it comes to an example for successful free love experiments, Armand provides the Onedia Community (which is oddly now the Onedia silverware company) as a case study that proves that free love can and does work in communities. He makes a strange passing note that he doesn’t approve of Onedia’s “matriarchical” way it was practiced. But the general summary from Wikipedia on the role of women in the community doesn’t make it seem very imbalanced at all, nor did any follow-up research.
Unfortunately for Armand and his case study, he fails to note how tied together the community was based on religion. Which, as an atheist I am sure doesn’t bolster Armand’s ideal free love community. It’s odd how as both a former Christian and a current atheist at the time of writing this he makes no critical note of this. It’s a rather odd omission given how important from an egoist point of view it often is to criticize religion and especially given how important religion was to the Onedia Community in particular.
Still, the community was very successful and even upon its disbanding still had $600,000 left over in savings due to its production of traps for hunters. This is particularly humorous for a community that is described as “socialist” (also see here for a description of it as communism and a comparison to the socialist Fourier) and tried to share their property communally. And remember, both communism and socialism are things Armand came out strongly against earlier in this collection.
That said, even with those humorous ironies Armand’s case study isn’t ill-fitted in terms of success overall, as Spencer Klaw, author of WITHOUT SIN: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community, says:
As Mr. Klaw points out, the surprising thing is not that Oneida failed but that it lasted as long as it did. Communal living apparently had its blessings, other than the mixed ones of sexual variety and group parenting. Music, painting and poetry were among the many cultural interests cultivated by the group. Games and sports enlivened everyday life. Work was looked on as a joyous, shared activity. Community leaders put the cooperative spirit to good economic use. They established a variety of businesses, the most successful of which, a tableware company, is today the world’s largest manufacturer of stainless steel knives, forks and spoons.
And writing for the New York Times in 2007 Beth Quinn Barnard says it’s, “…arguably the most successful commune in American history…” which is high praise indeed.
But the community also had its regrettable conclusions due to its religious zealotry:
IN the end, John Humphrey Noyes took his radical religious vision too far for even his longtime followers. In 1869 the Oneida Community began a eugenics experiment in the selective breeding of human beings that Noyes called stirpiculture and produced 58 children from couples chosen by a committee on the basis of their spiritual qualities.
And while “in theory” their complex marriages and free love were supposed to stifle the existence of jealousy, in practice it didn’t go so smoothly. For more on the colony you can read this chapter of John H. Martin’s book Saints, Siners and Reformers.
Regardless of Armand’s imperfect example it certainly was free love that existed for over two decades in varying quantities and qualities and was =sustainable, even if the theory didn’t always match up with the practice.
Concluding my summary and review of this essay, Armand’s insults to hypocritical libertarians (by this he likely means anarchists) who praise de Sade, Wilde or Don Juan but falter in practice, deserves a mention:
Now one who searches for splendid and novel pleasures in flesh and blood, is before you, comes up to you, takes your hand, ventures a gesture. Whoa! he is unbalanced, unhinged! Get him out of her, fast!
But then what is the point of tour phoje complaint about “Catholics who would recrucify the man from Nazareth if he reappeared on the planet?”
You are not better. (p. 108)
These are libertarians who still see the discussion of sexuality with repulsion and so long as such individuals exist revolutionary sexualism is but a dream.
Critical Critiques of a Critic’s Criticism
After Revolutionary Sexualism we return to Acosta who makes some critical comments on the essay.
Most notably Acosta highlights that in stanzas 26, 34 and 35 Armand’s vision of free sexual associations seem to be based on an entitled feeling. This leaves Acosta to conclude that however interesting Armand’s proposal may be, it holds little practical value. This is mostly due to Armand’s “fantasizing” (in Acosta’s words) no one (particularly women) would want to leave such free love arrangements once they entered it.
Let’s take a look at each stanza to see if we can get a better handle on what Acosta is saying:
(1) I do not force any female companion of mine to be part of any association, but it is indifferent to me whether any women or women friends participate in a milieu of this sort because none of the ones who are part of it will refuse my caress. (pp. 90-91, emphasis mine)
(2) In the milieu we are hoping of, the exercise of reciprocity only works if there are neither exploiters or exploited, injurers or injured, dupers or duped, deceivers or fools. If there is no equivalence between what is given what what is received, there is exploitation or oppression, whatever it is to be called.
That is why, in such a milieu, if the attitude is not such that each is happy to be the object of enjoyment or consummation for all, and all are happy to be object of enjoyment or consummation for each, will of necessity find individualities that are sacrificed, deprived of enjoyment or consummation. Now, a milleu of individualist camaraderie when there is a single individuality deprived of enjoyment or consummation is anything except a milieu of camaraderie. (pp. 95-96, emphasis in original)
(3) So then do not be part of any milieu, do not group people around you under any pretext. Remain isolated. But do not be the isolated one among associated ones, considering them as good subjects for your enjoyment or your consummation without any reciprocity on your part. (p. 96)
For sake of ease, I’ve numbered each individual stanza and will respond to them in that order
- This is very confusing and is presumptuous on Armand’s part. Does he not realize that people’s interests change? That people’s romantic feelings more than almost any other feelings are subject to change, sometimes without warning? Should someone who decided to enter but now doesn’t want the caress of Armand or anyone else be shamed or singled out for this lack of “reciprocity”?
- Which brings me to the second stanza. It just seems like a really underhanded tactic to appeal to some sort of anarchist ethic/morality to advocate for a sense of entitlement. Armand forgets that reciprocity takes two to work. Reciprocity isn’t about having only one individual have all of their pleasures and desires fulfilled while the other hardly has any interest at all. This isn’t reciprocity but exactly the sort of oppression and exploitation Armand claims is being opposed by communities like his.
- The third part reads to me like someone who is reveling in some odd lack of immaturity. It seems to me as if Armand is saying, “Fine! Be that way, but you shall always be alone!” which is a common tactic among emotionally abusive people. Notice too that Armand seemingly can’t even conceive that the issue may not be this person but himself or the other party involved. Again, we see Armand’s egoism turn into egotism, he cannot stand to look past himself and it shows.
That said, I share with Acosta an enthusiasm of Armand’s calls for the liberation of children, amorous friendships and the rejection of jealousy.
And as Acosta says, it’s possible some may like Armand’s fantastical notion of sexuality but to quote Acosta,
…by hypothetically inventing “those who want to be the objects,” I am re-introducing a truly voluntary sense of association precisely where Armand seems to have conceived such association too narrowly. (p. 117)
I do take slight issue with Acosta’s characterization of this fantasy (which I do agree is a fantasy on Armand’s part) as they claim it is a stereotypical “straight-male” fantasy. Acosta claims that on the basis that Armand wants the “sexual availability of multiple women” (ibid).
But I’d argue that (for example) the polyamory position can come from straight-males who want to be involved with multiple women but that there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. What’s important is that people are valued for their individuality. Heterosexual poly couples who are looking for a “unicorn” (a bisexual woman) is different than someone who is looking for multiple romantic partners (which may/may not involve sex) who happen to be cis women.
Sure, surface wise it seems to some people that polyamory is just about straight dudes getting everything they want out of life. But polyamory in practice hardly ever works like that and almost no polyamorists that I’ve known actually frame it like this. I get where Acosta is coming from in his characterization but I think the term “straight male” is an unnecessary addition. In addition, I think it keeps us from looking at the bigger picture when it comes to general discussions of free love.
Acosta offers an alternative to Armand’s revolutionary sexualism through two points:
Any contract entered into voluntarily can be exited equally voluntarily […] [I]t may be that groups that gather for erotic or sexual purposes are in some places, in some ways, or for some people just different than the groups Armand constantly places them in analogy with.
There isn’t too much to say about Acosta’s proposals as the first one is fairly obvious to me and the second one is something of a sketch (as they admit).
But I do like their conclusion for modern-day egoists and individualists to re-examine the possibilities of stable and long-lasting associations which Armand envisioned. And from there, possibly re-imagine a world where any other sort of stable or long-lasting association is questioned as well.
Perfectly within the spirit of Armand’s individualism, I think.
Armand Does Kill la Kill
Kill la Kill isn’t a particularly obscure anime so I’m hoping most here will at least have heard about it. The most important thing to remember in this section is that the show involves a revolutionary cadre named Nudist Beach.
And on that note, Armand was a fan of nudism.
Within the book it may as well as be some sort of footnote. There’s only one small article devoted to the topic and it’s not very detailed even within the small space that Acosta gives us to ponder questions we often don’t ponder. Clothes are, in that sense, a very “sacred” thing that people don’t generally question. And if people even vaguely question it through campaigns like Free the Nipple then, to quote the Joker, “well then everybody loses their minds!”
That said, even though I have sympathies with nudism and “naturism” as its sometimes called (just presume NSFW for any of the links in this section) I don’t really see it as “revolutionary”. Nudism is probably even less revolutionary than advocating polyamory in social circles. It’s more likely to be disruptive in terms of disbelief on the part of your interlocutors but other than that I don’t see the appeal.
Armand claims it’s revolutionary in that it affirms the right (I’m unsure why Armand is all of the sudden believing in rights…) to be nude, to be able to protest and practice the ability to be nude against laws and morality and that it offers “liberation” from clothes. According to Armand, all of these things put together make his nudism a “revolutionary” sort, but if the excessive use of quotation marks isn’t making it clear, I’m not buying it.
Again, I have no issues with nudism. I think that reducing the amount of body shaming, pearl-clutching to ideals of “modesty” and reducing the amount of authority we see in rulers are all great goals. And perhaps having a culture that embraces nudity as a more respected and accepted social norm would go towards these things. That’s all great if so but there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about any of that and I don’t think it should be socially enforced in any way.
Perhaps experiencing gender dysphoria is making me biased here but not everyone thinks their body is worth looking at. And not everyone needs to be convinced they’re going to be the next contestant on America’s Next Top Model to have some sense of self-worth. Nor does everyone want to be naked or feel that clothes are something they need to be “liberated” from. Obviously, many people think the same about government or capitalism, so this by itself doesn’t prove much. But whereas I think people don’t have good reasons to think that about governments, capitalism, etc. I don’t see any reason why it’d be wrong to disagree with Armand about clothing.
None of this is to say that clothing can’t be oppressive or used for oppressive means. I can’t tell you how many libertarian events I’ve gone to and eye-rolled at the “suggested dress code” that was invoked. Often these types of guidelines made me want to throw on my messiest shirt, with some ripped jeans and have on my patented “Just got out of bed and don’t give a shit” hair.
Edgy, I know.
But seriously, it’s always bothered me how the libertarian movement has somehow prided itself on its networking ability. As if the sum of our abilities should be reduced to who we get to know and not what we get to know at these events. This sort of culture is much more likely to accelerate nepotism than make us all expert socializers. It also just struck me as another way to reinforce the biases about libertarianism (right or wrong) that it’s mostly a movement for white middle-class men who complain about too many taxes.
To be clear, I’m not the biggest fan of this stereotype but when you go to these events and see how much social and virtue signaling people put into their dress , you’d think that the liberals at Salon and Alternet aren’t entirely wrong all of the time.
Excuse me while I take a shower after admitting that.
In addition, as someone who has grown up lower-class it’s always been off-putting to me that those who dress “better” tend to get more respect than those who don’t. This isn’t as entrenched of a social norm as it used to be and certainly “dressing up” is a thing that’s much more widely available to many more people, which isn’t something I’m against. But what I’m trying to get at here is that I sympathize in these moments with the alternative of nudism over virtue-signaling through threads of fabric.
I’ve always liked the libertarian movement to be more inclusive and to me it seems like dressing up as if we’re CEOs of multi-million corporations is one of the worst ways to do it from a marketing standpoint. And that’s all I mean by this, it’s not a moral critique (as Armand would be happy to hear) but rather an aesthetic and marketing critique.
Moreover I agree, at least in part, with Armand that clothing can keep classes divided and rulers in place. But I don’t think clothing is an essential part of that and don’t see any good reason to think otherwise. Armand says nudism is “pure”, “natural” and “instinctive” but this is just an appeal to nature and nice-sounding terms that are too vague to do the intellectual leg-work that Armand wants.
It also reflects back to my issues with Armand referring to a “pure sexual impulse” (p. 69) that I mentioned earlier. In some places Armand appeals to “purity” but in others says that dividing body parts between “noble” and “ignoble” is misguided. Armand seems to want to have it both ways or else isn’t defining his terms well.
However, I’ll readily concede that in Revolutionary Sexualism Armand makes an interesting point about nudism:
The prig does not realize that he imposes (consciously or unconsciously) oon those who encounter the spectacle of his naked face, without caring whether it is agreeable or not; and that this imposition is only tolerable because of a social conformism that has never been seriously discussed or freely examined. (p. 111)
I couldn’t honestly tell you what’s the real or meaningful difference between someone’s head and (if you’ll excuse the pun) someone’s head. All I can really tell is that we have a fairly odd mix of prudishness and sexual extravagance in this culture and I’m hoping that those who would like to be prude can do so safely and those who want to express themselves through nudism (or anything in between) can also do so safely.
Or, if nothing else, can we at least talk about people’s naked bodies without “losing our minds”?
Conclusion: The Emperor Wears Clothes
As I’ve made clear, there’s much to pour over when it comes to Armand’s writings.
There’s a lot to like, a lot to be skeptical of and some parts are outright disagreeable for the modern individualist anarchist. Or, at least for this modern individualist anarchist. But regardless of whatever that combination of attitudes amounts to these collected writings are continuing to propel the individualist anarchist critique forward.
On a personal note, many of my reviews are books from the distributor Little Black Cart and that’s no coincidence. They’re one of the few distributors who openly and proudly display the label “individualist” and don’t shy away from it. Sure, their use of the word is different than mine (I’m not against markets or morality for instance) but even with these disagreements there’s still much of interest.
None of this is to say that distributors like AK Press or PM Press or the dozens of other presses out there aren’t doing anything interesting. But for my own temperaments there’s not much better than Little Black Cart. I’ve always enjoyed their publications even if I don’t always agree with the end result. And reading Armand I found myself often delighted in similar ways to how I was delighted by Novatore and his work. As I noted earlier, there are differences between the two (some I’m thankful for and others not) but the similarities are striking and worth commenting as well.
In particular their anti-society and pro-vagabond stance on what the role of the anarchist is and shall always be in societies. We will always be the critics and divergent ones from whatever collective or situation we find ourselves in. Maybe we won’t always have the social capital to voice those opinions, but that’s where I believe the benefit of markets come in.
We can voice our opinions in many ways that don’t have to rely so much on social favor, knowing the best social cues or being the most charismatic during the many meetings that leftists love to hold. We will always try to get ourselves out of associations we do not wish to be in and by whatever means we find applicable. We will not allow ourselves to bend to an association or collective.
And it’s easy to be negative about “the masses” in that respect. It’s easy to look at “the average person” and say that there’s no hope for humanity or hope for anarchism. Or to surmise that “the masses” are useless and anarchism must be built by “the enlightened few” or something of that sort. But although I understand that position to an extent and even have some sympathy towards it, I dissent.
To be fair to the pessimist (or maybe they are the “realist”) I think there’s many things in the culture to be upset about.
Donald Trump being a serious contender for the president of the United States is one of the biggest things I can think of. On the other hand, the political system isn’t neatly defined by what’s popular. The electoral college system has been broken for a while due to its heavy emphasis on delegate votes instead of popular votes. Even so, there’s much to be fed up with for the enthusiasm of Trump in the media and in the polls.
On the other hand, I think people are voting for Trump and Sanders because they’re both “anti-establishment” . They’re not really of course. But they say and act like they are according to other people’s perceptions of what “the establishment” stands for. And that’s progress, in the totally wrong direction. But it’s still progress that can be captured by anarchists with the right propaganda.
And in general it’s useless for individualist anarchists to see “masses” of people. To paraphrase fellow C4SS writer Charles Johnson, I’ve never met this “mass” of people but I’ve met individuals. Some of them are smart and some aren’t and usually people are a mix of both and not one extreme or the other.
Lastly, alongside Armand’s final article in this collection To Feel Alive it seems pertinent to denote that for the anarchist there’s a difference between “feeling alive” and being alive.
Recognizing my own individuality and what could lead me to a better appreciation of life, as Armand suggests, really has helped me feel alive in how I present myself and my individuality to the world. Individualist anarchism is the demand that everyone live such a life. That we don’t bend but that we break the chains that bind our individuality to the ground and let it soar to the skies.
Individualist anarchism is the revolution I’ve been waiting for.