C4SS Mutual Exchange Symposium
Anarchism and Egoism: The Only Authority Is Yourself
Many consider anarchism and egoism polar opposites. Anarchists oppose all forms of domination, from statism to capitalism to patriarchy, because anarchism is about dignity and autonomy for all. Egoism, derived from the French égoïsme meaning “to think of oneself,” is about the affirmation and assertion of the self. How can the anarchist commitment to universalism be reconciled with the egoist commitment to oneself? Isn’t “thinking of everyone” at odds with “thinking of oneself”? This Mutual Exchange Symposium is a collective effort aimed at exploring these and related tensions.
Anarchism and egoism are, ironically, kindred spirits. Both share roots in 19th century radical philosophic and political thought—though the ideas and practices associated with each surely predate their first explicit articulations. Both have been considered, at best, taboo and, at worst, dangerous. Both have been misunderstood, but also mischaracterized. Both ultimately found refuge during the 20th and 21st centuries within broader libertarian undercurrents, where their adherents were fractured and ideas were sharpened. Most importantly, both consider themselves on the side of life and freedom. The essays compiled here explore the complex relationship between these two traditions.
Egoists have, fittingly, defended their emphasis on the self in a variety of ways. The egoist tradition most strongly associated with anarchism is, in the tradition of Max Stirner (Johann Kaspar Schmidt’s pseudonym), nihilistic. Benjamin Tucker, founder and editor of the most prominent 19th century anarchist periodical Liberty, translated Stirner’s The Unique and Its Property (sometimes translated as The Ego and Its Own) from German to English and incorporated Stirner’s egoism into his own Proudhon-influenced individualist anarchism. This ideological shift was happily embraced by some Liberty authors, such as Tak Kak (James L. Walker’s pseudonym), but fervently rejected by others, particularly those more inclined towards the ideas of human nature and human rights, such as Gertrude B. Kelley.
Stirner rejected morality as yet another archaic tool of control to be abandoned along with statism, capitalism, patriarchy, slavery, nationalism, religion, and all forms of collectivism, which elevate illusory abstractions above the concrete individual. To submit oneself to any kind of externally imposed restraint is to betray oneself. Whether the self is to be discovered or created, it is, most of all, to be upheld. Morals, states, bosses, genders, races, nations, and gods are to be thought of like Casper the Ghost, as mere “spooks.” Nihilist egoists ground anarchism, not in pretenses to nature or justice, but in their simple and straightforward commitment to the inviolability of the individual, to the sacredness of the self, to the ego and its own.
Another strand of egoism is ethical egoism—though neither strand much likes to grant the legitimacy of the “egoist” title to the other. Ethical egoism doesn’t view morality as an externally imposed restraint, but as a necessary component of a flourishing life. On this view, morality (including the demands of justice) is considered internal to one’s flourishing; facts about morality ultimately relate back to facts about flourishing. Morality straightforwardly emerges from one’s life, relationships, and projects. The most popular proponent of this view is Ayn Rand, who was herself a fervent critic of anarchism, but who influenced many thinkers that took her radical individualism in a decidedly anarchist direction, such as Murray N. Rothbard, Jeff Riggenbach, Roy A. Childs, and Roderick T. Long.
Rand formulated a colorful combination of Ancient Greek virtue ethics, proto-existentialist (and sometimes Stirner-reminiscent) Nietzscheanism, and classical liberal individualism. By grounding her egoism in Aristotelian ideas about human flourishing, Rand argued living well is not a project independent of, let alone threatened by, living morally. Part of living a good life is being a virtuous person, acting in accordance with justice, and respecting the rights of others. Where Stirner’s nihilist egoism has lived on as an undercurrent of individualist anarchism more broadly, the 20th century U.S. libertarians that drew on the individualist anarchists of old largely preferred the natural law of Lysander Spooner to the nihilism of Benjamin Tucker. Rand offered the natural law and anti-nihilism of the former, but without sacrificing the egoism of the latter.
Despite their historical affinity, anarchism and egoism also share many areas of tension. These questions are meant to help spur inquiry into those areas for the conversation that follows.
- Is the egalitarianism of anarchism reconcilable with the individualism of egoism?
- Does egoism provide firmer grounding for anarchism than alternative theories that emphasize consequences or duties?
- How is egoism related to different branches of anarchism, e.g. market anarchism, social anarchism, primitivism, transhumanism, etc.?
- Are the multiple branches of egoism as disparate as they are sometimes treated?
- Should egoists abandon notions of human nature and objective morality or embrace them?
- How should egoists relate to collective identities such as race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, nationality, and/or species (possessed by themselves and/or others) when those categories are treated as significant by nearly everyone? Can egoists acknowledge “spooks” without entrenching them?
- Is egoism compatible with historical anarchist praxis such as mutual aid and community organizing?
- What does egoism have to say about intersectional approaches in which oppression is understood as mutually interlocking phenomena, like the bars of a birdcage?
- Does egoism ignore the insights offered by the dialectical methodology usually associated with Hegel and Marx? Or are John Welsh and Chris Matthew Sciabarra (who respectively interpret Stirner and Rand through dialectical lenses) on to something?
- Can egoism survive Marxist critiques that say true liberation requires some kind of collective consciousness and solidarity?
- Can egoism survive postmodern critiques that say the “individual” and the “self” are constructs as illusory as the collective abstractions egoists oppose?
- What can egoism offer us concerning the issues of modernity, such as alienation, environmental destruction, secularism, neoliberalism, and resurgent fascism?
- Is egoism harmful in the face of collective action problems and negative externalities such as those associated with climate change?
I hope this Mutual Exchange provides a space for anarchists and egoists to collaboratively reflect on these tensions and maybe even stumble onto some solutions together.
Egoism, like anarchism, is a much richer tradition of thought than it’s often given credit for. While historically unconventional and unpopular, egoism offers a variety of novel, thought-provoking, and sometimes even beautiful, insights into the human condition. After all, every insight has its origins in the mind of some individual and every philosophical problem is related in some way to the individual, whether it concerns a society which consists in individuals or a cosmos which spawns them. If “egoism” literally means “to think of oneself,” then surely we are all egoists at least some of the time. Maybe we should confront that ego every now and then. There might be more there than we realize.
The Unique and Its Property – Max Stirner
Stirner’s Critics – Max Stirner
The Philosophy of Egoism – James L. Walker
Just and Moral – Dora Marsden
Why We Are Moral – Dora Marsden
Relation of the State to the Individual – Benjamin Tucker
The Revolt of The Unique – Renzo Novatore
Toward the Creative Nothing – Renzo Novatore
My Anarchism – Sidney Parker
Anarchism versus Socialism – Sidney Parker
Morality vs. Egoism – Robert LeFevre and Sidney E. Parker
Politics of the Ego: Stirner’s Critique of Liberalism – Saul Newman
Dora Marsden, Stirner, and the Critique of Culture – John F. Welsh
From Feminism to Egoism – John F. Welsh
The Relevance of Max Stirner to Anarcho-Communists – Matty Thomas
Egoist Agorism – Vikky Storm
The Right To Be Greedy – For Ourselves
The Buddha and Max Stirner – David D’Amato
James L. Walker, Philosopher of Egoism – David D’Amato
Sidney Parker, Egoist: Against All Systems – David D’Amato
Dora Marsden, Free Woman – David D’Amato
Avowals of Selfhood: Review of Egoism – David D’Amato
Egoism In Rand and Stirner – David D’Amato
Galt’s Speech – Ayn Rand
The Objectivist Ethics – Ayn Rand
Objectivism and the State – Roy A. Childs Jr.
Ayn Rand and Altruism – George H. Smith
Rand, “The Virtue of Selfishness,” and Veatch, “Rational Man” – George H. Smith
A Groundwork for Rights: Man’s Natural End – Douglass B. Rasmussen
An Objectivist Case For Libertarianism – Neera Badhwar
Ayn Rand’s Contribution to Philosophy – Neera Badhwar
Virtues, Vices, and Egoism – Neera Badhwar
The Winnowing of Ayn Rand – Roderick T. Long
Egoism and Anarchy – Roderick T. Long
The Mutual Exchange Symposium:
My Union Based On Nothing – Spooky
Stirner, Wittgenstein, and Anarchism – Rai Ling
Communities of Egoists – Joseph Parampathu
The Social Ecology of Egoism – Aaron Koek
The Eco- And Our Home – Evan Pierce
Against Moral Cannibalism – Jason Lee Byas
Anarchy is Moral Order – Jason Lee Byas
The Authority of Yourself – Jason Lee Byas
A Dialectical Rand For An Egoist Anarchism – Chris Matthew Sciabarra
Insurrection or Revolution? – Saul Newman
Emma Goldman and Individualist Anarchism – Shane Ross
Egoism, Morality, and Anarchism Under Complexity – Andrew Kemle
Transhumanism and Egoism – Frank Miroslav
Christianity and Egoism – Alexander W. Craig
The Anarchist and the Egoist in Love – Kelly Vee
Refining the “Amoralist’s Challenge – Spooky
The Ego and His Cross – Joseph Parampathu
Mutual Exchange is C4SS’s goal in two senses: We favor a society rooted in peaceful, voluntary cooperation, and we seek to foster understanding through ongoing dialogue. Mutual Exchange will provide opportunities for conversation about issues that matter to C4SS’s audience.
Online symposiums will include essays by a diverse range of writers presenting and debating their views on a variety of interrelated and overlapping topics, tied together by an overarching theme. C4SS is extremely interested in feedback from our readers. Suggestions and comments are enthusiastically encouraged. If you’re interested in proposing topics and/or authors for our program to pursue, or if you’re interested in participating yourself, please email C4SS’s Mutual Exchange Coordinator, Cory Massimino, at firstname.lastname@example.org.