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Anarchism, Anarchy

        As an egoist, obviously, I have no desire to be ruled. And considering the obligations involved, I would also never want to rule. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that I, like most egoists, am an anarchist. But what does this mean. What is anarchism? What is anarchy?

      In recent years, there has been a trend in certain anarchist circles to reject the term “anarchism”. This stems from a kind of lazy, quasi-magical thinking that ascribes special powers to certain words or even syllables, so that their mere presence or absence can transform reality[1]. Anarchism is automatically seen as an ideology simply because of the “ism” at the end. By replacing this “ism” with a “y”, far too many anarchists think that they have magically freed themselves from ideology. In fact, they have simply added to the trend of reducing and impoverishing language. I find both words – anarchism and anarchy – far too useful to give up either one in the name of some “anti-ideology” ideology. Yet another (real) effort, my friends….

      Etymologically, anarchism and anarchy come from a Greek word meaning “no ruler”. In their modern usage, this meaning is expanded to recognize that rule and authority have developed complex institutional forms which increase social control, and thus domination while at the same time lessening the power of any single individual to rule. So anarchism and anarchy now refer not just to the absence of a ruler, but to the absence of rule, of authority, as such.

     For me, the word anarchism refers to the history and the theoretical and practical development of all of those who have consciously pursued the destruction of all rule and authority and the creation of a world in which all individuals are free to create their lives as they desire. The term is useful, because it points out that this pursuit has been conscious and has involved specific interrelationships and influences among those involved, which has led to a flowering of ideas and practices that can critically interact and sharpen our capacities for carrying on this pursuit.

      It is possible to find ideas, events and movements, throughout the history of rule, that have opposed it. But before the 19th century, they tended to be far-flung in space and time without the means to easily bridge the gaps. This is why anarchism is usually traced back to the early 19th century when certain “socialists”[2] began to see the destruction of the state and all forms of authority as essential to the radical social transformation they desired and fought for.

     One of the first people to call himself an anarchist was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and France was the source of some of the earliest anarchist revolutionaries and thinkers[3]. It was probably also where Bakunin first encountered anarchist ideas. The ideas quickly attracted the interest of rebels throughout and beyond Europe. Both Spain and Italy developed strong anarchist movements with a flourishing of ideas and practices in many directions.

     And of course, I wouldn’t want to forget Max Stirner, whose book The Ego and Its Own[4] was perhaps the first anti-authoritarian critique of ideology. Though Stirner is not known to have ever called himself an anarchist, his rejection of the state, law, private and collective property, religion and every form of external and internal authority was to influence a wide spectrum of anarchists from Emma Goldman to Renzo Novatore, from Benjamin Tucker to the Bonnot Gang. But his real importance has been to guarantee that that there has always been at least a tiny amoralist, truly anti-ideological thread in the fabric of anarchist development, a gadfly to harass and when possible counteract the tendency to create anarchist moralities, anarchist rules, an anarchism of easy answers and guarantees.

      It isn’t my intent here to go on with a detailed history of anarchism. But if we can recognize that the various trends within anarchist thought and practice today all reflect extensions of and responses to what anarchists have said and done in the past, we suddenly find that we have a whole theoretical arsenal at our disposal: critiques of civilization from Joseph Dèjacque, Ernest Coeurderoy and Frank Brand (Enrico Arrigoni); critiques of organizationalism from Luigi Galleani and Giuseppi Ciancabilla; critiques of moralism from Renzo Novatore and Bruno Filippi; critiques of politics, industrialism, etc. The fact that these ideas have been developing within anarchists circles for so long is not interesting because it gives those of us with similar ideas a heritage[5], but because it offers us more tools, weapons and toys for developing our ideas and practices. Only an ideologue would give up such a treasure chest, free for the looting.

      If anarchism refers to the history and theoretical and practical development of the conscious struggle to destroy all rule, anarchy describes a situation where there is no rule, where the accumulation of power does not exist, has broken down or has been destroyed. Anarchist practice aims to create anarchy on a global scale, but anarchy is also a method for our lives, our projects and our battles here and now. But what does this mean?

           Anarchists want a world where all the institutions in which power is accumulated have been destroyed and all relationships of domination have disappeared. The very negativity of this desire is what opens the doors to an apparent infinity of possibilities for creating our lives. This is why the anarchist project must be essentially negative, one of destruction. To try instead to define it as a positive project, a program, is to set boundaries and transform anarchy itself into an institution to be built[6]. This bounded “anarchy” would be a mere abstraction. It would be a cause to serve, another form of domination. This is why “anarchist” programs are among the surest ways to undermine the practice of anarchy and transform anarchists into political activists aiming for an end, a final destination, for which each of us is simply a means.

     But the only ends that it makes sense for any of us to pursue are our selves, our lives and our relationships, and these ends are never reached once and for all. They are created constantly as the ongoing process of living. Anarchy is the negative project through which we destroy the social limits that stand in the way of this process of constant self-creation. Thus, it is not a destination, but a practice with which to experiment immediately. The anarchist insistence upon concrete freedom manifests here and now as what Stirner called “ownness” – the process of making one’s life one’s own against all claims made against it. This inevitably brings us into conflict with this society and its endless series of obligations and duties, and the institutions, people, structures and technologies through which it reinforces these obligations and duties. So the negative project of anarchy is a project of active attack against all these institutions, people, structures and technologies.

     And it is precisely the negativity of anarchy that I, as an egoist, embrace. By aiming for the destruction of all the concrete institutional frameworks that uphold the rule of real authorities and of ideological spooks, anarchy opens the way to an infinite world of possibilities from which I can create my life.


[1] This sort of thinking is behind the linguistic puritanism of political correctitude that has done so much to impoverish language in recent times.

[2] At that time, socialism had a far broader meaning than it does now, referring to anyone who saw a need for a radical social transformation that would bring down bourgeois society and the institution of private property.

[3] For example, Joseph Dèjacque and Ernest Coeurderoy, both of whom actually developed critiques of civilization (though not at all primitivist). Coeurderoy also influenced the situationists, particularly Vaneigem who wrote an introduction to an edition of Coeurderoy’s Jours d’Exil in the early 1970s.

[4] The original German title, Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum, literally translates as “The Unique and Its Own/Ownership/Property.”

[5] Heritages are of interest only to those who clasp to identities, and unique ones cannot be identified.

[6] This tendency to try to transform anarchy into a positive project is not limited to those who want to create mass organizations, platforms or federations. It is found wherever people begin to imagine a particular model as the way to live anarchically. Thus, when primitivism becomes more than a tool among many for developing a critique of civilization and is taken as a model, this too is an attempt to make anarchy a positive project, a program, setting boundaries on possibilities.

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