Man, 'Quite a World of Federations' or Man 'is a Group': The Incompatibility of Anarchism and Individualism.

Author:Galanopoulos, Costas
Position:Essay
 
FREE EXCERPT

This essay attempts to answer a difficult question: what is the place of anarchist thought in the history of political ideas? Specifically, is there an anarchist canon that allows us to rightly include or exclude certain systems of thought? The usual approach to questions such as this is to define anarchism by what seem to be its main characteristics. The basic one is antistatism: anarchism is the political ideology that rejects any form of state authority. But, besides the fact that such a definition is not accepted by all, antistatism does not establish the distinctiveness of anarchism. (1) Anarchism is not the only political ideology that rejects or remains suspicious of the state. Liberalism first taught us to be so. The notion of anti-centralisation is also insufficient. The concentration of power by the modern state and the dis-empowerment of local authorities were first denounced by conservative thinkers; it would be difficult to distinguish between Tocqueville and Kropotkin on this score. The commitment to the revolutionary transformation of the society is likewise not enough, because it is questionable whether anarchism is, or ought to be, revolutionary. (2) Besides that, a lot of other political ideologies are revolutionary, too. And so on, and so forth.

Attempts to shape the canon around the three major thinkers, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, raise the objection that it excludes others, such as Malatesta, and especially women, notably Goldman. Moreover, the formation of a canon situates anarchism in a system of thought rooted in western philosophy, that is, in the Enlightenment. The objection here is that it excludes non-western traditions and movements that have enriched anarchism in various ways.

If we do not want to succumb to the thesis that anarchism is by its nature impossible to define, we have to find a way, a method that will allow us to provide a valid definition of anarchism, or at least to help us see what anarchism is or is not. Specifically, and after taking into account the fact that anarchism is a combination of two main currents, the social--or communist--and the individualist, we must come up with a method that will help us examine the validity of such a claim. In what way are two so incompatible ways of thinking part of the same tradition? Why do we assume that Stirnerite individualism and Kropotkian communism are both anarchism?

'Reasonings are so mutually connected that as the last are demonstrated by the first which are their causes, the first are in their turn demonstrated by the last which are their effects' Descartes declares, after breaking with the scholastic tradition and setting the foundations of the methodology of rationalistic philosophy. (3) His method is derivative, starting from the one and moving towards the many, from the part to the whole from the core of every system, the principum that makes the fact conceivable. At first this movement is downward, but it soon returns, to become a constant spiralling explanatory movement, moving from the founding principles to the multiple parts of the system. Putting aside the metaphysical assumptions of such a methodology, we may keep its form, applying it to the--so to speak--metaphysics of political philosophy. In Locke's words, we have to move from the foundations to the fabric, and back again. (4)

So, following this form of Cartisian method, I will try to answer to the opening questions by adopting a two-step argument: first, I will claim that in the core of each and every political philosophy lies its idea of human nature. Our political ideas are based on and formed by what we assume man is. (5) Second, I will argue that the most valid way to decide about the compatibility of two systems of thought is by comparing their view of human nature. By removing what appear to be their ideological similarities we have to delve into their very depths: ideas about human nature. What we might find there will help us to decide whether or not they are compatible. So, by applying Descartes methodological tool to anarchism I will try to show that the social/communist and the individualist current are in no way compatible and, furthermore, that we have to exclude the latter from the anarchist tradition. In order to do that I will first examine in parallel the Lockean and Stirnerite theory of human nature and point out the theoretical starting points that they share. Then, by examining the concept of human nature in social anarchism I will try to show that not only is it incompatible with the individualist concept, but they are also clearly mutually exclusive.

The modern era begins with this extremely crucial thought: it breaks with the ancient and medieval concept of man as an organic and inseparable unit of the whole, be it the polis, the community, or Christendom. The modern era applies the protestant idea of the unique and autonomous relation between the divine and the secular: the individual becomes the initial point of reference. (6) Locke's anthropology makes the argument quite powerfully and with that the new era in political philosophy begins: society is not an organic whole but the combination of individuals, whose actions form the community. Equally important is the idea that the individual is autonomous, in that we assume the existence of a sphere of non-interference which no-one, not even state authority, has the right to disrupt. (7) In order to support such a concept Locke is obliged to assume the following: if man is an individual, that is an autonomous being, he must be the owner of that sphere of non-interference. My sphere is private because it is mine, I own it. As that sphere is I, I am the owner of myself. 'Every man has a property in his own person: this nobody has any right but himself'. (8) This is an anthropology based on the idea of property. 'Man, by being master of himself, and proprietor of his own person, and the actions or labour of it, had still in himself the great foundation of property'. (9) Property is here understood primarily as the person's qualities such as life and freedom followed by the material goods. Of course, in order for Locke to avoid a paradox he has to admit that 'God having made man such a creature, that it was no good for him to be alone, put him under strong obligations of necessity, convenience, and inclination to drive him into society'. (10) This first society is family, but in no way is this a political society. We are still in the natural state, which we can and ought to abandon and enter into the political or civil society. This we can only achieve by voluntarily abandoning some of our natural rights, such as absolute freedom, and form the political society, the commonwealth. The formation of the commonwealth is possible only by consent, by the mutual agreement of all of its members, namely by contract. We have to bear in mind that this is a property-oriented theory, so we departed from the person who is an owner, who is his own property, (11) and conclude with the commercially inspired idea, that of the contract.

Stirner is a strong advocate of that tradition and he declares it loudly even in the title of his magnum opus: the Ego and His Own; even though the Ego is not the man of the liberals, Stirner's individual forms himself in a very similar way: 'My power is my property. My power gives me property. My power am I myself, and through it am I my property'. (12) All the abstract ideas and generalities of this world, such as religion or humanity or social structures such as the state, by demanding to sacrifice myself for their sake, prevents me from realising my real essence is, that is an Egoist. (13) And I am an egoist only when I re-establish my authority over myself, being master of myself, the owner of I. This is unquestionably an anthropological theory based...

To continue reading

REQUEST YOUR TRIAL