“Individualism” is one of those words like “anarchism” and “egoism” that have been misused both out of ignorance and intention. For many radicals, it is a synonym for the “every man for himself” of the “capitalist” jungle, and some defenders of capitalism have attempted to use it to justify economic exploitation and monopoly. However, a little intelligent reflection on the nature of capitalist society, with its ubiquitous bosses and masses, is enough to upset this idea. What’s individual about the armies of city gentlemen walking in and out of their offices at the same time five days a week and vegetating in the cage of their suburban conventions in between? And how individual are the herds of industrial workers standing before the machine god and repeating the same menial rituals throughout their lives? To answer these questions is to answer them.
Individualism is quite different from the caricatures common to both the “left” and the “right”. In the words of John Beverly Robinson:
“It is the recognition by the individual that he is above all institutions and formulas; that these only exist insofar as he chooses to appropriate them by accepting them. (“Selfishness”).
Because he does not regard any institution or formula as having authority over him, the individualist is logically an anarchist. And because he denies the validity of any authority external to the individual, the anarchist is logically an individualist. From this awareness is born an anarchism freed from the last vestiges of this altruistic idealism which drove out the service of God and the State to replace it by the service of the Cause and of Humanity. Individualist anarchism drives authority out of its last hiding place in ‘moral obligations’ or ‘duty’. Individualist anarchists are philosophically selfish.
But if the individualist lives for himself, what prevents him from trying to rule over others?
Two things, at least.
First, if these others are as “obstinate” as he is, then they will oppose their will to his and thus frustrate his efforts. Second, and most importantly, individualists know that authority is a relationship between rulers and ruled that binds the two together and destroys the independence of each. As Max Stirner said so well:
“He who, in order to hold on, must rely on the absence of will in others, is a thing made by these others, as the master is a thing made by the servant. If the submission ceased, it would be over with the lordship.
If you don’t want others to have power over you, don’t try to have power over them. Agree to stay away from each other.
Individualist anarchists do not view government as merely the product of a conspiracy by a few wicked people to oppress the greatest number of innocent people. The great number would not be governed if they did not want to be governed, if they were able to govern themselves. Rulers and ruled are two sides of the same coin in a coin that individualists reject. There is a path outside of both.
Does the individualist reject all man-to-man cooperation?
The individualist agrees with Ibsen that “he who is loneliest is the strongest”, but he sees the value of cooperation in satisfying some of his needs. There is nothing contradictory in this, for only he who is strong enough to stand alone is able to form truly free association with others. But such an association is not an end in itself, it lasts only as long as those who form it find it useful for them. It is not a sacred thing towards which its members have duties. It is their creation and their servant, nothing more.
In economics, the individualist does not believe in collectivism, whether socialist, trade unionist or communist. For him, the individual ownership of the means of production is the means of guaranteeing the product, or its equivalent, are first of all pluralistic and consider any system, whatever the name, which would bind them to any economic relationship and would deny. a choice of alternatives, such as authoritarian. The difference between the individualist approach and the collectivist approach to the economy lies in the fact that the first would leave each individual free to provide for his needs, while the second wants to make society the manager and provider of the means of life. Any system that makes the individual dependent on the good or bad will of others is repugnant to individualists. It matters little to them that the means of production are under the control of a handful of private monopolists, the State, a federation of trade unions or a Commune, if they have neither independence nor freedom of choice.
But speculations about a future economy are only of academic interest. Individualist anarchists do not want to wait for the “aftermath of the revolution” to profit from their ideas. It is today that concerns them, not a hypothetical future. Since the individualist starts from himself, he doesn’t need others before he begins his “revolution”. He welcomes anyone traveling a road similar to his own, but he doesn’t need one to begin his journey. The Christian turns to the will of his god, the democrat turns to the will of the people, the Marxist and the syndicalist turn to the will of the revolutionary proletariat, but the individualist turns to his own will and counts on nothing. outside of himself. Therefore, he does not believe in a “dialectic of history”, “the inevitable outcome of the class struggle”, “due process of law”, or any other collective, group or supernatural force as a means of his release. Self-liberation is the only form of liberation that makes sense to him. He has no time for millennial narcotics as a remedy for present miseries and oppressions.
The question of resorting to violence or non-violence in self-defence is a question of opportunity. Individualists will use one or the other depending on the situation they find themselves in. Any approach that attempts to confine individualistic struggle to violence or non-violence denies the diversity of individual temperaments and abilities and constitutes a moral straightjacket. However, in the face of the overwhelming means of violence available to the modern state, most individualists would favor passive resistance as the most expeditious method of struggle.
Individualist anarchists do not want to be the most among the “statistical millions” of obedient citizens. They have counted themselves out of the herd and their anarchy exists in their strength to assert themselves. They cut off their anarchism from all democratic and socialist myths. To hell with “people want this”, “workers want that”! Let’s live our own lives, follow our own interests and be ourselves. The individualist will go his own way, even if he has to go it alone. He wouldn’t really be an individual if he didn’t.