BOOK II. ANARCHISM
ANARCHISM was really born in the French Revolution. It is true that, even earlier, Anarchism had appeared in the Middle ages in a religious guise as part of the general discontent coincident with the breaking down of feudalism and the rise of capitalism. Like the early Communist organizations, it had then been entirely a movement of the people. In the Peasants’ Wars in Germany and elsewhere in the sixteenth century, many of the Anabaptists could have been described as peasant Anarchists. Also, in the English Civil Wars, we have seen how the Left Separatists (Quakers and such) really were Anarchistic. But it was not until the French Revolution when, under Hebert and others, the Enrag’es stepped forth in their own right and attempted to go beyond Liberalism and even Radicalism, that Anarchism emerged as a clear-cut revolutionary political movement. The Hebertist leadership, unbalanced Radicals, and enraged petty bourgeois, enfettered by their general doctrines of private property, were not able to move the Revolution forward, but succumbed to the Terror.
It was only after the French Revolution, with the eighteenth century, when Liberalism, turned conservative and sceptical, was firmly ensconced in the saddle, that Anarchism began to evolve its theoretical spokesmen. The inchoate Anarchism of the French Revolution developed from Jacobin Radicalism and was a product of that period when the people, especially the small property holders, were advancing their own interests. On the contrary, the Anarchism of the early nineteenth century, as elaborated by Godwin and Stirner and Proudhon, was a distinct reaction from the French Revolution. These people formed the school of individualist, Liberal-Anarchism. Later a second group came onto the scene, played a powerful role in the revolutions of 1848 and in the Paris Commune of 1871, grew into the Communist-Anarchist movement, and, finally, split off into Anarcho-Syndicalism. The fact that we must deal with Anarchism as Liberal-Anarchism and Communist-Anarchism shows us that Anarchism, by itself, is merely negative and critical; only when linked to other movements does it take on a constructive, positive aspect.
It was with the Englishman, William Godwin, (*1) that Liberal-Anarchism first made itself heard. By this time the “evil” side of capitalism was becoming well known. English capitalism, in its mad lust for gain, was threatening to destroy the very flower of the English stock and uproot the entire English people. The victory of Liberalism over the government had not brought relief to the masses. On the contrary, frightened by the French Revolution, English Liberalism was tightening down on all civil liberties; the condition of the people was steadily growing worse. To do away with the Liberal government and yet retain Liberal society was the problem Godwin wanted to solve.
Theoretically, Godwin opposed all government, even democratic government, although he did venture to approve English Democracy as compared with French Dictatorship. His hatred for all government led him to such extreme conclusions as to advocate the abolition of all pensions, and to oppose any system of national education as bolstering up the State. (*2)
Godwin was both a reaction and a reflection of the French Revolution. The French Revolution spoke in the name of patriotism and nationalism. Godwin believed patriotism and nationalism to be but specious illusions. In ridiculing Rousseau’s idea of Social Contract, Godwin was very close to Jeremiah Bentham and the hard, Analytical School of Jurists then maintaining law and order in England. The French Revolution spoke as the voice of the people; to Godwin the majority could be as tyrannous as the minority. (*3) The French Revolution stood for violence; Godwin repudiated the very name “anarchy” because of its connotations of violence. (*4)
The French Revolution typified action, rapid change. Godwin pleaded for the omnipotence of discussion and education, for reform of government now and its abolition later. Godwin’s theory was that revolutions are not good. We must not be in haste to overthrow the usurped powers of the world. Even though it is true that governments exist to enable some people to take away the product of another’s toil, nevertheless we must not use force to prevent this. Naturally, Godwin was opposed to the policy of the French Revolution which carried on aggressive war against Europe’s ancien regime.
As opposed to Adam Smith, who had advocated professional standing armies, Godwin, after the French Revolution, proposed a Citizens Militia as being better than a standing army. In respect to his other views on government, Godwin declaimed against large national States and urged the parish as the governmental unit, although he was prepared to admit reluctantly, the wisdom of instituting a single chambered National Assembly to manage the common affairs of the parish, to provide for national defense and to arbitrate the disputes of the people until such time as they became educated sufficiently to permit doing away with governments and States. (*5)
To the nationalism and centralization of the French, Godwin counter-posed extreme individualism and federalism. So rash was his individualism that he declared all labor co-operation a necessary evil to be done away with by machinery. He was even against social co-operation to the extent that he opposed musical organizations and one man’s playing the composition of another. Cohabitation was also an evil; family life spoiled the individual, as did marriage in general. Needless to say, Godwin did cohabit, and had a child born to him; he also wound up his days with a government sinecure. (*6)
Godwin belonged to the same school as Adam Smith, although of its left wing. Like Smith, he too advocated individualism and the competitive system. But Godwin was beginning to realize that the competitive system was leading to “unjust” results, to insecurity, to wars, to poverty and misery. Thus, starting as he did from Adam Smith, Godwin yet could reach conclusions of egalitarianism, the only form of egalitarianism that the English “Jacobins” of the time could embrace.
In essence, Godwin was only carrying farther the ideas of John Locke, Thomas Paine, and of the Utilitarian School generally. We have noted that as Liberalism had turned conservative in England, the Utilitarian School had dominated all others. With Utilitarian arguments, Burke had even fought for the maintenance of the traditional; with Utilitarian arguments, Bentham had advocated the need of legislative change.
Godwin could not escape from Utilitarianism, individualism, and British bourgeois ideology. He spurned the French Revolution because of its decrees interfering with the right of the individual to do what he pleased, such as in making private bequests and inheritances. Although he disagreed with Locke on the question of Social Contract, he was quite ready to concur that mind is not free but plastic, acted upon by circumstances of heredity and environment. This agreement, however, only enabled Godwin to affirm that, since man has no free will, the State must abandon all punishments of the criminal and acts of force against the people. Thus was Utilitarianism being turned against the Utilitarians, and Liberalism’s appeal to Reason becoming Anarchism’s creed.
Both Jeremiah Bentham and Godwin were disciples of Helvetius, who in turn stemmed from Locke. With Montesquieu, the thesis that man was molded by environment had led him to a physical and almost geographical determinism in which man responded almost automatically to those forces. With Helvetius, however, man was less the product of geographical than of social circumstances. Thus man was a creature of conditions, but primarily of those conditions which he might hope to modify. While Bentham stressed the need for further legislation, therefore, and turned the legislator also into a moralist, Godwin emphasized education rather than compulsion. Since man obeyed reason, why trust to laws?
As a Utilitarian, Thomas Paine had fought for the Rights of Man and, in the course of his leftward moving Radicalism, had pointed out the great distinction between government and society. He had written: “Society is the product of our wants, government of our wickedness; society promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, government negatively by imposing restrictions on our vices. Society encourages intercourse, government creates distinctions. Society is a patron, government a punisher. Society, in every state, is a blessing; but government even in its best state, is but a necessary evil. Now of all political regimes democracy is the nearest approach to a society without government.” (*7)
Godwin merely went one step farther than Paine and called for a society without any government. Thus “Godwin’s true role, in the history of the formation of Philosophic Radicalism, is to have brought about the fusion between the Utilitarian and the democratic ideas.” (*8) Godwin was a classic case of the Liberal-democrat turned Anarchist.
Typically German as Godwin was typically British in his Libertarianism was Max Stirner. (*9) Constantly brooding and envious of the economic advance of English economy, the German petty bourgeois, imprisoned in the Prussian system, could only substitute ideals for ideas and wishes for reality. This gap between theory and practice was often the comedy and sometimes the tragedy of German ideology during the whole period of capitalist growth, when Germany was limping so far behind the other countries. If the German petty bourgeoisie was divorced from the real benefits of modern capitalism, there was nothing to prevent its taking the thoughts of the English, since it could not take the machinery and the markets, and improving upon these thoughts in the German manner that is, to extract everything from their historic content, to make everything absolute, mystical, and eternal, and to twist reality to its ideas.
To the English, individualism was backed by all the considerations of utility to English society, and was the result of an economic system of laissez faire; to the Germans, individualism came from the Holy Ghost, free will, and was put in its most dogmatic and categoric form. To the German philistine, individualism could mean only egotism; social welfare was entirely beyond his ken. In his wild lunge for profits, the German petty bourgeois, just awakening to the competitive struggle, could say nothing else but “A race of free men is necessarily a race of egotists,” (*10) and that the only rule for each was “If it be right for me, it is right!" Repressed by the superior might of the Prussian Junkerdom on the one hand, and impressed by the power of the English in free competitive struggle, no wonder a Stirner could declare, “Freedom cannot be granted it must be taken,” and “One is free in proportion as one is strong.” Evidently the right of the Prussian noblemen to carry on their sporting duel and to sigh for their ancient custom of “private wars” was not without some effect upon the aping petty proprietor. And after all Stirner was only repeating the words of Frederick II, “One takes when one can, and one is wrong only when obliged to give back"; or “If there is anything to be gained by it, we will be honest; if deception is necessary let us be cheats.” (*11)
Godwin had called for the end of government in order to make way for the general welfare. Stirner called for the end of government to make an end of all social relations except those which could be established through a Union of Egotists which would do away with division of labor and wherein the law of the jungle and survival of the fittest alone would prevail. Not that Stirner actually fought the Prussian government. This teacher in a girl’s school in Berlin who dedicated his ferocious book to “My darling Marie Doehnhardt” was really only playing around with wishes, with verbalisms. Far from dealing with such hard realities as the Prussian police, Stirner’s Egotism was a mere corollary of the doctrine of Free Will which was his starting point and from which he spun out his absolutes and his categoric imperatives.
Since free will could be reduced so easily to solipsism (i.e., nothing exists save ME), how easy it was for the German philistine, believer in free will, to change the eighteenth-century Declaration of the Rights of Man to the nineteenth-century Declaration of the Rights of Me and Mine, to thunder out: “Freedom means for ME to be free! I am entitled to everything which I have power to take or to do.” Evidently the German Revolution of 1848 was nigh at hand by which the rulers would be faced directly by these people and wherein, in proportion as the middle bourgeois layers of Liberalism became impotent, the petty bourgeoisie would be compelled to assume a ferocious ideology.
From this abstract point of view Stirner approached all social questions. Although he polemized against abstraction and the domination of individuals by an “abstract” idea, German that he was, he could not get away from abstraction himself. To Stirner, an “abstraction” meant anything outside of himself. Thus Stirner “subtracted” society and made an “abstraction” of himself and his ego.
To Stirner, every State was a despotism: the Prussian State, of course, since it was not operated for the German petty businessman; the English democratic State, also, since it also was taking wealth away from the petty owner. States in general, democratic as well as dictatorial, did not exist for the protection of the “little fellow” who was constantly being used to fight others’ battles, but who, in turn, was too impotent to dominate anybody else. Also, Communism was despotism, since Communism meant the rule of the proletariat and the socialization of the property of the small burgher. “The dispute about the right of property is violently waged. The Communists maintain that the earth belongs properly to him who cultivates it; and the products of the same to those who produce them. I maintain it belongs to him who knows how to take it.” Thus spake Lehrer Zarathustra-Schmidt.
Yet Stirner was not oblivious to the great upheavals taking place around him, the first stirrings of the German proletariat, the Chartist movements, the rumblings of the revolution of 1848 that was soon to break out. In opposition to Weitling’s Communist authoritarianism, he wrote: “The laborers have the most enormous power in their hands, and, if they once become thoroughly conscious of it and use it, nothing would withstand them; they would only have to stop labor, regard the product of labor as theirs and enjoy it. This is the sense of the labor disturbances which show themselves here and there. The State rests on the slavery of labor. If labor becomes free, the State is lost.”
Since labor was trying to become free, and since the State was disintegrating, why should not the petty bourgeoisie try to imitate labor? Why should not they too become “free” of the State? Yet, to the petty proprietor, “freedom” could not be conceived as outside, but only as entirely within the framework of individualism. Choked as he was by all the historical forces around him, he could not help but wish: If only I were let alone!
To the bourgeois Liberal, in control of State power, individualism, while real, was not an end in itself, but only a means of securing his power, and only a means to “freedom.” To the desperate petty bourgeois, who was losing the market and yet was bound to the market, it seemed that it was not individualism in general that was beating him down, but the monopolies and privileges that had no place in “ideal” and “genuine” individualism. His struggle for bread and security took on the form of a struggle for "genuine” individualism. Even “freedom,” that is, State power, was only a means to achieving that individualism which would guarantee that his property would not be taken away.
Thus, Stirner was quite ready to sacrifice “freedom” to attain individualism. For that matter, the petty bourgeois in Germany could not obtain real political freedom. This is one reason why, under the police laws, he did not dare stress seizure of State power for himself, but only individualist egotism. In spite of all his reckless words, what Stirner asked for was merely such a reform of the Prussian society as to allow the “little man” a better distribution of the national income.
German intellectuals of the day evinced an excited interest in the works of the semi-materialist, Feuerbach, who had refuted the idealistic dialectic of the Hegelians and had substituted for it a sort of materialism in which Man, humanity, was made the center of things. The materialism of Feuerbach was itself of an idealistic nature, however, in which he dealt not with Man concretely, but with Man abstractly. In actuality, Feuerbach had devised a new sort of warm-hearted religion in which the welfare of humanity as a whole was the goal of the activity of each person. To those who substitute the vague concept “people” for the exact idea of “class,” such a theory is convenient and even necessary.
Stirner, as the representative of the “little man” in Germany, was able to fit in with this stream of thought. Yes! Man was the center of- things; not man in general, but the individual man in abstract. To abstract humanity, Stirner counterposed the abstract Ego. Whereas Feuerbach, like the ordinary Liberal, was essentially a moralist; to Stirner, no set of morals save that which would benefit the particular Ego could be considered by an individual. And with the slogan “We must not erect any truth into a master over ourselves,” Stirner erected his own theory of the unmorality of the Ego and its isolation from social forces.
In this respect, too, the Neo-Hegelian Stirner goes beyond Kant. Starting from Kantian Free Will, Stirner abandoned the cautions, the morality, and ethics of Kant. Thereby the Anarchist broke violently from the Liberal who was constantly mouthing the need of ethics and social control. Stirner was able to see and to denounce the hypocrisy of those who, with the words “ethics” and “morality,” are but the agents of the ruling powers to keep the masses down.
Had Stirner been in the position of the Liberals rising to power, like them, he would have tried to show the superior morality of the class coming to power, and, by means of the arguments of morality, have tried to lay the base for the seizure of power. It is typical of the hopelessness of the cause of the petty-bourgeoisie that the arguments of morality were given up entirely. The proletariat, on the contrary, has ample use for the moral argument to expose and to denounce the morals of the ruling class and thus to prepare the way for its own rule.
In this lack of morality, in this “duty” of each person ruthlessly to brush aside any one that stands in the way of his individual ego, we can note in passing a superficial resemblance between Stirner and Nietzsche, and the connection between the Anarchist and the East Pomeranian Junker and Prussian Fascist whose representative and forerunner respectively Nietzsche was. (*12)
1. Born 1756; wrote An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793.
2. Godwin, work cited, II, 138-144 (1926 Knopf edition).
3. Here Godwin agreed with the anti-democrat Burke whom he praises in the third edition of his work. See An Enquiry Concerning Political justice, II, 291, footnote.
4. “The nature of Anarchy has never been sufficiently understood. It is undoubtedly a horrible calamity, but it is less horrible than despotism… . Anarchy is a short-lived mischief, while despotism is all but immortal.” (Godwin, work cited, II, 48.)
It was Proudhon who first used the term “An-archism” to signify the body of doctrines espoused by such as Godwin.
5. C. H. N. Brailsford: Shelley, Godwin, and Their Circle, p. 87 and following.
6. W. Godwin, work cited, II, 269, 271.
7. Thomas Paine: Writings, I, 69 (M. D. Conway edition).
8. E. Halevy: The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism, p. 202.
9. Stirner, whose real name was Caspar Schmidt, lived from 1806 to 1856.
10. This and the following quotations are from Stirner’s book: The Ego and Its Own (1844)
11. Quoted by Munroe Smith: Out of Their Own Mouths, p. 1.
12. It is P. Kropotkin, no less, who calls Nietzsche an Anarchist. See his Modern Science and Anarchism (reprinted in Vanguard Press Edition under title Revolutionary Pamphlets of Kropotkin, (1927). This is also the view of William Bailie in his Josiah Warren, p. xxxii.