On boring and pathetic “Egoists” and archist individualists: A review of the Enemies of society: An anthology of Individualist and Egoist thought by Iconoclasta for Creative Individualist Anarchism
Various Authors. Enemies of Society: An Anthology of Individualist & Egoist Thought. Ardent Press. 2011
So at last I got myself a copy of the compilation “the Enemies of Society: An anthology of Individualist and Egoist Thought”. I have to confess I have either been too busy reading other things or having already read the interesting authors within it to care about buying the book or trying hard to get a PDF of it through the internet. Finally was able to get a PDF file of it and my fears about his compilation have not only been confirmed but even have left me really disappointed. Although parts of it certainly deserve praise (for example the focus at the end on the great late Italian-American stirnerist anarchist Errico Arrigoni) sadly the compilers decided to walk too much under the shadow of S.E. Parker in order to turn this promising work into a forceful trip inside that character´s melancholy.
My Individualist Anarchism
I had some awareness of the name S. E. Parker at some point (but for some reason even then I decided to ignore him) before coming into contact with two almost revealing encounters. I am talking here about Emile Armand and the very nice historical work by Catalan Historian Xavier Diez called "El anarquismo individualista en España (1923–1939)"(1) . Armand´s individualist call for self-discovery and sexual realization certainly connected with something I already had very present in me. Armand happened to be also very influential in a lot of the small Spanish individualist anarchist (IA) affinity groups and outside them through the IA Spanish publications such as Iniciales which were widely read by FAI and CNT members both of middle class and working class origins in the two decades previous to the rise of right wing dictator Francisco Franco.
These groups had within them a diverse set of characters which could go from illegalist gun carrying individualists to those with an affinity with Henry David Thoreau´s brand of pacifist individualist ecologist libertarianism. On these differences, just like Armand himself, I have tended to symphatize more with this explorative lifestyle anarchism of these second types rather than with the harsh temperaments of the first without falling within the straight out condemnation of the illegalists raised by the more workerist “social anarchist” types of that time and of now (a la Murray Bookchin and his book Social Anarchism vs. Lifestyle Anarchism) or an embrace of anarcho-pacifism.
From then onwards I have tended to prefer the name “Individualist Anarchism” over “Egoist Anarchism” since this allows me to sympathize with a wider spectrum of individualist anarchists besides those more focused on Stirner´s philosophy (ex: the previously mentioned Henry David Thoreau, Josiah Warren and his alternative society experiments. This has been the case since it is clear to me that an individualist anarchist perspective on life can connect very well with my affinities with the anti-art criticisms of daily life and calls for creation of situations as can be found within movements like Dada, Surrealism, Letttrism, the Situationist International and Fluxus. But just as well it seems to me a perspective of wider individualist critique and action than what Stirner allows can make me connect with the contemporary “communization” currents and their call for informal creation of communal spaces outside state and capital. It seems to me this is anyway the same thing as the call by individualist anarchist post-leftist Hakim Bey and his theories and descriptions of Temporary Autonomous Zones. For a nice contemporary intersection of almost all of these check the essays by Hakim Bey “The Lemonade Ocean & Modern Times” (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/hakim-bey-the-lemonade-ocean-mode...) and “An esoteric interpretation of the I.W.W. preamble” (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/hakim-bey-an-esoteric-interpretat...).
But weren´t you supposed to review the book!
Coming back to reviewing the Enemies of society book I will want to point out some opinions contained within the introduction to the compilation which can very well give us a good idea on what can we expect for the rest of the book. The authors say “What ultimately emerges from these writings is a vision of anarchy that is non-utopian, non-idealist, and decidedly non-leftist, a vision of anarchy that could accurately be described as anti-social, or at least, socially pessimistic”(2). Very well up to that point as we can understand they are referring to usual individualist anarchist scepticism as far as the real impetus of the “masses” towards actually enacting profound social revolution (something that also exists in some form or other within Marxism and social democracy). But soon later we can understand what the compilers ended up meaning by “pessimism”.
After dealing with and presenting us with writings by the great Italian stirnerist-nietzschetian illegalist Renzo Novatore and the wild adventures of the Bonnot Gang the authors of the compilation decide to present us S.E. Parker´s take on Novatore, Armand and another Italian individualist called Enzo Martucci. So there Parkers says that “Despite this utopian description of a "future society", Armand was aware that other individualists did not see things in such a rosy light.”(3) And that Martucci thinks “When diverse egoisms are at loggerheads, he argued, it is not always possible "to manage a solution of these conflictsby means of mutual concessions. There exist, in effect, antithetical interests, irreconcilable antipathies, sentiments of hatred, desires of vengeance, all things which prevent a peaceful understanding -if in a given situation violence gives me more advantage than mutual aid, for what motive should I not make it serve me?"”(4). I am afraid that here we can start to have serious doubts whether we can count on Martucci as an anarchist even if Parker documents him using the word anarchy to describe his positions. Martucci thinks that “This will be a return to nature, to the jungle, you say. Yes, but the natural jungle will be shown to be a thousand times preferable to the asphalt jungle.”(5) Besides this charicaturesque view of a state of struggle and war as “the jungle” Parker rightly points out that “This preference for the" natural jungle" reflected Martucci's fervent belief in "Nature" which he regarded as a sort of purposive agency "creating" "man" to be an individualist. Here he showed the influence exerted upon him by such writers as de Sade - whose own view of "Nature", however, was much more ambivalent and also deviated from a coherent individualist approach. To believe that "Nature" has created us to be individualists is equivalent to believing that "God"," History" or "Reason" have destined men to live like this.”(6)
Afterwards S.E. Parker gives us his theory on the differences between US and European Individualist Anarchism. “European Individualism tends, therefore, to be pessimistic as to whether an anarchist society is possible, and, in some cases, skeptical as to whether it is desirable.”(7) So Parker here takes Martucci´s single views for representing all of the views of European individualist anarchism even though he said that Emile Armand thought otherwise. But as far as US IA Parker thinks that it “tends to see a harmonious future society based on "anarchist" principles-i.e. "natural law” or the intelligent application of self-interest - as both possible and desirable. In holding such a perspective its adherents have in some cases ended in a position more accurately described as "mutualist" than individualist. For myself, I consider the "European" individualist view as both historically and psychologically more realistic than the American view. Armand, Martucci and Novatore are not, of course, the only European anarchist individualists, but I have chosen them as making progressively clearer the differences between the two views.”(8) A logical error is clear, even more so if we are aware that Armand was a friend and an admirer of US individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker´s views on “equal liberty for all”.
This article was published in 1978 but perhaps I can think that Parker (or at least the authors of this compilation) were not aware of all the individualist anarchists who struggled with all the anarchist movement in the Spanish Civil War (Miguel Gimenez Igualada) as well as the individualist anarchists who in France and Italy in the post-war era joined the synthesis anarchist Federations Federation Anarchiste and Federazione Anarchica Italiana alongside anarcho-communists and anarcho-syndicalists (ex: Charles Auguste Bontemps, Andre Arru). But the bad generalizations without null source support of Parker end up convincing the authors of the compilation on his characterization of individualist anarchism and so the authors very well end up documenting in an “Apendix” that in fact Parker, by the end of his life abandoned his adherence to anarchism altogether although he still talked he strived for “freedom” and “liberty” . As such Parker said then that “The conscious egoist, in contrast, is not bound by any demand for renunciation of domination and if it is within his competence he will dominate others if this is in his interest... At the bottom of Tucker's doctrine lies the democratic delusion that each and every individual (the insane excepted) can and should take an equal part in determining human affairs. He believed that everyone was potentially capable of exercising " the sovereignty of the individual" and that, furthermore, their self-interest would lead them to accept his particular brand of social salvation. Despite his admiration for Max Stimer he was a possessed man- possessed by the fixed idea that he had file answer to the "social question". His egoism was pressed into the service of an ideal which neutered it.. Tucker's ideological blinkers prevented him from seeing that the logic of conscious ego(ism) bursts the strait jacket of anarchism.””(9)
So then one can well argue that by then the old frustrated S.E. Parker must have been thinking that he wasted his whole life on anarchism and with anarchists. One can humorously suggest that he then was ready to join the British Conservative Party alongside the capitalists and aritocrats who are there also to defend the privileges of capitalist and landowner egoism. Or even that the thought must have passed in his head at his old age that he should have been kissing the ass of the rich, famous and powerful in order to get access to sex, their money and entrance to the banquets of Country Clubs and Mansions instead of being a loser anarchist in “collectivist” activism. I really don´t think he would have opted instead for the Martucci option which sounds instead similar to joining a gang or becoming a criminal for profit and participate in wars against the police and shootouts with other criminals find the fun in living in the “asphalt jungle”.
So in the end the authors of the compilation opt for making their work a medium of expression (maybe from the other world) for a pathetic frustrated individual who didn´t leave his “youthful” ideological affinities early enough in order to join the world of conscious archists like so many who have gone from the anti-capitalist left to a career in right wing “libertarianism” and neo-conservatism or maybe something similar to the Soviet Union bureaucrats who, after the end of the soviet Union, went to become part of the new rising Russian oligarchy o millionaires.
Of course, this doesn´t make this compilation of null interest for anarchists although it is clear that the name that is more mentioned, the author with the most articles and the opinions that are more followed are those of S.E. Parker and the book is ended by an essay by Parker. I suggest that we digitalize the interesting essays included here by the likes of Emile Armand, James L. Walker, Errico Arrigioni and Peter Lamborn Wilson but for English speakers specifically interested in Individualist Anarchism I will suggest rather reading historical works like James Martin´s Men Against the State: the State the Expositors of Individualist Anarchism, Richard Parry´s The Bonnot Gang: The Story Of The French Illegalists, Rudolf Rocker´s Pioneers of American Freedom: Origin of Liberal and Radical Thought in America or else learning Spanish and French respectively and reading Xavier Diez´s El anarquismo individualista en España (1923–1939) and Anne Steiner´s Les en-dehors: Anarchistes individualistes et illégalistes à la « Belle époque ».
The authors of the compilation say in the introduction that “The Spanish individualist milieu of the 1920 and 1930s is just as impressive…Who knows what illuminating gems lie buried in the yellowing pages of these lively texts, waiting to be unearthed, translated, and discussed again."(10) As far as me, gladly I know Spanish and as such I have read Miguel Gimenez Igualada, the Spanish advocate for polyamory Mariano Gallardo, the Xavier Diez text and also possess some writings of the vagabond adventurer Colombian stirnerist Biofilo Panclasta. Sadly the authors of Enemies of Society didn´t have access to these texts and also decided to ignore and dismiss the rich and interesting US tradition of XIX century individualist anarchism.
Instead they decided not to present a wider more complex picture of individualist anarchism but to dedicate their text to the frustrations and laments of S.E. Parker. What a waste!
(1)Xavier Diez. El anarquismo individualista en España (1923–1939). Virus. 2007. Available for free downloading under a Creative Commons license at http://www.viruseditorial.net/pdf/anarquismo%20individualista.pdf
(2)VVA. Enemies of Society. xxiii
(3)Iibd Pg. 60
(4)Ibid Pg. 60
(5)Ibid Pg. 61
(6)Ibid Pg. 62
(7)Ibid Pg. 62-63
(8)Ibid Pg. 63-64
(9)Ibid Pg. 326