Rambles in the Fields of Anarchist Individualism
No. 4. — Give and Take: The Last Polity
Summer is finally upon us and the fields, which have been going through their slow, but steady evolutions, are showing more dramatic changes. Walking the circuit in the evening, the drying stalks of the long grasses shine a bit in the dying light. Elsewhere, the field clover and shorter grasses are taking over. The skies have been clearing, but there are still days when one of the chief entertainments is watching the various layers of clouds cross overhead. The swifts still fly, close down over the tops of the tall grass, and the crows are a fixture in the trees above the creek — but lately there’s been a marked increase in the songbirds along the fences to the west and, perhaps as a result, some sightings of the kestrel that usually haunts the next property over.
All of this, of course, is prominent only through certain lenses. The summer looks to be long and hot in a variety of senses, and the neighbors seem edgier than usual. And there is no point in obscuring the fact that a slight shift of the camera replaces the quaint barn in the near distance with the roofs of the low-income housing that some big brain decided to stick out here in the Land of No Sidewalks. And none of us seem to know quite how to honor the outdoor mask mandate on trails where you can almost maintain six feet of distance. The summer-weight neck-gaiter I’ve been playing with is obviously not quite the solution.
There are senses, of course, in which pulling the curtain back a bit to reveal the staging of the project provides us one more useful way of thinking about the issues we have been examining. A text like E. Armand’s “When I Separate Myself…” involves a similar sort of careful focus, always at the mercy of a variety of ordinary distractions. The self-separation that it describes is a practice—a part of a practice or a very partial practice—connected to a particular view of the self that may only do some of the work that we would perhaps expect such a concept to perform.
And Armand was hardly unaware of the fact that separation, even solitude, was largely a matter of focus and perspective.
The Man of the Solitudes
My dwelling place is not a peak or forest,
Nevertheless, I am the man of the solitudes.
From morning to night, I roam the city;
I have built my house in the very heart of town,
Nevertheless, I am the man of the solitudes.
The refrains of songs, the clink of glasses,
The clapping of hands, the patter of fools,
The sounds of the places where the crowd likes to meet:
I am spared none of them, nor do I flee any,
Nevertheless, I am the man of the solitudes.
I feel I am a stranger to projects ill-conceived,
To bizarre desires, to unwonted intentions
On my fingers, one by one, I count my friends,
And rare among them is the one who would invite me
Home, such as I am, the man of solitudes.
Thus, even though I wander among the multitudes —
Not lost at sea, not deep in the heart of the desert
— I feel I am, nevertheless, the man of solitudes.
My dwelling place is not a peak or forest,
Nevertheless, I am the man of the solitudes.
Loches-Tours, July 17, 1927.
(L’En dehors 6 no. 113-114 (fin Juillet 1927): 5.)
So we need to be similarly conscious. In pursuing an anarchistic idea of the self, whether or not that idea is meaningfully individualist, we might be tempted that we can simply posit a few elements—the self, the non-self or general milieu, the possibility of other selves, etc.—which, together, would provide us with a general framework for evaluating various alternatives. Instead—and perhaps this should come as absolutely no surprise—all of these elements seem to undergo much more complex transformations in the works we have been examining, so that any more general scheme will undoubtedly be the product of some kind of synthesis.
Armand’s discipline of self-separation seems to involve a self defined as that which can be taken, drawn apart from a world that is always in its way, extricated from conditions that limit its expression as a self. There are obvious limits on the scope of a self that is essentially subtracted from “the world”—and there are reasons to wonder how that self relates the more-or-less Stirnerian vision of the extreme solitaire that we explored in No. 2. Indeed, while I was working on that earlier material, I was struck by what seemed to me perhaps a holdover from Armand’s Christian days, a very “in the world, but not of it” vibe. But it was only after completing No. 3 that I tracked down this “meditation” from the first issue of L’Ère nouvelle.
A Meditation each Month
In the World, but Not of the World
…I have given them the word and the world has hated it, because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world. I do not ask you to take them from the world, but to preserve them from evil. They are not of the world, as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by your truth: your word is the truth. As you have sent me into the world, I have also sent them into the world… (John 17: 14-19).
Note that it is to the disciples, thus to all the disciples, that these words are addressed. In the world, certainly, — in order to act there, because they have been sent, — but not of the world. Nothing in common with this world of selfishness and oppression. Not of the world, but in the world, in order to be your imitators there, Christ, for if we were of the world, attaching any affection whatsoever to the passions that animate it, we would be as far from being your disciples as if we were not in the world, in order to lead it to you and to establish your Kingdom there.
(L’Ère nouvelle 1 no. 1 (Mai 1901): 4.)
☞ Research notes: The last week has been rich in new insights regarding the early years of Armand’s career, prior to the launching of L’Ère nouvelle. An autobiographical passage quoted from l’Unique led to six pseudonymous contributions to Le Libertaire in 1898 — three prose pieces signed “Junius” and three poems signed “Frank J.” (or something very similar), all likely written by Armand. And then a note in E. Armand: Sa vie, sa pensée, son œuvre led to 9 issues of the Christian pacifist paper l’Universel to which Armand contributed under the E. Armand name. The earliest of the first group, “The Indifferent,” is available elsewhere in the Labyrinth archive—and is perhaps a bit too timely for comfort in the context to the responses and non-responses to events like the federal occupation of parts of downtown Portland. ☜
There will undoubtedly be a good deal more to be said about the early phases of Armand’s career and, at this stage, I don’t want to overstate the importance of elements that may simply be residual effects of Armand’s earliest phases. I expect, based on what I know so far, that we will find a great deal of general continuity in his work, with preoccupations familiar from later work already at least in the process of being established early on, but also with some Christian echoes persisting. But we need to take the opportunities presented all along the way to examine the various articulations of selves and worlds if we are to come to any sort of general conclusions.
So let’s begin with one particular conception of a self, which seems to be “in, but not of the world,” but which manages, through self-separation, to connect with another world or another face of “the world.” We’ve already tracked some of the complexities of this negotiation of the self with those worlds or aspects of worlds. We have noted, if only in passing, the role of coming-together, of associating as camarades, in the process of self-separation. And it’s worth noting how persistently Armand appealed to encounters and practices entre nous—”between you and me,” “among ourselves”—from the pages of L’Ère nouvelle and l’Anarchie to those of l’Unique. Beyond all of that, we have a clear sense of Armand’s aspirations, of the vagabond life he imagines out in “the open countryside of the Unforeseen.” It just isn’t entirely clear how we get to that end by the means we’ve examined so far. And there seems to be a danger that ” one’s own world » might end up being fairly small.
But rather than pick on E. Armand any more, let’s turn to a phase of my own work where the dangers I’ve been gesturing toward do not seem to have been avoided. Way back in September, 2008, in the context of another set of meditations on property and individuality, I proposed what I called a “gift-economy of property” as a way to ground a specifically anarchistic conception of property.
My intuition, based in part on some language various places in Proudhon’s work and in part on the connections I’ve been making to other continental thought, is that a “gift economy,” in the sense of a system in which something, which can be rightfully given, is given, with no specific expectations of return, could only arise in fairly limited circumstances, and perhaps can only have one application within Proudhon’s thought—but that one application may be a bit of a doozy. We know that there is, for Proudhon, some opening for society to emerge as a “pact of liberty” leading towards approximations of equality and finally of justice. We know that freedom rises from the interplay of necessity and liberty, and that property too has its internal contradictions. Proudhon’s moi has very little that it can rightfully give, if even its own “property” is theft. But it, perhaps, give property to the other, through recognition, which steals nothing, robs no one, and is perfectly gratuitous, even if—and this is the character of the gift economy—it cannot be sure of reciprocation. To the extent, however, that commerce is based in equal recognition, if not necessarily any other sort of equality, then this particular gift economy might be strangely (given all we have said, and some of the names we have invoked) foundational.
Over the years, I have allowed that notion to work primarily as a placeholder for some more fully elaborated theory, returning to it now and again to clarify some element. In “A Tale of Three Provisos” (2012), I observed that:
The very notion of appropriation involves a notion of a self which is not contained, as Whitman put it, “between hat and boots.” We “mix” with all sorts of things around us, and with other people—as Stirner reminds us in the long section on “My Relations.” Interpersonal mixing seems as natural a part of what is proper to human being as other sorts. So if we want property rights to regulate an exclusive distinction between “mine” and “thine,” then we have to retreat back between our hats and boots—at least when we’re talking about proprietors. And that means that the proprietor, the subject of self-ownership, will not have “self-ownership” in the entirety of the self. There is, in effect, a third proviso which we apply when we move from all the ways in which we mix with the world to those from which we are willing to recognize the creation of a property right. In that sense, there are no “non-proviso” lockeans, only those who reject the limitations on appropriation, waste or concentration, while maintaining a different proviso which also limits the circumstances under which labor-mixing can result in property rights.
At the heart of my discussions of property in those earlier years was a sense that, although Locke’s rather elegant approach to property might have very little application in modern societies, there might still be some ethic according to which steer our individual appropriations in the direction of more just property relations. There didn’t seem to be any very logical construction of self-ownership that filled the bill—for reasons related to my previous discussions of self-ownership as self-slavery and of the limitations of a bellicose relation to the world, along with others related to my developing understanding of Proudhon’s work. At bottom, that problem of the the self’s tendencies to match up only very approximately to any given body, and to mingle in complicated ways with the world and other selves, posed problems even when we sought to simply claim our own even by the humblest determinations.
Ultimately—in the realm of aspirations—I wasn’t all that interested in humility. I had my own windows that seemed to need shattering and my own fields that beckoned, even if the references were more likely to be in Whitman than in Nietzsche. But I think we are almost inevitably drawn back to the practical problem of getting from here to, y’know, the open countryside of the Unforeseen. So even “the Walt Whitman Theory of Political Economy”—as I have half-seriously described parts of my work—faces some form of the familiar “problem of the transition.”
In 2017, contributing to a C4SS exchange on occupancy-and-use property, my initial “Neo-Proudhonian Remarks” included the most practical restatement of the “gift-economy of property” material to date. I encourage readers to give the whole essay a careful reading, as it might easily drop into the current stream of observations without making too great of a splash, but I particular want to focus on the following paragraph:
If we are to find a social order that more closely resembles emergent harmony than armed peace or open war, what are we to do? If we cannot take, then perhaps we can give. We know the value and the virtues of individual property, as did Proudhon. If we are unable to secure it for ourselves as a matter of individual appropriation, then perhaps we can grant it to one another as a matter of gift or cession, not of a property that we individually own, but of claims that we might otherwise make on one another? Imagine the basis of this new property not as appropriation but as mutual extrication. Some of the steps would resemble familiar propertarian notions. First, perhaps, mutual release would yield a variety of “self-ownership.” Then, the familiar “personal property” in items of more intimate attachment or use. Beyond that, real property on the basis of occupancy-and-use. Then, perhaps, a sphere of alienable goods and a recognition of exchange — based, like the other steps on a mutual willingness not to interfere with one another’s activities. Etc. Etc. Limiting conditions and local desires would determine the bounds of the emerging system.
I think that the proposed program for “mutual release” still resonates strongly with my ultimate goals, but it struck me yesterday—more than a little ruefully, to be honest—that the recourse to mutual extrication was at least as much a retreat from my gift-economy idea as it was a practical elaboration. I remain convinced that “if we cannot take, then perhaps we can give,” but I can’t help but feel that every attempt to give one another space, as long as it depends on a model of exclusive, individual property, is likely to leave each of us living in a very small world. And counting on a subsequent mutual release feels a bit like counting on the “withering away of the state,” precisely because the first move feels complicit with the “last polity” approach to individuality, even if the rationale is more appealing and generous to all concerned that the self-subjugation discussed in the last go-round.
It’s more than a little sad to set out to be a vagabond, but just end up a hermit.
And let’s leave things there, at the risk of feeling a little sad. There is another half to this examination of “give and take” in the construction of the individual, but if that stage of things will take us much closer to various aspirations, it will arguably do so by moving some distance from anywhere that we might start, individually, right now. And we can expect a return to this hermitage at some point, if only to consider once again the prospects for some more promising transition.
In the meantime, having reached one of those points where it seems a little early in the day to stop our travels, but clearly too late to take on all that the next leg of the journey demands, let me just present a couple of translations. The first is an article from l’en dehors by Aurora, which addresses some of the conflicts between self and world in slightly different terms. The second is an essay on Nietzsche and anarchy by André Colomer. I offer them, without further commentary, as more grist for the mill.
I Am an Individualist
I am an individualist.
Society is a figment devised by the individual.
Society is an abstraction.
The individual is a unity.
I write with regard to the anarchist. The dogmatic, the conventional, the sectarian, etc., are not, nor can they be, individualities, even if they would daub their “poses” in more or less deep shades of red.
Individualism does not mean isolation. When an individualist isolates themselves from certain groups at certain moments — groups which they could freely join — it is because the individuals who make up those groups do not satisfy their aspirations.
Anarchy and individualism are synonyms of one another.
Society today prevents us from living in harmony with our own satisfactions.
That is why we are its enemies.
The men of the future could see something useful in society. But they could never see in society an obstacle to their satisfactions, for they will understand that society cannot have a value that surpasses that of the individuals who give it existence.
Anarchist communism will be a utopia as long as individuals in general do not realize what that word anarchy really means.
The revolution will not be social if those who make it cast some as shepherds and the others as flocks.
No organization can be anarchist, no matter how “advanced” its rules or its constitution.
The anarchist can spread their principles without being organized and without being an organizer.
Every organization denies anarchy.
An anarchist can only accept associations freely consented to, without consideration of the quantity or the quality.
We will liberate ourselves from the tyranny of governments and the exploitation of the capitalists by means of our associations of conscious individuals: the day when the workers will renounce their age-old cowardice and see in each of their comrades in poverty a force, a center and a friendship.
We know that shining day will break. And we will walk in it, we individualists, expelled from a flock of which we never considered ourselves a part.
L’En dehors 4 no. 51 (15 janvier 1925) : 1; reprinted L’en dehors 18 no. 329 (Avril 1939): 47.
Reflections on Nietzsche and Anarchy
So many young people have read Nietzsche between 1890 and 1914 — those who have died for the homeland and those who have presided over the national massacres and even those who profited from these carnages!
Why has Nietzsche had so many bad disciples — so many disciples — so many Nietzscheans who have recreated in his name everything that Nietzsche himself had destroyed? Nietzschean patriots, big bourgeois Nietzschean, Nietzschean merchants, Nietzschean moralists…
I reread Nietzsche. Certainly, he is still far from me, but he is a hundred million leagues closer than all those “disciples” who boast of him.
Eh! precisely as with Han Ryner, but in the opposite sense.
Nietzsche, like Han Ryner, has spoken an old language — and so he still has the air of speaking for the men of his time. Neither Ryner nor Nietzsche has created his language. Both have expressed themselves in terms of common humanity — and yet I believe that both are exclusive uniques, incomparable personalities.
Nietzsche has expressed himself in terms of common force, as Han Ryner has done it in terms of common right.
To sing his will, his power, Nietzsche has touched the string of the old will, of the ancient power — that of the species — as Ryner, in order to sing his spirit, his idealistic harmony, has not been able to avoid the organs of the Holy Spirit, the ancient plainchant of humanitarian idealism, the voice of God.
And yet the warrior Nietzsche has nothing in common with the national warriors, just as the peaceful Han Ryner cannot be confused with the international pacifists of peacetime. But both can claim the paternity of one or the other — because both have spoken to their respective precursors with words that they do not disown, with music that could still carry them away.
Nietzsche et Han Ryner point beyond their actual achievements — but they require something that would push them to the farthest point, someone to cut the old cords that still moor each in their ports — home ports. And then, in their company, what voyages — Oh, Psychodorus! Oh, Zarathustra !
* * * *
Nietzsche is a precursor of Individualism; he is not an individualist, nor even a Dionysian: he is a bacchanalian. This explains, even more clearly than Nietzsche’s lapses, the misreadings of the Nietzscheans.
Here is the essential thing that the Nietzchean does not understand: A possession only exists on the condition of being my possession, as I want it and when I feel it in the harmony of my self. The good that I conquer, myself, for myself, is my good. But the good that I conquer as a soldier, for the homeland, is not only no longer a good, a possession for me, but also makes me feel more of a slave, for this good makes me feel more deeply—I, who have conquered it—my submission—I who let it be stripped from me by the Homeland.
And so it is for the love of danger, the pleasure of fighting… These are bacchanalian enjoyments—intoxications, if I do not feel them in the fullness of my being, as a stimulant necessary to the free play of all my faculties. If I do not master them in order to make them serve my creative sense in life, these intoxications carry me outside of my individual harmony. They tend toward my destruction.
As Nietzsche conceives it, the feeling of power tends inevitably toward a feeling of powerlessness. In dominating, Nietzsche makes domination an end: He sets his sights on a kingdom. He means to be the sovereign in relation to some subjects. He puts himself at the mercy of the kingdom. He must reckon with the subjects.
If I exercise my domination — I who claim to recognize and exercise no power but that within myself — it is in order to attain the possession of myself, the mastery of myself. I only dominate in the service of my creation. My aim is my the satisfaction of my hunger. My end is the song of my enjoyment, and I take delight in living only in the agreement of all my possibilities: idea and acts, sensations and imaginations, present perceptions and hypotheses regarding my future…
My harmony is the condition of my power. No one can strip it from me. What I seek to dominate is everything that tends to escape my art, everything that does not harmonize with my music, everything that does not respond to the surge of my love. I dominate in order to make mine. In dominating I take, I clasp to my heart. That which is given to me, I take entirely, respecting it. That which is refused to me, I break. Toward myself, I press the whole world—to crush it,—I clutch. I dominate in order to dominate myself.
The Nietzschean, on the contrary, dominates for the sake of dominating. There is a theory of art for art’s sake that does not conceive of artistic creation as an individual pleasure of the artist, the flower of a life, the gift of the individual to themselves, but as one of the anonymous expressions of the aesthetic function. “Art is an end in itself.” For Nietzsche, in the same manner, it is power that becomes the supreme end. His theory is that of “power for its own sake.” What do the forms of domination and their consequences matter, for those who dominate as well as for those who are dominated? It is above all a question of dominating. Domination becomes, in the end, his ideal, his religion, his mania. He gives himself to it, sacrifices himself, loses himself, destroys himself. It is for domination that he dominates: and in this the Nietzschean seems no more an individualist than the believer who submits for the sake of submission, according to the Christian ideal of universal submission.
* * * *
To dominate simply for the sake of it does not make you any more the master of your life than making art for its own sake makes you the creator of your art. Here you do “do art,” but you create nothing. There you do not dominate, but command.
My individualism—and that is to say my harmonious egoism—does not accommodate itself to command any more than it does to obedience. If I do not want to command, it is from love of myself, in the same way that I do not wish to obey. It appears to me as disagreeable, as repugnant to see obedience as to be obedient myself. That is why I do not command: in order not to bring into my vision a spectacle that disgusts me.
My feeling of power, I feel it most completely, most intensely, most harmoniously, when I am in the state of Anarchy, that is to say without command or obedience.
To command means to give an order. The one who commands (even to a single person) establishes a social order. By commanding, they lay the foundations of government.
Not desiring any social authority, I would refrain, first of all, from demanding of anyone the recognition of an order. In order not to submit to the command of others, I begin by not ordering myself. For the exercise of authority justifies in the slave the desire to commander to master, arouses his will to be master and ends, sooner or later, by making a master of the slave.
In order not to risk even an earned obedience I refuse myself every command.
When I require something and it is denied to me, I do not ask anyone to execute my will; I execute it myself — for example, I can kill — I execute, but I do not order execution.
In executing, I do not enact a rule, I do not impose a law: I accomplish an act—my act.
In executing, I remain anarchist.
In killing, I do not command anyone to die and no one commands me to kill. I could be forced to kill in order to remain anarchist. What I kill is that which contributes to the archy that wants to destroy me. I kill in order to save myself. I kill that which blocks the road of my life, that which hides the sun from me. I do not kill for the pleasure of killing, but for the pleasure of living.
* * * *
By giving (by imposing) a law to other men, I bind myself, I immobilize myself, I deny my turbulent individuality—just as much as by accepting (submitting to) the law of others.
The master must count on the obedience of his subjects, as the slave must count on the authority of his master. The master is at the mercy of his slave, just as the slave is at the mercy of his master. They are bound to one another. Still the slave can renounce his master, for it is not he who has chosen the law to which he is subject; but the master, creator of the law that rules the slaves, cannot renounce his slave.
The master is subject to the society of the slaves. The master lives on slavery much more than the slave himself.
As an anarchist, I rebel against the society of slaves and against the society of masters. Through individualism I am anarchist. Through anarchy I am revolutionary. Nietzsche, who only saw in individuals “the promoters of intellectual colonization and of the new formation of the links of State and Society,” held well back from forecasting the overthrow of the principle of authority, the abolition of the regime of exploitation. The success of a revolution would perhaps have seduced him, but he would have been too afraid of demonstrating weakness of soul by concerning himself with those who still make demands.
Hypnotized by the lone genius of force, Nietzsche, whom so many anarchists would read and love, would not glimpse the creative power of the anarchist idea. And wasn’t he much closer to the dictators of the proletariat than us, libertarians, the one who wrote these lines: “…We count ourselves among the conquerors, we reflect on the necessity of a new order, and also of a new slavery — as for every strengthening, for every elevation of the type “man,” there must be a new variety of enslavement  » ?
The Nietzschean Kibaltchiche in the service of the government of Moscow…, that is the “morals in action” of Nietzscheanism.
André Colomer. Nietzsche: The Gay Science.
Source: La Revue Anarchiste n°6 (juin 1922)