RECIPROCITY AND PREDATION IN EVERYDAY LIFE:NEW VOICES IN THE EGOIST INSURRECTION

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Prom the mid-1880s until its closure in 1908, Liberty attracted devotees of a variety of theoretical tendencies. In addition to the writings of the Tuckerites, Liberty also published articles developed by very strict, antiStirner natural rights anarchists, as weII as those by an emerging group of inteIIectuals who took a more thoroughly

Stirnerite perspective than Tucker and his coIIeagues. Stirner’s sense of history and his critique of the proclivity of modernist institutions and movements to absorb the individual were important elements of the egoist insurrection that began half a century after the publication of The Ego and Its Own, and lasted well beyond the demise of Liberty into the first quarter of the twentieth century.

 

 

A confluence of social and intellectual forces in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century helped produce a revival of interest I Stirner and the basic ideas that helped develop this new form of egoist thought. The success of Liberty and a proliferation of small egoist, anarchist, and atheist journals in America and Europe that discussed egoist ideas expressed and helped generate new interest in Stirner’s thought. In America, journals l ike Egoism and Lucifer abandoned any interest in natural rights philosophies and expunged all forms of socialism, intending to focus on the development of a strictly egoist line of reasoning. Similar efforts emerged in Great Britain and Europe through journals such as The Eagle and the Serpent, The Egoist, and L’Anarchie. As a result, new voices for egoism began to emerge from within the individualist anarchist community. James L. Walker in the United States, Dora Marsden in Great Britainand  Emile Armand in France were increasingly identified as significant public intellectuals who developed an egoist interpretation of politics, culture, and society. Even within Liberty, new egoist challenges to the more traditional natural rights approach to anarchism and socialism arose from writers such as John Badcock and John B everley Robinson .

 

During the 1 880s and 1 890s, John Henry Mackay, a Scots-German poet, novelist, and gay rights activist dedicated hi mself to reviving interest in Stirner. Through his articles and novels, especially The Allarchists and The Freedomseeker, Mackay helped publ icize Stirner’s i d eas. He published a German language biography of Stirner in 1 897, Max Stinzer: His Life and His Work, fifty-three years after the publication of The Ego all Its Own. He is credited with rescu ing Stirner from his obscurity and popularizing his life and work.

Of course, Byington’s translation of The Ego and Its Own d i d not appear until 1 907. The publication of both works within a decade raised interest in Stirner. Mackay’s novels The Anarchists: A Study of Civilization at the Close of the 19th Century and The Freedomseeker: A Psychology of Development are literary statements of a Stirnerite perspective on individualist anarchism and its interpretation of the forms of class and political domination prevalent i n nineteenth century Europe.

 

The interest in Friedrich Nietzsche in Europe and America du ring these decades helped lay a foundation for broader interest in the egoist critique of modernity. The specific nature of Nietzsche’s intellectual relationship with Stirner is a fascinating topic in its own right, but Nietzsche’s thought is as independent as it is profound. During the 1 880s and 1 890s, Stirner had yet to be translated into English. Consequently, direct know ledge about Stirner’s work in Great Britain and America was limited to those radical intellectuals, like James L. Walker, who were proficient in German.

Nietzsche’s major works were not only published during those two decades, but significant commentary about his writings was also published and circulated throughout Europe and America. Nietzsche’s atheism and egoism prompted inquiry into Stirner because of interest in the question of whether the author of The Ego and Its Own was a precursor to Nietzsche or, at least, a compatible thinker.

 

The practical consequences of collectivist struggles against capitalism were becoming increasingly apparent to social scientists and the public alike. Evidence began accumulating that individuals really did not matter to collectivist revolutionaries or to the socialist and labor elites. The debacles of the First and Second Internationals demonstrated that individual liberty and egalitarianism were the last things that interested the socialist movement. Once it was put under critical scrutiny, egalitarianism itself looked like a sham created by intellectuals to secure p laces for themselves in the hierarchies of the state and labor movements.

 

Among many intellectuals and artists, a critical attitude toward labor, socialist, and collectivist movements of all types began to emerge. Within the social sciences, the Italian political scientist Gaetano Mosca published his treatise, The Ruling Class, in 1 896 which demolished the notion that democratic and socialist movements could eradicate social stratification. In 1908, the German libertarian sociologist Franz Oppenheimer threw cold water on the emerging Marxist sociologies in The State, by refuting the socialist argument that the proletarian seizure of government was the initial step in the creation of a democratic and egalitarian society. In his 191 1 study, Political Parties, Roberto Michels reported on the “iron law of oligarchy,” the process in which democratic organizations inevitably displace their humanistic, egalitarian goals and develop oligarchic and autocratic structures.

The Italian sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto published The Mind and Society in 1 9 1 7, which concluded that social change does not really signify progress to greater democratization or egalitarianism, but a ” circulation of elites” in which groups of elites vie with each other for desiderata.

 

With the exception of Oppenheimer’s study of the historical transformations of the state, none of these works were directly supportive o f libertarian, anarchist, or egoist ideas. Their major consequence w as that they intellectually undermined the notion that alienation and domination could be overcome through the simplistic strategies of Marxism or the collectivist and individualist forms of anarchism. For those who sought a more hospitable environment for the individual ego, none o f t h e radical movements of t h e day seemed satisfactory. Even less s o , after they had been assailed b y Mosca, Oppenheimer, Michels, and Pareto. Egoism, however, remained a viable option and Stirner was its intriguing theorist.

 

This chapter examines the egoist thought of James L. Walker. Walker is a significant fig u re in the history of egoist thought from the 1 880s to the early 1 890s because h e wrote the first book in English about egoism . His book The Philosophy of Egoism supplemented many essays he wrote for atheist, anarchist, and egoist journals.

 

 The Philosophy of Egoism developed an organized discussion of egoist concepts, a Stirnerite critique of cultural norms and political institutions, and an encouragement to resistance to both ideological and physical forms of coercion individuals experience in everyday l i fe. Walker was without a doubt the most notable egoist thinker in the United States from the mid-1 880s through the first decade of the 1 990s.

 

Even Benjamin Tucker acknowledged the preeminence of Walker’s scholarship and the influence of his writings on a community that was hungry for an elaboration and application of Stirner’s ideas. Although the two differed in their assessments of natural rights, anarchism, Proudhon, and the notion of equal liberty, Tucker displayed a reluctance to challenge Walker with the usual verve and invective directed toward his adversaries.

 

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