Marsden grappled with the political meaning of egoism during these years and had an ongoing philosophic confrontation with Benjamin Tucker over the question of whether Stirner’s egoism leads to individualist anarchism, or to a position that Marsden called “archism,” a rejection of the limitations on thought and behavior set by Tucker’s notion of “equal liberty.” In her view, Stirner’s dialectical egoism is more of a justification for a will to power and property, rather than a forerunner of Tucker’s concept of equal liberty.
The basic questions this section addresses include, how did Marsden view Stirner and how did she use Stirner’s concepts and arguments in her analyses of feminism, culture, and politics, particularly from 191 1 to 1 914? To what extent is her egoism and “archism,” based on or compatible with Stirner’s concept of “ownness?” Marsden does not u se Stirner’s term, but it is clear that she retains an idea of ownness as she works out a concept of egoism appropriate to the circumstances she analyzed. While Stirner ‘s Hegelianism was absent in Tucker’s work, it reappears in Marsden’s writings and theorizing.
Marsden retains a form of the dialectic as she frequently counterposes conflicting ideas and social forces, identifying the “higher presuppositions” resulting from their conflict. In fact, in her political writings, “egoism” and “archism” may be understood as the outcome of the conflict between statism and anarchism, and as the outcome of the conflict between female bondage and feminism .
The first time Marsden comments on Stirner and The Ego and Its Own is in an article entitled, “The Growing Ego,” that appeared on August 8, 1912, in The Freewoman.9 Marsden says that she wants to modify Stirner’s concept of god and religion and, by implication, his theory of alienation and reification. In response to a contributor, Marsden promises to subject Stirner’s philosophy to a thorough test in a future issue, but argues that the j ournal needs to gain control over the ” penetrative influence” that The Ego and lts Own has on The Freewoman .
The profound truth of Stirner’s book must be “put aside” and she must expose the ” abrupt and impossible termination of its thesis.” She suggests that Stirner d estroyed the concepts of ethics, religion, god, and humanity as external powers that dominate the ego. In itself, this was not a particularly profound accomplishment since these concepts were phantoms anyway. If the ego needs the “realization of itself in morality, or religion, or God, then by v irtue of
its own suprema cy, the realization will be forthcoming.” The source of the construction of these ghosts or phantoms is the ego. If alienated thoughts are a problem, then the source of the problem is within the ego. There are positive elements, or personalities, in the ego that are realized in the external world and experienced by others. The idea of god is the external reflection of the positive elements in persons.
The idea of god originates from the ego w ithout external mediation and has nothing to do with external authority. She concludes, ” [IJet us agree with Stirner that God neither postulates nor controls the ego. But the ego does postulate God.”l O In this early effort Marsden appears to reject Stirner’s multilayered approach to understanding a lienation and reification, in favor of a highly nominalistic conception of knowledge. Stirner, the student of Hegel, would never agree that any form of alienation, including the idea of god, has nothing to do with external forces.
Neither does The Ego and Its Own argue that the problems of alienation and reification can be solved just by individuals getting their thinking straight. It is quite clear from Stirner’s discussion of antiquity and modernity that socio historical forces have quite a bit to do with concepts of god. Ideas or concepts of god vary greatly with different sociohistorical circumstances, and so does the nature of knowledge and alienation. Marsden initiated an intellectual campaign that was intended to attack all ideas that keep women in a servile position, including the notion that ideas are rooted in external phenomena.
Over time, Marsden modified her own position, however, acknowledging that knowledge i s the result of interaction between the individual and external forces. She soon makes very direct statements about Stirner that demonstrate her intellectual debt to him. In her “Views andComments” section in the first issue of The Egoist, Marsden objects to a reader’s fairly innocent compliment that her journal s have a ” Stirnerian” editorial slant. Marsden responds that her “egoistic temper” prevents her from accepting pleasant compliments without a protest when they are undeserved . She says,
If our beer bears a resemblance in flavor to other brands, it is due to the
similarity of taste in the makers . “Stimerian” therefore is not the adjective
fittingly to be applied to the egoism of The Egoist. What the appropriate term
would be we can omit to state. Having said this, we do not seek to minimize
the amount of Stirner which may be traced herein. The contrary rather, since
having no fear that creative genius folded its wings when Stirner laid d own
his pen, we would gladly credit to him – unlike so many of the individualists
who have enriched themselves somewhat at his hands- the full measure of
his astounding creativeness. For it is not the smallness in measure of what
one takes away from genius one admires which is creditable.
She rejects the identification of her journals as Stirnerian based on an objection to “the comedy of discipleship,” which places the disciple in a docile, uncritical role of servitude to the wisdom already constructed by the teacher. In Marsden’s view, the reduction of her egoist thought to “Stirnerian” was something of a contradiction since it repudiates the new directions and new contributions that unique individuals develop. The form of egoist thought Stirner initiated is not a fully developed, fixed body of know ledge, but more like a stream that The Egoist draws from as appropriate to the topic or to the development of an idea . The Egoist draws from Stirner, not in “thimblefuls ,” but in “great pots,” because “we recognize his value.”
The measure of The Egoist’s relationship to Stirner’s egoism is found in the critical application of his concepts to cultural and political events, not in an uncritical recitation of quotes and principles .
Marsden never produced the test of Stirner ‘s ideas that she promised .
There is ample evidence in her analytical articles of the influence Stirner had on her thought and how she used his concepts in her writings on suffragism, cultu re, and politics. The examples of articles and cultural topics in which Marsden applies concepts taken from Stirner are legion.
There is a structure to her writing and thinking about culture that reflects a definite Stirnerite approach. First, she writes about many examples of fixed ideas or prevailing cultural values, demonstrating that they present cultu re as an absolute that cannot be questioned and that fixes human relationships into permanent patterns, with individuals subordinate to social institutions. She attacks societal sacred cows such as “duty,” “equality,” “democracy,” “honor,” “chastity,” ” fidelity,” “the ten commandments,” “morality,” “good will,” and “humanitarianism.” Second, she demonstrates that the prevailing cultural values, or fixed ideas, are oriented toward promoting or elevating collective identities and interests above the autonomy and uniqueness of individuals. The promotion of humanitarianism, goodwill toward others, culture, subordination to social causes, and the state are important examples.
Third, she demonstrates that the promotion of collectivist cu ltura l constructs has an impact on social relationships and individuals. Most significantly, collectivist cultural ideas encourage and legitimate the formation of behavioral monopolies which exclude and punish outsiders and nonconformists . Fou rth, the two basic p rocesses in modernity that affect individuals in everyday life are “embargoism” and “ragamuffinism.”
Embargoism creates social boundaries that enhance the solidarity and col lective identity of an in-group and punishes others. It also places limits on what individuals can and cannot think and do. Ragamuffinism emphasizes the dispossession of property and power from individuals, and the diminution of their independence and self-reliance.13 For Marsden, culture is (a) society’s amalgam of fixed ideas that function to (b) homogenize behavior and thought by subordinating individuals to external causes, and (c) level persons downwar d by dispossessing them of prop erty and power. Egoism is the enemy of culture and the state because it challenges “embargoism” and ” ragamuffinism” in everyday life.
Fixed ideas become elevated a s cultural absolutes because modernity is characterized by alienated thought or the “gadding mind.” The thought of individuals in the “normal order” is oriented toward “alien causes” that typically condemn the self to a very limited set of aspirations and expectations. But minds are restless and seek a home in the great causes of democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity, women’s rights, or ethnic purity.
Modernity cultivates a personality archetype Marsden calls the “lean kind” which denies the possession of a self that has desires and aspirations, and gravitates toward causes and movements to fill the void l eft by the diminutive self. 1 4 ” Leanness” in self, self-interest, and intent to appropriate the world is the preferred quality of individuals in the modern world. In modernity, the assertion of the self with desires is an “embarrassing notion .” Modern individuals have a proclivity to ally, define, and commit themselves to religious, political, and social causes in order to meet a cultural value that enforces servitude to an external force and self sacrifice to an ideal. “Great is the cause and small are men.” The greater the cause, and the greater the sacrifice, the greater the cultural approbation.
The greater the cause, the greater the shame in resistance; hence, the greater the punishment.
Marsden uses many examples in her writings that demonstrate how fixed ideas function to subordinate persons to causes and social institutions.
One example that reappears in her writing is clearly derived from Stirner: property and the dispossession of individuals. Like Stirner and Tucker, Marsden is extremely concerned about the d ivide between rich and poor, the possessors and the dispossessed. She is particularly interested in understanding how the dispossessed are so easily pacified. She
argues that cultural values such as “honesty” have a social control function that is especially directed at the poor since it encourages a “righteous frenzy for the m aintenance of the status quo in regard to property.” 15 The distribution of property and power is always in flux in the social process, or the war of each against a l l .
By elevating and inculcating the value of honesty in the hearts and minds of persons modernist culture pacifies anger and resentment as individuals are dispossessed of property and power. Honesty becomes a fixed and absolute guide for the behavior of the rich and poor a like, but it deprives the poor of alternative or insurrectionary means to assert their interests and appropriate property and power. The cultural value of honesty is a weapon that the possessors use against the dispossessed to protect the existing class structure. It is an element of ideological warfare that protects the supremacy of the possessors.
Once property is seized in the war of each against all, the possessors work to make the divide permanent and legitimate. The state is an important actor in this process since it threatens and employs physical force to keep the dispossessed at bay. Cultu re is also important since it creates the internal police to keep the dispossessed from asserting their self-interests.
What was once in flux, becomes fixed, static, and perm anent.
Culture instills the “great principles” of a society as the state and the possessors intend; it “inculcates the properly submissive state of mind” which the dispossessed are req ired to “carry into effect.” 1 6 The resources available for individual self-assertion in modernity are extremely lim ited . It is the role of cu ltu re to protect and defend the limits placed on the egoism of persons. It says, “this far and no farther.” Culture, ike the state, functions on the “embargo princip le” by defining what persons can and cannot do, say, and think. It imposes an embargo on behaviors that test the limits of action and speech . It punishes the persons who defy the embargo.
Culture differs from the state in that its demarcation of acceptable from unacceptable behaviors is reinforced by “thou ought” and “thou ought not” prescriptions that are beyond examination and critique. Culture im poses morality on persons whose proclivities are towa rd egoism and resistance.
Culture’s function is to compose paeans of praise to the great gods, and build a system of embargos – the codes of behavior – for the small persons whose gods are of such trifling proportions as to confer on their creators nothing more than the status of weeds.