The purpose of culture is to fix behavior. It is the accumulation of thought and artifact that is no longer vibrant, virile, or creative. It serves the extant, ancient, and decrepit. Cultu re is opposed, not by static thought, but by thinking, which is the process of destroying or replacing thought.
All that i s vibrant, virile, and creative is at war with culture and its syn onym, thought. Thinking is the initial means by which persons fight the war with cu lture and thought. Culture is contested terrain. Its goal is to fix human behavior, but it is also continually challenged by persons who are not happy about their dispossession.
In modernity, culture has little to say about “individual fighting,” one of its most descriptive and depressing features. Discourse and behavior are “fitted to social custom” and place the premium on commonality, safety, and compliance, not autonomy, challenge, and struggle. Marsden frequently begins her discussions by introducing a concept or quote from Stirner and relating it to events or controversies in Great Britain. She p rovides an in-depth discussion of Stirner in the “Views and Comments” section of the September 1, 1913, issue of The New Freewoman which offers a critique of the influence of socialist ideology on the feminist movement in Great B ritain. This essay develops her concept of “embargoism” and reintroduces Stirner’s concept of the “ragam u ffin.” Marsden describes TheEgo and Its Own in this essay as “the most powerful work that has ever emerged from a single human mind .
She says that Stirner’s work has contemporary relevance to socialism and feminism in part because his notion of the ” ragamu ffin” aptly describes the type of person that these movements were attempting to create in the early twentieth century. In Stirner’s critiqu e of social liberalism and humanism, the ragamuffin is the person who is propertyless and powerless, and who embraces the status of dispossession. Marsden summarizes the ragamuffin:
He is the ideal citizen, the pattern in whose presence the defective property owning ones feel themselves rightly under reproach. The nobler among these latter are merely hesitating in their choice of the best means of divesting themselves of their property that they may become ragamuffins too, when they will have become good citizens – no longer a menace to the equal authority of the state.
Marsden argues that socialism and the labor movement collude to make ragamu ffinhood the normal circumstance in democratic, industrial societies. Their collusion with suffragism and feminism has devastating implications for individual autonomy from the state and collectivist constructs of cul ture. In opposition to socialist and labor arguments that the path to overcoming wage-slavery under capitalism is the consolidation of a l l productive property into a monopoly owned b y the state, Marsden argues that deprivation is still deprivation regard less o f whether i t is the state or t h e capitalist who deprives labor of power, property, and its rightfu l earnings.
The true spirit of the ragamuffin is espoused by labor, socialist, and feminist advocates alike who make property lessness the ” foundation-stone of their new Utopia.” The promise by socialists and labor advocates is that the new “property” of the ragamuffins is the “monopoly of their own labor power” which, ultimately, is to be appropriated and allocated by the state in the interest so f all. The promise i s not m atched by the fact that the state appropriates and allocates in its own interests.
Labor power is fundamentally the power of one’s own mind and body, which individuals have a monopoly over in a presocial and prepolitical environment. No one else can use an individual’s labor power except through coercion or the individual’s submission to external directives.
The evolving problem with capitalism is the concentration and centralization of productive property, leaving the mass of workers with nothing but their labor power to earn a living. Socialism has a simplistic appeal to the dispossessed and those fearing dispossession. The practical meaning of a “monopoly of labor power,” the vision of the socialist alternative, is the forcible imposition of an embargo on free labor, or labor that exists outside the control of u nions or labor guilds.
What then does this acquiring of a monopoly of labor power, which is to be carried through by the guilds, mean? If it cannot be a war of defense, it must be a war of aggression. This is exactly what it turns out to be. It is an attempt to lay an embargo upon the exercising of the labor power possessed by those outside the guild, a very frank attempt to establish a tyranny.
The origin of this collectivist tyranny is in the attack on free labor and the advocacy by socialist unions and political parties for “vesting all properties, land, mines, railways and the like in the hands of the state.” Socialist ideology also promotes limiting access to the use of these properties through a “partnership between workmen and the state,” ensuring that workers are “into the union or starve.” The goal of socialist ideology is to create an environment in which the state guarantees that nothing stands between the “monopoly of labor power ” and the ability of the individual to survive physically. The objective of the unions, the guilds, and the social ist movement is to redu ce people to ragamuffins by dispossessing them of the “labor power” they inherently possess and transferring it to
the state. The wage-slavery of capital ism is replaced by the wage-slavery of socialism.
The cu ltural elite of modernity promotes ragamuffinism as ” the right thing” because it hates the thought of its alternative: the independence of the labor power of individuals and its corollary, responsibility for one’s own life. The last thing the leadership of the unions, the guilds, the socialist political parties, and the feminist organizations want is “widespread individual ownership.” The problems of labor cannot be solved by the “monopolization of labor power” by the unions and the state, but the trend toward monopol ization and ragamuffinism has deep historical roots . Marsden argues that there is an inherent difficulty in the culture of modernity, or in modern civilization. Cuiture, modernity; and civilization take the “pugnacious energy” out of people, men and women alike.
Faced with the rigors of nature, they have not the audacious pertinacity of more primitive peoples. The great mass of men are only too glad to creep under the sheltering arm of the few who prove relatively daring, no matter on what ignominious terms of dependence, rather than face the task of justifying their existence by maintaining it. They feel safer, herded together, all mutually responsible, and none wholly responsible.
The culture of modernity is comprised of the “logic of embargoism” and the “spirit of ragamuffinism.” Embargoism is the intentional exclusion and punishment of nonconformity, independence, and autonomy.
Ragamuffinism is the gleeful self-dispossession of property and power.
Both embargoism and ragamuffinism elevate what Marsden calls “humanitarianism” and what Stirner calls “humanism.” It is the i dea thathuman collectives are inviolable facts, not concepts, and should be revered and served. “Timid hearts and feeble minds have made common cause to raise u p false gods.”
Socialism, suffragism, and feminism are expressions of humanitarianism because they all enforce the notion that the “cause is great and the person is small.” The logic of embargoism and the spirit of ragamuffinism characterize the cultural values and the ideological horizon of solutions to the problems of modernity, especially those associated with urbanism, industrialization, and the concentration and centralization of property. The culture of modernity is the triumph of thelogic of embargoism and the spirit of ragamuffinism . The proponents of dispossession wield power and authority, suppressing independence, otherness, and the human drive toward appropriation. Modernity is the generalization and enforcement of dispossession. It is the contradictory philosophy of modernist political ideologies, including socialism and feminism : all persons must be dispossessed of property and power to ensure that all participate in the possession of property and power. It is the systematic reduction of all individuals to ragamuffinhood. “Thus sha l l we be when all of us must have nothing so that all may have.”
Marsden’s reintroduction of Stirner’s concept of the ragamuffin illuminates the parallel between the socialist intention to monopolize labor power through the statist appropriation of property and the feminist intention to collectivize the struggles of women. Modernity is the theory and practice of ragamuffinism.