\ 

Nederlog

 

25 December 2009

 

Alleen uitzonderlijke mensen zijn individualisten

 

    In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.  
    -- George Orwell

1. Inleiding
2. Emma Goldman's "The Individual, Society and the State" 
3. Notes by MM - Dec 25 2009
4. Nawoordje

1. Inleiding

Dit is bij wijze van kerstoverdenking, zo u dat wilt, en overigens bij wijze van enige uitleg van mijzelf en enkele andere individualisten, zoals George Orwell en Emma Goldman. (De links tot hier gaan naar de Engelse Wikipedia.)

Ik kwam erop omdat ik de sectie Philosophy op mijn harde schijf aan het bijwerken was, en een fraai essay uit 1940 van de anarchiste Emma Goldman trof over het onderwerp, dat me passend voor deze tijd en over het onderwerp dunkt, en dat ik voorzien heb van mijn commentaren.

U moet zelf maar proberen wijs te worden wat Goldman (of Orwell, of De la Boétie, of Multatuli - bijvoorbeeld) met een begrip als 'individualisme' bedoelen, dat ik er zo uitdrukkelijk bij zeg omdat het mij voorkomt dat de meeste mensen geen individuen of individualisten zijn zoals de genoemden, en ikzelf ook, al zullen de meeste menselijke niet-individuen - of volgelingen oba (*) goede collega's zoals ik ze wel eens noem - dat verontwaardigd ontkennen.

En ze spreken dan met enig logisch recht, want ieder mens is een uniek individu zoals ieder particulier ding uniek is: Er bestaat maar één ding dat exact hetzelfde is als dat ding, namelijk dat ding zelf.

Alleen gaat het daar menselijkerwijs niet over, maar over iets anders, namelijk of een menselijk individu werkelijk gewillig en in staat is zelfstandig na te denken en te handelen - en dan zijn er niet zoveel die dat werkelijk kunnen en willen, want verreweg de meeste mensen zijn volgelingen, conformisten, loyale collaborateurs van de bestaande machthebbers, en gelovers in de onzin van de dag, of ze nu universitair geschoold zijn of niet, en of ze zichzelf voor onafhankelijk, intelligent of individu verslijten danwel publiek uitventen, of niet.

Wie 25 of ouder is kan uit z'n eigen leven opmaken of hij of zij een individualist is, dus een mens is die z'n eigen individualiteit in stand heeft weten te houden en daardoor geinspireerd durft te handelen en denken, of niet, en dat blijkt eenvoudig uit de persoonlijke moed die iemand wel of niet heeft opgebracht om af te wijken, anders te zijn - denken, voelen, spreken, oordelen, wensen, willen - dan de anderen, en dat bovendien niet in kleine oppervlakkige zaken, maar in fundamentele intellectuele of ethische opzichten.

De zeer grote meerderheid die 25 jaar of ouder is is gebleken - althans in mij leven, in een zogeheten vrij, welvarend en tolerant land - dat niet te zijn, en bovendien veel eigendunk en deugd te ontlenen aan hun zo voortreffelijke algehele gewoon zijn, die immers duidt op een excellente moraliteit.

Slechts een kleine minderheid heeft zichzelf overeind weten te houden en leeft, denkt en voelt naar zijn of haar eigen normen.

Het nu volgend essay is het product van zo'n zeldzaam individu, Emma Goldman, en moet kort voor haar dood in 1940 geschreven zijn. Kort als het is heb ik het voorzien van 60 verklarende noten, in het Engels, die aan het eind van Goldman's tekst volgen. U kunt ze wat mij betreft overslaan, maar ik denk dat ze een en ander verduidelijken, zowel over Goldman als over mijzelf.

2. Emma Goldman's "The Individual, Society and the State

For - much - more of Emma Goldman, including her really fine autobiography, see the following at the Anarchist Archives: Emma Goldman


The Individual, Society and the State

Emma Goldman


First published: by the Free Society Forum, Chicago, Illinois in 1940. (**)


The minds of men are in confusion, for the very foundations of our civilization seem to be tottering. People are losing faith in the existing institutions, and the more intelligent realize that capitalist industrialism is defeating the very purpose it is supposed to serve. [1]

The world is at a loss for a way out. Parliamentarism and democracy are on the decline. Salvation is being sought in Fascism and other forms of “strong” government.

The struggle of opposing ideas now going on in the world involves social problems urgently demanding a solution. The welfare of the individual and the fate of human society depend on the right answer to those questions The , unemployment, war, disarmament, international relations, etc., are among those problems.

The State, government with its functions and powers, is now the subject of vital interest to every thinking man. Political developments in all civilized countries have brought the questions home. Shall we have a strong government? Are democracy and parliamentary government to be preferred, or is Fascism of one kind or another, dictatorship - monarchical, bourgeois or proletarian [2] - the solution of the ills and difficulties that beset society today?

In other words, shall we cure the evils of democracy by more democracy, or shall we cut the Gordian knot of popular government with the sword of dictatorship?

My answer is neither the one nor the other. I am against dictatorship and Fascism as I am opposed to parliamentary regimes and so-called political democracy. [3]

Nazism has been justly called an attack on civilization. This characterization applies with equal force to every form of dictatorship; indeed, to every kind of suppression and coercive authority. For what is civilization in the true sense? All progress has been essentially an enlargement of the liberties of the individual with a corresponding decrease of the authority wielded over him by external forces. [4] This holds good in the realm of physical as well as of political and economic existence. In the physical world man has progressed to the extent in which he has subdued the forces of nature and made them useful to himself. Primitive man made a step on the road to progress when he first produced fire and thus triumphed over darkness, when he chained the wind or harnessed water.

What role did authority or government play in human endeavor for betterment, in invention and discovery? None whatever, or at least none that was helpful. [5] It has always been the individual that has accomplished every miracle in that sphere, usually in spite of the prohibition, persecution and interference by authority, human and divine. [6]

Similarly, in the political sphere, the road of progress lay in getting away more and more from the authority of the tribal chief or of the clan, of prince and king, of government, of the State. Economically, progress has meant greater well-being of ever larger numbers. Culturally, it has signified the result of all the other achievements - greater independence, political, mental and psychic. [7]

Regarded from this angle, the problems of man’s relation to the State assumes an entirely different significance. It is no more a question of whether dictatorship is preferable to democracy, or Italian Fascism superior to Hitlerism. A larger and far more vital question poses itself: Is political government, is the State beneficial to mankind, and how does it affect the individual in the social scheme of things? [8]

The individual is the true reality in life. A cosmos in himself, he does not exist for the State, nor for that abstraction called “society,” or the “nation,” which is only a collection of individuals. Man, the individual, has always been and, necessarily is the sole source and motive power of evolution and progress. [9] Civilization has been a continuous struggle of the individual or of groups of individuals against the State and even against “society,” that is, against the majority subdued and hypnotized by the State and State worship. [10] Man’s greatest battles have been waged against man-made obstacles and artificial handicaps imposed upon him to paralyze his growth and development. Human thought has always been falsified by tradition and custom, and perverted false education in the interests of those who held power and enjoyed privileges. In other words, by the State and the ruling classes. [11] This constant incessant conflict has been the history of mankind.

Individuality may be described as the consciousness of the individual as to what he is and how he lives. It is inherent in every human being and is a thing of growth. [12] The State and social institutions come and go, but individuality remains and persists. The very essence of individuality is expression; the sense of dignity and independence is the soil wherein it thrives. Individuality is not the impersonal and mechanistic thing that the State treats as an “individual". The individual is not merely the result of heredity and environment, of cause and effect. He is that and a great deal more, a great deal else. The living man cannot be defined; he is the fountain-head of all life and all values; he is not a part of this or of that; he is a whole, an individual whole, a growing, changing, yet always constant whole. [13]

Individuality is not to be confused with the various ideas and concepts of Individualism; much less with that “rugged individualism” which is only a masked attempt to repress and defeat the individual and his individuality. [14] So-called Individualism is the social and economic laissez faire: the exploitation of the masses by the classes by means of legal trickery, spiritual debasement and systematic indoctrination of the servile spirit, which process is known as “education.” That corrupt and perverse “individualism” is the strait-jacket of individuality. It has converted life into a degrading race for externals, for possession, for social prestige and supremacy. Its highest wisdom is “the devil take the hindmost.” [15]

This “rugged individualism” has inevitably resulted in the greatest modern slavery, the crassest class distinctions, driving millions to the breadline. “Rugged individualism” has meant all the “individualism” for the masters, while the people are regimented into a slave caste to serve a handful of self-seeking “supermen.” America is perhaps the best representative of this kind of individualism, in whose name political tyranny and social oppression are defended and held up as virtues; [16] while every aspiration and attempt of man to gain freedom and social opportunity to live is denounced as “unAmerican” and evil in the name of that same individualism.

There was a time when the State was unknown. In his natural condition man existed without any State or organized government. People lived as families in small communities; they tilled the soil and practiced the arts and crafts. The individual, and later the family, was the unit of social life where each was free and the equal of his neighbor. Human society then was not a State but an association; a voluntary association for mutual protection and benefit. [17] The elders and more experienced members were the guides and advisers of the people. They helped to manage the affairs of life, not to rule and dominate the individual.

Political government and the State were a much later development, growing out of the desire of the stronger to take advantage of the weaker, of the few against the many. The State, ecclesiastical and secular, served to give an appearance of legality and right to the wrong done by the few to the many. [18] That appearance of right was necessary the easier to rule the people, because no government can exist without the consent of the people, consent open, tacit or assumed. [19] Constitutionalism and democracy are the modern forms of that alleged consent; the consent being inoculated and indoctrinated by what is called “education,” at home, in the church, and in every other phase of life. [20]

That consent is the belief in authority, in the necessity for it. At its base is the doctrine that man is evil, vicious, and too incompetent to know what is good for him. On this all government and oppression is built. God and the State exist and are supported by this dogma. [21]

Yet the State is nothing but a name. It is an abstraction. Like other similar conceptions - nation, race, humanity - it has no organic reality. To call the State an organism shows a diseased tendency to make a fetish of words. [22]

The State is a term for the legislative and administrative machinery whereby certain business of the people is transacted, and badly so. There is nothing sacred, holy or mysterious about it. The State has no more conscience or moral mission than a commercial company for working a coal mine or running a railroad.

The State has no more existence than gods and devils have. [23] They are equally the reflex and creation of man, for man, the individual, is the only reality. The State is but the shadow of man, the shadow of his opaqueness of his ignorance and fear.

Life begins and ends with man, the individual. Without him there is no race, no humanity, no State. No, not even “society” is possible without man. It is the individual who lives, breathes and suffers. [24] His development, his advance, has been a continuous struggle against the fetishes of his own creation and particularly so against the “State.”

In former days religious authority fashioned political life in the image of the Church. The authority of the State, the “rights” of rulers came from on high; power, like faith, was divine. Philosophers have written thick volumes to prove the sanctity of the State; some have even clad it with infallibility and with god-like attributes. Some have talked themselves into the insane notion that the State is “superhuman,” the supreme reality, “the absolute.” [25]

Enquiry was condemned as blasphemy. Servitude was the highest virtue. By such precepts and training certain things came to be regarded as self-evident, as sacred of their truth, but because of constant and persistent repetition.

All progress has been essentially an unmasking of “divinity” and “mystery,” of alleged sacred, eternal “truth"; it has been a gradual elimination of the abstract and the substitution in its place of the real, the concrete. In short, of facts against fancy, of knowledge against ignorance, of light against darkness. [26]

That slow and arduous liberation of the individual was not accomplished by the aid of the State. On the contrary, it was by continuous conflict, by a life-and death struggle with the State, that even the smallest vestige of independence and freedom has been won. It has cost mankind much time and blood to secure what little it has gained so far from kings, tsars and governments

The great heroic figure of that long Golgotha has been Man. It has always been the individual, often alone and singly, at other times in unity and co-operation with others of his kind, who has fought and bled in the age-long battle against suppression and oppression, against the powers that enslave and degrade him. [27]

More than that and more significant: It was man, the individual, whose soul first rebelled against injustice and degradation; it was the individual who first conceived the idea of resistance to the conditions under which he chafed. In short, it is always the individual who is the parent of the liberating thought as well as of the deed. [28]

This refers not only to political struggles, but to the entire gamut of human life and effort, in all ages and climes. It has always been the individual, the man of strong mind and will to liberty, who paved the way for every human advance, for every step toward a freer and better world; in science, philosophy and art, as well as in industry, whose genius rose to the heights, conceiving the “impossible,” visualizing its realization and imbuing others with his enthusiasm to work and strive for it. [29] Socially speaking, it was always the prophet, the seer, the idealist, who dreamed of a world more to his heart’s desire and who served as the beacon light on the road to greater achievement. [30]

The State, every government whatever its form, character or color - be it absolute or constitutional, monarchy or republic, Fascist, Nazi or Bolshevik - is by its very nature conservative, static, intolerant of change and opposed to it. Whatever changes it undergoes are always the result of pressure exerted upon it, pressure strong enough to compel the ruling powers to submit peaceably or otherwise, generally “otherwise” - that is, by revolution. Moreover, the inherent conservatism of government, of authority of any kind, unavoidably becomes reactionary. For two reasons: first, because it is in the nature of government not only to retain the power it has, but also to strengthen, widen and perpetuate it, nationally as well as internationally. The stronger authority grows, the greater the State and its power, the less it can tolerate a similar authority or political power along side of itself. The psychology of government demands that its influence and prestige constantly grow, at home and abroad, and it exploits every opportunity to increase it. This tendency is motivated by the financial and commercial interests back of the government, represented and served by it. [31] The fundamental raison d’etre of every government to which, incidentally, historians of former days wilfully shut their eyes, has become too obvious now even for professors to ignore.

The other factor which impels governments to become even more conservative and reactionary is their inherent distrust of the individual and fear of individuality. [32] Our political and social scheme cannot afford to tolerate the individual and his constant quest for innovation. In “self-defense” the State therefore suppresses, persecutes, punishes and even deprives the individual of life. [33] It is aided in this by every institution that stands for the preservation of the existing order. It resorts to every form of violence and force, and its efforts are supported by the “moral indignation” of the majority against the heretic, the social dissenter and the political rebel - the majority for centuries drilled in State worship, trained in discipline and obedience and subdued by the awe of authority in the home, the school, the church and the press. [34]

The strongest bulwark of authority is uniformity; the least divergence from it is the greatest crime. The wholesale mechanisation of modern life has increased uniformity a thousandfold. It is everywhere present, in habits, tastes, dress, thoughts and ideas. Its most concentrated dullness is “public opinion.” Few have the courage to stand out against it. He who refuses to submit is at once labelled “queer,” “different,” and decried as a disturbing element in the comfortable stagnancy of modern life. [35]

Perhaps even more than constituted authority, it is social uniformity and sameness that harass the individual most. His very “uniqueness,” “separateness” and “differentiation” make him an alien, not only in his native place, but even in his own home. Often more so than the foreign born who generally falls in with the established. [36]

In the true sense one’s native land, with its back ground of tradition, early impressions, reminiscences and other things dear to one, is not enough to make sensitive human beings feel at home. A certain atmosphere of “belonging,” the consciousness of being “at one” with the people and environment, is more essential to one’s feeling of home. This holds good in relation to one’s family, the smaller local circle, as well as the larger phase of the life and activities commonly called one’s country. The individual whose vision encompasses the whole world often feels nowhere so hedged in and out of touch with his surroundings than in his native land. [37]

In pre-war time the individual could at least escape national and family boredom. The whole world was open to his longings and his quests. Now the world has become a prison, and life continual solitary confinement. Especially is this true since the advent of dictatorship, right and left. [38]

Friedrich Nietzsche called the State a cold monster. What would he have called the hideous beast in the garb of modern dictatorship? Not that government had ever allowed much scope to the individual; but the champions of the new State ideology do not grant even that much. “The individual is nothing,” they declare, “it is the collectivity which counts.” Nothing less than the complete surrender of the individual will satisfy the insatiable appetite of the new deity. [39]

Strangely enough, the loudest advocates of this new gospel are to be found among the British and American intelligentsia. Just now they are enamored with the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” In theory only, to be sure. In practice, they still prefer the few liberties in their own respective countries. [40] They go to Russia for a short visit or as salesmen of the “revolution,” but they feel safer and more comfortable at home.

Perhaps it is not only lack of courage which keeps these good Britishers and Americans in their native lands rather than in the millennium come. Subconsciously there may lurk the feeling that individuality remains the most fundamental fact of all human association, suppressed and persecuted yet never defeated, and in the long run the victor.

The “genius of man,” which is but another name for personality and individuality, bores its way through all the caverns of dogma, through the thick walls of tradition and custom, defying all taboos, setting authority at naught, facing contumely and the scaffold - ultimately to be blessed as prophet and martyr by succeeding generations. But for the “genius of man,” that inherent, persistent quality of individuality, we would be still roaming the primeval forests. [41]

Peter Kropotkin has shown what wonderful results this unique force of man’s individuality has achieved when strengthened by co-operation with other individualities. [42] The one-sided and entirely inadequate Darwinian theory of the struggle for existence received its biological and sociological completion from the great Anarchist scientist and thinker. In his profound work, Mutual Aid Kropotkin shows that in the animal kingdom, as well as in human society, co-operation - as opposed to internecine strife and struggle - has worked for the survival and evolution of the species. He demonstrated that only mutual aid and voluntary co-operation - not the omnipotent, all-devastating State - can create the basis for a free individual and associational life. [43]

At present the individual is the pawn of the zealots of dictatorship and the equally obsessed zealots of “rugged individualism.” [44] The excuse of the former is its claim of a new objective. The latter does not even make a pretense of anything new. As a matter of fact “rugged individualism” has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Under its guidance the brute struggle for physical existence is still kept up. Strange as it may seem, and utterly absurd as it is, the struggle for physical survival goes merrily on though the necessity for it has entirely disappeared. Indeed, the struggle is being continued apparently because there is no necessity for it. Does not so-called overproduction prove it? Is not the world-wide economic an eloquent demonstration that the struggle for existence is being maintained by the blindness of “rugged individualism” at the risk of its own destruction? [45]

One of the insane characteristics of this struggle is the complete negation of the relation of the producer to the things he produces. The average worker has no inner point of contact with the industry he is employed in, and he is a stranger to the process of production of which he is a mechanical part. Like any other cog of the machine, he is replaceable at any time by other similar depersonalized human beings. [46]

The intellectual proletarian, though he foolishly thinks himself a free agent, is not much better off. He, too, has a little choice or self-direction, in his particular metier as his brother who works with his hands.  Material considerations and desire for greater social prestige are usually the deciding factors in the vocation of the intellectual. Added to it is the tendency to follow in the footsteps of family tradition, and become doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, etc. The groove requires less effort and personality. [47] In consequence nearly everybody is out of place in our present scheme of things. The masses plod on, partly because their senses have been dulled by the deadly routine of work and because they must eke out an existence. This applies with even greater force to the political fabric of today. There is no place in its texture for free choice of independent thought and activity. There is a place only for voting and tax-paying puppets.

The interests of the State and those of the individual differ fundamentally and are antagonistic. The State and the political and economic institutions it supports can exist only by fashioning the individual to their particular purpose; training him to respect “law and order;” teaching him obedience, submission and unquestioning faith in the wisdom and justice of government; above all, loyal service and complete self-sacrifice when the State commands it, as in war. The State puts itself and its interests even above the claims of religion and of God. It punishes religious or conscientious scruples against individuality because there is no individuality without liberty, and liberty is the greatest menace to authority.

The struggle of the individual against these tremendous odds is the more difficult - too often dangerous to life and limb - because it is not truth or falsehood which serves as the criterion of the opposition he meets. It is not the validity or usefulness of his thought or activity which rouses against him the forces of the State and of “public opinion.” [48] The persecution of the innovator and protestant has always been inspired by fear on the part of constituted authority of having its infallibility questioned and its power undermined.

Man’s true liberation, individual and collective, lies in his emancipation from authority and from the belief in it. All human evolution has been a struggle in that direction and for that object. [49] It is not invention and mechanics which constitute development. The ability to travel at the rate of 100 miles an hour is no evidence of being civilized. True civilization is to be measured by the individual, the unit of all social life; by his individuality and the extent to which it is free to have its being to grow and expand unhindered by invasive and coercive authority.

Socially speaking, the criterion of civilization and culture is the degree of liberty and economic opportunity which the individual enjoys; of social and international unity and co-operation unrestricted by man-made laws and other artificial obstacles; by the absence of privileged castes and by the reality of liberty and human dignity; in short, by the true emancipation of the individual. [50]

Political absolutism has been abolished because men have realized in the course of time that absolute power is evil and destructive. But the same thing is true of all power, whether it be the power of privilege, of money, of the priest, of the politician or of so-called democracy. In its effect on individuality it matters little what the particular character of coercion is - whether it be as black as Fascism, as yellow as Nazism or as pretentiously red as Bolshevism. It is power that corrupts and degrades both master and slave and it makes no difference whether the power is wielded by an autocrat, by parliament or Soviets. [51] More pernicious than the power of a dictator is that of a class; the most terrible - the tyranny of a majority.

The long process of history has taught man that division and strife mean death, and that unity and cooperation advance his cause, multiply his strength and further his welfare. The spirit of government has always worked against the social application of this vital lesson, except where it served the State and aided its own particular interests. It is this anti-progressive and anti-social spirit of the State and of the privileged castes back of it which has been responsible for the bitter struggle between man and man. The individual and ever larger groups of individuals are beginning to see beneath the surface of the established order of things. [52] No longer are they so blinded as in the past by the glare and tinsel of the State idea, and of the “blessings” of “rugged individualism.” Man is reaching out for the wider scope of human relations which liberty alone can give. For true liberty is not a mere scrap of paper called “constitution,” “legal right” or “law.” It is not an abstraction derived from the non-reality known as “the State.” It is not the negative thing of being free from something, because with such freedom you may starve to death. Real freedom, true liberty is positive: it is freedom to something; it is the liberty to be, to do; in short, the liberty of actual and active opportunity. [53]

That sort of liberty is not a gift: it is the natural right of man, of every human being. It cannot be given: it cannot be conferred by any law or government. The need of it, the longing for it, is inherent in the individual. [54] Disobedience to every form of coercion is the instinctive expression of it. Rebellion and revolution are the more or less conscious attempt to achieve it. Those manifestations, individual and social, are fundamentally expressions of the values of man. That those values may be nurtured, the community must realize that its greatest and most lasting asset is the unit - the individual.

In religion, as in politics, people speak of abstractions and believe they are dealing with realities. [55] But when it does come to the real and the concrete, most people seem to lose vital touch with it. It may well be because reality alone is too matter-of-fact, too cold to enthuse the human soul. It can be aroused to enthusiasm only by things out of the commonplace, out of the ordinary. In other words, the Ideal is the spark that fires the imagination and hearts of men. Some ideal is needed to rouse man out of the inertia and humdrum of his existence and turn the abject slave into an heroic figure.

Right here, of course, comes the Marxist objector who has outmarxed Marx himself. To such a one, man is a mere puppet in the hands of that metaphysical Almighty called economic determinism or, more vulgarly, the class struggle. Man’s will, individual and collective, his psychic life and mental orientation count for almost nothing with our Marxist and do not affect his conception of human history. [56]

No intelligent student will deny the importance of the economic factor in the social growth and development of mankind. But only narrow and wilful dogmatism can persist in remaining blind to the important role played by an idea as conceived by the imagination and aspirations of the individual.

It were vain and unprofitable to attempt to balance one factor as against another in human experience. No one single factor in the complex of individual or social behavior can be designated as the factor of decisive quality. We know too little, and may never know enough, of human psychology to weigh and measure the relative values of this or that factor in determining man’s conduct. [57] To form such dogmas in their social connotation is nothing short of bigotry; yet, perhaps, it has its uses, for the very attempt to do so proved the persistence of the human will and confutes the Marxists.

Fortunately even some Marxists are beginning to see that all is not well with the Marxian creed. After all, Marx was but human - all too human - hence by no means infallible. The practical application of economic determinism in Russia is helping to clear the minds of the more intelligent Marxists. This can be seen in the transvaluation of Marxian values going on in Socialist and even Communist ranks in some European countries. They are slowly realising that their theory has overlooked the human element, den Menschen, as a Socialist paper put it. Important as the economic factor is, it is not enough. The rejuvenation of mankind needs the inspiration and energising force of an ideal.

Such an ideal I see in Anarchism. To be sure, not in the popular misrepresentations of Anarchism spread by the worshippers of the State and authority. I mean the philosophy of a new social order based on the released energies of the individual and the free association of liberated individuals. [58]

Of all social theories Anarchism alone steadfastly proclaims that society exists for man, not man for society. The sole legitimate purpose of society is to serve the needs and advance the aspiration of the individual. Only by doing so can it justify its existence and be an aid to progress and culture. [59]

The political parties and men savagely scrambling for power will scorn me as hopelessly out of tune with our time. I cheerfully admit the charge. I find comfort in the assurance that their hysteria lacks enduring quality. Their hosanna is but of the hour.

Man’s yearning for liberation from all authority and power will never be soothed by their cracked song. Man’s quest for freedom from every shackle is eternal. It must and will go on. [60]


3. Notes by MM - Dec 25 2009

The format is the following: The starting blue text is copied from Goldman's text and what I comment on; the black text is my comment; the "Back" at the end of the note moves back to the text of the note.

[1] The minds of men are in confusion, for the very foundations of our civilization seem to be tottering. People are losing faith in the existing institutions, and the more intelligent realize that capitalist industrialism is defeating the very purpose it is supposed to serve.

This is copied to show that Goldman wrote this at a time - 1940 - that in some ways was similar to the present time (almost 2010), but for the fact that there are no fascist or national socialist states, and there is no World War. So far.  Back.


[2] Are democracy and parliamentary government to be preferred, or is Fascism of one kind or another, dictatorship - monarchical, bourgeois or proletarian (..)

This is copied to show that Goldman had - 10 years before I was born - a similar conception as I have of fashism in a wider sense.   Back.


[3] I am against dictatorship and Fascism as I am opposed to parliamentary regimes and so-called political democracy.

And so am I. For some of my reasons why see my Bureaucracy Plan, my Democracy Plan, and a (Dutch) note to Multatuli's Idee 118









[11] Human thought has always been falsified by tradition and custom, and perverted false education in the interests of those who held power and enjoyed privileges. In other words, by the State and the ruling classes.

This is true, but biased a bit towards anarchism: Tradition and custom generally are the tools of those in power, it is true, but the main reason are not "the State and the ruling classes", but the average lack of individual talent to be radically different from what they are, that condemns the vast majority of men and women to following leaders, and being conformists and followers.

In brief, as one's most dangerous enemy is oneself, humanity's greatest enemy is the average human stupidity and lack of individual character.   Back.


[12]  Individuality may be described as the consciousness of the individual as to what he is and how he lives. It is inherent in every human being and is a thing of growth.

Indeed - but for the facts that (1) individuality is commensurate with intelligence and talent, and is hardly possible without these and (2) by the age of 25 almost all ordinary people - ordinary in the way of talents, intelligence and education - have been shifted away from their individual originality to a socially acceptable set of roles they play for the rewards that come with them (that may be the lack of punishment for mediocre conformers that is normal in nearly all human groups). And see under [9].

For more in Dutch, see my notes to Multatuli, notably to Ideën [73], [74], [136], [276], [1112] and [1211]Back.


[13] The individual is not merely the result of heredity and environment, of cause and effect. He is that and a great deal more, a great deal else. The living man cannot be defined; he is the fountain-head of all life and all values; he is not a part of this or of that; he is a whole, an individual whole, a growing, changing, yet always constant whole.

Indeed, even if it sounds romantic. See also under [9] and [12].   Back.









[21]  That consent is the belief in authority, in the necessity for it. At its base is the doctrine that man is evil, vicious, and too incompetent to know what is good for him. On this all government and oppression is built. God and the State exist and are supported by this dogma.

This is good anarchistic teaching one may expect from Goldman, and it is true up to a point, but false as stated and in presuppositions.

Indeed, when one considers human history so far, it is hard to escape a conclusion to the effect that, at least in the majority (and regardless from race, creed, gender, ideology or nation) "man is evil, vicious, and too incompetent to know what is good for him".

They may be or might have been otherwise, in a better or perfect society, but they never lived in such a situation, and even if most are normally not motivated to murder or maim their fellow human beings, they are and have been stupid enough to be taken in for those who do, or who love letting others do it for them, for profit, power, and status, and also stupid enough to widely and mostly believe that human goodness consists in conforming to what is normal in the group one functions in and in doing the biddings of the leaders.

And all of this is quite distinct from reasons why "God and the State" would exist.   Back.


[22]  Yet the State is nothing but a name. It is an abstraction. Like other similar conceptions - nation, race, humanity - it has no organic reality. To call the State an organism shows a diseased tendency to make a fetish of words.

What is true is that "State", "nation", "race" and "humanity" refer to cooperating groups of men rather than individual men, and also true (and this is important and a fact most men miss most of their lives, for which reason much categorical nonsense is believed by them) that none of these entities can feel, think, or desire for themselves, for that can only be done by individual men.

It is also true that the named general terms do not refer to organisms themselves (for all organisms also are individuals or non-existent), but it is not true that "the State is nothing but a name": It exists, if it does, not in the same way as the individual men that form its membership, but nevertheless quite really, namely as a group of cooperating human individuals, who cooperate for common ends, usually motivated by the private benefits this cooperation brings them.   Back.


[23] The State has no more existence than gods and devils have.

Not at all! If this were true, the anarchists were almost done, and their utopia could be created easily. See under [22], and it is somewhat odd that as formidably intelligent a person as Goldman certainly was, could make this quite obvious category mistake, quite similar to saying "a gas does not exist, for only its individual molecules exist": It does exist precisely because its individual molecules stand in certain relations to each other, that together determine that the lot of them behave as that gas (and not as: that fluid, or that substance, that also may happen, if the temperature gets low enough).









[31] The psychology of government demands that its influence and prestige constantly grow, at home and abroad, and it exploits every opportunity to increase it. This tendency is motivated by the financial and commercial interests back of the government, represented and served by it.

The whole paragraph this is listed from is interesting, mostly true, but a bit too anarchist and perhaps also communist (Goldman described herself part of her life as "a communist anarchist") for my tastes.

In any case, and apart from class-struggles and vested capitalist interests, it seems true to me that there is such a thing as the "psychology of government" and it is the psychology of power, that seeks to aggrandize power to aggrandize or enrich self.

Also, this is human-all-too-human, for which reason it is so important for everyone who does not desire to exercise absolute power, nor desires to be subject to absolute power, to see to it that all power gets divided, checked, and balanced, and no individual or group gets or retains more power that they can exercise without abusing it.   Back.


[32] The other factor which impels governments to become even more conservative and reactionary is their inherent distrust of the individual and fear of individuality.

This is mostly true, but it tends to depend and to have exceptions, especially if the exception is part of or close too the government, or belongs by birth or marriage to the social elite. For such persons, provided they are witty, there often is considerable leeway for their individuality. To name just a few Englishman here: John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester; the Reverend Sidney Smith; Bertrand Russell; and Winston Churchill.   Back.


[33] In “self-defense” the State therefore suppresses, persecutes, punishes and even deprives the individual of life.

As happens again in these days, where in “self-defense” the few promilles who make up the modern Western governments and their bureaucracies have in the course of a few years since 9/11/2001 arrogated themselves authoritarian powers, and destroyed civil and human rights that have existed for centuries, and that continued to hold in far more dangerous situations, such as the Cold War from 1950-1989.

As pointed out under [31], the only "need" for this was the psychology of power i.e. the arrogance, incompetence or criminality of the ruling political and bureaucratic elites: It only contributed to their personal safety and power, and threatens many millions and many generations with imminent authoritarian or totalitarian states, that cannot be removed because the technological powers of the state have grown so enormous due to the growth of science: These days, at long last, every citizen can be individually spied upon, tracked, secretively investigated, and all Western governments have, with 9/11/2001 as a pretext, voided their complete civil populations of most of their human and civil rights, and have done so within 2 to 5 years.  Back.









[41] The “genius of man,” which is but another name for personality and individuality, bores its way through all the caverns of dogma, through the thick walls of tradition and custom, defying all taboos, setting authority at naught, facing contumely and the scaffold - ultimately to be blessed as prophet and martyr by succeeding generations. But for the “genius of man,” that inherent, persistent quality of individuality, we would be still roaming the primeval forests.

Quite so!  Back.


[42] Peter Kropotkin has shown what wonderful results this unique force of man’s individuality has achieved when strengthened by co-operation with other individualities.

Goldman refers to Kropotkin's "Mutual Aid", which indeed is a book well worth reading (even though Kropotkin was, by my lights, far too optimistic about men on average). But there is more to this, for which see "Cooperation" in my Philosophical Dictionary.   Back.


[43] He demonstrated that only mutual aid and voluntary co-operation - not the omnipotent, all-devastating State - can create the basis for a free individual and associational life.

"He" is Kropotkin, in his "Mutual Aid", but the argument of Goldman is too much depending on loaded terminology, for my tastes. So I make three somewhat more general points.

First, all human social action is somehow based on cooperation, however motivated. The main problem with it is that, all too often, the cooperating individuals - say: the rich entrepreneur, and the poor working man - are very unequal as regards bargaining or other powers, so that what is nominally "a free contract" often is coercion.

Second, "the omnipotent, all-devastating State" (which Goldman has somewhat earlier declared, falsely as I argued, to be non-existent) is quite capable of organizing forced labor for most of its inhabitants, and while this may not produce enough to feed, clothe, house and educate all on a high or even tolerable level, it is quite sufficient to keep the Nomenklatura of the State very well taken care of.

Three, what Kropotkin did how in his "Mutual Aid", but which should be quite obvious anyway, if often denied, e.g. by free marketeers and by state socialists, is that there are many ways to organize an economy inbetween the extremes of unrestrained early capitalism and dictatorial state socialism.   Back.









[51] In its effect on individuality it matters little what the particular character of coercion is - whether it be as black as Fascism, as yellow as Nazism or as pretentiously red as Bolshevism. It is power that corrupts and degrades both master and slave and it makes no difference whether the power is wielded by an autocrat, by parliament or Soviets.

This I doubt, and not because I would disagree with Goldman on "All power corrupts", for we do agree on that. But I think the kind of power that is exercised makes a difference (it is easier to oppose the powers that rule in a Western democracy than in a full-blown dictatorship); the ideology that is taken to justify the power makes a difference (nationalism, sickening as it tends to be, is less totalitarian than the pretenses of most religions); and the manner in which it is exercised also makes a difference (to be killed with an injection because of one's opinions is not quite the same as being publicly burned on a slow fire for the same reason).   Back.


[52] It is this anti-progressive and anti-social spirit of the State and of the privileged castes back of it which has been responsible for the bitter struggle between man and man. The individual and ever larger groups of individuals are beginning to see beneath the surface of the established order of things.

I like Goldman a lot, but I agree with none of this. The ''bitter struggle between man and man" is by and large due to stupidity and egoism on all parts, and it is totally false that "The individual and ever larger groups of individuals are beginning to see beneath the surface of the established order of things": In fact far more than ever are far better deceived than ever - and that even though at least a sizeable part of them, so far, is nominally free to think and judge for themselves, and to find all manner of information to enlighten themselves. But most don't do it, mostly for the same reason I will never compose like Mozart: Lack of the requisite talents.  Back.


[53] For true liberty is not a mere scrap of paper called “constitution,” “legal right” or “law.” It is not an abstraction derived from the non-reality known as “the State.” It is not the negative thing of being free from something, because with such freedom you may starve to death. Real freedom, true liberty is positive: it is freedom to something; it is the liberty to be, to do; in short, the liberty of actual and active opportunity.

Indeed, with this I agree, although it seems to say more than it does. For in fact - or so I hold - each higher animal, at least, is born with this kind of natural liberty. And the difference between - say - a dolphin and a man in this respect seems to be mostly that the latter but not the former can con and deceive himself out of exercising this liberty, and can be conned, deceived, and forced not to exercise it by all manner of human social institutions.  Back.










de Cleyre's Picture

Voltairine de Cleyre

The most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced.

--Emma Goldman


P.S. Morgen dus eventueel de correcties, wat anders, of niets, want ik heb me vandaag genoeg ingespannen, en u heeft genoeg te lezen en overpeinzen met het bovenstaande.

(*) "oba" is mijn vertaling van "aka", dus staat voor "ook bekend als", zoals "aka" voor "also known as" staat.

(**) I do not know whence my copy of this essay of Goldman stems. I have copied it diplomatically, as the term is, in the sense that I have made a few small corrections of printing mistakes.

(***) Here should be made a remark on criminals, who often are more individualistic than non-criminals, to the following effect: The main difference between most criminals and ordinary non-criminal persons is that the former are more egoistic, and have liberated themselves from the morality of their group, without having adopted an ethical attitude.

(****) Een van de kleine vreugdes in mijn bestaan is dat mijn aan haar nietswaardige totalitaire en liegende persoontje in 2005 gewijde stukje nog steeds behoorlijk vaak gelezen wordt.

Zij, Franken, en wie er verder de laatste 35 jaar in Neerland aan de weg getimmerd heeft voor haarzelf, zogenaamd uit naam van het feminisme, zijn in ieder geval in alles dat menselijk telt het totale tegendeel van mensen als Goldman en De Cleyre.

Maarten Maartensz

        home - index - top - mail