Egoism

  1. What is Egoism?

    1. Egoism and Morality/Ethics

  2. Egoism & Anarchism

    1. Egoism vs. Anarchism

  3. Egoist Anarchism

    1. Egoist Anarchism and Mutual Aid

    2. Egoist Anarchism and Anti-Civilization Anarchism

    3. Egoist Anarchism and Post-left Anarchism

  4. Common Misconceptions

    1. "Egoism encourages Capitalism/greed/domination/racism/ableism/fascism/etc."

  5. Reading

    1. Further Theory

What is Egoism?

Egoism is the philosophy of Max Stirner as described in his most famous work, The Unique and Its Property and expanded upon later in Stirner's Critics. It is considered by most to be an Individualist Anarchist school of thought.

Egoism, in summation, rejects abstractions ("phantasms") and their influence ("haunting") on the actions, thoughts, feelings, and desires of the individual ("The Unique"); as such, it is opposed to humanism, liberalism, statism, religion, morality, and other fixed ideas. It posits that The Unique pursue it's own interests, whatever they be, free of any reservations born from phantasms.

Egoism and Morality/Ethics

For the sake of clarity, it would be best to define these terms beforehand; as they've picked up various connotations and denotations throughout many fields of study as well by many an individual. Morality, when discussed in the context of this section, refers to the reification of a set of values; a standardization of what is perceived as "right" and "wrong" created, proliferated, and enforced by social structures. Ethics, rather than referring to moral philosophy like it normally would, will refer to an internal sense of "right" or "wrong"; the "conscience". Egoism is opposed to morality because it is, by definition, a reified abstraction that limits the pursuit of one's desires. But what of ethics? Do ethics not limit the actions individuals as well? Do they not hold sway over the individual in the same way that morality does? Unfortunately, it's difficult to say; by the time anyone is old enough to consider these concepts, they've already been influenced in some way by the moral frameworks of the society that raised them. When one's ethics overlap with an overarching moral framework, it isn't easy to distinguish moralism from personal aversion when faced with a scenario or action that elicits disgust. Debates about how a "true egoist" does not believe in the existence "right" and "wrong" or that they believe that ethics, being a product of the self, are not a phantasm; ultimately miss the point of the philosophy.

Egoism & Anarchism

If Anarchism is the rejection and struggle against of all forms of rulership, dominion, and authority and Egoism is the philosophy of liberating oneself from abstractions, then it's easy to see why the two are compatible. And they are, as Egoist Anarchists have had a hand in the stereotypes of anarchists as destructive terrorists (this is not an indictment or a critique against the actions of the anarchist idea of "propaganda of the deed", merely an acknowledgement of its influence on the public perception of anarchists); be they the illegalists, insurrectionists, or Post-leftists; Egoism is arguably as important to the history and development of anarchist theory and action as Communism is.

Egoism vs. Anarchism

This isn't to say that Egoism hasn't been used against Anarchism or that only Anarchists can be Egoists; if Anarchism is an idea that can restrict the individual, then surely Anarchism is another abstraction, right? The answer isn't that cut and dry. Egoism is an individualist philosophy, so what falls under the category of "phantasm" is ultimately dependent on the individual; Egoism is also a nihilist philosophy: instead of creating and dictating, it focuses on negation and rejection; so it rejects ideologies and causes. Egoists may interpret anarchism as either an ideology and choose to reject it or they may see anarchism as the best vehicle towards their own liberation and self-actualization; an expression of their desire. Anarchism itself, has a split between "negative" and "creative" branches. The Communist/leftist/social branches of anarchism are often "creative" in nature, encouraging a mass movement for social upheaval, placing emphasis on creating large support systems, and overall focusing on reconstructing after revolution. Egoists can and often do reject this mode of thought; though a few do embrace it, and may consider themselves "Egoist-Communists"; Stirner was not opposed to Socialism, only sacred Socialism and Emma Goldman saw merit in both Stirner's and Kropotkin's ideas. The "negative" branches of anarchism are typically nihilist, individualist, and/or of the Post-left variety; most Egoist Anarchist tend to flock towards "negative" anarchism, though it's entirely possible for Egoists to reject any and all anarchist schools of thought for their own reasons. In any of these cases, the egoist considers the idea of anarchism to be their property; and either discard or use it. Egoism is, above all else, "negative" in its liberatory potential; as long as one does not hold anything sacred or is not ruled by any idea, one could consider themself an egoist.

Egoist Anarchism

Egoist Anarchism is the Individualist Anarchist school of thought influenced by Stirner's philosophy; resonating with his critiques against private property, the state, religion, and authority.

Egoists, for better or worse, do not concern themselves with "shoulds", "oughts", or utilitarianism; Anarchists does not tolerate the notion of ruling or being ruled nor would they accept the idea that it is ever necessary, acceptable, or desirable; The Egoist Anarchist, therefore, takes both of these perspectives and pushes them to their logical conclusion: there is no validity to any individual or group that would claim sovereignty over others, any reasons that justify this burgeoning power structure are fraught with phantasms, and any appeals to any supposed "greater good" are seen as nebulous. Egoist Anarchism is, like its components, anti-nationalist, anti-state, anti-collectivist, anti-humanist, and anti-capitalist.

Egoist Anarchism and Mutual Aid

Egoist Anarchism, being an individualist strain of anarchism, is opposed to organization, democracy, and coercion; it does not, however, oppose mutual aid, cooperation, altruism, or social bonds. Egoists as well as other strains of individualist anarchism are commonly lumped in with "rugged individualists", but this is a common misconception. Stiner's "Union of Egoists" directly contradicts this mistaken association, it is essentially the egoist equivalent of Freedom of Association: multiple egoists voluntarily associating with one another to fulfill a purpose, goal, or even to simply enjoy each other's company; free of any coercion or obligation. Egoists have no opposition towards relying on or working with others to achieve a goal and would likely find that a rugged individual unnecessarily restricts themselves by adhering to the abstraction of "self-reliance". As for altruism, a common interpretation of Egoism posits that kindness and charity is born from empathy, not morality. People give and help each other because it feels good for most people to do so, in this sense, what is called "altruism" is egoism; the lack of material benefit is supplanted by an emotional one, but only if this "altruistic" act is done out of the desire to commit the act; if it's born from obligation, it is not an egoist action.

Egoist Anarchism and Anti-Civilization Anarchism

Anti-Civilization Anarchism, or Anti-Civ for short, is a school of thought that extends the typical anarchist critiques against power structures to the concept of civilization as a whole. Anti-Civ anarchists define civilization as complex societies that require a caste system, government, and a common culture in order maintain themselves. Egoists are as opposed to humanism and utilitarianism as they are to religion (Christianity in particular due to its cultural dominance) and morality; and often derisively compare the former to the latter; since Western Civilization embodies all of these traits, it stands to reason that egoists are, at the very least, critical of Western Civilization. How opposed Egoist Anarchists are to civilization is dependent on what their definition of what civilization is; those who aren't opposed to it may simply define it as a large society, for example.

Egoist Anarchism and Post-left Anarchism

Many, but not all, Post-left Anarchists are Egoist Anarchists or were influenced by egoist theory. Post-left anarchism is often defined as a collection of critiques against the left and its relationship with anarchism. Many of these critiques overlap with general Egoist thought as Egoists are critical against ideology, morality, and organization as a means of enacting political change. It should be noted that the overlap between Egoist Anarchism and Post-left Anarchism is like a typical venn-diagram as there are Post-left anarchists who aren't influenced by egoism and there are Egoist Anarchists who don't identify as Post-left.

Common Misconceptions

"Egoism encourages Capitalism/greed/domination/racism/ableism/fascism/etc."

This is an argument typically used by leftists of any tendency; stemming from a critique of rugged individualism erroneously placed upon their interpretation of egoism. Pro-Capitalist Anti-statists that are aware of Stirner's philosophy also perceive egoism in this way, though this has the effect of drawing them into it rather than repelling them. This line of thought comes from the common summation of egoism as a philosophy that primarily encourages and individual to pursue their own self-interests. While this isn't an incorrect summation, it is one that is easy to misunderstand due to the nature of the Industrialist, Capitalist, Authoritarian society and its effect in the values of the people living within it; it's also incomplete summation, the reason that egoism appeals to so many anarchists specifically is due to the fact that it promotes self interest beyond that of the constraints that society shackles its prisoners with. In other words, shedding abstractions such as morality, social obligation, and law in order to pursue goals that rely on, are relied upon by, or originate from the society that instilled those abstractions ignores a fundamental part of egoist philosophy. In The Unique and Its Property, Stirner criticizes the tendency of opposition-based movements to take forms that resemble whatever it was that they opposed to begin with: Catholics, Protestants, Humanists; all of them placed an abstraction to follow above all else and replicated the actions and behaviors of their predecessors. The same critique applies to any that would selectively slough off abstractions in order to pursue a favored abstraction; they are not different than what they were before. The greedy Capitalist is not an egoist, the power hungry authoritarian is not an egoist, the dominance-craving social darwinist is not an egoist, the strength-worshipping fascist is not an egoist.


Reading


Further Theory