MEN AGAINST THE STATE: THE EXPOSITORS OF INDIVIDUALIST ANARCHISM IN AMERICA 1827-1908 by James J. Martin
Ralph Myles Publisher, Inc., P.O. Box 1533, Colorado Springs, Colorodo 80901 1970, 315 pp., S2.50
Reviewed by S.E. Parker, editor of MINUS ONE
Reprinted from FREEDOM — 10-10-70, 84 Whitechapel High Street, London E1, England
Just as no two blades of grass are exactly alike; just as no grain of sand is identical with another; so are human beings diverse. And their diversity is much more profound and complex than that of blades of grass or grains of sand. They differ in their physique, physiognomy, reactions, abilities and aspirations. It is for this reason that government is the enemy of the individual, for all governments try to force the individual into pre-established patterns of behaviour and to combine his interests with the interests of others, thus robbing him of his individuality and freedom. For life to be worth living the soverignty of the individual must take the place of the sovereignty of government:
Everyone must Peel that he is the supreme arbiter of his own, that no power on earth shall rise over him, that he is and always shall be sovereign of himself and ail relating to his individuality. Then only shall all men realise security of person and property.
It was in this way that Josiah Warren, “the first American anarchist”, set the theme for a talented, articulate, sometimes brilliant, group of libertarian writers and publicists who flourished in the USA between 1827 and 1908. It is to these that Dr. Martin devotes his MEN AGAINST THE STATE.
When I reviewed the first edition of this work in 1953, I wrote that it was “one of the most objective books on anarchists ever written.” Seventeen years later I still think the same. Dr. Martin’s book remains an outstanding model for the historical treatment of men and their ideas. Other recent writings on anarchism (Woodcock, Joll, Jacker, et al.) compare badly with h. And it is much superior to Rudolph Rocker’s Pioneers of American Freedom which covers almost the same ground. So definitive was the first edition that Dr.Martin has only had to make slight revisions (mainly additional biographical data concerning Warren and Tucker) for the second.
Dr. Martin begins his book with Josiah Warren, the first of the group in point of time. Warren was pre-eminently an inventor and experimenter who found writing difficult. Nonetheless, he managed to expound his ideas in a straightforward and often eloquent manner. Taking his stand on “the sovereignty of the individual” and the labour note principle he called “cost the limit of price”, he experimented with “time stores” to prove the practicability of his economic ideas, and founded three “equity villages” as examples of living in freedom.
For a time Warren had a valuable ally in the person of the erudite philosopher and polymath, Stephen Pearl Andrews, who wrote The Science of Society, in which Warren’s ideas received their most polished expression. Despite his later partial defection from Warrenite individualism, Andrews still continued to contribute to the contemporary anarchist press.
Independently of Warren and Andrews, the lawyer and legal theorist, Lysander Spooner, developed his fiery attacks on the banking monopoly and his mercilessly logical critiques of the American Constitution. The latter, he held, had no authority whatsoever over anyone who had not given his formal and open consent to its provisions (No Treason, his main work on this subject, was reprinted as late as 1966, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Martin, and received an unexpected accolade from Playboy magazine!) In defiance of conventional theories of maturation, Spooner became more radical as he grew older and eventually became a contributor to Benjamin Tucker’s Liberty after following a lone path for many years.
As well as the work of Warren, Andrews and Spooner, Dr, Martin details that of J.K. Ingalls, whose main concern was the elimination of land monopolies; W.B. Greene, whose theories of mutual banking had a great influence on Tucker; and Ezra Heywood, the most militant pamphleteer and flamboyant character of them all, who was the only one of the group to suffer serious persecution for hie activities, being imprisoned for several years for his outspoken advocacy of sexual freedom.
The last and best known of this group was Benjamin Tucker. Dr. Martin corrects the impression fostered by Eltzbacher that Tucker was an original thinker. Tucker’s thinking was, in fact, a synthesis of the ideas of Warren, Greene, Proudhon and (later) Stirner, together with material taken from such writers as Spooner and Ingalls. An accomplished translator, he was also a skilled joumalist, a cultural catalyst, and a stimulating commentator on current events. A logical and lucid polemicist, he delighted in debate. When his lnstead of a Book was published in 1893, he included his opponents’ criticisms in full — a rare, if not unique, thing for an author to do.
Tucker’s main achievement, however, was the publishing and editing of the journal Liberty from 1881 to 1908. In the first issue he declared:
It may be well to state at the outset that this journal will be edited to suit its editor, not its readers. He hopes that what suits him will suit them; but if not, it will make no difference. No subscriber, or body of subscribers, will be allowed to govern his course, dictate his policy, or prescribe his methods. Liberty is published for the vert’ definate purpose of spreading certain ideas, and no claim will be admitted on any pretext of freedom of speech, to waste its limited space in hindering the attainment of that object.
The result of this admirably selfish declaration was a publication of a polish and competence unusual among radical journals. Tucker and his collaborators ranged over economics, politics, history, philosophy, ethics and the arts, and one notable issue was written by George Bernard Shaw as a reply to Max Nordau’s Degeneration — a lengthy and vitriolic attack on the avant-garde of the period.
It was in the columns of Liberty that the shift began amongst individualists from the “natural rights” doctrines of Warren and the earlier writers to the conscious egoism of Max Stirner. Led by James L. Walker, who had reached similiar conclusions independently of Stirner, the egoists split the Tucker associates in two and carried Tucker with them. Walker, whose posthumous Philosophy of Egoism deserves reprinting, later contributed the introduction to the English translation of Stirners The Ego and His Own, published by Tucker in 1907.
In 1908 Tucker went to live in France after his uninsured bookshop and publishing business were destroyed by fire. There he lived in retirement until bis death in 1939, becoming increasingly pessimistic about the social realization of his ideas. Writing to Clarence Lee Swartz in 1930 he commented:
” . . . the insurmountable obstacle to the realization of Anarchy is no longer the power of the trusts, but the indisputable fact that our civilization is in its death throes. We may last a couple of decades yet; on the other hand, a decade may precipitate our finish. . . . The dark ages sure enough. The Monster, Mechanism, is devouring Mankind.”
He was still unrelenting in his opposition to communism: ‘The term Communist Anarchist has no sense’, he wrote to Eugene Baskette in 1933, echoing his debates of over forty years before with Kropotkin and Johann Most.
To chose whose perspectives were shaped by the hope that anarchism can be universalized, the story told by Dr. Martin may well proue depressing. Here was a movement, born at a time of social ferment and optimism, in a country where the State apparatus was comparatively weak and land plentiful. It was supported not only by capable theoreticians and publiciste, but also by practical exponents of ‘community living’ whose work, with varying degrees of success, extended over thirty years. Yet after eighty years of vigorous activity it petered out — despite the efforts of the few and scattered survivors of Tucker’s departure.
As I see it, one of the reasons for this was the attempt to reconcile anarchist individualism with “social engineering.”
Because of their desire to establish a future society on the basis of their ideas, Warren and Tucker were forced to squeeze their anarchism into a societal context. Their championship of the individual was thereby deformed. Dr. Martin rightly questions whether anarchism is translatable into a social reality. That it is capable of being made an individual reality, and even partially viable as a small milieu, Warren’s experiments showed. But between the conscious choice of a few, select individuals and universal application to a mass there is a wide and apparently unbridgeable gulf. Neither Warren nor Tucker seem to have had any awareness of that fundamental aspect of the organizational problem that Robert Michels called “the iron law of oligarchy”; the invariable development of oligarchs in all organizations of any scale or permanence. Nor were they aware that any extended, organised social application of anarchism might at most lead to an “anarchism of groups” — to use Estey’s terminology — but would necessarily deny the “anarchism of individuals.”
For these reasons the later anarchist individualist perspective of continual conflict between the individual and the collective makes far more sense. Warren’s “equity villages” functioned as they did not because of the essence of the societary principle, but because of one of its accidents: the conjunction of pioneering conditions in the USA with an unusually wide plurality of differing and conflicting interests among reformers and rebels. The threatening future blend of 1984 with Brave New World, or the equally ominous alternative of rule by the acephalous mob, makes the possibility of even the small scale and limited efflorescence of individual autonomy possible in Warren’s experiments an increasingly remote prospect.
However, Warren’s concept of the individualization of interests, instead of their combination, was one of the most fruitful approaches to anarchism ever made. Its eclipse by the attempt to link anarchism with collectivism led to disastrous consequences. Now that there is a revival of interest in Warrenite anarchism in the USA — which even shows signs of spreading to Britain –perhaps its value will be recognised once more and, shorn of social utopianism, it can be developed into an effective weapon in the unending struggle for the individual. The sovereignty of the individual may never replace the sovereignty of government, but it certainly can be opposed to it.