Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1

Godwin was opposed to property, the market and acquisitiveness in general, but
he was no socialist. His opposition to the state extends to social relationships, and
all individuals retain a sphere of private judgement that shuts society out. He may
have hoped that small face-to-face communities would replace the state (with
temporary coordinating bodies being transitionally necessary to resolve disputes and
repel invaders), but he has been rightly called a ‘philosophical anarchist’ since his
main preoccupation is with principles rather than practice.
Max Stirner (1806–56) is often bracketed with Godwin as a philosophical
anarchist, but unlike Godwin, Stirner does not see individuals as benevolent and
rational. He enthusiastically embraces the argument that consciousness (which is
always ‘alienated’) is the source of our oppression. In Stirner’s case, concepts like
humanism, communism and liberalism are inherently oppressive because they are
necessarily imposed upon the sovereign individual. The state of nature adhered to
by classical liberals was essentially social in character, but individuals constitute the
highest reality, and Stirner exhorts them to desert their natural condition. People
have no rights of any kind. As a conscious egoist, the individual, in Stirner’s view,
is beyond good and evil and the oppressiveness of the state is no different in essence
from the oppressiveness of all social relationships, indeed of ideologies. All subject
the ego to some ‘generality or other’ (Hoffman, 1995: 115).
Stirner sees the natural world as a war of all against all, but unlike Hobbes who
posits a powerful state to tackle this problem, Stirner advocates the formation of an
association of sovereign individuals – a union of conscious egoists – who would
spontaneously and voluntarily come together out of mutual interest. All ‘teleological’
categories – goals, purposes and ends – are oppressive even if they are imposed by
individuals upon themselves. This means that even a system of direct democracy is
unacceptable. His union of egoists would enable individuals to accomplish more than
they could on their own, and, though Stirner’s world is one without rights and
morality, the union would create security and put an end to poverty. Marx and Engels
in their lengthy critique of Stirner’s The Ego and His Own(1845) point out that
Stirner employs a concept of the unique individual which, in practice, morally
obliges other individuals, so that he is in the hapless position of attacking authority
from moral premises which are not supposed to exist (Hoffman, 1995: 115).
In a more recent exposition of philosophical anarchism, Wolff argues that all
adults are responsible beings who have a capacity for choice and a potential for
autonomy that they lose if they obey the dictates of another (1970). A person’s
primary obligation is to be autonomous. However, unlike Stirner and Godwin, Wolff
accepts the case for a direct democracy, and he argues that people are bound by
the decisions they have taken. The advantage of such a system is that the authority
to which each citizen submits, ‘is not of himself simply, but that of the entire
community taken collectively’. Not only does this sound rather authoritarian, but
Wolff argues that each person encounters ‘his better self in the form of the state,
for its dictates are simply the laws which he has, after due deliberation willed to
be enacted’ (cited by Dahl, 1989: 348). As an anarchist, he treats direct democracy
as a form of the state.
All philosophical anarchists have the problem of moving from the individual to
some kind of collective organisation which, on the one hand, is deemed necessary
to realise anarchism, but which, on the other, contradicts anarchist principles. We
will see if the free-market anarchists are better able to tackle this problem.

Chapter 11 Anarchism 241
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