non serviam #8


Editor's Word

In this issue, Ken's article comes on its own. Todays chapter is an exposition of his ideas on egoism, viewed from a political point of view. Nothing more needs to be said. Enjoy!

Svein Olav

A Critique of Communism
The Individualist Alternative (continued)

Ken Knudson


The philosophy of individualist-anarchism is "egoism." It is not my purpose here to give a detailed account of this philosophy, but I would like to explode a few of the more common myths about egoism and present to the reader enough of its essence so that he may understand more clearly the section on individualist economics. I am tempted here to quote long extracts from "The Ego and His Own," for it was this book which first presented the egoist philosophy in a systematic way. Unfortunately, I find that Stirner's "unique" style does not readily lend itself to quotation. So what I have done in the following pages is to dress up Stirner's ideas in a language largely my own.

Voltaire once said, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." Bakunin wisely retorted, "If God did exist, it would be necessary to abolish him." Unfortunately, Bakunin would only abolish God. It is the egoist's intention to abolish gods. It is clear from Bakunin's writings that what he meant by God was what Voltaire meant - namely the religious God. The egoist sees many more gods than that - in fact, as many as there are fixed ideas. Bakunin's gods, for example, include the god of humanity, the god of brotherhood, the god of mankind - all variants on the god of altruism. The egoist, in striking down all gods, looks only to his will. He recognises no legitimate power over himself. The world is there for him to consume - if he can. And he can if he has the power. For the egoist, the only right is the right of might. He accepts no "inalienable rights," for such rights - by virtue of the fact that they're inalienable - must come from a higher power, some god. The American Declaration of

He does not, of course, claim to be omnipotent. There ARE external powers over him. The difference between the egoist and non-egoist in this regard is therefore one mainly of attitude: the egoist recognises external power as an enemy and consciously fights against it, while the non- egoist humbles himself before it and often accepts it as a friend.

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Independence, for example, in proclaiming these rights found it necessary to invoke the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." The same was true of the French Revolutionary "Declaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen."

The egoist recognises no right - or what amounts to the same thing - claims all rights for himself. What he can get by force he has a right to; and what he can't, he has no right. He demands no rights, nor does he recognise them in others. "Right - is a wheel in the head, put there by a spook," [73] says Stirner. Right is also the spook which has kept men servile throughout the ages. The believer in rights has always been his own jailer. What sovereign could last the day out without a general belief in the "divine right of kings"? And where would Messrs. Nixon, Heath, et. al. be today without the "right" of the majority?

Men make their tyrants as they make their gods. The tyrant is a man like any other. His power comes from the abdicated power of his subjects. If people believe a man to have superhuman powers, they automatically give him those powers by default. Had Hitler's pants fallen down during one of his ranting speeches, the whole course of history might have been different. For who can respect a naked Fuehrer? And who knows? The beginning of the end of Lyndon Johnson's political career might well have been when he showed his operation scar on coast-to-coast television for the whole wide world to see that he really was a man after all. This sentiment was expressed by Stirner when he said, "Idols exist through me; I need only refrain from creating them anew, then they exist no longer: `higher powers' exist only through my exalting them and abasing myself. Consequently my relation to the world is this: I no longer do anything for it `for God's sake,' I do nothing `for man's sake,' but what I do I do `for my sake'." [74] The one thing that makes a man different from any other living creature is his power to reason. It is by this power that man can (and does) dominate over the world. Without reason man would be a pathetic non-entity - evolution having taken care of him long before the dinosaur. Now some people say that man is by nature a social animal, something like an ant or a bee. Egoists don't deny the sociability of man, but what we do say is that man is sociable to the extent that it serves his own self-interest. Basically man is (by nature, if you will)

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a selfish being. The evidence for this is overwhelming. Let us look at a hive of bees to see what would happen if "reason" were suddenly introduced into their lives:

So it would appear to me that reason would militate against blind, selfless cooperation. But by the same token, reason leads to cooperation which is mutually beneficial to all parties concerned. Such cooperation is what Stirner called a "union of egoists." [76] This binding together is not done through any innate social instinct, but rather as a matter of individual convenience. These unions would probably take the form of contracting individuals. The object of these contracts not being to enable all to benefit equally from their union (although this isn't ruled out, the egoist thinks it highly unlikely), but rather to protect one another from invasion and to secure to each contracting individual what is mutually agreed upon to be "his."

By referring to a man's selfishness, you know where you stand. Nothing is done "for free." Equity demands reciprocity. Goods and services are exchanged for goods and services or (what is equivalent) bought. This may sound "heartless" - but what is the alternative? If one depends on kindness, pity or love the services and goods one gets become "charity." The receiver is put in the position of a beggar, offering nothing in return for each "present." If you've ever been on the dole, or know anyone who has, you will know that the receiver of such gifts is anything but gracious. He is stripped of his manhood and he resents it. Now the egoist isn't (usually) so cold and cruel as this

Many people cite trade unions as a "proof" of man's solidarity and sociability. Just the opposite is true. Why else do people strike if not for their own "selfish" ends, e.g. higher wages, better working conditions, shorter hours?

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description makes him out to be. As often as not he is as charitable and kind as his altruist neighbour. But he chooses the objects of his kindness; he objects to compulsory "love." What an absurdity! If love were universal, it would have no meaning. If I should tell my wife that I love her because I love humanity, I would be insulting her. I love her not because she happens to be a member of the human race, but rather for what she is to me. For me she is something special: she possesses certain qualities which I admire and which make me happy. If she is unhappy, I suffer, and therefore I try to comfort her and cheer her up - for my sake. Such love is a selfish love. But it is the only real love. Anything else is an infatuation with an image, a ghost. As Stirner said of his loved ones, "I love them with the consciousness of egoism; I love them because love makes me happy, I love because loving is natural to me, because it pleases me. I know no `commandment of love'." [77]

The lover of "humanity" is bewitched by a superstition. He has dethroned God, only to accept the reign of the holy trinity: Morality, Conscience and Duty. He becomes a "true believer" - a religious man. No longer believing in himself, he becomes a slave to Man. Then, like all religious men, he is overcome with feelings of "right" and "virtue." He becomes a soldier in the service of humanity whose intolerance of heretics rivals that of the most righteous religious fanatic. Most of the misery in the world today (as in the past) is directly attributable to men acting "for the common good." The individual is nothing; the mass all.

The egoist would reverse this situation. Instead of everyone looking after the welfare of everyone else, each would look after his own welfare. This would, in one fell swoop, do away with the incredibly complicated, wasteful and tyrannical machinery (alluded to previously) necessary to see to it that not only everyone got his fair share of the communal pie, but that everyone contributed fairly to its production. In its stead we egoists raise the banner of free competition: "the war of all against all" as the communists put it. But wouldn't that lead to (dare I say it) anarchy? Of course it would. What anarchist would deny the logical consequences of the principles he advocates? But let's see what this "anarchy" would be like.

The egoist believes that the relationships between men who are alive to their own individual interests would be far more just and equitable than they are now. Take the property question for example. Today there is a great disparity of income. Americans make up about 7% of the world's population, but they control over half of its

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wealth. And among the Americans, nearly one quarter of the wealth is owned by 5% of the people. [78] Such unequal distribution of wealth is due primarily to the LEGAL institution of property. Without the state to back up legal privilege and without the people's acquiescence to the privileged minority's legal right to that property, these disparities would soon disappear. For what makes the rich man rich and the poor man poor if not the latter giving the former the product of his labour?

Stirner is commonly thought to have concerned himself little with the economic consequences of his philosophy. It is true that he avoided elaborating on the exact nature of his "union of egoists," saying that the only way of knowing what a slave will do when he breaks his chains is to wait and see. But to say that Stirner was oblivious to economics is just not so. On the contrary. It was he, after all, who translated into German both Adam Smith's classic "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" and Jean Baptiste Say's pioneering work on the free market economy, "Traite d'Economie Politique." The few pages he devotes to economics in "The Ego and His Own" are among his best:

Contrary to popular belief, this gulf is getting larger. Since 1966, despite a constantly mushrooming GNP, the American factory workers' real wages (as opposed to his apparent, inflationary wages) have actually declined. [79]

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Fifty years later Benjamin Tucker took over where Stirner left off:

Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his second inaugural address that "We have always known that heedless self- interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics." I've tried to show in this section that self- interest is "good morals." I now intend to show that it is also good economics.

to be continued ..


73. Stirner, op. cit., p. 210.

74. Ibid., p. 319.

75. Proudhon, op. cit., pp. 243-4.

76. Stirner, op. cit., p. 179.

77. Ibid., p. 291.

78. "At the Summit of the Affluent U.S. Society," "The International Herald Tribune." March 19, 1971, p. 1.

79. "Newsweek," February 1, 1971 , p. 44.

80. Stirner, op. cit., pp. 270-2.

81. Tucker, "Instead of a Book," p. 404. Reprinted from "Liberty," April 28, 1888.