Individualist anarchism

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Individualist anarchism refers to several traditions of thought within the anarchist movement that emphasize the individual and his/her will over any kinds of external determinants such as groups, society, traditions, and ideological systems.[1][2] Individualist anarchism is not a single philosophy but refers to a group of individualistic philosophies that sometimes are in conflict. Early influences in individualist anarchism were the thought of William Godwin[3], Henry David Thoreau (transcendentalism)[4], Josiah Warren ("sovereignty of the individual"), Lysander Spooner ("natural law"), Pierre Joseph Proudhon (mutualism), Herbert Spencer ("law of equal liberty")[5] and Max Stirner (egoism).[6] From there it expanded through Europe and the United States. Benjamin R. Tucker, a famous 19th century individualist anarchist, held that "if the individual has the right to govern himself, all external government is tyranny."[7]




Early individualist anarchists include William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Max Stirner.[3][6]

Individualist anarchism of different kinds have a few things in common. These are:

1. The concentration and elevation on the individual and his/her over any kind of social or exterior reality or construction such as morality, ideology, social custom, religion, metaphysics, ideas or the will of others.[8][9]

2. The rejection or reservations on the idea of revolution seeing it as a time of mass uprising which could bring about new hierarchies. Instead they favor more evolutionary methods of bringing about anarchy through alternative experiences and experiments and education which could be brought about today[10][11]. This also because it is not seen desirable for individuals the fact of having to wait for revolution to start experiencing alternative experiences outside what is offered in the current social system[12].

3. The view that relationships with other persons or things can only be of one's own interest and can be as transitory and without compromises as desired since in individualist anarchism sacrifice is usually rejected. In this way Max Stirner recommended associations of egoists[13][14]. Individual experience and exploration therefore is emphazised.

As such differences exist. In regards to economic questions there are adherents to mutualism (Proudhon, Emile Armand, early Benjamin Tucker), egoistic disrespect for "ghosts" such as private property and markets (Stirner, John Henry Mackay, Lev Chernyi, later Tucker), and adherents to anarcho-communism (Albert Libertad, illegalism).

The egoist form of individualist anarchism, derived from the philosophy of Max Stirner, supports the individual doing exactly what he pleases – taking no notice of God, state, or moral rules.[15] To Stirner, rights were spooks in the mind, and he held that society does not exist but "the individuals are its reality"– he supported property by force of might rather than moral right.[16] Stirner advocated self-assertion and foresaw "associations of egoists" drawn together by respect for each other's ruthlessness.[17]

An important tendency within individualist anarchist currents emphasizes individual subjective exploration and defiance of social conventions. As such Murray Bookchin describes a lot of individualist anarchism as people who "expressed their opposition in uniquely personal forms, especially in fiery tracts, outrageous behavior, and aberrant lifestyles in the cultural ghettos of fin de sicle New York, Paris, and London. As a credo, individualist anarchism remained largely a bohemian lifestyle, most conspicuous in its demands for sexual freedom ('free love') and enamored of innovations in art, behavior, and clothing."[18]. In this way free love[19][20] currents and other radical lifestyles such as naturism[20][21] had popularity among individualist anarchists.


William Godwin

James Northcote, William Godwin, oil on canvas, 1802, the National Portrait Gallery, William Godwin, a radical liberal and utilitarian was one of the first to espouse what became known as individualist anarchism.

William Godwin can be considered an individualist anarchist[22] and philosophical anarchist who was influenced by the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment,[23] and developed what many consider the first expression of modern anarchist thought.[3] Godwin was, according to Peter Kropotkin, "the first to formulate the political and economical conceptions of anarchism, even though he did not give that name to the ideas developed in his work."[24][25] Godwin advocated extreme individualism, proposing that all cooperation in labor be eliminated.[26] Godwin was a utilitarian who believed that all individuals are not of equal value, with some of us "of more worth and importance' than others depending on our utility in bringing about social good. Therefore he does not believe in equal rights, but the person's life that should be favored that is most conducive to the general good.[27] Godwin opposed government because it infringes on the individual's right to "private judgement" to determine which actions most maximize utility, but also makes a critique of all authority over the individual's judgement. This aspect of Godwin's philosophy, minus the utilitarianism, was developed into a more extreme form later by Stirner.[28]

Title page from the third edition of Political Justice

Godwin's individualism was to such a radical degree that he even opposed individuals performing together in orchestras, writing in Political Justice that "everything understood by the term co-operation is in some sense an evil."[26] The only apparent exception to this opposition to cooperation is the spontaneous association that may arise when a society is threatened by violent force. One reason he opposed cooperation is he believed it to interfere with an individual's ability to be benevolent for the greater good. Godwin opposes the idea of government, but wrote that a minimal state as a present "necessary evil"[29] that would become increasingly irrelevant and powerless by the gradual spread of knowledge.[3] He expressly opposed democracy, fearing oppression of the individual by the majority (though he believed it to be preferable to dictatorship).

Godwin supported individual ownership of property, defining it as "the empire to which every man is entitled over the produce of his own industry."[29] However, he also advocated that individuals give to each other their surplus property on the occasion that others have a need for it, without involving trade (e.g. gift economy). Thus, while people have the right to private property, they should give it away as enlightened altruists. This was to be based on utilitarian principles; he said: "Every man has a right to that, the exclusive possession of which being awarded to him, a greater sum of benefit or pleasure will result than could have arisen from its being otherwise appropriated."[29] However, benevolence was not to be enforced, being a matter of free individual "private judgement." He did not advocate a community of goods or assert collective ownership as is embraced in communism, but his belief that individuals ought to share with those in need was influential on the later development of anarchist communism.

Godwin's political views were diverse and do not perfectly agree with any of the ideologies that claim his influence; writers of the Socialist Standard, organ of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, consider Godwin both an individualist and a communist;[30] anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard did not regard Godwin as being in the individualist camp at all, referring to him as the "founder of communist anarchism";[31] and historian Albert Weisbord considers him an individualist anarchist without reservation.[32] Some writers see a conflict between Godwin's advocacy of "private judgement" and utilitarianism, as he says that ethics requires that individuals give their surplus property to each other resulting in an egalitarian society, but, at the same time, he insists that all things be left to individual choice.[3] Many of Godwin's views changed over time, as noted by Kropotkin.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first self-identified anarchist.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865) was the first philosopher to label himself an "anarchist."[33] Some consider Proudhon to be an individualist anarchist,[34][35][36] while others regard him to be a social anarchist.[37][38] Some commentators do not identify Proudhon as an individualist anarchist due to his preference for association in large industries, rather than individual control.[39] Nevertheless, he was influential among some of the American individualists; in the 1840s and 1850s, Charles A. Dana,[40] and William B. Greene introduced Proudhon's works to the United States. Greene adapted Proudhon's mutualism to American conditions and introduced it to Benjamin R. Tucker.[41]

Proudhon opposed government privilege that protects capitalist, banking and land interests, and the accumulation or acquisition of property (and any form of coercion that led to it) which he believed hampers competition and keeps wealth in the hands of the few. Proudhon favoured a right of individuals to retain the product of their labor as their own property, but believed that any property beyond that which an individual produced and could possess was illegitimate. Thus, he saw private property as both essential to liberty and a road to tyranny, the former when it resulted from labor and was required for labor and the latter when it resulted in exploitation (profit, interest, rent, tax). He generally called the former "possession" and the latter "property." For large-scale industry, he supported workers associations to replace wage labour and opposed the ownership of land.

Proudhon maintained that those who labor should retain the entirety of what they produce, and that monopolies on credit and land are the forces that prohibit such. He advocated an economic system that included private property as possession and exchange market but without profit, which he called mutualism. It is Proudhon's philosophy that was explicitly rejected by Joseph Dejacque in the inception of anarchist-communism, with the latter asserting directly to Proudhon in a letter that "it is not the product of his or her labor that the worker has a right to, but to the satisfaction of his or her needs, whatever may be their nature." An individualist rather than anarchist communist,[34][35][36] Proudhon said that " the very denial of society in its foundation..."[42] and famously declared that "property is theft!" in reference to his rejection of ownership rights to land being granted to a person who is not using that land.

After Dejacque and others split from Proudhon due to the latter's support of individual property and an exchange economy, the relationship between the individualists, who continued in relative alignment with the philosophy of Proudhon, and the anarcho-communists was characterised by various degrees of antagonism and harmony. For example, individualists like Tucker on the one hand translated and reprinted the works of collectivists like Mikhail Bakunin, while on the other hand rejected the economic aspects of collectivism and communism as incompatible with anarchist ideals.



Modern symbol of mutualism

Mutualism is an anarchist school of thought which can be traced to the writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who envisioned a society where each person might possess a means of production, either individually or collectively, with trade representing equivalent amounts of labor in the free market.[43] Integral to the scheme was the establishment of a mutual-credit bank which would lend to producers at a minimal interest rate only high enough to cover the costs of administration.[44] Mutualism is based on a labor theory of value which holds that when labor or its product is sold, in exchange, it ought to receive goods or services embodying "the amount of labor necessary to produce an article of exactly similar and equal utility".[45] Some mutualists believe that if the state did not intervene, as a result of increased competition in the marketplace, individuals would receive no more income than that in proportion to the amount of labor they exert.[46] Mutualists oppose the idea of individuals receiving an income through loans, investments, and rent, as they believe these individuals are not laboring. Some of them argue that if state intervention ceased, these types of incomes would disappear due to increased competition in capital.[47] Though Proudhon opposed this type of income, he expressed: "... I never meant to ... forbid or suppress, by sovereign decree, ground rent and interest on capital. I believe that all these forms of human activity should remain free and optional for all."[48]

Insofar as they ensure the workers right to the full product of their labor, mutualists support markets and private property in the product of labor. However, they argue for conditional titles to land, whose private ownership is legitimate only so long as it remains in use or occupation (which Proudhon called "possession.")[49] Proudhon's Mutualism supports labor-owned cooperative firms and associations[50] for "we need not hesitate, for we have no choice. . . it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among workers . . . because without that, they would remain related as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two . . . castes of masters and wage-workers, which is repugnant to a free and democratic society" and so "it becomes necessary for the workers to form themselves into democratic

societies, with equal conditions for all members, on pain of a relapse into feudalism."[51] As for capital goods (man-made, non-land, "means of production"), mutualist opinions differs on whether these should be commonly managed public assets or private property.

Mutualists, following Proudhon, originally considered themselves to be libertarian socialists. However, "some mutualists have abandoned the labor theory of value, and prefer to avoid the term "socialist." But they still retain some cultural attitudes, for the most part, that set them off from the libertarian right."[52] Mutualists have distinguished themselves from state socialism, and don't advocate social control over the means of production. Benjamin Tucker said of Proudhon, that "though opposed to socializing the ownership of capital, [Proudhon] aimed nevertheless to socialize its effects by making its use beneficial to all instead of a means of impoverishing the many to enrich the subjecting capital to the natural law of competition, thus bringing the price of its own use down to cost."[53]


Max Stirner was the first of the egoist individualist anarchists. Portrait by Friedrich Engels.

Max Stirner's philosophy, sometimes called "egoism," is the most extreme[54] form of individualist anarchism. Max Stirner was a Hegelian philosopher whose "name appears with familiar regularity in historically-orientated surveys of anarchist thought as one of the earliest and best-known exponents of individualist anarchism."[6] In 1844, his The Ego and Its Own (Der Einzige and sein Eigentum which may literally be translated as The Unique Individual and His Property[55]) was published, which is considered to be "a founding text in the tradition of individualist anarchism."[6] Stirner does not recommend that the individual try to eliminate the state but simply that they disregard the state when it conflicts with one's autonomous choices and go along with it when doing so is conducive to one's interests.[56] He says that the egoist rejects pursuit of devotion to "a great idea, a good cause, a doctirine, a system, a lofty calling," saying that the egoist has no political calling but rather "lives themselves out" without regard to "how well or ill humanity may fare thereby."[57] Stirner held that the only limitation on the rights of the individual is his power to obtain what he desires.[58] He proposes that most commonly accepted social institutions—including the notion of State, property as a right, natural rights in general, and the very notion of society—were mere spooks in the mind. Stirner wants to "abolish not only the state but also society as an institution responsible for its members."[59] He advocated self-assertion and foresaw "associations of egoists" where respect for ruthlessness drew people together.[22] Even murder is permissible "if it is right for me."[60]

For Stirner, property simply comes about through might: "Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property." And, "What I have in my power, that is my own. So long as I assert myself as holder, I am the proprietor of the thing." He says, "I do not step shyly back from your property, but look upon it always as my property, in which I respect nothing. Pray do the like with what you call my property!".[61] His concept of "egoistic property" not only a lack of moral restraint on how own obtains and uses things, but includes other people as well.[62] His embrace of egoism is in stark contrast to Godwin's altruism. Stirner was opposed to communism, seeing it as a form of authority over the individual.

This position on property is much different from the native American, natural law, form of individualist anarchism, which defends the inviolability of the private property that has been earned through labor[63] and trade. However, in 1886 Benjamin Tucker rejected the natural rights philosophy and adopted Stirner's egoism, with several others joining with him. This split the American individualists into fierce debate, "with the natural rights proponents accusing the egoists of destroying libertarianism itself."[64] Other egoists include James L. Walker, Sidney Parker, Dora Marsden, John Beverly Robinson, and Benjamin Tucker (later in life).

In Russia, individualist anarchism inspired by Stirner combined with an appreciation for Friedrich Nietzsche attracted a small following of bohemian artists and intellectuals such as Lev Chernyi, as well as a few lone wolves who found self-expression in crime and violence.[65] They rejected organizing, believing that only unorganized individuals were safe from coercion and domination, believing this kept them true to the ideals of anarchism.[66] This type of individualist anarchism inspired anarcho-feminist Emma Goldman[65]

Though Stirner's philosophy is individualist, it has influenced some libertarian communists and anarcho-communists. "For Ourselves Council for Generalized Self-Management" discusses Stirner and speaks of a "communist egoism," which is said to be a "synthesis of individualism and collectivism," and says that "greed in its fullest sense is the only possible basis of communist society."[67] Forms of libertarian communism such as Situationism are influenced by Stirner.[68] Anarcho-communist Emma Goldman was influenced by both Stirner and Peter Kropotkin and blended their philosophies together in her own, as shown in books of hers such as Anarchism And Other Essays.[69]

Free Love

Lucifer the Lightbearer, an influential american free love journal

An important current within individualist anarchism is Free love[19]. Free love advocates sometimes traced their roots back to Josiah Warren and to experimental communities, viewed sexual freedom as a clear, direct expression of an individual's self-ownership. Free love particularly stressed women's rights since most sexual laws discriminated against women: for example, marriage laws and anti-birth control measures[19]. The most important American free love journal was Lucifer the Lightbearer (1883-1907) edited by Moses Harman and Lois Waisbrooker[70] but also there existed Ezra Heywood and Angela Heywood's The Word (1872-1890, 1892-1893)[19]. Also M. E. Lazarus was an important american individualist anarchist who promoted free love[19]. In Europe the main propagandist of free love within individualist anarchism was Emile Armand[71]. He proposed the concept of la camaraderie amoureuse to speak of free love as the possibility of voluntary sexual encounter between consenting adults. He was also a consistent proponent of polyamory[71].

The brazilian individualist anarchist Maria Lacerda de Moura lectured on topics such as education, women's rights, free love, and antimilitarism. Her writings and essays landed her attention not only in Brazil, but also in Argentina and Uruguay. [72].


Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Influential early eco-anarchist work

Another important current especially within French and Spanish individualist anarchist groups was naturism[20]. Naturism promoted an ecological worldview, small ecovillages, and most prominently nudism as a way to avoid the artificiality of the industrial mass society of modernity[21]. Naturist individualist anarchists saw the individual in his biological, physical and psychological aspects and avoided and tried to eliminate social determinations [21]. An early influence in this vein was Henry David Thoreau and his famous book Walden[20]. Important promoters of this were Henri Zisly and Emile Gravelle who collaborated in La Nouvelle Humanité followed by Le Naturien, Le Sauvage, L'Ordre Naturel, & La Vie Naturelle [73] Their ideas were important in individualist anarchist circles in France but also in Spain where Federico Urales (pseudonym of Joan Montseny), promotes the ideas of Gravelle and Zisly in La Revista Blanca (1898 – 1905)[20].

Anglo American individualist anarchism

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was an important early influence in individualist anarchist thought in the United States and Europe[11]. Thoreau was an American author, poet, naturalist, tax resiste, development critic , surveyor, historian, philosopher, and leading transcendentalist. He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay, Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state. His thought is an early influence on green anarchism but with an emphasis on the individual experience of the natural world influencing later naturist currents,[4]Simple living as a rejection of a materialist lifestyle[4] and self-sufficiency were Thoreau's goals, and the whole project was inspired by transcendentalist philosophy.

The American version of individualist anarchism has a strong emphasis on the non-aggression principle and individual sovereignty.[74] Some individualist anarchists, such as Thoreau[75][76], do not speak of economics but simply the right of "disunion" from the state, and foresee the gradual elimination of the state through social evolution. His anarchism not only rejects the state but all organized associations of any kind, advocating complete individual self reliance.[77]

An early individualist anarchist who was very influential was Josiah Warren, who had participated in a failed collective "utopian socialist" experiment headed by Robert Owen called "New Harmony" and came to the conclusion that such a system is inferior to one that respects the "sovereignty[78] of the individual" and his right to dispose of his property as his own self-interest prescribes.

The "Boston Anarchists"

Benjamin Tucker

Another form of individualist anarchism was found in the United States, as advocated by the "Boston anarchists."[65] By default American individualists didn't have any problem that "one man employ another" or that "he direct him," in his labor but demanded that "all natural opportunities requisite to the production of wealth be accessible to all on equal terms and that monopolies arising from special privileges created by law be abolished."[79]

They believed state monopoly capitalism (defined as a state-sponsored monopoly)[80] prevented labor from being fully rewarded. Voltairine de Cleyre, summed up the philosophy by saying that the anarchist individualists "are firm in the idea that the system of employer and employed, buying and selling, banking, and all the other essential institutions of Commercialism, centered upon private property, are in themselves good, and are rendered vicious merely by the interference of the State."[81]

Even among the nineteenth century American individualists, there was not a monolithic doctrine, as they disagreed amongst each other on various issues including intellectual property rights and possession versus property in land.[82][83][84] A major schism occurred later in the 19th century when Tucker and some others abandoned their traditional support of natural rights -as espoused by Lysander Spooner- and converted to an "egoism" modeled upon Stirner's philosophy.[83]

Some "Boston anarchists", including Benjamin Tucker, identified themselves as "socialists" which in the 19th century was often used in the broad sense of a commitment to improving conditions of the working class (i.e. "the labor problem").[85] By the turn of the 20th century, the heyday of individualist anarchism had passed,[86] although the individualist anarchist tradition was later revived with modifications by Murray Rothbard and his anarcho-capitalism in the mid-twentieth century, as a current of the broader libertarian movement.[65][87]


(Rothbard circa 1955).

19th century individualist anarchists espoused the labor theory of value. Some believe that the modern movement of anarcho-capitalism is the result of simply removing the labor theory of value from ideas of the 19th century American individualist anarchists: "Their successors today, such as Murray Rothbard, having abandoned the labor theory of value, describe themselves as anarcho-capitalists."[88] As economic theory changed, the popularity of the labor theory of classical economics was superseded by the subjective theory of value of neo-classical economics. According to Kevin Carson (himself a mutualist), "most people who call themselves "individualist anarchists" today are followers of Murray Rothbard's Austrian economics."[89]

Murray Rothbard, a student of Ludwig von Mises, combined the Austrian school economics of his teacher with the absolutist views of human rights and rejection of the state he had absorbed from studying the individualist American anarchists of the nineteenth century such as Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker.[90]

In the mid-1950s Rothbard wrote an article under a pseudonym, saying that "we are not anarchists...but not archists either...Perhaps, then, we could call ourselves by a new name: nonarchist," concerned with differentiating himself from communist and socialistic economic views of other anarchists (including the individualist anarchists of the nineteenth century).[91] However, Rothbard later chose the term "anarcho-capitalism" for his philosophy and referred to himself as an anarchist.


Agorism is a radical left-libertarian[δ] form of anarchism, developed from anarcho-capitalism in the late 20th-century by Samuel Edward Konkin III (a.k.a. SEK3). The goal of agorists is a society in which all "relations between people are voluntary exchanges – a free market."[92] Agorists are propertarian market anarchists who consider that property rights are natural rights deriving from the primary right of self-ownership and are not opposed in principle to collectively held property if individual owners of the property consent to collective ownership by contract or other voluntary mutual agreement. However, Agorists are divided on the question of intellectual property rights.[δ]

European individualist anarchism

Individualist anarchism was one of the three categories of anarchism in Russia, along with the more prominent anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism.[93] The ranks of the Russian individualist anarchists were predominantly drawn from the intelligentsia and the working class.[93]

European individualist anarchists include Max Stirner, Albert Libertad, Shmuel Alexandrov, Anselme Bellegarrigue, Émile Armand, Enrico Arrigoni, Lev Chernyi, John Henry Mackay, Han Ryner, Renzo Novatore, Miguel Giménez Igualada, and currently Michel Onfray. Two influential authors in European individualist anarchists are Friedrich Nietzche (see Anarchism and Friedrich Nietzsche) and Georges Palante.

European individualist anarchism proceeded from the roots laid by William Godwin, Pierre Joseph Proudhon and Max Stirner.


From the legacy of Proudhon and Stirner there emerged a strong tradition of French individualist anarchism. An early important individualist anarchist was Anselme Bellegarrigue. He participated in the French Revolution of 1848, was author and editor of 'Anarchie, Journal de l'Ordre and Au fait ! Au fait ! Interprétation de l'idée démocratique' and wrote the important early Anarchist Manifesto in 1850.

Later this tradition continued with such intellectuals as Albert Libertad, André Lorulot, Emile Armand, Victor Serge, Zo d'Axa and Rirette Maitrejean developed theory in the main individualist anarchist journal in France, L’Anarchie in 1905. Outside this journal, Han Ryner wrote Petit Manuel individualiste (1903). Later appeared the journal L'EnDehors created by Zo d'Axa in 1891.

French individualist anarchist exposed a diversity of positions (per example, about violence and non-violence). For example Emile Armand rejected violence and embraced mutualism while becoming an important propagandist for free love, while Albert Libertad and Zo d’Axa was influential in violentists circles and championed violent propaganda by the deed while adhering to communitarianism or anarcho-communism [94] and rejecting work. Han Ryner on the other side conciled anarchism with stoicism. Nevertheless French individualist circles had a strong sense of personal libertarianism and experimentation. Naturism and free love contents started to have a strong influence in individualist anarchist circles and from there it expanded to the rest of anarchism also appearing in Spanish individualist anarchist groups[20].

"In this sense, the theoretical positions and the vital experiences of french individualism are deeply iconoclastic and scandalous, even within libertarian circles. The call of nudist naturism, the strong defence of bith control methods, the idea of "unions of egoists" with the sole justification of sexual practices, that will try to put in practice, not without difficulties, will establish a way of thought and action, and will result in symphathy within some, and a strong rejection within others."[20]


Caricature of the Bonnot gang

Illegalism[95] is an anarchist philosophy that developed primarily in France, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland during the early 1900s as an outgrowth of Stirner's individualist anarchism[96]. Illegalists usually did not seek moral basis for their actions, recognizing only the reality of "might" rather than "right"; for the most part, illegal acts were done simply to satisfy personal desires, not for some greater ideal[97], although some committed crimes as a form of Propaganda of the deed [95]. The illegalists embraced direct action and propaganda by the deed[98].

Influenced by theorist Max Stirner's egoism as well as Proudhon (his view that Property is theft!), Clément Duval and Marius Jacob proposed the theory of la reprise individuelle (Eng: individual reclamation) which justified robbery on the rich and personal direct action against exploiters and the system.[97],

Illegalism first rose to prominence among a generation of Europeans inspired by the unrest of the 1890s, during which Ravachol, Émile Henry, Auguste Vaillant, and Caserio committed daring crimes in the name of anarchism[99], in what is known as propaganda of the deed. France's Bonnot Gang was the most famous group to embrace illegalism.


In Italy individualist anarchism had a strong tendency towards illegalism and violent propaganda by the deed similar to French individualist anarchism but perhaps more extreme[100]. In this respect we can consider notorious magnicides carried out or attempted by individualists Giovanni Passannante, Sante Caserio, Michele Angiolillo, Luigi Luccheni, Gaetano Bresci who murdered king Umberto I. Caserio lived in France and coexisted within French illegalism and later assassinated French president Sadi Carnot. The theoretical seeds of current Insurrectionary anarchism were already laid out at the end of 19th century Italy in a combination of individualist anarchism criticism of permanent groups and organization with a socialist class struggle worldview[101].During the rise of fascism this thought also motivated Gino Lucetti, Michele Schirru and Angelo Sbardellotto in attempting the assassination of Benito Mussolini.

During the early 20th century it is important the intellectual work of individualist anarchist Renzo Novatore which was influenced by Stirner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Georges Palante, Oscar Wilde, Henrik Ibsen, Arthur Schopenhauer and Charles Baudelaire. He collaborated in numerous anarchist journals and participated in futurism avant-garde currents. In his thought he adhered to stirnerist disrespect to private property only recognizing property of one's own spirit.[102]. Novatore collaborated in the individualist anarchist journal Iconoclasta! alongside the young stirnerist illegalist Bruno Filippi[103]


Spain received the influence of American individualist anarchism but most importantly it was related to the French currents. At the turn of the century individualism in Spain takes force through the efforts of people such as Dorado Montero, Ricardo Mella, Federico Urales and J. Elizalde who will translatre French and American individualists[20]. Important in this respect were also magazines such as La Idea Libre, La revista blanca, Etica, Iniciales, Al margen and Nosotros. The most influential thinkers there were Max Stirner, Emile Armand and Han Ryner. Just as in France, the spreading of Esperanto had importance just as naturism and free love currents[20]. Later Armand and Ryner themselves will start writing in the Spanish invidualist press. The concept of Armand of amorous chamaraderie had an important role in motivating polyamory as realization of the individual[20]. An important Spanish individualist anarchist was also Miguel Giménez Igualada who wrote the lengthy theory book called Anarchism espousing his individualist anarchism[104].

Recently spanish historian Xavier Diez has dedicated extensive research on spanish individualist anarchism as can be seen in his books El anarquismo individualista en España: 1923-1938[105] y Utopia sexual a la premsa anarquista de Catalunya. La revista Ética-Iniciales(1927-1937) (which deals with free love thought as present in the spanish individualist anarchist magazine Iniciales)[106].


In Germany the Scottish-german John Henry McKay became the most important propagandist for individualist anarchist ideas. He fused stirnerist egoism with the positions of Benjamin Tucker and actually translated Tucker into german. Two semi-fictional writings of his own Die Anarchisten and Der Freiheitsucher contributed to individualist theory through an updating of egoist themes within a consideration of the anarchist movement. English translations of these works arrived in the United Kingdom and in individualist American circles lead by Tucker[107]. McKay is also known as an important European early activist for LGBT rights.

Using the pseudonym Sagitta, Mackay wrote a series of works for pederastic emancipation, titled Die Buecher der namenlosen Liebe (Books of the Nameless Love). This series was conceived in 1905 and completed in 1913 and included the Fenny Skaller, a story of a pederast.[108] Under the same pseudonym he also published fiction, such as Holland (1924) and a pederastic novel of the Berlin boy-bars, Der Puppenjunge (The Hustler) (1926).

Adolf Brand (1874-1945) was a German writer, stirnerist anarchist and pioneering campaigner for the acceptance of male bisexuality and homosexuality. Brand published a German homosexual periodical, Der Eigene in 1896. This was the first ongoing homosexual publication in the world[109]. The name was taken from writings of egoist philosopher Max Stirner, who had greatly influenced the young Brand, and refers to Stirner's concept of "self-ownership" of the individual. Der Eigene concentrated on cultural and scholarly material, and may have had an average of around 1500 subscribers per issue during its lifetime, although the exact numbers are uncertain. Contributors included Erich Mühsam, Kurt Hiller, John Henry Mackay (under the pseudonym Sagitta) and artists Wilhelm von Gloeden, Fidus and Sascha Schneider. Brand contributed many poems and articles himself.


In Russia, Lev Chernyi was an important individualist anarchist involved in resistance against the rise to power of the Bolchevik Party. He adhered mainly to Stirner and the ideas of Benjamin Tucker. In 1907, he published a book entitled Associational Anarchism, in which he advocated the "free association of independent individuals."[110]. On his return from Siberia in 1917 he enjoyed great popularity among Moscow workers as a lecturer. Chernyi was also Secretary of the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups, which was formed in March 1917[110]. He died after being accused of participation in an episode in which this group bombed the headquarters of the Moscow Committee of the Communist Party. Although most likely not being really involved in the bombing, he might have died of torture[110].

Chernyi advocated a Nietzschean overthrow of the values of bourgeois Russian society, and rejected the voluntary communes of anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin as a threat to the freedom of the individual.[111][112][113] Scholars including Avrich and Allan Antliff have interpreted this vision of society to have been greatly influenced by the individualist anarchists Max Stirner, and Benjamin Tucker.[114] Subsequent to the book's publication, Chernyi was imprisoned in Siberia under the Russian Czarist regime for his revolutionary activities.[115]

Latin American individualist anarchism

Vicente Rojas Lizcano pseudonym of Biófilo Panclasta, was a Colombian individualist anarchist writer and activist. In 1904 he begins using the name Biofilo Panclasta. "Biofilo" in spanish stands for "lover of life" and "Panclasta" for "enemy of all". [116] He visited more than fifty countries propagadizing for anarchism which in his case was highly influenced by the thought of Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietszche. Among his written works there are Siete años enterrado vivo en una de las mazmorras de Gomezuela: Horripilante relato de un resucitado(1932) and Mis prisiones, mis destierros y mi vida (1929) which talk about his many adventures while living his live as an adventurer, activist and vagabond as well as his thought and the many times he was imprisioned in different countries.

Maria Lacerda de Moura was a Brazilian teacher, journalist, anarcha-feminist, and individualist anarchist. Her ideas regarding education were largely influenced by Francisco Ferrer. She later moved to São Paulo and became involved in journalism for the anarchist and labor press. There she also lectured on topics including education, women's rights, free love, and antimilitarism. Her writings and essays landed her attention not only in Brazil, but also in Argentina and Uruguay. In February 1923 she launched Renascença, a periodical linked with the anarchist, progressive, and freethinking circles of the period. Her thought was mainly influenced by individualist anarchists such as Han Ryner and Emile Armand[117].


George Bernard Shaw expressed doubts about the distribution of wealth under individualist anarchism.

Prior to abandoning anarchism, libertarian socialist Murray Bookchin criticized individualist anarchism for its opposition to democracy and its embrace of "lifestylism" at the expense of class struggle.[118] Bookchin claimed that individualist anarchism supports only negative liberty and rejects the idea of positive liberty.[119] Anarcho-communist Albert Meltzer proposed that individualist anarchism differs radically from revolutionary anarchism, and that it "is sometimes too readily conceded 'that this is, after all, anarchism'." He claimed that Benjamin Tucker's acceptance of the use of a private police force (including to break up violent strikes to protect the "employer's 'freedom'") is contradictory to the definition of anarchism as "no government."[120] Meltzer opposed anarcho-capitalism for similar reasons, arguing that since it supports "private armies", it actually supports a "limited State." He contends that it "is only possible to conceive of Anarchism which is free, communistic and offering no economic necessity for repression of countering it."[121]

According to Gareth Griffith, George Bernard Shaw initially had flirtations with individualist anarchism before coming to the conclusion that it was "the negation of socialism, and is, in fact, unsocialism carried as near to its logical conclusion as any sane man dare carry it." Shaw's argument was that even if wealth was initially distributed equally, the degree of laissez-faire advocated by Tucker would result in the distribution of wealth becoming unequal because it would permit private appropriation and accumulation.[122] According to academic Carlotta Anderson, American individualist anarchists accept that free competition results in unequal wealth distribution, but they "do not see that as an injustice."[123] Tucker explained, "If I go through life free and rich, I shall not cry because my neighbor, equally free, is richer. Liberty will ultimately make all men rich; it will not make all men equally rich. Authority may (and may not) make all men equally rich in purse; it certainly will make them equally poor in all that makes life best worth living."[124]

There is also criticism between contemporary individualist anarchism currents. American mutualist Joe Peacott has criticized anarcho-capitalists for trying to hegemonize the label "individualist anarchism" and make appear as if all individualist anarchists are pro-capitalism[125]. He has stated that "some individualists, both past and present, agree with the communist anarchists that present-day capitalism is based on economic coercion, not on voluntary contract. Rent and interest are mainstays of modern capitalism, and are protected and enforced by the state. Without these two unjust institutions, capitalism could not exist."[126] In this way he adheres to mutualist anti-capitalism.

See also

Anarchism portal


α^  The term "individualist anarchism" is often used as a classificatory term, but in very different ways. Some sources, such as An Anarchist FAQ use the classification "social anarchism / individualist anarchism". Some see individualist anarchism as distinctly non-socialist, and use the classification "socialist anarchism / individualist anarchism" accordingly.[127] Other classifications include "mutualist/communal" anarchism.[128]
β^  Michael Freeden identifies four broad types of individualist anarchism. He says the first is the type associated with William Godwin that advocates self-government with a "progressive rationalism that included benevolence to others." The second type is the amoral self-serving rationality of Egoism, as most associated with Max Stirner. The third type is "found in Herbert Spencer's early predictions, and in that of some of his disciples such as Donisthorpe, foreseeing the redundancy of the state in the source of social evolution." The fourth type retains a moderated form of egoism and accounts for social cooperation through the advocacy of market relationships.[5]
γ^ See, for example, the Winter 2006 issue of the Journal of Libertarian Studies, dedicated to reviews of Kevin Carson's Studies in Mutualist Political Economy. Mutualists compose one bloc, along with agorists and geo-libertarians, in the recently formed Alliance of the Libertarian Left.
δ^ Though this term is non-standard usage – by "left", agorists mean "left" in the general sense used by left-libertarians, as defined by Roderick T. Long, as "... an integration, or I’d argue, a reintegration of libertarianism with concerns that are traditionally thought of as being concerns of the left. That includes concerns for worker empowerment, worry about plutocracy, concerns about feminism and various kinds of social equality."[129]
ε^ Konkin wrote the article "Copywrongs"in opposition to the concept and Schulman countered SEK3's arguments in "Informational Property: Logorights."
ζ^  Individualist anarchism is also known by the terms "anarchist individualism", "anarcho-individualism", "individualistic anarchism", "libertarian anarchism",[130][131][132][133] "anarcho-libertarianism",[134][135] "anarchist libertarianism"[134] and "anarchistic libertarianism".[136]

Murray Rothbard

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Murray Newton Rothbard

Rothbard circa 1955
Full name Murray Newton Rothbard
Born March 2, 1926(1926-03-02)
Bronx, New York, United States
Died January 7, 1995 (aged 68)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Era 20th-century Economists
(Austrian Economics)
Region Western Economists
School Austrian School
Main interests Economics, Political economy, Anarchism, Natural law, Praxeology, Numismatics, Philosophy of law, Ethics, Economic history
Notable ideas Founder of Anarcho-capitalism, Rothbard's law

Murray Newton Rothbard (March 2, 1926 – January 7, 1995) was an American intellectual, individualist anarchist,[1] author, and economist of the Austrian School who helped define modern libertarianism and popularized a form of free-market anarchism he termed "anarcho-capitalism".[2][3] Rothbard wrote over twenty books.

Building on the Austrian School's concept of spontaneous order in markets, support for a free market in money production and condemnation of central planning,[4] Rothbard sought to minimize coercive government control of the economy. He considered the monopoly force of government the greatest danger to liberty and the long-term wellbeing of the populace, labeling the State as nothing but a "gang of thieves writ large" - the locus of the most immoral, grasping and unscrupulous individuals in any society.[5][6][7][8]

Rothbard concluded that virtually all services provided by monopoly governments could be provided more efficiently by the private sector. He viewed many regulations and laws ostensibly promulgated for the "public interest" as self-interested power grabs by scheming government bureaucrats engaging in dangerously unfettered self-aggrandizement, as they were not subject to market disciplines which would quickly eliminate such parasitic inefficiencies if they were to occur in the competitive private sector.[9][10][11]

Rothbard was equally condemning of state corporatism. He criticized many instances where business elites co-opted government's monopoly power so as to influence laws and regulatory policy in a manner benefiting them at the expense of their competitive rivals.[12]

He argued that taxation represents coercive theft on a grand scale, and "a compulsory monopoly of force" prohibiting the more efficient voluntary procurement of defense and judicial services from competing suppliers.[13][6] He also considered central banking and fractional reserve banking under a monopoly fiat money system a form of state-sponsored, legalized financial fraud, antithetical to libertarian principles and ethics.[14][15][16][17] Rothbard opposed military, political, and economic interventionism in the affairs of other nations.[18][19]



Life and work

Rothbard was born to David and Rae Rothbard, who raised their Jewish family in the Bronx. "I grew up in a Communist culture," he recalled.[20] He attended Columbia University, where he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and economics in 1945 and a Master of Arts degree in 1946. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in economics in 1956 at Columbia under Joseph Dorfman.[21][22]

During the early 1950s, he studied under the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises at his seminars at New York University and was greatly influenced by Mises' book Human Action. In the 1950s and 1960s he worked for the liberal William Volker Fund on a book project that resulted in Man, Economy, and State, published in 1962. From 1963 to 1985, he taught at Polytechnic Institute of New York University in Brooklyn, New York. From 1986 until his death he was a distinguished professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Rothbard founded the Center for Libertarian Studies in 1976 and the Journal of Libertarian Studies in 1977. He was associated with the 1982 creation of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and later was its academic vice president. In 1987 he started the scholarly Review of Austrian Economics, now called the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.[21]

In 1953 in New York City he married JoAnn Schumacher, whom he called the "indispensable framework" for his life and work.[21] He died in 1995 in Manhattan of a heart attack. The New York Times obituary called Rothbard "an economist and social philosopher who fiercely defended individual freedom against government intervention."[23]

Austrian School writings

Cover of the 2004 edition of Man, Economy, and State.

The Austrian School attempts to discover axioms of human action (called "praxeology" in the Austrian tradition). It supports free market economics and criticizes command economies because they destroy the delicate and complex dynamic information function of fluctuating prices and inevitably lead to totalitarianism, as government interventions cause inefficient distortions in markets, requiring yet further intervention. Influential advocates were Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises. Rothbard argued that the entire Austrian economic theory is the working out of the logical implications of the fact that humans engage in purposeful action.[24] In working out these axioms he came to the position that a monopoly price could not exist on the free market. He also anticipated much of the “rational expectations” viewpoint in economics. His free market views convinced him that individual protection and national defense also should be offered on the market, rather than supplied by government’s coercive monopoly.[21] Rothbard was an ardent critic of Keynesian economic thought[25] as well as the utilitarian theory of philosopher Jeremy Bentham.[26]

In Man, Economy, and State Rothbard divides the various kinds of state intervention in three categories: "autistic intervention", which is interference with private non-exchange activities; "binary intervention", which is forced exchange between individuals and the state; and "triangular intervention", which is state-mandated exchange between individuals. According to Sanford Ikeda, Rothbard's typology "eliminates the gaps and inconsistencies that appear in Mises's original formulation."[27][28]

Rothbard also was knowledgeable in history and political philosophy. Rothbard's books, such as Man, Economy, and State, Power and Market, The Ethics of Liberty, and For a New Liberty, are considered by some to be classics of natural law and libertarian thought, combining libertarian natural rights philosophy, anti-government anarchism and a free market perspective in analyzing a range of contemporary social and economic issues. He also possessed extensive knowledge of the history of economic thought, studying the pre-Adam Smith free market economic schools, such as the Scholastics and the Physiocrats and discussed them in his unfinished, multi-volume work, An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought.

Murray Rothbard points out in Power and Market that the role of the economist in a free market is limited, but the role and power of the economist in a government which continually intervenes in the market expands, as the interventions trigger problems which require further diagnosis and the need for further policy recommendations. Murray argues that this simple self-interest prejudices the views of many economists in favor of increased government intervention.[29][30]

Rothbard also created "Rothbard's law" that "people tend to specialize in what they are worst at. Henry George, for example, is great on everything but land, so therefore he writes about land 90% of the time. Friedman is great except on money, so he concentrates on money."[31]

Political views

Rothbard "combined the laissez-faire economics of his teacher Ludwig von Mises with the absolutist views of human rights and rejection of the state he had absorbed from studying the individualist American anarchists of the nineteenth century such as Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker."[32] He connected these to more modern views, writing: "There is, in the body of thought known as 'Austrian economics', a scientific explanation of the workings of the free market (and of the consequences of government intervention in that market) which individualist anarchists could easily incorporate into their political and social Weltanschauung."[33]

Rothbard opposed what he considered the overspecialization of the academy and sought to fuse the disciplines of economics, history, ethics, and political science to create a "science of liberty." Rothbard described the moral basis for his anarcho-capitalist position in two of his books: For a New Liberty, published in 1972, and The Ethics of Liberty, published in 1982. In his Power and Market (1970), Rothbard described how a stateless economy would function.[34]


In The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard asserted the right of total self-ownership, as the only principle compatible with a moral code that applies to every person—a "universal ethic"—and that it is a natural law by being what is naturally best for man.[35] He believed that, as a result, individuals owned the fruits of their labor. Accordingly, each person had the right to exchange his property with others. He believed that if an individual mixes his labor with unowned land then he is the proper owner, and from that point on it is private property that may only exchange hands by trade or gift. He also argued that such land would tend not to remain unused unless it makes economic sense to not put it to use.[36]


Rothbard began to consider himself a private property anarchist in the 1950s and later began to use "anarcho-capitalist."[37][38] He wrote: "Capitalism is the fullest expression of anarchism, and anarchism is the fullest expression of capitalism."[39] In his anarcho-capitalist model, a system of protection agencies compete in a free market and are voluntarily supported by consumers who choose to use their protective and judicial services. Anarcho-capitalism would mean the end of the state monopoly on force.[37]

Rothbard was equally condemning of the corrupt and parasitic nexus between big business and big government. He cited many instances where business elites co-opted government's monopoly power so as to influence laws and regulatory policy in a manner benefiting them at the expense of their competitive rivals. He wrote in criticism of Ayn Rand's "misty devotion to the Big Businessman" that she: "is too committed emotionally to worship of the Big Businessman-as-Hero to concede that it is precisely Big Business that is largely responsible for the twentieth-century march into aggressive statism..."[40] According to Rothbard, one example of such cronyism included grants of monopolistic privilege the railroads derived from sponsoring so-called conservation laws.[41] He was also particularly critical of the influence big private banking institutions/cartels had on Federal Reserve formation and policy.

Free market money

See also Free banking and Gold standard

Rothbard believed the monopoly power of government over the issuance and distribution of money was inherently destructive and unethical. The belief derived from Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek's Austrian theory of the business cycle, which holds that undue credit expansion inevitably leads to a gross misallocation of capital resources, triggering unsustainable credit bubbles and, eventually, economic depressions. He therefore strongly opposed central banking and fractional reserve banking under a fiat money system, labeling it as "legalized counterfeiting"[42] or a form of institutionalized embezzlement and therefore inherently fraudulent.[43][44]

He strongly advocated full reserve banking ("100 percent banking")[45] and a voluntary, nongovernmental gold standard[21][46] or, as a second best solution, free banking (which he also called "free market money").[47]

In relation to the current central bank-managed fractional reserve fiat currency system, he stated the following:[48]

Given this dismal monetary and banking situation, given a 39:1 pyramiding of checkable deposits and currency on top of gold, given a Fed unchecked and out of control, given a world of fiat moneys, how can we possibly return to a sound noninflationary market money? The objectives, after the discussion in this work, should be clear: (a) to return to a gold standard, a commodity standard unhampered by government intervention; (b) to abolish the Federal Reserve System and return to a system of free and competitive banking; (c) to separate the government from money; and (d) either to enforce 100 percent reserve banking on the commercial banks, or at least to arrive at a system where any bank, at the slightest hint of nonpayment of its demand liabilities, is forced quickly into bankruptcy and liquidation. While the outlawing of fractional reserve as fraud would be preferable if it could be enforced, the problems of enforcement, especially where banks can continually innovate in forms of credit, make free banking an attractive alternative.


Believing like Randolph Bourne that "war is the health of the state" Rothbard opposed aggressive foreign policy.[21] He criticized imperialism and the rise of the American empire which needed war to sustain itself and to expand its global control. His dislike of U.S. imperialism even led him to eulogize and lament the CIA-assisted execution of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara in 1967, proclaiming that "his enemy was our enemy".[49] Rothbard believed that stopping new wars was necessary and knowledge of how government had seduced citizens into earlier wars was important. Two essays expanded on these views "War, Peace, and the State" and "The Anatomy of the State". Rothbard used insights of the elitism theorists Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, and Robert Michels to build a model of state personnel, goals, and ideology.[50][51] In an obituary for historian Harry Elmer Barnes Rothbard explained why historical knowledge is important:[52]

Our entry into World War II was the crucial act in foisting a permanent militarization upon the economy and society, in bringing to the country a permanent garrison state, an overweening military-industrial complex, a permanent system of conscription. It was the crucial act in creating a mixed economy run by Big Government, a system of state-monopoly capitalism run by the central government in collaboration with Big Business and Big Unionism.

Rothbard discussed his views on the principles of a libertarian foreign policy in a 1973 interview: "minimize State power as much as possible, down to zero, and isolationism is the full expression in foreign affairs of the domestic objective of whittling down State power." He further called for "abstinence from any kind of American military intervention and political and economic intervention."[18] In For a New Liberty he writes: "In a purely libertarian world, therefore, there would be no 'foreign policy' because there would be no States, no governments with a monopoly of coercion over particular territorial areas."[53]

In "War Guilt in the Middle East" Rothbard details Israel's "aggression against Middle East Arabs," confiscatory policies and its "refusal to let these refugees return and reclaim the property taken from them."[54] Rothbard also criticized the “organized Anti-Anti-Semitism” that critics of the state of Israel have to suffer.[55] Rothbard criticized as terrorism the actions of the United States, Israel, and any nation that "retaliates" against innocents because they cannot pinpoint actual perpetrators. He held that no retaliation that injures or kills innocent people is justified, writing "Anything else is an apologia for unremitting and unending mass murder."[56]

Children and rights

In the Ethics of Liberty Rothbard explores in terms of self-ownership and contract several contentious issues regarding children's rights. These include women's right to abortion, proscriptions on parents aggressing against children once they are born, and the issue of the state forcing parents to care for children, including those with severe health problems. He also holds children have the right to "run away" from parents and seek new guardians as soon as they are able to choose to do so. He suggested parents have the right to put a child out for adoption or even sell the rights to the child in a voluntary contract, which he feels is more humane than artificial governmental restriction of the number of children available to willing and often superior parents. He also discusses how the current juvenile justice system punishes children for making "adult" choices, removes children unnecessarily and against their will from parents, often putting them in uncaring and even brutal foster care or juvenile facilities.[57][58]

Political activism

As a young man, Rothbard considered himself part of the Old Right, an anti-statist and anti-interventionist branch of the U.S. Republican party. When interventionist cold warriors of the National Review, such as William F. Buckley, Jr., gained influence in the Republican party in the 1950s, Rothbard quit the party. After Rothbard passed away, William F. Buckley wrote a bitter obituary in the National Review criticizing Rothbard's "defective judgement" and views on the Cold War.[59]

During the late 1950s, Rothbard was an associate of Ayn Rand and her Objectivist philosophy, but later left her inner circle. He later lampooned the relationship in his play Mozart Was a Red. In the late 1960s, Rothbard advocated an alliance with the New Left anti-war movement, on the grounds that the conservative movement had been completely subsumed by the statist establishment. However, Rothbard later criticized the New Left for supporting a "People's Republic" style draft. It was during this phase that he associated with Karl Hess and founded Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought with Leonard Liggio and George Resch, which existed from 1965 to 1968. From 1969 to 1984 he edited The Libertarian Forum, also initially with Hess (although Hess's involvement ended in 1971).

Rothbard criticized the "frenzied nihilism" of left-wing libertarians, but also criticized right-wing libertarians who were content to rely only on education to bring down the state; he believed that libertarians should adopt any non-immoral tactic available to them in order to bring about liberty.[60]

Burton Blumert, Lew Rockwell, David Gordon, and Rothbard.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Rothbard was active in the Libertarian Party. He was frequently involved in the party's internal politics. From 1978 to 1983, he was associated with the Libertarian Party Radical Caucus, allying himself with Justin Raimondo, Eric Garris and Williamson Evers. He opposed the "low tax liberalism" espoused by 1980 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ed Clark and Cato Institute president Edward H Crane III. Rothbard split with the Radical Caucus at the 1983 national convention over cultural issues, and aligned himself with what he called the "rightwing populist" wing of the party, notably Lew Rockwell and Ron Paul, who ran for President on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988 and in the 2008 Republican Party Primaries.

In 1989, Rothbard left the Libertarian Party and began building bridges to the post-Cold War anti-interventionist right, calling himself a paleolibertarian.[61] He was the founding president of the conservative-libertarian John Randolph Club and supported the presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan in 1992, saying "with Pat Buchanan as our leader, we shall break the clock of social democracy."[62] However, later he became disillusioned and said Buchanan developed too much faith in economic planning and centralized state power.[63]


Cover from the first volume of the 2006 Ludwig Von Mises Institute edition of An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought
Cover of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute's 2000 edition of America's Great Depression.

See also

American philosophy

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Jump to: navigation, search
Painting by Howard Chandler Christy of the scene at the Philadelphia Convention which led to the signing of the United States Constitution, an important document in American political and legal philosophy.

American philosophy is the philosophical activity or output of Americans, both within the United States and abroad. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that while American philosophy lacks a "core of defining features, American Philosophy can nevertheless be seen as both reflecting and shaping collective American identity over the history of the nation."[1]



17th century

The American philosophical tradition began at the time of the European colonization of the New World.[1] The Puritan arrival in New York set the earliest American philosophy into the religious tradition, and there was also an emphasis on the relationship between the individual and the community. This is evident by the early colonial documents such as the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639) and the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641).[1] Thinkers such as John Winthrop emphasized the public life over the private, holding that the former takes precedence over the latter, while other writers, such as Roger Williams (co-founder of Rhode Island) held that religious tolerance was more integral than trying to achieve religious homogeneity in a community.[2]

18th century

18th century American philosophy is often broken into two halves, the earlier half being marked by Puritan Calvinism, and the latter characterized by the American incarnation of the European Enlightenment that is associated with the political thought of the Founding Fathers.[1]


Jonathan Edwards is considered to be "America's most important and original philosophical theologian."[3] Noted for his energetic sermons, such as "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (which is said to have begun the First Great Awakening), Edwards emphasized "the absolute sovereignty of God and the beauty of God's holiness."[3] Working to unite Christian Platonism with an empiricist epistemology, with the aid of Newtonian physics, Edwards was deeply influenced by George Berkeley, himself an empiricist, and Edwards derived his importance of the immaterial for the creation human experience from Bishop Berkeley. The non-material mind consists of understanding and will, and it is understanding, interpreted in a Newtonian framework, that leads to Edwards' fundamental metaphysical category of Resistance. Whatever features an object may have, it has these properties because the object resists. Resistance itself is the exertion of God's power, and it can be seen in Newton's laws of motion, where an object is "unwilling" to change its current state of motion; an object at rest will remain at rest and an object in motion will remain in motion.

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800.

As a Calvinist and hard determinist, Jonathan Edwards also rejected the freedom of the will, saying that "we can do as we please, but we cannot please as we please." According to Edwards, neither good works nor self-originating faith lead to salvation, but rather it is the unconditional grace of God which stands as the sole arbiter of human fortune.

The Age of Enlightenment

While the early 18th century American philosophical tradition was decidedly marked by religious themes, the latter half saw a reliance on reason and science, and, in step with the thought of the Age of Enlightenment, a belief in the perfectibility of human beings, laissez-faire economics, and a general focus on political matters.[1]

The Founding Fathers, namely Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison, wrote extensively on political issues. In continuing with the chief concerns of the Puritans in the 17th century, the Founding Fathers debated the relationship between the individual and the state, as well as the nature of the state, importantly concerning the state's relationship to God and religion. It was at this time that the United States Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution were written, and they are the result of debate and compromise. The Constitution sets forth a federated republican form of government that is marked by a balance of powers accompanied by a checks and balances system between the three branches of government: a judicial branch, an executive branch led by the President, and a legislative branch composed of a bicameral legislature where the House of Representatives is the lower house and the Senate is the upper house.[4] While the Declaration of Independence does contain within it references to the Creator, the Founding Fathers were decidedly not religious, and instead mostly professed varying forms of deism, as was characteristic of other European Enlightenment thinkers, such as Maximilien Robespierre, François-Marie Arouet (better known by his pen name, Voltaire), and Rousseau.[5]

Thomas Paine, the intellectual, pamphleteer, and revolutionary who wrote Common Sense and Rights of Man was an influential Enlightenment thinker and American Founding Father. Common Sense, which has been described as “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era"[6] provides justification for the American revolution and independence from the British Crown.

19th century

The 19th century saw the rise of Romanticism in America. The American incarnation of Romanticism was transcendentalism and it stands as a major American innovation. The 19th century also saw the rise of the school of pragmatism, along with a smaller, Hegelian philosophical movement led by George Holmes Howison that was focused in St. Louis, though the influence of American pragmatism far outstripped that of the small Hegelian movement.[1]


Ralph Waldo Emerson, ca. 1857
Henry David Thoreau, 1856
Walt Whitman, 1887

Transcendentalism in the United States was marked by an emphasis on subjective human experience, and can be viewed as a reaction against intellectualism in general and the mechanistic, reductionistic worldview in particular. Transcendentalism is marked by the holistic belief in an ideal spiritual state that 'transcends' the physical and empirical, and this perfect state can only be attained by one's own intuition and personal reflection, as opposed to the prescriptions and doctrines of organized religion. Famous transcendentalist writers include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman.[7]

The transcendentalist writers all desired a deep return to nature, and believed that real, true knowledge is intuitive and personal and arises out of personal immersion and reflection in nature, as opposed to scientific knowledge that is the result of empirical sense experience.[8] Things such as scientific tools, political institutions, and the conventional rules of morality as dictated by traditional religion need to be transcended. This is found in Henry David Thoreau's Walden; or, Life in the Woods where transcendence is achieved through immersion in nature and the distancing of oneself from society.

Darwinism in America

The release of Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory in his 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species had a strong impact on American philosophy. John Fiske and Chauncey Wright both wrote about and argued for the re-conceiving of philosophy through an evolutionary lense. They both wanted to understand morality and the mind in Darwinian terms, setting a precedent for evolutionary psychology and evolutionary ethics.

Darwin's biological theory was also integrated into the social and political philosophies of English thinker Herbert Spencer and American philosopher William Graham Sumner. Herbert Spencer, who coined the oft-misattributed term "survival of the fittest," believed that societies were in a struggle for survival, and that groups within society are where they are because of some level of fitness. This struggle is beneficial to human kind, as in the long run the weak will be weeded out and only the strong will survive. This position is often referred to as Social Darwinism. Sumner, much influenced by Spencer, believed along with the industrialist Andrew Carnegie that the social implication of the fact of the struggle for survival is that laissez-faire capitalism is the natural political-economic system and is the one that will lead to the greatest amount of well-being. William Sumner, in addition to his advocacy of free markets, also espoused anti-imperialism (having been credited with coining the term "ethnocentrism"), and advocated for the gold standard.[9]


Perhaps the most influential school of thought that is uniquely American is pragmatism. It began in the late nineteenth century in the United States with Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Pragmatism holds that a proposition's meaning is in the conceivable practical consequences of its truth or acceptance.[10]

Charles Sanders Peirce

Charles Sanders Peirce, an American pragmatist, logician, mathematician, philosopher, and scientist.

Polymath, logician, mathematician, philosopher, and scientist Charles Sanders Peirce (pronounced /ˈpɜrs/ like "purse") (1839–1914) coined the term "pragmatism" in the 1870s.[11] He was a member of The Metaphysical Club, which was a conversational club of intellectuals that also included Chauncey Wright, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and another early figure of pragmatism, William James.[10] In addition to making profound contributions to semiotics, logic, and mathematics, Peirce wrote what are considered to be the founding documents of pragmatism, "The Fixation of Belief" (1877) and "How to Make Our Ideas Clear"(1878).

In "The Fixation of Belief" Peirce argues for the superiority of the scientific method in overcoming doubt, in fixing one's belief. In "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" Peirce argued for pragmatism as summed up in that which he later called the pragmatic maxim: "Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object". Note here that a conception's meaning involves conceiving of effects and is not a definite set of actual practical effects themselves. The maxim is intended to help clarify confusions caused, for example, by distinctions that make formal but not practical differences. Traditionally one analyzes an idea into parts (for example, a definition of truth as a sign's correspondence to its object). To that needful but confined step, the maxim adds a further, and practice-oriented, step (for example, a definition of truth as inquiry's ideal end). It is the heart of his pragmatism as a method of experimentational mental reflection[12] arriving at conceptions in terms of conceivable confirmatory and disconfirmatory circumstances—a method hospitable to the generation of explanatory hypotheses, and conducive to the employment and improvement of verification[13]. Typical of Peirce is his concern with inference to explanatory hypotheses as outside the usual foundational alternative between deductivist rationalism and inductivist empiricism, though he himself was a mathematician of logic and a founder of statistics.

Peirce's philosophy also includes a pervasive three-category system, fallibilism, critical common-sensism (fallibilistic but not radically skeptical), logic as formal semiotic (including semiotic elements and classes of signs, modes of inference, and methods of inquiry), Scholastic realism, theism, objective idealism, and belief in the reality of continuity and of chance, mechanical necessity, and creative love as principles operative in the cosmos and as modes of its evolution.

William James

William James, an American pragmatist and psychologist.

William James (1842–1910) was "an original thinker in and between the disciplines of physiology, psychology and philosophy."[14] He is famous as the author of The Varieties of Religious Experience, his monumental tome Principles of Psychology, and his lecture "The Will to Believe."

James, along with Peirce,[15] saw pragmatism as embodying familiar attitudes elaborated into a radical new philosophical method of thinking and resolving dilemmas. In his 1910 Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking he wrote:

[T]he tangible fact at the root of all our thought-distinctions, however subtle, is that there is no one of them so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice. To attain perfect clearness in our thoughts of an object, then, we need only consider what conceivable effects of a practical kind the object may involve—what sensations we are to expect from it, and what reactions we must prepare.

James is also known for his radical empiricism which holds that relations between objects are as real as the objects themselves. James was also a pluralist in that he believed that there may actually be multiple correct accounts of truth. He rejected the correspondence theory of truth and instead held that truth involves a belief, facts about the world, other background beliefs, and future consequences of those beliefs. Later in his life James would also come to adopt neutral monism, the view that the ultimate reality is of one kind, and is neither mental nor physical.[16]

John Dewey

John Dewey, an American pragmatist, psychologist, and educational reformer.

John Dewey (1859–1952), while still engaging in the lofty academic philosophical work of James and Peirce before him, also wrote extensively on political and social matters, and his presence in the public sphere was much greater than his pragmatist predecessors. In addition to being one of the founding members of pragmatism, John Dewey was one of the founders of functional psychology and was a leading figure of the progressive movement in U.S. schooling during the first half of the 20th century.[17] Dewey argued against the individualism of classical liberalism, asserting that social institutions are not "means for obtaining something for individuals. They are means for creating individuals."[18] He held that individuals are not things that should be accommodated by social institutions, instead, social institutions are prior to and shape the individuals. These social arrangements are a means of creating individuals and promoting individual freedom.

Dewey is well-known for his work in the applied philosophy of the philosophy of education. Dewey's philosophy of education is one where children learn by doing. Dewey believed that schooling was unnecessarily long and formal, and that children would be better suited to learn by engaging in real-life activities. For example, in math, students could learn by figuring out proportions in cooking or seeing how long it would take to travel distances with certain modes of transportation.[19]

20th century

George Santayana, the most famous Hispanic-American philosopher.

Pragmatism, which began in the 19th century in America, by the beginning of the 20th century began to be accompanied by other philosophical schools of thought, and was eventually eclipsed by them, though only temporarily. The 20th century saw the emergence of process philosophy, itself influenced by the scientific world-view and Einstein's theory of relativity. The middle of the 20th century was witness to the increase in popularity of the philosophy of language and analytic philosophy in America. Existentialism and phenomenology, while very popular in Europe in the 20th century, never achieved the level of popularity in America as they did in continental Europe.[1]

Rejection of idealism

Pragmatism continued its influence into the 20th century, and Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana was one of the leading proponents of pragmatism in this period. He held that idealism was an outright contradiction and rejection of common sense. He held that, if something must be certain in order to be knowledge, then it seems no knowledge may be possible, and the result will be skepticism. According to Santayana, knowledge involved a sort of faith, which he termed "animal faith." In his book Scepticism and Animal Faith he asserts that knowledge is not the result of reasoning. Instead, knowledge is what is required to order to act and successfully engage with the world.[20] As a naturalist, Santayana was a harsh critic of epistemological foundationalism. The explanation of events in the natural world is within the realm of science, while the meaning and value of this action should be studied by philosophers. Santayana was accompanied in the intellectual climate of 'common sense' philosophy by the thinkers of the New Realism movement, such as Ralph Barton Perry.

Process philosophy

Process philosophy embraces the Einsteinian world-view, and its main proponents include Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. The core belief of process philosophy is the claim that events and processes are principle ontological categories.[21] Whitehead asserted in his book The Concept of Nature that the things in nature, what he referred to as "concresences" are a conjunction of events that maintain a permanence of character. Process philosophy is Heraclitan in the sense that a fundamental ontological category is change.[22] Charles Hartshorne was also responsible for developing the process philosophy of Whitehead into process theology.

Analytic philosophy

An image of Quine as seen on his passport.

The middle of the 20th century was the beginning of the dominance of analytic philosophy in America. Analytic philosophy, prior to its arrival in America, had began in Europe with the work of Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the logical positivists. According to logical positivism, the truths of logic and mathematics are tautologies, and those of science are empirically verifiable. Any other claim, including the claims of ethics, aesthetics, theology, metaphysics, and ontology, are meaningless (this theory is called verificationism). With the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, many positivists fled Germany to Britain and America, and this helped reinforce the dominance of analytic philosophy in the United States in subsequent years.[1]

W.V.O. Quine, while not a logical positivist, shared their view that philosophy should stand shoulder to shoulder with science in its pursuit of intellectual clarity and understanding of the world. He criticized the logical positivists and the analytic/synthetic distinction of knowledge in his essay "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" and advocated for his "web of belief," which is a coherentist theory of justificiation. In Quine's epistemology, since no experiences occur in isolation, there is actually a holistic approach to knowledge where every belief or experience is intertwined with the whole. Quine is also famous for inventing the term "gavagai" as part of his theory of the indeterminacy of translation.[23]

David Kellogg Lewis, one of Quine's students at Harvard, came to be known as one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century.[24] He is well-known for his controversial advocacy of modal realism, the position which holds that there is an infinite number of concrete and causally isolated possible worlds, of which ours is one.[25] These possible words arise in the field of modal logic.

Thomas Kuhn was an important philosopher and writer who worked extensively in the fields of the history of science and the philosophy of science. He is famous for writing The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, one of the most cited academic works of all time, which argues that science proceeds through different paradigms as scientists find new puzzles to solve, once one there is widespread struggle to find ansers to question, a shift in world views occurs, which is refereed to by Kuhn as a paradigm shift.[26] The work is considered a milestone in the sociology of knowledge.

Return to political philosophy

Ayn Rand

The analytic philosophers troubled themselves with the abstract and the conceptual, and American philosophy did not fully return to social and political concerns (that dominated American philosophy at the time of the founding of the United States) until the 1970s. The return to political and social concerns began with Ayn Rand, the developer of Objectivism. Rand, a Russian-born philosopher and writer, wrote The Fountainhead in 1943 and Atlas Shrugged in 1957. These two novels gave birth to the Objectivist movement, one which started as a small group of students called The Collective, one of whom was a young Alan Greenspan, the well-known libertarian Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Objectivism holds that there is an objective external reality that can be known with reason, that human beings should act in accordance with their own rational self-interest, and that the proper form of economic organization is laissez-faire capitalism.[27]

John Rawls

In 1971 John Rawls published his book A Theory of Justice. The book puts forth Rawls' view of justice as fairness, once which is based on a form of social contract theory. Rawls employs the use of a conceptual mechanism called the veil of ignorance to outline his idea of the original position.[28] In Rawls' philosophy, the original position is the correlate to the Hobbesian state of nature. While in the original position, persons are said to be behind the veil of ignorance, which makes these persons unaware of their individual characteristics and their place in society, such as their race, religion, wealth, etc. The principles of justice are chosen by rational persons while in this original position. The two principles of justice are the equal liberty principle and the principle which governs the distribution of social and economic inequalities. From this, Rawls argues for a system of distributive justice in accordance with the Difference Principle, which says that all social and economic inequalities must be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged.[29]

Robert Nozick

Viewing Rawls as promoting excessive government control and rights violations, libertarian Robert Nozick published Anarchy, State, and Utopia in 1974. The book advocates for a minimal state and defends the liberty of the individual. He argues that the role of government should be limited to "police protection, national defense, and the administration of courts of law, with all other tasks commonly performed by modern governments – education, social insurance, welfare, and so forth – taken over by religious bodies, charities, and other private institutions operating in a free market."[30] Nozick asserts his view of the entitlement theory of justice, which says that if everyone in society has acquired their holdings in accordance with the principles of acquisition, transfer, and rectification, then any pattern of allocation, no matter how unequal the distribution may be, is just. The entitlement theory of justice holds that the "justice of a distribution is indeed determined by certain historical circumstances (contrary to end-state theories), but it has nothing to do with fitting any pattern guaranteeing that those who worked the hardest or are most deserving have the most shares."[31]

Alasdair MacIntyre, while he was born and educated in the United Kingdom, has spent around forty years living and working in the United States. He is responsible for the resurgence of interest in virtue ethics, a moral theory first propounded by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.[32][33] He is considered to be the preeminent Thomist political philosopher. He holds that "modern philosophy and modern life are characterized by the absence of any coherent moral code, and that the vast majority of individuals living in this world lack a meaningful sense of purpose in their lives and also lack any genuine community".[34] He believes that the proper way to correct this state of affairs is to return to genuine political communities where individuals can properly acquire their virtues.

Outside academic philosophy, political and social concerns took center stage with the Civil Rights Movement and the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.


Betty Friedan

While there were earlier writers who would be considered feminist, such as Sarah Grimké, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Anne Hutchinson, the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, also known as second-wave feminism, is notable for its impact in philosophy.[35] The popular mind was taken with Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. This was accompanied by other feminist philosophers, such as Adrienne Rich. These philosophers critiqued basic assumptions and values of philosophy, such as objectivity and what they believe to be masculine approaches to ethics, for example, rights-based political theories. They wrote that there is no such thing as a value-neutral inquiry and they sought to analyze the social dimensions of philosophical issues.

Modern times

Hilary Putnam
Richard Rorty.

Towards the end of the 20th century there was a resurgence of interest in pragmatism. Largely responsible for this are Hilary Putnam and Richard Rorty. Rorty is famous as the author of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature and Philosophy and Social Hope. Hilary Putnam is well known for his quasi-empiricism in mathematics[36], his challenge of the brain in a vat thought experiment[37], and his other work in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and philosophy of science.

The debates that occur within the philosophy of mind have taken center stage. American philosophers such as Hilary Putnam, Donald Davidson[38], Daniel Dennett[39], Douglas Hofstadter[40], John Searle[41], as well as Patricia and Paul Churchland[42] continue the discussion of such issues as the nature of mind and the hard problem of consciousness, a philosophical problem indicated by the Australian philosopher David Chalmers.[43]

Noted American legal philosophers Ronald Dworkin and Richard Posner work in the fields of political philosophy and jurisprudence. Posner is famous for his economic analysis of law, a theory which uses microeconomics to understand legal rules and institutions.[44] Dworkin is famous for his theory of law as integrity and legal interpretivism.[45][46]

African-American philosopher Cornel West is known for his analysis of American cultural life with regards to race, gender, and class issues, as well as his associations with pragmatism and transcendentalism.

Alvin Plantinga is a Christian thinker known for his evolutionary argument against naturalism, his assertion that one can know God as a properly basic belief, and his modal version of the ontological argument for the existence of God.

See also


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Agorism is a political philosophy founded by Samuel Edward Konkin III and developed with contributions by J. Neil Schulman that holds as its ultimate goal bringing about a society in which all "relations between people are voluntary exchanges – a free market."[1] The term comes from the Greek word "agora," referring to an open place for assembly and market in ancient Greek city-states. Ideologically, it is a term representing a revolutionary type of anarcho-capitalism or free-market anarchism.[2] Schulman integrated the idea of counter-economics into Konkin's libertarian philosophy[3], which is the advocacy of untaxed black market activity, which agorists say will lead to development of private defense force sufficient to protect private property and liberty from the state to the point where such protection is strong enough to overthrow the state.




Konkin's treatise, New Libertarian Manifesto,[1] was published in 1980. Previously, the philosophy was presented fictionally in J. Neil Schulman's novel Alongside Night in 1979. He was inspired to portray Konkin's ideas in fictional form by the example of Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged. Konkin wrote an afterword 'How Far Alongside Night?' for Alongside Night crediting Schulman with integrating the "science of counter-economics" with Konkin's basic economic philosophy.[4]

Agorists are propertarian market anarchists who consider property rights to be natural rights deriving from the primary right of self-ownership. Thus, together with agorism's advocacy of using counter-economics and private defense to defeat the state, agorism can be considered a type of anarcho-capitalism that has a revolutionary streak.[5] Agorists consider their ideas to be an evolution and superlation of those of Murray Rothbard. Konkin describes agorists as "strict Rothbardians... and even more Rothbardian than Rothbard [himself]."[6]

Strategically, agorists are advocates or conscious practitioners of counter-economics (peaceful black and grey markets).[7] Agorism advocates achieving a market anarchist society through growth of the underground economy - the "counter economy." As the counter economy expands, it challenges the authority of the State, crippling its ability to operate. With the State's coercive monopoly undermined, the market is then able to generate the security services necessary to openly defend their clientele against coercive government as a criminal activity (with taxation being treated as theft, war being treated as mass murder, et cetera). The organisational nature of these services will ultimately be determined by the market based on effectiveness, efficiency, and expense. Agorists spurn political participation in favour of counter-economics, as political participation is seen to be costly, time consuming, and ineffective. Involvement in advocacy and outreach activities are motivated by the goal of making more people aware of Agorism and counter-economics, indirectly increasing the conscious practice of counter-economic activity.

Agorism's proponents characterize it as left-libertarian. According to Konkin,[6] it was Murray Rothbard's idea to call his and Konkin's radical free-market libertarianism "Left," the reasons being that they wanted to use a label that was appealing to the New Left in order to solidify an alliance with them and in order to distinguish Agorists as those interested in building counter-economic enterprises. As well, the tendency of Agorists to label themselves "leftist" is partially a nod to the old French Assembly, where many of the classical liberals and free-marketeers sat on the left side of the assembly hall. In this view that considers radical libertarians "Left", libertarians based in minarchism, gradualism, conservatism, and reformism are considered to be on the "Right."[6] The labeling of market anarchism as left-wing libertarianism is not accepted by some scholars, such as David DeLeon, who regard "anarchists" that stress "the individualism of the unregulated marketplace" to be right-wing libertarians, with left-wing libertarians being communitarians such as anarcho-communists.[8] Likewise, Barbara Goodwin regards anarcho-communists such as Kropotkin and anarcho-Collectivists such as Bakunin to be left libertarians.[9]

Counter-economics as revolutionary theory

According to a short summary of the Agorist conception of market anarchist revolution, Agorist Revolution in a Nutshell:

Agorism is revolutionary market anarchism. In a market anarchist society, law and security will be provided by market institutions, not political institutions. Agorists recognize, therefore, that those institutions can not develop through political reform. Instead, they will come about as a result of market processes. As government is banditry, revolution culminates in the suppression of government by market providers of security and law. Market demand for such service providers is what will lead to their emergence. Development of that demand will come from economic growth in the sector of the economy that explicitly shuns state involvement (and therefore can not turn to the state in its role as monopoly provider of security and law). That sector of the economy is the counter-economy – black and grey markets.

Brad Spangler, Agorist Revolution in a Nutshell

Views on capitalism

Agorists hold that the evils attributed to capitalism are not caused by laissez-faire but by government working together with private industry.[10] By preferring the term "free market," Agorists feel they are not bound by the implications of the term "capitalism".

Konkin does not oppose the existence of joint stock companies, but opposes government-granted limited liability privileges on them (He reserves the term "corporation" to refer only to joint stock companies for which government grants limited liability.).[11] Agorists believe this corrupts those businesses such that the upper management acts irresponsibly with corporate assets. For example, if such businesses excessively pay executives and are then unable to meet contractual debts, many state laws protect the wages of those responsible for the bankruptcy. Agorists argue that liability cannot simply disappear by act of government and so legitimate business will always have managers or owners who will be held responsible for any actions taken.

Corporations are creatures of the State, created by it and having two privileges that protect them from market pressures. First, corporate liability for damages to others is automatically limited by fiat; and second, responsibility is shifted away from individuals to a fictional entity. Each of the Cadre assumes full responsibility for his or her actions, though liabilities may be insured.

Merce Rampart, "Chairman of the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre" in Schulman's Alongside Night


Konkin says[12] he has no "moral" opposition to "hierarchy" in the workplace and says such hierarchy is "not necessarily 'unlibertarian' nor non-agorist", but that his "New Libertarianism" prefers to promote a society of all entrepreneurs and independent contractors because he believes it optimal for furthering the elimination of the state. He does not deny "wage-labor's historical benefit," but believes that the society of entrepreneurs that he proposes is a significant advance in economic organization.

Intellectual property

Konkin was opposed to the concept of intellectual property rights and wrote the article "Copywrongs" to explain and support this position. Schulman later took position against Konkin's arguments in "Informational Property: Logorights." While Konkin opposed state copyright and patent laws as constructs of the state, and creators of illegitimate monopoly, as did Benjamin Tucker before him, Schulman argued, like Lysander Spooner, that the material identity displayed by an original creation could be owned as an exclusive natural property right.

Agorist class theory

The use of the word "capitalism" in reference to the free market varies from each Agorist. Some Agorists, like Anarcho-Capitalists will use the term synonymously with "free market", while many don't and shun the term for its connotations with the state regulated economy. Regardless, Agorists maintain a class theory that separates each class based on who benefits from the state's existence under Capitalism. Agorists make a three-part distinction, victims of the state, neutral or statist.

entrepreneur[13] or venture capitalist non-statist capitalist pro-statist capitalist
(good) (neutral) (bad)
innovator, risk-taker, producer
the strength of a free market
holders of capital
not necessarily ideologically aware
"relatively drone-like non-innovators"
"the main Evil in the political realm"

Konkin claimed that while agorists see these three classes differently, anarcho-capitalists tend to conflate the first and second types and implied that "Marxoids and cruder collectivists" conflate all three.[6]

Political action

Generally, self-identified "agorists" oppose voting for political candidates and oppose political reform. Instead, agorists stress the importance of alternative strategies rather than politics to achieve a free society. Agorists claim that we can achieve a free society more easily and sooner by employing such alternative methods.

Such alternative strategies consist of a mixture of education, direct action — and especially entrepreneurship and counter-economics. Agorists use "education" to mean getting others educated about Austrian economics, libertarian political theory, and libertarian ethics to bring about a free society. Furthermore, they use the term "direct action" to emphasize the importance of more direct practices such as straightforward marketplace participation rather than indirectly voting for political representatives. (For clarity, we should note that "direct action" in this context does not mean inducing riots, drawing graffiti, inciting sabotage, and vandalism that some insurrectionary anarchists and social anarchists advocate.) Agorists especially focus on counter-economics, in which they mean to build and establish business structures without complying with immoral regulations, getting government licenses, and paying taxes. Other entrepreneural methods include establishing micronations and seasteads, using crypto-anarchism to circumvent government intrusion, and developing technologies that can diminish government power. Agorists, who practice alternative strategies rather than electoral politics, label their strategy as revolutionary. This strongly contrasts with electoral politics, which agorists label as reformist or gradualist.

Agorists' opposition to voting differs from some other individualist anarchists, such as Murray Rothbard who defended the act of voting.[14]

See also

Anarchism portal


  1. ^ a b Konkin, Samuel Edward. New Libertarian Manifesto
  2. ^ "Agorism is revolutionary market anarchism."
  3. ^ Afterword by Samuel Edward Konkin in Alongside Night. Pulpless.Com, 1999. p. 274. ISBN 1-58445-120-3, 9781584451204
  4. ^ Afterword by Samuel Edward Konkin in Alongside Night. Pulpless.Com, 1999. p. 271 - 290. ISBN 1-58445-120-3, 9781584451204
  5. ^ Agorism satisfies standard definitions of anarcho-capitalism, including the one in the anarcho-capitalism Wikipedia article. For a discussion, see Discussion on Agorism vs. Anarcho-Capitalism.
  6. ^ a b c d Smashing the State for Fun and Profit Since 1969: An Interview With the Libertarian Icon Samuel Edward Konkin III (a.k.a. SEK3)
  7. ^ For Konkin's definition and exposition of counter-economics, see "Counter Economics" in The New Libertarian Manifesto
  8. ^ DeLeon, David. The American as Anarchist: Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978, p. 123
  9. ^ Goodwin, Barbara. 1987. Using Political Ideas, 4th edition. John Wiley & Sons. p. 137-138
  10. ^ Schulman, Neil F. Alongside Night. Pulpless.Com, 1999. p. 249 - 250. ISBN 1-58445-120-3, 9781584451204
  11. ^ Konkin. New Libertarian Manifesto
  12. ^ In "Reply to Rothbard" by Samuel Konkin
  13. ^ Note that an entrepreneur in this instance is not necessarily a capitalist.
  14. ^ Rothbard, Murray N. The State versus Liberty.

External links

Mikhail Bakunin

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Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin
Bakunin Nadar.jpg
Date of birth: May 30, 1814(1814-05-30)
Place of birth: Pryamukhino (near Torzhok), Russian Empire
Date of death: July 1, 1876 (aged 62)
Place of death: Berne, Switzerland
Movement: Anarchist movement
Major organizations: League of Peace and Freedom, International Working Men's Association

Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin (30 May [O.S. 18 May] 1814 - 1 July 1876) (Russian: Михаи́л Алекса́ндрович Баку́нин) was a well-known Russian revolutionary and theorist of collectivist anarchism.[1]

Born in the Russian Empire to a family of Russian nobles, Bakunin spent his youth as a junior officer in the Russian army but resigned his commission in 1835. He went to school in Moscow to study philosophy and began to frequent radical circles where he was greatly influenced by Alexander Herzen. Bakunin left Russia in 1842 for Dresden, and eventually arrived in Paris, where he met George Sand, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Karl Marx.

He was eventually deported from France for speaking against Russia's oppression of Poland. In 1849 he was apprehended in Dresden for his participation in the Czech rebellion of 1848. He was turned over to Russia where he was imprisoned in Peter-Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg. He remained there until 1857, when he was exiled to a work camp in Siberia.

He was able to escape via Japan and the USA, and ended up in London for a short time, where he worked with Herzen on the radical journal Kolokol ("The Bell"). In 1863, he left to join the insurrection in Poland, but he failed to reach his destination and spent some time in Switzerland and Italy. Despite his criminal status, Bakunin gained great influence with radical youth in Russia, and all of Europe. In 1870, he was involved in the insurrection in Lyon, which foreshadowed the Paris Commune.

In 1868, Bakunin joined the International Working Men's Association, a federation of radical and trade union organizations with sections in most European countries. The 1872 Congress was dominated by a fight between a faction around Marx who argued for participation in parliamentary elections and a faction around Bakunin who opposed it. Bakunin's faction lost the vote on this issue, and at the end of the congress, Bakunin and several of his faction were expelled for supposedly maintaining a secret organisation within the international. The anarchists insisted the congress was rigged, and so held their own conference of the International at Saint-Imier in Switzerland in 1872. Bakunin remained very active in this and the European socialist movement. From 1870 to 1876, he wrote much of his seminal work such as Statism and Anarchy and God and the State. Despite his declining health, he tried to take part in an insurrection in Bologna, but was forced to return to Switzerland in disguise, and settled in Lugano. He remained active in the radical movement of Europe until further health problems caused him to be moved to a hospital in Berne, where he died in 1876.

Bakunin is remembered as a major figure in the history of anarchism and an opponent of Marxism, especially of Marx's idea of dictatorship of the proletariat. He continues to be an influence on modern-day anarchists, such as Noam Chomsky.[2]




Early years

In the spring of 1814, Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin was born to an aristocratic family in the village of Pryamukhino (Прямухино) between Torzhok (Торжок) and Kuvshinovo (Кувшиново), in Tver guberniya, northwest of Moscow. At the age of 14 he left for Saint Petersburg, receiving military training at the Artillery University. He completed his studies in 1832, and in 1834 was commissioned a junior officer in the Russian Imperial Guard and sent to Minsk and Gardinas in Lithuania (now Belarus). That summer, Bakunin became embroiled in a family row, taking his sister’s side in rebellion to an unhappy marriage. Though his father wished him to continue in either the military or the civil service, Bakunin abandoned both in 1835, and made his way to Moscow, hoping to study philosophy.

Interest in philosophy

In Moscow, Bakunin soon became friends with a group of former university students, and engaged in the systematic study of Idealist philosophy, grouped around the poet Nikolay Stankevich, “the bold pioneer who opened to Russian thought the vast and fertile continent of German metaphysics” (E. H. Carr). The philosophy of Kant initially was central to their study, but then progressed to Schelling, Fichte, and Hegel. By autumn of 1835, Bakunin had conceived of forming a philosophical circle in his home town of Pryamukhino; a passionate environment for the young people involved. For example, Vissarion Belinsky fell in love with one of Bakunin’s sisters. Moreover, by early 1836, Bakunin was back in Moscow, where he published translations of Fichte’s Some Lectures Concerning the Scholar's Vocation and The Way to a Blessed Life, which became his favorite book. With Stankevich he also read Goethe, Schiller, and E.T.A. Hoffmann.

At this time he embraced a religious but extra-ecclesiastical immanentism:

Let religion become the basis and reality of your life and your actions, but let it be the pure and single-minded religion of divine reason and divine love, and not … that religion which strove to disassociate itself from everything that makes up the substance and life of truly moral existence. … Look at Christ, my dear friend; … His life was divine through and through, full of self-denial, and He did everything for mankind, finding His satisfaction and His delight in the dissolution of His material being.

… Because we have baptized in this world and are in communion with this heavenly love, we feel that we are divine creatures, that we are free, and that we have been ordained for the emancipation of humanity, which has remained a victim of the instinctive laws of unconscious existence. … Absolute freedom and absolute love—that is our aim; the freeing of humanity and the whole world–that is our purpose.

He became increasingly influenced by Hegel and provided the first Russian translation of his work. During this period he met slavophile Konstantin Aksakov, Piotr Tschaadaev and the socialists Alexander Herzen and Nikolay Ogarev. In this period he began to develop his panslavic views. After long wrangles with his father, Bakunin went to Berlin in 1840. His stated plan at the time was still to become a university professor (a “priest of truth,” as he and his friends imagined it), but he soon encountered and joined radical students of the so-called “Hegelian Left,” and joined the socialist movement in Berlin. In his 1842 essay The Reaction in Germany, he argued in favor of the revolutionary role of negation, summed up in the phrase

the passion for destruction is a creative passion.[3]

After three semesters in Berlin, Bakunin went to Dresden where he became friends with Arnold Ruge. Here he also read Lorenz von Stein's Der Sozialismus und Kommunismus des heutigen Frankreich and developed a passion for socialism. He abandoned his interest in an academic career, devoting more and more of his time to promoting revolution.The Russian government, becoming aware of his radicalism, ordered him to return to Russia. On his refusal his property was confiscated. Instead he went with Georg Herwegh to Zürich, Switzerland.

Switzerland, Brussels, Prague, Dresden and Paris

The young Mikhail Bakunin

During his six month stay in Zürich, he became closely associated with German communist Wilhelm Weitling. Until 1848 he remained on friendly terms with the German communists, occasionally calling himself a communist and writing articles on communism in the Schweitzerische Republikaner. He moved to Geneva in western Switzerland shortly before Weitling's arrest. His name had appeared frequently in Weitling's correspondence seized by the police. This led to reports being circulated to the imperial police. The Russian ambassador in Berne ordered Bakunin to return to Russia, but instead he went to Brussels, where he met many leading Polish nationalists, such as Joachim Lelewel, co-member with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels at Brussels. Lelewel greatly influenced him, however he clashed with the Polish nationalists over their demand for a historic Poland based on the borders of 1776 (before the Partitions of Poland) as he defended the right of autonomy for the non-Polish peoples in these territories. He also did not support their clericalism and they did not support his calls for the emancipation of the peasantry.

In 1844 Bakunin went to Paris, then a centre for European radicalism. He established contacts with Karl Marx and the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who greatly impressed him and with whom he formed a personal bond. In December 1844, Emperor Nicholas issued a decree stripping Bakunin of his privileges as a noble, denying him civil rights, confiscating his land in Russia, and condemning him to life long exile in Siberia should the Russian authorities ever get their hands on him. He responded with a long letter to La Réforme, denouncing the Emperor as a despot and calling for democracy in Russia and Poland (Carr, p. 139). In March 1846 in another letter to the Constitutionel he defended Poland, following the repression of Catholics there. Some Polish refugees from Kraków, following the defeat of the uprising there, invited him to speak[4] at the meeting in November 1847 commemorating the Polish November Uprising of 1830.

In his speech, Bakunin called for an alliance between the Polish and Russian peoples against the Emperor, and looked forward to "the definitive collapse of despotism in Russia." As a result, he was expelled from France and went to Brussels. Bakunin's attempt to draw Alexander Herzen and Vissarion Belinsky into conspiratorial action for revolution in Russia fell on deaf ears. In Brussels, Bakunin renewed his contacts with revolutionary Poles and Karl Marx. He spoke at a meeting organised by Lelewel in February 1848 about a great future for the slavs, whose destiny was to rejuvenate the Western world. Around this time the Russian embassy circulated rumours that Bakunin was a Russian agent who had exceeded his orders.

As the revolutionary movement of 1848 broke out, Bakunin was ecstatic, despite disappointment that little was happening in Russia. Bakunin obtained funding from some socialists in the Provisional Government, Ferdinand Flocon, Louis Blanc, Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin and Albert L'Ouvrier, for a project for a Slav federation liberating those under the rule of Prussia, Austro-Hungary and Turkey. He left for Germany travelling through Baden to Frankfurt and Köln.

Bakunin supported the German Democratic Legion led by Herwegh in an abortive attempt to join Friedrich Hecker's insurrection in Baden. He broke with Marx over the latter's criticism of Herwegh. Much later in 1871 – Bakunin was to write: “I must openly admit that in this controversy Marx and Engels were in the right. With characteristic insolence, they attacked Herwegh personally when he was not there to defend himself. In a face-to-face confrontation with them, I heatedly defended Herwegh, and our mutual dislike began then.”[5]

Bakunin went on to Berlin, but was stopped from going to Posen by the police, which was part of Polish territories gained by Prussia in the Partitions of Poland, where a nationalist insurrection was taking place. Instead Bakunin went to Leipzig and Breslau, then to Prague where he participated in the First Pan Slav Congress. The Congress was followed by an abortive insurrection that Bakunin had sought to promote and intensify but which was violently suppressed. He returned to Breslau, where Marx republished the allegation that Bakunin was an imperial agent, claiming that George Sand had proof. Marx retracted the statement after George Sand came to Bakunin's defense.

Bakunin published his Appeal to the Slavs[6] in the fall of 1848, in which he proposed that Slav revolutionaries unite with Hungarian, Italian and German revolutionaries to overthrow the three major European autocracies, the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Kingdom of Prussia.

Bakunin played a leading role in the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849, helping to organize the defense of the barricades against Prussian troops with Richard Wagner and Wilhelm Heine. He was captured in Chemnitz and held for thirteen months before being condemned to death by the government of Saxony. As the governments of Russia and Austria were also after him, his sentence was commuted to life. In June 1850, he was handed over to the Austrian authorities. Eleven months later he received a further death sentence, but this too was commuted to life imprisonment. Finally, in May 1851, Bakunin was handed over to the Russian authorities.

Richard Wagner wrote in his diary about Bakunin's visit:[7]

First of all, however, with the view of adapting himself to the most Philistine culture, he had to submit his huge beard and bushy hair to the tender mercies of the razor and shears. As no barber was available, Rockel had to undertake the task. A small group of friends watched the operation, which had to be executed with a dull razor, causing no little pain, under which none but the victim himself remained passive. We bade farewell to Bakunin with the firm conviction that we should never see him again alive. But in a week he was back once more, as he had realised immediately what a distorted account he had received as to the state of things in Prague, where all he found ready for him was a mere handful of childish students. These admissions made him the butt of Rockel's good-humoured chaff, and after this he won the reputation among us of being a mere revolutionary, who was content with theoretical conspiracy. Very similar to his expectations from the Prague students were his presumptions with regard to the Russian people.

Imprisonment, "confession", and exile

Bakunin was taken to the notorious Peter and Paul Fortress. At the beginning of his captivity, Count Orlov, an emissary of the Emperor, visited Bakunin and told him that the Emperor requested a written confession[8] hoping that the confession would place Bakunin spiritually as well as physically in the power of the Russian state. Since all his acts were known, he had no secrets to reveal, and so he decided to write to the Emperor:

You want my confession; but you must know that a penitent sinner is not obliged to implicate or reveal the misdeeds of others. I have only the honor and the conscience that I have never betrayed anyone who has confided in me, and this is why I will not give you any names.

On reading the letter, Emperor Nicholas I, remarked, "He is a good lad, full of spirit, but he is a dangerous man and we must never cease watching him." This Confession, which was only published following its discovery in the imperial archives, has proved to be quite controversial, and is sometimes analysed within the context of a specifically Russian literary form.

After three years in the underground dungeons of the Fortress of St Peter and St Paul, he spent another four years in the castle of Shlisselburg. It was here that he suffered from scurvy and all his teeth fell out as a result of the appalling diet. He later recounted that he found some relief in mentally re-enacting the legend of Prometheus. His continuing imprisonment in these awful conditions led him to entreat his brother to supply him with poison.

Mikhail Bakunin and Antonia Kwiatkowska, circa 1861

Following the death of Nicholas I, the new Emperor Alexander II personally struck Bakunin's name off the amnesty list. However in February 1857, his mother's pleas to the Emperor were finally heeded and he was allowed to go into permanent exile in the western Siberian city of Tomsk. Within a year of arriving in Tomsk, Bakunin married Antonia Kwiatkowska, the daughter of a Polish merchant. He had been teaching her French. In August 1858 Bakunin received a visit from his second cousin, General Count Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky, who had been Governor of Eastern Siberia for ten years.

Muravyov was a liberal and Bakunin, as his relative, became a particular favourite. In the spring of 1859, Muravyov helped Bakunin with a job for Amur Development Agency which enabled him to move with his wife to Irkutsk, the capital of Eastern Siberia. This enabled Bakunin to be part of the circle involved in political discussions centred on Muravyov's colonial headquarters. Resenting the treatment of the colony by the Saint Petersburg bureaucracy, including its use as a dumping ground for malcontents, a proposal for a United States of Siberia emerged, independent of Russia and federated into a new United States of Siberia and America, following the example of the United States of America. The circle included Muravyov's young Chief of Staff, Kukel—who Kropotkin related had the complete works of Alexander Herzen– the civil governor Izvolsky, who allowed Bakunin to use his address for correspondence, and Muravyov's deputy and eventual successor, General Alexander Dondukov-Korsakov.

When Herzen criticised Muravyov in The Bell, Bakunin wrote vigorously in his patron's defence.[9] Bakunin tired of his job as a commercial traveller, but thanks to Muravyov's influence, was able to keep his sinecure (worth 2,000 roubles a year) without having to perform any duties. However Muravyov was forced to retire from his post as governor general, partly because of his liberal views and partly due to fears he might take Siberia towards independence. He was replaced by Korsakov, who perhaps was even more sympathetic to the plight of the Siberian exiles. Korsakov was also related to Bakunin, Bakunin's brother Paul having married his cousin. Taking Bakunin's word, Korsakov issued him with a letter giving him passage on all ships on the Amur River and its tributaries as long as he was back in Irkutsk when the ice came.

Escape from exile and return to Europe

On June 5, 1861, Bakunin left Irkutsk under cover of company business, ostensibly employed by a Siberian merchant to make a trip to Nikolaevsk. By July 17 he was on board the Russian warship Strelok bound for Kastri. However, in the port of Olga, Bakunin managed to persuade the American captain of the SS Vickery to take him on board. Despite bumping into the Russian Consul on board, Bakunin was able to sail away under the nose of the Russian Imperial Navy. By August 6 he had reached Hakodate in the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaidō and was soon in Yokohama. In Japan Bakunin met by chance Wilhelm Heine, one of his comrades-in arms from Dresden. He also met the German botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold who had been involved in opening up Japan to Europeans (particularly Russians and the Dutch) and was a friend of Bakunin's patron Muraviev.[10] Von Siebold's son wrote some 40 years later:

In that Yokohama boarding-house we encountered an outlaw from the Wild West Heine, presumably as well as many other interesting guests. The presence of the Russian revolutionist Michael Bakunin, in flight from Siberia, was as far as one could see being winked at by the authorities. He was well-endowed with money, and none who came to know him could fail to pay their respects.

He left Japan from Kanagawa on the SS Carrington, as one of nineteen passengers including Heine, Rev. P. F. Koe and Joseph Heco. Heco was a Japanese American, who eight years later played a significant role giving political advice to Kido Takayoshi and Itō Hirobumi during the revolutionary overthrow of the feudal Tokugawa shogunate.[11] They arrived in San Francisco on October 15. In the period before the trans-continental railroads had been completed, the quickest way to New York was via Panama. Bakunin boarded the Orizaba for Panama, where after waiting for two weeks he boarded the Champion for New York.

In Boston, Bakunin visited Karol Forster, a partisan of Ludwik Mieroslawski during the 1848 Revolution in Paris, and caught up with other "Forty-Eighters", veterans of the 1848 revolutions in Europe, such as Friedrich Kapp.[12] He then sailed for Liverpool arriving on December 27. Bakunin immediately went to London to see Herzen. That evening he burst into the drawing-room where the family was having supper. "What! Are you sitting down eating oysters! Well! Tell me the news. What is happening, and where?!"

Relocation to Italy

Having re-entered Western Europe, Bakunin immediately immersed himself in the revolutionary movement. In 1860, while still in Irkutsk Bakunin and his political associates had been greatly impressed by Giuseppe Garibaldi and his expedition to Sicily, during which he declared himself dictator in the name of Victor Emmanuel II. Following his return to London, he wrote to Garibaldi on 31 January 1862:

"If you could have seen as I did the passionate enthusiasm of the whole town of Irkutsk, the capital of Eastern Siberia, at the news of your triumphal march across the possession of the mad king of Naples, you would have said as I did that there is no longer space or frontiers".[13]

Bakunin asked Garibaldi to participate in a movement encompassing Italians, Hungarians and South Slavs against both Austria and Turkey. Garibaldi was then engaged in preparations for the Expedition against Rome. By May Bakunin's correspondence was focussing on Italian-slavic unity and the developments in Poland. By June, he had resolved to move to Italy, but was waiting for his wife to join him. When he left for Italy in August, Mazzini wrote to Maurizio Quadrio, one of his key supporters that Bakunin was a good and dependable person. However, with the news of the failure at Aspromonte Bakunin paused in Paris where he was briefly involved with Ludwik Mierosławski. However Bakunin rejected Mieroslawski's chauvinism and refusal to grant any concessions to the peasants. Bakunin returned to England in September and focussed on Polish affairs. When the Polish insurrection broke out in January 1863, he sailed to Copenhagen where he hoped to join the Polish Legion. They planned to sail across the Baltic in the SS Ward Jackson to join the insurrection. This attempt failed, and Bakunin met his wife in Stockholm before returning to London. Now he focussed again on going to Italy and his friend Aurelio Saffi wrote him letters of introduction for Florence, Turin and Milan. Mazzini wrote letters of commendation to Frederico Campanella in Genoa and Giuseppe Dolfi in Florence. Bakunin left London in November 1863 travelling by way of Brussels, Paris and Vevey (Switzerland) arriving in Italy on 11 January 1864. It was here that he first began to develop his anarchist ideas.

He conceived the plan of forming a secret organization of revolutionaries to carry on propaganda work and prepare for direct action. He recruited Italians, Frenchmen, Scandinavians, and Slavs into the International Brotherhood, also called the Alliance of Revolutionary Socialists.

By July 1866 Bakunin was informing Herzen and Ogarev about the fruits of his work over the previous two years. His secret society then had members in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, England, France, Spain, and Italy, as well as Polish and Russian members. In his Catechism of a Revolutionary of 1866, he opposed religion and the state, advocating the

absolute rejection of every authority including that which sacrifices freedom for the convenience of the state.[14]
Bakunin's membership card of the League of Peace and Freedom

During the 1867–1868 period, Bakunin responded to Emile Acollas's call and became involved in the League of Peace and Freedom (LPF), for which he wrote a lengthy essay Federalism, Socialism, and Anti-Theologism[15] Here he advocated a federalist socialism, drawing on the work of Proudhon. He supported freedom of association and the right of secession for each unit of the federation, but emphasized that this freedom must be joined with socialism for: "Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality."

Bakunin played a prominent role in the Geneva Conference (September 1867), and joined the Central Committee. The founding conference was attended by 6,000 people. As Bakunin rose to speak:

the cry passed from mouth to mouth: 'Bakunin!' Garibaldi, who was in the chair, stood up, advanced a few steps and embraced him. This solemn meeting of two old and tried warriors of the revolution produced an astonishing impression... Everyone rose and there was a prolonged and enthusiastic clapping of hands.[16]

At the Berne Congress of the League (1868) he and other socialists (Élisée Reclus, Aristide Rey, Jaclard, Giuseppe Fanelli, N. Joukovsky, V. Mratchkovsky and others) found themselves in a minority. They seceded from the League establishing their own International Alliance of Socialist Democracy which adopted a revolutionary socialist program.

The First International and the rise of the anarchist movement

Bakunin speaking to members of the IWA at the Basel Congress in 1869

In 1868, Bakunin joined the Geneva section of the First International, in which he remained very active until he was expelled from the International by Karl Marx and his followers at the Hague Congress in 1872. Bakunin was instrumental in establishing branches of the International in Italy and Spain.

In 1869, the Social Democratic Alliance was refused entry to the First International, on the grounds that it was an international organisation in itself, and only national organisations were permitted membership in the International. The Alliance dissolved and the various groups which it comprised joined the International separately.

Between 1869 and 1870, Bakunin became involved with the Russian revolutionary Sergey Nechayev in a number of clandestine projects. However, Bakunin broke with Nechaev over what he described as the latter’s “Jesuit” methods, by which all means were justified to achieve revolutionary ends.[17]

In 1870 Bakunin led a failed uprising in Lyon on the principles later exemplified by the Paris Commune, calling for a general uprising in response to the collapse of the French government during the Franco-Prussian War, seeking to transform an imperialist conflict into social revolution. In his Letters to A Frenchman on the Present Crisis, he argued for a revolutionary alliance between the working class and the peasantry and set forth his formulation of what was later to become known as propaganda of the deed:

we must spread our principles, not with words but with deeds, for this is the most popular, the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda.[18]

Bakunin was a strong supporter of the Paris Commune of 1871, which was brutally suppressed by the French government. He saw the Commune as above all a “rebellion against the State,” and commended the Communards for rejecting not only the State but also revolutionary dictatorship.[19] In a series of powerful pamphlets, he defended the Commune and the First International against the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, thereby winning over many Italian republicans to the International and the cause of revolutionary socialism.

Bakunin’s disagreements with Marx, which led to Bakunin’s expulsion from the International in 1872 after being outvoted by the Marx party at the Hague Congress, illustrated the growing divergence between the "anti-authoritarian" sections of the International, which advocated the direct revolutionary action and organization of the workers in order to abolish the state and capitalism, and the social democratic sections allied with Marx, which advocated the conquest of political power by the working class.

The anti-authoritarian sections created their own International at the St. Imier Congress and adopted a revolutionary anarchist program.[20] Although Bakunin accepted Marx’s class analysis and economic theories regarding capitalism, acknowledging "Marx’s genius", he thought Marx was arrogant, and that his methods would compromise the social revolution. More importantly, Bakunin criticized "authoritarian socialism" (which he associated with Marxism) and the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat which he adamantly refused.

If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself.[21]

Bakunin retired to Lugano in 1873 and died in Bern on July 1, 1876.

Political beliefs

Bakunin’s political beliefs rejected governing systems in every name and shape, from the idea of God downwards, and every form of external authority, whether emanating from the will of a sovereign or from universal suffrage. He wrote in Dieu et l’Etat (God and the State[22]), published posthumously in 1882:

The liberty of man consists solely in this, that he obeys the laws of nature because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been imposed upon him externally by any foreign will whatsoever, human or divine, collective or individual.

Bakunin similarly rejected the notion of any privileged position or class, since

it is the peculiarity of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the intellect and heart of man. The privileged man, whether he be privileged politically or economically, is a man depraved in intellect and heart.

Bakunin's political beliefs were based on several interrelated concepts: (1) liberty; (2) socialism; (3) federalism; (4) anti-theism; and (5) materialism. He also developed a (resultantly prescient)[23] critique of Marxism, predicting that if the Marxists were successful in seizing power, they would create a party dictatorship "all the more dangerous because it appears as a sham expression of the people's will."[24]


By "liberty", Bakunin did not mean an abstract ideal but a concrete reality based on the equal liberty of others. In a positive sense, liberty consists of "the fullest development of all the faculties and powers of every human being, by education, by scientific training, and by material prosperity." Such a conception of liberty is "eminently social, because it can only be realized in society," not in isolation. In a negative sense, liberty is "the revolt of the individual against all divine, collective, and individual authority."[25]

Collectivist anarchism

Bakunin's socialism was known as "collectivist anarchism," in which the workers would directly manage the means of production through their own productive associations. There would be "equal means of subsistence, support, education, and opportunity for every child, boy or girl, until maturity, and equal resources and facilities in adulthood to create his own well-being by his own labor."[26]


By federalism Bakunin meant the organization of society "from the base to the summit—from the circumference to the center—according to the principles of free association and federation."[26] Consequently, society would be organized "on the basis of the absolute freedom of individuals, of the productive associations, and of the communes," with "every individual, every association, every commune, every region, every nation" having "the absolute right to self-determination, to associate or not to associate, to ally themselves with whomever they wish."[26]


Bakunin argued that "the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice." Consequently, Bakunin reversed Voltaire's famous aphorism that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him, writing instead that "if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish Him."[22]


Bakunin denied religious concepts of "free will" and advocated a materialist explanation of natural phenomena: "the manifestations of organic life, chemical properties and reactions, electricity, light, warmth and the natural attraction of physical bodies, constitute in our view so many different but no less closely interdependent variants of that totality of real beings which we call matter" (Selected Writings, page 219). The "mission of science is, by observation of the general relations of passing and real facts, to establish the general laws inherent in the development of the phenomena of the physical and social world." However, Bakunin rejected the notion of "scientific socialism," writing in God and the State that a "scientific body to which had been confided the government of society would soon end by devoting itself no longer to science at all, but to quite another affair... its own eternal perpetuation by rendering the society confided to its care ever more stupid and consequently more in need of its government and direction."[22]

Bakunin's concept of social revolution

Bakunin’s methods of realizing his revolutionary program were consistent with his principles. The workers and peasants were to organize on a federalist basis, "creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself."[27] The worker's trade union associations would "take possession of all the tools of production as well as buildings and capital."[28] The peasants were to "take the land and throw out those landlords who live by the labor of others."[18] Bakunin looked to "the rabble," the great masses of the poor and exploited, the so-called "lumpenproletariat," to "inaugurate and bring to triumph the Social Revolution," as they were "almost unpolluted by bourgeois civilization."[29]

Critique of Marxism

The dispute between Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx highlighted the differences between anarchism and Marxism. Bakunin argued—against certain ideas of a number of Marxists–that not all revolutions need be violent. He also strongly rejected Marx's concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat", a concept that Marx's modern adherents use to interpret to mean what would be described as a "workers democracy", but which also maintains the state in existence during the transition to the Marxist economical system of "communism".[30] Bakunin, "who had now abandoned his ideas of revolutionary dictatorship",[30] insisted that revolutions must be led by the people directly while any "enlightened elite" must only exert influence by remaining "invisible...not imposed on anyone...[and] deprived of all official rights and significance".[31] He held that the state should be immediately abolished because all forms of government eventually lead to oppression.[30]

They [the Marxists] maintain that only a dictatorship—their dictatorship, of course—can create the will of the people, while our answer to this is: No dictatorship can have any other aim but that of self-perpetuation, and it can beget only slavery in the people tolerating it; freedom can be created only by freedom, that is, by a universal rebellion on the part of the people and free organization of the toiling masses from the bottom up.
— Mikhail Bakunin, Statism and Anarchism[32]

While both social anarchists and Marxists share the same final goal, the creation of a free, egalitarian society without social classes and government, they strongly disagree on how to achieve this goal. Anarchists believe that the classless, stateless society should be established by the direct action of the masses, culminating in social revolution, and refuse any intermediate stage such as the dictatorship of the proletariat, on the basis that such a dictatorship will become a self-perpetuating fundament. For Bakunin, the fundamental contradiction is that for the Marxists,

anarchism or freedom is the aim, while the state and dictatorship is the means, and so, in order to free the masses, they have first to be enslaved.[33]

However Bakunin also wrote of meeting Marx in 1844 that

As far as learning was concerned, Marx was, and still is, incomparably more advanced than I. I knew nothing at that time of political economy, I had not yet rid myself of my metaphysical observations... He called me a sentimental idealist and he was right; I called him a vain man, perfidious and crafty, and I also was right.[34]

Bakunin found Marx's economic analysis very useful and began the job of translating Das Kapital into Russian. In turn Marx wrote of the rebels in the Dresden insurrection of 1848 that "In the Russian refugee Michael Bakunin they found a capable and cool headed leader."[35] Marx wrote to Engels of meeting Bakunin in 1864 after his escape to Siberia saying "On the whole he is one of the few people whom I find not to have retrogressed after 16 years, but to have developed further."[36]

Bakunin was perhaps the first theorist of the "new class", the intellectuals and administrators forming the bureaucratic apparatus of the state. Bakunin argued that the "State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class: a priestly class, an aristocratic class, a bourgeois class. And finally, when all the other classes have exhausted themselves, the State then becomes the patrimony of the bureaucratic class and then falls—or, if you will, rises—to the position of a machine."[29]


Violence, revolution and "Invisible dictatorship"

Bakunin has been accused[who?] of being a closet authoritarian. In his letter to Albert Richard, he wrote that

[t]here is only one power and one dictatorship whose organisation is salutary and feasible: it is that collective, invisible dictatorship of those who are allied in the name of our principle.

However, Bakunin's supporters argue that this "invisible dictatorship" is not a dictatorship in any conventional sense of the word, as Bakunin was careful to point out that its members would not exercise any official political power:

this dictatorship will be all the more salutary and effective for not being dressed up in any official power or extrinsic character.[31]

Charles A. Madison claimed that

He [Bakunin] rejected political action as a means of abolishing the state and developed the doctrine of revolutionary conspiracy under autocratic leadership– disregarding the conflict of this principle with his philosophy of anarchism. Madison contended that it was Bakunin's scheming for control of the First International that brought about his rivalry with Karl Marx and his expulsion from it in 1872. His approval of violence as a weapon against the agents of oppression led to nihilism in Russia and to individual acts of terrorism elsewhere– with the result that anarchism became generally synonymous with assassination and chaos.[37]

Others reject this analysis, arguing that Bakunin never sought to take personal control over the International, the secret societies he organized were not subject to his autocratic power, and that he condemned terrorism as counter-revolutionary.[38]


Anarchist historian Max Nettlau described Bakunin's pan-slavism as being the result of a nationalist psychosis from which few are free. The publication of his Confession of 1851, written while a prisoner of the Tsar in the Peter-Paul fortress, was used to attack Bakunin because in it he asked the Emperor for forgiveness for his sins and begged him to place himself at the head of the slavs as both redeemer and father.


Bakunin is often seen as a notable anti-semite since his death.[39] Bakunin used anti-Jewish sentiments during his argument with Karl Marx; he claimed that Marxian communism, along with international banking cartels associated with Rothschild, was part of Jewish system of global exploitation;

This whole Jewish world, comprising a single exploiting sect, a kind of blood sucking people, a kind of organic destructive collective parasite, going beyond not only the frontiers of states, but of political opinion, this world is now, at least for the most part, at the disposal of Marx on the one hand, and of Rothschild on the other... This may seem strange. What can there be in common between socialism and a leading bank? The point is that authoritarian socialism, Marxist communism, demands a strong centralisation of the state. And where there is centralisation of the state, there must necessarily be a central bank, and where such a bank exists, the parasitic Jewish nation, speculating with the Labour of the people, will be found.[40][41]

In regards to his perceptions of Jewry, Bakunin is not entirely isolated within early anarchism, as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon made similar remarks (though Proudhon was a mutualist, while Bakunin was a collectivist).[42] Proudhon's notebooks, for example, contain a passage in which he calls for the expulsion of the Jews from France, or their extermination.[43]


His Eurocentrism manifested itself in his call for a United States of Europe, his support for Russian Colonialism, particularly as practised by his relative and patron Count Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky and his indifference to Japan and Japanese peasants during and after his brief stay in Yokohama.[44] (Japan was regarded as the most prominent revolutionary country in Asia following the Meiji Restoration of 1866–1869.) All these aspects of his thought however date from before he became an anarchist. Bakunin's conversion to anarchism was not till 1865, some years after his exile in Siberia and escape through Japan.[45]

Cultural references

Poster advertising a discussion of Bakunin's anarchism in 1975.

Works about Bakunin

English translations of Bakunin are generally rare when compared to the comprehensive editions in French (by Arthur Lehning), Spanish and German. Madelaine Grawitz’s biography (Paris: Calmann Lévy 2000) remains to be translated.

The standard English-language biography is by E. H. Carr. A new biography, Bakunin: The Creative Passion, by Mark Leier, was published by St. Martin’s Press August 22, 2006, hardcover, 320 pages, ISBN 0-312-30538-9

An eight-volume complete works of Bakunin is to be published at some point in the future by AK Press; according to Ramsey Kanaan these will likely be published yearly for eight years in hardcover format.

See also



  1. ^ Masters, Anthony (1974). Bakunin, the Father of Anarchism. Saturday Review Press. ISBN 0-8415-0295-1. 
  2. ^ Chomsky, Noam (1970). For Reasons of State. New York: Pantheon Books. (See especially title page and "Notes on Anarchism".)
  3. ^ Bakunin, Mikhail (1842). "The Reaction in Germany". In: Sam Dolgoff (1971, 1980), Bakunin on Anarchy.
  4. ^ On the 17th Anniversary of the Polish Insurrection of 1830, Mikhail Bakunin, La Réforme, December 14, 1847
  5. ^ Michael Bakunin A Biographical Sketch by James Guillaume
  6. ^ Appeal to the Slavs, Mikhail Bakunin, 1848, Bakunin on Anarchy, translated and edited by Sam Dolgoff, 1971.
  7. ^ Richard Wagner. "My Life — Volume 1". Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  8. ^ Confession to Tsar Nicholas I, Mikhail Bakunin, 1851
  9. ^ Bakunin, Yokohama and the Dawning of the Pacific by Peter Billingsley
  10. ^ Edgar Franz, Philipp Franz von Siebold and Russian Policy and Action on Opening Japan to the West in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century, Munich: Iudicum 2005
  11. ^ Joseph Heco (Narrative Writer) James Murdoch (Editor), The Narrative of a Japanese: What He Has Seen and the People He Has Met in the Course of the Last 40 Years, Yokohama, Yokohama Publishing Company (Tokyo, Maruzen), 1895, Vol II, pp 90–98
  12. ^ An Unpublished Letter of M.A. Bakunin to R. Solger, Robert M. Cutler, International Review of Social History 33, no. 2 (1988): 212–217
  13. ^ "Bakunin, Garibaldi e gli affari slavi 1862 - 1863" by Pier Carlo Massini and Gianni Bosio, Movimento Operaio year 4, No. 1 (Jan - Feb, 1952), p81
  14. ^ Revolutionary Catechism, Mikhail Bakunin, 1866, Bakunin on Anarchy, translated and edited by Sam Dolgoff, 1971.
  15. ^ Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism, Mikhail Bakunin, September 1867.
  16. ^ Bakunin's idea of revolution & revolutionary organisation published by Workers Solidarity Movement in Red and Black Revolution No.6, Winter 2002
  17. ^ Bakunin to Nechayev on the role of secret revolutionary societies, Mikhail Bakunin, June 2, 1870 letter to Sergey Nechayev
  18. ^ a b Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis, Mikhail Bakunin, 1870
  19. ^ The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State, Mikhail Bakunin, 1871
  20. ^ Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE to 1939), Robert Graham, Black Rose Books, March 2005
  21. ^ Quoted in Daniel Guerin, Anarchism: From Theory to Practice (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), pp.25-26.
  22. ^ a b c God and the State, Michael Bakunin, 1882
  23. ^ Noam Chomsky. "The Soviet Union Versus Socialism". Our Generation. Retrieved 2009-09-25. 
  24. ^ Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, ed. A. Lehning (New York: Grove Press, 1974), page 268
  25. ^ Man, Society, and Freedom, Mikhail Bakunin, 1871
  26. ^ a b c Revolutionary Catechism, Mikhail Bakunin, 1866
  27. ^ Mikhail Bakunin. "Works of Mikhail Bakunin 1871". Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  28. ^ Mikhail Bakunin. "Works of Mikhail Bakunin 1870". Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  29. ^ a b On the International Workingmen's Association and Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, 1872
  30. ^ a b c Woodcock, George (1962, 1975). Anarchism, 158. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140206221.
  31. ^ a b "Was Bakunin a secret authoritarian?". Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  32. ^ "Anarchist Theory FAQ Version 5.2". Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  33. ^ Mikhail Bakunin. "Works of Mikhail Bakunin 1873". Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  34. ^ Quoted in Brian Morris, Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom, 1993, p14
  35. ^ New York Daily Tribune (October 2, 1852) on 'Revolution and Counter Revolution in Germany'
  36. ^ Quoted in Brian Morris, Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom, 1993, p29
  37. ^ Madison, Charles A. (1945). "Anarchism in the United States". Journal of the History of Ideas 6 (1): 46–66. doi:10.2307/2707055. 
  38. ^ Bakunin, "Program of the International Brotherhood"(1868), reprinted in Bakunin on Anarchism, ed. S. Dolgoff
  39. ^ Paul McLaughlin. Mikhail Bakunin: The Philosophical Basis of His Theory of Anarchism. 2002. ISBN 1892941414 p. 4
  40. ^ Judaica 1950, p. 101
  41. ^ Wheen 1999, p. 340
  42. ^ Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin. Marshall Shatz. Statism and Anarchy. 1990. ISBN 0521369738
  43. ^ "Robert Graham, 'The General Idea of Proudhon's Revolution'". 2006-01-25. Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  44. ^ "Library". Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  45. ^ "Bakunin's idea of revolution and anarchist revolutionary organisation". Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  46. ^ "Mikhail Bakunin Reference Archive". Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  47. ^ Karl Marx. "Michael Bakunin by James Guillaume". Retrieved 2009-09-08. 


Further reading

External links

Radical Philosophy

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Cover of Radical Philosophy issue 141

Radical Philosophy is a UK-based academic journal of critical theory and continental philosophy, appearing six times a year. It was founded in 1972 in response to the widely felt discontent with what they perceived to be the sterility of academic philosophy at the time, with the purpose of providing a forum for the theoretical work which was emerging in the wake of the radical movements of the 1960s, in philosophy and other fields.[1]




The frontispiece declaration of the first issue outlined the aims of the group and its magazine:

"Contemporary British philosophy is at a dead end. Its academic practitioners have all but abandoned the attempt to understand the world, let alone change it. They have made philosophy into a narrow and specialised academic subject of little interest to anyone outside the small circle of professional philosophers...The Radical Philosophy group has been set up to challenge this situation...But we do not want to become exclusively preoccupied with the inadequacies of this type of philosophy. Our aim is to develop positive alternatives. For this there are other traditions which may inform our work (e.g. phenomenology and existentialism, Hegelian thought and Marxism). However, the group will not attempt to lay down a philosophical line. Our main aim is to free ourselves from the restricting institutions and orthodoxes of the academic world, and thereby to encourage important philosophical work to develop."


Cover of Radical Philosophy issue 127

As well as major academic articles, it has a large and diverse book reviews section and usually some news and at least one commentary on matters of topical interest. Although not associated with any specific left-wing position, the magazine was subtitled a 'Journal of Socialist and Feminist Philosophy' and has been broadly associated with the New Left. Editors of the journal since the early 1970s have included some of the most important Marxist and feminist thinkers in Britain. In recent years it has published articles by many of the most famous thinkers in the social sciences and humanities, from Judith Butler to Alain Badiou, Gayatri Spivak to Jacques Ranciere. It is probably the most widely read philosophical publication in Britain, and has a large circulation throughout the English-speaking world and beyond.[2]

Writers who have contributed to Radical Philosophy

Current editorial collective


  1. ^ Sean Sayers:
  2. ^ Sean Sayers: