jueves, 29 de octubre de 2009

Letter of América Scarfó to Emile Armand

Translation of an important document in the history of Argentinian anarchism and of anarchist thinking on amatory ethics. "I desire for all just what I desire for myself: the freedom to act, to love, to think. That is, I desire anarchy for all humanity."

Letter of América Scarfó to Emile Armand

Buenos Aires, 3 December 1928. To comrade E. Armand.

Dear Comrade,

The purpose of this letter is, first of all, to ask your advice. We have to act, in all moments of our lives, in accord with our own manner of seeing and thinking, in such a way that the reproaches and criticisms of other people find our individuality protected by the healthiest concepts of responsibility and liberty, which form a solid wall weakening their attacks. For this reason we should act consistently with our ideas.

My case, comrade, is of the amorous order. I am a young student who believes in the new life. I believe that, thanks to our free actions, individual or collective, we can arrive at a future of love, fraternity and equality. I desire for all just what I desire for myself: the freedom to act, to love, to think. That is, I desire anarchy for all humanity. I believe that in order to achieve this we should make a social revolution. But I am also of the opinion that in order to arrive at this revolution it is necessary to free ourselves from all kinds of prejudices, conventionalisms, false moralities and absurd codes. And, while we wait for this great revolution to break out, we have to carry out this work in all the actions of our existence. And indeed in order to make this revolution come about, we can't just content ourselves with waiting but need to take action in our daily lives. Wherever possible, we should act from the point of view of an anarchist, that is, of a human being.

In love, for example, we will not wait for the revolution, we will unite ourselves freely, paying no regard to the prejudices, barriers and innumerable lies that oppose us as obstacles. I have come to know a man, a comrade of ideas. According to the laws of the bourgeoisie he is married. He united himself with a woman as a consequence of a childish circumstance, without love. At that time he didn't know our ideas. However, he lived with this woman for a number of years, and they had children. He didn't experience the satisfaction that he should have felt with a loved one. Life became tedious, the only thing that united these two beings were the children. Still an adolescent, this man came to know our ideas, and a new consciousness was born in him. He turned into a brave militant. He devoted himself to propaganda with ardor and intelligence. All the love that he hadn't directed to a person he offered instead to an ideal. In the home, meanwhile, life continued with its monotony relieved only by the happiness of their small children. It happened that circumstances brought us together, at first as companions of ideas. We talked, we sympathised with each other, and we learned to know each other. Thus our love was born. We believed, in the beginning, that it would be impossible. He, who had loved only in dreams, and I, making my entrance into life. Each one of us continued living between doubt and love. Destiny -- or, better, love -- did the rest. We opened our hearts and our love and our happiness began to intone its song, even in the middle of the struggle, the ideal, which in fact gave us an even greater impulse. And our eyes, our lips, our hearts expressed themselves in the magic conjuring of a first kiss. We idealised love, but we were carrying it into reality. Free love, that knows no barriers, nor obstacles. The creative force that transports two beings through a flowery field, carpeted with roses -- and sometimes thorns -- but where we find always happiness.

Is it not the case that the whole universe is converted into an Eden when two beings love each other?

His wife also -- despite her relative knowledge -- sympathises with our ideas. When it came to it she gave proofs of her contempt for the hired killers of the bourgeois order as the police began to pursue my friend. That was how the wife of my comrade and I have become friends. She is fully aware of what the man who lived at her side represents to me. The feeling of fraternal affection that existed between them permitted him to confide in her. And he gave her freedom to act as she desired, in the manner of any conscientious anarchist. Until this moment, to tell the truth, we have lived really like in a novel. Our love became every day more intense. We cannot live altogether in common, given the political situation of my friend, and the fact that I have still not finished my studies. We meet, when we can, in different places. Isn't that perhaps the best way to sublimate love, distancing it from the preoccupations of domestic life? Although I am sure that when it is true love, the most beautiful thing is to live together.

This is what I wanted to explain. Some people here have turned into judges. And these are not to be found so much amongst common people but in fact amongst comrades of ideas who see themselves as free of prejudices but who, at bottom, are intolerant. One of these says that our love is a madness; another indicates that the wife of my friend is playing the role of "martyr", despite the fact that she is aware of everything that concerns us, is the ruler of her own person, and enjoys her freedom. A third raises the ridiculous economic obstacle. I am independent, just as is my friend. In all probability I will create a personal economic situation for myself that will free me from all worries in this sense.

Also, the question of the children. What do the children have to do with the feelings of our hearts? Why can't a man who has children love? It is as if to say that the father of a family cannot work for the idea, do propaganda, etc What makes them believe that those little beings will be forgotten because their father loves me? If the father were to forget his children he would deserve my contempt and there would exist no more love between us.

Here, in Buenos Aires, certain comrades have a truly meager idea of free love. They imagine that it consists only in cohabiting without being legally married and, meanwhile, in their own homes they carry on practicing all the stupidities and prejudices of ignorant people. This type of union that ignores the civil registrar and the priest also exists in bourgeois society. Is that free love?

Finally, they criticise our difference in age. Just because I am 16 and my friend is 26. Some accuse me of running a commercial operation; others qualify me as unwitting. Ah these pontiffs of anarchism! Making the question of age interfere with love! As if it the fact a brain reasons is not enough for a person to be responsible for their actions! On the other hand, it is my own problem, and if the difference in age means nothing to me, why should it matter to anyone else? That which I cherish and love is youth of the spirit, which is eternal.

There are also those who treat us as degenerates or sick people and other labels of this kind. To all these I say: why? Because we live life in its true sense, because we recognise a free cult of love? Because, just like the birds that bring joy to walkways and gardens, we love without paying any attention to codes or false morals? Because we are faithful to our ideas? I disdain all those who cannot understand what it is to know how to love.

True love is pure. It is the sun whose rays stretch to those who cannot climb to the heights. Life is something we have to live freely. We accord to beauty, to the pleasures of the spirit, to love, the cult that they deserve.

This is all comrade. I would like to have your opinion on my case. I know very well what I am doing and I don't need to be approved or applauded. Just that, having read many of your articles and agreeing with various points of view, it would make me content to know your opinion.


America Scarfo was 16 years old when she wrote this letter; the love she is referring to is none other than that of Severino di Giovanni. On the relationship between the two see Osvaldo Bayer's Severino di Giovanni. El idealista de la violencia, Planeta, Buenos Aires, 1999. Bayer says that before the letter "a squall had blown through Severino and América's relationship. The criticisms of comrades, the near irresolvable impediments to continuing the relationship, and her own family situation, caused a crisis in America, who rowed with Severino and told him that she was finishing the relationship. As in many a lovers' quarrel, a later meeting erased all these problems and sealed the union with still greater strength. America's letter to L’en dehors came from this reunion. It was in a sense an act to officialise the feelings that until then they had kept intimate between themselves."

The letter was published in L’en dehors on 20 January 1929 under the title "An Experience", together with the reply from E. Armand:

"Comrade: My opinion matters little in this matter you send me about what you are doing. Are you or are you not intimately in accord with your personal conception of the anarchist life? If you are, then ignore the comments and insults of others and carry on following your own path. No one has the right to judge your way of conducting yourself, even if it were the case that your friend's wife be hostile to these relations. Every woman united to an anarchist (or vice versa), knows very well that she should not exercise on him, or accept from him, domination of any kind."


Translation by Dariush Sokolov, Spanish original available here: http://ludditassexuales.blogspot.com/2009/06/america-scarfo-carta-emile-armand.html


(From "Anarchy: a Journal Of Desire Armed" , Fall-Winter, 1994-95)
It is idiotic that those who have figured things out are forced to wait for the mass of cretins who are blocking the way to evolve. The herd will always be the herd. So let's leave it to stagnate and work on our own emancipation (... ) Put your old refrains aside. We have had enough of always sacrificing ourselves for something. The Fatherland, Society and Morality have fallen (...) That's fine, but don't contribute to reviving new entities for us: the Idea, the Revolution, Propaganda, Solidarity; we don't give a damn. What we want is to live, to have the comforts and well-being we have a right to. What we want to accomplish is the development of our individuality in the full sense of the word, in its entirety The individual has a right to all possible well-being, and must try to attain it all the time, by any means..." (Hégot, an illegalist, writing to the anarchist journal Les Temps Nouveaux in 1903, on behalf of a "small circle" who shared his opinions.)

Parallel to the social, collectivist anarchist current there was an individualist one whose partisans emphasized their individual freedom and advised other individuals to do the same. Individualist anarchist activity spanned the full spectrum of alternatives to authoritarian society, subverting it by undermining its way of life facet by facet. The vast majority of individualist anarchists were caught in the trap of wage labor like their collectivist comrades and the proletariat in general: they had to work for peanuts or starve. Some individualists rebelled by withdrawing from the economy and forming voluntary associations to achieve self-sufficiency. Others took the route of illegalism, attacking the economy through the direct individual reappropriation of wealth. Thus theft, counterfeiting, swindling and robbery became a way of life for hundreds of individualists, as it was already for countless thousands of proletarians. The wave of anarchist bombings and assassinations of the 1890s (Auguste Vaillant, Ravachol, Emile Henry, Sante Caserio) and the practice of illegalism from the mid-1880s to the start of the First World War (Clément Duval, Pini, Marius Jacob, the Bonnot gang) were twin aspects of the same proletarian offensive, but were expressed in an individualist practice, one that complemented the great collective struggles against capital. The illegalist comrades were tired of waiting for the revolution. The acts of the anarchist bombers and assassins ("propaganda by the deed") and the anarchist burglars ("individual reappropriation") expressed their desperation and their personal, violent rejection of an intolerable society. Moreover, they were clearly meant to be exemplary , invitations to revolt.

All of society's snares lay in wait for the illegalists, and to survive they were forced to make compromises, such as dealing with organized crime. They were constantly at risk of being set up by informers and agents provocateurs. When their nearly inevitable arrests occurred, some made deals with the cops and turned in their friends; others did long prison terms. In France the laws were draconian then. Prisons were much worse and the penal colonies were basically death camps (1). The guillotines were constantly supplied with fresh meat. Hundreds of illegalists were imprisoned. Many abandoned their anarchist politics,degenerating to the point where they behaved in a completely mercenary way. What started out as a revolt against bourgeois society usually turned into a purely economic affair, reproducing the cycle of "crime" and repression.

Marius Jacob was one of the foremost exponents and practitioners of anarchist illegalism in pre-war France. He was born to working class parents in Marseilles on Sept. 27, 1879. After finishing school he went to sea to train as a sailor. His sailing included a long voyage along the west coast of Africa. At 16 he had to abandon his life as a sailor for health reasons, and returned to France. By then he had already been introduced to the anarchist milieu by a friend, and became an anarchist. Soon after, in 1896, at the end of the period of "propaganda by the deed" in France, he was set up by an agent provocateur who procured explosives for then snitched him off. He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment at age 17. After his release, the police systematically visited each of his employers and got him fired. Together with two anarchist friends be hatched a scheme to pass himself off as a senior police officer, and carried out a fake raid on a pawnshop in Marseilles in May, 1899. He then traveled to Spain and Italy. Upon his return to France he was arrested in Toulon, then imprisoned in Aix-la-Provenec. He escaped and turned to illegalism on a full-time basis.

Around 1900, Jacob formed a band of anarchist illegalists who specialized in burglaries and fencing stolen goods. The band was based in Paris but operated throughout France, as well as in Italy and Belgium. The band was well-organized and very professional. The members' activities fell into three main categories: the scouts, who went from town to town looking for homes whose owners were absent and collected the information necessary to make the break-ins function flawlessly; the burglars, with a set of first-rate tools at their disposal, valued at 10,000 francs (easily $2500); and a fencing operation to sell the loot. Jacob persuaded some of the members to contribute ten percent of their take to anarchist propaganda efforts; some, refused on individualist grounds, preferring to keep their share. The band stole only from "social parasites" like priests, the wealthy and military officers. They spared the poor and those whose occupations the considered useful, like doctors, architects and writers. By common agreement, murder was excluded as an option except in cases of legitimate self-defense. The band was armed. To minimize the, risk of violence, they perfected a system of door seats which they attached to all exits of the buildings they were "working" in, Jacob later admitted that he participated in 106 burglaries, whose take was estimated at 5 million francs (an estimate, by the way that Jacob considerably inflated). One of the most memorable break-ins was at the Cathedral of Tours, where the band stole 17th century tapestries valued at 200,000 francs. They left behind a graffito: "All-powerful god, find your thieves!"

In late 1903, three members of the band were caught in Abbeville by a cop, Provost, who was shot dead. The burglars escaped, but two were caught in a trap set for them in Paris, and this arrest led to the arrests of most of the members. After 18 months investigation by a magistrate, the trial of 23 out of. the 29 accused members began in March 1905. Most were found guilty: Jacob and Bour (who apparently killed Provost) were sentenced to hard labor for life in the penal colonies. Fourteen other members received sentences totaling 100 years. Another ten, among them Jacob's mother, were acquitted. Jacob was deported to the penal colony in the lies du Saint in January 1906 and served twenty years, including 8 years 11 months in chains. Due to a campaign for his release organized primarily by his mother, he was released in 1925. He took up work as a traveling salesman, selling hosiery and clothing until his death by a deliberate morphine overdose on Aug. 28, 1954. The accounts of his friends show that Marius Jacob did not commit suicide out of despair, but out of a calm desire to avoid the infirmities of old age.

Looking back on his experiences in 1948 Jacob observed: "I don't think that illegalism can free the individual in present-day society. If he manages to free himself of a few constraints using this means, the unequal nature of the struggle will create others that are even worse and, in the end, will lead to the loss of his freedom, the little freedom he had, and sometimes his life. Basically, illegalism, considered as an act of revolt, is more a matter of temperament than of doctrine. This is why it cannot have an educational effect on the working masses as a whole. By this, I mean a worthwhile educational effect


For good accounts of Jacob's life, see A. Sergeant's Un anarchiste de la belle epoque, Marius Jacob (Ed. Le Seuil, 1950), Bernard Thomas' Jacob (Ed. Tchou) and Jacob's text of Sept. 1948, Souvenirs d'un demi-siécle. Richard Parry's The Bonnot Gang (Rebel Pr.) is an excellent account of the illegalist individualists whose actions followed Jacob's arrest by a mere five years. Highly recommended. Finally, The Art of Anarchy (Cienfuegos Pr.) contains magnificent illustrations by anarchist Flavio Costantini that portray the actions of Jacob's band and of other illegatists.

1. For a good account of what the penal colonies were like, see Dry Guilliotine: Fifteen Years Among the Living Dead , René Belbenoit (E.P. Dutton, 1938)

martes, 13 de octubre de 2009

Historical Pessimism by Georges Palante


Source: Pessimisme et Individualisme. Paris, Alcan, 1914;
Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2006.


Historical pessimism is inspired by a retrospective ideal, an historic or even prehistoric ideal whose nostalgia haunts the thinker disgusted with the present. Two names can be put forward in this regard: de Gobineau and Nietzsche.

Count de Gobineau judges current civilization in the light of an ethnic type that is distant, almost prehistoric, or at least so little historical that it would be disappointing to write its history: the Aryan type. Nevertheless, Count de Gobineau thinks he can follow it throughout its evolution, its transformations and its deviations. “I compared,” he says, “ races among themselves. I chose one from among them that I saw as the best and I wrote ‘The History of the Persians’ in order to show, by the example of the Aryan nation the most isolated from its relatives, how powerless differences in climate, environment and circumstances are in changing or inhibiting the genius of a race.” His “Discourse on the Inequality of Races” traces the long vicissitudes and the irremediable degeneration of this type of superior humanity as a result of the mixing of bloods that adulterated it. “Ottar Jarl” tells of the ancestry of a Scandinavian hero of the ancient Nordic race from which Gobineau claimed to descend. The novel “The Pleiades” presents a few survivors of the noble Aryan race lost in the midst of unworthy contemporaries, but who don’t renounce the fight in this degraded milieu, succeeding in making their presence felt.

What are the moral and intellectual traits that constitute the Gobinien superman? These traits can be found in “The History of the Persians,” the “Discourse on the Inequality of Races,” in “Ottar Jarl” and “The Pleaides.” Gobineau places judgment in the first rank of the qualities that constitute the superior man. What he values in intelligence is not imagination, but judgment. Judgment is the superior characteristic of the Aryan. The Aryan is above all a man of judgment and action. For de Gobineau the true role of intelligence can only be that of a guide to action. The goal of intelligence is not to meditate, to build poems in the air, to withdraw into itself and to think for thinking’s sake. The role of intelligence is to see clearly and dictate actions. It should not be forgotten that de Gobineau is the descendant of a line of warriors, of politicians, of diplomats and a diplomat himself. His heredity, his traditions, his experience, his trade all led him to esteem above all else the qualities that constitute a man of action, a leader of men.

According to him the superior man is not the artist or the speculative writer: the superior man is he who is capable of commanding a people or an army, or the skillful diplomat. The qualities that constitute the Gobinien superman find themselves summed up in the portrait of the Viking. “In the personality of Ottar we find three clearly pronounced traits, and it is essential to engrave them from the start, for we will recognize one or another, if not all of them, in most of his descendants. The activity of intelligence, the ‘Vestfolding,’ carries it to all the points it can reach and that circumstances place within its sight. He is avid for knowledge, for he wants to know just how far his country extends, but he also doesn’t want occasions for gain and profit to be neglected. He is also sensible, for he doesn’t believe the speeches of the Bjarmes (priests) without reservation... Along with the activity of the intelligence he has the passion for independence, and on the day he has to submit to Erik’s domination he says no and goes into exile. He appreciates the advantages of wealth, but he appreciates even more not having to yield, and yields little. In the third place he is stubborn in his views...Understanding, independent, patient, these are three qualities from which as much good as evil result and are susceptible of diverse applications. In Ottar, issued from a pure race, we find its essence in all sincerity, with the maximum of energy, and exactly as the hero’s ancestors possessed it, receiving it from their blood.” It is the purity of blood that makes for strong individuality. “His race was pure and so his individuality was very strong. In him individuality was everything, agglomeration little or nothing. On the contrary, among more southern populations the blood had been noticeably altered: in the Franc become half-Roman, in the Roman rotted by Semitic mixtures. Everyone counted on everyone else, and while the Scandinavian, jealous of his liberty, only accepted temporary associations, those they vanquished found it good to hold a master or guide responsible for their will. It is this obedience, which then becomes a servility, that in truth constitutes not human culture – always ennobling – but civilization, vehicle of a contrary effect.” Another portrait of the Gobinien superman is that of the Englishman Nore in “The Pleaides.” “I am fantastic? Why? Am I less a man because I seem to you different from the model from which my contemporaries are carved? What do they and I have in common? Fantastic? Because I don’t care about their grandeur, their baseness, their distinctions, their humiliations, their elections, their means of making a fortune; not their fortunes or their problems! I would be a fantastic creature if, conceiving my desires in accordance with puerile imitation, I mixed in with them the things of common life, ever ready to abandon what are only dreams for banal reality from which I neither knew how to or wanted to detach myself. But thank god nothing like this exists...It is possible that creation, which randomly casts about disparate seeds, erred in my regard and having prepared me for another milieu inadvertently let me fall into this one. But for whatever reason, here I am! I am myself and no other, feeling in my way, understanding things with my own intelligence, and as incapable of renouncing what I once wanted, of abandoning the pursuit of what I desired, as incapable of demonstrating to myself that I was wrong as I am to renounce breathing for an hour!” Energy, independence, strong individualism, an intense sentiment of the personality: such are the traits of the Gobinien superman.

The humanity of today has badly degenerated from this superior type. Good brains and strong wills are rare, for they are in proportion with the excellence of the race. A character in “The Pleaides” says that there are still perhaps 3,000 “sons of kings,” superior men of Aryan race, three thousand well made brains and strongly beating hearts. “The rest is a vile mass that makes up the triple tribe of imbeciles, brutes and scoundrels, the current form of European barbarism. Not youthful, brave, daring, picturesque, happy barbarism, but a suspicious, glum, bitter, ugly one that will kill all and create nothing.” What is horrible to think about is that these few superior brains, these few strongly beating hearts, lost in the mass, can do nothing to raise up the ruins and bring decadence to a halt. This was seen once before, at the end of the Roman Empire.

“It can be argued of the work of these great men that, despite the universal decomposition, there were yet firm and honest hearts in the Empire. Who denies this? I am speaking of multitudes and not of individuals. Could these noble intelligences stop for one minute the rotting of the social body? No. The most noble intelligences didn’t convert the crowd, didn’t give it heart.” The presence of a few of the Just couldn’t save Sodom. It is the same today. The few survivors of the ancient virtues of the race cannot today stop European decomposition. When the mixing of blood has degraded a race to a certain degree there is nothing to be done. All that is left is to dispassionately witness the death of the race. Such is Gobinen pessimism. A complete, definitive, and hopeless ethnic and social pessimism. We find a strong expression of it in the pages where de Gobineau combats the thesis of humanity’s indefinite progress, as well as in the final pages of the “Essay.” “The prediction that makes us sad is not death, it’s the certitude of arriving there degraded. And perhaps that shame reserved to our descendants would leave us indifferent if we didn’t feel, by a secret horror, that destiny’s rapacious hands are already posed upon us.”

By virtue of the law we seek to establish, Gobinen pessimism turns into individualism. Stoic individualism, isolatedly ferocious, haughty and despairing. The Aryan is always recognized by his indomitable individuality. In the presence of a civilization he hates and holds in contempt he doesn’t resign himself. He stiffens in the haughty attitude of a wounded aristocrat. “I don’t care what will result from your changes,” a character of “The Pleaides” says, in whom it is believed Gobineau incarnated himself, “I don’t know future morals so that I can approve of them, future costumes so I can admire them, future institutions so that I can respect them, and I maintain that what I approve, what I admire, what I love is gone! I have nothing to do with what will succeed them. Consequently, you don’t console me by announcing the triumph of parvenus who I don’t care to know.” The same character says elsewhere: “It doesn’t please me to see a once great people now laid low, impotent, paralyzed, half-rotted, decomposing, surrendered to stupidities, miseries, evil, ferocity, cowardice, the weaknesses of a senile childhood, and good for nothing except death, which I sincerely hope for so that it escape from the dishonor in which it wallows, laughing like imbeciles.” Someone asks of this despairing character: “No religion, no fatherland, no skill, no love. The void has been installed. The tables have been swept clean. Absolutely nothing is left. What do you conclude? I conclude that man is left. And if he has the strength to look his own will in the face and to find it solid we have the right to say that he possesses something. And what, I ask you? Stoicism. Times like these have always produced this severe authority.” This is also Gobineau’s response. This is the stoic individualism in which he takes refuge. Nevertheless, de Gobineau fights up to the bitter end. Even though isolated, even though his efforts are made sterile because of his isolation, he continues to work in the direction of grandiose dream, whose vague and magnificent perspective his imagination of the superman has allowed him to glimpse. Despite it all, he has enough pride to create for himself an ideal he won’t betray, a goal he will pursue. A table of human values, a scale whose summit he will occupy in a sterile but splendid isolation. In a way he recalls the symbols of Leconte de Lisle in his energy, his disdain, and his despair.

The wounded wolf who stays silent so as to die,
And who twists the knife in his bleeding mouth

Nietzsche at a certain time became enamored of an ethnic ideal no less ancient and no less uncertain than the Gobinist ideal. He was enamored of primitive Hellenism, the radiant and prestigious Hellenism of “The Origins of Tragedy,” i.e., the primitive Greek soul, at one and the same time Dionysian and Apollonian. The Greek soul in which the apotheosis of the ardent, overabundant, joyous, exalted and triumphant life is summarized, as well as the beauty, the purity of line, the nobility of attitude, the majesty of the face and the serenity of the gaze. It is with this magical image that Nietzsche confronts current civilization, with its regulated and domesticated societies, with its tyrannical and servile democracy, with its depressing Christianity, with its narrow-minded morality, which weakens and makes ugly. And he too sounds the alarm issued by de Gobineau: Decadence! Decadence!

In truth, Nietzsche’s pessimism, like that of Gobineau, doesn’t lack for a secret relationship with romantic pessimism. There is much romanticism in the historical pessimism of Gobineau and Nietzsche. If these two thinkers take refuge in the past it is because the present brings only vulgarity and ugliness, it’s that they situate their grandiose dreams of impenitent romantics in a vanished utopia and uchronia. Whatever the case, by virtue of a law whose effects we are following, the pessimism of Nietzsche, like that of Gobineau, turns into individualism. It is true that the nuance in Nietzschean individualism is more difficult to determine than in that of Gobinien individualism. Gobineau’s individualism is a despairing stoicism, an isolation of the defeated man of action, of a haughty thinker taking refuge in an ivory tower, from the heights of which he witnesses the slow agony of a world without either force or beauty.

Nietzsche’s individualism is clearly an anti-social individualism. But is that anti-societism absolute or relative, provisional or definitive? Does Nietzsche indict only modern society or all societies? Nietzsche’s ideas on this subject is somewhat unclear. “Modern societies,” says M. Faguet, “are anti-Nietszchean in their nature, and Nietzsche cannot prevent himself from being, and especially appearing, anti-social. Certainly (and why not recognize this?) he must have had moments of anti-societism and have said to himself: ‘It is possible that life as I conceive it was simply savage life and it can only be fully and brilliantly realized in the state of nature or in that primitive state of little organized societies that we sometimes call the state of nature. At heart, it is social invention that is against me.’ He could have told himself this, though he didn’t write it anywhere, he who wrote everything that he thought with so much bravura and daring. He could have thought this on several occasions and for my part I know him to be too intelligent to doubt that he had this thought. But persuaded, perhaps erroneously, that there was a race – that is the Greeks – that was organized in a society and that created the free, beautiful and strong life, he didn’t stop at anti-social thought, leaving to a few of his disciples the task or the pleasure of deducing his premises. What of which he carried out a penetrating, subtle and uncompromising criticism of was modern society.” It is difficult to determine the exact place that anti-societism occupies in Nietzschean philosophy and the scope that Nietzsche attributed to it. At certain moments this anti-societism attacks modern society, at others it seems to attack the very conditions of social life. Is Nietzsche’s anti-societism radical, as radical as that of Stirner, when Nietzsche violently protests against the conduct and the virtues that every society imposes on its members: the spirit of consistency and a spirit of adaptation and obedience to the rules; when on the contrary he glorifies the faculties and energies stifled by life in society; when along with Stirner he celebrates that happy freedom of the instincts, horror of the rule, love of the fortuitous, the uncertain, the unforeseen? Nietzsche’s social philosophy seems here to be an absolute and definitive anti-societism, it seems to summarize the common basis of social pessimism and individualism: the perception of a natural, profound and – in a way – psychological antinomy between the individual and society, the individual having instincts that do not yield before social life, since man is not adapted to social life, which wounds him like a poorly made shoe. Seen in this way Nietzschean individualism is profoundly anti-social and Strinerite; it is a revolt not only against our society, but against any society, future or possible.

But it is only fair to remark that in certain aspects of his philosophy, which are perhaps not the least important, Nietzsche puts the lie to this rebellious attitude, or at least places it in a secondary position and subordinates it to an ideal of a human grandeur still possible and realizable in the future.

An important difference separates Nietzsche from Gobineau in this regard. It’s the concept of the Superman, which is in opposition to the Gobinien law of the necessary limitations on the resources of human aptitude. This law is formulated in the “Discourse on Inequality:” “Man,” says de Gobineau, “was able to learn certain things; he has forgotten many others. He has not added a single sense to his senses, a member to his members, a faculty to his soul. He has done nothing but turn to another side of the circle that is his lot.” De Gobineau closes humanity into a narrow circle of capacities and works. He assigns him unsurpassable limits within which he can, it is true, regress, but which his physiology forbids him from ever surpassing. From this flows the theory of irremediable decadence once human races are adulterated through mixing, and Gobineau’s hopeless pessimism. Opposed to this is the concept of the Superman. While de Gobineau looks on the superior human race as definitively fallen from its original purity and beauty, Nietzsche, he too theoretician of decadence, performs a sudden about face. At a certain moment in the development of his thought, and in what is perhaps an example of inconsistency, he introduces into his philosophy the strange concept of the Superman, that is, of a humanity called on to indefinitely surpass itself, to make itself indefinitely superior to itself, incomparable to itself, incommensurable with itself. Through this unexpected change in front Nietzsche displaces his human ideal. He transports it from the rear to the front, from the past to the future. From historic and retrospective this ideal becomes futuristic. The human ideal is no longer the primitive Hellenism from which we are fallen, it is the Superman of tomorrow. In this way Nietzsche superimposes or rather substitutes for his theory of decadence a theory of indefinite progress. And decadence itself takes on a new meaning. Nietzsche admits that the current decadence is a period of transition from which will come a society containing the possibility of nobility and beauty. He only rejects current society in the hope of finding a society hospitable to great souls, a society where masters will reign and where great things will yet be done. At those moments Nietzsche is not a hopeless pessimist like the Count de Gobineau, nor is he an anti-social individualist , a theoretician of revolt for revolt’s sake like Stirner. On the contrary, he is then, or wants to be, a creator of values, the founder of a society, a prophet, a priest.

And so Nietzsche’s attitude towards the problem of the relations between the individual and society are not clear. But through its very lack of decisiveness it confirms the psychological law that we are attempting to establish: the correlation between individualism and pessimism. At those moments when Nietzsche is optimistic, when he believes in the Superman, he is not an anti-social individualist. He repudiates Stirnerite individualism as a manifestation of the “slave revolt,” as one of the symptoms of our modern decadence. On the other hand, at those times when Nietzsche is pessimistic, at those times when he says that the Greek miracle was unique and we have no chance of reviving it, he shows himself to be an uncompromising enemy of society and hater of social ties. He expresses an anti-societism as radical, as absolute as that of Stirner.

Misanthropic Pessimism by Georges Palante


Source: Pessimisme et Individualisme. Paris, Alcan, 1914;
Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2006.


The pessimism we want to study now is that which we have called misanthropic pessimism. This pessimism doesn’t proceed from an exasperated and suffering sensibility, but from a lucid intelligence exercising its critical clear-sightedness on the evil side of our species. Misanthropic pessimism appears in its grand lines as a theory of universal fraud and universal imbecility; of universal nanality and universal turpitude. As the pitiless painting of a world peopled with cretins and swindlers, of ninnies and fools.

The character of this pessimism appears as a universal coldness, a willed impassibility, an absence of sentimentalism that distinguishes it from romantic pessimism, ever inclined to despair or revolt. The mute despair of Vigny is more pathetic than a cry of pain. In Stirner we find frantic accents of revolt, while in Schopenhauer we find a tragic sentiment of the world’s pain and a despairing appeal to the void. As for the misanthropic pessimist, he makes no complaints. He doesn’t take the human condition as tragic, he doesn’t rise up against destiny. He observes his contemporaries with curiosity, pitilessly analyzes their sentiments and thoughts and is amused by their presumption, their vanity, their hypocrisy, or their unconscious villainy, by their intellectual and moral weakness. It is no longer human pain, it is no longer the sickness of living that forms the theme of this pessimism, but rather human villainy and stupidity. One of the preferred leitmotivs of this pessimism could be this well-known verse: “The most foolish animal is man.”

The foolishness that this pessimism particularly takes aim at is that presumptuous and pretentious foolishness that we can call dogmatic foolishness, that solemn and despotic foolishness that spreads itself across social dogmas and rites, across public opinion and mores, which makes itself divine and reveals in its views on eternity a hundred petty and ridiculous prejudices. While romantic pessimism proceeds from the ability to suffer and curse, misanthropic pessimism proceeds from the faculty to understand and to scorn. It is a pessimism of the intellectual, ironic, and disdainful observer. He prefers the tone of persiflage to the minor and tragic tone. A Swift symbolizing the vanity of human quarrels in the crusade of the Big-endians and the Little-endians, a Voltaire mocking the metaphysical foolishness of Pangloss and the silly naiveté of Candide; a Benjamin Constant consigning to the Red Notebook and the Journal Intime his epigrammatic remarks on humanity and society; a Stendhal, whose Journal and Vie de Henri Brulard contain so many misanthropic observations on his family, his relations, his chiefs, his entourage; a Merimée, friend and emulator of Stendhal in the ironic observation of human nature; a Flaubert attacking the imbecility of his puppets Frederic Moureau and Bouvard and of Pécuchet; a Taine in “Thomas Graindorge;” a Challemel-Lacour in his Reflexions d’un pessimiste can all be taken as the representative types of this haughty, smiling, and contemptuous pessimistic wisdom.

In truth, this pessimism isn’t foreign to a few of the thinkers we have classed under the rubric of romantic pessimism, for the different types of pessimism have points of contact and penetration. A Schopenhauer, a Stirner have also exercised their ironic verve on human foolishness, presumption and credulity. But in them misanthropic pessimism can’t be found in its pure state. It remains subordinated to the pessimism of suffering, of despair or of revolt, to the sentimental pathos that is the characteristic trait of romantic pessimism. Misanthropic pessimism could perhaps be called realistic pessimism: in fact, in more than one of its representatives (Stendhal, Flaubert) it proceeds from that spirit of exact, detailed and pitiless observation, from the concern for objectivity and impassivity that figure among the characteristic traits of the realist esthetic. Does misanthropic pessimism confirm the thesis according to which pessimism tends to engender individualism? This is not certain. Among the thinkers we just cited there are certainly some who neither conceived, nor practiced, nor recommended the attitude of voluntary isolation that is individualism. Though they had no illusions about men they did not flee their society. They didn’t hold them at a disdainful distance. They accepted to mix with them, to live their lives in their midst. Voltaire was sociability incarnate. Swift, a harsh man of ambition had nothing of the solitary nature of Obermann and Vigny. But there are several among the misanthropic pessimists we just cited, particularly Flaubert and Taine, who practiced, theorized, and recommended intellectual isolation, the retreat of thought into itself as the sole possible attitude for a man having any kind of refinement of thought and nobility of soul in this world of mediocrity and banality

Flaubert, haunted by the specter of “stupidity with a thousand faces” finds it wherever he looks. He seeks refuge against it in the pure joys of art and contemplation. He said: “I understood one great thing: it’s that for the men of our race happiness is in the idea and nowhere else.” “Where does your weakness come form?” he wrote to a friend. “Is it because you know man? What difference does it make? Can’t you, in thought, establish that superb line of interior defense that keeps you an ocean’s width from your neighbor?”

To a correspondent who complains of worry and disgust with all things: “There is a sentiment,” he writes,” or rather a habit that you seem to be lacking, to wit, the love of contemplation. Take life, the passions, and yourself as subjects for intellectual exercises.” And again: “Skepticism will have nothing of the bitter, for it will seem that you are at humanity’s comedy and it will seem to you that history crosses the world for you alone.”

Taine was led by his misanthropic vision of humanity to a stoic and ascetic conception of life, to looking on the intelligence as the supreme asylum in which to isolate himself, to defend himself from universal wickedness, universal stupidity, and universal banality. A singular analogy unites Taine to Flaubert. Taine asks of scientific analysis what Flaubert asks of art and contemplation: an intellectual alibi, a means of escape from the realities of the social milieu.

This deduction is logical. Misanthropic pessimism supposes or engenders contemplative isolation. In order to intellectually despise men one must separate oneself from them, see them from a distance. One must have left the herd, have arrived at Descartes’ attitude which “lives in the midst of men like amidst the trees in a forest.” Whether we wish it or not, there is here a theoretical isolation, a kind of intellectual solipsism, the indifference of an aristocrat and a dilettante who “detaches himself from all in order to roam everywhere.” (Taine)

Let us add that the clear-sightedness of the misanthropic intellectual has, in and of itself, something antisocial about it. To take as the theme for one’s irony the common and average human stupidity means treating without respect a social value of the first order. Stupidity is the stuff of the prejudices without which no social life is possible. It is the cement of the social edifice. “Stupidity,” said Dr. Anatole France’s Trublet, “is the first good of an ordered society.” Social conventions only survive thanks to a general stupidity that envelops, supports, guarantees, protects, and consecrates the stupidity of individuals. This is why critical, ironic, and pessimistic intelligence is a social dissolvent. It is irreverent towards that which is socially respectable: mediocrity and stupidity. It attacks respect and credulity, the conservative elements of society.

The Relationship Between Pessimism and Individualism by Georges Palante


Source: Pessimisme et Invidualisme. Paris, Alcan, 1914;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2006.


The century that just passed is without a doubt that in which pessimism found its most numerous, its most varied, its most vigorous and its most systematic interpreters. In addition, individualism was expressed in that century with exceptional intensity by representatives of high quality.

It could be interesting to bring together these two forms of thought, dominant in our era; to ask what is the logical or sentimental connection that exists between them, and to what degree pessimism engenders individualism and individualism engenders pessimism.

But the question thus posed is too general. There are many kinds of pessimism and many kinds of individualism. Among the latter there is one that in no way implies pessimism, and that is the doctrinaire individualism that issues from the French Revolution and to which so many moralists, jurists, and politicians of our century are attached. This individualism could take as its motto the phrase of Wilhelm von Humboldt that Stuart Mill chose as the epigraph of his “Essay on Liberty”: “The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument unfolded in these pages directly converges, is the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity.” Individualists of this kind believe that all human individuals can harmonically develop in society, that their very diversity is a guarantee of the richness and beauty of human civilization.

These individualists are rationalists. They have faith in reason, the principle of order, of unity, and of harmony. They are idealists: they have faith in an ideal of social justice. unitarian and egalitarian, they believe, despite individual differences and inequalities, in the profound and real unity of human kind. These individualists are “humanists” in the sense that Stirner gives to this word: solidarists, socialists, if we take this latter term in its largest sense. Their individualism is turned outwards, towards society. It’s a social individualism, in the sense that it doesn’t separate the individual from society, which they don’t place in opposition to each other. On the contrary, they always consider the individual as a social element that harmonizes with the all and that only exists in function of the all. We will not insist upon this individualism, which obviously implies a more or less firm social optimism.

The individualism we have in mind here is completely different. This individualism is not a political, juridical and moral doctrine, but a psychological and moral attitude, a form of sensibility, a personal sensation of life and a personal will to life.

It is impossible to fix in a definition all the traits, all the degrees, all the nuances of this psychological disposition. It affects a special tone in every soul in which it makes itself known.

We can say that as a personal sensation of life, individualism is the sentiment of uniqueness, of individuality in what it has of the differential, the private, and the un-revealable. Individualism is an appeal to the interiority of sentiment, to individual inspiration in the face of social conventions and ready-made ideas. Individualism implies a sentiment of personal infallibility, an idea of intellectual and sentimental superiority, of inner artistocratism. Of irreducible difference between an ego and an other, the idea of uniqueness. Individualism is a return to the self and a gravitation to the self.

As personal will to life individualism is a desire to “be oneself,” according to the wish of a character from Ibsen (Peer Gynt), a desire for independence and originality. The individualist wants to be his own maker, his own furnisher of truth and illusion; his own builder of truth and illusion; his own builder of dreams; his own builder and demolisher of ideals. This wish for originality can, incidentally, be more or less energetic, more or less demanding, more or less ambitious. More or less happy, too, according to the quality and the value of the individuality in cause, according to the amplitude of the thought and according to the intensity of, the will to, individual might.

Be it as personal sensation of life or as personal will to life, individualism is or tends to be anti-social: if it is not so from the start, it later and inevitably becomes so. Sentiment of the profound uniqueness of the ego, desire for originality and independence, individualism cannot help but provoke the sentiment of a silent struggle between the individual self and society. In fact, the tendency of every society is to reduce the sentiment of individuality as much as possible: to reduce uniqueness through conformism, spontaneity through discipline, instantaneousness of the self through caution, sincerity of sentiment through the lack of sincerity inherent in any socially defined function, confidence and pride in the self through the humiliation inseparable from any kind of social training. This is why individualism necessarily has the sentiment of a conflict between its ego and the general ego. Individualism becomes here a principle of passive or active inner resistance, of silent or declared opposition to society, a refusal to submit oneself to it; a distrust of it. In its essence, individualism holds in contempt and negates the social bond. We can define it as a will to isolation, a sentimental and intellectual, theoretical and practical commitment to withdraw from society, if not in fact - following the examples of the solitaries of the Thebeiad and the more modern one of Thoreau - at least in sprit and intention, by a kind of interior and voluntary retreat. This distancing from society, this voluntary moral isolation that we can practice in the very heart of society can take on the form of indifference and resignation as well as that of revolt. It can also assume the attitude of the spectator, the contemplative attitude of the thinker in an Ivory Tower. But there is always in this acquired indifference, in this resignation or this spectatorial isolation, a remnant of interior revolt.

Sentiment of uniqueness and more or less energetic expression of the will to personal power; will to originality, will to independence, will to insubordination and revolt, will to isolation and to withdrawal into the self. Sometimes also will to supremacy, to the deployment of force on and against others, but always with a return to the self, with a sentiment of personal infallibility, with an indestructible confidence in oneself, even in defeat, even in the failure of hopes and ideals. Intransigence, inaccessibility of internal conviction, fidelity to oneself up to the bitter end. Fidelity to one’s misunderstood ideas, to one’s impregnable and unassailable will: individualism is all this, either globally or in detail, this element or that, this nuance or that predominating according to the circumstances and the case.

Individualism, understood as we just expressed it, that is, as an internal disposition of the soul, individualism as sensation and will is no longer, like the individualism of which we spoke above, like political and juridical individualism, turned outwards and subordinated to social life, to its constraints, its demands and obligations. It is turned inwards. It places itself at the beginning or seeks refuge in the end in the unbreakable and intangible interior being.

To say that there is a close psychological relationship between the individualist and pessimist sensibilities means almost stating the obvious. Pessimism supposes a basic individualism. It supposes that interiority of sentiment, that return to the self (almost always painful) that is the essence of individualism. While optimism is nothing but an abstract metaphysical thesis, the echo of doctrinal hearsay, pessimism is a sensation of lived life; it comes from the inner, from an individual psychology. It proceeds from what is most intimate in us: the ability to suffer. It predominates among those of a solitary nature who live withdrawn into themselves and see social life as pain. Thoroughbred pessimists, the great artists and theoreticians of suffering, lived solitary and as strangers in the midst of men, retrenched in their ego as if in a fortress from which they let fall an ironic and haughty gaze on the society of their kind. And so it is not by accident, but by virtue of an intimate psychological correlation that pessimism is accompanied by a tendency towards egotistic isolation.

Inversely, the individualist spirit is almost fatedly accompanied by pessimism. Does not experience as old as the world teach us that in nature the individual is sacrificed to the species? That in society it is sacrificed to the group? Individualism arrives at a resigned or hopeless noting of the antinomies that arise between the individual and the species on one hand, and between the individual and society on the other.

Life doubtless perpetually triumphs over this antinomy, and the fact that despite it all humanity continues to live can appear to be an unarguable reply that refutes both pessimism and individualism. But this is not certain. For if humanity as a species and as a society pursues its destiny without worrying about individuals’ complaints or revolts, individualism does not die for all that. Always defeated, never tamed, it is incarnated in souls of a special caliber, imbued with the sentiment of their uniqueness and strong in their will to independence. Individualism suffers a defeat in every individual who dies after having served ends and surrendered to forces that are beyond him. But he survives himself through the generations, gaining in force and clarity as the human will to life intensifies, diversifies and becomes refined in individual consciousness. It is thus that is affirmed the dual consistency of pessimism and individualism, indissolubly united and interconnected.

Nevertheless, it is possible that this psychological tie that we believe we have discovered between pessimism and individualism is nothing but an a priori view. If instead of reasoning about psychological likelihoods we consult the history of ideas of the 19th century we will perhaps see that the relationship of ideas that we have just indicated is neither as simple nor as consistent as at first appears. We must penetrate in detail the different forms of pessimism and individualism and more closely analyze their relationship if we want to arrive at precise ideas.

The Future of Pessimism and Individualism by Georges Palante


Source: Pessimisme et Individualisme. 1914, Alcan, Paris;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2006.


Everything in current social evolution indicates an increased reinforcement of society’s powers, an increasingly marked tendency towards the encroachment of the collective on the individual.

Everything equally indicates that on the part of most individuals this encroachment will be less and less felt, and will provoke less and less resistance and rebellion. Social conformism and optimism will thus clearly have the last word. Society will emerge victorious over the individual. There will come a moment when social chains will wound almost no one, lacking people sufficiently in love with independence and sufficiently individualized to feel these chains and suffer from them. Lacking combatants, the combat will come to an end. The small independent minority will become increasingly small.

But however small it might be, it will suffer from the increased social pressure. It will represent, in this time of almost perfect conformism and generalized social contentment, pessimism and individualism.

Palante Reviews Palante by Georges Palante


Source: Mercure de France, Dec 1, 1912 (Vol 100 no. 371);
Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2006.

This article appeared as one of Palante’s reviews in the December 1912 issue of “Mercure de France.” The pretext is a review of his book “Les Antinomies entre l’individu et la société,” which he uses to attack the academic philosophical establishment.


The individualist is, by his very essence, immoralist and atheist. On one hand social religiosity, on the other religious and social atheism: this is how the dilemma is posed. As for me, I have made my choice. I have opted for social atheism. I have expressed this atheism for the past fifteen years in a series of works of which the latest, Les Antinomies entre l’individu et la société (The Antinomies Between the Individual and Society) is a doctoral dissertation that was refused by the Sorbonne. I owe my readers an explanation on this subject.

Some among them could ask how it is that the individualist, the social atheist that I am could blithely have submitted his ideas to the verdict of an official jury. Some considered that I failed in my individualism by supposing that my thesis could be accepted and my ideas assimilated by the Sorbonnic directors of thought. Several have even, in a friendly fashion, reproached me for this: “What were you doing with that crowd?” As excuse I will first answer that in presenting my thesis I fully intended to not sacrifice the measure of my ideas. And then, I proposed to carry out a social experiment: to see how far the tolerance and liberalism of thought of my judges went. The experiment has been completed: it gave the predicted results. It even surpassed my expectations. The limits of this tolerance are even narrower than I had thought. Never was a dissertation refused with greater haste, more offhandedly. From the very beginning my judges judged my thought unassimilable. Ordinarily, when a doctoral candidate presents himself at the Sorbonne he receives neither the assent nor the complete refusal of the judges. He must submit his work to so many modifications that it is impossible for the judges to not recognize themselves and then refuse a work to which they have made such a large contribution. They admire themselves in their work and in their student.

If my work was immediately refused it is without any doubt because I completely lack the qualities of a student and that, however unimportant my thought, it at least has the merit of being mine.

And it is this is what my readers ask of me. It is me that search for in my work, and not an image of contemporary philosophy multiplied in a hundred copies of the ideas of my judges, MM. Séailles and Bouglé. I thus find myself amply justified and glorified in my attitude by this striking certificate of intellectual independence granted me by the Sorbonne.

Among my readers, only those with an interest in social order will be disquieted by the casualness with which they cast aside a work which, whatever the case, represents a serious and sincere effort at thought. There are a certain number of good spirits who feel that we can reconcile concern with one’s material situation with the taste for philosophy. Contemporary science has its prebends, just as the church once had its. Is it fair that these prebends be exclusively reserved to members of Sorbonnic “teams"? Is it fair that in order to have the right to aspire to this one must roll over and make a litter of one’s ideas? For me this question doesn’t even exist. For quite a while I have, like Horace, staked out my position on mediocrity. With no difficulty I renounce the profit of a Sorbonnic discipleship and the honor of professing in some cushy intellectual position the ideas of M. Séailles. Of all the moral prejudices I combat I maintain only one: the preference for the freedom of spirit over opulence.

Individualism by Georges Palante


Source: L’Anarchie no. 323, June 15, 1911;
Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2006.


As is the case elsewhere, the tendency to underestimate the individual has made itself felt in the intellectual field. Solitary thought – invention – has been depreciated to the profit of collective thought – imitation – preached under the eternal word of solidarity. The horror of the previously untried, of intellectual and esthetic originality, is a characteristic trait of Latin races. We love regimented thought, conformist and decent meditations. A German writer, Laura Marholm, accurately analyzed this contemporary tendency: “Intellectual cowardice is a universal trait. No one dares makes a decisive statement concerning his milieu. No one any longer allows himself an original thought. Original thought only dares present itself when it is supported by a group: it has to have gathered together several adherents in order to dare show itself. You must be one of many before daring to speak. This is an indication of universal democratization, a democratization that is still at its beginnings, and is characterized by a reaction against international capital, which until now has had at its disposal all the means of military and legislative defense. No one dares to rely on himself alone. An idea that contravenes received ideas almost never manages to make itself known. The propagation of an antipathetic idea is circumscribed and hindered by a thousand anonymous censors, among which the official censorship of he state has only a minor role.”

The result of this tendency is that we no longer exist and think for ourselves. We think according to hearsay and slogans.

It is especially from the moral point of view that the crushing of personal egoism by group egoism is intolerable. We too well know the pettiness of the group spirit, the gregarious coalitions engaged, more than anything, in fighting against superior individualities, the solidarity in irresponsibility, all these forms of diminished humanity.

It is the same with perfect solidarity as it is with absolute justice, absolute altruism, absolute monism. These are abstract principles untranslatable in real terms. Each man has his special conception of solidarity, justice, his way to interpret the fas and the nefas in keeping with his coterie, class, etc. interests.

“As soon as an idea is set loose,” said Remy de Gourmont, “ if we thus set it nakedly in circulation in its trip across the world it joins all kinds of parasitic vegetation. Sometimes the original organism disappears, entirely devoured by the egoistic colonies that develop there. An amusing example of these deviations in thought was given by the corporation of house painters at the ceremony called ‘The Triumph of the Republic.” The workers carried around a banner where their demands for justice were summed up in this cry: ‘Down with ripolin!’ You must know that ripolin is a prepared paint that anyone can spread across woodwork. We can thus understand the sincerity of this wish and its ingenuity. Ripolin here represents injustice and oppression; it’s the enemy, the devil. We all have our own ripolin and we color according to our needs the abstract ideas that, without this, would be of no personal use to us.”

The ideal is soiled in contact with reality:

Pearl before falling, and mire after.

The Secular Priestly Spirit by Georges Palante


Source: Mercure de France, September 1, 1909;
Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2006.


This is what I call the remnants of the priestly spirit within our modern spirit, which thinks itself a- or anti-religious. But is “remnants” really the proper word? This word implies the idea of a sentiment in retreat, when in fact the priestly spirit is advancing. We would at least think this if we were to consider the expansion of the surface occupied by the priestly spirit. The priestly spirit was once the privilege of a caste; today it has spread, diffused, been diluted in our ruling classes, in those intellectual, political, administrative elites that form our democratic aristocracy.

Examples of this spirit are easy to find in our language and mores. We can cite the rage to confer a sacred character on one’s profession, to turn it into a priesthood. Whenever you hear a gentleman apply this word to his profession or that of others you have before you a man more or less imbued with the priestly spirit. It is especially in regard to careers in education or the magistracy that priesthood is spoken of, but we can extend this word to all of civil service, to all hierarchies, in conformity with the etymology of this last word [1]. In this sense any functionary would be a priest or a semi-priest. We also speak of the priesthood of the lawyer or the doctor. When it’s a question of a lawyer or doctor who is also a politician the priesthood is doubled, and is carried in a way to the second power.

Another remnant of the priestly spirit is the qualification of renegade that is used to insult the man who changes his opinion. The epithet of renegade has a religious origin, which doesn’t prevent anti-clericals from using it like everyone else. We all know a gentleman who calls himself a free-thinker, who loudly proclaims the right for all to change, to evolve, etc. If need be he’ll quote you the well-known verse: “The absurd man is he who never changes.”

But if he were to learn of the about-face of one of his political friends, then he gets indignant and calls his former fellow-believer the harsh and feared epithet of “renegade.” Why feared? Because we are imbued with the priestly spirit, because we all tremble before anathema and excommunication. And yet, if we admit freedom of thought, we must admit it in its entirety. There is no such thing as a renegade. Everyone is free at every instant to shake off yesterday’s belief. But most people don’t see things in this way. A party is a church, and it claims to hold its people under its power; it wants to prevent defections and schisms, and terrifies the potential renegade with the gesture of anathema.

Another clerical expression is the very word of secular that is used on all occasions. Secular morality! Secular consciousness! Secular beliefs! These expressions take us back to the times of the papal bull “Clericis Laicos,” where clerics were opposed to the laity. This is a pure distillation of the Middle Ages. In a society where clerics no longer exist or count – at least intellectually – it can no longer be a question of secular ideas. A spirit indifferent to theological controversies will not attach an intellectually meaningful significance to this expression. One would have to be pontiff, to want to oppose one church to another.

Secular holidays are also spoken of. Recently festivals of Love, Youth, Spring, Labor have been instituted, along with the appropriate program: reading of apposite verses by gentlemen in black suits, processions of young couples celebrating love, workers carrying their tools and celebrating labor, etc. At the heart of these secular ceremonies can easily be found a religious, a clerical concern: that of having men commune with the same idea, in a same faith. For anyone with a religious spirit a sentiment, joy, memory, or hope only have value on condition of being held in common, of being solemnized and consecrated by the group.

Another religious and evangelical expression is that of “going to the people,” so fashionable a few years ago among young Tolstoyans and adepts of PU’s.[2]

Of the same order is the expression social obligation, especially when it’s pronounced in a certain way and with a certain showy compunction. The group spirit in all its forms, esprit de corps, esprit de chapelle all easily take on a religious nuance. We heard a young engineer, freshly graduated from the Ecole Polytechqnique speak with devotion of the Polytechnicians’ esprit de corps as if it were a religion of initiates, unintelligible to the profane. This same sentiment was often expressed by soldiers at the time of the Dreyfus Affair.

If you will, none of this is either very serious or very profound. At the very most it’s capable of annoying those horrified by the “religious nuance,” as Stendhal called it. The priestly spirit is only skin deep; it has lost in depth what it has gained in extent. It no longer has the depth of psychology, the shadowy will to power, the implacable perseverance in ressentiment that conferred a somber majesty on the sacerdotal soul of the past and that Nietzsche so potently describes in his “Genealogy of Morals.” We are witnessing a bourgeoisification and a democratization of the priestly spirit: we see nothing but priests around us. But what humble, what modest pontiffs compared to those great ascetic figures who dedicated themselves to what Nietzsche called the “sacerdotal medication of humanity,” and who pursued a centuries old labor of total spiritual and temporal domination. The secular priestly spirit is the heir and the pale imitator of the other. It borrows from Catholicism its mise en scene, its impressive décor and even its sacred music, which have been widely used for Pantheonizations and other religio-secular ceremonies, such as the statufying of secular pontiffs, civil marriages decorated with secular and worldly pomp, etc. Let us see what it has retained of its psychology.

It should first be noted that the priestly spirit must be distinguished from the religious spirit. This is so true that at all times there has been a flourishing of the religious spirit that has nothing in common with the priestly spirit. This is mysticism, which is a kind of religious individualism.

The priestly spirit is the religious spirit socialized, clericalized. It’s the religious spirit in the hands of a clergy charged with officially representing it. Consequently, the priestly sprit is a caste spirit, or at the very least an esprit de corps with all the sentiments that are attached to it; a spirit of spiritual and temporal domination, or at the very least pride and vanity of caste or corps, a sentiment of moral and social superiority, of an authority to be exercised, of a certain decorum to be maintained, of certain rites to be observed. These sentiments, which are at their height in a clergy, can exist in a more or less diffused and attenuated state in the diverse corporations and social categories which, with whatever right, aspire to represent a moral idea, to fulfill an apostolate or a social mission, to posit themselves as models (honest men), to set the tone and the example, to imprint a moral direction on the rest of society: in short, to exercise a priesthood.

It should be added that the priestly spirit can be tied to the religious sentiment or be separate from it. In its superior forms it is vivified by a religious, or at least philosophical or moral belief. But at its lowest and poorest degree it tends to be emptied of all intellectual or ideal content, to be reduced to a simple external formalism, a pure phariseeism. The secular priestly spirit, like the other, in this regard presents many degrees and nuances.

At its highest degree, as it is encountered among our intellectuals – philosophers, moralists, sociologists, professors of the spiritual life and of moral action – the secular priestly spirit can be found tied to a certain concept of philosophy understood as the servant of an ethical finalism and a secular moral faith.

Believe and make people believe, says M. Jules de Gaultier. This is the goal of the greatest number of philosophers, after and before “The Critique of Pure Reason.” Bacon stated that in his time they were taught in universities to believe, and this is still true in our time.

But it’s not only in universities that these teachings are dispensed, it’s in any book able to find a public. What men demand of philosophy is that it give them something to believe in, to give them a first principle to which they can affix their conduct, a goal which they can have the illusion of heading towards, since the number of spirits for whom the joy of understanding on its own suffices can only ever be insignificant and negligible. [3]

In this the secular priestly spirit makes itself the servant of an idea. Like the Catholic priestly spirit it presupposes a doctrinal credo, an ideology of which it is the guardian. The difference is that in one case the credo is revealed by God, while in the other it is revealed by reason. But the resemblances between the two ideologies are many. As was perfectly demonstrated by M. Jules de Gaultier the rationalist ideology is nothing but the prolongation of Christian ideology: it is a veritable secular religion. A Marxist writer, M. Edouard Berth brings the two ideologies together under the same sign of intellectual laziness and authoritarian routine, and opposes to them the fever of labor and innovation that agitates industrial circles. “Most men do not feel this need for the new that is felt by the industrialist; they prefer a nice routine where you can live peacefully, without cares, worries or effort. Intellectualist systems are appropriate for the mass of the lazy that are man. They form a kind of bureaucracy of the intellect where one is comfortably installed for the rest of one’s life, where you are comfortably seated so as to watch the immutable spectacle of things. The church is horrified by the thought of the new, and thus of freedom. This is the case as well, I repeat, for all forms of intellectualism, and in the modern world there are many varieties of this. Many people remain foreign to the practices of industry: the world, bureaucracy, the university, the so-called liberal professions constitute the social circles that industrial thought has as little penetrated as the Church [4]. The “countless varieties of intellectualism” more or less imbued with the secular priestly spirit hold the “factories where the ideal is produced.” They monopolize the individuals of respect; they produce ideological and phraseological values whose prices are established according to completely different laws than those of manufactured goods. It is thus not without reason that M. Berth compares the Catholic church and the modern secular churches, and he opposes to the dogmatic and routine priestly spirit the living, active, and ever new industrial spirit.

It is only fair to recognize that the secular priestly spirit has evolved a bit in France in the last fifty years. We can distinguish two forms corresponding to two periods of official philosophy on France. The secular church of Victor Cousin, dominated by the Greco-Latin literary tradition and by the Roman Catholic religious tradition, is very close to the Catholicism it wants to supplant. Like it, it is authoritarian and narrowly conservative concerning traditional institutions: religion, family, and property, imbued like it with that ecclesiastical prudence that makes social usefulness the criterion for all beliefs, that divides doctrines into harmful and healthy, and that refutes a philosophy based on its moral and social consequences, a type of refutation that Taine ridiculed in so amusing a fashion in his “Philosophes Classiques en France.” The new secular church, dominated by the Kantian Protestant and rationalist tradition, rejects the Catholic pragmatism of a Brunetière, extends its social ideal in the direction of socialism and humanitarianism, and tends towards a religion ever more intellectual, ever more abstract, and finally universal and human; a religion of reason, of science, of justice and of universal consciousness. Among its highest representatives it recalls the generous dreams that Renan symbolized in his “Pretre de Némi.”

Another transformation: the ancient Catholic and ascetic ideal has evolved into a progressive ideal, optimistic, eudemonistic, and humanitarian, aspiring to universal happiness and secular paradise (humanity’s salvation through science, through reason.)

The two currents we find in all religions, the rationalist and the mystical, can be found in this modern secular religion: a Renan represents scientistic intellectualism; a Quinet, a Michelet, a Guyau, apostles of love, represent democratic and revolutionary mysticism.

We should add that the rationalist, scientistic, and humanitarian faith can be more or less dogmatic. It is at its height of dogmatism in Renan in his “L’Avenir de la Science,” and in Guyau in his “L’Irreligion de l’Avenir.” In Renan’s latest books the rationalist and scientistic faith is diminished by uncertainties, is attenuated with question marks: will humanity succeed? Will it fail in its voyage towards the divine? Whatever the case, despite all nuances in thought, it can be said that Renan has remained faithful to the end to his scientistic faith. In “L’Eau de Jouvence” the old Prospero, dying like Faust, weighed down with years and labor, symbolizes the ideal of science and strength that remain the culminating point of Renanian thought.

Whatever the school or nuances in thought, there is a second trait common to all the representatives of the modern secular religion: faith in the power of ideas. Every religious spirit is disposed to accord an enormous influence to transmitted faith, to a taught morality. All priests believe in the effectiveness of their preaching. The famous: “You are a goldsmith, Monsieur Josse,” finds here its application here. A comic example of this naïve faith can be found in Shaw’s play “Candida” in the person of Pastor Morrell. Unbeknownst to him, this pastor, a handsome and well-spoken man, inspires passion among many of his listeners. All of them, even the young woman who works as his typist, are in love with him. Because he is innocence itself Pastor Morell attributes to the virtue of the holy word the number of young women at his sermons and is struck dumb when his wife reveals to him the ill that has his fervent listeners in its grip:

CANDIDA: They’re all in love with you. And you are in love with preaching because you do it so beautifully. And you think it’s all enthusiasm for the kingdom of Heaven on earth; and so do they. You dear silly!

MORELL: Candida, what dreadful, what soul-destroying cynicism!

Our pseudo-priests, philosophers, professors of the spiritual life, moralists, sociologists, preachers of all kinds fall into the same illusion as Pastor Morel without, incidentally, always obtaining so flattering a success. All are flagrantly Platonists, believers in the idea and in love with their preaching. For them it is blasphemy to place in doubt the virtue of the idea, as several hardly priestly great spirits have done, like Bayle or the Comte de Gobineau. Their teacher Renan himself scandalized more than one when he put in the mouth of his Prospero these slightly skeptical words:

“When I say these things I feel that none of my listeners will be so struck by my proofs that it will lead him to deprive himself of any sweet sensation. Without this I would have scruples about having been the cause that brave men would have diminished the total of joys they could have tasted because they took my reasoning too seriously."[5]

This cult of the word is easily explained. As is proved by the example of Shaw’s pastor, the priestly spirit is generally associated with the oratory spirit, I mean the faculty to mouth philosophical commonplaces. The representative types: Victor Cousin and today M. Jaurès. M. Jaurès is the Victor Cousin of the socialist church. We can apply to him the ingenious comparison of Taine à propos of the Grand Pontiff of the eclectic school: “Like a colored powerful beacon which receives five or six lights and transmits its splendor. It makes shine on the philosophical horizon their slightly deviated rays.” [6]

The secular priestly spirit, like the Catholic priestly spirit, hates doubters, skeptics, and dilettantes. Victor Cousin cast his sacerdotal thunder against skepticism. Michelet doesn’t like Montaigne, casting him aside as unhealthy and debilitating. “As for me,” he says, “my profound literary admiration for that exquisite writer doesn’t prevent me from saying that I find in him, at every moment, a certain nauseating taste, as in a sick room, where the stale air is heavy with the sad perfumes of the pharmacy. The delicate, the disgusted, the tired (and all were) hold to Pindar’s phrase translated and commented on by Montaigne: “Totus mundus exercet histrionem:” the world is performing a play, the world is an actor.” [7]

The secular priestly spirit also hates precise spirits, like Stendhal, who aren’t fooled by the noble style and the eloquence of the pulpit.

Another trait common to the Catholic priestly spirit and the secular priestly spirit is the hatred and contempt of the individual as such. The most insightful analyst of the sacerdotal soul, Stirner, noted this. In the eyes of the priest the individual means egoism, means evil. The individual is that which is the most contemptible. It only becomes a little clean, a little presentable and a little interesting from the moment it becomes the servant of the moral, i.e., the priestly, idea. All our official and moralizing sociologists are at this point. All are tiny Brunetières, for whom individualism is the enemy. For them as well religion and sociology are synonymous. What sociology offers is, like religion, to unite souls (religare) to compose a great spiritual whole.

The secular priest considers himself a laborer in a disinterested task. Nothing selfish must be mixed in with his mission. He works for the pure idea; at least he claims so, and sometimes even believes it. Nietzsche noted devotion to truth among our free-thinkers and atheists, the final incarnation of the ascetic ideal.

Modern secular faith is not a dead faith, it’s a faith in action. Charles Péguy said: “The enrolling of young people is the oldest, the dearest ambition, the most secret ecclesiastical envy.” [8] It’s that of the secular priest. He aspires to govern over consciences, to moral unity and works to realize this through the dual paths of pedagogy and politics.

It’s a well known law that all spiritual powers tend to be backed up by a temporal power, and that inversely all temporal powers fell the need to crown themselves with the halo of a moral idea, to set themselves up as the rulers of reason and truth. This dual aspiration is incarnated in the pedantocratic party that Charles Péguy called “the modern intellectual party,” and which he so vigorously and subtly described.

It is still incarnated (and in truth it’s all the same thing) in the modern religion of the state.

This religion is not new. It is a legacy of the Ancien Régime transmitted by the men of 1789, many of whom, as was said by M. Georges Sorel, were former men of the law, who had remained fanatics for legality and the state. Today, the idea of the state maintains all its prestige in intellectual circles where the secular priestly spirit reigns, notably among adepts of parliamentary socialism a la Jaurès. A few years ago the parliamentary debate on the monopoly over education set against each other professorial politicians, pure adepts of the statist pedantocracy, like MM. Jaurès and Lintilhac and the less sacerdotal politicians, more liberated from the pedantocratic ideology, like M. Clémenceau. [9]

The idea of the state is a demanding, jealous, and fearsome idol. Its high priests of 1793, Robespierre and Saint Just, believed themselves to be the executors of a metaphysical and moral mandate in service to which they deployed a terrible zeal. Their example verifies Stirner’s phrase: Moral faith is as fanatical as religious faith. The statist priestly spirit is naturally inclined to cruelty. When circumstances demand it it takes satisfaction in a cold, theoretical, implacable violence.

M. Georges Sorel believes that proletarian violence will not be as vindictive or cruel as Jacobin violence because it will be neither statist nor sacerdotal. “The more syndicalism develops by abandoning the old superstitions that come from the Ancien Regime and the church – through the channel of men of letters, philosophy professors, and historians of the revolution – the more social conflicts will take on a character of pure struggle resembling that of armies on campaign. We cannot execrate enough those men who teach the people that they must execute I don’t know what superlatively idealist mandate of a justice on the march towards the future. These men work at maintaining ideas on the state that provoked all the bloody scenes of 1793, while the notion of class struggle tends to purify the notion of violence.” [10] This is not so certain. We fear that on this point M. Sorel is deluding himself. He takes examples from war stories to show that the morality of war exclude coldly cruel violence. This means forgetting that was has also had its fanatics and mystics. We should remember Moltke saluting the fall of Paris in 1793, “receptacle of all the vices of the universe.” The proletarian movement will obviously have, like all the others, its prophets and its fanatics.

It remains for us to say a word about the most vulgar, the worst, the crudest forms in which the secular priestly sprit garbs itself. These are those it wears among those people whose social situation or whose own stupidity give them the illusion of a superior dignity, respectability, and morality. We find here the tribe of honest men infatuated with the oral pose, pontificating philistines, functionaries crystallized in their vocation. Here of course, the secular priestly spirit is emptied of all its intellectual or ideal content. It is reduced to a flat phariseeism, an idiotic fetishism and a tabooism. Here too examples abound. We know a functionary, a likable young man and not given to posing when we meet him in a café or at a club. But he visibly changes when he goes out to visit in company with his wife and his daughters. He puts on a special look, which he wears like a holy sacrament. We feel as if he were going to officiate as a priest of the religion of the family and the religion of high society, those two religions sacrosanct in the eyes of certain people.

These two religions are tabooist. They render taboo certain things, certain rites, certain persons, certain ideas. Thus, in a civil service office marriage renders you taboo. A married functionary, if he is caught doing wrong, is less severely penalized than another; for example, he won’t be transferred. The observance of the rites of high society also renders one taboo. The most important grade for a functionary is a grade given by society. A functionary whose dossier bears this note: “Excellent relations in town,” (which means he visits in the world of the civil servant) is taboo.

The follower of the religion of high society, like that of the religion of the state, is generally intolerant and vindictive. Don’t lay a finger on his idols. Don’t attack him, for through him you attack morality, society, and other respectable things. In all social categories we find these “pillars of society,” as Ibsen said, these moral Tartuffes:

“All the more dangerous, in their anger
Because they take up against you the arms we revere
And their passion, for which we are grateful,
Assassinate you with sacred steel.”

The secular priestly spirit, in its different forms, spreads across our era that seriousness and boredom predicted by Stendhal and pointed out by him as the characteristic of the future bourgeoisocracy. Usually the secular priest has this “Geneva character” which Stendhal spoke of and which “calculates, and never laughs.” Stendhal consoled himself with the thought that if he had arrived fifty years later he would have had to live in the company of secular priests, of churchwardens of the puritan church.”

In summary, we see that the secular priestly spirit has occupied a large place over the course of the nineteenth century, and that it still has great influence at the beginning of ours. Lammenais deplored the indifference of his contemporaries on questions of religion. He was wrong. The nineteenth century was a century of faith: scientific faith, social faith, moral faith. There were cults for all kinds of things: cult of the people (Michelet, Quinet), cult of the hero (Carlyle), cult of the woman, cult of the family, cult of science, of progress, humanity, great principles, etc... – above all cult of the word, which remains the master of the world.

It’s not that the spirit that it is antithesis of the priestly spirit – the spirit of disbelief, of irony and disrespect, the sprit of skepticism and immoralism – has lacked for representatives. It has given life to vigorous, profound, and subtle works. It was incarnated in the anti-sacerdotal verve of a Stirner, in the diatribes of a Nietzsche against the “traffickers of the ideal,” in the lucid and disdainful immoralism of a Stendhal, in the smiling irony of an Anatole France. But this spirit has no hold on the credulous mass; it hasn’t penetrated the bourgeois soul or the popular soul, over which the might of the respectful and pontifical spirit have maintained all their power. What makes for the force of the secular priestly spirit is that it escapes from ridicule. It escapes ridicule because it is generalized. What is more, it isn’t very apparent; the secular priest goes unnoticed, having no special costume. The raillery of Voltaire, so fearful to the priests of his time would be disarmed against those of ours. The secular priest is legion: this is what renders him intangible.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be regretted. Perhaps the priestly spirit is tied to the most essential conditions of human society. Perhaps man is a religious animal, just as he is a social animal. In any event, the secular priestly spirit gives no appearance of disappearing. It doesn’t lack for believers to honor it, nor pontiffs to cultivate it.


1. Stirner remarks that the word hierarchy mans sacerdotal or sacred organization.

2. Popular Universities

3. Jules de Gaultier, De Kant à Nietzsche, p.178

4. Edouard berth, Anarchisme individualiste et Marxisme orthodoxe. Mouvement Socialiste. May Day 1905

5. L’Eau de Jouvence, act III.

6. Hyppolite Taine, Les Philosophes Classiques en France au XIXéme siècle.

7. Michelet, Historie de France.

8. Charles Péguy, De La Situation faite au Parti intellectual dans le Monde moderne, p. 48.

9. See Clemenceau, Discours pour la Liberté, Cahiers de la Quinzaine.

10. Georges Sorel, Réflexions sur la Violence, p. 81.

Anarchism and Individualism by Georges Palante


Source: La Sensibilité individualiste. Paris, Alcan, 1909;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2006.


The words anarchism and individualism are frequently used as synonyms. Many thinkers vastly different from each other are carelessly qualified sometimes as anarchists, sometimes as individualists. It is thus that we speak indifferently of Stirnerite anarchism or individualism, of Nietzschean anarchism or individualism, of Barrésian anarchism or individualism, etc. In other cases, though, this identification of the two terms is not looked upon as possible. We commonly say Proudhonian anarchism, Marxist anarchism, anarchist syndicalism. But we could not say Proudhonian, Marxist, or syndicalist individualism. We can speak of a Christian or Tolstoyan anarchism, but not of a Christian or Tolstoyan individualism.

At other times the two terms have been melted together in one name: anarchist individualism. Under this rubric M. Hasch designates a social philosophy that it differentiates from anarchism properly so-called, and whose great representative, according to him, are Goethe, Byron, Humboldt, Schleiermacher, Carlyle, Emerson, Kierkegaard, Renan, Ibsen, Stirner and Nietzsche. This philosophy can be summed up as the cult of great men and the apotheosis of genius. It would seem to us to be arguable whether the expression individualist anarchism can be used to designate such a doctrine. The qualification of anarchist, in the etymological sense, can be applied with difficulty to thinkers of the race of Goethe, Carlyle, and Nietzsche, whose philosophy seems on the contrary to be dominated by ideas of hierarchical organization and the harmonious placing of values in a series. What is more, the epithet of individualist can’t be applied with equal justice to all the thinkers we have just named. If it is appropriate for designating the egotist, nihilist and anti-idealist revolt of Stirner, it can with difficulty be applied to the Hegelian, optimist and idealist philosophy of a Carlyle, who clearly subordinates the individual to the idea.

There thus reigns a certain confusion concerning the use of the two terms anarchism and individualism, as well as the systems of ideas and sentiments that these terms designate. We would here like to attempt to clarify the notion of individualism and determine its psychological and sociological content by distinguishing it from anarchism...

Individualism is the sentiment of a profound, irreducible antinomy between the individual and society. The individualist is he who, by virtue of his temperament, is predisposed to feel in a particularly acute fashion the ineluctable disharmonies between his intimate being and his social milieu. At the same time, he is a man for whom life has reserved some decisive occasion to remark this disharmony. Whether through brutality, or the continuity of his experiences, for him it has become clear that for the individual society is a perpetual creator of constraints, humiliations and miseries, a kind of continuous generation of human pain. In the name of his own experience and his personal sensation of life the individualist feels he has the right to relegate to the rank of utopia any ideal of a future society where the hoped-for harmony between the individual and society will be established. Far from the development of society diminishing evil, it does nothing but intensify it by rendering the life of the individual more complicated, more laborious and more difficult in the middle of the thousand gears of an increasingly tyrannical social mechanism. Science itself, by intensifying within the individual the consciousness of the vital conditions made for him by society, arrives only at darkening his intellectual and moral horizons. Qui auget scientiam augel et dolorem.

We see that individualism is essentially a social pessimism. Under its most moderate form it admits that if life in society is not an absolute evil and completely destructive of individuality, for the individualist is at the very least a restrictive and oppressive condition, a necessary evil and a last resort.

The individualists who respond to this description form a small morose group whose rebellious, resigned or hopeless words contrast with the fanfares for the future of optimistic sociologists. It is Vigny saying: “The social order is always bad. From time to time it is bearable. Between bad and bearable the dispute isn’t worth a drop of blood.” It’s Schopenhauer seeing social life as the supreme flowering of human pain and evil. It’s Stirner with his intellectual and moral solipsism perpetually on his guard against the duperies of social idealism and the intellectual and moral crystallization with which every organized society threatens the individual. It is, at certain moments, an Amiel with his painful stoicism that perceives society as a limitation and a restriction of his free spiritual nature. It’s a David Thoreau, the extremist disciple of Emerson, that “student of nature,” deciding to stray from the ordinary paths of human activity and to become a “wanderer,” worshipping independence and dreams. A “wanderer whose every minute will be filled with more work than the entire lives of many men with occupations.” It’s a Challemel-Lacour with his pessimistic conception of society and progress. It is perhaps, at certain moments, a Tarde, with an individualism colored with misanthropy that he somewhere expresses: “It is possible that the flux of imitation has its banks and that, by the very effect of its excessive deployment, the need for sociability diminishes or rather alters and transforms itself into a kind of general misanthropy, very compatible, incidentally, with a moderate commercial circulation and a certain activity of industrial exchanges reduced to the strict necessary, but above all appropriate to reinforcing in each of us the distinctive traits of our inner individuality.”

Even among those who, like M. Maurice Barrès, by dilettantism and artistic posture, are averse to the accents of sharp revolt or discouraged pessimism, individualism remains a sentiment of “the impossibility that exists of harmonizing the private and the general I.” It’s a determination to set free the first I, to cultivate it in what it has of the most special, the most advanced, the most rummaged through, both in detail and in depth. “The individualist,” says M. Barrès, “is he who, through pride in his true I, which he isn’t able to set free, ceaselessly wounds, soils, and denies what he has in common with the mass of men...The dignity of the men of our race is exclusively attached to certain shivers that the world doesn’t know and cannot see and which we must multiply in ourselves.”

In all of them individualism is an attitude of sensibility that goes from hostility and distrust to indifference and disdain vis-à-vis the organized society in which we are forced to live, vis-à-vis its uniformising rules, its monotonous repetitions, and its enslaving constraints. It’s a desire to escape from it and to withdraw into oneself. Above all, it is the profound sentiment of the “uniqueness of the I,” of that which despite it all the I maintains of unrepressible and impenetrable to social influences. As M. Tarde says, it is the sentiment of the “profound and fleeting singularity of persons, of their manner of being, or thinking, of feeling, which is only once and of an instant.”

Is there any need to demonstrate how much this attitude differs from anarchism? There is no doubt that in one sense anarchism proceeds from individualism. It is, in fact, the anti-social revolt of a minority that feels itself oppressed or disadvantaged by the current order of things. But anarchism represents only the first moment of individualism, the moment of faith and hope, of actions courageous and confident of success. At its second moment individualism converts, as we have seen, into social pessimism.

The passage from confidence to despair, from optimism to pessimism is here, in great part, an affair of psychological temperament. There are delicate souls that are easily wounded on contact with social realities and consequently quick to be disillusioned, a Vigny or a Heine, for example. We can say that these souls belong to the psychological type that has been called “sensitive.” They feel that social determinism, insofar as it is repressive of the individual, is particularly tormenting and oppressive. But there are other souls who resist multiple failures, who disregard even experience’s toughest examples and remain unshakeable in their faith. These souls belong to the “active” type. Such are the souls of the anarchist apostles: Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus. Perhaps their imperturbable confidence in their ideal depends on a lesser intellectual and emotional acuity. Reasons for doubt and discouragement don’t strike them harshly enough to tarnish the abstract ideal they’ve forged and to lead them to the final and logical step of individualism: social pessimism.

Whatever the case, there can be no doubt concerning the optimism of anarchist philosophy. That optimism is spread, often simplistically and with naivety, in those volumes with blood red covers that form the reading matter of propagandists by the deed. The shadow of the optimistic Rousseau floats over all this literature.

Anarchist optimism consists in believing that social disharmonies, that the antinomies that the current state of affairs present between the individual and society, are not essential, but rather accidental and provisional; that they will one day be resolved and will give place to an era of harmony.

Anarchism rests on two principles that seem to complement each other, but actually contradict each other. One is the principle that is properly individualist or libertarian, formulated by Wilhelm von Humboldt and chosen by Stuart Mill as the epigraph of his “Essay on Liberty”: “The great principle is the essential and absolute importance of human development in its richest diversity.” The other is the humanist or altruist principle which is translated on the economic plane by communist anarchism. That the individualist and humanist principles negate each other is proven by logic and fact. Either the individualist principle means nothing, or it is a demand in favor of that which differs and is unequal in individuals, in favor of those traits that make them different, separates them and, if need be, opposes them. On the contrary, humanism aims at the assimilation of humanity. Following the expression of M. Gide, its ideal is to make a reality of the expression “our like.” In fact, at the current time we see the antagonism of the two principles assert itself among the most insightful theoreticians of anarchism, and that logical and necessary antagonism cannot fail to bring about the breakup of anarchism as a political and social doctrine.

Whatever the case and whatever difficulties might be met by he who wants to reconcile the individualist and humanist principles, these two rival and enemy principles meet at least at this one point: they are both clearly optimistic. Humboldt’s principle is optimistic insofar as it implicitly affirms the original goodness of human nature and the legitimacy of its free blossoming. It sets itself up in opposition to the Christian condemnation of our natural instincts, and we can understand the reservations of M. Dupont-White, the translator of the “Essay on Liberty,” had from the spiritualist and Christian point of view (condemnation of the flesh) as concerns this principle.

The humanist principle is no less optimistic. Humanism, in fact, is nothing but rendering divine of man in what he has of the general, of humanity, and consequently of human society. As we see, anarchism, optimistic as concerns the individual, is even more so as concerns society. Anarchism supposes that individual freedoms, left to themselves, will naturally harmonize and spontaneously realize the anarchist ideal of free society.

In regard to these two opposing points of view, the Christian and anarchist, what is the attitude of individualism? Individualism, a realist philosophy, all lived life and immediate sensation, equally repudiates these two metaphysics: one, Christian metaphysics, which a priori affirms original evil, the other the rationalist and Rosseauist metaphysic, that no less a priori affirms the original and essential goodness of our nature. Individualism places itself before the facts. And these latter make visible in the human being a bundle of instincts in struggle with each other and, in human society, a grouping of individuals also necessarily in struggle with each other. By the very fact of his conditions of existence the human being is subject to the law of struggle: internal struggle among his own instincts, external struggle with his like. If recognizing the permanent and universal character of egoism and struggle in human existence means being pessimistic, then we must say that individualism is pessimistic. But we must immediately add that the pessimism of individualism, a pessimism of fact, an experimental pessimism, if you will, pessimism a posteriori, is totally different from the theological pessimism that a priori pronounces, in the name of dogma, the condemnation of human nature. What is more, individualism separates itself every bit as much from anarchism. If, with anarchism, it admits Humboldt’s principle as the expression of a normal tendency necessary to our nature for its full blossoming, at the same time it recognizes that this tendency is condemned to never being satisfied because of the internal and external disharmonies of our nature. In other words, it considers the harmonious development of the individual and society as a utopia. Pessimistic as concerns the individual, individualism is even more so as concerns society: man is by his very nature disharmonious because of the internal struggle of his instincts. But this disharmony is exacerbated by the state of society which, through a painful paradox, represses our instincts at the same time as it exasperates them. In fact, from the rapprochement of individual wills-to-life is formed a collective will-to-life which becomes immediately oppressive for the individual will-to-life and opposes its flourishing with all its force. The state of society thus pushes to its ultimate degree the disharmonies of our nature. It exaggerates them and puts them in the poorest possible light. Following the idea of Schopenhauer, society thus truly represents the human will-to-life at its highest degree: struggle, lack of fulfillment, and suffering.

From this opposition between anarchism and individualism flow others. Anarchism believes in progress. Individualism is an attitude of thought that we can call non-historical. It denies becoming, progress. It sees the human will-to-life in an eternal present. Like Schopenhauer, with whom he has more than one similarity, Stirner is a non-historical spirit. He too believes that it is chimerical to expect something new and great from tomorrow. Every social form, by the very fact that it crystallizes, crushes the individual. For Stirner, there are no utopian tomorrows, no “paradise at the end of our days.” There is nothing but the egoist today. Stirner’s attitude before society is the same as that of Schopenhauer before nature and life. With Schopenhauer the negation of life remains metaphysical and, we might say, spiritual (we should remember that Schopenhauer condemns suicide which, would be the material and tangible negation). in the same way Stirner’s rebellion against society is an entirely spiritual internal rebellion, all intention and inner will. It is not, as is the case with Bakunin, an appeal to pan-destruction. Regarding society, it is a simple act of distrust and passive hostility, a mix of indifference and disdainful resignation. It is not a question of the individual fighting against society, for society will always be the stronger. It must thus be obeyed, obeyed like a dog. But Stirner, while obeying, as a form of consolation, maintains an immense intellectual contempt. This is more or less the attitude of Vigny vis-a-vis nature and society. “A tranquil despair, without convulsions of anger and without reproaches for heaven, this is wisdom itself.” And again: “Silence would be the best criticism of life.”

Anarchism is an exaggerated and mad idealism. Individualism is summed up in a trait common to Schopenhauer and Stirner: a pitiless realism. It arrives at what a German writer calls a complete “dis-idealization” (Entidealisierung) of life and society.

“An ideal is nothing but a pawn,” Stirner said. From this point of view Stirner is the most authentic representative of individualism. His icy word seizes souls with a shiver entirely different from that, fiery and radiant, of a Nietzsche. Nietzsche remains an impenitent, imperious, violent idealist. He idealizes superior humanity. Stirner represents the most complete dis-idealization of nature and life, the most radical philosophy of disenchantment that has appeared since Ecclesiastes. Pessimist without measure or reservations, individualism is absolutely anti-social, unlike anarchism, with which this is only relatively the case (in relation to current society). Anarchism admits an antinomy between the individual and the state, an antinomy it resolves by the suppression of the state, but it does not see any inherent, irreducible antinomy between the individual and society. This is because in its eyes society represents a spontaneous growth (Spencer), while the state is an artificial and authoritarian organization. In the eyes of an individualist society is as tyrannical, if not more so, than the state. Society, in fact, is nothing else but the mass of social ties of all kinds (opinions, mores, usages, conventions, mutual surveillance, more or less discreet espionage of the conduct of others, moral approval and disapproval, etc.) Society thus understood constitutes a closely- knit fabric of petty and great tyrannies, exigent, inevitable, incessant, harassing, and pitiless, which penetrates into the details of individual life more profoundly and continuously than statist constraints can. What is more, if we look closely at this, statist tyranny and the tyranny of mores proceed from the same root: the collective interest of a caste or class that wishes to establish or to maintain its domination and prestige. Opinion and mores are in part the residue of ancient caste disciplines that are in the process of disappearing, in part the seed of new social disciplines brought with them by the new leading caste in the process of formation. This is why between state constraint and that of opinion and mores there is only a difference in degree. Deep down they have the same goal: the maintenance of a certain moral conformism useful to the group, and the same procedures: the vexation and elimination of the independent and the recalcitrant. The only difference is that diffuse sanctions (opinions and mores) are more hypocritical than the others. Proudhon was right to say that the state is nothing but a mirror of society. It is only tyrannical because society is tyrannical. The government, following a remark of Tolstoy’s, is a gathering of men who exploit others and that favors the wicked and the cheaters If this is the practice of government, this is also that of society. There is a conformity between the two terms: state and society. The one is the same as the other. The gregarious spirit, or the spirit of society, is no less oppressive for the individual than the statist or priestly spirit, which only maintain themselves thanks to and through it.

How strange! Stirner himself, on the question of the relations between society and the state, seems to share the error of Spencer and Bakunin. He protests against the intervention of the state in the acts of the individual, but not against that of society. “Before the individual the state girds itself with an aureole of sanctity. For example, it makes laws concerning duels. Two men who agree to risk their lives in order to settle an affair (whatever it might be) cannot execute their agreement because the state doesn’t want it. They would expose themselves to judicial pursuit and punishment. What becomes of the freedom of self-determination? Things are completely different in those places, like North America, where society decides to make the duelists suffer certain disagreeable consequences of their act and takes form them, for example, the credit they had previously enjoyed. The refusing of credit is everyone’s affair, and if it pleases a society to deprive someone of it for one reason or another, he who is struck by it cannot complain of an attack on his liberty: society has done nothing but exercise its own. The society of which we spoke leaves the individual perfectly free to expose himself to the harmful or disagreeable consequences that result from his way of acting, and leaves full and entire his freedom of will. The state does exactly the contrary: it denies all legitimacy to the will of the individual and only recognizes as legitimate its own will, the will of the state.” Strange reasoning. The law doesn’t attack me. In what way am I freer if society boycotts me? Such reasoning would legitimize all the attacks of a public opinion infected by moral bigotry against the individual. The legend of individual liberty in Anglo-Saxon countries is built on this reasoning. Stirner himself feels the vice of his reasoning, and a little further along he arrives at his celebrated distinction between society and association. In the one (society) the individual is taken as a means; in the other (association), he takes himself as an end and treats the association as a means of personal power and enjoyment: “You bring to the association all your might, all your riches and make your presence felt In society you and your activity are utilized. In the first you live as an egoist; in the second you live as a man, i.e., religiously; you work in the Lord’s vineyard. You owe society everything you have; you are its debtor and you are tormented with social obligations. You owe nothing to the association. She serves you and you leave it without scruples as soon as you no longer have any advantages to draw from it...” “If society is more than you then you will have it pass ahead of you and you will make yourself its servant. The association is your tool, your weapon; it sharpens and multiplies your natural strength. The association only exists for you and by you. Society, on the contrary, claims you as its good and can exist without you. In short, society is sacred and the association is your property; society uses you and you use the association.

A vain distinction if ever there was one! Where should we fix the boundary between society and association? As Stirner himself admitted, doesn’t an association tend to crystallize into a society?

However we approach it, anarchism cannot reconcile the two antinomic terms, society and individual liberty. The free society that it dreams of is a contradiction in terms. It’s a piece of steel made of wood, a stick without an end. Speaking of anarchists Nietzsche wrote: “We can already read on all the walls and all the tables their word for the future: Free society. Free society? To be sure. But I think you know, my dear sirs, what we will build it with: Wood made of iron...” Individualism is clearer and more honest than anarchism. It places the state, society, and association on the same plane. It rejects them both and as far as this is possible tosses them overboard. “All associations have the defects of convents,” Vigny said.

Antisocial, individualism is openly immoralist. This is not true in an absolute fashion. In a Vigny pessimistic individualism is reconciled with a morally haughty stoicism, severe and pure. Even so, even in Vigny an immoralist element remains: a tendency to dis-idealize society, to separate and oppose the two terms society and morality, and to regard society as a fatal generator of cowardice, unintelligence, and hypocrisy. “Cinq mars, Stello, and Servitude et Grandeur militaires are the songs of a kind of epic poem on disillusionment. But it is only social and false things that I will destroy and illusions I will trample on. I will raise on these ruins, on this dust, the sacred beauty of enthusiasm, of love, and of honor.” It goes without saying that in a Stirner or a Stendhal individualism is immoralist without scruples or reservations. Anarchism is imbued with a crude moralism. Anarchist morality, even without obligations or sanctions, is no less a morality. At heart it is Christian morality, except for the pessimist element contained in the latter. The anarchist supposes that those virtues necessary to harmony will flourish on their own. Enemy of coercion, the doctrine accords the faculty to take from the general stores even to the lazy. But the anarchist is persuaded that in the future city the lazy will be rare, or will not exist at all.

Optimistic and idealistic, imbued with humanism and moralism, anarchism is a social dogmatism. It is a “cause” in the sense that Stirner gave this word. A “cause” is one thing, “the simple attitude of an individual soul” is another. A cause implies a common adherence to an idea, a shared belief and a devotion to that belief. Such is not individualism. Individualism is anti-dogmatic and little inclined to proselytism. It would gladly take as its motto Stirner’s phrase: “I have set my affair on nothing.” The true individualist doesn’t seek to communicate to others his own sensation of life and society. What would be the good of this? Omne individuum inefabile. Convinced of the diversity of temperaments and the uselessness of a single rule, he would gladly say with David Thoreau: “I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.” The individualist knows that there are temperaments that are refractory to individualism and that it would be ridiculous to want to convince them. In the eyes of a thinker in love with solitude and independence, a contemplative, a pure adept of the inner life, like Vigny, social life and its agitations seem to be something artificial, rigged, excluding any true and strongly felt sentiments. And conversely, those who by their temperament feel an imperious need for life and social action, those who throw themselves into the melee, those who have political and social enthusiasm, those who believe in the virtues of leagues and groups, those who have forever on their lips the words “The Idea,” “The Cause,” those who believe that tomorrow will bring something new and great, these people necessarily misunderstand and disdain the contemplative, who lowers before the crowd the harrow of which Vigny spoke. Inner life and social action are two things that are mutually exclusive. The two kinds of souls are not made to understand each other. As antitheses, we should read alongside each other Schopenhauer’s “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” that bible of a reserved, mistrustful, and sad individualism, or the Journal Intime of Amiel. Or the Journal d’un Poète by Vigny. On the other side, we should read a Benoit Malon, an Elisée Reclus or a Kropotkin, and we will see the abyss that separates the two kinds of souls...