Anarchism for Free Spirits
INTRODUCTION: THE ANARCHISTS
The history of anarchism is strewn with labels and with denominations of “what kind” of anarchist somebody is or was. If one studies the history of anarchism as, in writing my various books on the subject, has been necessitated, you find that this labelling didn’t really take very long to become apparent and, furthermore, to become problematic, a source of internal anarchist division. So problematic was it, in fact, that anarchists started appearing who refused to be denominated at all – and so, of course, they came to form a separate grouping, the “anarchists without adjectives”.
Perhaps this was a product of the times. Whatever its cause, I find it facile and banal. At least a couple of these groupings, the communist anarchists [Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta] and the individualist anarchists of America [Benjamin Tucker, James L. Walker], were groupings based on an economic theory of organisation [as were the Marxists and Socialists more generally, of course]. But why should one need an economic theory to be an anarchist [not an original question] and why would economic theories be what decided which group you were in and become that about you which made you an identifiable kind of anarchist? We can only assume that the reason is a historically contingent one. In the 19th century the Western World become a place absolutely driven by capitalism and this economic cancer was the be all and end all of the new ability to pursue industrial activity. No wonder, then, that the reaction was economically-based too. [Voltairine de Cleyre, an anarchist without adjectives, also raises this point.]
Yet I have always taken a wider view on things than this and refused to be sucked into an entirely economic view of the world or to concede that economics, as the world presented it to me in capitalist terms, was the really important thing about the world. I frankly do not care about money or property or capital and this probably contributes a lot to why I find Proudhon boring [as well as the American offshoot of anarchism that is identified with Tucker’s individualistic “capitalism for everyone” which, in the modern day, empties out into the nonsense of Murray Rothbard and the idiocy of “anarcho-capitalism”, a place where NFTs and crypto-currencies are meant to be the height of anarchistic endeavour] and Karl Marx the most irrelevant man who ever lived. This, of course, has its own consequences for me as I try to make sense of the world — for a world without these things, or with their importance vastly reduced, presents challenges where they are veritable gods for most other people. Yet this is also where, for me, anarchism becomes exactly a relevant matter. But it must be said that even the word “anarchism” has lately become a questionable term for me for, in its lengthening history, it has itself become a misunderstood and, sometimes, largely worthless term.
What then is “an anarchist”? Why its a person who hates the government and posts memes to that effect on Twitter or Reddit — perhaps even Mastodon — isn’t it? No, in the olden days it was someone who bombed things and tried to kill presidents, tsars, prime ministers or cops, someone like that. No, you’re wrong again, I’m afraid. Today an anarchist is someone who messes with computers – like Anonymous – in order to embarrass the rich by exposing their dirty secrets. Then again, perhaps an anarchist is someone who waves a black flag at a demonstration or spray paints large “A” symbols inside circles on buildings? Nope, not quite right. An anarchist is someone who likes punk music and is covered in piercings and tattoos and who likes wearing black leather. You see what I mean? There is no simple way to describe what an anarchist is or, rather, what I would mean if I used the term “anarchist” of myself. It is one of those words which has been bent completely out of shape by public usage [and often, it must be admitted, by its enemies] until even using the word becomes an exercise in having to explain what you think it means and where it comes from. And language starts to fall apart when it works like this because language shouldn’t be about having to explain what words mean by the additional provision of descriptions and histories and examples; it should be about their common and useful understanding.
This is exampled in a historical fiction that was popular among anarchists at the turn of the 20th century. It was written by the German anarchist, John Henry Mackay, a disciple of Benjamin Tucker and the primary propagandist for Max Stirner’s The Unique and Its Property who also wrote poetry as well [some of which is included in Emma Goldman’s Anarchism and Other Essays]. The fiction was called The Anarchists: A Picture of Civilization at the Close of the Nineteenth Century and it was only semi-fictional since the plot, to the extent that the book has one, isn’t much of a plot at all. The book is set among the anarchists and what today would be called “leftists” of poverty-stricken London in the mid to late 1880s and is historically based on Mackay’s own time there. The book functions as a way for various figures, but mainly two – Carrard Auban and Otto Trupp – to discuss their anarchist differences against the background of a squalid London where disfigured women offer their teenage daughters for sex favours in order to earn a few shillings and most other people will do pretty much anything and everything to survive. This background acts to necessitate the arguments of the anarchists in the book to provide meaningful solutions to such social realities.
As I say, the two main players in the book are Auban [likely a stand in for the author Mackay himself since this is the most fleshed out and vivid character] and Trupp [who a number of commentators have said is meant to be a fictional version of Johann Most who was for a time in London before he went to New York, became the leader of the Freiheit community there and became the mentor of Emma Goldman as well]. Auban and Trupp are sharply distinguished in the text, the former offering a post-Proudhonian economic individualism of the kind then being proposed by Benjamin Tucker with Trupp being presented as a communist anarchist. This, for instance, is an example of Auban’s internal monologue from the book:
“He now saw what it was that Proudhon had meant by property: not the product of labor, which he had always defended against Communism, but the legal privileges of that product as they weigh upon labor in the forms of usury, principally as interest and rent, and obstruct its free circulation; that with Proudhon equality was nothing but equality of rights, and fraternity not self-sacrifice, but prudent recognition of one’s own interests in the light of mutualism; that he championed voluntary association for a definite purpose in opposition to the compulsory association of the State, ‘to maintain equality in the means of production and equivalence in exchange’ as ‘the only possible, the only just, the only true form of society.’
Auban now saw the distinction Proudhon made between possession and property. ‘Possession is a right; property is against right.’ Your labor is your rightful possession, its product your capital; but the power of increase of this capital, the monopoly of its power of increase, is against right. ‘La propriété, c’est le vol!’ [‘property is theft’]. Thus he recognized the true causes of the terrible differences in the distribution of weapons of which nature knows nothing when it places us on the battleground of life; how it happens that some are condemned to pass a life of trouble and toil and hopelessness within the limits unalterably fixed by the ‘iron law of wages,’ while the others, removed from competition, throw out playfully, as it were, the magnet of their capital, to attract whatever of foreign labor products fall within its field, and so steadily add to their wealth, — all that he now saw clearly under the light of this examination. He saw that the minority of the latter were in a position, by the aid of anciently received opinions, to coerce the majority into a recognition of their privileges. He saw that it was the nature of the State which enabled that minority to keep a portion of the people in ignorance concerning their interests, and to prevent by force the others who had recognized them from pursuing them.
He saw consequently — and this was the most important and incisive perception of his life, which revolutionized the entire world of his opinions — that the one thing needful was, not to champion the creed of self-sacrifice and duty, but rather egoism, the perception of one’s own interests! If there was a ‘solution of the social question,’ it lay here. All else was Utopia or slavery in some form.”
A distinctive about Auban in the book, perhaps inspired by the historical Marx/Bakunin split in the First International in 1872 and perhaps not, is that communists cannot be anarchists for him. An interlocutor tells him that all the anarchists he has ever heard of are communists to which Auban replies that they are communists who call themselves anarchists yet, so the reader understands, without, in his mind, really being so. Auban takes the view that “every consistent individualist” [by which he means the Proudhonian, Tuckerite, edging towards Stirnerite figure just described] is an anarchist. When further asked what he “understands by Anarchy”, Auban replies with the following:
“You know that the word An-archy, is derived from the Greek language, and means, in literal rendering, ‘no authority.’ Now the condition of no authority is identical with the condition of liberty: if I have no master, I am free. Anarchy is consequently liberty. It is now necessary to define the conception ‘liberty,’ and I must say that it is impossible for me to find a better definition than this one: liberty is the absence of aggressive force or coercion…
Now, the State is organized force. As force constitutes its essential nature, robbery is its privilege; so the robbery of some for the benefit of others is the means of its support. The Anarchist sees therefore in the State his greatest, yes, his only, enemy. It is the fundamental condition of liberty that no one shall be deprived of the opportunity of securing the full product of his labor. Economic independence is consequently the first demand of Anarchism: the abolition of the exploitation of man by man. That exploitation is made impossible: by the freedom of banking, i.e. liberty in the matter of furnishing a medium of exchange free from the legal burden of interest; by the freedom of credit, i.e. the organization of credit on the basis of the principle of mutualism, of economic solidarity; by the freedom of home and foreign trade, i.e. liberty of unhindered exchange of values from hand to hand as from land to land; the freedom of land, i.e. liberty in the occupation of land for the purpose of personal use, if it is not already occupied by others for the same purpose; or, to epitomize all these demands: the exploitation of man by man is made impossible by the freedom of labor…”
Here Auban makes the, in modern context, startling claim that his sort of anarchist wants “to make it possible for everyone to become a capitalist, by making it accessible to all by means of the freedom of credit and by forcing it to enter competition, like all other products.” The basis for this is Auban’s belief that “the social question cannot be solved in any other way than by the initiative of the individual who finally resolves to assume the administration of his affairs himself instead of placing it in the hands of others.” Pushed further, Auban says, “I claim the right of free control over my person… I neither demand nor expect of the community a bestowal of rights, and I consider myself under no obligations to it. Put in place of the word ‘community’ whatever you wish: ‘State,’ ‘society,’ ‘fatherland,’ ‘commonwealth,’ ‘mankind,’ — it is all the same.” He continues: “I deny all human institutions which are founded on the right of force. I am of greater importance to myself than they are to me!” in a way that sounds like echoes of Max Stirner and adds even further that he does not believe in “the progress of mankind towards liberty.” Later on, when a formal discussion under the heading “What is Anarchism?” has commenced at Auban’s place with Trupp and some others, Auban adds that “the question of Anarchism is not the concern of a single class, consequently also not of the laboring class, but it is the concern of every individual who values his personal liberty.” Auban’s anarchism is then of a form which has definitely separated itself from any vestiges of Socialism [which the text makes clear in that “the best that Socialism might achieve would… constitute only a change of rulers”].
In response to such ideas, Trupp attempts to defend his communist corner [although, I must say, given the author is the Proudhonian Stirnerite John Henry Mackay, this isn’t really presented as a fair fight]. Trupp’s rhetoric is about “the workingman” and “the real proletariat”. He disdains that “a few middle-class liberals have invented a new Anarchism” which matters not a jot either to working men or to that proletariat at all. He then adds:
“If the comrades wish to know what this Anarchism wants, which has risen in opposition to the State Communists, I will gladly tell them in a few words. Above all, we do not see in the individual a being separate from society, but we regard him as the product of this very society from which he derives all he is and has. Consequently, he can only return, even if in a different form, what in the first place he received from it. For this reason, too, he cannot say: this and that belong to me alone. There can be no private property, but everything that has been and is being produced is social property, to which one has just as much right as another, since each one’s share in the production of wealth can in no manner be determined. For this reason we proclaim the liberty to consume, i.e. the right of each to satisfy his wants free and unhindered. Consequently we are Communists.
But, on the other hand, we are also Anarchists. For we want a system of society where each member can fully realize his own ‘self,’ i.e. his individual talents and abilities, wishes, and needs. Therefore we say: Down with all government! Down with it even in the form of administration. For administration always becomes government. We likewise oppose the whole swindle of the suffrage and declare the leaders who have presumed to place themselves at the head of the workingmen as humbugs.
As Communists we say; — To each according to his needs! And as Anarchists: — From each according to his powers. If Auban says such an ideal is impossible, I answer him that he does not yet know the workingmen, although he might know them, for he has associated with them long enough. The workingmen are not such sordid egoists as the bourgeois — after they have had their day of reckoning with them, after the last revolution has been fought, they will very well know how to arrange things. I believe that after the expropriation of the exploiters and the confiscation of the bank, they will place everything at the disposal of all. The deserted palaces will quickly enough find occupants, and the well-stocked warehouses soon enough customers. We need not cudgel our brains about that!
Then when each one shall be sufficiently supplied with food, clothing, and shelter, when the hungry shall be fed and the naked clothed, — for there is enough for all for the present, — they will form groups; will, impelled by the instinct of activity, produce in common and consume according to needs. The individual will at best receive more, never less, from society than he has given it. For what should the stronger who produces more than he can consume do with the excess of his labor except give it to the weaker? And that is not liberty? They will not ask how much or how little each produces and each consumes; no, each will carry his finished work to the warehouses and take therefore in return what he needs for his support. According to the principle of fraternity —”
Auban is not prepared to accept that this is “anarchism” however and, in a way that is detrimental to the story, in my view, Auban proceeds with a speech which attempts to force Trupp to concede that communism is not anarchism. To be sure, there are points here to be taken into consideration but, from a literary point of view, the argument is a fake one from the start and could have been better presented as either a genuine debate [which this isn’t because Mackay puts words in the mouths of both sides] or as an analytical presentation of the various positions with the author’s cards on the table. Nevertheless, here is Auban’s argument against Trupp’s anarchist communist position:
“You want the autonomy of the individual, his sovereignty, and the right of self-determination. You want the free development of his natural stature. You want his liberty. We agree in this demand. But you have formed an ideal of a future of happiness which corresponds most nearly to your own inclinations, wishes, habits. By naming it ‘the ideal of humanity’ you are convinced that every ‘real and true man’ must be just as happy under it as you. You would fain make your ideal the ideal of all.
I, on the contrary, want the liberty which will enable each to live according to his ideal. I want to be let alone, I want to be spared from any demands that may be made in the name of ‘the ideal of humanity.’ I think that is a great difference. I deny only. You build anew. I am purely defensive. But you are aggressive. I battle exclusively for my liberty. You battle for what you call the liberty of others. Every other word you speak is abolition. That means forcible destruction. It is also my word. Only I mean by it: dissolution. You talk about the abolition of religion. You want to banish its priests, extirpate its teachings, persecute its followers. I trust to the steadily increasing perception which puts knowledge in the place of faith. It is economic dependence that forces most people nowadays into recognizing one of the many still existing churches, and prevents them from leaving them. After the chains of labor have fallen, the churches will of themselves become deserted, the teachers of a delusive faith and folly will no longer find listeners, and their priests will be forsaken.”
In the end, the difference here is, as Auban himself says, that he wants the end of the State in order to facilitate the existence of property [which the State suppresses] whilst Trupp wants the abolition of the State in order to abolish property – a fundamentally opposed idea about property and its place within an anarchist understanding and so a quibble fundamentally about political economy. Auban wants everyone to become “proprietors” whereas Trupp wants no one to be able to become them. Auban believes in taking up, and fighting for, one’s right, whereas Trupp believes that “in the coming society each will perform his share of labor voluntarily” and that:
“In the future society, where everything will be at the free disposal of all, where there can be no trade consequently in the present sense, every member, I am deeply convinced, will voluntarily abandon all claim to sole and exclusive occupation of land.”
The end of this argument is when Auban finally forces Trupp to say that “In Anarchy any number of men must have the right of forming a voluntary association, and so realizing their ideas in practice. Nor can I understand how any one could justly be driven from the land and house which he uses and occupies”, a concession Auban imagines means an ultimate giving up of Trupp’s communist future vision and his conceding that, ultimately, Auban himself has the right of it. But I must admit that the whole argument, as Mackay presents it, leaves a bitter taste and I recognise in neither Auban nor Trupp an anarchist FREE SPIRIT of the type I am shortly to describe. In fact, discussing “ANARCHISM” in such strictly politico-economic terms seems really boring to me – although I concede others do so and it may be entirely historically accurate to depict past anarchist discussions this way. Yet, from my perspective, what we need is a strong sirocco wind to blow such cobwebs away. We need FREE SPIRIT and we need it now.
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE: HERALD OF FREE SPIRITS
The herald of FREE SPIRITS is Friedrich Nietzsche and this phrase first gets an airing in his books in one of his Untimely Meditations – “Schopenhauer as Educator” – where he refers to “the free spirits and those who suffer profoundly from our age”. This is also related to those who have “recognized the unreason in the nature of this age”. Yet it is with his third book Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits [this book was originally to be titled simply “The Free Spirit”] that Nietzsche begins to properly make something out of this terminology and give it meaning. So it is with this text that I will start in the Nietzschean canon, working through his books to exegete what Nietzsche means by a “free spirit” in order to later make the term of use in my anarchist context.
A first clue is found in the preface, added in the spring of 1886, in which Nietzsche now deigns to add a word or two about free spirits. [Originally, there had been a short quotation from Descartes instead.] Nietzsche tells us here that he invented “free spirits” as companions to keep him in good spirits “as brave companions and familiars” through trying personal times. [Nietzsche had recently split from a close friendship with Richard Wagner, spiritual, artistic and intellectual — so close that Nietzsche had his own room in the Wagner house — and had had to leave his academic post due to debilitating bouts of illness which would eventually end his career.] These free spirits take on a life of their own, however, and he begins to see them as “active and audacious fellows” among the sons of Europe’s tomorrow, fellows he wishes to further speed into existence in his telling of them. First of all, then, a free spirit is one who experiences a “great liberation” from previously experienced fetters of reverence to duties or traditions that previously held them fast and from obligations that were thus imagined. Here:
“The great liberation comes for those who are thus fettered suddenly, like the shock of an earthquake: the youthful soul is all at once convulsed, torn loose, torn away — it itself does not know what is happening. A drive and impulse rules and masters it like a command; a will and desire awakens to go off, anywhere, at any cost; a vehement dangerous curiosity for an undiscovered world flames and flickers in all its senses. ‘Better to die than to go on living here’ — thus responds the imperious voice and temptation: and this ‘here’, this ‘at home’ is everything it had hitherto loved! A sudden terror and suspicion of what it loved, a lightning-bolt of contempt for what it called ‘duty’, a rebellious, arbitrary, volcanically erupting desire for travel, strange places, estrangements, coldness, soberness, frost, a hatred of love, perhaps a desecrating blow and glance backwards to where it formerly loved and worshipped, perhaps a hot blush of shame at what it has just done and at the same time an exultation that it has done it, a drunken, inwardly exultant shudder which betrays that a victory has been won — a victory? over what? over whom? an enigmatic, question-packed, questionable victory, but the first victory nonetheless: such bad and painful things are part of the history of the great liberation. It is at the same time a sickness that can destroy the man who has it, this first outbreak of strength and will to self-determination, to evaluating on one’s own account, this will to free will: and how much sickness is expressed in the wild experiments and singularities through which the liberated prisoner now seeks to demonstrate his mastery over things! He prowls cruelly around with an unslaked lasciviousness; what he captures has to expiate the perilous tension of his pride; what excites him he tears apart. With a wicked laugh he turns round whatever he finds veiled and through some sense of shame or other spared and pampered: he puts to the test what these things look like when they are reversed. It is an act of willfulness, and pleasure in willfulness, if now he perhaps bestows his favour on that which has hitherto had a bad reputation — if, full of inquisitiveness and the desire to tempt and experiment, he creeps around the things most forbidden. Behind all his toiling and weaving — for he is restlessly and aimlessly on his way as if in a desert — stands the question mark of a more and more perilous curiosity. ‘Can all values not be turned round? and is good perhaps evil? and God only an invention and finesse of the Devil? Is everything perhaps in the last resort false? And if we are deceived, are we not for that very reason also deceivers? must we not be deceivers?’ — such thoughts as these tempt him and lead him on, even further away, even further down. Solitude encircles and embraces him, ever more threatening, suffocating, heart-tightening, that terrible goddess and mater saeva cupidinum [wild mother of the passions] — but who today knows what solitude is?
From this morbid isolation, from the desert of these years of temptation and experiment, it is still a long road to that tremendous overflowing certainty and health which may not dispense even with wickedness, as a means and fish-hook of knowledge, to that mature freedom of spirit which is equally self-mastery and discipline of the heart and permits access to many and contradictory modes of thought — to that inner spaciousness and indulgence of superabundance which excludes the danger that the spirit may even on its own road perhaps lose itself and become infatuated and remain seated intoxicated in some corner or other, to that superfluity of formative, curative, moulding and restorative forces which is precisely the sign of great health, that superfluity which grants to the free spirit the dangerous privilege of living experimentally and of being allowed to offer itself to adventure: the master’s privilege of the free spirit! In between there may lie long years of convalescence, years full of variegated, painfully magical transformations ruled and led along by a tenacious will to health which often ventures to clothe and disguise itself as health already achieved. There is a midway condition which a man of such a destiny will not be able to recall without emotion: it is characterized by a pale, subtle happiness of light and sunshine, a feeling of bird-like freedom, bird-like altitude, bird-like exuberance, and a third thing in which curiosity is united with a tender contempt. A ‘free-spirit’- this cool expression does one good in every condition, it is almost warming. One lives no longer in the fetters of love and hatred, without yes, without no, near or far as one wishes, preferably slipping away, evading, fluttering off, gone again, again flying aloft; one is spoiled, as everyone is who has at some time seen a tremendous number of things beneath him- and one becomes the opposite of those who concern themselves with things which have nothing to do with them. Indeed, the free spirit henceforth has to do only with things — and how many things! — with which he is no longer concerned ...”
Here, of course, is rhetoric — but it is a rhetoric of a freedom which one wills, a freedom cast as a will to health, a will to live experimentally, no longer content to rest on the laurels of someone else’s truth. There is something of the desert about this freedom which is tied to being driven on by oneself to one’s own knowledge, one’s own mastery of self. This is a finding oneself which leads one to question everything, to pledge to oneself that nothing will count unless it is won by your own honesty and self-determination. It will undoubtedly lead to solitude – but one must also prove oneself strong enough for that as well. And so:
“At that time it may finally happen that, under the sudden illumination of a still stressful, still changeable health, the free, ever freer spirit begins to unveil the riddle of that great liberation which had until then waited dark, questionable, almost untouchable in his memory. If he has for long hardly dared to ask himself: ‘why so apart? so alone? renouncing everything I once reverenced? renouncing reverence itself? why this hardness, this suspiciousness, this hatred for your own virtues?’ — now he dares to ask it aloud and hears in reply something like an answer. ‘You shall become master over yourself, master also over your virtues. Formerly they were your masters; but they must be only your instruments beside other instruments. You shall get control over your For and Against and learn how to display first one and then the other in accordance with your higher goal. You shall learn to grasp the sense of perspective in every value judgement — the displacement, distortion and merely apparent teleology of horizons and whatever else pertains to perspectivism; also the quantum of stupidity that resides in antitheses of values and the whole intellectual loss which every For, every Against costs us. You shall learn to grasp the necessary injustice in every For and Against, injustice as inseparable from life, life itself as conditioned by the sense of perspective and its injustice. You shall above all see with your own eyes where injustice is always at its greatest: where life has developed at its smallest, narrowest, neediest, most incipient and yet cannot avoid taking itself as the goal and measure of things and for the sake of its own preservation secretly and meanly and ceaselessly crumbling away and calling into question the higher, greater, richer — you shall see with your own eyes the problem of order of rank, and how power and right and spaciousness of perspective grow into the heights together. You shall’ — enough: from now on the free spirit knows what ‘you shall’ he has obeyed, and he also knows what he now can, what only now he — may do ...”
This is a will to one’s independence, to one’s excellence [virtue, in Greek historical derivation, is a matter of excellence in being a human being], and is not just a personal but a cultural task. Thus, in section 225 of Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche says: “He is called a free spirit who thinks differently from what, on the basis of his origin, environment, his class and profession, or on the basis of the dominant views of the age, would have been expected of him.” The free spirit, that is, sets themselves apart; they are an exception. Such people set themselves on a course and go on a journey, as Nietzsche calls it in section 292, “the path of wisdom” which they embark upon “with a bold step and full of confidence” in which they are to “serve as [their] own source of experience”. In his final aphorism of the original book  Nietzsche calls free spirits “wanderers and philosophers” and they seek a transfiguration as of morning that transfigures the night. It is worth noting here that Human, All Too Human marks an intellectual turning point for Nietzsche in which he turns away from former beliefs and things which, as he himself intimates, fettered him, and strikes out on his own, determined to win the right to his own knowledge of things. This is the Nietzsche who will be willed into existence for the next 10 years of his life and which leads to Zarathustra, the Overhuman and the transvaluation of all values. Thus, this book is, as Nietzsche describes, the beginnings of a self-administered intellectual cure and the identification of growing spiritual/intellectual health with such a thing. In this connection, it is worth repeating once more that the German word “Geist” means ‘spirit’ yet also ‘mind’ and ‘intellect’. The word Nietzsche uses for “free spirit” is “freigeist” and in German that can mean “free thinker” just as much as “free spirit”. In fact, Nietzsche often plays on that fact.
That the free spirit is a cultural task Nietzsche starts to betray in “Assorted Opinions and Maxims”, added as a second part to Human, All Too Human. Nietzsche had already in what I have quoted linked “free spirits” with Europe and Europeans and he does so again in aphorism 87 here where he sees Europe playing a cultural role in world terms [yet as the antithesis of nationalism!]. Here “all free spirits” are put alongside “all good Europeans”, something that happens in several places throughout his books as well. Then again in aphorism 182 [“signs of cultural weather”] Nietzsche says: “To test whether someone is one of us or not — I mean whether he is a free spirit or not — one should test his feelings towards Christianity. If he stands towards it in any way other than critically then we turn our back on him: he is going to bring us impure air and bad weather.” To be a critic of Christianity, of course, will become one of Nietzsche’s most consistent tasks and here that is a marker of the free spirit, a cultural task to which they are detailed. Nietzsche expands upon this further in a key section , for our purposes, from The Gay Science in which he parses the difference between the believer who wants to be commanded and the free spirit:
“Believers and their need to believe. — The extent to which one needs a faith in order to flourish, how much that is ‘firm’ and that one does not want shaken because one clings to it — that is a measure of the degree of one’s strength (or, to speak more clearly, one’s weakness). Christianity, it seems to me, is still needed by most people in old Europe even today; hence it still finds believers. For that is how man is: an article of faith could be refuted to him a thousand times; as long as he needed it, he would consider it ‘true’ again and again, in accordance with that famous ‘proof of strength’ of which the Bible speaks. Metaphysics is still needed by some, but so is that impetuous demand for certainty that today discharges itself in scientific-positivistic form among great masses – the demand that one wants by all means something to be firm (while owing to the fervour of this demand one treats the demonstration of this certainty more lightly and negligently): this is still the demand for foothold, support — in short, the instinct of weakness that, to be sure, does not create sundry religions, forms of metaphysics, and convictions but does — preserve them. Indeed, around all these positivistic systems hover the fumes of a certain pessimistic gloom, something of a weariness, fatalism, disappointment, fear of new disappointment – or else self-dramatizing rage, a bad mood, the anarchism of exasperation and whatever other symptoms or masquerades there are of the feeling of weakness. Even the vehemence with which our cleverest contemporaries get lost in pitiful nooks and crevices such as patriotism (I refer to what the French call chauvinisme and the Germans ‘German’), or in petty aesthetic creeds such as French naturalism (which enhances and exposes only the part of nature that simultaneously disgusts and amazes – today one likes to call it la verite vraie — ), or in Petersburg-style nihilism (meaning faith in unbelief to the point of martyrdom), always indicates primarily the need for faith, a foothold, backbone, support ... Faith is always most desired and most urgently needed where will is lacking; for will, as the affect of command, is the decisive mark of sovereignty and strength. That is, the less someone knows how to command, the more urgently does he desire someone who commands, who commands severely — a god, prince, the social order, doctor, father confessor, dogma, or party conscience. From this one might gather that both world religions, Buddhism and Christianity, may have owed their origin and especially their sudden spread to a tremendous sickening of the will. And that is actually what happened: both religions encountered a demand for a ‘Thou Shalt’ that, through a sickening of the will, had increased to an absurd level and bordered on desperation; both religions were teachers of fanaticism in times of a slackening of the will and thereby offered innumerable people support, a new possibility of willing, a delight in willing. For fanaticism is the only ‘strength of the will’ that even the weak and insecure can be brought to attain, as a type of hypnosis of the entire sensual-intellectual system to the benefit of the excessive nourishment (hypertrophy) of a single point of view and feeling which is now dominant — the Christian calls it his faith. Once a human being arrives at the basic conviction that he must be commanded, he becomes ‘a believer’; conversely, one could conceive of a delight and power of self-determination, a freedom of the will, in which the spirit takes leave of all faith and every wish for certainty, practised as it is in maintaining itself on light ropes and possibilities and dancing even beside abysses. Such a spirit would be the free spirit par excellence.”
Free spirits, then, are NOT believers anymore than they are those who want to be commanded. Indeed, free spirits, as of their nature, are those with an unsurpressable desire to command themselves, to rule themselves, to create their own “I shall”. This is an egoistic place of self-command but also something of cultural significance where to be a believer, to be commanded, to be “Christian”, is a phenomenon which manifests itself in society at large. A society of free spirits would be a society of the self-determined, the self-actualised, not a society of willing believers. “Free spirits” is used in such a connection, in fact, earlier in section 343 where Nietzsche, reflecting on “the death of God” which his madman had announced, lantern in hand, in the marketplace in section 125, reflects on a future context for this and lends it a glimmer of utopian light:
“How to understand our cheerfulness. — The greatest recent event – that ‘God is dead’; that the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable — is already starting to cast its first shadow over Europe. To those few at least whose eyes — or the suspicion in whose eyes is strong and subtle enough for this spectacle, some kind of sun seems to have set; some old deep trust turned into doubt: to them, our world must appear more autumnal, more mistrustful, stranger, ‘older’. But in the main one might say: for many people’s power of comprehension, the event is itself far too great, distant, and out of the way even for its tidings to be thought of as having arrived yet. Even less may one suppose many to know at all what this event really means — and, now that this faith has been undermined, how much must collapse because it was built on this faith, leaned on it, had grown into it — for example, our entire European morality. This long, dense succession of demolition, destruction, downfall, upheaval that now stands ahead: who would guess enough of it today to play the teacher and herald of this monstrous logic of horror, the prophet of deep darkness and an eclipse of the sun the like of which has probably never before existed on earth? Even we born guessers of riddles who are so to speak on a lookout at the top of the mountain, posted between today and tomorrow and stretched in the contradiction between today and tomorrow, we firstlings and premature births of the next century, to whom the shadows that must soon envelop Europe really should have become apparent by now — why is it that even we look forward to this darkening without any genuine involvement and above all without worry and fear for ourselves? Are we perhaps still not too influenced by the most immediate consequences of this event — and these immediate consequences, the consequences for ourselves, are the opposite of what one might expect — not at all sad and gloomy, but much more like a new and barely describable type of light, happiness, relief, amusement, encouragement, dawn ... Indeed, at hearing the news that ‘the old god is dead’, we philosophers and ‘free spirits’ feel illuminated by a new dawn; our heart overflows with gratitude, amazement, forebodings, expectation — finally the horizon seems clear again, even if not bright; finally our ships may set out again, set out to face any danger; every daring of the lover of knowledge is allowed again; the sea, our sea, lies open again; maybe there has never been such an ‘open sea’.”
We see here that talk of “free spirits” is more than the personal need for companion spirits which Nietzsche had when writing Human, All Too Human. The idea has now become part of an intellectual, moral, political and cultural critique [encompassing the books Human, All Too Human, Daybreak and The Gay Science] where free spirits have a role to play in the future of Europe and the world, a role to do with values and culture. The title of this book, The Gay Science [“gay” as in “cheerful” or joyful” — which are both good alternatives], is in fact itself a cultural reference of Nietzsche’s to “the specific unity of ‘singer, knight, and free spirit’ which was characteristic of early Provençal culture.” The free spirit is, then, a cultural figure.
It should be no surprise, then, that the ultimate free spirit is Zarathustra, into whom the free spirit metamorphosises as an act of self-overcoming. Already, near the beginning of his many speeches in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Zarathustra proclaims that “I love him who is of a free spirit and a free heart” [recalling the multivalent nature of “Geist”!] and this, of course, will lead to the Overhuman which is also a free spirit. Thus, as Zarathustra pronounces in the section entitled “Of the Famous Philosophers”, “But he who is hated by the people as a wolf is by the dogs: he is the free spirit, the enemy of fetters, the non-worshipper, the dweller in forests.” Such people must “break their will to venerate” in order to establish their own “genuineness”. But then, once more, Nietzsche links free spirits with the desert when he says:
“Genuine – that is what I call him who goes into godforsaken deserts and has broken his venerating heart. In the yellow sand and burned by the sun, perhaps he blinks thirstily at the islands filled with springs where living creatures rest beneath shady trees. But his thirst does not persuade him to become like these comfortable creatures: for where there are oases there are also idols. Hungered, violent, solitary, godless: that is how the lion-will wants to be. Free from the happiness of serfs, redeemed from gods and worship, fearless and fearful, great and solitary: that is how the will of the genuine man is. The genuine men, the free spirits, have always dwelt in the desert, as the lords of the desert; but in the towns dwell the well-fed famous philosophers – the draught animals.”
It seems clear that the free spirit is without gods — but they are also without the desire to venerate or show reverence. These things they have cultivated out of themselves as matters of health and strength. Free spirits have nothing to worship and they have lost even the desire to worship. Instead they are “free spirits and wanderers” who must ever overcome themselves and their culture as constant revivifying springs of new life and new growth. In that, the pre-eminent Nietzschean symbol is the dance. Elsewhere in Zarathustra Nietzsche says “none of you has learned to dance as a man ought to dance – to dance beyond yourselves!” — and that is what the free spirit must learn to do.
Nietzsche’s next book after Thus Spoke Zarathustra was Beyond Good and Evil, an appropriate title for the free spirit that denominates where such a person resides – for how can the free spirit who determines themselves NOT reside there? The second part of this book is, in fact, titled “The Free Spirit” and so it seems that Nietzsche made this connection for himself too. Here we find a spirit of speculation and suspicion entirely appropriate to the free spirit who has chosen to live experimentally in search of their own knowledge and truth whilst entirely aware of the question “Why should the world that is relevant to us not be a fiction?” Such a free spirit is coming to the point of questioning the very language and grammar in which all their thought is, and must be, put and to realising that “it cannot matter in the least whether precisely you are in the right”. This is because such a free spirit realises that “a more praiseworthy veracity may lie in every little question mark placed after your favourite words and favourite theories [and occasionally after yourselves].” The free spirits and, as Nietzsche also denominates them in this second part of Beyond Good and Evil, “philosophers of the future”, are skeptics who must test everything for themselves; they have made themselves so responsible and cultivated an honesty within themselves for this task. Such free-spirited philosophers of the future are once more expressly named as “experimenters” and so are those not who are driven by the past knowledge of others but by that knowledge they acquire in and through their own lives and experiences. But:
“Are they new friends of ‘truth’, these approaching philosophers? Probably so, for until now all philosophers have loved their truths. But it is certain that they will not be dogmatists. It would surely go against their pride, and also against their good taste, if their truth had to be a truth for everyone else, too — this has been the secret wish and ulterior thought in all earlier dogmatic endeavours. ‘My judgement is my judgement: no one else has a right to it so easily’, as a philosopher of the future might say. We have to rid ourselves of the bad taste of wanting to agree with many others. ‘Good’ is no longer good if our neighbour takes the word into his mouth. So how could there possibly be ‘common goods’! The term contradicts itself: anything that is common never has much value. In the end things will have to be as they are and always have been: the great things are left to the great, the abysses to the profound, tenderness and thrills to the sensitive, and to sum it up in a few words, everything extraordinary to the extraordinary.”
Here Nietzsche puts a higher value on the personally acquired truth than on the truth of the majority, the latter a thing, in his mind, of bad taste. Each must think for themselves in this philosophy of the future. Only this builds health. It is a personal but also fundamentally cultural prescription when extrapolated from person to person in networks of relationships. This is brought out further in the final note of the free spirit chapter in section 44:
“After all that has been said, must I still make a special point of mentioning that they too will be free, very free spirits, these philosophers of the future — just as surely as they will not be free spirits merely, but something more, higher, greater, and fundamentally different, something that would not go unrecognized or misidentified? But in saying this, I feel even towards them (as towards ourselves, the free spirits who are their heralds and forerunners!) the obligation to dispel for both of us a stupid old prejudice and misunderstanding that for all too long has enshrouded the concept ‘free spirit’ like a fog. In all the countries of Europe, and in America now as well, there is something that is misusing this name: a very narrow, trapped, enchained sort of spirit who wants more or less the opposite of what we do, by instinct and intention — not to mention that they are bound to be the shut windows and barred doors to those approaching new philosophers.
These falsely dubbed ‘free spirits’ belong, short and sour, to the levellers, loquacious scribbling slaves of the democratic taste and its ‘modern ideas’; they are all of them people without solitude, without their own solitude, plain well-behaved lads whose courage and honourable propriety cannot be denied. It is just that they are unfree and laughably superficial, especially in light of their basic tendency to see, more or less, the cause of all human misery and failure in the structures of society up to now, thus happily managing to turn truth upside down! What they are trying with all their strength to achieve is a common green pasture of happiness for the herd, with safety, security, comfort, ease of life for everyone; their two most often recited tunes and teachings are ‘Equal rights’ and ‘Compassion for all suffering’ — and they take suffering itself as something that must be eliminated.
We who are the opposite, who have opened an eye and a conscience to the question of where and how the plant ‘human being’ has most vigorously grown tall, we are of the opinion that this has always happened under the opposite conditions: that the precariousness of the plant’s situation had first to increase enormously; that its power of invention and disguise (its ‘spirit’-) had to become subtle and daring through long periods of pressure and discipline; that its life-will had to be intensified into an unconditional power-will. We are of the opinion that harshness, violence, enslavement, danger on the street and in the heart, seclusion, stoicism, the art of the tempter and every kind of devilry, that everything evil, frightful, tyrannical, predatory, and snake-like about humans serves to heighten the species ‘human being’ as much as does its opposite. To say only this much, in fact, is not even saying enough, and whether we speak or are silent at this juncture, we find ourselves at the other end of all modern ideology and wishful thinking of the herd: as their antipodes, perhaps? Is it any surprise that we ‘free spirits’ are not the most communicative of spirits? That we do not wish to reveal in every case what a spirit can liberate itself from and what it may then perhaps be driven to? And as far as concerns the dangerous phrase ‘beyond good and evil’, it guards us at least against being misidentified: we are something other than ‘libre-penseurs’, ‘liberi pensatori’ , ‘freethinkers’, and whatever other names all these honourable advocates of ‘modern ideas’ might choose to call themselves by. Having been at home, or at least a guest in many countries of the spirit; having again and again escaped the pleasant, overstuffed nooks to which our special loves and hatreds, our youth, our origins, the accidents of people and books, or even the weariness of the journey have seemed to banish us; full of malice towards the temptations of dependence that lie hidden in honours or money or position or the enthusiasms of the senses; grateful in fact for distress and varying illnesses, because they have always freed us from some rule and its ‘prejudice’; grateful to god, devil, sheep, and worm in us, curious to the point of vice, investigators to the point of cruelty, thoughtlessly fingering what cannot be grasped, with teeth and stomach for what is most indigestible, ready for any craft that demands sharp wits and sharp senses, ready for every venture thanks to a surplus of ‘free will’, with fore-souls and back-souls whose ultimate intentions no one can easily penetrate, with foregrounds and backgrounds that no foot could traverse to the end, secluded under the cloaks of light, conquerors despite our resemblance to heirs and wastrels, organizers and collectors from morn till night, misers of our wealth and of our overflowing desk-drawers, economical in learning and forgetting, inventive in schemata, sometimes proud of category tables, sometimes pedants, sometimes labouring night-owls even in bright daylight; and yes, if necessary, even scarecrows — and that is what is necessary today, in so far as we are the born, sworn jealous friends of solitude, our own , deepest, most midnight, midday solitude. That is the sort of human we are, we free spirits! And perhaps you have something of it, too, you who are approaching? You new philosophers? -”
To be sure this is a long “aphorism” that is plugged into Nietzsche’s wider cultural critique yet the sense of it, for the free spirit, is that the free spirit is not, as Nietzsche called all those of his day in whom he found a sense for “democracy” or “equality”, a “leveller”. Nietzsche, to keep things simple, found this idea of levelling or an abstracted imbued equality or democracy fundamentally unhealthy at a cultural level; it literally, in his mind, did not promote strength or health and so, regardless of moral judgments [which he wouldn’t have agreed with either], was regarded as a materially bad thing which could only lead [and was leading] to societal decay. Thus, whether you think democracy or equality are good things or not, Nietzsche argues that they are bad for the social organism as matters of inevitable material fact when using a biological metaphor of life, health and growth. What is not, however, is the free spirit who is independent of mind and who has hardened themselves to survive in the desert, a person of free will not afraid of the solitude which comes from one’s own truth and one’s own hard won knowledge verified by personal experience. For such a person suffering is not to be valued simply as “bad” and eradicated at all costs and in every case. For such a one suffering, too, has its uses if it befalls us; it can even be necessary. The free spirit, such as Nietzsche regards himself to be, thinks in terms of health and cleanliness, that which promotes life, before they acquiesce before the slightest test or hardship as if the point of life was to avoid them all. For the free spirit, that which promotes one’s own strength is good and that which encourages weakness is detrimental. The free spirit thinks in terms of breeding and favours that which strengthens rather than that which weakens. [I think here of Diogenes rolling in hot sand in summer to steel himself to the heat or clinging to cold statues in winter to steel himself against the cold.] It is in this sense that Emma Goldman can praise Nietzsche as one who wants to make aristocrats of us all rather than “a race of weaklings”. To put words in Emma Goldman’s mouth, in fact, she really wants a community of free spirits as Nietzsche did too.
The characterisation of the free spirit is further commented upon by Nietzsche in the 24th section of the third essay of On The Genealogy of Morality. Here, once more, Nietzsche wants to emphasise that free spirits are not any kind of believers:
“We ‘knowers’ are positively mistrustful of any kind of believers; our mistrust has gradually trained us to conclude the opposite to what was formerly concluded: namely, to presuppose, wherever the strength of a belief becomes prominent, a certain weakness, even improbability of proof. Even we do not deny that faith ‘brings salvation’: precisely for that reason we deny that faith proves anything, – a strong faith which brings salvation is grounds for suspicion of the object of its faith, it does not establish truth, it establishes a certain probability – of deception. What now is the position in this case? – These ‘no’-sayers and outsiders of today, those who are absolute in one thing, their demand for intellectual rigour [Sauberkeit – which literally means “cleanliness”], these hard, strict, abstinent, heroic minds who make up the glory of our time, all these pale atheists, Antichrists, immoralists, nihilists, these sceptics, ephectics, hectics of the mind [that is, of the Geist] (they are one and all the latter in a certain sense), these last idealists of knowledge in whom, alone, intellectual conscience dwells and is embodied these days, – they believe they are all as liberated as possible from the ascetic ideal, these ‘free, very free spirits’: and yet, I will tell them what they themselves cannot see – because they are standing too close to themselves – this ideal is quite simply their ideal as well, they themselves represent it nowadays, and perhaps no one else, they themselves are its most intellectualized product, its most advanced front-line troops and scouts, its most insidious, delicate and elusive form of seduction: – if I am at all able to solve riddles, I wish to claim to do so with this pronouncement! ... These are very far from being free spirits: because they still believe in truth ... “
The free spirit is a person of intellectual rigour who requires the courage, honesty and authenticity for what they know – and, just as importantly, for what they don’t know. Note that Nietzsche links this to a need for an intellectual cleanliness which may demand saying “No” to society’s highest truths and most revered ideas. The free spirit must be the “immoralist” and “nihilist” who pays that no attention if their own intellectual rigour denies it. They must be fully independent intellectual entities. What is at stake here, as Nietzsche explains in section 203 of Beyond Good and Evil – referenced in On The Genealogy of Morality – is nothing less than “the total degeneration of man”. It is, once again, this question of what makes for strength and health, the “levelling” and “equality” of “Socialists” or the creed of free spirits:
“We who are of another faith –, we, to whom the democratic movement counts not just as a form of decay of political organization but as the form of decay, namely diminution, of man, as a way of levelling him down and lowering his value: where must we reach out with our hopes? – To new philosophers, there is no alternative; to spirits strong enough and primordially forceful enough to give an incentive for contrary valuations and for ‘eternal values’ to be valued another way round, turned another way round; to those sent on ahead, to men of the future who, in the present, tie up the knot of compulsion which forces the will of millennia on to new paths. To teach man that the future of mankind is his will, dependent on a human will, and to prepare him for great deeds of daring and comprehensive attempts at discipline and breeding, in order to put an end to that terrible domination of folly and accident hitherto known as ‘history’ – the folly of the ‘greatest number’ is just its final form –: for this, some time or other, a new type of philosopher and commander will be necessary, in comparison to whose image everything we have seen on earth by way of hidden, terrible and benevolent spirits will seem pale and dwarfed. It is the image of such leaders which floats before our eyes: – dare I say it out loud, you free spirits? The circumstances which one must partly create and partly take advantage of to bring this about; the probable ways and experiments by means of which a soul would grow to such height and power in order to feel the compulsion to these tasks; a transvaluation of values under the new pressure and hammer of which a conscience is steeled, a heart turned to iron, so that it can bear the weight of such a responsibility; on the other hand, the necessity of such leaders, the appalling danger that they might not materialize or that they might turn out badly or degenerate – these are our real worries and anxieties, you know, don’t you, you free spirits? These are the heavy distant thoughts and thunderstorms that pass over the firmament of our life. There are few pains as deep as that of having seen, recognized and sympathized with an extraordinary man who has strayed from his path and degenerated: whoever has the rare eye for the absolute danger of ‘man’ himself degenerating, whoever, like us, has recognized the incredible contingency which has played its game with regard to the future of men – a game in which no hand participated, not even ‘God’s finger’! – whoever guesses at the calamity which lies concealed in the stupid naïvety and blind trust of ‘modern ideas’, still more in the whole Christian-European morality: he suffers from an anxiety which cannot be compared with any other, – he sees with one glance what, under a favourable accumulation and increase in forces and tasks could still be bred from man, he knows, with all the knowledge of his conscience, how man is still untapped for the greatest possibilities and how often the species, man, has already stood confronted with mysterious decisions and new paths: – he knows even better from his own painful memory what pathetic things have so far habitually shattered, snapped, sunk and made wretched an embryonic being of the highest potential. The total degeneration of man right down to what appears today, to socialist idiots and numbskulls, as their ‘man of the future’ – as their ideal! – this degeneration and diminution of man to the perfect herd animal (or, as they say, to the man in a ‘free society’), this bestialization of man into a dwarf animal of equal rights and claims is possible, there is no doubt! Whoever has once thought these possibilities through to the end knows one form of nausea more than other people do – and perhaps also a new task!....”
With this text Nietzsche introduces the idea of values and the need for them to be transvalued if humankind would be a healthy species. Nietzsche refutes the idea that “equal rights” leads to a healthy humanity – perhaps not least because this very idea is entirely contrary to the free spirits he has heretofore imagined at length. Nietzsche stands for that person who, by act of will, is constantly questioning everything – not least themselves! — in order to overcome themselves. He believes that the strongest humanity is that which is made up of the strongest, most healthy, human beings. This “health” is not, of course, meant in a naively medical sense; it is a metaphor and only a metaphor. Nietzsche is about asking what makes human beings vital and alive, what promotes their growth. His answer is a full intellectual, moral and cultural independence which can only lead to political independence as well. For Nietzsche, free spirits create their own values and change old values into new ones so that they totally recreate themselves on their own terms [so also Zarathustra]. The sense of this is brought out, in fact, in section 13 of The Anti-Christ:
“Let us not underestimate the fact that we ourselves, we free spirits, already constitute a ‘revaluation of all values’, a living declaration of war on and victory over all old concepts of ‘true’ and ‘untrue’. The most valuable insights are the last to be discovered; but methods are the most valuable insights. All the methods, all the presuppositions of our present scientific spirit have been regarded with the greatest contempt for thousands of years, they barred certain people from the company of ‘decent’ men, — these people were considered ‘enemies of God’, despisers of the truth, or ‘possessed’ . As scientific characters, they were Chandala [untouchables]. We have had the whole pathos of humanity against us — its idea of what truth should be, of what serving the truth should entail: so far, every ‘thou shalt’ has been directed against us ... Our objectives, our practices, our silent, cautious, distrustful nature — all of this seemed totally unworthy and despicable. — In the end, and in all fairness, people should ask themselves whether it was not really an aesthetic taste that kept humanity in the dark for so long: people demanded a picturesque effect from the truth, they demanded that the knower make a striking impression on their senses. Our modesty is what offended their taste for the longest time ... And didn’t they know it, these strutting turkey-cocks of God — “
Of course, in The Anti-Christ the target is the Christian with their belief. But Nietzsche is not thereby afraid to say that “Jesus could be called a ‘free spirit’, using the phrase somewhat loosely” [section 32] – and that because, in his analysis of the Galilean:
“The concept, the experience of ‘life’ as only he knew it, repelled every type of word, formula, law, faith, or dogma. He spoke only about what was inside him most deeply: ‘life’ or ‘truth’ or ‘light’ are his words for the innermost, — he saw everything else, the whole of reality, the whole of nature, language itself, as having value only as a sign, a parable.”
We will remember from earlier that the free spirit was not, and could not, ever be a dogmatist. Nietzsche thinks that Jesus was no dogmatist either. In giving his own truth, he demonstrated a kind of free spiritedness which even Nietzsche – the Antichrist! — could recognise. The Anti-Christ itself is a good, and short, book to read in regard to free spirits – yet not because it is all about them but because it is about their opposites, the Christians and believers. It is here, in fact, that Nietzsche makes one of his most pertinent comments on intellectual integrity and the necessary intellectual qualities which can lead to a true intellectual independence. This is in section 54:
“Make no mistake about it: great spirits are sceptics. Zarathustra is a sceptic. The vigour, the freedom that comes from the strength and super-strength of spirit proves itself through scepticism. Where basic issues about value or lack of value are concerned, people with convictions do not come into consideration. Convictions are prisons. These people do not see far enough, they do not see beneath themselves: but if you are going to talk about value and lack of value, you need to see five hundred convictions beneath you, behind you ... A spirit who wills greatness and also wills the means to it is necessarily a sceptic. The freedom from every sort of conviction, being able to see freely, is part of strength ... His whole intellect is devoted to the great passion, the foundation and the power of its being, more enlightened, more despotic than he is himself; it gives him assurance; it gives him the courage even for unholy means; it allows him convictions under certain circumstances. Conviction as a means: there are many things that can be achieved only by means of a conviction. Great passion uses convictions and uses them up, it does not subordinate itself to them, — it knows its own sovereignty. — Conversely: the need for faith, for some unconditional yes or no… is a need of the weak. Men of faith, the ‘faithful’ of every type, are necessarily dependent people, — the sort of people who cannot posit themselves as a goal, who are utterly incapable of positing goals from out of themselves. The ‘man of faith’ does not belong to himself, he can only be a means, he needs to be used up, he needs someone to use him up. He instinctively holds a morality of self-abnegation in the greatest honour; everything urges him to adopt it, his shrewdness, experience, vanity. Every type of faith is an expression of self-abnegation, of self-alienation ... Just think how the vast majority of people need some regulative guideline as an external principle of bondage or mooring, how compulsion, slavery in a higher sense, is the only and ultimate condition for the thriving of the weak-willed person, particularly the female: this is how conviction, ‘faith’, should be understood as well. It gives the man of convictions a backbone. Not to see many things, not to be free on a single point, to be partisan through and through, to have a strict and necessary optic in all values — these are the only conditions under which this type of a person can even arise. But this makes him the opposite, the antagonist of the truthful person, — of truth ... A faithful person is not free to have any sort of conscience for the question ‘true’ or ‘untrue’: honesty on this point would be his immediate downfall. People with convictions have pathologically conditioned optics, which makes them into fanatics — Savonarola, Luther, Rousseau, Robespierre, Saint-Simon, — the antithesis of strong spirits who have become free. But the grand poses struck by these sick spirits, these conceptual epileptics, can affect the great masses, — fanatics are picturesque, humanity would rather see gestures than listen to reasons ...”
This intellectual independence of the free spirit is then a matter of the strength of my own reasons — but where “reasons” are necessary things for the free spirit, things one must fashion for oneself. Freedom, in this sense, Nietzsche does not think is automatic or given. It is, and can only be, an achievement of the self. One must make oneself a goal and use everything up in that endeavour – one consequently cannot afford the luxury of “convictions” for these must always be subservient to the creation and overcoming of one’s past truths. “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies” – as Nietzsche had said right back in that book “for free spirits” at section 483. It is right to say then, as Nietzsche does in Ecce Homo where he reviews Human, All Too Human, that “The term ‘free spirit’ does not want to be understood in any other way [than as] a spirit that has become free, that has taken hold of itself again.” This is a matter of progress – towards oneself – progress towards one’s moral, intellectual, cultural and political independence. This, in fact, is what I think attracted Emma Goldman to Nietzsche so much and held her interest — whilst others dissented — and made it the basis of her own anarchy.
RENZO NOVATORE: THE MODEL OF THE FREE SPIRIT
If we take this interpretation of Nietzsche’s “free spirit” as read then the mirror image of this figure is the Italian anarchist, Renzo Novatore. Let us consider, for example, his text “The Revolt of The Unique” – a text also significantly demonstrative of his influence by Max Stirner’s The Unique and Its Property. Novatore was a man who started his rebellion for self-actualization early, rebelling against both being schooled, which he left after only a term, and doing as his parents wanted. It is said of him that he would wander off into the woods near his home and educate himself with books acquired by what he had sold, having pilfered produce from his parents’ farm to sell for money. In adult life he served some prison time for apparently setting fire to a church and he deserted from the Italian Army during World War One, being saved from being hunted down when an amnesty was declared. He met his demise, at the age of 32, in a shoot out with police whilst pursuing a life of illegalism – which I’m sure he didn’t mind at all as it was death, as his life, on his own terms. “Death is the final lover” as he said in an article titled “Let’s Exalt Life” published in the magazine Iconoclasta in 1920.
But it is to “The Revolt of The Unique” that I turn first of all which is written publicly towards fellow Italian anarchist, Carlo Molaschi. Molaschi had for several years been an individualist anarchist like Novatore himself but some time around 1921, when “The Revolt of The Unique” was written, Molaschi modulated his views to social anarchist ones, having already been working with other social anarchists such as Errico Malatesta and Camillo Bernieri, among others. The text of “The Revolt of The Unique” is clearly written in response to this — although Novatore still has the grace to address Molaschi as a “comrade”. The text, however, is a strong polemical defence of Novatore’s individualist anarchism and a critique of social conceptions of the same as, essentially, giving away everything in anarchism that is truly effective and worthwhile. It is in this that we begin to see Novatore’s credentials as a Nietzschean free spirit who wants to take “anarchism” seriously.
Straight off the bat here Novatore sets the tone by saying:
“I don’t want to dictate moral maxims to my ‘neighbour,’ or teach anyone anything… I leave this task to the missionaries of all faiths, the priests of all churches, the demagogues of all parties, the apostles of all ideas. I only want to howl my extreme rebellion against everything that oppresses me; I only want to push far away from me everything that the religious, socialist, or libertarian priesthood wants to impose on my individuality without me having freely accepted and wanted it.”
Here Novatore has already associated “socialist” with a “priesthood”, a hierarchical metaphor of control. As he continues, he talks about his “uniqueness” and the “dogmatic… societarianism” he feels “poisons” it. An important point is reached when he says that “I have a personal truth of my own that isn’t and can’t be universal ‘truth’”, something that is surely both a Nietzschean and a Stirnerite point. He references “the unique ideal that is my individuality” in this respect and says that “I don’t deny to anyone the beauty of their ideas, the strength of their dream, and the truth of their thought” [and, of course, he expects the same in return]. His conclusion is then:
“Let each human being therefore work—if he thinks this way—at the discovery of his own I, at the realization of his own dream, at the complete integration and full development of his own individuality. Every human being who has discovered and won himself walks on his own path and follows his free course. But let no one come to me to impose his belief, his will, his faith on me. By denying god, fatherland, authority, and law, I have achieved anarchism. By refusing to sacrifice myself on the altar of the people and of humanity, I have achieved individualism. Now I am free…”
This is a social as well as an individual prescription just as Nietzsche’s project of free spirits had social as well as personal connotations. It can’t not have when such a thing is being put forward as a general idea in regard to what you think it is best for people to be [even if you then leave it up to their own judgment]. So Novatore is, at a minimum, implying that human beings who discover themselves [i.e. become free spirits] should walk on their own path and follow their own free course and that this would be a better society than the one we have now if they did. Novatore in this essay imagines himself in a “war against the brute force of society, of the people, of humanity” who “dare to act against the unique” and have a “thousand monstrous arms”. He authorizes himself to defend himself against this mass coercion of the collectivity “without scruples” exactly because he “follows himself” and does it to the nth degree, to the very end and without equivocation. He is, in the popular phrase, truly “a law unto himself”. This, it should be completely understood, is what Novatore believes anarchism is – the complete denial of any authority but that of himself and the complete inauthenticity of any attempt to coerce him, either by force or by imagined benevolence. Novatore proclaims a creed of self-sufficiency [and so is very Cynic in this respect] and he is not interested in an anarchism of organised benevolence because the principle of personal agency and autonomy is the condition that must be absolutely satisfied for him in order to even recognise something as anarchism. Novatore’s view is that the only real interests in life are personal ones not abstract or ideal ones — for actual human beings, individuals, are the things that actually, materially exist. Things like “humanity” do not. Novatore’s view is that anarchy is not anarchy unless it addresses such real human interests, the interests of real, living people. The human being must be what counts — in its specificity — rather than “humanity”. Novatore describes himself, from a sarcastically drawn social perspective, as “diseased with Stirner’s ‘fierce egoism’” and “infected by arrogant Zarathustrian Overhumania” to make the point that, to those who see a mass but not the individual, such people are regarded as nothing and effectively erased as a result.
Novatore now enters into an interesting phase of his essay where he takes on the social anarchist position, which Molaschi seems to have preached, prompting Novatore’s response, which is presented as “mutual aid, solidarity and love are necessities of life”. Here, of course, it would seem to be argued by Molaschi [or is at least presented by Novatore] that the creeds of Stirner and Nietzsche lead away from these things [that is, are implicitly regarded as socially detrimental]. Novatore wants to set the criticisms of Stirner and Nietzsche in this assumption to one side, however [he doesn’t agree with them but he is animated himself by his own points]. Instead, he wants to criticise the idea that Molaschi seems to think things should be FOR EVERYONE as he thinks they should be [so as Auban accused Trupp in The Anarchists]. That is to say, he wants to enforce definitions and classifications – and so conditions – onto others – an anti-individualist move which also contradicts the idea of free spirits. As to “mutual aid, brotherhood and love”, Novatore admits they are a necessity [which might be surprising] but he doesn’t admit they either are, or could be, a reality – at least not in universal terms or as an achievable goal of society. Reality, thinks Novatore, is “hatred, enmity, war”. The contrast here seems to be that Novatore views “social” thinkers as proffering a future paradise or imagining future utopias where enmity has ceased and all human beings live in peace with all other human beings. Novatore fundamentally rejects this picture and denies it will ever be possible whilst playfully contrasting things Molaschi, in his new social guise, says now with things he used to say when he was as individualist as Novatore is. Novatore responds to the future paradise scenario with the comment “the dream of workers is not my dream. The longings of the people are not my longings, the pains of the mass are not my pains!…” As such, he constantly forces the social anarchist like Molaschi to face up to the truth that the only real interests in life are personal ones – something Molaschi himself accepted in his own very recent past.
This is to contrast what Novatore paints as the “proselytising”, future-oriented, idealist anarchism of social organisation with the personal, individual, egoistic, unique anarchism of himself and other individualists like him. Novatore here wants to point out the coercion that is introduced into anarchism at that point at which anyone starts saying what anarchists “should” be doing for he regards this as a transgression of what is almost the singular eternal principle of free spirit: that there is anyone else’s “should” but my own for the anarchist; that, therefore, EVERYTHING is voluntary for such a person and that no coercion, whether violent or benevolent, is legitimate. Here Novatore criticises an evolutionary argument Molaschi seems to have made of himself that what one esteems in one’s youth is not necessarily the same as what one esteems in later years, having gained more experience. Novatore grants this point but continues by adding that just because this is reasonable it does not mean it must be the same for everyone. It is neither an “obligation” to evolve in such a way nor a “duty”. Novatore pronounces himself against any anarchist “should” and against any anarchist who utters this “should” too easily. Implicitly, he forces anarchists, once again, back onto the absolute notion that freedom of interest only exists for the individual which is where the actual, real, living, material interests in life lie. His point is that no one has any real requirement to be like anything except themselves. There is no algorithm, plan, much less dogma, which determines what an anarchist must be like, what an anarchist must want, or how they should behave. Novatore mentions more than once the former verity of Molaschi himself that “anarchists are born and not made” in this respect.
Novatore summarises this point in the noteworthy sentence that “anarchism has ended up making itself official and becoming a party.” The correct response to this is “Ouch!” for that, surely, is what anarchism can never, should never, become. In this respect, Novatore references “the conferences, the unions, the workerism” and “the organizations” that have recently arisen in anarchist circles. He christens this “paternal democratic domesticity” and these are not good words from Novatore’s mouth. They echo, in fact, Nietzsche’s condemnations of socialism as secularised Christianity, the love that kills rather than the hate that kills – and the love that kills is all the worse for that because it claims to love as it kills you. Novatore, however, stands for “anti-society individualism” and, elsewhere, he pledges to fight [actually fight, with weapons] against any society which is formulated against him. [Novatore sees any society as against him for it is the tendency, perhaps even the point, of society to constrain the individual. But a free spirit only wants to be free!]
It is probably troubling for at least some readers then what “anti-society” might actually mean on the lips of Renzo Novatore. He is not unaware of this reader’s concern and I will do him the courtesy of quoting his answer to this question in full:
“First of all, we need to come to a bit of an agreement about what ‘anti-society’ means.
I am not a misanthrope and so much the less a misogynist… I need friends and lovers, clothes and bread. I am not an anchorite or a saint in the desert. But there’s no need to be such a thing in order to be anti-society. Being anti-society means—for me—not collaborating in the preservation of the present society nor lending one’s efforts to any new social construction. I said it once before: Every society you build will have its fringes, and on the fringes of every society, heroic and restless vagabonds will wander, with their wild and virgin thoughts, only able to live by preparing ever new and terrible outbreaks of rebellion! I shall be among them! And if materialistic ‘needs’ force me to go toward society, the ‘necessity’ to be free sets me against it and gives birth in me to a third ‘need.’ That of doing violence to it. Without scruples! This is my ‘anti-society’ perspective. And if we happened to speak of so-called ‘progress’ I could even affirm—without fear of going wrong—that the triumph and the glory of the human path are due only to the spirit that informs this anti-society principle of individualism.”
The final point here is an important point for, once again, it argues that what makes life worth living in our reality, which is individualised reality, is its very individualism, the ability to think for oneself, act on individual impulse, follow individual desire. This, in fact, is what makes social interaction meaningful or valuable – that it is not coerced, forced or fixed, that we choose it for ourselves, voluntarily. Novatore’s point, hidden under scary terms like “individualism” and “anti-society”, is that its only really the fact of our independence which gives our lives any meaning. If we can’t choose things for ourselves then that meaning becomes dulled and what is valuable is lost. This, for example, is why prison is a punishment: it takes away autonomy, agency and our free association, the things which make things meaningful and valuable for us, the things, according to Novatore, to which anarchism is calling us back. So Novatore argues that such an anarchism is actually the key to life, that which he will literally fight for [as it turns out, to the death]. This, then, is a fundamentally social as well as individual prescription, an actuality of free and autonomous human beings living as they please.
All of this, it transpires, revolves around how you understand that little seven letter word FREEDOM. I want to quote what Novatore says about this, in the context of a reply to the newly social anarchist Molaschi, as follows:
“The word ‘Freedom’ taken in itself is a negation: nothing—death! Freedom is a propulsion towards power—it is the strength of conquest and the capacity for possession. (I have had the capacity to free myself from that tiresome old lover of mine; because I had the capacity and the power, I have taken the liberty of gathering this new flower). Living means doing good and bad to others. No one can live without hurting anyone… Living means: dominating and being dominated! With the realization of the unpleasant authoritarian communism of the socialists, the rulers would be a slimy handful of demagogues, vulgar, cunning insects; plebeian slaves in their turn of a dogma. In realizing libertarian communism, the great majority would be the ruling Goddess. But libertarian communism (which is the dream of those who hate conflict and battle—which is youth and life—and for which they are nonetheless a quick, strange paradoxical contradiction, to make war in the name of equality and peace) would have to take extreme measures against those who want to come out, advance, rise up to a more ample affirmation of individual life. Libertarian communism would then be forced to repress in order to preserve itself. But its materialistic preservation would be the categorical negation of the very spirit that informs and exalts it! And here we are finally at anarchy—I admit that one can speak of this as a social realization of human life together. ‘Anarchy’ would thus be nothing more nor less than the triumph of the higher ‘type.’ Radically vanished—because even the lowliest of all human beings would have had to go beyond it—the as-stupid-as-it-is-vulgar right to private property and everything that is ‘material good.’ The spiritual dominator remains—the one who is noble by nature. He will stand above the others and dominate them. (No one, I believe, would have the false pretension of levelling ethical, aesthetic, artistic, intellectual, and spiritual values, like physical and sexual values). Because the noble one, even in Anarchy—or rather, in anarchy more than in any other form of human life together—will enjoy pleasure that others would not be able to enjoy, even if he, for love of them, wanted to renounce them. Anarchy is therefore the natural Autocracy of the noble.”
The final conclusion here was also defended by Emma Goldman – although Goldman didn’t go around with a Browning pistol like Novatore threatening to shoot anyone who denied her her liberty to live life according to her noble desires. She was, however, coming from the same Nietzschean place as Novatore in such a thought [which, incidentally, some noticed and criticised her for as she remarks in reference to “minorities versus majorities” in Anarchism and Other Essays]. That point, which I maintain Goldman shared with Novatore here, is that anarchism’s vision of life is based in an absolute, radical freedom which, ultimately, it is only possible to express at the individual level. It is the anarchism of free spirits for free spirits are the only ones who make themselves, and so their freedom and functional independence, their goal and purpose because it is felt as a personal need. It is only this, so they both say, which then guarantees freedom beyond the individual level. Personal freedom makes free people and only free people, not organisational imperative, can make a free politics [understood, in this sense, as a web of personal relations]. So when Goldman writes, “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things” it is my argument that she is actually saying, in her own words, of course, what Novatore here says in his. Their anarchism together is an anarchism of free spirits, of free autonomous anarchism for everyone. This, in fact, is why I think Goldman’s attitude appears to have been “give people this freedom and the rest will take care of itself” – which appears to be Novatore’s attitude as well. Here we should not be put off by scary words like “autocracy” and “nobility” but pierce beneath the language to engage with the kind of people such thinking hopes us to be. It is fundamentally to do with what we think freedom is and what it practically means. And, of course, it is contrasted with a “libertarian communism” which must ultimately be a coercion to its own hegemony as Novatore never tires of sarcastically digging out.
Novatore, then, hopes for the highest in human life. He hopes for it certainly for himself – but he does not thereby deny it to you as a result. That I wish to be a free spirit does not deny you the right or ability to be one too [or not]. I can satisfy my desires and feast on life while you do the same thing as well. Each life, says Novatore [as does Goldman], is individual, and anarchism is the pursuance of what is best in life for it, something which can only be via individual paths rather than levelling coercions or “universal” truths. So when Novatore says that life is “autocracy” he means it in what most closely resembles a Stirnerite sense, that each is unique and has their own ‘property’ which it is their task to prosper. So Novatore’s polemical address to Carlo Molaschi is ultimately an argument that freedom can only really be individually free and that we must leave “society” to itself, to the free interactions of free people. There is, thinks Novatore, no gerrymandering this for, as of necessity, such interference would be precisely gerrymandering and so would injure real, personal, material interests in a systematic way. Novatore, as he says himself, understands life to be a matter of such injury; it is, we may say, only natural. Yet he conceives that there is then no utopian solution for it, no imaginable, or actual, future peace treaty between all human beings. The social anarchist ideal of future harmony is permanently cancelled for it is an impossible vision, a collective self-delusion. There is, instead, only the prospect of free spirits living freely and a community freedom possibly emerging organically in the midst of that by its actuality as individual acts with, and upon, individuals. And then, says Novatore, “we will love each other with a different love!”
This is a basic picture of the views of Renzo Novatore and his attitude to anarchism but it can be filled in further from the surviving literary fragments of his short and vigorously lived life. These, for example, are some of his definitions:
“GOD: The creation of a sick fantasy. Inhabitant of senile and impotent brains. Companion and comforter of rancid spirits born to slavery. A pill for constipated minds. Marxism for the faint of heart.
HUMANITY: An abstract word with a negative connotation, long on power, short on truth. An obscene mask painted on the mean face of a shrewd vulgarian for the purpose of dominating the multitude of sentimentalist idiots and imbeciles.
COUNTRY: Penal servitude for the semi-intelligent, a cowshed of imbecility. A Circe who transforms her adoring fans into dogs and pigs. A prostitute for the master, a pimp of the foreigner. Child-eater, parent-slanderer and scoffer at heroes.
FAMILY: The denial of love, life and liberty.
SOCIALISM: Discipline, discipline; obedience, obedience; slavery and ignorance, pregnant with authority. A bourgeois body grotesquely fattened by a vulgar christian creature. A medley of fetishism, sectarianism and cowardice.
ORGANIZATIONS, LEGISLATIVE BODIES AND UNIONS: Churches for the powerless. Pawnshops for the stingy and weak. Many join to live parasitically off the backs of their card-carrying simpleton colleagues. Some join to become spies. Others, the most sincere, join to end up in jail from where they can observe the mean-spiritedness of all the rest.
SOLIDARITY: The macabre altar used by capable comedians of all sorts to display their priestly talent for reciting masses. The beneficiaries pay nothing less than 100% humiliation.
FRIENDSHIP: Fortunate are those who have drunk from its chalice without having their souls offended or poisoned. If one such person exists, I urge them to send me their photograph. I’m sure to look upon the face of an idiot.
LOVE: Deception of the flesh and damage to the spirit. Disease of the soul, atrophy of the brain, weakening of the heart, corruption of the senses, poetic lies from which one gets ferociously inebriated two or three times a day in order to consume this precious but stupid life more quickly. And yet I would prefer to die of love. It’s the only swindler, after Judas, that can kill with a kiss.
MAN: A filthy paste of servitude, tyranny, fetishism, fear, vanity -and ignorance. The greatest offence one can commit against an ass is to call it a man.
WOMAN: The most brutal of enslaved beasts. The greatest victim shuffling on earth. And, after man, the most responsible for her problems. I’d be curious to know what goes through her mind when I kiss her.”
Meanwhile, in his “Anarchist Individualism in the Social Revolution”, Novatore provides further views with which to supplement those presented in response to Carlo Molaschi. For example, he begins this essay:
“Anarchist individualism as we understand it – and I say we because a substantial handful of friends think this like me – is hostile to every school and every party, every churchly and dogmatic moral, as well as every more or less academic imbecility. Every form of discipline, rule and pedantry is repulsive to the sincere nobility of our vagabond and rebellious restlessness! Individualism is, for us, creative force, immortal youth, exalting beauty, redemptive and fruitful war. It is the marvellous apotheosis of the flesh and the tragic epic of the spirit. Our logic is that of not having any. Our ideal is the categorical negation of all other ideals for the greatest and supreme triumph of the actual, real, instinctive, reckless and merry life! For us perfection is not a dream, an ideal, a riddle, a mystery, a sphinx, but a vigorous and powerful, luminous and throbbing reality. All human beings are perfect in themselves. All they lack is the heroic courage of their perfection. Since the time that human beings first believed that life was a duty, a calling, a mission, it has meant shame for their power of being, and in following phantoms, they have denied themselves and distanced themselves from the real. When Christ said to human beings: ‘be yourselves, perfection is in you!’ he launched a superb phrase that is the supreme synthesis of life.”
The view here is that human beings have all they need in themselves and that when things like “duty” or “calling” or “mission” – in other words, imposed obligations – intrude then life is weighted down with unnecessary and arbitrary chains. But this does not mean, contrary to those who too easily wish to regard individualist anarchism as “selfishness raised to a principle”, that no interest in social revolution is maintained. In this essay, in fact, Novatore says the following:
“The Social Revolution is the sudden awakening of Prometheus after a fall into a faint of sorrow caused by the foul vulture that rips his heart to shreds. It is an attempt at self-liberation. But the chains with which the sinister god Jove [i.e. Zeus] had him chained on the Caucasus by the repugnant servant Vulcan cannot be broken except by the Titanic rebel Hero, son of Jove himself. We rebel children of this putrid humanity that has chained human beings in the dogmatic mud of social superstitions will never miss bringing our tremendous axe blow down on the rusty links of this hateful chain. Yes, we anarchist individualists are for Social Revolution, but in our way, it’s understood!”
Novatore here wants to distinguish a “social” social revolution from the interests an individualist free spirit might have in such a revolution. Changing the present state of affairs into something else, something other, is an ambition Novatore shares with the social anarchist [both want to break their chains] but, thereafter, the ambitions immediately begin to diverge. Individualist anarchists, according to Novatore, engage in social revolution for their own reasons and not for social anarchist reasons. They refuse, in fact, to engage in the “social” aspect of revolution except on their own voluntary terms, something on which they insist. Consequently, “All past revolutions”, says Novatore, “were in the end, bourgeois and conservative.” So therefore:
“The revolt of the individual against society is not given by that of the masses against governments. Even when the masses submit to governments, living in the sacred and shameful peace of their resignation, the anarchist individual lives against society because he is in a never-ending and irreconcilable war with it, but when, at a historical turning point, he comes together with the masses in revolt, he raises his black flag with them and throws his dynamite with them. The anarchist individualist is in the Social Revolution, not as a demagogue, but as a inciting element, not as an apostle, but as a living, effective, destructive force…
the ultimate task of we anarchist individualists will be that of blowing up the final ark with bomb explosions and the final dictator with Browning shots. The new society established, we will return to its margins to live our lives dangerously as noble criminals and audacious sinners! Because the anarchist individualist still means eternal renewal, in the field of art, thought and action. Anarchist individualism still means eternal revolt against eternal sorrow, the eternal search for new springs of life, joy and beauty. And we will still be such in Anarchy.”
This, then, is a constitutional revolt, one that comes from within and which is non-negotiable as it is the motivation, the impetus, of the anarchist individualist’s life. The Nietzschean free-spiritedness of intellectual, moral and cultural independence here requires a necessary political independence as well and is functionally foundational. It should be no surprise, then, that Novatore can share the following views in “Between the Two Anarchies”:
“ I—anarchist and individualist—don’t want to and cannot embrace the cause of atheist communism, because I don’t believe in the supreme elevation of the masses and therefore I refuse the realization of Anarchy understood as a social form of human life together. Anarchy is in free spirits, in the instinct of great rebels, and in great and superior minds. Anarchy is the innermost animating mystery of misunderstood uniquenesses, strong because alone, noble because they have the courage of solitude and of love, aristocratic because scornful of commonness, heroic because against all… Anarchy is nectar for the psychic I and not sociological alcohol for the collectivity. The anarchist is the one who refuses every cause for the joy of his life radiating from inner spiritual intensity.”
This is to say that Novatore refuses to recognise anarchism as a social form of human organisation, a theory to be applied to society. He takes seriously the notion, implied for him in the word “anarchy”, that such a thing is not possible. This does not, of course, mean he is against human interaction or activity with other human beings anymore than people who do not believe in God thereby think that nature does not go about its business anyway without a divine overseer. Novatore, after all, had a wife and child, as well as friends and colleagues, and he has already stated previously that he is no misanthrope. What he does believe, however, is that “anarchy is in [Nietzschean] free spirits” and so any social reality must then derive from this reality for him. The inference here, as with Nietzsche, is that there is the smell of decay around “collectivity” and all thinking which collectivises and so levels and equalises on that basis, treating the individual as fodder for the collective deity. Novatore is also in no doubt about how such views make him look to others who are kept drunk on “sociological alcohol.” He uses “vagabond” and “common criminal” of himself often enough to show this self-awareness. He just doesn’t care how such others see him because he has, in his own conscious uniqueness, passed beyond [concern for] their good and evil. He has engaged with the independence of the free spirit. Novatore’s free-spirited nature issues, in fact, in negation and in a nihilism towards all social organisation and thinking which becomes imposition, expectation and obligation. He explains this himself in “I Am Also A Nihilist”:
“I am an individualist because I am an anarchist; and I am an anarchist because I am a nihilist. But I also understand nihilism in my own way… I don’t care whether it is Nordic or Oriental, nor whether or not it has a historical, political, practical tradition, or a theoretical, philosophical, spiritual, intellectual one. I call myself a nihilist because I know that nihilism means negation. Negation of every society, of every cult, of every rule and of every religion. But I don’t yearn for Nirvana, any more than I long for Schopenhauer’s desperate and powerless pessimism, which is a worse thing than the violent renunciation of life itself. Mine is an enthusiastic and Dionysian pessimism, like a flame that sets my vital exuberance ablaze, that mocks at any theoretical, scientific or moral prison. And if I call myself an individualist anarchist, an iconoclast and a nihilist, it is precisely because I believe that in these adjectives there is the highest and most complete expression of my willful and reckless individuality that, like an overflowing river, wants to expand, impetuously sweeping away dikes and hedges, until it crashes into a granite boulder, shattering and breaking up in its turn. I do not renounce life. I exalt and sing it.”
The key there is that Novatore’s attitude to life “mocks at any theoretical, scientific or moral prison.” This is how he sees such things – as social prisons, as locking up the free spirit in a sociological prison. Consequently, life is a battle for Novatore, a war against people and institutions which want to fetter his being. As he puts this himself in the same essay:
“Life — for me — is neither good nor bad, neither a theory nor an idea. Life is a reality, and the reality of life is war. For one who is a born warrior, life is a fountain of joy, for others it is only a fountain of humiliation and sorrow. I no longer demand carefree joy from life. It couldn’t give it to me, and I would no longer know what to do with it now that my adolescence is past… Instead I demand that it give me the perverse joy of battle that gives me the sorrowful spasms of defeat and the voluptuous thrills of victory. Defeated in the mud or victorious in the sun, I sing life and I love it! There is no rest for my rebel spirit except in war, just as there is no greater happiness for my vagabond, negating mind than the uninhibited affirmation of my capacity to life and to rejoice. My every defeat serves me only as symphonic prelude to a new victory.”
The focus here, once more, is on what is real and, for Novatore, it is the individual which is the felt reality of life, the moving force, the sense and sensibility. Collectivities only exist in thought where they are useful for making arguments and elucidating ideas but it is people, real people in their concrete materiality with the needs and desires that they contingently happen to have, that are of importance to him. This puts the focus on what Novatore later in the same essay calls “the reality of my inner world” and Novatore rejects the abstraction “society” because his inner world is real whereas society is not. “Society” is only a name for a holistic construction of human relationships which could be otherwise imagined. Thus, he finishes this essay by saying:
“I reject society for the triumph of the I. I reject the stability of every rule, every custom, every morality, for the affirmation of every willful instinct, all free emotionality, every passion and every fantasy. I mock at every duty and every right so I can sing free will. I scorn the future to suffer and enjoy my good and my bad in the present. I despise humanity because it is not my humanity. I hate tyrants and I detest slaves. I don’t want and I don’t grant solidarity, because I am convinced that it is a new chain, and because I believe with Ibsen that the one who is most alone is the strongest one. This is my Nihilism. Life, for me, is nothing but a heroic poem of joy and perversity written with the bleeding hands of sorrow and pain or a tragic dream of art and beauty!”
Perhaps, then, Novatore’s own construction of the free spirit is that which he refers to as the “intellectual vagabond” in an essay of the same name. Here, paraphrasing both Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche, the egoist Novatore creates a fiction populated by Stirnerite ideas, Zarathustran figures, characters from Ibsen’s dramas and even those from the writing of Oscar Wilde. [All of these figures, incidentally, also interested Emma Goldman.] But then Novatore is caught short in his fiction-making and realises that, amongst such figures, he is in “bad company”. His response, as you might expect, is unequivocal:
“Oh, luminaries, you save me from the wrath of decent people… And save me yet again from those who don’t take the time to destroy, each day in battle, a bit of this society that oppresses and crushes us, but rather waste their time trying to teach, to impose systems of struggle and thought on those who have tried to learn to struggle and think for themselves. And when their time is not used up in accomplishing all this, it is employed in figuring out how big the lunatic asylums, in which the new rebels against the future society will get locked up, will have to be. For my part, I find myself in good company with these madmen, and along with one of them, perhaps the best, I cry: ‘scorn them, scorn the good and the just, since they have always been the beginning of the end.’ Oh, how well I have lived in the company of these madmen! How great I find their ‘madness of destruction’! I assure that I love destructive madness more, far, far more than conserving wisdom. Yes, yes, leave me with my madmen since I promise you that if the next European revolution denies us the joy of falling wrapped in the delirium of DESTRUCTION, in better times, I will come back to speak of Them, and if there is anything to reproach — perhaps the smallness of their madness? — I will do it and without reserve.”
If all this is by now striking you as, at least, eccentric, consider that Novatore imagines the societal alternative, the organised filtering of human organisation and activity based on uniformity of values and thinking, as much, much worse. Novatore destroys because he thinks what he is destroying deserves destruction. This is social commentary on his part. It is the choice of his own discovered valuations for things over the idea that he should accept the ones society, or any purely social construction, teaches him, a will to independence over a will to being organised. [That this is expected of a man who, as a child, evaded the authority of both schools and his parents is, of course, a big ask!] Yet Novatore is also wise enough to realise that his individuality is not all there is to the world. “Society” in fact, is the constant yang to his yin. So, as he notes in “Of Individualism and Rebellion”:
“There are those who maintain that the human being is by nature a social being. Others maintain that the human being is by nature anti-social. Well, I admit that I have never been able to clearly understand what they meant by their ‘by nature’, but I have understood that both sides are wrong, since the human being is social and anti-social at the same time. Need, want, affection, love and sympathy are the elements that push him toward sociability and union. The craving for independence and the desire for freedom push her toward solitude and individualism. But, while individualism operates and is realized against society, society defends itself from its attacks. The war between ‘societarianism’ and ‘individualism’ is thus a fertile war of vitality and energy. But, while the individual is necessary to society, this in its turn is necessary to him. Individualism couldn’t possibly exist if there was no society against which it could affirm itself and live, expand itself and rejoice.”
Perhaps then, in the end, Novatore simply reserves the right to be a free spirit or intellectual vagabond in a world that will always have a tendency to want to coerce and organise, to coagulate and coalesce. Neither he nor Nietzsche, in fact, ever suggested that such free spirits would be common. In fact, they exist and operate precisely as what is not common, what is the exception. But both do seem to suggest they will always exist and assert themselves nevertheless – as an expression of their lived necessity. We might sum all this up, then, in something from Novatore’s “Cry of Rebellion” where he says:
“All forms of society have systems to do one thing: Equalize! And all forms of society consider themselves the perfect one. And it is this dogma of perfection that obstructs the restless rebel who refuses to bow to its new god… And I’m so revolutionary that I barely recognize myself. And do you know why I am a barely recognizable revolutionary? Because I am guided only by the tremendous and unstoppable impulse of MY desire to expand the force of my own will. I am not guided by phantoms, I do my own walking: it is not the illusion of a perfect society or the universal redemption of humanity, but the absolute need to affirm my potential in spite of all other forces.”
This, at least in Novatore’s mind, is a world of free spirits asserting their own existence. It is not a view concerned with society or macro-political ideas but a view concerned with the negation of society, a view concerned with the negation of all societies as entities which are viewed as a standing attack on the free-spirited self. Novatore was always interested to live and die on his own terms – and he was fortunate that this was something he achieved. Thus, he would have argued that none of us can wish for a better outcome to our existence than that and, taking that on board, this is an approach that we should take seriously as an anarchist approach to life, an anarchism of free spirits.
AN ANARCHISM OF AND FOR FREE SPIRITS
What then is “an anarchism of free spirits” in my own words? Lots of ideas suggest themselves and, since this is a text in which I am trying to explain things, it is a duty I impose upon myself to try and present them sensibly. Perhaps the deepest and most consequential of these ideas, since I must start somewhere, is that “an anarchism of free spirits is the only way to the achieval of something termed ‘anarchism’.” That sounds circular and perhaps contradictory but in my mind its not. First of all, I’m not at all convinced that anarchists are about, or should be about, the achieval of “anarchism” or “world peace” or “revolution” or ridiculous macro-political pie-in-the-sky things like that. An anarchism of free spirits regards the proper focus of anarchistic attention as being yourself and willing yourself to be that free spirit which Nietzsche and Novatore and, for that matter, Goldman have already spoken to. At most, such a person is concerned to their relationships with others, with whom they combine in various ways, in order to satisfy each others needs. But “overthrowing the government” or “establishing an anarchist territory” or “organising the people”? A free spirit is not concerned with that as a goal. Free spirits invalidate all leaders rather than creating new ones.
The second point here is that – as Novatore demonstrated – the free spirit takes words like “anarchism” and “anarchy” VERY SERIOUSLY and, as a consequence, accepts no half measures. If “anarchy” is “no leaders” or “no authority” then that must be followed through to the end and not fudged in “the anarchist revolutionary council” or “the benevolent federation of anarchists”. “Anarchy”, for the free spirit, means no leaders or authorities or coercive bodies at all but autonomy, agency, free association, voluntary connections which people can break off, for any reason or none, at any time they like. If it be argued against this point that this would make any community or project of more than a few hours impossible since no one could ever be relied on, then I reply to that that, if it be so, then you must live with it. But I would also add that cultivating trusting relationships and finding people you can rely on should never be a matter of coercion or obligation either and ask whether introducing such things, even apparently benevolently, is really what you want. For the free spirit any community or project which requires cooperation must absolutely be based in free association and cultivating voluntary relationships in order to make something that comes from within rather than something which is coerced from without. The free spirit is one who is not shy of sharing themselves with others in their own, or in a shared, interest but it must always be freely given by them themselves in order to maintain its free-spirited character. This is a matter of taking anarchism seriously as an uncoerced path through life and of taking anarchy seriously as a state of existence in which coercions are things that life will always seek to avoid and to rebel against as a duty willingly self-imposed by the free.
The third point is then to say, perhaps as Auban in The Anarchists said at his best, that metanarratival idealisms which ultimately seek only to propagate themselves – such as anarchist communism was accused of – are finally authoritarianism and coercion in another disguise. This is, at least, certainly a charge individualist anarchists made in the past and we saw in our discussion of Novatore that he essentially made the same charge against Carlo Molaschi in real life that Auban made against Trupp in fiction. The question to answer here is where does the centre of gravity lie when we talk about freedom? Is it with the collectivity or is it with the individual? The free spirit says that it is only individuals, with their real lives and felt needs and actual concerns, that actually exist and that the collectivity is ultimately an abstraction that is wielded for various purposes. This, however, is not to say that people may not have common needs or common foes or that relationships between people are also not real. It is to say that if people want to fight foes together or supply needs together then this is for them to agree upon in and from their own individuality through the construction of relationships each on their own terms. What my interest is, whoever “me” is there, should always be a matter for me. I should always be responsible for it and want to be responsible for it. It should be regarded as something which cannot be given away or subsumed or superceded by any imagined “higher level” collective body or abstraction. A free spirit simply would fight to the death against this as a struggle for their own independent existence – a matter, to them, of their life and death. How they live, and who they live it with, are matters for them and them alone and this is seen as taking “anarchism” seriously as an idea to begin with, as an idea that means something specific that cannot be fudged.
Another aspect to this, already hinted at earlier on in the previous discussion, is that anarchism must never be seen as gerrymandering the world. The more I have studied anarchism, past and present, the more it has often seemed to me that, for many, this is exactly what anarchism is. We see this attitude, for example, wherever we think of anarchism as a revolution which sweeps away capitalism or a government or as a future state of affairs where people are organised in a more horizontal way. The wish here is the same: to fix the world in a way some assumedly benevolent person or persons imagines is best. IS THAT REALLY ANARCHISM? IS THAT WHAT ‘NO AUTHORITY’ HAS AMOUNTED TO? IS ‘ANARCHY’ THEN A STATE OF AFFAIRS IN WHICH SOME IDEOLOGY HAS DECIDED HOW PEOPLE WILL LIVE? Excuse me, but I seem to have studied anarchism for years and come to the conclusion that this is exactly what anarchism was intended to make impossible! What is anarchism? What is anarchy? Is it disseminating a new ideology which reorientates how people relate to one another and creates communities and societies? Is it, in this sense, ‘gerrymandering the world’? For an anarchism of free spirits it could not be for each would wish their own independence and to create their relationships with one another as they saw fit – not according to that benevolent ideology which someone else thought was best for them. Again: do we take “anarchy” seriously? Do we take “anarchism” seriously? What does it mean to do this when you really get down to the filth and the gutter? It means no leaders; it means no authorities; it means I take responsibility for myself, I educate myself, I create myself, I actualise myself – for my life is my business and I must live it as I please. Whether you like it or not. It is Max Stirner’s recognition that “The idols exist through me; I need only refrain from creating them anew, then they exist no longer: ‘higher powers’ exist only through my exalting them and abasing myself.” As such, a further quotation of Max Stirner’s from The Unique and Its Property puts this thought in broader terms:
“Revolution and insurrection should not be looked upon as synonymous. The former consists in a radical change of conditions, of the prevailing condition or status, the state or society, and is therefore a political or social act; the latter indeed has a transformation of conditions as its inevitable result, but doesn’t start from it, but from the discontent of human beings with themselves; it is not an armed uprising, but a rising up of individuals, a getting up, without regard to the arrangements that spring from it. The revolution is aimed at new arrangements, while the insurrection leads us to no longer let ourselves be arranged, but rather to arrange ourselves, and sets no radiant hopes on ‘institutions.’...
The revolution commands one to make arrangements; the insurrection demands that one stand or raise himself up... The insurrectionist strives to become constitutionless.”
We have to take seriously, then, what Nietzsche meant by a free spirit. He meant someone creating, and asserting, their intellectual, moral, cultural and political independence or their Stirnerite “constitutionlessness”, their refusal to be institutionalised. But in my using the word “independence” here let us not make facile allusions to someone living alone in self-absorbed isolation. This is not what is meant. It is much more to do with a person who owns themselves, who does not defer, who insists that their thoughts, their life, their behaviour, is a matter for them. They do not defer to custom or act according to tradition as unthinking meatpuppets being worked by the dead hand of the past that has animated them from birth through the maladministrations of parents, teachers and public morality. In simple terms, they think for themselves and, in doing so, they rebel against uniformity, duty, obligation, staying in your lane, knowing your place and doing as you are told. They are people who refuse to be drilled and who insist on making their own meanings and creating their own values and value systems. Such things they regard as the honesty and virtue of the free spirit. They are those who, even if everyone else goes along with things, will not be coerced. They insist on the voluntaristic nature of human conduct and on an anarchism based in voluntarism. They ask that, if anarchism and anarchy mean anything, they mean human agency, real autonomy and a total and absolute freedom of association — and they imagine that, these things being granted, the rest is not really our concern and will take care of itself for people do not need to be organised, they are quite capable of organising themselves if they feel the need to.
The free spirit conceives that anarchism is not, as has often been the case in the past, a matter purely of externals. The Mujeres Libres, for example, knew that was not the case during the Spanish Revolution of the mid-1930s because they found that misogynistic attitudes were apparently undisturbed by the anarchists’ practice of their anarchism. The free spirit regards anarchism as a matter of what is within, as a matter of character, personality, personal values, a fastidiously cleansed mind in which every last vestige of inherited thinking has been purged of old values. The free spirit is a Zarathustran who creates their own law tables and disciplines themselves to think afresh and for themselves. This, they imagine, is no easy win for thoughts, ideas and values are insidious and hard to see until they are exposed. The idea here is similar to a saying of Jesus from Luke’s gospel which Renzo Novatore may have himself referenced earlier:
“Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say “Look here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’”
What is translated here from Greek as “among you” can also quite legitimately be rendered “within you” – and many modern bibles have a textual note from the translators to this effect. The importance of this translation is that Jesus then conceives of his “kingdom of God” as a spiritual thing, a matter of internals like values, beliefs, ideas, things which animate and motivate someone’s life, their character. There are many other ancient texts which have Jesus making similar claims — although this is not really the time to go into it. [My chapter on Jesus in Being Human has more on this.] My point is that this applies to an anarchism of free spirits too for this is an internal thing and it is a belief which posits that no one could “change the world” – as anarchists have historically been imagined to want to do – UNLESS THEY WERE INTERNALLY OF A CONSTITUTION TO BE ABLE TO DO SO. My interpretation of Jesus is of a person who wanted to create a community with new values that lived their historical Judaism in a particular way. My interpretation of anarchism is that it is primarily a view on the constitution of the human being which, entirely on the basis of that, opens out into the possibility for social change. In fact, as I have studied anarchism more and more, I have found it increasingly impossible to imagine how there could ever be any sort of widespread anarchist consciousness in public without conscious anarchist people. And that all starts within, with being what you are. If this means I make of anarchism a spirituality or a consciousness [and to some extent it does] then SO BE IT.
This leads me back to a point I have made several times before, however, this being that ANARCHISM ISN’T, FIRST OF ALL, POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC. There was a time, I will concede, when it mostly was. This is what the Kropotkins and the Bakunins and even the Malatestas cared about. But it wasn’t all that Emma Goldman cared about. It wasn’t all that Voltairine de Cleyre cared about. So such exclusive concerns didn’t even survive until the 20th century undisturbed. Historical anarchism, when you actually study its detail, very quickly splintered, if not shattered, into individual interpretations. Some joined organisations, yes, but many others didn’t and determined anarchism would be for them what it meant to them – perhaps shooting the king or robbing banks or stealing from posh houses and sharing the booty with the poor. I entirely agree people have a right to do that. I entirely agree, in fact, that some ignorant anarcho-capitalist who wants you to get into crypto and who has no knowledge whatsoever of the anarchism of the past, or its various values, has the right to his ill-informed opinions. Do I think he is right? No. Do I want to educate him? If I can. But, in the end, he can, and probably will, think what he likes. Anarchists have to recognise that this will ALWAYS be the case and that anarchism is not forcing all people to one view, the right view. There is actually already a name for that anyway: its called fascism. Its fascism, as Alan Moore points out in his description of it, which views society as the bundle of uniform twigs. Anarchism, on the other hand, is the philosophy of free spirits who grow wild. Or, at least, it should be.
This is why an anarchism of free spirits sees anarchism as as much an intellectual and moral phenomenon as it does a political and economic one. Should people be released from authoritarian government? Absolutely. Will this be impossible unless we simultaneously release these same people from economic servitude? Of course. But the free spirit insists that you must also simultaneously, or as near to simultaneously as you can, release people from moral servitude and intellectual servitude as well – these being internal masters which make your consciousness its slave. You must, in fact, create free thinking people who are not bound to a uniform view if you then want them to go on to insist on their political and economic freedom. Otherwise you might be in a situation where you free the slaves – but then, having no idea how to operate for themselves, they simply wander back to their old masters. The historic anarchist emphasis on education among anarchists is exactly what this is all about, in fact, for anarchists have always insisted that you can’t just free people and they have further added that they must be educated to such a point that they desire, and act towards, their own freedom. [Malatesta’s “We anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves” will never not be relevant here.] The free spirit is one who knows all about this for they have reached that self-educational point and desire their own freedom; in fact, they insist on it. This is what classical anarchists imagined in general and the free spirit is all in favour of that. But this then means that we must stop harping on, in a singular way, about an external politico-economic anarchism as if this was all that anarchism was about and realise that how people think and who people are is just as vital as, if not more vital than, this. Without free spirits, who are we expecting to free anyone from political and economic chains? If anarchists expect people to FREE THEMSELVES then how can they do that unless they are free spirits?
The point here is that anarchism exists at all because, historically, there have been anarchists. The material individual reality is the important thing here which is to say, as Novatore did, that what really counts here is real people and their lives – not ideas, not goals, not beliefs: people. Let me regale you now with a couple of metaphorical pictures before I rise to my ultimate point:
First, imagine a highly coiffured garden tended by a person who clearly wants everything just so. Plants, bushes and shrubs are all perfectly placed according to a pre-determined plan, everything is subject to precise horticulture so it produces a perfectly symmetrical display, the lawn is cut with scissors so that the grass is an exact and uniform length. The result is a garden full of straight lines and pristine appearance where there is not so much as a stray leaf. Now imagine another garden grown wild. Nothing is the same in this garden, there are no straight lines and every living thing there grows uncoerced. Some plants are big, reaching out towards the sun, whilst others wither and die. Here, the dice fall as they may and no one is tending to everything so that it is just so. Each organism does the best that it can in its circumstances, using whatever alliances it can make.
A second allegory. Imagine the world as a vast open prison. It shouldn’t be too hard for in many places today you can’t even raise your voice, slip off your clothes or act differently to how all the other people are acting before some policeman – an official one with a badge or one of the unofficial ones who have fallen in line with society’s morals and dictates – steps in to coerce your behaviour. In this open prison where, as Sartre said, “Hell is other people”, you have to watch yourself every step because someone is always ready to snitch on you to someone official whilst, in many public places cameras of many different kinds stand ready to catch you doing something someone else has decided you shouldn’t do. You were born into this prison and that you had leaders above you and laws to follow upon that birth was already decided and taken out of your hands. Now, all you must do is obey. Yet, nevertheless, here and there in this open prison there are people who insist they are liberated. They refuse their voluntary servitude. They don’t buckle under or get with the program. They don’t accept that their lives were taken away from them, are subject to control by others, and that they are prisoners with a measure of freedom by the grace of others. They declare their emancipation and that they will live free – up to and including if the police and prison guards come for them. They insist on creating their own context.
The free spirit here is, of course, a plant in the wild garden and the “prisoner” who declares their liberation — for the free spirit is, to use a further metaphor, the cat who refuses to be herded. Only such people can ever create “anarchism” because only the genuine and authentic interaction of free people can ever create an anarchism which is conceived of as the uncoerced freedom of wilderness. The image of this anarchism is then precisely the wild garden and not the coiffured one – although there are several people who call themselves “organisational” or “social” anarchists who think the coiffured garden is an image of an anarchist future. I contradict them. I oppose them. I say they are deceiving themselves by confusing a kind of order with freedom. I say that the only anarchism worth the name is a wild anarchism of lives lived and alliances forged in the midst of life on an ad hoc basis [just like a mycorrhizal network, in fact]. Anarchism is emancipation from external order which, in one way or another, is always going to be based on coercion or control. Whether this is hostile [as in the prison] or benevolent [as in the garden] does not really matter for that it is coercion or control at all is the important thing. So I am saying that we see a life as like a plant which just wants to grow as strong and as tall as it can in order to exist in good health rather than seeing it as the whole garden that – due to some controlling urge to order – needs to be planned and prodded into an entirely unnatural symmetry. [I have, as an aside, always hated those big planned out gardens. Show me something growing wild, it is much better.] Anarchists are not gardeners, they are they plants. Anarchists are certainly not jailers, they are not even prisoners. They insist on living free and independently.
So I deny, in the end, that anarchism is order or a will to organisation. This does not mean that anarchists cannot cooperate or organise themselves. But “themselves” is the important word there and not “organise”. Of course the achievement of certain goals, desirable goals no doubt, takes cooperation – but cooperation should always come from below as an act of will and never from above by pressure or manipulation or requirement. The free-spirited anarchist impulse is to grow wild, that which, in organisational terms, would be regarded as in a decentralised, unplanned way, because an anarchism of free spirits, of those who think for themselves and go their own way, will ALWAYS BE THE BEST DEFENCE AGAINST CENTRALISED CONTROL. ALL anarchists seek to defeat such centralised control so this is really a question of the best way to achieve that. I submit that it is not by creating anarchist structures and organisations and institutions which, in the end, are only new conduits to coerce and gerrymander outcomes. The free spirit trades letting things fall as they may for the ability to, in the words of Alan Moore from V for Vendetta, live a life of “Do As You Please”. Their life is a contingent one with no guarantees and not a wholly imaginary utopian future peace and harmony. It is the free spirit’s intuition that you cannot, can never, create such a thing on purpose and that, in wanting to, you only trade one kind of illegitimate coercion for another, one labelled “benevolent”. But benevolent according to who? No, says the free spirit. Leave people really and genuinely free and let the rest take care of itself. Or, in Daoist terms, do nothing and nothing will be left undone. “Anarchism”, much less “anarchy”, is not something anarchists should set out to create; it is something that should form organically, all by itself, because of the actions and interactions of free spirits and free people. It is this entirely biological, natural metaphor that should be our guiding, and dancing, star.
ANARQXISTA GOLDMAN X