6.1.2 Individual Anarchism

Serbulent Turan

Caricature of a man smoking at a desk, with a chair knocked over.
Figure 6.3. Caricature of Max Stirner by Friedrich Engels.

Individual anarchism champions individual freedom over all else, including society and the community. In that way, individual anarchism takes the anarchist opposition to organized power to its extreme and acknowledges no legitimate power over an individual’s will and freedom. In this way, individual anarchists focus not on communities but on the individual as the primary and ultimate extent of government, rejecting all power over an individual as external tyranny. As a less politically active stream of anarchist thought, individual anarchism has thrived in philosophy and literature, largely establishing the theoretical doctrines and arguments that form the basis of anarchism. As such, individual and social anarchists all agree on some of the main precepts of anarchistic thought.

The forefather of individualistic anarchism is often seen as the German philosopher Max Stirner, who prioritized individual freedom and liberty above all, including notably anarchist organizations that may seek to abolish the state. The individualist branch of anarchist thought has done particularly well in the United States, where a long-standing tradition of individual freedoms have proved fertile ground for thinkers such as Henry-David Thoreau, Benjamin Tucker, and Josiah Warren. Having accepted the state as despotism, these thinkers nevertheless argued that the individual should not be subsumed into a revolutionary party either, as this would require submitting to one organization to counter a greater despotism. Individual anarchism has been criticized by social anarchists as a non-political lifestyle choice that does not go beyond non-conformist individual choices such as dress or behavior (Bookchin, 1995).

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