Guides to the Alt-Right

Here are some of the better introductions to the alt-right that I’ve found, just in case anybody wants to waste as much time as me reading about this stuff:

This Andrew Jackson Jihad: Thoughts from the first forty days

Donald Trump is President of the United States of America

I was a sexy little viper rune
In the corner of a King Tut tomb
When the hate train started
Going "Choo-choo"

Radical social change is difficult; much easier is Cynicism: just awkwardly excuse yourself from society and then bark unconvincingly at passers-by as they try to go about their business. And of course if you can’t change a thing, you can always change its name. If you were in St. Petersburg on March 8, 1917, for example, you would say you were in Petrograd on February 23. But regardless of calendar or map, to the war protesters staging a march in that city on that day it was International Women’s Day, and, to everyone’s surprise, that little Women’s Day demonstration prompted a spontaneous strike of workers and soldiers. The rebellion lasted for days in the streets and shook the establishment to its top, resulting in the abdication of the Tsar and the replacement of his autocracy by a contentious dual government of liberals and socialists — and eventually to the Bolshevik revolution and civil war.

Now, after so much intervening Russian history — the rise and fall of Stalinism and European Fascism including another world war, a nuclear cold war, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, other things, Putin — it is in the headlamps of the approaching centennial of those days in 1917 that I’ve set about trying to understand the crisis Donald Trump has brought both to America’s ruling classes and to my own personal political views.

Because of his anti-political and buffoonish style, his denouncements of the press, his early push of executive power targeted at immigrants, and the encouragement his success has provided to white nationalist movements, there has been some debate as to where Trumpism fits in the Fascist family tree. If Trump is the farcical reappearance of one of those tragic 20th-century personages, then he is something like an inarticulate ghost of Mussolini. But as far as comparisons to other political leaders go, Trump is probably best understood as an American Berlusconi with a platform heavily flavored by his old Reform Party rival Pat Buchanan (but without Pat’s dedication to non-interventionism) who is assembling a band of robbers to exceed the cronyism of Warren Harding's cabinet.

His own administration seems to favor comparisons to Andrew Jackson (seventh President from 1829 to 1837). In an interview with a journalist for the Hollywood Reporter in November, Stephen Bannon said of the Trump campaign that “Like Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement.” Pat Buchanan described Trump’s ‘America First’ inauguration speech as “Jacksonian” in that “he was speaking to and for the forgotten Americans whose hopes he embodies.” And during his first days in the White House, Trump had a portrait of Jackson installed in the Oval Office so that a painted Jackson could watch him sign his flurry of executive orders beside a real-life Bannon.

Most of the parallels that could be drawn are shallow, but Jackson was a populist candidate who was elected as a champion of angry white men who felt disenfranchised by the East Coast elites and bankers. While its opponents accuse Trumpism of implicitly empowering white supremacists (as do some of its proponents), Jacksonian democracy explicitly emphasized the whiteness of citizenship. As was the fashion of southern job creators of that period, Jackson enslaved almost two hundred black men, women, and children as workers at his Tennessee cotton plantation. Jackson also developed a reputation for sometimes flexing his executive powers, like when he ignored the spirit a Supreme Court ruling by continuing to help Georgia in its negotiations with the Cherokee government. The result of those negotiations was the forced relocation of tens of thousands of indians (and their slaves) during extreme weather which killed thousands.

Neoliberalism with nationalist characteristics

To a formalist, the way to fix the US is to […​] figure out who owns this monstrosity, and let them decide what in the heck they are going to do with it. I don’t think it’s too crazy to say that all options - including restructuring and liquidation - should be on the table.
— Mencius Moldbug

As if in a nod to that brutal 19th-century primitive accumulation, on his fourth day in office Trump directed the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite their review and approval of the easement required to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline. The next week North Dakota police raided a camp established by the Standing Rock Sioux to protest the pipeline and arrested 76 people. The easement was granted, and on February 22 the main Oceti Sakowin camp was cleared and razed.

Andrew Jackson was true to his commitment to the common white man, including standing up to a central bank he felt unduly privileged the wealthy. But during Trump’s transition to the White House, there have been strong indications that not only does he intend to continue the plutocracy as usual, he intends to further it toward a naked fact. Like his role as a billionaire non-politician in the highest executive office, his executive actions and appointments tend to erase the imaginary line between business and government.

With now-former Goldman Sachs COO as Director of the National Economic Council and hedge fund manager (and former Goldman Sachs partner) Steven Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury, the Trump Administration is posed to reduce corporate taxes and rollback regulations put in place by the so-called Dodd-Frank legislation in response to the 2007 financial crisis. Trump’s appointee to Chairman of the FCC is an opponent of net neutrality and an advocate for private telecommunication monopolies which charge prisoners and their families exorbitant rates on phone calls. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s controversial Attorney General, has already rescinded an Obama-era memo that directed the Justice Department to reduce the use of private prisons. In a rent-seeking parallel to support for private prisons, his appointee to Secretary of Education, the billionaire Betsy DeVos, is a proponent of public funding for privately owned schools. The fact that Trump’s Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA several times on behalf of industrial profiteers indicates probable deregulations in that agency’s future. Etc.

In some ways the orientation Trump’s administration seems to be taking with its planned regulation cuts, infrastructure spending, withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and increased immigration restrictions are consistent (one of the precious few consistent points through Trump’s campaign) with what Bannon (who is a former Goldman Sachs deal maker himself) calls a policy of “economic nationalism.” But Bannon has also spoken out against bailouts and crony capitalism, qualms which Trump obviously does not share.

In any case, deregulation and de-facto privatization are the major economic motifs of the emerging Trump administration. Bannon has described the goal behind those trends as a “deconstruction of the administrative state.” It looks a lot like typical neoliberal fare taken around an introspective turn. Using David Harvey’s terminology, the Trump folks are reverting from a spatial to a temporal fix to the recurring overaccumulation of capital. Will it be enough to revive the profitability of American manufacturing and mining? Or has the Eye of Sauron turned its gaze inward to Mordor too late?

In much the same way as Sauron could only respond to the movements of the ring bearer, I think Trumpism is a response to global economic conditions more than a determining cause. Take, for example, this sentence from Trump’s executive order on border security and immigration enforcement:

The recent surge of illegal immigration at the southern border with Mexico has placed a significant strain on Federal resources and overwhelmed agencies charged with border security and immigration enforcement, as well as the local communities into which many of the aliens are placed.

It is a strange and circular justification for the executive order, because other than the possible increase in illegal immigration triggered by Trump’s own rhetoric about building a wall, there has been no surge of illegal immigration. In fact, as reported by the Pew Research Center, the net immigration from Mexico between 2005 and 2014 was negative and the Mexican immigrant population has been in decline since 2007.

For decades nationalists and wage-jealous racists have been screaming about the porous southern border, but the ruling class paid them little heed and instead maintained whatever level of control at the border was deemed necessary to steer wages and keep illegal immigrants abundant but vulnerable and easily exploitable by employers. Now, when migration levels are such that controlling the border provides little in the way of economic leverage, the xenophobes and protectionists have won the day. How convenient.

Culture/Wars

The king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.
— Esther 3:15

Steve Bannon must be some kind of a genius. In a span of about two years he boosted the significance of Breitbart News (a pro-Israel right-wing news site) by aligning it with the antisemitism-riddled alt-right, then leveraged his position at Breitbart to become CEO of a presidential campaign where he got Donald J. Trump elected as President of the United States of America (?!), and he has now managed to get himself appointed to the National Security Council. Yet everything I’ve heard him say sounds typical, a mundane obsession with defending the “Judeo-Christian West” against its conspiring enemies (represented most fiercely by “jihadist Islamic fascism”).

He reminds me a bit of Robert California, the opaque, psychopathic, manipulative character featured in some of the more tedious episodes of the American version of The Office who was hired as a manager but then immediately convinced the owner of the company to give him her position as CEO. Not so much his personality, but in his enigmatic genius and his knack for landing in positions of power (including a stint as the CEO of the company running the Biosphere 2 project in Arizona).

The 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK and the election of Trump in the US signal a widespread discontentment with neoliberal globalism finally reaching the Anglosphere (almost ten years after the 2007 financial crisis and 17 years after the Seattle '99 WTO protests). Maybe Bannon’s current success stems simply from his inclination to keep in touch with the underlying sentiments which have now surfaced in a cultural confluence.

I don’t understand much of what motivates the alt-right and its reactionary fellow travelers in Europe. I do suspect that in many ways they can be seen as ‘Western’ counterparts to the patriarchal revolts against globalism in the developing world. As racial and gender hierarchies are being reformed to better serve capitalism, and as oppressed groups continue to further the progress of their own liberation, old local and familial forms of privilege, wealth, and exploitation are being lost at both ends — whisked out to financial centers or destroyed by feminists and other progressive reformers.

Trump and company hitched a ride to power on the conservative cultural impulse desperately opposing those changes. They have an ideology to execute. Even if they are adrift in economic currents they have little power over, they seem determined to do more thrashing than floating. So opposite the most extreme, violent patriarchal groups like ISIS we now have Donald Trump as Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful armed forces. Trump has no business being president, and the powerful machines of war at his disposal have no business existing. Yet he is and they do.

In the words of Bannon, “We are — I believe — at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.” (Or more concise is Trump’s own analysis: “I think Islam hates us.”)

It should go without saying here — but American leftists sometimes fail to make clear — that denouncing Trumpism and its Islamophobic tendencies is certainly not to side with Islamist regimes. Frankly, Bannon’s “jihadist Islamic fascism” is an apt description of the war Salafism espoused by groups like ISIS in the wake of America’s overt and covert imperialist actions in Iraq and Syria (respectively) and elsewhere. While the movements may draw on much different traditions, the label ‘fascist’ applies more cleanly to ISIS — which maintains totalitarian rule through terror while adhering to a philosophy of endless war and is using its newfound state powers to institutionalize slavery, genocide (including antisemitism), and rape — than it does to America under Trump. I will always oppose American militarism, but you won’t hear me complaining very loudly about NATO airstrikes which protect Yazidi villages and Kurdish forces in Syria.

The Obama State Department spent eight years waging slow-burning proxy wars against Russia. Trump has already tried to bring about a realignment of foreign policy by consistently making nice with Putin (likely for the sake of some shady Crimea deal or other scandalous intrigue). An improved relationship with Russia could have a drastic effect on the priorities of America’s intelligence/military adventures — a shift from maintaining American oil interests to a more ideologically-driven crusade against Islamist militias (though, like Obama, I expect the Trump administration to fight Islamist groups in places that just happen to be oil-rich and where America is already heavily invested: places like Iraq but not Nigeria).

But it is far from clear how Trump’s foreign policy will evolve. His Secretary of State, former CEO of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson, has extensive business experience in Russia and personally with Vladimir Putin. Tillerson has expressed his opinion that Obama’s sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine were too weak and the US should have instead responded with military support to Ukraine. Tillerson also holds more conventional views on free trade (he supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and may be a counterweight to the Bannon wing of the administration.

Trump has already demonstrated he lacks the light touch required by Obama’s drone war approach. The first raid he authorized in office, a continuation of the Obama-Saudi offensive against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, resulted in a reported 24 civilian deaths (including 9 children) and the Yemeni government’s revocation of its permission for US ground missions (it still allows drone strikes). Who knows, maybe with Tillerson keeping the State Department on the same hawkish anti-Russian line as Clinton and Kerry, combined with the anti-immigrant and anti-Islam schemes of Trump and Bannon, we could be in store for one of the worst of all possible foreign policy positions in American history.

For a president who has never had a popular mandate — but who does have enemies in the intelligence community, the tech sector, the media, and probably the judiciary — Trump’s noisy entrance to the White House resembles a page from the ISIS playbook: usurp a few pieces of artillery, declare war on everyone, enjoy a life of heroic conflict while it lasts.

Trump remains unpopular and his executive excesses in check by the courts, but I can’t shake an uneasy feeling that he has managed to wriggle onto the throne in such a way that the sword of Damocles is hanging at least as much over American civil liberties as it is over his own head waiting for (almost taunting) any self-motivated terrorist to cut the thread. A patriotic fervor uniting behind Trump could easily be more devastating than it was with George W. Bush in office — and the wars it would make possible could be more bloody than anything even the deranged minds in ISIS could hope for.

And so it is with Trump and Bannon in the White House that those who are obsessively frightened of violent Islamists destroying our way of life have made it possible that violent Islamists can trigger the destruction of our way of life to an unprecedented degree.

Politics

How’s the world so small when the world is so large?
And what made the world, may I please speak to who’s in charge?
Everything is real, but it’s also just as fake
From your daughter’s birthday party to your grandmother’s wake
And your bipolar illness, it comes and it goes
Your parasympathetic nervous system reacts
And you’re in fight or flight mode

From my vantage point here at American Cynic (where I never vote but I do occasionally bark unconvincingly at a passer-by), there is a silver lining to Trump’s electoral victory. Well, there is a grey lining and an opportunity.

If you are like me, there is also a fleeting moment of joy: it is a delight to see democracy backfire, smug liberals despair, and the federal government so embarrassed. By “like me” I mean a healthy, white, straight, uneducated, contrarian, broken-hearted American man who was long in the process of giving up on fitting in to any meaningful extent within capitalist society before Donald Trump became president. I realize that for people not like me in those regards, Trump may be more terrifying than fun.

There is one quick distinction I’d like to make, because I do see some of myself (and Diogenes) in the trolls celebrating the folly of Trump. That is that there is a difference between Cynic parrhesia and what is sometimes defended as free speech these days: one is a homeless man telling Alexander the Great to step out of his sunlight; the other is an internet shock troll stepping into the shadow of the White House.

The grey lining is that Trump’s victory in the face of a nervous establishment demonstrates that the American electoral system is more democratic than I thought. Not only did Trump — a controversial, unpredictable, perhaps uncontrollable populist candidate — survive the Republican primaries and that party’s safeguards against popular misfits (unfortunately the Democratic Party was much more successful in defeating Bernie Sanders), but he survived a general election despite (or unintentionally because of) hostile media coverage, and he got the requisite votes from the Electoral College, the last defense against democracy, despite a record number of faithless votes (okay, only seven) and a plot to use the electoral college to replace him with a mainstream Republican post-election (Colin Powell ended up in third place with three electoral votes, good enough to have been considered if nobody got a majority).

And, as always, I was impressed by voter turnout. About 55% of American adults voluntarily cast a ballot in the presidential contest (59% if you count only eligible voters).

I’m aware, of course, that given those points many people would not find evidence for the resilience of American democracy — America maintains an unusually low voter turnout for a rich republic, Trump lost the popular vote, and his administration may be the biggest threat to the American system in recent memory (in my lifetime, anyway). But those people, I submit, hold an overly optimistic and realist, almost magical, view of formal political process.

With the election of Trump, concrete reality is seeping into the liberal delusions that constitutional republicanism can produce equality and liberty. Faced with a rising cognitive dissonance, many progressive liberals have retreated from democracy to the safety of the institutions. This retreat can be seen in the current hysteria over Russian influence. They are willing to believe that by exfiltrating a bunch of boring emails from the DNC, which almost nobody read and even fewer people considered when voting, the Russians have successfully subverted the electoral process. (I’m not even that cynical about elections.) And, despite being shocked (shocked!) that rival imperial powers would dare interfere with each other, those same liberals, who have become little neo-McCarthyites suddenly discovering all-powerful Russian spies lurking in every corner of the White House, while whining about a lack of democracy, and with a straight face, are putting their hopes in the intelligence agencies, the judiciary, and the media — powerful institutions with little democratic allegiance or oversight — to save us from Trump.

But there is nothing like a state of emergency to reveal the nature of sovereign power — or at least a state of epistemological crisis to shatter one’s illusions. The opportunity provided by the Trump victory is in its revelatory (apocalyptic?) potential. As the embodiment of the dishonest lie, Trump reveals the truth of political power: its reality is something more like blind obedience and brute force than the formalisms of monarchy, democracy, et cetera that it is so often clothed in. Thanks to Trump, even true-believing liberals have found themselves faced with the insight, as David Frum put it in his story about what America might look like under a Trump dictatorship, that “checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism.” Maybe some will also realize the same applies to politics-as-usual.

Karl Marx observed that the liberal forms of governance and wage work simply mask old relations of brutal rule and slavery in an idyllic, ideological veneer. Carl Schmitt noted that no matter how seriously parliamentarianism takes itself, the rule of law can never completely do away with sovereign power or escape the fundamental political distinction between friend and enemy — as exemplified in [the possibility] of war. These two philosophers, Karl the Communist and Carl the Nazi, can provide a crude schematic of the bifurcated post-liberal possibilities which Trump’s moment has brought back into view. One path, socialism, seeks to take out coercive social hierarchies including those upon which capitalism relies; the other, which we can generically call fascism, seeks to preserve social hierarchies against the leveling and self-destructive tendencies of capitalism. Liberals pretend that equality and liberty exist where they don’t. Socialists seek to create equality and liberty where liberalism has failed. Reactionaries believe equality and liberty are undesirable (and probably impossible anyway).

Interestingly, some of Trump’s most sophisticated supporters cling to the possibility of a third way. They see the futility of existing liberalism and are revolted by equality, but they cannot stomach the reality of fascism. So they hope to ditch the democratic elements of liberalism and thereby arrive at a stable, peaceful version of capitalism (using the right-wing definition of ‘peaceful’ that means ‘undisturbed status quo’). Peter Thiel, a billionaire donor to Trump’s campaign and member of his transition team, wrote in 2009 that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” By “freedom” he seems to mean capitalism (he goes on to call “capitalist democracy” an oxymoron), and he cites the enfranchisement of women as one of the major stumbling blocks to his vision of a “free” society. Thiel, who was a student of the late René Girard, hints that through meritocratic monopolies, the elimination of economic competition, humanity’s cycle of mimetic violence can be escaped (and then king-CEOs can finally sleep peacefully without worrying about becoming scapegoated victims of mob violence, or something).

Thiel’s ideas are a variation of Silicon Valley neoreactionary thought as propounded by Mencius Moldbug, the movement’s pioneering theorist. Moldbug views democracy as a source of inevitable violence (and latent totalitarianism). Many of his essays are dedicated to exploring capitalism-preserving alternatives to democratic systems. One possibility is what he calls neocameralism in which a state is a joint-stock business that owns a country. A more obvious name might be “neofeudalism” (and Moldbug has half-jokingly described his anti-democratic project as neo-fascist).

But despite its fascist-like qualities, the apolitical, non-democratic capitalist utopia proposed by Moldbugian neoreaction, in which wars for survival have been made impossible and economic categories blur with and replace the political, would seem to represent everything Schmitt was against. From a Schmittian view, we might conclude that such neoreactionary thought is not an alternative to bourgeois liberalism, but its most degenerate form.

Whether neoreactionary schemes are classified as fascism or extreme liberalism, Karl Kautsky’s famous dictum from 125 years ago has gained a renewed relevance in Trump’s light: “As things stand today capitalist civilization cannot continue; we must either move forward into socialism or fall back into barbarism.”

Of course no matter how interesting or illuminating I think Trump might be on questions of political theory, it is not the case that police and customs enforcement agents are about to look at him and then resign en masse. The fundamental conflict of politics is now the same as ever: between police and their victims. Resistance is also the same: finding means of disobedience — with a renewed emphasis in America on defending immigrants, Muslims, Jews, and people of color against police violence.

Trump didn’t invent borders or deportations or prisons or torture or execution or the military-industrial complex or patriarchy or racism or theft or taxes or profit or any of the awful things he embraces and represents. They have been normal for my entire life, so I don’t really understand my own visceral response to his presidency. I seem to struggle alternatively with apathy and pacifism — Trump has managed to take both impulses within me down a notch.

And I’ll grudgingly agree with liberal opponents of Trump that a contingent retreat to the institutions may be the only practical chance to minimize the damage he can do, but it would be nice if in doing so we manage to avoid the intellectual retreat to liberalism’s false promises.

He tells it like it is (a note on Trumpist propaganda)

Cartoon of sheep looking at a political sign depicting a wolf declaring
Paul Noth/New Yorker; © Condé Nast
Irony once expressed: this is what it claims to be, but that is what it is; today however the world alleges that things are just so, even in the radical lie, and that such a simple finding coincides with what is good. There is no crack in the sheer cliff of the existent, to which the grasp of the ironist may cling. (from aphorism 134)
— Theodor Adorno
Minima Moralia

In his first days in office, Trump has signed an onslaught of executive actions which target immigrants (already ICE has arrested nearly 700 people in raids conducted according to the relaxed criteria) and refugees (he signed his infamous Muslim ban to refuse Syrian refugees on International Holocaust Remembrance Day). He’s also directed “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border” (which can’t be carried out unless Congress approves the expense), the expansion of the US military, and for Federal agencies to find new ways to “support and protect Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers.”

But as an attempted reassertion of white supremacist authoritarianism, Trumpism is a version taken close to its farcical limit. It feels like an alternate timeline of 20th-century Fascism where Mussolini has a barely-functioning vocabulary and Carl Schmitt is illiterate. (Of course that doesn’t make its threats of violence any less serious.) I’ve heard Trump’s distinctive manner of speech described as an example of “post-literacy.” But the associated style of his propaganda, which simply ignores known facts and asserts more convenient ones on-the-fly without regard to their plausibility, might be better described as reflective of a ‘post-ironic’ society.

The most striking thing about Trump’s rhetoric (which is often preoccupied with accusing his opponents of being liars) is how his endless, incoherent lies are received by his followers as “telling it like it is.” By lying so transparently, Trump reveals with clarity a truth that resonates with his supporters: that politicians are liars who serve wealthy elites. At the same time, through his braggadocious and intentionally offensive language he cultivates the image of someone who can protect the cultural identity of his supporters. He so perfectly is what they claim to hate, fulfilling his own charges of political corruption and chaos, while at the same time soothing their anxieties about the changing world, that he is perceived as a prophet rather than a hypocrite.

The relation in which Trump, a lying politician par excellence, stands to his supporters, who celebrate his victory as a triumph over lying politicians, might seem ironic. But irony depends on a recognition of the difference between circumstances as they appear and circumstances as they actually are, and that differentiation is not available to Trump’s audience for whom it is lying itself that manifests the truth. Adorno, who began writing Minima Moralia in America as an exile from Nazi Germany, observed that “Among today’s cunning practitioners, the lie has long since lost its honest function, of concealing something real” (aphorism 9). That is an apt description of Trump, whose lies are revelatory to his followers precisely insofar as they lack the sophistication to actually conceal anything.[1]

Trump’s simplistic rhetoric allows for only a minimal propaganda, which has several advantages:

  1. It is inexpensive. Because his lies avoid much of the pretense of competing with other narratives on factual grounds, his propaganda does not rely upon direct censorship or control over the established media. Now that he is in office we may see attempts to implement actual policies to control the press, but so far his strategy has been to denounce the media at every opportunity by accusing journalists of being liars and “fake news” (essentially treating the press as he would a political opponent), and that has been effective enough to satisfy the demand for ignorance of his core supporters. (Media Matters for America has been tracking Trump’s attacks against journalists and media outlets: “The Trump Administration’s War On The Press.”)

  2. It is unassailable. Trump’s propaganda is not sophistry; it doesn’t even try to be persuasive. His alternative facts need only reinforce existing fears and prejudices, they don’t need to be convincing or rational; they never need to be defended, they can be simply contradicted or re-iterated in the next sentence or Tweet.

  3. It is easy. Trump’s propaganda does not seek consistency. Any spur-the-moment thought that praises a friend or denounces an enemy will do. Even his interest in conspiracy theories, like his ‘birther’ campaign against Obama, has nothing to do with posing alternative theories consistent with known facts and everything to do with opportunistically emphasizing anything that might appeal to the existing biases of his potential supporters.

The disadvantage of such a minimal propaganda is that its effectiveness depends almost entirely on an active cooperation with listeners who must want to believe. It provides almost no indoctrination of its own and so requires pre-indoctrinated masses to whom appeals and dog whistles can be directed. But that again makes it easy: Trump does not need to formulate and disseminate ideas of resentment, he only needs to discover those ideas already existing in the population.

In his book on the rise of Hitler, Konrad Heiden explained that those who were confounded by the effectiveness of Hitler’s propaganda when it contained so many obvious self-contradictions were people “who do not understand propaganda, who regard propaganda as the art of instilling an opinion in the masses. Actually it is the art of receiving an opinion from the masses.”[2] That captures very well the essence of Trump’s method, which depends so much on receiving opinions rather than imposing them that it may already be hindering his administration. During the controversy over the Muslim-targeted travel ban, the White House attempted to control the discourse by imposing the idea that it was a travel “restriction” rather than a “ban.” But after a single question from the press about Trump’s own choice of words, Press Secretary Spicer had to immediately give up the effort and explain that Trump is merely “using the words that the media is using” (though it might be more accurate to say he is using the words that he knows his xenophobic supporters want him to be using).

It’s impossible to judge how many people are true-believing members of Trump’s narcissistic cult of personality. I suspect very few, but they are evidently enough to have become the kernel of a populist movement around which anyone with a nationalist, traditionalist, or monopolist agenda has coalesced. The number of Americans willing to go along with him remains alarmingly large. Even after his first two bumbling weeks in office, polls put his approval rating among the electorate at 40%-54%.


1. It will be interesting to learn the outcome of the investigation into Trump’s relationship with the Russian government. If it turns out he has been personally bribed or blackmailed or otherwise conducted secret business with Russia, it will show that Trump is capable of honest lies as well as his typical dishonest variety.
2. Konrad Heiden, Der Fuehrer: Hitler’s rise to power, trans. Ralph Manheim, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1944, 139

"Ideas of Max Stirner" by James Huneker (1907)

Transcriber’s introduction

Max Stirner's book on conscious egoism was published in English (as The Ego and His Own) for the first time in 1907 — 65 years after its original publication in German and over 50 years after Stirner’s death. To mark the occasion, an essay by James Huneker, transcribed below (from the archived PDF provided on nytimes.com), about the philosopher’s life and ideas appeared in the New York Times on April 20, 1907.

Huneker’s essay provides both a summary of John Henry Mackay’s biography of Stirner (Max Stirner: His life and work) and a brief review of Stirner’s book, with plenty of the art critic’s name-dropping flourishes throughout. In order to help today’s reader appreciate the context from which Huneker wrote, I’ve hyperlinked most of the names that appear in the essay (pointing to their Wikipedia entries for the most part). This might be especially helpful in the case of those intellectual figures which were no doubt well-known to Huneker’s [very cultured] audience in 1907, but which are no longer much discussed today.

A slightly modified and expanded version of this essay also appeared as the last chapter of Huneker’s Egoists, a book of supermen (1909). In addition to the scanned book available on the Internet Archive at that link (and an okay OCR’d ebook), a nice transcription of this later version of the essay has been archived at The Anarchist Library as “Max Stirner by James G. Huneker.” (I did not discover this version until after I had transcribed the New York Times article below, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered. Oh well.)

The main difference between the two versions of the essay is that the later version, which appeared in Huneker’s book, includes an additional section ("II"). There are also minor differences, a few of which I point out in the footnotes of the transcription below (the first footnote appeared in the original article, the rest are mine).

Finally, I’d like to give a few thoughts on one of Huneker’s terms. Huneker sees Stirner’s egoism as, if nothing else, “a handy weapon” against Socialism. He calls The Ego and His Own “the most drastic criticism of Socialism thus far presented.” Given that Stirner’s work has been taken up for the most part by self-described socialists — early on by Engels who saw Stirner’s egoism as a possible philosophic foundation of communism, later by Benjamin Tucker who published the very book Huneker is reviewing, and by many anarchists today — these comments may be confusing.

Huneker’s fear, like Spencer’s earlier, was of an oppressive, heavy, grey State Socialism sacrificing individuals and individuality to some notion of a mediocre “Society.” But it is a narrow and one-sided (if popular) retreat from socialism which too eagerly, in 1907 and today, sacrifices individuals to existing conditions. Thus we see Marx and Engels in their manifesto mock their detractors who fear in communism what already exists in capitalism. And we see artists like Oscar Wilde (under the influence of Godwin and Kropotkin) claim that “Individualism, then, is what through Socialism we are to attain to.” Indeed, Wilde not only considered socialism as necessary for a full individualism, he uses the terms almost as synonyms.

But the matter is not so simply cleared up by distinguishing between state and libertarian socialism (see Tucker’s “State Socialism and Anarchism”), because similar bipolar tensions have always existed within libertarian socialism itself. Beginning with Proudhon’s investigations of social antimonies and his rejection of “Communism,” which finds an ally in Stirner’s egoism, individualist anarchists have worried that socialist projects would end up simply mirroring the tyranny of capitalism and other exploitative societies: that instead of the few dominating the many, socialism would consist of the many dominating the few, or (to use Proudhon’s somewhat paradoxical phrase) the exploitation of the strong by the weak. These tensions have played their part in the various calcified, broken, and re-calcified divisions which criss-cross the anarchist landscape to this day.

Still, Huneker’s view of Stirner as mostly useful as an antidote to state socialism not only makes Stirner out to be less interesting than he is, but it ignores all the interesting bits of socialism. If we use the word in a minimalist sense, insofar as it means opposition to (and transcension of) capitalism and traditionalism — to exploitation and domination — Stirner’s egoism is only useful to a socialist. For more along similar lines, see section G.6 of An Anarchist FAQ: “What are the ideas of Max Stirner?”


IDEAS 0F MAX STIRNER.

First English Translation of His Book, “The Ego and His Own” — His Attack on Socialism — The Most Revolutionary Book Ever Published.[1] Written for The New York Times Saturday Review of Books by James Huneker, author of “Iconoclasts.”

I.

In 1888 John Henry Mackay, the Scottish-German poet, an intransigent, while at the British Museum reading Lange's “History of Materialism,” encountered the name of Max Stirner and a brief criticism of his forgotten book, “Der Einzige und sein Eigentum.” [“The Only One and His Property”; in French translated “L’Unique et sa Propriété,” and in the first English translation more aptly and euphoniously entitled “The Ego and His Own.”] His curiosity excited, Mackay, who is a man of assured talents, wealth, and an ardent scholar,[2] procured after some difficulty a copy of the work, and so greatly was he stirred that for ten years he gave himself up to the study of Stirner and his teachings, and after incredible painstaking published in 1898 the story of his life. [“Max Stirner: Sein Leben und sein Werk,” John Henry Mackay, Schuster & Loeffler, Berlin and Leipsic.] To Mackay’s labors we owe all we know of a man who was as absolutely swallowed up by the years as if he had never existed. But some advanced spirits had read Stirner’s book, the most revolutionary ever written, and had felt its influence. Let us name two: Henrik Ibsen and Frederick Nietzsche. Though the name of Stirner is not quoted by Nietzsche, he nevertheless recommended Stirner to a favorite pupil of his, Prof. Baumgartner at Basle University. This was in 1874.[3]

One hot August afternoon in the Year 1896 at Bayreuth I was standing in the marktplatz when a member of the Wagner Theatre — the performances were in progress that Summer — pointed out to me a house opposite, at the corner of the Maximilianstrasse, and said: “Do you see that house with the double gables? A man was born there whose name will be green when Jean Paul and Richard Wagner are forgotten.” It was too large a draught upon my credulity, so I asked the name. “Max Stirner,” he replied. “The crazy Hegelian,” I retorted. “You have read him, then?” “No; but you haven’t read Nordau.” It was true. All fire and flame at that time for Nietzsche, I did not realize that the poet and rhapsodist had forerunners. My friend sniffed at Nietzsche’s name; Nietzsche for him was an aristocrat, not an Individualist. In reality, a lyric expounder of Bismarck's gospel of blood and iron. Wagner’s adversary would, with Renan, place mankind under the yoke of a more exacting tyranny than Socialism, the tyranny of culture, of the Over-Man. Ibsen, who had studied both Kierkegaard and Stirner — witness Brand and Peer Gynt — Ibsen was much nearer to the champion of the Ego than Nietzsche. Yet it is the dithyrambic author of “Zarathustra” who is responsible, with Mackay, for the recrudescence of Stirner’s teachings.

Stirner, Nietzsche and the Doctrine of Individualism

Nietzsche is the poet of the doctrine, Stirner its prophet, or, if you will, its philosopher. Later I secured the book, which had been reprinted in the cheap edition of Reclam. [1882.] It seemed colorless, or rather gray, set against the glory and gorgeous rhetoric of Nietzsche. I could not see what I saw a decade later — that Nietzsche only used Stirner as a springboard, as a point of departure, and that the Individual had vastly different meanings to these widely disparate temperaments. Stirner, indifferent psychologist as he was, displayed nevertheless the courage or an explorer in search of the pole of the Ego.

The man, whose theories make a tabula rasa of civilization, was born at Bayreuth Oct. 25, 1806, and died at Berlin June 25, 1856. His right name was Johann Caspar Schmidt, Max Stirner being a nickname bestowed upon him by his lively comrades in Berlin because of his very high and massive forehead. His father was a maker of wind instruments, who died six months after his son’s birth. His mother remarried, and his stepfather proved a kind protector. Nothing of external importance occurred in the life of Max Stirner that might place him apart from his fellow-students. He was very industrious over his books at Bayreuth, and when he became a student at the Berlin University he attended the lectures regularly, preparing himself for a teacher’s profession. He mastered the classics, modern philosophy, and modern languages. But he did not win a doctor’s degree; just before examinations his mother became ill with a mental malady, (a fact his critics have noted,) and the son dutifully gave up everything so as to be near her. After her death he married a girl who died within a short time. Later, in 1843, his second wife was Marie Dähnhardt, a very “advanced” young woman, who came from Schwerin to Berlin to lead a “free” life. She met Stirner in the Hippel circle, at a Weinstube in the Friedrichstrasse, where radical young thinkers gathered: Bruno Bauer, Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Moses Hess, Jordan, Julius Faucher, and other stormy insurgents. She had, it is said, about 10,000 thalers. She was married with the ring wrenched from a witness’s purse — her bridegroom had forgotten to provide one. He was not a practical man; if he had been he would not have written “The Ego and His Own.”

It was finished between the years 1843 and 1845; the latter date it was published. It created a stir, though the censor did not seriously interfere with it; its attacks on the prevailing government were veiled. In Germany rebellion on the psychic plane expresses itself in metaphysics; in Poland and Russia music is the favorite medium. Feuerbach, Hess, and Szeliga answered Stirner’s terrible arraignment of society, but men’s thoughts were interested elsewhere, and with the revolt of 1848 Stirner was quite effaced. He had taught for five years in a fashionable school for young ladies; he had written for several periodicals, and translated extracts from the works of Say and Adam Smith.

Max Stirner and His Wife.

After his book appeared, his relations with his wife became uneasy. Late in 1846 or early in 1847 she left him and went to London, where she supported herself by writing; later she inherited a small sum from a sister, visited Australia, married a laborer there, and became a washerwoman. In 1897 Mackay wrote to her in London, asking her for some facts in the life of her husband. She replied tartly that she was not willing to revive her past; that her husband had been too much of an egotist to keep friends, and was a man, “Very sly.” This was all he could extort from the woman, who evidently had never understood her husband and execrated his memory, probably because her little fortune was swallowed up by their mutual improvidence. Another appeal only elicited the answer that “Mary Smith is preparing for death” — she had become a Roman Catholic. It is the irony of things in general that his book is dedicated to “My Sweetheart, Marie Dähnhardt.”

Stirner, after being deserted, led a precarious existence. The old jolly crowd at Hippel’s seldom saw him. He was in prison twice for debt — free Prussia! — and often lacked bread. He, the exponent of Egoism, of philosophic anarchy, starved because of his pride. He was in all matters save his theories a moderate man, eating and drinking temperately, living frugally. Unassuming in manners, he could hold his own in debate — and Hippel’s appears to have been a rude debating society — yet one who avoided life rather than mastered it. He was of medium height, ruddy, and his eyes deep blue. His hands were white, slender, “aristocratic,” writes Mackay. Certainly not the figure of stalwart shatterer of conventions, not the ideal iconoclast; above all, without a touch of the melodrama of communistic anarchy, with its black flags, its propaganda by force, its idolatry of assassinations, bomb throwing, killing of fat, harmless policemen, and its sentimental gabble about fraternity. Stirner hated the ward Equality: he knew it was a lie, knew that all men are born unequal, as no two grains of sand on earth ever are or ever will be alike. He was a solitary. And thus he died at the age of fifty. A few of his former companions heard of his neglected condition and buried him. Nearly a half century later Mackay, with the co-operation of Hans von Bülow, affixed a commemorative tablet on the house where he last lived, Phillipstrasse 19, Berlin, and alone Mackay placed a slab to mark his grave in the Sophienkirchhof.

The Most Thoroughgoing of nihilists.

A sketch of Max Stirner made by Friedrich Engels for John henry mackay.
Max Stirner. Portrait sketch made by Friedrich Engels. From John Henry Mackay’s “Max Stirner,” (Schuster, Loeffler & Co., Berlin.) The only portrait of the great “individualist” extant. The philosopher of anarchy looks like a harmless domino player.

It is to the poet of the “Letzte Erkentniss,” (“Sum of Knowledge,”) with its stirring line, “Doch bin ich mein,” (“But I am mine,”) that I owe the above scanty details of the most thoroughgoing Nihilist who ever penned his disbelief in religion, humanity, society, the family. He rejects them all. We have no genuine portrait of this insurrectionist — he preferred personal insurrection to general revolution; the latter, he asserted, brought in its train either Socialism or a tyrant — except a sketch hastily made by Friedrich Engels, the revolutionist, for Mackay. It is not reassuring. Stirner looks like an old-fashioned German and timid pedagogue, high coat-collar, spectacles, clean-shaven face and all. This valiant enemy of the State, of Socialism, was, perhaps, only brave on paper. But his icy, relentless, epigrammatic style is in the end more gripping than the spectacular, volcanic, whirling utterances of Nietzsche. Nietzsche lives in an ivory tower and is an aristocrat. Into Stirner’s land all are welcome. That is, if men have the will to rebel. Above all, if they despise the sentimentality of mob rule. “The Ego and His Own” is the most drastic criticism of Socialism thus far presented.

II.

The book called “The Ego and His Own” is divided into two parts: first, The Man; second, I. Its motto should be, “I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.” But Walt Whitman’s pronouncement had not been made, and Stirner was forced to fall back on Goethe — Goethe, from whom all that is modern flows. “I place my all on Nothing.” [“Ich hab Mein Sach auf Nichts gestellt,” from the joyous poem “Vanitas! Vanitatum Vanitas!”] is Stirner’s keynote to his Egoistic symphony. I, Me, Ich, Ego, je, moi — the list might be lengthened of the personal pronoun in various languages. The hateful I, as Pascal said, caused Zola, a solid egoist himself, to assert that the English were the most egotistic of races because their I in their tongue was but a single letter, while the French employed two, je, and not capitalized unless beginning a sentence! Stirner must have admired the English, as his I was the sole counter in his philosophy. His ego and not the family is the unit of the social life. In antique times, when men were really the young, not the ancient, it was a world of reality. Men enjoyed the material. With Christianity came the rule of the Spirit; ideas were become sacred, with the concepts of God, Goodness, Sin, Salvation. After Rousseau and the French Revolution humanity was enthroned, and the State became our oppressor. Our first enemies are our parents, our educators — an idea first enunciated by Stendhal, though also original with Stirner. It follows, then, that the only criterion of life is my Ego. Without my Ego I could not apprehend existence. Altruism is as pretty disguise for egotism. No one is or can be disinterested. He gives up one thing for another because the other seems better, nobler to him. Egotism! The ascetic renounces the pleasures of life because in his eyes renunciation is nobler than enjoyment. Egotism again! “You are to benefit yourself, and you are not to seek your benefit,” cries Stirner. Explain the paradox! The one sure thing of life is the Ego. [Descartes] Therefore, “I am not you, but I’ll use you if you are agreeable to me.” Not to God, not to man, must be given the glory. “I’ll keep the glory myself.” What is Humanity but an abstraction? I am Humanity. Therefore the State is a monster that devours its children. It must not dictate to me. “The State and I are enemies.” The State is a spook. A spook, too, is freedom. What is freedom? Who is free? Free for what? The world belongs to all, but all are I. I alone am individual proprietor.

Stirner’s Idea of Property.

Property is conditioned by might. What I have is mine. “Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property.” Stirner would have held that property was not only nine but ten points of the law. He repudiates all laws. Repudiates competition, for persons are not the subject of competition, but “things” are; therefore if you are without “things” how can you compete? Persons are free, not “things.” The world, therefore, is not “free.” Socialism is but a further screwing up of the State machine to limit the individual. Socialism is a new god, a new abstraction to tyrannize over the Ego. And remember that Stirner is not speaking of the metaphysical Ego of Hegel, Fichte, Schilling, but of your I, my I, the political, the social I, the economic I of every man and woman. In a sense Stirner is not a philosopher. He is, rather, an Ethiker. He spun no metaphysical cobwebs. He reared no lofty cloud palaces. He did not bring from Asia its pessimism, as did Schopenhauer; nor deny reality, as did Berkeley. He was a foe to general ideas. He was an implacable realist. Yet while he denies the existence of an Absolute, of a Deity, State, Categorical Imperative, he nevertheless had not shaken himself free from Hegelianism [he is Extreme Left as a Hegelian,] for he erected his I as an Absolute, though only dealing with it in its relations to society. Now, nature abhors an absolute. Everything is relative. So we shall see presently that with Stirner, too, his I is not so independent as he imagines.

He says “crimes spring from fixed ideas.” The Church, State, the Family, Morals, are fixed ideas. “Atheists are pious people.” They reject one fiction only to cling to many old ones. Liberty for the people is not my liberty. Socrates was a fool in that he conceded to the Athenians the right to condemn him. Proudhon said, “Property is theft.” Theft from whom? From society? But society is not the sole proprietor. Pauperism is the valuelessness of Me. The State and pauperism are the same. Communism, Socialism abolish private property and push us back into Collectivism. The individual is enslaved by the machinery of the State or by socialism. Your Ego is not free if you allow your vices or virtues to enslave it. The intellect has too long ruled, says Stirner; it is the will (not Schopenhauer’s Will to Live, or Hartmann's Will to Power,[4] but the sum of our activity expressed by an act of volition; old-fashioned will, in a word) to exercise itself to the utmost. Nothing compulsory, all voluntary. Do what you will. Fay ce que vouldras, as Rabelais has it in his Abbey of Theleme. Not “Know thyself,” but get the value out of yourself. Make your value felt. The poor are to blame for the rich. Our art to-day is the only art possible, and therefore real at the time. We are at every moment all we can be. There is no such thing as sin. It is an invention to keep imprisoned the will of our Ego. And as mankind is forced to believe theoretically in the evil of sin, yet commit it in its daily life, hypocrisy and crime are engendered. If the concept of sin had never been used as a club over the weak-minded, there would be no sinners — i.e., wicked people. [Here the Christian Scientists should read.] The individual is himself the world’s history. The world is my picture. There is no other Ego but mine. Louis XIV said, “L’Etat, c’est moi”; I say, “l’Univers, c’est moi.” John Stuart Mill wrote in his famous essay on liberty that “Society has now got the better of the individual.”

Ibsen and Rousseau.

Rousseau, a madman of genius, is to blame for the “social contract” and the “equality” nonsense that has poisoned more than one nation’s political ideas. The minority is always in the right, declared Ibsen, as opposed to Comte's “Submission is the base of perfection.” To have the will to be responsible for one’s self, advises Nietzsche. “I am what I am,” (Brand.) “To thyself be sufficient,” (Peer Gynt.) Both men failed, for their freedom kills. To thine own self be true. God is within you. Best of all is Lord Acton's dictum that “Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is of itself the highest political end.” To will is to have to will (Ibsen.) My truth is the truth (Stirner.) Mortal has made the immortal, says the Rig Veda. Nothing is greater than I (Bhagavat Gita.) I am that I am, (the Avesta, also Exodus.) Taine wrote, “Nature is in reality a tapestry of which we see the reverse side. This is why we try to turn it.” Hierarchy, oligarchy, both forms submerge the Ego. J. S. Mill demanded: “How can great minds be produced in a country where the test of a great mind is agreeing in the opinions of small minds?” Bakounine in his fragmentary essay on God and the State feared the domination of science quite as much as an autocracy. “Politics is the madness of the many for the gain of the few,” Pope asserted. Read Spinoza, “The Citizen and the State,” (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.) Or Oscar Wilde's epigram: “Charity creates a multitude of sins.”

Science tells us in this century that our I is really a “we”; a colony of cells, an orchestra of inherited instincts. We have not even free will, or at least only in a limited sense. We are an instrument played upon by our heredity and our environment. The cell, then, is the unit, not the Ego. Very well, Stirner would exclaim (if he had lived after Darwin and 1859,) the cell is my cell, not yours! Away with other cells! But such an autonomous gospel is surely a phantasm. Stirner, too, saw a ghost. Stirner, too, in his proud Individualism was an aristocrat. No man may separate himself from the tradition of his race unless to incur the penalty of a sterile isolation. The solitary is usually the abnormal man. Man is gregarious. Man is a political animal. Even Stirner recognizes that man is not man without society.

“Letting Go and Holding On.”

In practice he would have agreed with Havelock Ellis that “all the art of living lies in the fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”[5] The body includes the soul and the soul permeates the body. That gentle mystic Joachim of Flora said: “The true ascetic counts nothing his own, save only his harp.” But Stirner, sentimental, henpecked, myopic Berlin professor, was too actively engaged in wholesale criticism — that is, destruction of society, with all its props and standards, its hidden selfishness and heartlessness — to bother with theories of reconstruction. His disciples have remedied the omission.[6] He speaks, though vaguely, of a Union of Egoists, a Verein, where all would rule all, where man, through self-mastery, would be his own master. “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Indeed, Stirner’s notions as to Property and Money — “it will always be money” — sound suspiciously like those of our captains of industry. Might conquers Right. He has brought to bear the most blazing light rays upon the shifts and evasions of those who decry Egoism, who are what he calls “involuntary,” not voluntary, egotists. Their motives are shown to the bone. Your Sir Willoughby Patternes are not real Egoists, but only half-hearted, selfish weaklings. The true egotist is the altruist, says Stirner; yet Leibnitz was right; so was Dr. Pangloss. This is the best of possible worlds. Any other is not conceivable for man, who is at the top of his zoological series. (Though Quinton has made the astounding statement that the birds follow the mammals.) We are all “spectres of the dust,” and to live on an overcrowded planet we must follow the advice of the Boyg: “Go roundabout!” Compromise is the only sane attitude. The world is not, will never be, to the strong of arm or spirit, as Nietzsche believes. The race is to the mediocre. The survival of the fittest is to the weak. Society shields and upholds the feeble. Mediocrity rules, let Carlyle or Darwin enunciate laws as they may. It was the perception of these facts that drove Stirner to formulate his theories in “The Ego and His Own.” He was poor, a failure, and despised by his wife. He lived under a dull, brutal regime. The Individual was naught, the State all. His book was his great revenge. It was the efflorescence of his Ego. It was his romance, his dream of an ideal world, his Platonic republic. Philosophy is more a matter of man’s temperament than some suppose. And philosophic systems often go by opposites. Schopenhauer preached asceticism, but hardly led an ascetic life; Nietzsche commanded us: “Be hard!” when he really meant it for his own tender, bruised soul. His injunctions to be free, to become Immoralists and Overmen, were but the buttressing up of a will diseased, by the needs of a man who suffered his life long from morbid sensibility. James Walker's suggestion that “We will not allow the world to wait for the Overman. We are the Overmen,” is a mordant criticism of Nietzscheism. I am Unique. Never again will this aggregation of atoms stand on earth. Therefore I must be free. I will myself free. (It is spiritual liberty that only counts.) But my I must not be of the kind described by the madhouse doctor in “Peer Gynt”: “Each one shuts himself up in the barrel of self. In the self-fermentation he dives to the bottom; with the self-bung he seals it hermetically.” The increased self-responsibility of life in an Egoist Union would prevent the world from ever entering into such ideal anarchy (an-arch, without government.) There is too much of renunciation in the absolute freedom of the will — that is its final, if paradoxical, implication — for mankind. Our Utopias are secretly based on Chance. Deny Chance in our existence and life will be without salt. Man is not a perfectible animal. He fears the new and therefore clings to his old beliefs. To each his chimera. He has not grown mentally or physically since the Sumerians — or a million years before the Sumerians. Man is not a logical animal. He is governed by his emotions, his affective life. He hugs his illusions. His brains are an accident, possibly from overnutrition, as De Gourmont says. To fancy him capable of existing in a community where all will be selfgoverned is a rare poet’s vision. That way the millennium lies. And would the world be happier if it ever did attain this truth?

Qualities of the English Translation.

The English translation of “The Ego and His Own” is admirable; it is that of a philologist and a versatile scholar. Stirner’s form is open to criticism. It is vermicular. His thought is never confused,[7] but he sees so many sides of his theme, embroiders it with so many variations, that he repeats himself. He has neither the crystalline brilliance nor the poetic glamour of Nietzsche. But he left behind him a veritable Breviary of Destruction, a striking and dangerous book. It is dangerous in every sense of the word — to socialism, to politicians, to hypocrisy. It asserts the dignity of the Individual, not his debasement. It fascinates even though it does not convince, and it is a handy weapon in these days when Socialism is tightening its sluggish coils preparatory to swallowing the State. Herbert Spencer, too, foresaw the dangers of Socialism.

“Is it not the chief disgrace in the world not to be a unit; to be reckoned one character; not to yield that peculiar fruit which each man was created to bear, but to be reckoned in the gross, in the hundred of thousands, of the party, of the section to which we belong, and our opinion predicted geographically as the North or the South?”

But Spencer did not write these words, nor did Max Stirner. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote them.   J. H.

New York, April, 1907.


2. The later version of this essay described Mackay simply as “an anarchist”
4. The later version of this essay reads “Nietzsche’s Will to Power”
5. This was corrected in the later version of the essay to read “he would not have agreed with Havelock”
6. This was expanded in the later version of the essay by the insertion of two sentences: “In the United States, for example, Benjamin R. Tucker, a follower of Josiah Warren, teaches a practical and philosophical form of Individualism. He is an Anarch who believes in passive resistance.”
7. In the later essay this reads instead, “His thought is sometimes confused”

Updates on the Enforcement of Homeless Codes In Boulder and the Rest of Colorado

In Boulder, CO, it is illegal to sleep outdoors with “shelter” (defined as anything other than clothing — so the use of blankets and sleeping bags turn sleeping outdoors into a criminal offense, regardless of temperature or availability of indoor shelter space). Boulder is not the only city in Colorado which has implemented such anti-homeless legislation (Denver itself passed a similar camping ban in 2012).

In February, law students at the University of Denver working on the Homeless Advocacy Policy Project (HAPP) published their report on the extent and expense of anti-homeless ordinances enforced by Colorado cities. The report, Too High a Price: What Criminalizing Homelessness Costs Colorado [PDF], is based on a survey of 76 Colorado cities which encompass 69% of Colorado’s population (almost 3.5 million people). It is the most comprehensive state-level survey of anti-homeless laws I’ve seen, and I hope projects in other states follow HAPP’s example. Highlights include:

  • The 76 cities surveyed have enacted 351 anti-homeless ordinances. “These ordinances typically include camping bans, prohibitions on sleeping, sitting, or lying in public, and limitations on begging or panhandling. It is difficult to imagine these laws being enforced against anyone who is not homeless.” (10)

  • “The cumulative effect of anti-homeless ordinances is clear: living without a home in Colorado nearly guarantees that a person will break some law.” (11)

  • People without fixed shelter are disproportionately targeted by police under all city ordinances: “Although homeless individuals represent less than one hundredth of one percent of Colorado’s population, they make up five percent of all citations issued under local municipal codes.” (15)

  • Boulder issues the most citations for camping than any other city in Colorado by far. Between 2010 and 2014, Boulder issued 1,767 citations for camping, which is about 2 citations for every homeless individual living in the city (at any given time). But Fort Collins is even more aggressive per-capita, issuing almost 3 tickets per homeless individual during the same period.

  • “We estimate that just six Colorado cities spent more than five million dollars ($5,000,000.00) enforcing fourteen anti-homeless ordinances.” (25)

  • The cost of enforcing Boulder’s camping ban for 2010-2014 is estimated as $946,457.20.[1]

The publication of Too High a Price coincided with the introduction of the Right to Rest Act in Colorado’s House of Representatives. Unfortunately that bill died in committee (for the second year in a row). But back in August 2015 the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in a case involving the anti-camping ordinance of Boise, ID, in which it agreed with the homeless plaintiffs that the enforcement of the ordinance even with no shelter space available is a violation of the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment as provided by the Eighth Amendment. That case was ultimately dismissed for lack of standing (as Martin v. City of Boise), but the issue remains: by the Department of Justice’s standards, Boulder’s aggressively enforced camping ban is clearly unconstitutional.

The possibility of being non-compliant with Federal standards has caused the Boulder City Council to return to discussions about the camping ban. The council asked the municipal court to compile statistics about the enforcement of the ordinance, and earlier this month the court published its findings. The Daily Camera provided a summary as “Report: Most Boulder camping violations are just for camping” (March 7, 2016). Highlights include:

  • 3,253 tickets for camping were issued between 2009 and 2015. 26% of those tickets resulted in jail time.

  • The average jail time for a camping ticket in Boulder is 1.81 days.

  • “The vast majority of people who get camping tickets in Boulder committed no other offense besides sleeping with shelter.”

See also:


1. All of the cost estimates in the report should be considered to be quite rough (and probably low). The methodology appendix doesn’t do much to instill confidence in the estimates, either. Despite having “excel spreadsheets with a list of every citation issued,” the authors chose not to use all of the data and instead based average costs on a sample of it (to save time?), they accidentally referred to the confidence level as the “confidence interval” (to keep the reader on their feet), and they intentionally did not perform a random sampling, instead preferring to choose “citations evenly throughout the 2014 calendar year” (with no reason offered or immediately obvious). But at least they consulted a non-lawyer who was kind enough to provide them with the formula for determining the sample size for a finite population (which they tried to typeset).

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  1. Guides to the Alt-Right

  2. This Andrew Jackson Jihad: Thoughts from the first forty days

  3. He tells it like it is (a note on Trumpist propaganda)

  4. "Ideas of Max Stirner" by James Huneker (1907)

  5. Updates on the Enforcement of Homeless Codes In Boulder and the Rest of Colorado

  6. A Look At Bernie Sanders' Electoral Socialism

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