OBSERVATIONS ON ANARCHY 44:
THE MORALITY OF ANARCHISM
I SEE THAT, ACCORDING TO IAN VINE (The Morality of Anarchism), Max Stirner “went to remarkable lengths in glorifying crime” and justified “theft, dishonesty, rape and murder.” Since The Ego and His Own is available again it would have been quite easy for Ian Vine to have found out what Stirner really wrote about these things, instead of resurrecting a silly bogey-man. For instance: dishonesty. In the section of The Ego and His Own dealing with the question of truth, Stirner wrote:
“Those who educate us make it their concern early to break us of lying and to inculcate the principle that one must always tell the truth. If selfishness were made the basis for this rule, every one would easily understand how by lying he fools away that confidence in him which he hopes to awaken in others, and how correct the maxim proves: Nobody believes a liar even when he tells the truth. Yet, at the same time, he would also feel that he had to meet with truth only him whom he authorised to hear the truth. If a spy walked through the hostile camp, and is asked who he is, the askers are assuredly entitled to inquire after his name, but the disguised man does not give him the right to learn the truth from him; he tells them what he likes, only not the fact.” (p. 297, 1963 edition).
George Woodcock in a Freedom Press pamphlet on Anarchism and Morality—written when he was an editor of FREEDOM—observed (I quote from memory): “It is immoral to tell lies to one’s friends, but it may be equally immoral to tell the truth to a policeman.” In other words, one tells the truth to those one thinks deserve it. Truth-telling is not a “categorical imperative”, but relative to the end in view. To quote Stirner again: “If the pursuer of my friend asks me where he has fled to, I shall surely put him on a false trail “because” in order not to be a false, traitorous friend, I prefer to be false to the enemy.” (pp 301-302).
Again: crime. By “crime” Stirner means any act which violates the “sacred”—the allegedly untouchable or unbreakable. Statutory laws, conventional customs, moral codes—all these are regarded as “sacred” by those who benefit from them. To break the law makes one a “criminal”, just as to disobey the well of God makes one a “sinner”. Any anarchist who practices what he preaches is inevitably a criminal. “ ‘Respect for the law’ … By this cement the total of the State is held together. ‘The law is sacred, and he who affronts it is a criminal: Without crime no State: the moral world—and this the State is—is crammed full of scamps, cheats, liars, thieves. Since the State is the ‘lordship of law’, its hierarchy, it follows that the egoist, in all cases where his advantage runs against the State’s, can satisfy himself only by crime.” (p 238.)
These two examples are enough to show that Stirner’s ideas are rather different to what Ian Vine would have us believe. He may not be always an easy writer to understand, but he merits far more careful attention than many of his critics are prepared to give him.
Note: for a detailed treatment of “Truth” see pages 297-304, and for “Crime” see pages 200-205 and 238-242.)
London S. E. PARKER
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IAN VINE says of his hypothesis about egoists making love (“one presumably tries to please the other solely because such reciprocation of pleasure facilitates his or her own enjoyment of the act”), that it may sound unreasonable. It does, to this egoist at least. An egoist may give pleasure for such motives, but it is a fairly widespread trait in our species to enjoy giving pleasure, particularly to one who is loved. This is at least a more complex thing than the simple physical bargain of Ian Vine’s description. If one may perhaps quote that villain Stirner:
“Am I perchance to have no lively interest in the person of another, are his joy and his weal not to lie at my heart, is the enjoyment that I furnish him not to be more to me than other enjoyments of my own? On the contrary, I can with joy sacrifice to him numberless enjoyments, I can deny myself numberless things for the enhancement of his pleasure, and I can hazard for him what without him was the dearest to me, my life, my welfare, my freedom. Why, it constitutes my pleasure and my happiness to refresh myself with his happiness and his pleasure.”
Stirner did not “disbelieve in altruistic actions” or “virtually deify the individual.” He disbelieved strongly in moral actions, i.e. actions performed because they are ‘right’ not because one wishes to do them. He deified nothing outside himself—in fact to speak of Stirner deifying is like speaking of St. Augustine blaspheming; you have to give your own precise definitions first. He certainly deified no obstruction such as ‘the individual’. You are welcome to say that he deified himself, but before I accept or reject the statement I would like to know what. if anything, it means.
To speak of Stirner as justifying any act is a fundamental misunderstanding of his position. His self-owning egoist need to further justify himself than to say “I wish to do this”. To seek justification is to admit to incompleteness, to lack of ability to stand one one’s own feet. One can justify oneself only with reference to some external standard or person. The egoist admits himself—not party, priest or philosophy, responsible. But here creeps in a verbal confusion which is neatly demonstrated in Ian Vine’s article. In my dictionary, clearly separated by numbering are two distinct definitions of ‘responsible’. The first sense, in which I have used it above, and in which Ian Vine initially uses it, is ‘answerable, accountable’. The second, to which he switches without warning, is ‘dependable, trustworthy’. The first is a descriptive use of the word, Eichmann was responsible for what he did), the second a moral judgment (Eichmann was irresponsible). To use the different meanings of the word as though they were the same to strengthen an argument is very like
No cat has eight tails
Every cat has one more tail than no cat
Therefore every cat has nine tails.
Ian Vine treats ‘responsible’ like ‘no’ above.
Finally, though he claims no more than that Sartre gives us some useful starting points for developing our moral codes, it appears that his own is sufficiently developed for him to know who is and who is not moral. How else can he say that we tend to hate people who are really and consistently moral? If, of course, he means people who have a fixed moral code, the reason is simple. In most cases they hate us—we’re sinners. We hate back.
Hull TIMOTHY POSTON
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IAN VINE THINKS: “Sartre can provide us with some useful starting points for developing our moral codes.” I regret to say, however, that it has never occurred to me that I need a moral code! As an anarchist, I object to people’s being exploited by ruling classes, but I do not make a moral value-judgment about this. I make a practical (or pragmatic) value-judgment. In other words, I do not say: “Exploiting people is morally wrong.” I say: “That sort of behaviour—authoritarian behaviour—is contrary to the interests of human beings as such.“Conversely, the idea of a libertarian way of life appeals to me as being expedient for mankind. But I do not consider anybody—including myself—to be under any moral obligation to adopt libertarianism. In that case, libertarianism would become just another “spook” (as Stirner would have said), another God to be worshipped, another grim duty to be performed religiously for its own sake, another source of guilt.
Freedom means doing what you want to do. Hence it seems absurd to promote the cause of freedom, not just because you want to promote it, for your own sake and other people’s but because you are terrorised
by some imaginary categorical imperative. Must we feel morally obliged to promote freedom to do what we want to do, whether we really want to promote that freedom or not? How ridiculous!
Why does Ian Vine regard Sartre’s moral philosophy as being of special relevance to anarchism? Sartre, he tells is, does not believe in morality “in any absolute sense.” That is to say, there are for Sartre no objective moral laws, existing independently of human beings and tyrannising over them. So far, so good. But Sartre does believe that every human being is somehow forced to lay down moral laws for himself. Thus one escapes the tyranny of “absolute morality” only to find oneself enslaved by one’s own, purely personal, subjective morality. Is this really an advance? The guilty conscience, the mental torture of shame and remorse (vide Sartre’s plays and novels), still remain to blight our lives, while the effort to live according to our self-imposed code (no less arbitrary for being self-imposed) is liable to make our behaviour seem strained and artificial. It was from that kind of self-incarceration, and all its undesirable consequences, that Stirner strove to liberate humanity. (It is unfortunate, however, that Stirner fell into the error of egoistic, or “psychological”, hedonism.)
Apart from the undesirability of Sartre’s conclusions, his arguments seem to me to be highly questionable. Even if it were true (which I do not believe) that “man is totally free insomuch as his values and decisions are in no way laid down beforehand by determinism or his genetic and environmental inheritance,” and even if it is true (which I do believe) that “there can be no external [moral] authority or guide for our actions,” does it really follow that one must build an individual moral code? Surely not. It only follows that one must make free choices. But the mere fact that I may freely choose, in a certain situation, to do X rather than Y, does not mean that I have made a moral law always to chose X in a similar situation in future. Tomorrow, in a similar situation, I might choose Y—without feeling guilty about it.
Let us suppose, however, that I do make a moral law always to choose X. Tomorrow, I might feel a strong desire for Y. What then? Since, according to Sartre, I am my own moral authority, I could presumably repeal my first law and make another always to choose Y. Thus it is clear that my first moral law has no binding force; in other words, it is not a law for me at all. It seems that the very notion of being one’s own moral authority is absurd.
Sartre, presumably, would propound some counter-argument to that last objection, and I gather from Ian Vine’s article that the counterargument would be derived from Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only on the maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” It seems that I cannot, in Sartre’s view, change my moral laws to suit my own convenience because, by their very nature, those laws must always be “universalisable.” However, as G. J. Warnock has pointed out in a recent BBC talk, Kant’s categorical imperative is in effect quite toothless, because there is practically no maxim that could not be universalised. Even contradictory maxims can past Kant’s test. Consider, for example, the maxim:
“Always subordinate your own interests to those of others.” It is possible to imagine everybody acting on that maxim. But it is also possible to imagine everybody acting on the contrary maxim: “Never subordinate your own interests to those of others.” Similarly, the contradictory maxims of libertarianism and authoritarianism are equally universalisable. It is because of such defects that Kant’s moral philosophy is now generally regarded as a failure, at least in England.
Ian Vine fears that, without individual moral codes, human beings would be unable to live in society, and he maintains that “any society is based on universalisability.” However, as has just been shown, universalisability in effect neither prescribes nor prohibits anything, and it is difficult to see how a multiplicity of individual moral codes, each of which might be quite different, would necessarily be a basis for any form of human co-operation, let alone for society, which always requires a high degree of uniformity in behaviour. (As an individualists I am opposed to society per se, believing only in the independent individual family unit. As Hannah Arendt has pointed out, the modern conception of society—namely a collective of families economically organised into the facsimile of one, super-human family—did not exist in western civilisation before the industrial revolution, and there is no reason to regard it as sacred.)
The truth, I believe, is the exact opposite of what Ian Vine supposes. Far from being necessary for peace and harmony, artificial moral codes (whoever imposes them) are actually disruptive. Chuangtse (the first great anarchist) wrote in the third century BC: “The people have certain natural instincts—to weave and clothe themselves, to till the fields and feed themselves … So in the days of perfect nature, men were quiet in their movement and serene in their looks … And then when Sages appeared, straining for humanity and limping with justice, doubts and confusion entered men’s minds.”
Why not simply trust human nature, without making any effort to control it by moral bullying? This craving for control is the root of all authoritarianism. And, after all, if human nature is fundamentally sound, it does not need controlling. If, on the other hand, human nature is somehow corrupt, its efforts to control itself will also be corrupt. The idea of self-control, which Ian Vine stresses so much, is actually as absurd as the idea of being one’s own moral authority; So—away with Sartre!
Bristol FRANCIS ELLINGHAM
IAN VINE REPLIES:
ONE OF THE PENALTIES OF CONDENSING INTO FOUR PAGES something which requires a whole book is that one leaves so many loose ends which can be picked up by those who disagree. Hence my failure to define and distinguish adequately between the uses of words like “responsibility”, “crime”, and “moral code” appears to have created some confusion. While admitting these deficiencies I do feel, however, that
had my critics read the article more closely they would have seen the inappropriateness of some of their remarks.
Timonthy Poston imagines that his quotation from Stirner refutes my point about altruism, but to my mind it only reinforces it. Surely Stirner is in effect saying: I will do many things which pleases others—for just as long as it pleases me to do so. For the egoist the most important person in the world is clearly himself, so he can justly be accused of exploiting other people for his selfish pleasures. This I regard as contrary to the spirit of anarchism, which must surely respect the sovereignty of every individual?
Sid Parker, quite predictably, assumes that I was unjustly deriding Stirner. In fact I did not condemn his philosophy, all I wanted to do was to point out that the egoist position leads logically to certain attitudes which would be out of place in an anarchist society. I did not say that one shouldn’t be dishonest in some circumstances, but that one must realise the implications—that one is in fact perpetuating things which one wants ultimately to abolish. This is an immense problem for anarchists, but one which too many of us disregard. Irrespective of whether or not one’s acts are criminal in the legal sense the egoist is prepared to do certain things which he would not like done to himself, and it is for this reason that an egoist has no place in a free society. While there may be no absolute or metaphysical restraints on one’s actions I believe that by continuing to live inside a society one commits oneself to a social contract under which one must not violate the rights of others in that society. An egoist is justified in committing rape or murder if his happiness depends on it—but not so long as he remains voluntarily in a society where such standards are not accepted.
Francis Ellingham’s observations must be such as to condemn themselves in the eyes of most readers. “Moral code” can be defined as “standards of behaviour”, and on that definition everyone, except perhaps the psychopath, has a morality of some sort. He also fails to see that if a community has freely chosen moral standards which are more or less general there is absolutely nothing anti-libertarian about them as long as they are no sense claimed to [be] absolute or timeless. Francis Ellingham would abolish society entirely, so I hardly think that he can claim any right or purpose in saying anything about its standards of behaviour. I have no idea what he means by “why not trust human nature, without making any effort to control it …”? If such a statement has any meaning at all it can surely be used to excuse almost every human atrocity under the sun? I prefer to forget human nature altogether.
I think it is significant that only the egoists have taken the trouble to criticise what I wrote. They always seem to be the most vociferous section of the anarchist movement. Considering the fact that they appear not to believe in movements I often wonder why?