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adapted from Murray Bookchin — Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm

Ideological individualism did not fade away altogether during this 19th century period of sweeping social unrest. A sizable reservoir of individualist anarchists, especially in the Anglo-American world, were nourished by the ideas of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, as well as Stirner himself.

Home-grown individualists with varying degrees of commitment to libertarian views littered the anarchist horizon.

Anarcho-individualism attracted precisely individuals of practiceBenjamin Tucker in the United States, an adherent of a quaint version of free competition…Federica Montseny in Spain, who often honored her Stirnerite beliefs in the breach.

Despite their avowals of an anarcho-communist ideology, Nietzscheans like Emma Goldman remained cheek to jowl in spirit with individualists.

Hardly any anarcho-individualists exercised an influence on the emergent class. They expressed their opposition in uniquely personal forms, especially in fiery tracts, outrageous behavior, and aberrant lifestyles in cultural ghettos of fin de siecle New York…Paris…London.

As a credo, individualist anarchism remained largely a bohemian lifestyle, most conspicuous in its demands for sexual freedom and enamored of innovations in artbehaviorclothing.

It was in times of severe social repression and deadening social quiescence that individualist anarchists came to the foreground of libertarian activity — and then primarily as terrorists.

In FranceSpain…the United Statesindividualistic anarchists committed acts of terrorism that gave anarchism its reputation as a violently sinister conspiracy.

Those who became terrorists were less often social libertarian or communist than desperate men and women who used weapons and explosives to protest the injustices and philistinism of their time, putatively in the name of propaganda of the deed.

Most often, individualist anarchism expressed itself in culturally defiant behavior. It came to prominence in anarchism precisely to the degree that anarchists lost their connection with a viable public.

Reactionary social context explains the emergence and spread of individualist anarchism, today a phenomenon of euro-american anarchism

When even respectable forms of socialism are in fast retreat from principles that might in any way be construed as radical, issues of lifestyle once again supplant social action and revolutionary politics in anarchism.

In the traditionally individualist-liberal United States and Britain, our era is awash in self-styled anarchists who — their flamboyant radical rhetoric aside — are cultivating a latter-day anarcho-individualism that I will call lifestyle anarchism.

Lifestyle Anarchism…its pre-occupations with ego and uniqueness of ego…its polymorphous forms of resistance steadily erode the social character of libertarian tradition.

Anarchism can be profoundly influenced by the bourgeois environment it professes to oppose, no less than Marxism…other Socialisms….the result being the growing inwardness and narcissism of the baby boom generation, their mark upon many avowed radicals.

Ad hoc adventurism, personal bravura, aversion to theory…oddly akin to the anti-rational biases of postmodernism. ,Celebrations of apolitical and anti-organizational theoretical incoherence (pluralism), anti-organizational commitment to imagination,desire, ecstasy….an intensely self-oriented enchantment of everyday life.  These, reflect the toll of social reaction upon Euro-American anarchism over the past decades.

During the 1970s, writes Katinka Matson, the compiler of a compendium of techniques for personal psychological development, there occurred a remarkable change in the way we perceive ourselves in the world. The 1960s,’ she continues, ‘saw a preoccupation with political activism, Vietnam, ecology, be-ins, communes, drugs, etc.

Today we turn inward: we look for personal definition,,,personal improvement,,,personal achievement…personal enlightenment.

Matson’s noxious little bestiary, compiled for Psychology Today magazine, covers every technique from acupuncture to the I Ching, from est to zone therapy. In retrospect, she might well have included lifestyle anarchism in her compendium of inward-looking soporifics, most of which foster ideas of individual autonomy rather than social freedom.

Psychotherapy in all its mutations cultivates an inward directed self of autonomy — a quiescent condition of emotional self-sufficiency — not the outward social self of freedom.

In lifestyle anarchism as in psychotherapy, ego is counterposed to the collective; self to society….personal to communal.  Ego — more precisely, its incarnation in various lifestyles — becomes an idee fixe for many post-anarchists, who lose contact with needs for organized, collectivistic, programmatic opposition to existing social order.

Invertebrate protests, directionless escapades, self-assertions,,,a very personal recolonization of everyday life parallel the psychotherapeutic, New Age, self-oriented lifestyle of bored baby boomer and gen-x,y.

What passes for anarchism in America and increasingly in Europe is little more than introspective personalism in denigration of responsible social commitment; an encounter group variously renamed a collective or affinity group…a state of mind arrogantly deriding structure, organization, public involvement…a playground for juvenile antics.

Consciously or not, many lifestyle anarchists articulate Michel Foucault’s approach of personal insurrection rather than social revolution, premised as it is on an ambiguous and cosmic critique of power as such rather than on a demand for the institutionalized empowerment of the oppressed in popular assemblies, councils, and/or confederations.

To the extent that this trend rules out the real possibility of social revolution — either as an impossibility’…or as an imaginary — it vitiates social or communal anarchism in a fundamental sense.

Foucault fosters a perspective:

Resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power. . . . there is no single universal locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, no source of all rebellions, no pure law of the revolutionary.

Caught as we all are in the ubiquitous embrace of a power so cosmic that, Foucault’s overstatements and equivocations aside, resistance becomes entirely polymorphous, we drift futilely between solitary and rampant.

His meandering ideas come down to the notion that resistance must necessarily be a guerrilla war that is always present — and that is inevitably defeated.

Lifestyle/Individualist anarchism bears a disdain for theory, with mystical, and primitivistic filiations that are generally too vague, intuitional, and even anti-rational to analyze directly.

They are more properly symptoms than causes of the general drift toward a sanctification of the self, refuge from existing social malaise.

Nonetheless, largely personalistic anarchisms still have certain muddy theoretical premises that lend themselves to critical examination.

Ideological pedigree is basically liberal, grounded in the myth of the fully autonomous individual whose claims to self-sovereignty are validated by axiomatic ‘natural rights,’ ‘intrinsic worth,’…on a more sophisticated level, an intuited Kantian transcendental ego that is generative of all knowable reality.

These traditional views surface in Max Stirner’s ‘I’ or ego, which shares with existentialism a tendency to absorb all of reality into itself, a universe turning on choices of the self-individual.

More recent works on lifestyle anarchism generally sidestep Stirner’s sovereign, all-encompassing ‘I,’ albeit retaining its egocentric emphasis, and tend toward existentialism, recycled Situationism, Buddhism, Taoism, anti-rationalism, primitivism — or — quite all of them in various ecumenical permutations.

Their commonalities are redolent of a prelapsarian return to an original, often diffuse, and even petulantly infantile ego that ostensibly precedes history, civilization, and a sophisticated technology — possibly language itself — and they have nourished more than one reactionary political ideology over the past century.