Existentialist anarchism

Some observers believe existentialism forms a philosophical ground for anarchism. Anarchist historian Peter Marshall claims, "there is a close link between the existentialists' stress on the individual, free choice, and moral responsibility and the main tenets of anarchism".[1]


Max Stirner

Anarchism had a proto-existentialist view mainly in the writings of German individualist anarchist Max Stirner. In his book The Ego and Its Own (1845), Stirner advocates concrete individual existence, or egoism, against most commonly accepted social institutions—including the state, property as a right, natural rights in general, and the very notion of society—which he considers mere spooks or essences in the mind. Existentialism, according to Herbert Read, "is eliminating all systems of idealism, all theories of life or being that subordinate man to an idea, to an abstraction of some sort. It is also eliminating all systems of materialism that subordinate man to the operation of physical and economic laws. It is saying that man is the reality—not even man in the abstract, but the human person, you and I; and that everything else—freedom, love, reason, God—is a contingency depending on the will of the individual. In this respect, existentialism has much in common with Max Stirner's egoism."[2]

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the first philosophers considered fundamental to the existentialist movement, though the movement did not exist until after his death, which is when his works became better known. While he was alive, however, Nietzsche was frequently associated with anarchist movements and proved influential for many anarchist thinkers, in spite of the fact that, in his writings, he seems to hold a negative view of anarchists.[3] This was the result of a popular association during this period between his ideas and those of Max Stirner. (See: Relationship between Friedrich Nietzsche and Max Stirner.) As such, Nietzsche's Übermensch was representative of the freedom for people to define the nature of their own existence, as well as the desire for a new human who was to be neither master nor slave. Nietzsche's idealized individual invents his or her own values and creates the very terms under which they excel, taking no regard for God, the state, or the social behavior of 'herds'. It was these things that drew Nietzsche to anarchists and existentialists alike, showing the clear commonality between both.[4]

Other forerunners

Some point to Mikhail Bakunin as possibly following a "philosophy of existence" against "the philosophy of essence" as advocated by Hegel,[5] a figure whom many anarchists, in contrast to Marxists, have found authoritarian[6][7] or even totalitarian.[8] "Every individual," Bakunin writes, "inherits at birth, in different degrees, not ideas and innate sentiments, as the idealists claim, but only the capacity to feel, to will, to think, and to speak," a set of "rudimentary faculties without any content" which are filled through concrete experience.[9] Foundational existentialist thinkers such as Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche also voiced their opposition to Hegel for denying the role of the free individual, glorifying State and Church, and claiming "absolute knowledge" about human beings. While influenced by Hegel early in his life, Bakunin later was stridently opposed to Hegel around the time he became an anarchist, and would refuse to say he was ever influenced by him.[10]

The transcedentalists, particularly Henry David Thoreau, were influential to anarchism and existentialism.[11]

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