Individualist anarchism is a philosophical tradition, appearing primarily in the United States, that emphasises the autonomy of the individual. While individualist anarchism's roots includes Europeans such as Max Stirner, a member of the International Workingmen's Association, the individualist anarchist tradition also draws heavily on American independant thinkers, including Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Josiah Warren , Ezra Heywood , and Henry David Thoreau. Noteworthy anarchist writer and poet John Henry Mackay is also considered an individualist anarchist.
Individualist anarchists are claimed as an influence by both libertarians (particularly those libertarians who describe their views as anarcho-capitalist), as well as libertarian socialists and traditional anarchists, although the two groups dispute which tradition has more claim to individualist anarchism as an influence. Anarchists often note that Spooner, Tucker, and Stirner all rejected various principles of capitalism. Tucker referrred to himself as a socialist, defining it as "the claim that labor should be put in possession of its own". And, Spooner condemns wage labor. Anarcho-capitalists note that some of these individuals support some practices consistent with capitalism, including private property, and the charging of interest.
Individualist anarchists do not all agree in regard to private property. Max Stirner, for example, while rejecting Proudhon's ideas about property as a collective good, also rejected all kinds of liberalism and held that the "right" to personal property was an illusion, or "ghost". He held that there were neither natural principles, nor moral obligations attached to property, as elaborated in his early work of the individualist tradition, The Ego and Its Own. Tucker, on the other hand, supports a right of individual to own all of the produce of their labor, but maintains that it is exploitative for an employer to retain part of produce as profit. Whereas Stirner calls a right to private property a "ghost," Tucker calls a collective that would own property a "non-entity." This illustrates the disinction between European individualists anarchists and the Americans. American individualist anarchists opposed collectivist philosophies of property.
Other individualist anarchists, such as Lysander Spooner, support a right to individual ownership of property. He says that "Any article of wealth which a man creates or produces by the exercise of any portion of his wealth producing faculties is...clearly his rightful property." And, in 'Natural Law, he asserts that "each man...shall make reparation for any injury he may have done to the person or property of another." Spooner also ran a successful business for a short time called The American Letter Mail Company, challenging the government's monopoly and privatizing mail delivery illustrating his belief that "each man should be his own employer, or work directly for himself..." as well as his support of private ownership of capital (see Poverty). Moreover, he stated a belief in "free competition" . In No Treason , Spooner upholds the right of the individual to enter into and leave any agreement as they see fit, including their relationship with the state.
Benjamin Tucker, though calling himself a "socialist," rejects the notion of collective ownership of resources saying the foundational claim of socialism is "that labor should be put in possession of its own." . In Liberty, he says: "That there is an entity known as the community which is the rightful owner of all land, Anarchists deny. I . . . maintain that ‘the community’ is a non-entity, that it has no existence, and is simply a combination of individuals having no prerogatives beyond those of the individuals themselves.” Tucker believed in individual private ownership of land, but only as much as what one could put into use, opposing titles titles to barren land. Tucker held that a right of private propery is essential to liberty and that if one denies such a right then he is not an anarchist: "Anarchism is a word without meaning, unless it includes the liberty of the individual to control his product or whatever his product has brought him through exchange in a free market—that is, private property. Whoever denies private property is of necessity an Archist" (The New Freewoman, November 15th, 1913).
While not all individualist anarchists agree that individuals have should have a right to private property, they all agree that practice of an employer profiting from the labor of an employee is unjustifiable. While the American individualists asserted that it is the individual that should retain the rights to the entire produce of his labor, the Europeans such as Stirner make this assertion in regard to the collective. However, American individualist anarchists would not coercively intervene in a "capitalist" profit-making employer/employee relationship, prefering instead to set up alternate forms of business known as "mutualism." Individualist Clarence L. Swartz , a contemporary of Tucker and a disciple of his, says in What is Mutualism?: "Will the movement prohibit or abolish private property? If it does, it is an enemy of liberty."
Last updated: 08-17-2005 16:29:28