This is an outline of an essay I planned to write
back in 2005. The project was put on hold, but I’ll give it some new
life by publishing the outline here. In time, I will try to translate
it, bit by bit, from the original Swedish.
Two main strands of libertarianism can be distinguished. Firstly an economic one,
which is oriented around demonstration the superiority of institutions
based on voluntary exchange over state intervention. The philosophical
tendency of this type of libertarianism is utilitarian. Secondly, a
philosophical one, which often [avvisar] utilitarian ideas with [emfas].
Instead, this type of libertarianism revolves mainly around various
concepts of rights and the non-aggression principle.
In my paper i
want to examine what I see as a related third tendency, which has long
led a somewhat obscure life in the shadows of the two mentioned above.
If the first tradition is economic and the second philosophical, I would
like to call the third onepsychological or perhaps existential. Focus is not on utility or rights, but on autonomy and self-interest.
and foremost among thinkers in the psychological, existential,
autonomistic tradition of radical libertarian thought is Max Stirner,
and my paper [tar avstamp] in his book, Der Einzige und sein Eigentum
(1844). Stirner’s ideas are timeless and if anything they still seem
very futuristic, but they were formulated in a cultural and
philosophical context that stopped being relevant long ago. My first
ambition is therefore to recunstruct a case for psychological anarchism
from Der Einzige and put the ideas in a relevant contemporary context,
namely libertarian and anarchist theory.
How does psychological
anarchism relate to libertarianism and anarcholiberalism? What are the
strenghts and weaknesses of the respective traditions? Can psychological
anarchism be developed to a modern alternative to economic and
philosophical libertarianism? What could contemporary psychological
anarchistic strategies be?
Some sketchy comparisons:
Established libertarian theories have trouble explaining why the
world is not libertarian, a question that becomes secondary to the
presentation of libertarianism as a superior idea. The question why the
overwhelming majority of people accept what libertarians describe as
outrageous oppression, remains hanging in the air(?). In the
psychological approach however, the question of voluntary servitude is
central from the beginning, and primary in relation to questions about
how societies should be organized. Stirner’s analysis of voluntary
servitude revolves around a radical critique of ideology and
internalized social control.
Despite libertarian ideas being hostile to all common types of
politics, almost all libertarian strategies are political. More and more
libertarians and anarchists are beginning to realize the futility of
attacking the whole of the oppressive order of society, but their
political theories are no good foundation for other strategies than
political ones. The psychological tradition on the other hand is
fundamentally antipolitical, and devises only radically non-political
strategies. Liberation is liberation från internalized social control,
ideology and voluntary servitude, and thus becomes a fundamentally
psychological project and by necessity an individual self-liberation.
Stirner’s discussion of this question revolves in part on an affirmation
of insurrection, as in contrast to revolution.
Libertarianism insists on a striclty negative conception of
freedom, which is tightly bound up with the focus on politics, while
psychological anarchism is based on a positive concept of freedom, which
is closely bound up with the focus on psychology. True freedom can not
be attained by liberating people from other people, but must be created
by every individual for himself. Stirner’s positive conception of
freedom is ownness, which is a form of autonomy and self-interestedness.
Private property rights are central to libertarian thinking.
Stirner [förkastar] all concepts of property rights, but property or
possession is very much central in his thinking, integrated in an
analysis of power, freedom, autonomy and self-interest.
The vision of a libertarian society can seem very utopian when
one considers its psychological presuppositions, and libertarians must
take seriously the objection that their ideas may presuppose a
“libertarian man”, a psychological ideal that can seem unrealistic. By
making a psychological analysis a central point and ground libertarian
ideas psychologically, this problem is taken seriously by thinkers in
the psychological tradition and answered in a defense of a psychological
ideal which indeed is very different from normal human psychology and
Psychological anarchism is founded neither on theories of society
or philosophical principles, but on the subjective situation of the
individual. Therefore it is even more simple, coherent and intuitive
than established libertarian theories. If nothing else, this may be a
pragmatic-pedagogic point to take into consideration.
Libertarians of different kinds will of course have many
objections to psychological autonomism. A critique formulated already by
Karl Marx, but one with which many libertarians will surely concur, is
that Stirner’s ideas are too idealistic, that they overlook the very
concrete nature of oppression. To consider the state not as a concrete
machinery of oppression, but as an oppressive abstraction, can of course
seem unrealistic. Furthermore, most libertarians would naturally
critizise the idea of non-political strategies, and point to the risk
that such strategies become harmless to the oppressive system as they
strive for a psychological autonomy that is attainable without reshaping
The conflict is most apparent between what I call
philosophical and psychological libertarianism or anarchism. The latter
attacks the former on all fronts, and their premisses are so different
that it is doubtful that they could be conciliated. On the other hand,
it seems to me that the anarchoeconomic tradition is largely compatible
with the anarchopsychological. The former begin where the latter ends
and perhaps these perspectives can complement each other in a harmonious
way, in a economic-psychological rather than political-philosophical
Besides Stirner there are contributions
to what I call a psychological libertarian tradition in the writings of
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand and Michel Foucault among others. Etienne
de la Boetie can perhaps be seen as a precursor in some ways. In the
literature on Stirner, two authors are worth special mention here. John
Carroll har written about Stirner, Nietzsche and Dostojevsky as engaged
in an anarchopsychological critique, and Saul Newman har written on
parallells between Stirner and Foucault, who’s thinking on power and
freedom like Stirner’s is in search of a post-Kantian freedom. This
connects with postanarchism, that is, moves to combine anarchism and
In libertarian thinking there are
certain tendencies that fits well with ideas like those of Stirner, not
least concerning the question of non-political strategies, both from the
perspective of individual self-liberation and from the perspective of
building alternative institutions that can exist parallell with the
state and with time outcompete it.
If you would like to read the rest of this essay in English, consider sending me a message with your thoughts. If someone does this, it just might give me the extra incentive necessary to finish the translation.