De Casseres: Individualism. Palante, the Individualist

BENJAMIN DE CASSERES — The Individual stands on the brink of annihilation. The State is the new divinity. The masses everywhere yearn to be kept. Economic pimpery and gregarious parasitism are the dominant traits of the times. Mob-masters put the shackles on the people everywhere. And the people howl for bigger and better shackles.

The Bed of Procrustes stretches from the Rhine to Tokio—due east. To the west the shadow of the Bed of Horrors is thrown over France, England and America.

The Individual withers and the miracle-mongers are more and more. These miracle-mongers have various labels for their steady descent toward the life of the ant: Fascism, Communism, Socialism, Technology, Capitalistic-Ku-Klux-Klanism, Totalitarianism, Aryanism. However, in the crucible of the word-concept Automatism they all dissolve into one another.

For the human race, in all times, is divided psychologically into two classes only: the Collectivist-Automatic being and the Individualistic-Self Reliant being. There are degrees of each, fine shadings and interlappings and overlappings ; but as a perfect living equilibrium is inconceivable, one or the other psychological characteristic will dominate every human being. It is a manifestation of the centripetal and centrifugal forces in psychic—and hence social and economic—life.

If the word progress has any meaning to me, it means this: Whatever tends to individualism, differentiation, contrast, clash, independent life, variety is progressive.

Whatever tends to automatism, mass-movement, likeness, peace, parasitic life, unity, is retrogressive.

One is life; the other is death.

Unity, the automatic, mass-movement, likeness, peace, etc., cannot, of course, be abolished (one may as well try to abolish the centripetal forces), but they must be subordinated to the instinct for independent life.

Not since the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church had dissolved all variety into unity, has there ever been such speedy motion toward universal Automatism as today. Mob-Moloch, with its Machiavellian masters, marches on relentlessly to swallow up the Individual.

Therefore, today, what we name “radicals” are reactionaries (including all Fascists and advocates of unregulated Capitalism). The “progressist,” the real radical, is now, as always, the Individualist —he who has no programme for any one else, who often has no programme even for himselfhe who evolves spontaneously and expresses himself in the rhythm of his whole psyche.

One may love his country, his race, his countrymen; but I defy you to show me any one who ever loved his government. Even those who are its beneficiaries hold it in secret or open contempt.

Now, the government is the state. It is, therefore, always the enemy of the individual. And yet this enemy must not, cannot, be abolished. For, like all enemies, it breeds, by the law of menace and opposition, a more definite, a more militant form of Individualism.

The great Greek, Roman, Italian and Russian individualists, for instance, flourished under various degrees of tyrannies. Under Communism and Fascism, as in Sparta, the individual is completely cowed into the mass. But in that oppressed mass —or masses— giant individuals are being created —just as the ultimate ego in a man is brought out in prison.

Georges Palante, Frenchman, who died about ten years ago, was the last of the few great thinkers who have been the defenders of Individualism against the continuous and murderous aggressions of Society, Church, State, universities and the Mob. He is one of the greatest analysts of man in society —a clarifier of Emerson, Stirner, De Vigny, Leconte de Lisle, Nietzsche and Spencer.

His three books, “Combat pour l’Individu,” “Les Antinomies entre l’Individu et la Sociéte” and “La Sensibilité Individualiste,” might have for inscription, “Dying, we salute thee, Lucifer!” For Lucifer is the protagonist of all Individualists. He revolted against the totalitarian State called Heaven, and as he fell he became immeasurably greater, and in the Domain of the Damned, whereto are sent by Church, State and Society all those who antagonize them, he reigns, the eternal enemy of the Collectivist, Unitarian theocracy of the sweet and brainless angels.

For all Collectivist societies are theocracies, even if they proclaim themselves atheistic, as in Russia. A Moloch —by various names— rules every such state. And there are blood-sacrifices to these ideological Molochs just as there were to Jehovah or the Aztec gods. The centuries and centuries of slaughter of millions in the name of the Lowly Nazarene will soon be taken up again under different masks: Communism, Socialism, Fascism —and even “Individualism,” that pseudo-“Individualism” which is nothing but predatory greed wearing the mask of a great personal ideal (a word —Individualism— debased, ladies and gentlemen of posterity, by a Herbert Hoover, a name which in all probability has no meaning to you; but he was once President of the United States).

Palante’ s style is crystal-clear, sensitive, poignant, precise, logical, literary, simple : all the virtues of the French tradition —in fewer words, exquisite strength. From time to time I shall quote Palante and comment on what he has to say, for this essay is a collaboration, a conversation, between this great Individualist and myself. All italic quotations not otherwise credited are from the books of Georges Palante.

“Individualism is not an object of proselytism. It has value in its own eyes only as a personal sensation of life.”

The real Individualist is thus an Epicurean. He lives for experiences. He reacts to each experience differently. No Individualist seeks to make any one else an Individualist. He aims at the unique. He loves the unique in others. “He who calls himself a Whitmanite has not understood me,” said Walt Whitman.

The Individualist is a disciple of his own moods, his own sensations, his own emotions and instincts. His life is an adventure in psychological vistas, in comic and dramatic situations of which he himself is always the hero.

To the Individualist life is a series of experiences, not a programme. The only discipline that he willingly assents to is self-imposed. He absorbs whatever he needs, and always stands at a distance from his environment and “the times.”

As the sidereal system is said to be travelling eternally toward the sun Vega in the Constellation of Lyra, so the Individualist is always travelling toward an unknown, an unprogrammed destiny, toward a mysterious and ultimate star in the firmament of his imagination.

The Individualist is the very opposite of a “selfish being.” The professional (and quite often the unprofessional) altruist, idealist, Collectivism the highly socialized busybody, attempts to impose his own private reactions on others by force or through the medium of laws; whereas the Individualist says, “Live and let live.” Society, the state and the moralist are always selfish. The Individualist is the enemy of selfishness. He opposes it with selfism for all.

The Sacculina, as Professor Maynard D. Metcalf tells us in his “Organic Evolution,” is a barnacle, “normally a free-swimming, shelled animal, with legs, swimming organs, nerves, stomach, etc. But it often attaches itself to a crab and draws its living from its host. Here it loses its legs, swimming organs and most of its sense organs until finally it is little more than a shapeless mass of protoplasm. Evolution is not increased efficiency or more perfect structure… It is adaptation to environment, and often if an animal degenerates it is better adapted to its environment than with a more ideal equipment.”

This is one of the best unintentional allegories of the Individualist versus the State and Society that I have ever read.

Today, the masses seem to be degenerating to the Sacculina. The State tends more and more to become a tax-fat crab on which batten millions of sacculinas. In order to have the security of living on this filthy, corrupt, rich old crab, the Sacculinidae are quite content to give up all liberties and rights. As I write this, all Russians, Germans and Italians (in varying degrees) are of the Sacculinidae. The crab-state in America, England and France also waxes fatter and her parasitic guests grow apace.

But there are still a few of us who prefer to remain free-swimming marauders, retaining our organs —and our inherent right to take our food when and where we see fit.

Wherever I turn today, ladies and gentlemen of posterity, I see great schools of Sacculinas headed for the Crab. In fact, mass-pimpery has become a great economic theory.

Individuality is character. Personality is artificial. Character is inherent, and, I believe with Schopenhauer, unalterable.

Character is difference. The development of character is generally away from standardized and conventional patterns. Communism, Socialism and all authoritarian programmes aim at the destruction of character and the creation of a mass-personality.

Whatever exists tends naturally to individualize itself. The Ideal —which is always anti-biological— tends to destroy this natural law. It substitutes You ought for I will! Unless the Ought is self-evolved, I smash it, and reiterate in the face of all opposition, to the extent of my power and courage, I will!

Palante makes a distinction between economic individualism (the doctrine of laissez-faire, laissez-passer) and psychological individualism, although he admits one may have both characteristics, like Benjamin Constant, for instance. He instances Herbert Spencer as one who was doctrinaire individualist, but who did not possess “la sensibilite individualiste.” For, says Palante, the individualist sensibility may express itself negatively. It is then will-to-isolation—almost misanthropic.

Spencer, being a thorough Englishman, was cosmically and socially an ethicist. He believed —in “Man Versus the State” and “Justice”— he had discovered the fine hair that divided the eternal rights of the state and the rights of the Individual.

There are no rights. There is only a war of mights. “Right” is the utilitarian application of Might.

But Spencer’s “The Coming Slavery” (meaning Socialism) is one of the clearest-eyed prophecies ever made. Those of you (whoever you are) who stand outside of the encroaching shadow of the universal ant-village ideal of humanity should dig it up and read it.

Instances in America of a doctrinaire Individualist and a man with a highly organized individualist sensibility are Thomas Jefferson and Henry David Thoreau. Jefferson was, in my opinion, the most highly civilized being who ever appeared in our public life. Thoreau was, as a Frenchman has called him, a “civilized savage.”

Combine the socialized individualism of Jefferson with the militant anti-social attitude of Thoreau and we have Walt Whitman, barbaric-socialized-individualized Ego-Demos.

What the herd always fears, worships, follows, crucifies, hopes for, turns against, cringes before, revolts against, returns to, defies and anathematizes is the Individual.

”Sociability and originality exclude one another.”

Palante might have added to sociability amiability.

I am alone. Whether suffering or joyful, I am an individual. I am myself. Some one enters the room. I become masked immediately, automatically. I put on a borrowed air. Something of my innate self recedes to the dark depths. I become almost a stranger to myself. The same thing, no doubt, happens to the person who has come to see me. Two lies face one another. When I step out of a roomful of persons into the street, alone, I resume my self.

The me and they are always at war. The conquering me eats they; or if they are the conquerors, which is nearly always the case, they eat me.

Great poets are the supreme Individuals, for great poets are the most highly differentiated and evolved human beings on the planet. Poetic genius is the compendium and summit of the hidden inner self ; and the inner self is always at war with the environment, and very often with its own heredities. The poet-genius is the unique opposed to the conventional and commonplace.

“It is always an advantage for the Individual that the political and social powers should be divided and engaged in a fierce competitive rivalry in order to play one against the other.”

Therefore, I hold, that democratic individualism such as we have at present in America, England and France is the best form of government for the Individualist. In Chaos Lucifer is king. While the gangsters of the political parties wrangle over the spoils we go unscathed. It is only when they all agree that they turn their eyes on us. A unified society immediately begins to dust off the guillotine and pick out shooting-walls. Nearly all peoples east of the Rhine are servant-minded. The Americans, Englishmen and Frenchmen are master-minded.

“The pedagogic spirit is a new avatar of the priest-spirit.”

The universities, while they seem on the surface to be hotbeds of revolution, free thought and economic heresies, are in reality always reactionary, always anti-Individualistic. All their “revolutionary” demonstrations are gregarious. They hoot and howl and threaten in mobs. The yawp of the students for “freedom” always means the privilege of advocating some Collectivist doctrine, something fundamentally Christian, equalitarian, levelling.

The new priest is the professor. He is a priest whether he is tory or “red.” He teaches something. He is ex-cathedra. He is the salt of the earth. He is quoted today, ladies and gentlemen of posterity, as if he were the way, the truth and the life.

As a matter of fact, he is either a paid pimp of the status quo or a Saint Paul who has just discovered some new Collectivist Damascus-Utopia (and the value of publicity and syndicated tripe).

Did you ever know of an Anarchist who did not travel in gangs, groups, movements —just like capitalists, Socialists, Communists, Christian Scientists, Fascists and other herd-conditioned humans? The Individualist is to the Anarchist what the eagle is to the sea-gull.

Whatever is beautiful in this world is the product of an individual mind. There can be no such thing as mass-beauty, crowd-beauty. What the people like may be pretty, but never beautiful. The average man is not even moved emotionally before a sunset, the moon or dawn. He likes, above all things, Fourth of July fireworks.

Aesthetic apperception is purely an individual exfoliation. A professor of aesthetics (and there are such things in our seats of learning, ladies and gentlemen of posterity) is the comic pathos of Demos trying to rape the evanescent and always fleeing Helena.

Here is a piercing observation of Sainte-Beuve : “After all, great external events and what we call ‘general interests’ are expressed in each man and enter in him through roads which are always very private and personal. Those who speak magnificently in the name of humanity as a whole consult their own secret passions and ambitions, which they dare not confess. They secretly wish to put themselves up as leaders and to crush their adversaries. Their motive is applause and power.”

Beware of those who profess a “love for humanity,” who want to “lift up mankind,” who have a hurry-call to “save the race.” They are all sentimental butchers. Deep in the perverse vats of the subconscious lie the masks of the eternal will-to-power. The meanest soapbox Fiat Luxer in Union Square dreams of a soft job under the Proletarian Regime and the loud, literate bawlers see themselves as Robespierres, Hitlers or Stalins.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” said the greatest seer of antiquity and modernity. But there is something new hidden from all suns, something that values or devalues (according to one’s temperament) all suns: the differentiated and unique soul of each human being. As Emerson said, everything conspires against this uniquity. To affirm it to the utmost and then to be resumed in the viewless Absolute constitutes the only sublimity attainable by me —and you(1).

NOTE
  1. originariamente in Benjamin De Casseres (1873-1945), The Individual Against Moloch. New York: [The DeCasseres Books], Blackstone Publishers, 1936; qui riprendo il testo da una raccolta di scritti ora in preparazione per la collana Transition (eBook: Benjamin De Casseres, The Superman in America and Other Essays, Pieffe Edizioni, 2018) effe[]

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