A Bible Not Borrowed from the Neighbors
Essays & Aphorisms on Egoism
Edited by Kevin I. Slaughter
Review: Gwendolyn Taunton
As with other titles published by Underworld Amusements, the book has an appealing aesthetic layout which complements the text nicely without overshadowing the content. Like many of the publications from Underworld Amusements this book, as the title suggests, concentrates on the philosophy of Egoism. Whilst this is a more obscure branch of philosophy which you won’t find on the philosophy shelves of dull professors, Egoism seems to be currently experiencing a revival, partially aided by the rise in popularity of Max Stirner, a leading proponent of Egoism. At the moment anything to do with Stirner is experiencing an epic revival, as people turn to alternatives to the type of anarchism which borders on being ‘mainstream pop-culture’. Though the book does not concentrate purely on Stirner himself, it nonetheless delivers an explosive combination of ideas based on Stirner and Nietzsche, which will definitely not be palatable for academics playing at being ‘revolutionaries’ online. The majority of the book is composed by or is about James L. Walker, who held very similar ideas to Stirner, and although Max Stirner had “previously written a masterly and inimitable work in Germany on the philosophy, Mr. Walker had thought out and systemized the same in this country before he heard of Stirner.”[i]
Mr. Walker, in pointing out that Anarchism is really only the political branch of Egoism proper, also earned credit for suggesting the genealogical and consistently descriptive name. Egoistic Anarchism, for the Anarchism hitherto designated as Philosophical Anarchism, to distinguish its school from that of the physical force revolutionists who also claim to be Anarchists.[ii]
First and foremost, the book provides us with a definition of Egoism and how the philosophy originated. The history of the book is cleared detailed at the beginning:
The first chapters of this booklet appeared serially in Egoism, a little magazine published by Georgia and Henry Replogue, at Oakland, California, from 1890 to 1898. It was the intention to run the whole series in the magazine, the publish them in book form; but pressure upon the author’s time interrupted his writing, and finally Egoism suspended publication before the articles were completed. […] But overtaken by adversity and sickness, the matter lingered that in 1904, when the author, James L. Walker, died, the work had proceeded no further. […] The plates of this work are the property of the survivor of this now broken pair of veteran Radicals [Henry & Georgia Replogle], and future possible editions will be entirely under his control, as was originally intended of all editions of both of them.[iii]
A Bible Not Borrowed from the Neighbors also provides us with a concise explanation of the philosophy of Egoism early into the text:
Egoism is (1) the theory of will as reaction of the self to a motive; (2) every such reaction in fact. This double definition is in accord with the usual latitude due to the imperfection of language, in consequence of which an identical term covers theory, individual fact and mass of facts. […] “By the “the self” I mean the living person or animal, as recognized by the senses and consciousness, and not any mysterious, intangible entity or supposed entity – “soul,” “mind” or “spirit.”[iv]
There must be a cause for every thought as well as every sensation. That cause must affect the Ego, and the Ego cannot but react if affected – therefore according to the character of the motive and the manner and degree in which the Ego is affected in any of its parts, otherwise there would be no nature, no continuity of phenomena. In short, man in everything is within the domain of nature; that is, the regular succession of apparently self-correlating phenomena.[v]
The classical refutation of Egoism, is that of the individual’s perception and role with other humans and that an Egoist would be of no benefit to society, and that there would be no possibility of having a mutually beneficial relationship with one, because the Egoist would place their needs above those of anyone else, and therefore anyone would be forced to assume a subordinate position to them, and would always occupy, at best, a secondary position. This issue is dealt with adequately in the text, and explains the role of Egoism in relation to the broader context of the ‘social organism’.
The greater would-be Ego, the “social organism,” reinforces the family demand with persuasion that hesitates at no fallacy, but first plies the individual with some general logic as to our need of each other, then with flattery, how it will repay him for inconvenience by praise, external and internal, all the while exerting a moral terrorism over every mind weak enough to allow it, and all to subjugate the real Ego to the complex would-be but impossible Ego. For not the good of the family, but of itself, is the object of the State and of the “social organism.” The State prates of the sacredness of the family, but treats it with scant courtesy when its own interest conflicts with the family interest.[vi]
Whilst successful and harmonious families, friends, and relationships function as an extension of the self, and thus are not in opposition to the philosophy of Egoism, in relation to the State, however, there can be no reciprocal relationship. The political component always demands servitude and very rarely does it accord the same duty to the family or the individual that it demands from them. This is the nature of the problem – any political cause necessarily demands that one be thoroughly subordinate, leading to the abnegation of the self. In regard to the State, one is always the slave and never the master. The problem, of course, is that fools rush in where everyone else fears to tread, eager to martyr themselves for a brief moment of glory, only to followed by an eternity of nothingness and pain for supporting some ludicrous political cause, such as, for example, ‘Jurassic Aryan Zionism’. Moreover, imagine the terrible consequences others would have to endure from contact with such a person, continuously cleaning up the fruits of their poor judgment and the never-ending failures of their daily existence.
One would have to be an absolute idiot to put up with an overbearing politically zealous fool, and this imagery is narrated by Nietzsche at the beginning of Thus Spake Zarathustra : “Fellow-creators, Zarathustra seeketh; fellow-reapers and fellow-rejoicers, Zarathustra seeketh: what hath he to do with herds and herdsmen and corpses!” A fool who sacrifices himself for a ridiculous political cause is a literally a walking corpse on the verge of metaphorical suicide.
In regard to building strong individuals, Egoism has much in common with Nietzsche’s Aristocratic Radicalism, which always places emphasis on the individual over being a mere thrall to the State and politics. A Bible Not Borrowed from the Neighbors also highlights the problem with the traditional aristocracy; that it can be inherited instead of earned. Removing the hereditary component from aristocracy and making it entirely meritocratic removes all room for error with biological genetics. This is recognized here:
Aristocracy has not the fascination for me that it has for F. Nietzsche. Whatever pleasure a man may feel in wielding power in association with bold and strong companions, a reflecting man must despise an hereditary system which is subject to the following defects: that in order to transmit power to one of his sons he must consent to place his other sons in an inferior position; that he must aid in maintaining a special prerogative for the degenerate sons of his original colleagues; that he must give his daughters to inferior scions to be their marital slaves; that to support the system he must aid in employing those vermin, the priests; that to keep down the plebeians he must slay many a brave and intelligent fellow of plebeian birth.[vii]
In order for any aristocratic system to function efficiently, therefore, it has to override inherited class/caste. The book also contains many quotes and Nietzschean themes, illustrating how little difference there is between Egoism and Aristocratic Radicalism, even though Egoism leans more to Anarchism, whilst Aristocratic Radicalism recognizes that true anarchism can only be the privilege of those with high levels of good judgment and self-control. In the case of those lacking in the wisdom to make correct decisions (i.e. the aforementioned fools), one still needs rules and laws. For the higher type, as the book says, “The best philosophy to employ towards the world is to alloy the sarcasm of gaiety with the indulgence of contempt.”[viii]
The book itself takes its interesting title from the article ‘An Appreciation of Stirner’ by John Henry Mackay as we see here, “So violent will be this bloodless and proportionally rapid-and-sure revolution of all the revelations of life, this his immortal book will one day be compared only with the Bible in its wide bearings.”
And as this holy book stands at the commencement of the Christian era to carry its devastating effects for two thousand years into almost the remotest corners of the inhabited world, so does the unholy book of the first self-conscious egoist stand at the entrance to the new age, under the first sign of which we live, to exercise as blessed an influence as that of the “book of books” was pernicious.[ix]
This new philosophy is, therefore, to be regarded as a bible not borrowed from the neighbors and “It is time to say that all Bibles are to be rejected save that which we write for ourselves.”[x] Moreover, the founders of new Religions have always lived above the question of consolation – and every Egoist is the founder of a new Religion.”[xi] But,
Does the Religion of Egoism cure our sorrows as did the old Religion? We reply, what sorrows? Whose sorrows? The sorrows of a fool? To all such we say, The New Gospel is not milk for crying babies. We may add that the greatest injury you can do to a fool is to cure his sorrow – his only teacher. And the wise man will cure his own sorrows.[xii]
And here is life’s harsh lesson for the fools. Either they must toughen up and become strong enough to denounce ridiculous causes and self-created blunders or endure the agonizing pain of their own folly until such times as they realize exactly where and what went wrong. With folly, prevention is the best remedy because the only curative process is wisdom and that can take decades of self-inflicted misery.
Containing a heady brew of Stirner, Nietzsche, Darwinism, and Ragnar Redbeard – this is not a philosophy book for dilettante philanthropists, bourgeois academics, and meandering self-styled martyrs of either the religious or political variety. Rather, it is a philosophy which derives happiness purely from the self, and not from social interactions with others. In such a regard, the social order which binds others into serfdom and voluntary slavery is as redundant to Egoism as the worth of any individual is to an altruist, who will always favor the collective over any single person. The ‘virtuous altruist’ is always a mask for the frigid accountant – an individual is always worthless compared to statistics, and the ‘saintly martyr’ almost always disguises a lust for the adulation of sheep.
Available for purchase from:
[i] Kevin I. Slaughter (editor), A Bible Not Borrowed from the Neighbors: Essays & Aphorisms on Egoism (USA: Underworld Amusements, 2012), 95
[ii] Ibid., 95
[iii] Ibid., pp. 10-11
[iv] Ibid., 19
[v] Ibid., 21
[vi] Ibid., 23
[vii] Ibid., 72
[viii] Ibid., 124
[ix] Ibid., 149
[x] Ibid., 158
[xi] Ibid., 159