Individualist Anarchism Pound And The Egoist

Pound's pre-war politics were less well defined than either Hulme's or Eliot's. Nevertheless, in 1913 he began to contribute to a magazine that had a very definite place on the political spectrum: the individualist anarchist New Freewoman. Initially publishing under the title of The Freewoman, The New Freewoman (as it became in 1913) was founded as a feminist periodical that campaigned for the psychological, social, economic and political freedom of women. Its editor, Dora Marsden (1882-1960), was a former suffragist who had come to believe that the focus on gaining the vote had blinded women to their lack of freedom in other, more important, areas of their lives. She argued that, rather than achieving the vote as a means to obtain other freedoms, women should focus on gaining their psychological freedom first. Her conception of psychological freedom was indebted to Bergson's work, but also to that of the philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and, especially, Max Stirner (1806-1956), both of whom had had major works recently translated into English. Despite the fact that, as Lasserre told Hulme, French democrats used Bergson's writings to justify their politics, Bergson was claimed by others as a champion of anti-democracy, of individualism (Schwartz 1992: 278-79): it was this interpretation of his work that enabled Marsden to group him with Nietzsche and Stirner. Her interpretation of their writings was articulated in the journal

Anarchism, Anarchists believe that government by the state is an imposition on human freedom and advocate the abolition of all structures of authority, Different strains of anarchism propose distinct forms of social organization in their place: collectivism, mutualism and syndicalism, for example, all advocate different types of economic reform designed to ensure that workers are the main beneficiaries of their own labour, Individualist anarchism, by contrast, is compatible with private property ownership and emphasizes the removal of all constraints to the pursuit of individual self-interest, Major theorists of anarchism include the collectivist anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), the mutualist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), the syndicalist Georges Sorel (1847-1822), and the individualist Max Stirner, as an individualist anarchism (or 'egoism' as it was called at the time), in which the individual is opposed to the collective, and individual experience, rather than abstract reason, is the ground for all knowledge and action.

As Marsden became more interested in individualist anarchism, the journal's focus moved away from feminism towards broader philosophical and intellectual concerns, as reflected in its change of name to the non-gendered Egoist in 1914. By the time Pound was invited to contribute in 1913, the journal had begun to develop an individualist theory of art based on 'experienced emotion' rather than abstract ideas (Marsden 1913: 82), a theory that brought it very close to the Bergsonian philosophy Hulme had fed into imagism. Consequently, when Pound's imagist poetry appeared in The New Freewoman, it appeared remarkably consistent with the journal's philosophical and political content, especially as it was introduced by a preface that described the imagists as 'a little band who desire the poet to be as disciplined and efficient at his job as the stevedore', reclaiming poetry from 'learned persons, given to soft living among veiled things and unaccustomed to being sacked for talking too much' (West 1913: 86). Marsden encouraged Pound to develop the connection between his poetry and the journal's politics: when she asked him to explain his philosophy, he replied, 'I suppose I'm individualist, I suppose I believe in the arts as the most effective propaganda for a sort of individual liberty that can be developed without public inconvenience', a point he explored in his essay 'The

Serious Artist', run on the journal's front page (Clarke 1996: 107). There, Pound argued that the value of the arts lies in their ability to provide psychological data, data that registers the individuality of human experience: 'men differ among themselves as leaves upon trees differ. [. . .] they do not resemble each other as do buttons cut by machine'. Even though he does so somewhat tentatively, he clearly connects this argument to the journal's political stance. Since the arts teach us that 'all men do not desire the same things', Pound argues that 'it would therefore be inequitable to give to all men two acres and a cow [. . .] No perfect state will be founded on the theory, or on the working hypothesis that all men are alike' (1960: 42, 47).

These statements imply a disagreement with a fundamental tenet of democracy, namely equality; and four months later the journal printed a much more intemperate article by Pound in which he declared that the artist 'has been at peace with his oppressors for long enough. He has dabbled in democracy and he is now done with that folly'. He proposed instead an 'aristocracy of the arts', arguing that the artist 'knows he is born to rule but he has no intention of trying to rule by general franchise. He at least is born to the purple. He is not elected by a system of plural voting' (1914a: 68). But what could Pound mean in practice by an 'aristocracy of the arts'? Unlike Hulme, Pound did not translate his anti-democracy into a party allegiance: later the same year he commented that 'as a syndicalist, somewhat atrabilious, I disbelieve vigorously in any recognition of political institutions' (1914b: 254). This aversion to political institutions, and to the state more generally, is at the root of his attraction to anarchism and, later, to Italian fascism. Throughout his life Pound proclaimed his commitment to 'civilization', which he believed would best be preserved in a hierarchical society with power given to artists.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment