The Individual Anarchist Initiation: Sketches of the Social Environment


1. Sketches of the Social Environment, Harmful Authority.
1) The social milieu.
A chaos of beings, facts and ideas; a harsh, disorderly struggle, without mercy; a perpetual lie; a wheel which turns blindly, one day lifting one to the pinnacle and the next crushing one ruthlessly.
A mass, rich and poor, slaves of age-old, inherited prejudices, the first because they find their interests there, and the others because they are immersed in an ignorance from which one does not want they leave; a multitude whose religion is money and whose culmination is the rich man; a mob brutalized by prejudices, the educational system, a superficial existence, the abuse of alcohol or the consumption of adulterated foods; the rabble of degenerates in high places and low, without deep aspirations, without any aim but that of “succeeding” or “taking it easy.” Something temporary which constantly threatens to transform itself into something permanent, and something permanent which threatens to never be anything but temporary. Some lives which belie their stated convictions, and some convictions which serve as springboards to dubious ambitions. Some free-thinkers who reveal themselves to be more clerical than the clergy, and some devout souls who show themselves crude materialists. Something superficial which wants to pass for profound, some profundity which cannot manage to make itself be taken seriously.
A tableau vivant of Society, yet a thousand times below the reality! Why? Because on each face a mask is place; because no one is concerned with being, because they all only aspire to appear. To appear, that is the highest ideal, and, if we are so greedy for ease or riches, it is in order to be able to appear, since in our times, money alone allows one to cut a real figure!
2) The race for appearance.
That mania, that passion, that race for appearance, or for the thing which can procure it, devours the richest like the vagabond, the best educated like the unlettered. The worker who bad-mouths the foreman wants to become him in his turn; the merchant who estimates his commercial honor so high does not consider passing by some rather dishonorable sales; the small shopkeeper, member of the patriotic and nationalist electoral committees, hastens to transmit his orders to foreign manufacturers, as soon as he finds his profit there; the socialist deputy, advocate of the destitute proletariat, packed in the foul-smelling parts of the town, vacations in a château or lives in the well-heeled quarters of the city, where the air spreads, abundant and pure; the revolutionaries, who cry against persecution and who strive to stir the tender hearts when the bourgeoisie, holding in its hands the helm of State, hounds them, imprisons them, denying them the liberty to speak and write, we find them, once they have seized power and perched on the dictatorial seat, as meddlesome, as inquisitive, as intolerant, as cruel–more sometimes–as those whose place they have taken. The free-thinker is still willingly married in the church and often has his children baptized there. It is only when the government is well disposed that the religious dare display their ideas, and are still silent where it is customary to ridicule religion. Where, then, is sincerity to be found? The gangrene spreads everywhere. We come across it in the heart of the family where father, mother, and children hate each other, and all deceive one another by saying that they love each other, while pretending that they are particularly fond of each other. We see it in the couple where husband and wife, poorly matched, betray each other without daring to break the link which enchains them, or at the very least without explaining themselves frankly. It spreads in the group where each seeks to supplant their neighbor in the esteem of the president, secretary, or treasurer, before pulling themselves up in their place when they no longer have anything gain from them. It abounds in the acts of devotion, in the brilliant actions, in the private conversations, in the official harangues. To appear! appear! appear: pure, impartial, generous–when we consider purity, impartiality, generosity as tall tales;–moral, honest, virtuous, when probity, virtue, and morality are the least concern of those who profess them.
Where will we find someone who escapes the contagion?
3) The complexity of the human problem
It will be objected that this is to treat the question from too great a height, or from a metaphysical point of view, and that we must descend to the terrain of realities; that the reality is this: that the present Society is the human result of a long historical evolution, perhaps in its infancy, that humanity or the different humanities are all simply seeking it or preparing their way, that they grope, stumble, lose their road, find it again, progress, reverse, – that they are sometimes shaken to their roots by certain crises, carried away, launched on the road of destiny, to then slacken their advance or beat time in place; that by scraping a bit at the polish, the varnish, the surface of contemporary civilizations, on bares the stammering, the childishness, and the superstitions of the prehistoric peoples, even of the pre-prehistoric.
Posed from a purely objective point of view, it will be said that  “actually” the “Society” encompasses all the beings, all the aspirations, all the activities, – all the pain and suffering as well. It includes the productive and the idle, the disinherited and the privileged, the healthy and the ailing, the sober and the drunk, the believers and the miscreants, the worst reactionaries and the sectarians of the most improbably doctrines. It modifies, evolves, and transforms itself. It destroys itself at certain points, and regenerates itself at others. Here, it is chaotic; there, it is orderly; over there, it is both at the same time. It glorifies self-sacrifice, but exalts self-interest. It is for peace, but it suffers war. It is against disorder, but welcomes revolutions. It clings to established facts, but constantly acquires new knowledge. It hates anything that disturbs its peace, but follows willingly those of its children who know how to dispel its mistrust, or awaken its curiosity with promises of one sort or another, or allay its fears anew by means of a mirage. It grumbles about the powerful, but ultimately it falls in behind them, adopts their customs, and rules its opinions by theirs. Roused by crisis and carried to the worst excesses, it naturally finds itself a vassal and serves as soon as the smoke of the fires is clear. It is impulsive as a child, sentimental as a young girl, hesitant as an old man. It obeys primordial instincts, instincts which guided the distant ancestors when there was no social milieu, – but it submits to strict disciplines and stern rules. It demands that those who lead it sacrifice themselves for it, but does not balk when they exploit it. it is generous and miserly. The rigidity of manners is unbearable, but it displays decency. It is for the least effort, but adapts to overwork. It flees from suffering, but dances on volcanoes. It is majoritarian, but concedes to minorities. It bows before dictators, but raise statues to those who stab them to death. A sad song drives it to tears, but the beating of a drum awakens in the depths of its being all that has lain dormant for generations, desires to massacre, to pillage, to plunder in bands. It is cruel and tender, avaricious and prodigal, cowardly and heroic. It is a crucible in which the most disparate elements, the least similar characters, and the most conflicting energies meet and join together. It is a furnace that consumes the corporeal and cerebral activities of its members for the pure pleasure of destruction. It is a field always fertilized with the knowledge and experiences of past generations. It is like a woman continuously in a state of pregnancy, who does not know who or what she will deliver. It is Society.
It will be conceded willingly that all is not perfect in Society, but isn’t it proper for that which is actual to be imperfect? It is by authority that it maintains the links of solidarity which unite individuals to one another – links which are sometimes very loose, but it has still not been demonstrated that without authority human societies will remain. Hypocrisy reigns as mistress over the relations of person with person, milieu with milieu, race with race; but it has still not been proven that it does not constitute an inevitability desired by the multiplicity of human temperaments, – an instinctive expedient destined to absorb the shocks and to reduce somewhat the harshness of the struggle for life. The conditions of the production and distribution of products favor the privileged and maintain the exploitation of the unprivileged, but it remains to examine if in the present circumstances of industrial production, one could, without exploitation, obtain from the producer the output necessary to the economic functioning of human societies; – 2° if all the unprivileged are not would-be privileged, who aspire to supplant the latter in their privileges.
It will still be objected that it is folly to seek to discover, to establish the responsibility of the individual, that it is drowned, absorbed in its environment, that its thoughts reflect the thoughts, and its deeds the deeds of those who surround it, – that it cannot be otherwise and that if, from the top to the bottom of the social ladder, the aspiration is to appear and not to be, the fault is with the present phase of the general evolution and not in the individual element of the social environment, a tiny atom lost, dissolved, in an enormous aggregate.
4) For whom this book is not intended.
We do not deny it. We are willing to agree that these finding render the human problem singularly complex, strangely complicated. One could conclude that there is nothing to do but to let the “inevitable evolution” continue slowly, to bow tamely before circumstances, to witness, passively, the march of events to accept that, until a better one comes along, all is good in the best of societies. Our theses, opinions, and propositions will not interest those who see things in that way.
5) To whom this work is addressed.
Thus, we address ourselves here to “those who think” or are “on the road to thought”–to those who do not accommodate themselves to appearances and whom the present phase of general evolution does not satisfy. To those who are conscious of the domination which suppresses them,  and the exploitation which crushes them. Thus, we writer for the curious, the thinkers, and critics,–those not content with prescriptions which brook no debate or with stop-gap solutions.
Thus we do not address ourselves to those who are satisfied, nor to those who have faith. We address the unsatisfied and those who doubt. To those dissatisfied with themselves, to those who feel the burden of hundreds and hundreds of centuries of conventions and ancestral prejudices weigh on them. To those who thirst for true life, for freedom of action, and for real activity, and who encounter around them only insincerity, rubbish, conformity and servility. To those who want to know themselves more, and more intimately. To the uneasy, to the tormented, to the seekers of new sensations, to experimenters with unknown formulas of individual happiness. To those who believe nothing of what is shown to them. To the troubled; yes, to the troubled, for I prefer the seething wave to stagnant water. The others have no need of this book; Society has a high regard for them, everyone speaks well of them: they are the “satisfied.” It could be said of us that we let ourselves be carried away by our indignation, that in the end nothing proves that our anger and our invectives are not also a way of appearing. Attention: what you will find in this book are observations, opinions, arguments, and indications. It remains up to the reader to determine what they are worth. Our design is only to lead those who read it to think more deeply.
6) Our position
All the objections having been heard, we propose as thesis, that whoever reflects, and attentively considers people and things, encounters, in the ensemble of the social manifestations gathered under the name of “Society,” a nearly insurmountable barrier to the true, free, individual life, a barrier based on a patent, undeniable fact: the exercise of authority. That is enough to consider the present society defective and to wish for its disappearance.

[working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.