The Anarchist Individualist Initiation
E. Armand’s Anarchist Individualist Initiation is arguably one of the great “lost” classics of the anarchist tradition, not simply as one of the most extensive expositions of anarchist individualism, but as one of the more carefully elaborated treatments of anarchist thought in any form. Part manifesto and part textbook, it manages to be at once a very personal, appropriately individual statement and a sort of catechism—though a consciously pluralistic one. In giving this “attempt to reveal the multiple facets of the anarchist individualist thesis” the significant title of Initiation,” Armand naturally invited some comparisons to the teachings of various religions. A few years later, the Encyclopédie Anarchiste, to which Armand was a contributor, would defined initiation in these terms:
INITIATION n. (from Latin initiatio) Act of initiating or of being initiated. Ceremony by which one was initiation into knowledge of and participation in certain mysteries in ancient religions and secret societies. By extension, introduction, first knowledge: artistic initiation, literary initiation.
In antiquity the initiation was the ceremony by which a candidate was admitted into the mysteries of some cult, which gave them the right to witness and participate in the honors rendered to the divinity that was the object of worship. All the religions have had their mysteries and, consequently, their initiates. It is through initiation that the ancient clergy was recruited, and the more mysterious the esoteric meaning of a cult was, the longer and more difficult were the trials judged necessary in order to be initiated. Secrecy was always imposed on the initiates. There were several degrees in the initiation, by which one arrived at the contemplation of the holy mysteries. Christianity has also had its initiatives. In the Middle Ages, the adepts of magic were recruited through initiation, which was for them a security measure.
The associations created with a mystical aim are not the only one that have practiced initiation. It has also be practiced by the schools of philosophy, as well as societies having a political or social goal: freemasonry, for example.
But the mysteries here are of an anti-authoritarian, anti-absolutist variety and we are encouraged, I think, to be as unfaithful to the letter of Armand’s text as we are to be faithful to its spirit. After all, even a much less individualistic thinker, Armand’s sometimes antagonist Jean Grave, would say of his own work:
Our dreams of the future society are in no way precise or unchanging, and, what’s more, the realization of one does not exclude the realization of others — excepting, it is understood, those that preserve a place for authority or for individual appropriation.
The translation here is a work-in-progress. I began with a French text that was substantially, but not always perfectly complete and only discovered some of its shortcomings well into the translation process. That means that, along with revisions of the translation itself, I am gradually checking the text against a rather fragile copy of the original publication. Sections that have been given their own page can be considered more or less finished. Other sections should be used with care. I am providing a parallel French/English text as well, so that those interested in consulting the original can do so easily.
— Shawn P. Wilbur
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