Emma Goldman and the Philosophy of Anarchism

Posted on 27 July 2019

The philosophical writings of anarchist Emma Goldman (1869 – 1940) remain as relevant for society today as when first written.

As a movement Philosophical Anarchism began in the late 18th century with writers such as William Goldwin (1756 – 1836) who thought, “Government by its very nature counteracts the improvement of original mind.”

In her book, Anarchism and Other Essays (1910), Goldman defines Philosophical Anarchism as:

“The liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion and liberation of the human body from the coercion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. It stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals.”

Born a Lithuanian Jew, she fled from a forced marriage to the United States when aged only 16, and took work as a seamstress and later a nurse. Still in her teens, she fell in love with both the burgeoning anarchist movement and the activist Alexander Berkman. He would soon be convicted of the attempted assassination of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick, in retaliation for the killing of nine striking steelworkers.

Mother Earth magazine

Goldman was investigated for conspiracy in the assassination attempt, but was never charged and in 1893 she served a year in prison for incitement to riot.

In 1906 she launched the monthly magazine Mother Earth which described itself as, “Devoted to social science and literature.” The periodical became a home to radical activists and literary free thinkers around the United States. However, in 1917, when the magazine openly opposed the outbreak of the First World War, the authorities had it shut down.

Prior to the end of Mother Earth, in 1916, Goldman was imprisoned again for distributing ‘obscene’ birth control literature in 1916, then again in 1917 for organising against military conscription.

For the rest of her life she was trailed, harassed and persecuted by the police, but even into old age she toured the country tirelessly, speaking to mass meetings twice a day for months at a time, while still managing to write thousands of essays, articles and letters.

She died, after two strokes, in Canada, aged 70.

Quotes

“Ask for work. If they don’t give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, then take bread.”

“The most violent element in society is ignorance.”

“I demand the independence of woman, her right to support herself; to live for herself; to love whomever she pleases, or as many as she pleases. I demand freedom for both sexes, freedom of action, freedom in love and freedom in motherhood.”

“A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.”

“I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.”

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