First printed in Liberty, Vol. 5, No. 2, Saturday, August 27, 1887, Whole Number 106.
I am an Egoist.
I recognize no authority save that of my own reason.
I regulate my life and my relations with the outside world in accordance with my understanding and natural instincts.
My sole object in life is to be happy, – I seek to avoid all pain and to gratify all my normal desires.
I cannot be happy unless I feel myself perfectly safe and secure in my possessions.
I can never be safe and free from fear of disturbance or injury until those around me are able to gratify all their normal desires, and they can never be completely happy without security.
Security can only be the result of perfect justice.
Justice consists in the recognition of equality and the rendering of equity.
Justice, thus defined, necessarily involves a condition of absolute liberty within its sphere.
Therefore, justice is the condition of my happiness as well as the happiness of all that are like me. That is to say, justice is the law of human society.
Thus I, an Egoist, recognizing no rights and no duties, become, solely and simply through prudence and a desire for security, a lover of equity, equality, and universal liberty.
But there is no credit due me for my policy. If I were strong, shrewd, and skilful enough to defy all danger; if my happiness could be achieved without the aid, cooperation, and respect of others, – I might have chosen to be a tyrant, and might have led a pleasant life, surrounded by two-legged beasts of burden. Not being superior to all creation, I involuntarily have to draw a line at men, and make terms with them.
Having wisely decided to be a modest member of society, I have by no means irrevocably surrendered my freedom. I stay in it because, all things considered, it is best for me to submit rather than rebel, but I can, at any time, reconsider my course and, risking the consequences, make war upon society. Who can say that I am under any obligation to be just? Obligation? To whom? To What? The individual, once having entered the social compact, finds himself in the presence and under the influence of new impulses, new aspirations, new yearnings. He is changed, transformed, revolutionized. Social life becomes a necessity to him, not as a condition, but as an element of happiness; not as a means, but as an appreciable and weighty constituent of the desired end. He learns to know new joys and pleasures; his wants multiply; his tastes change; and he comes to feel and realize that he would never, even if he could, isolate himself from his fellow-men or try to reduce them to slavery.
This process of adaptation, or socialization, of the individual, though largely unconscious, can, nevertheless, be theoretically and objectively conceived and analyzed. In thought man can separate his Ego from the mass of humanity and discuss the wants, interest, and advantages of his person apart from it. He may not be able to effect such a separation in reality, but the illusion is so thorough that it must be discussed as if it were real.
I imagine I can leave society; I think I am free; therefore I am free. I feel no obligation and no duties. I act for the sake of immediate or prospective personal benefits, and obey the voice of prudence.
Am I unreliable? Quite the contrary. There would have been no confusion in our modern social relations if all men possessed these ideas, just as an isolated community of desperados would present an example of peaceful and harmonious relations. The whole mischief arises from the fact that so many build their castles in the air. Once plant yourself on solid ground, grasp and admit these fundamental realities, and you will logically and intelligently develop a principle of conduct which will make it possible for you to pronounce judgment on all things without tracing them back to first and bottom truths.
As Danton loved peace, but not the peace of slavery, so I love justice, but not the justice of moralism and idealism.