The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism & Anarchism // Review

By Brown, L. Susan | Resources for Feminist Research, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism & Anarchism // Review


Brown, L. Susan, Resources for Feminist Research


Here is an author who became entranced with anarchism after reading an essay by Emma Goldman while an under-graduate. She was "disillusioned with the broken promises of [her] liberal upbringing" and Goldman captured both her "heart" and her "mind."

Her discovery of anarchism, at first seen by her as completely compatible with Marxism, led her to practical involvement with the anarchist movement in Toronto. At the same time she became involved with feminist studies. Here too she found disturbing trends towards ideological repression. These experiences led ultimately to a decision to undertake a critical consideration of the political philosophy of liberal feminism.

In her thesis Brown uses a framework which enables her to explore the contradictions in liberalism between what she calls existential and instrumental individualism. She then argues that if liberalism's instrumentally competitive aspects were replaced with free and voluntary association, anarchism would be the result. Her simple definition of anarchism is that it is a way of organizing society to best allow for the free expression of individuals.

From the start I felt a little uneasy about this somewhat simplistic notion. What about the dangers of individualism? What about "no one is an island?" After all, Brown wishes us to gain fresh insights into certain social movements-in particular, feminism-in order to bring liberation closer. She argues that we will never understand the true nature of the individual while we live with constraints. By removing the bonds of political, social and economic domination we will begin to define for ourselves what freedom and nature really are. So her work is analysis, description and prescription.

In her analysis of liberal individualism she looks first at Marx and Marxism and the authoritarian tendencies which have plagued the political movements based on Marxist ideology. In liberalism, however she finds an important link with anarchism: both share a commitment to individual autonomy and self-determination. But here the similarity ends. Anarchism is committed to the primacy of individual freedom while the property relations of liberalism ultimately lead to domination and exploitation. Because the existentialists came closest to developing the notion that individuals are best able to determine their own existence, Brown calls this kind of anarchist individualism, existential individualism. The liberal belief in property, both real and in the person, leads on the other hand to objectification of the individual and therefore to a negation of individual will. Under this system one person gains freedom at the expense of, or by using, another. This Brown calls instrumental individualism. Freedom becomes a means to an end, maybe an exploitative or dominating end, rather than an end in itself.

Brown finds the same contradiction in liberal feminism as she finds in liberalism generally. On the one hand feminists argue for self-determination, on the other they want women to take their place beside men in the competitive, and therefore exploitative, labour market.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism & Anarchism // Review
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?