December is Philosophers As Profile Pictures Month; think of it as Libertarian Halloween. A month long event where libertarians from across the movement change their profile pictures to a philosopher to spread awareness for some of the best philosophers in history. Some would call this the epitome of libertarian dorkyness, and they might have a point, but it’s a damn fun to see Ayn Rand posting pictures of autographed fiat as a White Elephant gift. It’s a way for libertarians to let our hair down, and share ideas in a fun, engaging way; after all what’s better than having a conversation start because someone asked why your profile picture is some old black and white photo of a shirtless Karl Hess. From Socrates and H. L. Mencken to Max Stirner and even Gandhi, all of the great philosophers are represented and it’s starting conversations. Since I started participating, I’ve learned about philosophers and ideas I’d never heard of, read books I never thought I would, and gained new perspectives I would otherwise never have considered. This is the second year I’ve participated in the month, last year I was Lysander Spooner, and this year I chose the enigmatic Emma Goldman.

So why pick Emma?

“Anarchism is the only philosophy which brings to man the consciousness of himself; which maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man’s subordination. Anarchism is therefore the teacher of the unity of life; not merely in nature, but in man.”

Emma Goldman had a way with words, and she used this skill to promote the ideas of anarchism in all facets of life. When it came to patriotism, she found it the “last resort of scoundrels”. When it came to love, she asked how love could be anything other than free. When it came to religion, she chose to believe in man. When it came to sex, she was an avid supporter of birth control (to the point where she was arrested for providing information on how to use contraceptives) and was nearly alone in here support for the homosexual community.  When it came to equal rights, she was one of the most vocal first-wave feminists and is one of the founders of anarcha-feminism. Need I say more? No matter the issue, Emma was at the forefront of promoting freedom and fought state and cultural oppression at every turn.  In this Emma Goldman should be seen as one of the greats in Libertarian philosophy, promoting our ideas at a time where not only where they not popular, they could get you thrown in a cell.

That’s all well and good, but wasn’t she a committed communist?

“In its mad passion for power, the Communist State even sought to strengthen and deepen the very ideas and conceptions which the Revolution had come to destroy. It supported and encouraged all the worst antisocial qualities and systematically destroyed the already awakened conception of the new revolutionary values. The sense of justice and equality, the love of liberty and of human brotherhood — these fundamentals of the real regeneration of society — the Communist State suppressed to the point of extermination. Man’s instinctive sense of equity was branded as weak sentimentality; human dignity and liberty became a bourgeois superstition; the sanctity of life, which is the very essence of social reconstruction, was condemned as unrevolutionary, almost counter-revolutionary.”

Emma Goldman was a communist, that is not in doubt. Originally a supporter of the Bolshevik revolution, she soon denounced the Soviet Union and went so far as to say that There Is No Communism in Russia. A communist her self, she rejected the Soviet Union because of it’s violent repression of individual freedoms. How could this be? Well you see Emma was, above all else, an anarchist, and believed that communism could only be achieved by complete disillusion of the state. Whether or not you agree with her end goals, that is the beauty of the anarchism that we fight for, without the state we are all free to build the communities in which we desire to live. Emma and your personal idea of the ideal society may differ, but under the anarchism that she promoted you are both free to live as you see fit.Her rejection of the Soviet Union in favor of individual freedom, and her support of true anarchism more than earns her a place under the umbrella of liberty, even if she’d be farther to the left than most of the rest.

 

Emma Goldman was a complicated individual. She did support select instances of violent direct action which many anarchists of our stripe would deem immoral, but it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bath water and miss out on this wonderful philosopher because of a few areas of disagreement. More importantly, she helped to spread many of the ideas that we embrace today, she may have been controversial for her time (or any time) but she helped pave the way for future philosophical anarchists. Not only that, she effected real change in the world by spreading awareness for birth control and promoting acceptance for homosexuals when doing so could, and did, get her arrested.  She helped to plant the seed of liberty and we, regardless of which branch we call home, are part of the tree that has grown up from it. A woman far ahead of her time, she helped to open the way for us, her intellectual successors, to pick up the torch and bring freedom to humanity in the 21st century.