“The Dominant Idea” first appeared as a serialized article in Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman’s influential anarchist magazine, Mother Earth, with the first instalment in May 1910. Soon after, the Mother Earth Publishing Association printed a booklet edition of the article, which they sold through their catalogue from 1910 onward.
“Regnant ideas, everywhere! Did you ever see a dead vine bloom? I have seen it. Last summer I trained some morning-glory vines up over a second story balcony; and every day they blew and curled in the wind, their white, purple-dashed faces winking at the sun, radiant with climbing life. Then all at once some mischance happened, some cut worm or some mischievous child tore one vine off below. The sappy stem wilted and began to wither; in a day it was dead, — all but the top which still clung longingly to its support, with bright head lifted. But the next night there was a storm, a heavy, driving storm, with beating rain and blinding lightning. I rose to watch the flashes, and lo! the wonder of the world! In the blackness of the mid-night, in the fury of wind and rain, the dead vine had flowered. Five white, moon-faced blossoms blew gaily round the skeleton vine, shining back triumphant at the red lightning. I gazed at them in dumb wonder. Dear, dead vine, whose will had been so strong to bloom, that in the hour of its sudden cut-off from the feeding earth, it sent the last sap to its blossoms; and, not waiting for the morning, brought them forth in storm and flash, as white night- glories, which should have been the children of the sun. Over death and decay the Dominant Idea smiled: the vine was in the world to bloom, to bear white trumpet blossoms dashed with purple; and it held its will beyond death.
“I think this unqualified determinism of the material is a great, lamentable error in our modern progressive movement; the absolute sway of Matter is quite as mischievous an error as the unrelated nature of Mind; in its direct action upon personal conduct, it has the more ill effect of the two. What we need is a true appraisement of the power and rôle of the Idea. Against the accepted formula of modern Materialism, ‘Men are what circumstances make them,’ I set the opposing declaration, ‘Circumstances are what men make them’; and I contend that both these things are true, up to the point where the combating powers are equalized, or one is overthrown….”
Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) was a popular Anarchist and feminist writer, speaker and activist. Her contemporary and friend Emma Goldman called her “the most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced.” She published articles in Liberty, Twentieth Century, Free Society and Mother Earth, and worked closely with libertarian communists, market anarchists, and mutualists within the Philadelphia social anarchist movement, but refused to commit herself to economic blueprints, adopting a pluralistic view of economic arrangements in any future free society.
Introduced August 2014.