This provocative essay on the compacting function of majority-rules politics, and the importance and creative role of minority ideas, unpopular actions and individual dissent, began as a lecture on Emma Goldman’s speaking tours; in 1910 she incorporated it into her collection of essays, Anarchism and Other Essays (Mother Earth Publishing Association). In the Preface of the collection, Goldman wrote of this essay, “No doubt, I shall be excommunicated as an enemy of the people, because I repudiate the mass as a creative factor. I shall prefer that rather than be guilty of the demagogic platitudes so commonly in vogue as a bait for the people. . . . My lack of faith in the majority is dictated by my faith in the potentialities of the individual. Only when the latter becomes free to choose his associates for a common purpose, can we hope for order and equality out of this world of chaos and inequality. . .” (50–51).
“The oft repeated slogan of our time is that ours is an era of individualism, of the minority. Only those who do not probe beneath the surface have been led to entertain this view. Have not the few accumulated the wealth of the world? Are they not the masters, the absolute kings of the situation? Their success, however, is due not to individualism, but to the inertia . . . of the mass. . . . As to individualism, at no time in human history did it have less chance of expression, less opportunity to assert itself in a normal, healthy manner. . . .
“Not because I do not feel with the oppressed, the disinherited of the earth; not because I do not know the shame, the horror, the indignity of the lives the people lead, do I repudiate the majority as a creative force for good. Oh, no, no! But because I know so well that as a compact mass it has never stood for justice or equality. It has suppressed the human voice, subdued the human spirit, chained the human body. . . . As a mass it will always be the annihilator of individuality, of free initiative, of originality. I therefore believe with Emerson that ‘the masses are crude, lame, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them. . . .’ In other words, the living, vital truth of social and economic well-being will become a reality only through the zeal, courage, the non-compromising determination of intelligent minorities, and not through the mass.”
Introduced March 2013.