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Emma Goldman (1869–1940)

The Libertarian Tradition
06/29/2010Jeff Riggenbach

When Emma switched her intellectual allegiance from Johann Most to Peter Kropotkin, she lost her commitment to violence but kept her commitment to communism. She still had that commitment to communism as late as 1919, when, at the age of 50, she wrote that she favored "anarchist-communism — voluntary economic cooperation of all towards the needs of each. A social arrangement based on the principle: To each according to his needs; from each according to his ability."

No other woman in America ever had to suffer such persistent persecution. She was arrested innumerable times, beaten more than once, refused admission to halls where she was to speak. Often the police dispersed her audience. Intimidated owners frequently refused to rent her meeting places or cancelled contracts at the last minute. On various occasions she was met at the train and compelled by sheer force to proceed to the next stopping place.

"What role did authority or government play in human endeavor for betterment, in invention and discovery?" she asked. "None whatever," she answered,

or at least none that was helpful. It has always been the individual that has accomplished every miracle in that sphere, usually in spite of the prohibition, persecution and interference by authority, human and divine. Similarly, in the political sphere, the road of progress lay in getting away more and more from the authority of the tribal chief or of the clan, of prince and king, of government, of the State.

Emma wrote that

the individual is the true reality in life. A cosmos in himself, he does not exist for the State, nor for that abstraction called "society," or the "nation," which is only a collection of individuals. Man, the individual, has always been and, necessarily is the sole source and motive power of evolution and progress.


Jeff Riggenbach

Jeff Riggenbach was a journalist, author, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A member of the Organization of American Historians and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute, he wrote for such newspapers as the New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle; such magazines as Reason, Inquiry, and Liberty; and such websites as,, and His books include In Praise of Decadence (1998), Why American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction to Revisionism (2009), and Persuaded by Reason: Joan Kennedy Taylor & the Rebirth of American Individualism (2014). Drawing on vocal skills he honed in classical and all-news radio in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston, Riggenbach also narrated the audiobook versions of numerous libertarian works, many of them available on

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