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Relationship anarchy - relationships without rules

Relationship anarchy –
Relationships without rules
“I am an anarchist! Wherefore I will not rule, and also ruled I will not be.”
John Henry Mackay
“When subservience ceases to be, all rulership will cease to exist.”
Max Stirner
Dorothea Ledinek
Relationship anarchy
Anarchism applied to interpersonal relationships
(attention! Different variants of anarchism – focus here: egoistic and individualist
Grounded in self-ownership or owness
Puts the uniqueness and individuality of people and their connection to each other at the
Exploring relationships authentically without being limited by pre-existing relationship
categories and norms
Challenges hierarchies of relationships based on relationship type or other arbitrary social
Challenges structural coercion in interpersonal relationships
Notice the focus on the structural. Egoistic anarchism does not a priori exclude personal
coercion that is not based on a norm or concept or structure!
My motivation
• The anarchy part of relationship anarchy is about
to get forgotten. In this presentation, I want to
ground relationship anarchy in anarchy.
• Relationship anarchy is not a liberal concept like
polyamory, but an anarchic one.
• This might sometimes provoke you to react.
Commonly used, but not helpful:
– Polyamory – Monogamy
– (Ethical) Non-Monogamy – Monogamy
– Open relationships – Closed relationships
Philosophically grounded:
– Self-ownership – Domination (republican)
– Owness – self-denial (Stirner)
– Negative rights - Positive rights (libertarian)
– Consent-based - Rule based (today)
– Needs and desires – Entitlement (today)
– Anarchist – power structures
Free love movement (1850-1910)
• Anarchist movement in the USA
• Influenced by abolitionism
• Centred on self-ownership of all humans, including women
• Sexual relations between consenting, sexually mature
individuals are only their concern
• No state authority in matters of sexual conduct (inclusive
prostitution and adultery)
• Abolishing marriage as state institution
Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927)
Presidentship candidate
Free love movement (1850-1910)
• Rape in marriage
• Marriage as slavery and monopoly
• Critique of exclusivity
• Sex education to get to know one‘s will
• (Negative) right to abortion
• (Negative) right to using contraception
Property right
• Love, marriage and relationships are often
associated with property.
• Property right (liberalism)
– State concession
– Defended by law and morality
– a fief that transforms the individual owner
into a vassal (Stirner)
Self-ownership as a “natural” right (that still needs to be
upheld by society/the state)
• John Locke (1632-1704) “Every man has a Property in his
own Person."
• Josiah Warren (1798 – 1874) "sovereignty of the individual“
– Libertarianism (with a few restrictions imposed by democratic
– Liberalism (with lots of restrictions imposed by democratic rule)
– Libertarian anarchism (who defends self-ownership?)
Max Stirner – The unique and his property
• Egoism is not the anti-thesis of altruism, but of moral idealism from
religion to humanism
• Altruism is also self-interested and self-centered
• Spooks, the sacred:
– Concepts or abstractions that control peoples’ selves
– god, satan, state, morals, humanity, liberty, freedom, property right,
human rights, natural rights, solidarity, society, family, reason,
– „sanctuaries that must not be touched”
– Stirner even today provocative
Willing and unwilling egoists
• Only willing egoists
– face the world selfishly and in a shamelessly self-centred manner
– master themselves
– are in possession of their concepts and
– are not possessed by concepts
– rebel against every society, every collectivity, every ideology, every abstraction
– Rebel against various authorities, institutions or even other individuals that try
to impose a higher power
• Unwilling egoists are not conscious of their egoism, ruled by spooks and
live in self-denial. Even their altruism serves self-interest.
The unique
• Stirner tries to avoid dogmatism, by nominalism
• Describes the unique as:
– creator and creation
– always in flux
– always becoming
– creative nothingness
– The transient, mortal creator, that always consumes and utilizes itself
– always inventing itself anew
– subject without presuppositions, without a fixed identity or destiny
– any crystallized, permanent I rejected as a spook
– The only meanings, aims, purposes are momentarily, transient ones
Stirner on property
– Used in the broadest sense
– The unique exists only together with his properties.
– All traits, experiences, imaginations, actions, things that make me unique at the
– Everything I create, devour, and destroy for my sake
– Everything I can grasp due to my momentarily capacity
– “I am owner of what I have in my power.”
– One is not worthy of property that one cannot defend, because one is not capable
of keeping it.
– The beloved is property.
– Property does not lose its uniqueness by being possessed by the owner. It has its
own uniqueness independent of the owner.
– Only the owner’s might is their own. Not this tree, but their might over it is theirs.
• an expression of the unique’s own power and capacity
• is an active seizure or appropriation of thoughts, values and objects
as the ‘property’ of the individual
• part of the very existence, regardless of external constraints
• forms the basis for one’s resistance against constraint and
– Egoistic anarchism
– Individualist anarchism after Stirner
– Egoistic archism
– Probably inspired Satanism
Max Stirner – Union of egoists
A relation between egoists which is continually renewed by all parties through an act of
Everybody participates out of conscious egoism
“an unceasing act of coming back together” creates the union
The union facilitates the full participation in one’s own interests by excluding everything
not in one’s own interest.
The union is not an authority above a person's own will.
No binding principles, that are assured against attacks
Union exercises neither moral influence nor legal constraint
Being aware of one’s and other’s uniqueness no one will try to prove themselves "in the
Max Stirner – Union of egoists
• No sacrifice for the union, but utilization of the union.
• when no longer useful: undutiful and unfaithful cancellation
• If one party silently finds themselves to be suffering, but does not
communicate or leave, the union has degenerated.
• Examples of a union
– Children playing together
– Lovers
– Drinking wine together with a friend
– No favour or sacrifice, but pleasure for everybody involved
Stirner on utilization
• “For me you are nothing but –my food, even as I too am fed upon
and turned to use by you.
• We have only one relation to each other, that of usableness, of
utility, of use.
• We owe each other nothing, for what I seem to owe you I owe at
most to myself.”
• the unique utilizes and consumes themselves too!
Stirner on Value
• Uniques are irreducibly different
• Uniques do not have any absolute value.
• One can only consider a person deserving of love, respect,
etc. in an absolute sense, if one doesn’t consider them for
themselves, but as a part of the state or society or
• The only way of recognizing and appreciating the value of
their own being, is being aware of their utilization by
Stirner on rights
Equality, human rights and human dignity are spooks and sacred.
exist only, if we assume an external and transcendent third party – like Humanity,
God or the State.
That external party mediates the relationship between us and forces us to respect
those concepts
The third party has more power over the relationship than we have over the
We, on the other hand, have no – or very limited power over the third party because it is sacred.
Spooks and ideals always go hand in hand with a hierarchy and/or power
Egoists reject spooks: There is neither hierarchy nor equality between uniques.
• Definition of hierarchy that Franklin Veaux uses for polyamarous
relationships: a third party has more power over the relationship than the
people in that relationship.
• Not a hierarchy:
– A difference in capability between egoists
– A differences in intensity between relationships: Giving more energy, priority,
commitment, sex, or other resources to one relationship than another.
• In egoistic unions power structures denying or granting rights do not exist.
• There might be some bigots, but they cannot use a hierarchy to enforce
their bigotry (onto a willing egoist) but only their own capability.
Interactions without consent
• If an egoist sees no advantage in an interaction, he will resist it with
all his power.
He regains his right over himself by the act of successful resistance.
• “When subservience ceases to be, all rulership will cease to exist!”
• “Whoever has to count on the lack of will in others in order to exist,
is a shoddy product of these others, as the master is a shoddy
product of the slave.” (Stirner)
The beloved as property
• I have no obligation to my eye; if I still tend it with the greatest
care, I do so for my sake.
• Even conscious egoists can sacrifice their life and liberty and
property for others, but only for their own sake.
• Whoever believes that he owes the object of his love something,
loves romantically or religiously.
• This means that he puts a concept of “sacred love” above the
immediate relationship/union with the other.
• Whenever you think that your feelings towards your lover are not
“good enough”, you are comparing them to an ideal.
On sexual liberty
Emile Armand, 1919
Relationships are not more or less legitimate depending on whether they are
practically monogamous or not. Relationship practice is fluid.
No definiteness: “One puts an end to an amorous experience: without offending,
sweetly; between comrades disposed towards starting again tomorrow, as the case
may be. Amongst us no experience, of any kind, ends definitively.”
Communicating how one intends to live relationships is important. “A comrade
may, for instance, love a certain person, A, with the intention of prolonging the
amorous experience and of living together, and also love another person, B, with
the same spirit, but without living with them, and also love C and D on a pure
Jealousy (Mae Bee, 2004)
Coercive relationships are NOT respectful, for they deny not only desire but
growth. If I am bound by my lover’s jealousy I presuppose them incapable of
dealing with their emotions and unable to change.
If we feel hurt by another, it does not mean we have been wronged.
We should openly accept feelings of jealousy and fear.
Nobody, but we ourselves, are responsible for our feelings.
We should not ask or expect the other to restrict their behavior to solve those
This forces us to be the possessors not of another but of our own emotions.
We can ask loved ones to love us through the hurt.
Manifesto for relationship anarchy
(Andie Nordgren, 2006)
„Don’t rank and compare people and relationships — cherish the individual and your connection to
them. (…) Each relationship is independent, and a relationship between autonomous individuals.”
„Explore how you can engage without stepping over boundaries and personal beliefs. Rather than
looking for compromises in every situation, let loved ones choose paths that keep their integrity
intact, without letting this mean a crisis for the relationship. Staying away from entitlement and
demands is the only way to be sure that you are in a relationship that is truly mutual.”
“Being free to be spontaneous — to express oneself without fear of punishments or a sense of
burdened “shoulds” — is what gives life to relationships based on relationship anarchy. Organize
based on a wish to meet and explore each other — not on duties and demands and disappointment
when they are not met.”
Morals and obligations in anarchy
• Morals, contracts, rules and promises create duties, obligations and
debt, a form of bondage or enslavement.
– restrict people’s behaviors in the future.
– Are unnecessary as long as everybody agrees.
• Obligations matter only
– when people live in self-denial and submit to an absolute or ideal
– They are enforced by a higher authority as for example by a state
• Duties, obligations and debt are always fictions with no other basis
than power of the creditor to impose this fiction, when the belief in
the fiction has worn off.
Obligations and authenticity
• Fact: people, their desires, their feelings and their behaviours change.
• Obligating oneself to behave in a certain way in the future, will land you in
a conflict between keeping your obligation or being authentic.
• In other words: between being in self-denial or a willful egoist.
• Only willful egoists can be authentic.
If you break an obligation the other party is hurt, if you decide to be authentic
not only because of the conflict in interest, which is unavoidable
but because their trust is broken, and they might see you as less moral.
• Your mistake: agreeing to an obligation in the first place.
• The other person’s mistake: accepting and relying on an obligation in the
first place.
Other disadvantages of obligations
• Create a debate about the obligation instead of the specific
• Create a debate about your morals and your character instead of
the specific situation.
• Create a moral high ground and entitlement, an absolute that can
be invoked.
• The person who wants to break or renegotiate the obligation has a
disadvantage, if the absoluteness of the obligation is invoked and
believed in.
Relationships without obligations
Relationships without obligations are anarchic precisely because they are egoistic.
I relate with my everybody (except my employer and authorities) under the
assumption that nobody owes anyone anything — ever
I maintain a relationship
– not because I think you are giving me what you owe me
– but rather because I am getting what I want from it.
When that is no longer the case, I simply withdraw from the relationship,
– not because you failed in your obligation
– but because I have ceased to get what I desire.
Thus, no contract, no rules, no promise, no duties and no blame are involved.
no need to remain attached to the fictions of duty, justice, contracts and the
obligations they entail.
Commitments as a form of
communication (Rotten Zucchinis)
• Commitments are useful because they:
– make clear where people are at in a given moment of time
– make intentions clear
– put everyone on the “same page”
• Commitments should be both made and kept voluntarily
• People negotiate commitments collaboratively and by
meaningful consensus
– are living agreements about interactions
– continuously voluntary, intentional and mutual
– a form of communication
– do not restrict people
– do not coerce anyone later on
– allow for opting out
– can be changed as involved people see fit
– are completely compatible with “consent culture”, mutuality
and the union of egoists
– not arbitrary
• Changing a commitment does not
– wrong someone
– provoke or justify punishment
– constitute betrayal
– but communicates that the terms of interactions and
expectations have changed
• Forgiveness, compassion, love, adoration, time, energy,
emotional work are presents given and not rights or
entitlements, and they can be retracted if need be.
Tailoring your relationships
Relationship smörgåsbord
My practique
There are no duties or obligations in my relationships.
Nobody I interact with apart from my employer and authorities is bound by
– rules, promises, contracts, shared values, lack of options or ignorance,
– neither am I.
I meet/date people freely and return if I want to. They do the same.
I can be sure that they are with me because they want to and I can be sure that I
am with them because I want to (pure relationship).
Relationships come into being by repeatedly sharing time and energy and go on as
long as time and energy are being shared.
Relationships are an emerging property.
No difference between casual and sincere, because I am always authentic in the
Values without obligations
• Values are either about who you are, meaning about your integrity
• or a spook, imposed by morality or the state
• „Like so called ‘ethical polyamorous’ folk, I usually adhere to a moral code
of consent, responsibility and honesty. I adhere to all of these things and
it’s not about being ethical. It’s about being me.” (Louisa Leontiades)
• Nobody has a right or is entitled to my values
• I am not bound to these values.
• I define them as I like.
• I have created them as they serve me.
My current subjective values (1)
• Desire: I am not loyal towards anything, from values to relationships, that
do not help me to fulfil my desires.
• Self-determination: both my partners and I determine our own lives. I am
not responsible for my partners, but myself. I can only control myself, not
my partners (without severe manipulation).
• Authenticity: is the degree to which one is true to one's own personality,
spirit, or character, despite external pressures. We can truly be who we
are at the moment in authentic relationships. Ideals and norms about
love, sex and relationships do not determine/posses us. We are
consciously and wilfully egoistic. Only egoists can be authentic.
My subjective values (2)
Honesty: dishonesty runs counter being desired by my partners for who I am. I
want to live in trusting relationships, because I want to control how I spend spend
my limited time and energy.
Acceptance of reality: we accept incompatibility, conflicts of interest and feelings,
as realities. I do not need to defend myself, nor attack another person.
Fluidity: We can only be egoistically ourselves in the present and therefore we
cannot pre-consent to obligations. We accept that people are fluid and their
values, needs, desires and boundaries are impermanent. We accept that growth
and decay are connected.
Consent and mutuality: stems from self-determination, honesty and desire.
Duties: rules, promises, contracts
Stem from self-determination and are
about who you are
– „If I have penetrative sex without
condoms with you, I want to stay
informed about your safer sex
Limit or obligate the other person
– „You are not allowed to have
penetrative sex without condoms
with another person. If you do,
you have cheated on me.“
practices. You are free to do
whatever you want with other
partners, but I will change my
behaviour according to your safer sex
– „I do not have relationships with
people who have rules with their
other partners that have an impact
on me.“
– „You are not allowed to have
rules with your other partners
that have an impact on me“.
Boundaries and compatibility
Know your boundaries: know when you will probably respond to another person’s behaviour by changing your
own behaviour
Articulated boundaries are necessary so that your partners knows when to inform you about their own behaviour.
To not inform you about their behaviour is a violation of honesty/consent/mutuality (not the spook, but the
agreed-upon value).
If your boundaries do not fit, you are not compatible.
Do not compromise on boundaries!
Do not battle about incompatibility, but adjust the form of your interactions accordingly.
You can be in love with a person, but totally incompatible regarding certain interactions.
To acknowledge incompatibility can be painful, but nobody has done anything wrong!
There is no moral high ground.
Incompatibility can arise during a relationship as people change.
Summary: What works, works unless it stops working.
Norms/the sacred/the ideal
Norms/ideals/the sacred are always enforced via systems of power: from call-out culture to
Systems of power justify their existence by enforcing norms, ideals and the sacred.
Assumption that sex is inherently bad.
Society sanctions which sexual practices between which sets of adults are
Contributes to homophobia, transphobia, ableism, rejection of non-monogamy and laws
restricting sex work.
Sacred sex.
Tvåsamhetsnormen/couple privilege
The presumption that pair-bond relationships involving only two people are inherently
more important, “real” and valid than other types of intimate relationships.
Ideal romantic relationship, ideal romantic love.
Norms/the sacred/the ideal
– A central, exclusive, life-long romantic relationship is the social goal of one’s life
and should be preferred over other relationship types (Elisabeth Blake)
– Prioritizes romantic relationships automatically over platonic or sexual
– Prioritizes the romantic partner(s) over oneself (codependency, abuse)
– Friendships are not even seen as relationships.
– Friends are left for romantic partners.
– Intimacy, sex and sensuality are linked with romance.
– Without a central romantic partner people are destined to be lonely or have
empty, unfulfilling lives.
– Ideal of romantic relationships, ideal of romantic love.
„Ethical“ non-monogamy?
Would you kiss B in front of C if C would be upset?!
• Ethical polyamory argument:
– it is reasonable for A to not kiss B in front of C
– A does not want to upset C
– A does not want that B upsets C
• “anarchist” arguments
– Do not inhibit your own desires for the false peace of not upsetting
– B decides if they want to kiss you or not
– C has to deal with their feelings
„Ethical“ non-monogamy?
– What if
• C was upset because A and B were both female and C’s masculinity was
threatened by queer sex
• C was upset because A was black and B was white and C’s security as a white
person was upset by mixed race love
• C was upset because A is his daughter and C’s security in his father role is
threatened by the independence of his daughter
– Homophobia, racism and sexism are enforced by a power structure> A and B
should not care about C’s feelings
– Monogamy as a norm is enforced by a power structure-> A and B should not care
about C’s feelings
Radicalism (Mae Bee, Emotional Mutation)
• to not act on my desire to love who I will when I will, is to be
complicit in a system of coercion, control and obligation
• no, I do not and accept the rules of “your” relationships with
another person
• I very well might “steal” your partner
• the idea partners can be “stolen” is oppressive
• to respect restrictive relationships is to uphold them
• the consequences in terms of drama might keep me from acting on
my desires, not “respect”, “decency” , “morals” , “civility” and
• I am not a SAFE PERSON
Respectability politics –
Don‘t scare the normals!
Campaign for marriage equality only for romantic couples.
Polygamy shaming when advocating for marriage equality
The suffragettes distanced themselves from the free love movement, calling Woodhills lewd and indecent
Trying to legitimize queer relationships via the state institution of marriage, thereby strengthening the
state’s power over relationships.
Wrong dichotomy between monogamy and non-monogamy instead of anarchic relationships vs
relationships mediated by a power structure.
Claiming that relationships based on owness are not more „evolved“ than relationships mediated by an
Denying that monogamy as a norm is harmful.
Lots of „poly problems“ stem not from non-monogamy, but from maintaining coercion despite nonmonogamy.
Relationship anarchy
– Grounded in owness
– Puts the uniqueness and individuality of people
and their connection to each other at the center
– Challenges hierarchies of relationships based on
relationship type or other arbitrary social norms
– Challenges (structural) coercion in interpersonal
I hope I have been useful to you!
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