Affirming the Core of Negation

In After Post-anarchism (Repartee/LBC Books), I made a number of problematic assumptions and claims. I do not believe that this is the venue to discuss them at length or in detail but I nonetheless believe that it would be important to make a few blanket remarks about where my thinking has changed over the last few years.

I was challenged by Alejandro de Acosta’s review of my book (“Its Core is the Negation”) in the most recent issue of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed. I have long admired Alejandro’s work for its experimental vivacity and by his ability to short-circuit stale dogmas. Notably, his “Anarchist Meditations, or, Three Wild Interstices of Anarchy and Philosophy”, helped to inaugurate a new trend in post-anarchist thinking (he would certainly debate this claim) – a move which I have called, half joking, post-post-anarchism or after post-anarchism. Alejandro de Acosta is not a traditionalist and neither would he consider himself “post-tradition”. In any case, what I would like to do is to provide a few brief remarks on my book and then some remarks, which serve as a bit of a response to Alejandro, about the nature of the project itself.

My problem, during the time of writing After Post-anarchism, was that anarchist philosophy seemed beset by a false choice between universalism and relativism. During the time of post-anarchism the meta-ethical position was one of ethics rather than morality, and the political practice was one of tactics rather than strategy. The traditionalists were concerned by post-anarchism because it eschewed any notion of Revolution (with a capital “R”) in favor of temporary and/or selective gains across a number of micro-political registers. Thus, criticisms from traditionalists (a designation I use lightly) such as Sasha K and Benjamin Franks involved an attack on post-anarchism for being “post-Revolution” and “post-class” (respectively). Indeed, one of the earliest post-anarchists within the scholarly world was Andrew Koch and his argument was that anarchists need to follow Stirner and Nietzsche by embracing epistemological pluralism against the ontological essentialism of traditional anarchism.

The game had been set. Thereafter, post-anarchism was erected as a body of thought which forever suspected all ontological projects as authoritarian, representative, and essentialist. All post-anarchist projects embraced epistemological claims about a multiplicity of truth claims within the general game of language and communication. Post-anarchism became something like anarchisms’ discursive play-ground. In After Post-Anarchism, I wanted to push post-anarchism a little bit further and allow it to have its own ontological project indebted to Bataille’s laws of the general economy. I believed that there could be a distinctively anarchist “general state” which would oppose itself to restrictive state economies. In the end, this state was metaphysical insofar as it embraced the nihilist third-way – it was neither universalism nor relativism – as the rejection of subjectivity. This nihilist third-way operated on many scales and could easily be conceived of as a project of negation. This was the secret solidarity that I believed always existed between anarchism and (meta-ethical) nihilism – anarchisms’ core was the negation. Negation, in my book, was a subjective project which brought the anarchist in line with the anarchist state and it was also a non-subjective project insofar as it operated according to its own laws and provoked the subject from the alterity of anarchy.

I note with interest the tension that exists here between epistemology and ontology, between the existence of the human animal and being. Upon reflection, it seems to me, I was operating within an provisional dialectic which reduced either position to its other. In other words, either the world was entirely reduced to a multiplicity of language games or it was reduced to the negativity of pure being. Within the former project there is little hope for change because it remains within the repetition of the world of capitalism, ever securing fleeting degrees of freedom within the interstices of restrictive power games, and so on. Within the latter project, there is the problem of being short-sighted. It seems to me that nihilism is the proper place to begin insofar as it rejects the banal repetitions of the traditional games of power but it also naively promotes a direct connection with the anarchist state. Anarchism, then, remains trapped within a form of mysticism. On this point I invite readers to skim over the notes I made about Badiou’s discussion of mysticism. The old epistemological project cleaved to the pole of a strange sort of positivism. Positivists, according to Badiou (who uses the word very broadly), naively believe that certain types of knowledge exhaust all of the possibilities of being (see the notes to Badiou’s other lecture on positivism here). And, to repeat myself, the new ontological project cleaved to the pole of mysticism. And so we have a tension within anarchism between positivism and nihilism, and positivism and mysticism.

Anarchism is only a beginning precisely because its core is the negation. If it is to return to its revolutionary roots then it will most likely require some sort of affirmative position. It seems to me that this is what post-anarchism ought to have offered to the anarchist tradition. Allow me to provide an example. Whilst introducing myself to Slavoj Zizek last summer, he interrupted to ask me: “What is post-anarchism? Is that when the anarchists finally take control of the state?” In many ways, I believe that he is correct – but not for any authoritarian reasons. I believe that anarchists must take control of the general state and affirm a new tradition for themselves. Those who have read my book know that the “general state” is not a political state – the latter is actually a restrictive state. It seems to me that what Alejandro missed in my book was the part about the general economy/state which is not reducible to the will or inter-activity of human animals. In many ways Alejandro was seduced by the claim that an ethics is something we, as human animals, hold onto. But I wanted to make the case that a meta-ethics is something that describes the place from which our ethics derive and the process through which they become manifest. I answered negatively to both – ethics derive from a non-place (something like a constitutive lack) and are validated as truth-claims through a non-process. I thus opened up a source of contingency and thereby displaced the human animal from his place of privilege in anarchist political philosophy.

Today I want to argue that this is the philosophical position that we ought to begin with (i.e., nihilism, or the position I outlined in my book)But it is not the position that we ought to to end with. Anarchists have long been within the phase of only beginning, but if we are serious about Revolution then it is time that we do more than only begin. However, I haven’t the faintest idea as to what that actually meansIt seems to me that the best option we have at this point is to continue to open up these beginnings even while encouraging others to pass through them and toward their own affirmations. We need anarchism to open itself up to others as an institution capable of radicalizing them and then sending them back into the ordinary world thus changed. We need to do this in such a way that those who go back into the world changed are nevertheless ostracized by the institution which radicalized them in the first place. In my view, anarchism is not a social club – it is a dogma. And its philosophical dogma is to destroy the subjects of the old world and replace them with subjects ready for the new world. Anarchism needs to prepare people for the future by making them agents of the future. Perhaps that was why the nihilists of the Russian Revolution called themselves “New People”.

This is why “The Revolutionary Catechism”  should be revived as the foundation document of anarchism. Not because of its meta-ethical consequentialism, but because of its attempt to begin with the absolute destruction of subjectivity. Here are the first three theses:

1. The revolutionary is a doomed man. He has no personal interests, no business affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property, and no name. Everything in him is wholly absorbed in the single thought and the single passion for revolution.

2. The revolutionary knows that in the very depths of his being, not only in words but also in deeds, he has broken all the bonds which tie him to the social order and the civilized world with all its laws, moralities, and customs, and with all its generally accepted conventions. He is their implacable enemy, and if he continues to live with them it is only in order to destroy them more speedily.

3. The revolutionary despises all doctrines and refuses to accept the mundane sciences, leaving them for future generations. He knows only one science: the science of destruction. For this reason, but only for this reason, he will study mechanics, physics, chemistry, and perhaps medicine. But all day and all night he studies the vital science of human beings, their characteristics and circumstances, and all the phenomena of the present social order. The object is perpetually the same: the surest and quickest way of destroying the whole filthy order.

I realize that I haven’t offered any specific answer. I have merely stated that the negation, being its core, is simply not good enough to constitute a philosophical position. That is how my position has changed.

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One thought on “Affirming the Core of Negation

  1. Pingback: Further Elucidation of the Core | dingpolitik

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