Anarchist-Nihilism: More Than a Beginning

Pro-revolutionary thought is negative thought because it criticises what exists and because it proposes a solution that is real only in the sense that it can be conceived of — it says no to reality and yes to what does not exist. At this juncture there has always been a separating of the ways as to what to do next […] (frere dupont, a nihilist-communist author).

I have become aware of a confusion about the concept of nihilism in my written work. On the one hand, I used the word nihilism to describe a pure experience of being. When I used nihilism in this way I meant to refer to at least the following things: (1) extreme skepticism, (2) radical doubt, (3) the destruction of the concepts of the old world and the consequent construction of a mystical connection with pure being. On the other hand, I also used the word nihilism to describe a meta-ethics. I believed that meta-ethical nihilism offered a scholarly point of departure for thinking the place and process of ethics outside of the universalist/relativist dichotomy which plagues our current situation. On the one hand, nihilism was the experience itself and, on the other hand, meta-ethical nihilism was a description of that experience. 

Meta-ethical nihilists must – like all good meta-ethicists – think the ontological question of being in tandem with the epistemological question of truth. This is why meta-ethical nihilism is an advancement over pure experience itself; the meta-ethical nihilist does not just want to experience but also wants to write about that experience. However, in describing that experience an imperative dawns upon the meta-ethicist: he must take seriously the language in which he is forced to speak. The nihilist, in becoming a meta-ethicist, destroys the power that language has over him and then takes it upon himself to speak language again and to systematically describe pure experience. Inevitably, this produces a number of problems for him.

Recall that the meta-ethicist asks two questions in tandem: from whence do our ethics derive?, and, toward what truth do they proceed? I’ve summed these two questions up in the following terms: the former is a question about place and the latter is a question of process. The first question asks the fundamental question of being and the second question asks the fundamental question of truth. One can not be a proper meta-ethicist by only asking the question of being or by only asking the question of truth. Similarly, one can not be a meta-ethicist if one conflates being into truth or truth into being. Thus, meta-ethics has it uniquely within its constitution to beg a higher level question about the relationship between being and truth. If, for example, being is reduced to the truth of being then a problematic conflation occurs: meta-ethics becomes sutured to truth alone without any discussion of place on its own terms. In this case it would be as if all ontological questions are couched in epistemological rhetoric. But meta-ethicists want to know how to answer both questions, independently. For example: we can ask where truth claims come from, and we can answer that they come from the eruption of being within language. But this is an epistemological answer and so it does not answer where it is that being itself is located. We can also ask how it is that being is situated so that it might speak. In this case, we are asking the question of being and not the question of truth; we are therefore still within the question of place. 

It therefore becomes abundantly clear that the movement from nihilism as pure experience to meta-ethical nihilism also entails a movement from anti-philosophy toward philosophy. Meta-ethical nihilism has within itself an imperative to step into a higher order of thinking so that it can ask about the relationship between place and process and not just the independent question of place alongside the independent question of process. Moreover, meta-ethical nihilism begs the question of the measure of the distance between being and truth. When we move from two negative answers to the question of being and truth toward a question about the possibility of there being a distance between being and truth, we necessarily move from nihilism toward something else. Meta-ethical nihilism, on its own, is an anti-philosophy inasmuch as it claims that all that we can talk about is pure experience and that, somehow, there is no beyond the the experience of negativity. The meta-ethical nihilist position entails that one forego any philosophy even while it motions in the direction of a systematic philosophy of pure experience. When one begins to ask the question of the distance between being and truth one necessarily moves from an anti-philosophy toward philosophy.

Meta-ethical nihilism is therefore something like an indication of the desire for nihilists to not only destroy the old world but to build a new world. The nihilist is stuck at destruction, at negativity, at radical doubt, at the destruction of subjectivities of power, and so on; the meta-ethical nihilist is on his way to the work camp to build himself a new world.

All of this is to make the following claim: anarchism can not exist without pure experience. In other words, pure experience, the negative response to the question of place and process, of being and truth – the destruction of subjectivity, the pursuit of radical doubt, etc – is the necessary first step toward a political position. One does not become an anarchist subject without first answering negatively to the question of place and process. 

The nihilist is stuck at the beginning (only a beginning), and the meta-ethicist is stuck in the middle; where, then, is the anarchist?

I contend that one builds oneself an anarchist subject only after passing from nihilism and through meta-ethical nihilism. The anarchist subject does not pre-exist nihilist experience and it is absolutely foolish to begin with this assumption. The anarchist subject is always what comes after nihilism.

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