Anarchism and the Delusion from Ethics

The world is not what it ought to be, and the world ought not be what it is. This is my premise. It leads me to the conclusion that radical political philosophers have for too long deluded themselves into thinking (1) that the world is how it ought to be and (2) that the world ought to be how it is. And so we have two delusions. I name the former delusion the “delusion from ethics,” and the latter delusion the “delusion from nature.” In either case the effect is essentially the same: in the first case, we reduce the world as it is to the world as it ought to be and invoke a strange form of correlationism, and; second, we throw our hands up in the air and give up our struggle for a new world by remaining committed to the current or old world. We thus, as revolutionaries, get no further along.

Does one go any more than a day without reading or hearing delusions from ethics? For many radical political philosophers a “good” philosophy is measured according to how well it conforms to pre-established normative frameworks. If, for example, we are anarchists then we are no doubt seduced by the possibility that the world is chaotically structured. This accounts for the recent rejuvenation (in anarchist circles) of Schelling’s naturphilosophie and the exciting new interest in hakim bey’s ontological anarchyMoreover, it accounts for more than half of the arguments that are to be presented in an upcoming issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies. What a lovely world we live in, it seems! In the history of anarchist thinking, the anarchists first preferred ontological arguments that celebrated the universal brotherhood (buried “like a seed beneath the snow” of the state). Next, the anarchists preferred anti-essentialist and non-representative ontological arguments which reduced being to textuality and difference (this was how post-anarchism established itself as the third wave of anarchist thinking). Finally, today, there are signs that the anarchists are preferring ontological arguments which think materiality outside of language as a chaotic or machine-like flow (cf., forthcoming ADCS 2013.2).

The point is that anarchists seem to always inherently value ontological postulates that best match their pre-established moral principles. Of course, this was Kropotkin’s main source of error. Kropotkin’s meta-ethical naturalism sought the principles of solidarity and mutual aid in the world as it is. He let the world as it is speak to him through the filter of the world as he thought it ought to be (cf., Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution).  Kropotkin wrote:

[W]herever I saw animal life in abundance, as, for instance, on the lakes where scores of species and millions of individuals came together to rear their progeny; in the colonies of rodents; in the migrations of birds which took place at that time on a truly American scale along the Usuri; and especially in a migration of fallow-deer which I witnessed on the Amur, and during which scores of thousands of these intelligent animals came together from an immense territory, flying before the coming deep snow, in order to cross the Amur where it is narrowest — in all these scenes of animal life which passed before my eyes, I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution.

You will forgive me then if I am a little suspicious of recent trends in ontology which are now resembling a type of anarchist ethics. For example, today we have Timothy Morton’s “Temporary Autonomous Objects,” Levi Bryant’s “Anarchy of Machines,” and many others. Could it be merely by coincidence that these ontological philosophies are coming to resemble the meta-ethical philosophy of certain forms of anarchism? Or, could it be that anarchism was always striving toward an ontological framework when it by accident found itself firmly within the moral and the epistemological framework? I have no misgivings about the possibility of a philosophy which has finally done away with the primacy of the subject – for that matter, I have no misgivings about the possibility of a philosophy which has finally displaced the supremacy of all philosophies of access – but it seems to be quite possible that today’s anarchist ontologists have merely abandoned one form of access for another. How often has a thinker or colleague dismissed a philosophy based purely on the fact that they found it morally reprehensible? Then, you may say to them: this is the fallacy of the delusion from ethics. This, then, accounts for the absence of meta-ethical thinking about the question of being and materiality.

The materialism we need – the ontological thinking required for anarchist political philosophy today – is the one that finds what within anarchist moral and political philosophy is incapable of describing the world as it is. This discursive limitation within anarchist political thinking is what I shall call anarchism’s anarchy. Anarchism’s anarchy is the true source of anarchism’s political novelty. Anarchists should be happy enough with that limitation. It is too much to transform that limitation into a normative postulate. But this is only the first step. The second step requires a new thinking about the world as it speaks through us – what horrific things exist out there beyond our normative frameworks? Without remaining content to describe them, anarchists must find out how to properly respond to the provocations that these horrific things do to our thinking. We must be prepared for the possibility that the way that being speaks to us today may not be the same way that it will speak to us during the revolutionary situation. Moreover, we must be prepared for the possibility that the revolutionary situation, sparked by the speaking of being, may bring all hell down upon us.

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2 thoughts on “Anarchism and the Delusion from Ethics

  1. Pingback: Anarchism and the Delusion from Ethics | Research Material

  2. This ethical delusion was smuggled into philosophy as the “manifold of the sensible”, which is the brute infinity of the undetermined, and the psychosis of Romantic nihilism. That is where Kant and Spinoza go down together, and that is even the blindspot of Deleuze. The true debate in philosophy is about how the process of determination becomes exchangeable for subjective negativity (education, wagers, experiments, wars, industry…). How do the forces of subjective death encounter themselves, and what sorts of determinations emerge from those encounters? The ethical delusion wants to assume the event is an encounter between good and evil, because that’s the imperial mythology of liberal capitalism. So against the ethical delusion, we must insist that evil only struggles against evil, and that good only struggles against good, and they continue their struggles until they have each separately perfected to the point of eligibility. Maybe what lies ahead is the love of good and evil… and all the death of history.

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