The Anarchist’s Passion

Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. […] All the laws on the statutes, all the courts in the universe, cannot tear it from the soil, once love has taken root -Emma Goldman.

Within the last few decades there has been a growing awareness of the import of anarchist political philosophy. This suggests that anarchist political philosophy is not really a political philosophy at all – it is something else. At the very least, it is considerably flexible, interdisciplinary, and open to multiple (often divergent) procedures for accessing truth. Anarchist political philosophy, it has been recently claimed, was always a form of “Cultural Studies.” I accept this thesis with some minor reservations. Increasingly, I’m moved to consider anarchism as a poetry of the political. Anarchism fabricates, from the political situation, an ethical poetry which is, in the final analysis, poetry as such. What does this mean? It means that the real foundation of anarchist political philosophy has always been its contribution to meta-ethics (as well as normative ethics). However, the general form in which this contribution has been transmitted has always been in the manner of a poet – the anarchist struggles to say something new and so is forced, more often than not, toward posturing and pretension.

Let me make my point in as direct a way as I’m capable: today anarchism has been better capable of expressing its original struggle; namely, that anarchism is always a struggle with language. American scholars have noted this with exceptional clarity (from Roger Farr to Sandra Jeppesen) but the point has always been this: anarchism, in the final analysis, views language as its prison-house. And so anarchists resort to rhetoric and impassioned judgement, to staunch irrationality and to tautological precepts; the point, in every case, is to seduce the other into accepting or rejecting the moral axioms which are, in the final analysis, nevertheless entirely ungrounded. Those who have read and understood my book from 2007 (After Post-Anarchism) will understand the source of this claim. Anarchism, as a meta-ethical position, essentially grounds itself on nothing. And it is from nothing that anarchism stammers, stutters, works at beginning, .. only ever a beginning …, and attempts to not only speak but to finally say something new. And yet this is precisely what anarchism is incapable of doing. Why, one might ask, is anarchism incapable of saying something new? It is because if anarchism said something new (1) nobody would accept it, and (2) the anarchist wouldn’t know it to be new. In both cases we are dealing with a temporal matter: the anarchist acts too soon, with too much passion, and without time enough to sustain the moment of the initial eruption of novelty.

I hope that readers will forgive me for my critique of the tradition which has housed me for the greater part of my life. My point for now is rather to sort out what anarchism still offers the revolutionary milieu and, moreover, what we should always remember about it. We should never turn our backs on anarchism precisely because of its faults. Anarchism ignites a fire – anarchism ignites passion, entices the cultural libido, and encourages the heart to beat a little faster. Such passion is worthy of stimulating thought and action. We could have a billion committed revolutionaries, but they may not yet be ignited with the passion required to act. Yet, of course, passion is also counter-revolutionary. Anybody who has been in love knows this – some people kill you with their love. They love you too much. Great wars and mass slaughters are the result of passion and love. And so we must always have passience, and this, precisely, is what the anarchist is incapable of having. Passience requires the passionate revolutionary to be patient – to posture at something else. Perhaps, to posture at the white picket fence, the church leader, and so on. Power corrupts, always. And so only those who have revolutionary passience are capable of repelling the juggernaut of conformity that comes with power.

Of course, I am not urging anarchists to obtain positions of power within the system they find morally deplorable. Those who find such a system morally deplorable would do better to remain outside of it; this is the posturing of which anarchism finds itself to be at fault. Those who are most incapable of ruling rule with relative ease precisely because they have shed themselves of the posturing which holds them back. Similarly, those whose rule has become a joke – and we are increasingly in the presence of such rulers – use the joke as the rule. And why shouldn’t we? Isn’t it the case that those most unfit to rule are often best exchanged for those who are best fit to rule but refuse to do so on moral principles?


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