Return to Post-Anarchism

I believe that scholars of anarchist theory have misunderstood the innovation of post-anarchist theory. Post-anarchism began as a critique of some of the presuppositions of traditional anarchist thought, specifically its ontological and epistemological positions. It was at its most powerful when it critiqued these assumptions. Its secondary benefit was to offer new possibilities for thinking anarchist ontology and, consequently, politics. Those who promote post-anarchist scholarship for only its secondary benefit therefore miss the important ‘break’ that it introduced into traditional theory. It is the break – or what Lacanians refer to as the ‘interpretative cut’ – that was most important, and not its secondary ontological and epistemological position.

Post-anarchism’s critique was that traditional anarchist theory (also referred to as ‘classical anarchism’) often presumed that human nature was essentially ‘good’ and productive (like Marx’s notion of ‘species-being’) and that the state and capitalism were essentially bad and repressive (what Saul Newman and others have referred to as the ‘place of power’). To put it in philosophical terms: the ontological stratum of ‘being’ needed to be set free from the confines of ‘epistemology,’ or ‘politics,’ or ‘power.’ The pivotal political strategy, naturally, consisted of Revolution: we must simply remove the ‘bad’ ‘place of power’ and human nature can once again flourish. To be sure, this naive position was not adhered to exclusively by the classical anarchists. We have found it in classical Marxism, and, within the overarching classical tradition of political thinking as a whole.

It was the secondary benefit of post-anarchism – its actually held position, which only began to appear in more solid form after its critique – that did something interesting. First, it claimed that ‘being’ is multiple – it is not only ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and, moreover, it is not ‘repressed’ absolutely by some external unitary site of power. It was conceived much like the Freudian drives/instincts, or the id. It does not know about ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and it does not care about contradiction. ‘Being’ is also active, and, it has a power too. If we follow our Freudian analogy then we might say that ‘being’ is more powerful than all the other forces of the psychical apparatus. But it is also the most hidden, the dark part of the psyche. In other words, ‘being’ itself seems to influence the world of power, the world of words, and so on, and, moreover, the latter seems more composed by the former than vice versa. This raises all kinds of problems, such as, for example, the possibility that authority was the innate construction of being, rather than merely that which contained it. Second, post-anarchism claimed that politics, and, moreover, power, was everywhere. This means that the only logical position is tactical struggle here and there, everywhere, without an overarching Revolution.

How quickly post-anarchism moved from a Lacanian position to a Deleuzian one.

In some sense, it was a necessary move. It was necessary to avoid the previous ‘classical’ position, and to move into the next position. However, it is all the more necessary today that we recognize that post-anarchism ceases to be positioned within the discursive register of ‘post-anarchism’ when it moves from ‘interpretative cut’ to ‘secondary benefit.’ To put it in Lacanian terms: post-anarchism moves from the ‘analytical discourse’ to the ‘university discourse,’ it moves from the position of intervening at the level of desire to a more problematic discursive position which desires that everything be included within the world of language and power (e.g., if power is everywhere then struggle is everywhere, and everything is included within politics); hence, post-anarchists today write so often about the revolutionary politics of ‘walking’ or ‘dinner parties’ or ‘friendship,’ etc.

We can return to “Revolution” without fearing “authoritarianism.” The two were only paired at the “classical” level of discourse, and not, necessarily, at the current level of discourse.

To be post-anarchist today requires that one make a new cut. I believe that we must return to the category of ‘universalism,’ and, moreover, we must stage an all out war against relativism. We must recognize that the post-anarchists are incorrect — and so too are the anarchists! — when they conflate ‘universalism’ with ‘authoritarianism.’ In other words, not all ‘universalism’ is ‘hegemonic,’ ‘fundamentalist,’ ‘dogmatic,’ and so on. And perhaps part of our political project will consist of rethinking the terms ‘fundamental’ and ‘dogmatic,’ to appropriate them from the liberal and fanatical consensus. This is my first point.

My second point is that we must defend the ‘subject’ as the new site of political universality. One of the hazards of passing through the relativist turn – with thanks to post-anarchism – has been the loss of the political category of the subject: the subject became reduced to its relative dimension. Each has his or her own subject, and none are recognized as a trajectory toward (and of) the universal. The danger is to allow the subject to be defined as it has been by anglophone meta-ethicists: always relative, always ‘subjectivist.’ No wonder the subject gets discarded by anarchist scholars today. But this is not the authentic dimension of the subject, and this is not the subject as it is outlined, for example, in the late work of Jacques Lacan or Alain Badiou.

We must rethink the category of the subject, without being afraid of aligning it within the universal. This is our next logical step, it is the only one open to us at this stage of our discourse.

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2 thoughts on “Return to Post-Anarchism

  1. this reminds of some scientists’ critiques of postmodernism—eg sokal— anti-relativist. critiques of post-anarchism i’ve seen argue it takes anarchism the same place as marxism–something only for academics and totally apolitical apart from fighting for university funding.

    • Apolitical is actually a good thing. Academic radicals are actually too political as far as I’m concerned. As I see it what comes after relativism is a mode of will to power nihilism where preferences are sorted out emergently based on might, affinity and other factors. A way that post anarchism can make itself useful is by renewing and innovating Stirner’s language. Insurrection not revolution, nihilism(of the Stirnerian creative nothing kind not based on renunciation) not universalism and lastly instead of ‘the’ subject why not individuated relational expressions. I don’t think the political category of the subject has been lost at all, if anything the political has been internalized and multiplied. Why not instead try for an active apolitical agenda. No one has considered the possibility that the apolitical can be an active will to power.

      In the end I prefer to discard old language and define or appropriate new terms. Stirner remains the best example of this.

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