JOFF. "The Possibility of an Antihumanist EcoAnarchism" (6) Poststructuralist Anarchism

PROUDHON, Pierre-Joseph (1809-1865)NIETZSCHE, Friedrich Wilhelm (1844-1900)EcologyKROPOTKINE, Petr Alekseevitch (1842-1921) GOLDMAN, Emma (1869-1940)WARD, Colin (1924-2010)Philosophy. HumanismMAY, ToddALTHUSSER, Louis (1918-1990)JOFF
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Poststructuralist Anarchism

Todd May formulates the relationship between anarchism and PS political philosophy in terms of PS thought forming a framework for thinking the concrete and particular without recourse to universal transcendent ideals. [1] May constructs a ‘triadic’ ethical schema which distinguishes formal, strategic and tactical political philosophies.

Formal political philosophy would include the abstract formulations of Rawls or Nozick. Formal philosophy would thus defend one pole of the is-ought dichotomy.

A strategic political philosophy approaches the is-ought dichotomy in terms of the tension in-between the two. The in-between neither supports one nor the other disjunct but thinks the relationship in terms of application and real political programmes. Thus, Lenin in asking ‘what is to be done?’ is exploring the abstract formalism of political philosophy in connection with the pragmatic utilitarian sphere of politics. A strategic analysis is therefore encompassing and unitary in the sense that it tends toward single goals, for example, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Tactical political philosophy is more akin to the uprisings of 1968. Rejecting representation in the form of a vanguard party whose goal is the articulation of worker’s interests (for the ‘people’ cannot formulate their own interests!), a tactical analysis is bound to the particular and the multiple. Concern with universal interests emanating from a particular group or class are absent from tactical PS philosophy. In this sense, May contends, anarchism, at least in the classical anarchism of Kropotkin and Proudhon, is a precursor of French PS. Contra the coercion endemic in the coldest of all cold monsters, [2] classical anarchism desires maximum freedom beyond the realm of domination. PS’s denunciation of the domination of marginal groups (homosexuals, ethnic) clearly has principles compatible with an orthodox anarchist position.

The differences and similarities between classical anarchism and PS political philosophy are identifiable with respect to the constitution of power. Tactical thinking perceives power as dispersed throughout the socius whereas traditional conceptions of power consider power as emanating from a central source (the State). Kropotkin believes that power stifles chaotic-order and voluntary mutual aid organisations such as the lifeboat association (one could call this self-organisation or autopoiesis in modern terms). And this is precisely the point that philosophers like Deleuze and Foucault contest.

Deleuze disputes the a priori assumption that power necessarily suppresses and as such power is not necessarily the negation of humanity. There is nothing lurking primordially or existing pre-formed behind the alienated worker and no true knowledge waiting to be appearing from the veil of ideological manipulation. [3] In anarchist terms, there is a definite, albeit ahistorical and abstract, human essence waiting to emerge from the inhumanity of life under Capital. The paradox, of course, of the anarchist view of the human animal is as follows: if the human animal is naturally social then why is the State’s existence such a widespread phenomena? If the State presumably acts contrary to humanity’s ‘true’ nature then why have humans implemented the most ruthless and predatory economic system human history has ever seen? Thus, anarchism from the perspective of PS philosophy is staid if it retains the assumptions of a benign human essence and the suppression assumption regarding the effects of power. The negation of humanist naturalism affirms instead the creativity of power as a process of constitution-constituted between the subject and object of power. The subject is simultaneously a produced-producer rather than merely a producer from forces of an altogether alien nature.

It ought to be noted that classical anarchism is not a homogeneous ‘movement’. Emma Goldman’s thinking is difficult to incorporate into a humanist naturalism mould, for she adopted a Nietzschean philosophy of affirmation which in principle is prospective, that is to say, it concerns itself with the future as a possibilising of experimental (inhuman) becomings and practices. Furthermore, a more contemporary anarchist, Colin Ward explicitly abandons humanist essentialism which perceives human consciousness as the centre of the universe and the ordering principle which orders everything around it. [4] Ward in his discussion of the interaction of complexity, order, and harmony maintains that:

Anarchy is a function, not of a society’s simplicity and lack of social organisation, but of its complexity and multiplicity of social organisations. Cybernetics, the science of control and communication throws valuable light on the anarchist conception of the complex self-organising process... The anarchist alternative is that of fragmentation, fission rather than fusion, diversity rather than unity, a mass of societies rather than a mass society. [5]

If consciousness is both product and producer then a theoretical resistance to a de-centring of consciousness is in danger of producing its own anthropocentric arrogance. A PS anarchism thus examines the positivity of power and also must search for a paradigm of thought which transcends a narrow humanist essentialism.

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[1May, Todd, The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994, p.3.

[2Nietzsche, F, Thus Spoke Zarathustra,Of The New Idol, trans. Hollingdale, London: Penguin Books, 1969, p.75.

[3May, The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism, p.59.

[4May, The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism The anthropological works of Claude Levi-Strauss, the Psychoanalytical texts of Jacques Lacan, the structural Psychology of Jean Piaget, and the Marxism of Louis Althusser with its rejection of Marx’s early humanism, share a common conception of the subject as produced rather than producing, as an effect rather than cause. Whether the determination of the subject is through structures of myth and kinship, the unconscious, the cognitive structures of the mind, or the political (and especially economic) structure of society, the theme is the same: humanism as a philosophical project is fundamentally misplaced in seeking the constitution of the subject in a subjective essence. The constitution of the subject comes from outside its own realm of reflection and decision, thus undermining at a stroke the subject’s transparency, voluntarism, and self-constitution’, p.76-77.

[5Ward, Colin, Anarchy in Action, Allen & Unwin, 1973, p.58.