Pereira-Colson dialogue. 2. Pereira to Colson

Translated by Jesse Cohn

PROUDHON, Pierre-Joseph (1809-1865)BAKUNIN, Mihail Aleksandrovič (1814-1876)ethicsSTIRNER, Max (Bayreuth, 1806/10/25 - Berlin, 1806/06/25). Pseud. de Johann Caspar SCHMIDTCOHN, JessepoliticsSPINOZA, Baruch (1632-1677). PhilosopheHEGEL, G. W. M. (1770-1831). PhilosopheFOUCAULT, MichelCOLSON, DanielLEIBNIZ, Gottfried Wilhelm von (1646-1716)PEREIRA, Irène (1975 - )Philosophy. OntologyONFRAY, Michel (Argentan, 1er janvier 1959-....)

Previous letter
I would like to express more clearly what poses a problem for me in your position as it is expressed in your article as well as in the Petit Lexique.
You refer in the anarchist tradition mainly to Bakunin and in Proudhon; however, it seems that your inspiration may be more Stirnerian [1], which explains your constant reference to Nietzsche and Leibniz via Deleuze.
Admittedly, I adhere to Nietzsche’s critique of the philosophy of the subject and to the insistence on the multiplicity which constitutes us.
However, it seems to to me that one of the common points between Bakunin [2] and Proudhon, [3] which they also share with Spinoza, [4] is the idea that the individual attains freedom only with others, in society. This is what Nietzsche, on the contrary, completely seems to refuse as such in his critique of the “gregarious life” as in his critique of the language which obliterates the fact that this constitutes a common world which to leave constitutes individuality.

Consequently the paradigm of affinitary arrangement, as developed, for example, by you and M.Onfray, in reference to Nietzsche [5], seems me to return to more to the rehabilitation of values issuing from aristocracy than from a democratic conception of anarchism. One should not forget the severe criticism which Nietzsche offers to make not only of socialism but of anarchism.
Indeed, one can ask up to what point does such a conception not constitute an anthropological error which consists in thinking that the individual could constitute himself apart from any social and thus any political dimension. An error for which Bakunin’s individualism already reproaches the liberal individualism issuing to a certain extent from Leibnizian monadology. This is also, it seems to me, one of the fundamental differences between Bakunin and Nietzsche.
Does not the insistence on the multiplicity of the individual result it in neglecting the relation of interaction which is maintained by social intersubjectivity and the intersubjectivity internal to the individual, which makes Proudhon and Bakunin seem to me closer to the “We who I am and me that we are” of Hegel [6] than to Leibniz’s windowless and doorless monad. It thus seems to to me that Proudhon does not leave only the idea that the individual is a group, a collective, but also that the individual is made up starting from the social community, from “us”. The different is constituted on a common pre-individual foundation, and this is why there can be at the same time singularity and communication.
Where I agree with you is on the idea that the revolutionary action must be thought as an experimentation [7], a collective experimentation which is not to be conceived on the model of the Grand Soir, but which is constantly reactivated in collective political struggles, in the creation of new modes of life in common . . . Consequently, ethics and politics cannot be disjoined, as opposed to what the Foucault of the Care for the Self seems to point toward, insofar as the transformation of oneself implies the transformation of society and the transformation of society implies the transformation of oneself, both being unthinkable without one another.
But perhaps my critique may not reveal a divergence of positions, but is only a misunderstanding of your position on my part, as well as an ignorance of the philosophers to which you have applied yourself.
Irene Pereira
Colson’s answer

[1As A.Thévenet underlines in “A propos du petit lexique”, Réfractions n°8

[2“I mean [ . . . ] that liberty of each man which does not find another man’s freedom a boundary but a confirmation and vast extension of his own; liberty through solidarity, in equality.” (Bakunin, “The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State,” 1870, in Oeuvres, IV)
“I am truly free only when all human beings around me, men and women alike, are equally free. Far from being a limitation or negation of my freedom, the freedom of my neighbor is instead its precondition and confirmation. I only become truly free through the freedom of others, so that the greater the numbers of free men around me, and the more extensive and comprehensive their freedom, the more extensive and profound my freedom becomes. Conversely, it is the enslavement of men that opposes a barrier to my freedom, or, (and it amounts the same thing), it is their brutishness that is a negation of my humanness because, to repeat myself, I cannot claim to be truly free myself except when my freedom, or - and this comes to the same thing - my human dignity and human rights, wich consist of withholding obedience from any other man and determing my actions solely in conformity with my own beliefs, mirrored by the equally free consciousness of everyone, are reflected back to me by universal endorsement. Thus confirmed by everyone’s freedom, my own freedom reaches out into infinity.” (Bakunin, “the Knouto-Germanic Empire”, 1871, in Oeuvres I)

[3“From the barbaric point of view, freedom is synonymous with isolation [ . . . ] From the social point of view, freedom and solidarity are identical terms: the freedom of each discovering in freedom of others not only a limit, as in the declaration of the rights of man and of the Citizen of 1793, but also an auxiliary, the freest man is he who has the most relation with his kind [[Proudhon, “Confessions of a Revolutionist,” Oeuvres complètes.

[4“Therefore, to man there is nothing more useful than man – nothing, I repeat, more excellent for preserving their being can be wished for by men, than that all should so in all points agree, that the minds and bodies of all should form, as it were, one single mind and one single body, and that all should, with one consent, as far as they are able, endeavour to preserve their being, and all with one consent seek what is useful to them all. Hence, men who are governed by reason that is, who seek what is useful to them in accordance with reason, desire for themselves nothing, which they do not also desire for the rest of mankind, and, consequently, are just, faithful, and honourable in their conduct.” (Spinoza, Ethics, Fourth part, Scholium of proposal XVIII).
“Men in so far as they live in obedience to reason, necessarily live always in harmony one with another.” (Spinoza, Ethics, Fourth part, Proposition XXXV)
“the highest good for those who follow after virtue is [ . . . ] a good which is common to all and can be possessed by all men equally, in so far as they are of the same nature.” (Spinoza, Ethics, Fourth part, Proposition XXXVI)
“The good which every man, who follows after virtue, desires for himself he will also desire for other men, and so much the more, in proportion as he has a greater knowledge of God.” (Spinoza, Ethics, Fourth part, Proposition XXXVII)
“The man, who is guided by reason, is more free in a State, where he lives under a general system of law, than in solitude, where he is independent.” (Spinoza, Ethics, Fourth part, Proposition LXXIII). Translator’s note: Pereira’s French version of Spinoza speaks of the rational person as living in “la Cité” where he lives according to the “décret commun” rather than using the words “État” or “loi.”

[5See for example the Ninth section from Beyond Good and Evil, “What is noble?”

[6Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, “self-awareness”

[7I think that there may be some interesting ideas in the concept of experimentation of American pragmatism, particularly in Dewey, and in its refusal of dualisms.