Note on Contr’archy and Guarantism

One of the more difficult tactical questions in this new phase has been the question of vocabulary, of how to stock this “toolkit” that we’ve been assembling. I would love to keep the truly esoteric terminology to a minumum, but even jargon has its uses—chief among them the highlighting of concepts which are themselves more than a bit esoteric. I have a great deal of faith in readers’ abilities to negotiate complex discussion of property, capitalism, socialism, association, etc., without recourse to anything more than the sort of clarification one would expect in any careful study. But when it is a question of historical concepts, or when we are negotiating the twists and turns of this anarchistic analysis of the various manifestations of anarchy and anarchism, well,  perhaps it makes sense to underline the potentially alien nature of the concepts in question. When I first introduced contr’archy and guarantism, the poles of our new version of “the larger antinomy,” I didn’t necessarily expect much understanding of either concept, but perhaps now, as we have spent quite a bit of time exploring the way in which anarchistic critique can be turned on anarchy or anarchism itself, that first concept is beginning to assume a somewhat more definite form. As we turn, in the last sections of this series on “the anarchic encounter,” to questions of practice, I hope that the second term will also begin to acquire a bit more clarity.

As we are also currently in the midst of clarifying the relations between this phase of exploration and those that have come before, I suppose it makes sense to note that these new poles of this new antinomy are much like the “two guns” the last phase, transferred for the moment to the realm of method and practice. Instead of our old “brace of rusty pistols,” individualism and socialism, we have, on the one hand, the principled opposition to everything of an absolutist or hierarchical nature, an analysis always open to the devils in the detail, bound to sacrifice everything else to a relentless consistency, should the critique lead that way, and, on the other, we have the commitment to make the sort of real change, material improvement in conditions without which no principles, however obsessively pursued, really amount to much. As with the antinomies more familiar from earlier studies, we can probably say that either emphasis, without the balance of the other, is unlikely to take us where we want to go, but from this we cannot simply fall back on some compromise or middle way—particularly if Proudhon is our guide. For him, we must not forget, liberty was always something enhanced as much by the complexity and intensity of complication and conflict as it was by the mere absence of constraint.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.