With the first two issues of the Contr’un zine now available, I feel like perhaps I’ve reached the end of a necessary, but awkward transitional phase. Before moving forward, let me underline and elaborate on a few propositions or realizations that I consider key:
- Anarchism is ungovernable, and anarchists should probably learn to embrace that fact. It doesn’t imply any sort of compromise. On the contrary, it sets the bar for all of our theories, practices, and the no-doubt necessary squabbles over boundaries very high. It ought to discourage dogmatism and complacency.
- Not every aspiring anarchist need concern themselves with every aspect of anarchism. Some find no pleasure or utility in grappling with anarchism’s history, or the vagueries of “the movement,” or certain kinds of anarchist theory—and those who do will undoubtedly do so in a variety of not-always-compatible ways. But to the extent that we do engage with these things, and particularly as we engage with each other in the context of these concerns—if we mean anything by “anarchism” that we think is, has been, could or should be shared—we should probably try to learn to proceed and engage in ways that are not ultimately aimed at governing the concept, or governing each other, by governing its manifestations. There’s a fine, and not always determinable line between “governing the concept” and the sorts of more-or-less internal advocacy and struggle that are necessary for the improvement of those manifestations, and the most careful of us should probably expect to cross it sometimes, just as the most engaged should expect to fall short of any really serious standard of “being an anarchist.” And that’s just fine: “humanity proceeds by approximations.” We don’t need to “call ourselves on our shit” so much as we need to make new, hopefully better mistakes the next time—and the next time, and…
- Proudhon boiled the whole of anarchism’s “social system” down to equality, collective power, and the principle of justice. On one level, then, under anarchism we simply see a particular sort of encounter acted out, over and over again: equal individuals meet, find the means to balance their individual interests, and from their association arises something else—a collective something with the potential to emerge as another individual, with interests of its own, which must then figure in the balancing of interests that is justice. In that “system,” justice between equals is the ethical principle, the design principle for norms and institutions, and the criterion of judgment. Any number of encounters may take place, involving any number of individuals, on any number of scales and creating any number of associations, but the basic elements remain the same. The social field of play remains level, the status of the individuals—whether self-conscious free absolutes or various sorts of collectivities—remains equal before whatever norms and conventions we adopt, and those norms and conventions always remain subject to critique on the basis of their relationship to the most general, practical sort of equality and justice-balance.
- Norms, conventions, rules, laws, rights—no matter what language we use to talk about the more persistent aspects of our mutual self-government, the things that that language represents can never assume any authority in and of themselves. They cannot be allowed to become archies. Arguably, that means much more than to say that they must not be backed by state or police powers, violence or the threat of violence. If we accept Proudhon’s summary, it is really a question of preserving in each encounter a sort of positive lawlessness, and, in part, we may do this by acknowledging that each encounter is a new encounter, that there is no ready-made system for projecting ourselves into the future, even just a moment at a time. And yet that is what we do, moment after moment, world without end—unless, of course, the world ends. We pile up knowledge and experience in all of those moments, but nothing is certain. Along the way, we will undoubtedly accumulate some useful approximations, some developing but always revisable account of best practices, and some long, long lists of practices that really f*cking suck and that freedom-loving people will never want to see practiced again. But any anarchism worthy of the name is going to be pretty relentlessly suspect of anything that looks like permission or prohibition—both practices which demand some position of authority from which to regulate our encounters in some a priori manner.
- Let’s underline again this notion of a society without permission or prohibition, and emphasize that all of our anarchic encounters will require something more of us than just asserting our “rights” or fulfilling our “duties” with regard to one another. Every act of association will involve an act of creation, specifically the creation of some bit of some possible world, and creative acts involve some sort of erotics as much as economics. There is a lot that needs to be looked at with regard to how all this creative stuff plays out, but let’s start by saying that none of the familiar language for it—society, community, market, etc.—gets us too far.
- “Liberty is the mother, not the daughter of order,” and free institutions are in some fundamental sense the issue of our social intercourse, our wayward children. They will have their own interests, and reason, which, despite their origins in our own more-or-less self-interested interactions, may well not be in line with our reason and interests. Endowed with force, but not with the means to reflect and negotiate, their interests and their reason will ultimately be our problem. They must inevitably fall under our tutelage, or else run wild, manifestations of our own irresponsibility, endowed with our own force. Whether or not we then let these feral children have their way, we certainly can’t allow ourselves to be so far mistaken as to take them for our social arbitrators.
[to be continued…]