Miscellany (February 24, 2018)


THE SECOND TIME AS FARCE: There is a new voluntaryist FAQ out there, marking a new campaign in the same old war by capitalists to get themselves mistaken for anarchists. I would say that the spirit of the 90s was alive and well other places than Portlandia, but honestly, having been caught up in the new attempts to invade mutualist forums with this nonsense, I have to say that it all feels more than a bit like some historical reenactment. The strategy seems to be to sift through An Anarchist FAQ and my translations for bits that might seem like gotchas when ripped from their contexts, so I’ve been having little what fun I can with the situation. (It wasn’t much of a war, but it was the only war we had.) What strikes me as most interesting about the whole campaign is its obvious futility. While there are plenty of self-proclaimed anarchists out there who are just as resistant to the idea of anarchy as a guide and just as enamored of voluntarity as a standard in at least some aspects of society, the vast majority of those folks aren’t going to budge on the subject of capitalism, no matter how passionately the voluntaryists make their arguments. And the attempts to subvert elements of the anarchist neglect the very real fact that many, many anarchists treat our shared history with the same sort of opportunism as the would-be entryists. I have to laugh when one of the tactics is to make pro-capitalist readings of Proudhon’s Theory of Property, since that is a text that virtually everyone is still inclined to treat as suspicious. With a little luck, perhaps the adverse attention will even make my job easier as it becomes more important to present it in its proper light. Wouldn’t that be amusing…?

SITE UPDATE: There have been a lot fewer broken links than I expected in this most recent phase and I’m nearly caught up. Again, everything from all the separate blog sites ought to be here and searchable. I’ll probably also go back to searching for an improved search engine for the site, now that I have hosting that’s really up to the job.

EXTRICATIONS: I’ve been thinking a lot about Max Nettlau as a theorist—and perhaps as one of the most important theorists of anarchism. One of the things that I really value in Nettlau’s theoretical work is naturally its grounding in a deep understanding of anarchist history, which gives at least some real weight to his persistent pessimism about the progress of the anarchist movement. But I am always also struck by the fact that a certain kind of resignation on his part never translates into defeat. And I am inclined to think that this is because he was clear and reasonable in his expectations. In a 1902 fragment, he wrote: “All my arguments are based on the fact that men are different from one another… If we accept in theory that all the possibilities of development exist in a rudimentary state or develop in all of us, the practical life shows that these possibilities develop in a different manner for each of us. We do think nor wish to render men uniform — just as we do not think of leveling the mountains and the plains.” This is the text in which he finally declared: “anarchy to the anarchists, because it is dear to me and I have seen with horror that it is sacrificed to the thirst for success or to purely humanitarian, charitable considerations, as I have seen, and we have all seen, socialism sacrificed to social-democracy, then to social reform.” And it was in a similar spirit, I think or at least hope, that I recently wrote about “Anarchy as a Beacon and as a Focus for Synthesis.” Circling back to pick up those threads today, I was reminded of this other, later Nettlau fragment:

We all live in these three worlds: a world of friends and libertarian comrades; a world of unsociable authoritarian enemies, present and future rulers; and that great world of men who do not know one another, the suspicious, seeing only the hardness and cruelty of men and feigning indifference in order to protect themselves from torment. There is also the world of the past and the future, memories, dreams, hopes and the daily effort to contribute a bit. To set aside, finally, the unsocial, and thus sterile and purely parasitical, world of authority and to awaken, encourage, and inspire with confidence the world that we do not know and that does not know us—that is the problem that becomes always more pressing, because authority, incapable of doing good, is still very capable of producing evil.

I have recently scanned the whole libertarian past for a historical summary that will perhaps be published as a little book, and I have sought to bring together what we can do in the present to give impetus and momentum to our ideas, in those areas where they seem to me to be languishing—another little book that will perhaps see the light of day. I have been reassured in the identification of our goals of general liberation with the great line of human progress, which proceeds as surely to the decrease of authority and the increase of liberty as the child, on becoming an adult, attains its autonomy and escapes familial and pedagogical tutelage. But the road is very long and we could say that it was only in the second half of the eighteenth century that authority was very seriously assailed in a large portion of its manifestations and that its very principle received a challenge. Still what was for a small number a direct repudiation of authority as an always harmful principle, was for a much greater number, and in the end for the people themselves, above all [a matter of] discontent, anger, and soon revolutionary rage, with the aim of destroying such insupportable authority, in order to put a benevolent authority in its place. We did not know how to do any better and a new dictatorship replaced the other.

The question is whether, even once we know how to do better, we will cease to occupy those three worlds. If not, then something like Nettlau’s mutual toleration or the panarchy that he explored will certainly still be necessary.

BEYOND THE LABYRINTH: BritBox finally lured me in with an exclusive on Season 8 of Vera. I’ve been a little underwhelmed by the selection, particularly given all that the BBC and ITV might draw on, but classic Doctor Who is fun occasionally and I’ve been enjoying working through the first season of The Sandbaggers. Anyway, the new season of Vera has been quite good, but the change in tone from the early seasons is now pretty well complete, with Vera herself rather more kindly than misanthropic, without anything having happened in the series to quite justify the change. The only real downside, I think, is that we have lost some of the characteristic elements relating to her family history—with just the occasional bit of bird or bird’s egg trivia to remind us of that backstory—along with the play between brooding landscapes and brooding characters. It would be easy to argue that some of the changes are, in fact, improvements. In any event, despite a few minor missteps, it remains a dependably entertaining mystery series, which is certainly more than a lot of series could say on the verge of their ninth season.

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