There is a long standing and in my view pretty counter productive hostility between left political organisations and the radical counter culture. This piece grew out of a reply to ‘The Limit’s of the Counter Culture’ which is part of an online publishing project of Chekov Feeney. Chekov was a member of the WSM for many years and is using this project to slowly reveal his new analysis of radical politics and other ways things might be done. I’ve known him for about 15 years since we met in one such counter cultural political space, the short lived Garden of Delight in Dublin. In any case what started out as a somewhat annoyed response to his piece sat on my drive and grew and grew as I edited it into something more constructive and ended up far too long to post as a comment on his site. So rather than wasting it I’m posting it here.
“every individual is a child of his time” (Hegel)
The British anarchist Albert Meltzer once noted that since Marxists find it hard to critique anarchism, they usually attack anarchists. In the case of the earliest anarchist thinkers, Proudhon and Bakunin, this is often easy to do as they were not consistently libertarian in their views.
This is a write-up of a talk I gave at Housemans bookshop for An Anarchist FAQ volume 2 publication event. It is based on my notes and is what I intended to cover. So it may not be exactly what was said on the night. And as one member of the audience rightly noted, it is very much focused around white, male Europeans. This is simply because there is still much work needed to get the ideas and histories of non-European countries into English (sadly, this also applies to much of European anarchism as well!). Still, we need to correctly understand anarchist history in order to develop it to meet the challenges of today. Hopefully this talk contributes to both processes, correctly understanding the history of anarchism and building anarchism today as a theory and movement. Whether I succeeded or not rests with the reader!
The French people are demoralised because they need an idea. They lack understanding of the time and situation and only retain pride in an initiative, the principle and goal of which have escaped them. None of the political systems they have tried have completely met their expectations, and they cannot imagine any others.
An observation to be made in general on moral and political sciences is that the difficulty of their problem comes above all from the figurative way basic reason designed their elements. In the popular imagination politics, as well as morals, is a mythology. There all becomes fiction, symbol, mystery, idol. And it is this idealism which, adopted with confidence by philosophers as an expression of reality, causes them so much embarrassment later.
Since, in theory and in history, Authority and Liberty follow one another as by a kind of polarisation;
That the first declines imperceptibly and withdraws whilst the second grows and reveals itself;
That a kind of subordination results from this double movement in accordance of which Authority takes up more and more the cause of Liberty [au droit de la Liberté];
If the reader has followed with some diligence the previous exposition, human society must appear to him like a fantastic creation, full of surprises and mysteries. We shall briefly recall the different terms:
a) Political order rests on two related, opposed and irreducible principles: Authority and Liberty.