Constructing Anarchisms


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from Constructing an Anarchism

Privation is a state in which the essentials are lacking.

That may seem like a strange place to begin constructing an anarchism, but perhaps not when we remind ourselves that the prefix “an-” is a privative prefix. When we find a concept shaped by that prefix, we should expect to find privation, the lack or absence of something fundamental or essential. There may be exceptions, since we do all sorts of things with language, but, in general, we do not mark the absence of the merely incidental or inessential.

If we unpack “anarchy” as an-arche—”in the full force of the term,” as Proudhon put it, marking a privation with regard to fundaments and essences as such—we are really just giving the term its most general sense. We might define the term is some narrower sense, but, if we are really are marking instances of privation, the narrower sense of “archy” (government, rule, authority, hierarchy, etc.) is almost certain to mark the absence of what is presumed to be essential or fundamental in some narrower context. We can say that “anarchy” marks an absence of government (in some more or less narrowly defined sense) or a lack of hierarchy (with term similarly delimited), but the narrower definitions are unlikely to be mutually exclusive, forming instead a series of instances in which the general, abstract notion is applied to specific contexts.

This is a slightly stronger reading than I gave the etymological elements in “A Schematic Anarchism,” but I don't think it's too great a leap to say that a really privative “an-” forces whatever follows it to appear as an instance of arche. If we accept that logic, then perhaps it is a bit simpler to make sense of my aphoristic claim that:

Anarchy is what happens in the absence of the very things we are led to believe will always be present.

We are left, of course, to distinguish between elements that would truly be fundamental or essential—and which we would expect simply could not be absent in any real sense—and those elements that we are led, presumably as a result of ignorance or deception, to think of in those terms, but which in fact we seem to experience as absences. Those who claim the role of “anarchist” or embrace some sort of “anarchism” will obviously make those distinctions differently than those who accept the claims regarding what is essential or fundamental in existing societies. It isn't clear, however, than we can yet place ourselves outside of relations shaped by those claims enough to experience those absences as anything but some kind of privation.

If, to borrow another phrase from Proudhon, we find ourselves “in the silence of the gods”—if where we have been led to hear the voice of authority and certainty we hear nothing at all—we still have no problem attaching a name to that which does not speak to us. Privation is not all that we experience when we experience anarchy—or the possibility of anarchy—but it is, I think, an inescapable, significant part.

So we are in a peculiar position as anarchists and proponents of anarchism, since, by standards that even we must acknowledge we recognize, that identification and advocacy make us—among other things, of course—champions of privation.

#constructinganarchisms #anarchy #anarchism

Constructing Babel


from Constructing an Anarchism

This project continues work from the Libertarian Labyrinth.

I've been wrestling with the idea of an introductory site, an Anarchism 101, for a long time. The problem, of course, is that any attempt to condense anarchism down to its rudiments is likely, given the complexities of the tradition we have inherited, to appear as a kind of partisan attack on all those who might disagree.

It seems necessary that each of us who are drawn to the beautiful idea of anarchy should find the means to apply that idea in our own circumstances, to “make anarchism our own” or even “make our own anarchism.” This was the problem that we tried to address in the original “Constructing Anarchisms” workshop, but it was only possible to take things so far.

A Schematic Anarchism” was an attempt to establish a clearer foundation for explorations of a similar type. Where the proposed final exercise for “Constructing Anarchisms” rested on the practical, but not terribly elegant notion that if you clarify enough of the terms you are going to use to define your “anarchism,” your general clarity will at least increase, the follow-up was bold about proposing not just a minimal set of basic terms, but also their fundamental relations. The resulting “formula” is very abstract, but seems to be holding up to the rigors of application, at least as a means of examining historical texts.

It is, however, very abstract — and its utility as a means of addressing our lack of introductory resources remains unproven. So I have been on the lookout for a logical way to return to the experiment originally proposed for “Constructing Anarchisms” with the new toolkit in hand.

This is where things stood when recent events provoked a bit of a stamped toward the Fediverse and I started thinking about how best to adjust the kind of work I have been doing on the beleaguered birdsite so that it was findable and useful to readers on Mastodon. I'm still tinkering with tag formats for auto-posted Wordpress posts, as it's obvious that reach in the Fediverse depends a good deal on that kind of “packaging.” But one of the things I noticed while exploring the present use of hashtags was the lack or inaccessibility of introductory material on anarchism seems even more striking there than on other social media platforms.

Right away, that seemed like at least a good excuse to see what I could provide in the way of findable, relatively well organized introductory material on anarchism. Then it occurred to me that it might be more fun to tackle the problem with company. From there, quick rethinking that unachieved third phase of “Constructing Anarchisms” was enough to get me where I find myself today, with a new WriteFreely instance, a desire to tell some comparatively simple stories about anarchism and a hope that some other folks will want to work with me, or at least in parallel with my efforts.

I have established the site and started to sketch out some minimum principles for collaboration. It is important to me that others involved in this effort center anarchy in their anarchisms, that they recognize the anarchist tradition as a living tradition, with its best manifestations almost certainly to come, and that they see a role for synthesis in the further development of anarchist projects and tendencies. Beyond that, all I'm really looking for is others who are willing to take on the task of exploring the rudiments of anarchism. That might take the form of working through the construction of an anarchism as it was proposed in the original “Constructing Anarchisms” workshop—offering an opportunity for those who wanted to work through that process—but it could certainly take other forms. I am going to spend at least part of my time attempting to build up a sort of generic anarchism, making use of the “schematic anarchism” toolkit. But I am also exploring a range of other possible projects: close readings of “classic” texts, explorations of concepts in the style of the Anarchist Encyclopedia, brief introductions to historical anarchists, etc. Some of that material may end up on the Libertarian Labyrinth site, where it is likely that at least my contributions to this project will also be archived. For now, I'll play all of that by ear and refine things as inspiration strikes.

Anyone already interested in maintain their own blog as part of this project is welcome to contact me through the Libertarian Labyrinth.

More soon.