Anarchism: Process, Not Destination (Introduction)

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That which dominates all my studies, its principle and aim, its summit and base… is that I affirm, resolutely and irrevocably, in all and everywhere, Progress, and that I deny, no less resolutely, the Absolute… Progress, once more, is the affirmation of universal movement, consequently the negation every immutable form and formula, of every doctrine of eternity, permanence, [perfection], etc., applied to any being whatever; it is the negation of every permanent order, even that of the universe, and of every subject or object, empirical or transcendental, which does not change. — Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, The Philosophy of Progress, First Letter.I

Justice is a product of conditions, not a prescription of conclusions — this is the key insight that lies at the heart of much of my discussion of anarchism. In conditions lacking hierarchy and power-over — the anarchic encounter — the interests of each individual and collectivity that is party to any decision must be weighed equally and treated with respect, factored into the final decision, instead of subordinated to any other. As a consequence, any decision which springs out of the fertile ground of anarchy, watered with the blood of those who fight the ceaseless battle of vigilance against the reconstitution of domination, will be a decision which protects the full flourishing of individual autonomy — the goal of my anarchism. These decisions need not — will not — follow any plan or pattern which I can lay out ahead of time; they will be specific to the local conditions and unique needs of those involved, drawing on tacit knowledge and common practice as well as more abstract things like science. This is a very good thing, too, because there are inherent compromises and blind spots in any social plan or set of institutions, which can vary in importance depending on the situation, so that if we are to subordinate norms to needs, the norms must be fluid and specific. Chosen by those who will follow them.

This means that I cannot present a single set of social norms or institutions as “what anarchy must be,” as many vulgar market anarchists and communist anarchists do. I can provide examples of one way things can work, a toolkit of various historically-inspired ideas about how to do things, which can provide a lifeline for those worried about what life might look like after capitalism and the state, and I can even try to predict to some degree how things might fall out, whether and in what way stability would probably be achieved, but I cannot provide a social plan and enforce it. That would be to introduce a hierarchy in Stirner’s sense, a subjugation of the individual will and interest to an idea, an abstraction — a phantom.

I don’t often do a good enough job, in my opinion, making it clear that when I’m laying out a social plan, I’m just laying out something which can exist comfortably alongside other people’s ideal plans, and which can also be disassembled and used piecemeal by other people for their own ends. Implicitly, that’s how I always think of things; in fact, I fully intend for what I write to be egoistically raided for good ideas by others, but it often doesn’t fully come through. So in this series of articles, I want to examine and explain more forcefully and in more detail why and what I think about this, so that it’s laid out clearly for all to see.

I have a second reason for writing this series of essays as well. The implications of this approach to anarchy, a sort of egoist-inspired Neo-Proudhonian “anarchism without adjectives,” are far-reaching, and I think both interesting and very fruitful. It provides all of the openness and opportunities for synthesis and balance that anarchism without adjectives implies, while adding in a social science to back up predictions and understand how all this can mesh together, all built on top of the staunch individualism and vital rejection of authority that egoism brings to the table. This is really a fascinating and fertile intellectual space with a lot to offer, and I don’t think enough people are actively working within it to produce new theory or at least new elaborations. That’s why I want to write this essay about it: Wilbur has done an amazing job resurrecting Proudhon’s theory and exploring how it can be understood and synthesized with egoism and other ideas, producing a fertile trove of insights, and now I want to add my hopefully more accessible voice to the chorus, taking the nuggets of directly applicable anarchist ideas Wilbur has left behind for others to find and elaborating on them, pounding them home, and making them available to others.

Table of Contents

This series of essays will have two parts. The first essay has more to do with the egoist and anarchist without adjectives side of my project, and the second will have more to do with my Neo-Proudhonian theory, but by the end, I hope that you’ll be able to see how they fruitfully interact and compliment each other. Here’s a table of contents with a brief summary of each part:

  1. Why Revolutionaries Become Reactionaries
    In part one of this series, I will explain why insurrectionary anarchism is superior to revolutionary anarchism, and how this is related to totalizing social plans;
  2. Eternal Social War: A Theory of Social Forces
    In part two of this series, I will lay out my Neo-Proudhonian theory of how societies work, including my understanding of unity-collectivities, collective force, social forces, and how all of these interact with the individual to decide the fate of each other and our society as a whole. Then, I will apply that social theory to explain why anarchism is better than other ways of organizing society.