how to be an anarchist

If ‘anarchy’ is organization without authority, then the physical world exists almost exclusively in anarchy. In fact, as anthropologist Pierre Clastres argues, societies without a state aren’t evolutionarily ‘behind the times’ but constitute well-functioning human orders that anticipate the state and intentionally ward it off.[i] But, while some self-identified anarchists choose to be rocked to sleep to lullabies of primitive dreamtime, this project is something altogether different. Anarchism, as opposed to anarchy, is understood here as a conjunctural practice carefully constructed to intervene within problematics both historically and materially singular. Anarchy existed first as a nightmare to transcendent authority – first to the Priest and then to the King – whose paranoia began to secrete its own atheism, and only later was it taken up and given a material existence. Just as communism was the specter haunting Europe in the midst of an industrial revolution, as parts of the world now slip into post-industrial decay, anarchism extends as a figure of chaos hiding in the shadows of all ‘society.’

If statecraft is capture, then anarchism is a mode of politics uniquely attentive to contemporary governance.  Especially because of its attentiveness to power and recuperation, anarchism(s) provide a limit-based challenge to many foundational concepts of political theory.  As a form of thought, anarchism problematizes reducing politics to the state form.  As a practice, anarchism provides concrete strategies to materially challenge governance.  And in the realm of social movements, anarchism provides both critique of traditional left activism and examples of alternative forms of movement.


[i] Intentionality here is in the Foucaultian sense of a ‘strategy without a strategist.’

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2 thoughts on “how to be an anarchist

  1. There’s protest, or opportunistic forms of anarchism whose performances accord to a particularly useful script often employed to describe anarchism as a whole, and conversely, a train of thought indicative of a preference in favour of abandoning contemporary situations to their own devices. Unfortunately, the paraphrased term ‘providing new content to depopulated fiction’ from “How is it to be Done” doesn’t seem to have much in the way of applicability to the former example, because many people still exist there.

    1. Kant famously agrees with Frederick II, who allows for a very specific form of protest, “Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, but obey!” If that is all that protest is, public debate without disboedience, disruption, refusal, or withdrawal, then anarchism is merely a better way to perform one’s civic duties.

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