Anarchism without Anarchism: Searching for Progressive Politics

26 Nov

I apologize for this long blog, but I wanted to introduce a perspective about progressive politics, and citizen engagement, at a time of fallen hopes. I would welcome feedback, and hope that more reflections can be shared as to how to recover confidence in a political outlook dedicated to justice, ecological viability, and human community. This essay will soon appear in the British journal Millennium as part of its special issue devoted to this theme.



I.  Language Matters

Recent explorations of the anarchist heritage are to be welcomed, bringing to a contemporary intellectual audience the politically and morally inspiring thought of such major thinkers as Bakunin, Kropotkin, Proudhon, and more recently, Harold Laski and Paul Goodman.[i] This rich tradition reminds us strongly of the relevance of anti-state traditions of reflection and advocacy, as well as the indispensable role of cooperation, non-violence, community, small-scale social organization, and local solutions for human material needs if the aspiration for a just and sustainable society is ever to be rescued from its utopian greenhouse. There is every reason to celebrate this anarchist perspective for its own sake, although in a critical and discriminating manner. Non-violent philosophical anarchism has a surprising resonance in relation to the ongoing difficult search for a coherent and mobilizing progressive politics in the aftermath of the virtual demise of Marxist/Gramsci theorizing, as well as even socialist thought and practice.[ii]

At the same time, it should be acknowledged that this anarchist tradition has accumulated a heavy public burden of discrediting baggage, which adds to the difficulty of relying upon it to engender a new progressive mobilization within the current global setting. An immediate barrier to the wider acceptance of philosophical anarchism as a tradition of thought is its strong identification with exclusively Western societal experience, despite the existence of some affinities with strains of late Maoist praxis, especially the distrust of bureaucracies and political parties.  In contrast, Gandhi’s inspiration and influence is often explicitly or implicitly evident in some recent attempts to espouse nonviolent anarchist perspectives as, for instance, in the Green Revolution that has been ongoing in Iran since their contested presidential elections of June 2009.  Even within the Western framework of political thought and action there are two formidable obstacles to reliance on anarchism as political posture resulting from widespread public confusion and media manipulation.

First, is the widely endorsed stereotype of the anarchist as a sociopathetic bomb thrower, an understanding given credible cultural currency by way of Dostoyevski’s great anti-terrorist novel, The Devils. In our post-9/11 world it is unrealistic for public opinion to separate this dominant image of the anarchist from its preoccupation with terrorists and terrorism.[iii] To refer to someone as an anarchist invokes a discrediting term that is generally accepted as such without any qualifications. At best, ‘anarchists’ are popularly depicted as those seeking to turn peaceful demonstrations into violent carnivals of anti-state behavior, radical activists with no serious policy agenda. The mainstream media blamed anarchist elements for the violent disruptions that took place during the infamous ‘battle of Seattle’ at the end of 1999, which was the first massive populist expression of radical resistance to neoliberal globalization. In certain respects, by playing the anarchist card, the media and pro-globalizing forces were able to divert attention from the expanding populist resistance to non-accountable, non-transparent, anti-democratic, and hegemonic institutional actors (World Bank, IMF, and WTO). Most of those participating in Seattle neither regarded themselves as anarchists nor wanted to be portrayed as marching in step behind the black banners of  anarchist militancy. The self-proclaimed anarchists at Seattle were also sharply criticized as ignorant about and indifferent toward the substantive anti-globalization concerns that motivated most of the demonstrators.

Secondly, our ideas about international relations often associated with Hobbes to the effect that relations among states are characterized by the absence of government, and in realist thinking that emanates from this source, the irrelevance of law and ethics to the pursuit of order and security on a global level. This Hobbesian orientation has been refined in various ways, but most relevantly for my purposes, by the still influential thinking of Hedley Bull and several followers loosely grouped in what is known as the English School.[iv] Bull brilliantly chose the title The Anarchical Society for his most important publication, providing a useful variant of realist thinking by keeping the link to the Hobbes with the adjective ‘anarchical’ while taking account of the actual ‘societal’ contributions of international law, the relevance of human values, cooperation among states for mutual benefit, the managerial role of major states in moderating conflicts and disciplining outlier states.[v] Bull’s basic classical realist understanding of world politics was made explicit in his strong criticism of those that followed what he called ‘the Grotian tradition’ supporting efforts to transcend the sovereignty of states by an increasing and, in his view, unwarranted reliance on international law and institutions. Bull was harshly critical of such undertakings as the Nuremberg initiative holding leaders of states of defeated Germany criminally accountable for policies pursued and of the naïve belief that the United Nations could be empowered to act autonomously as the keeper of world peace.[vi] In other words, for Bull the pursuit of peace, justice, and security is best managed by the pluralist dynamics of a system of sovereign states, without a higher law or decision maker. He was, in this respect, as suspicious of and opposed to world empire as he was about world government. This anarchical presumption of sovereign states as the ultimate and preferred arbiters of world order ignores the more recent ecological and energy pressures of the anthropocene age, which do not seem to be manageable by states acting singly or cooperatively due to the long time horizons, uneven adverse impacts, and magnitude of required adjustments.[vii] Of course, such pressures were not apparent at the time that Bull formulated his argument, although a somewhat similar issue was presented by the existence of nuclear weaponry, and the risk of catastrophic nuclear war.[viii]

Within the domain of academic approaches to international relations this work of Bull and the English School is somewhat more congenial to efforts to achieve humane global governance than is the case for its main cognitive rivals in the United States, yet it also far too wedded to the permanence of the states system as the optimal form of attainable global governance.[ix] Structural realists assessing international relations on the basis of anarchic structure shaping a self-help system of rational action try to find regularities of state behavior in the spirit of scientific inquiry, ignoring normative concerns as well as the benefits of cooperative arrangements.[x] Along analogous lines the work of game theorists and rational choice analysts in the manner of Thomas Schelling and Buena de Mesquita seek to combine assumptions about the degree to which policies of foreign states, especially bearing on the use of force and war/peace issues, are guided by self-interested calculations of instrumental rationality, as epistemologically confirmed by empirical assessments.[xi] Influenced by the model-building approaches of economists these more formal approaches to the study of international relations, which exert growing influence in the United States, have virtually no connection with the outlook of philosophical anarchism or even with the approach of classical realists in the Bull vein that includes contributors such as Vincent and Wheeler.

Bull’s kinship with anarchism is based on viewing the relations among states as a field of human studies in which the potential for behavior in accord with legal and ethical norms is posited as desirable and where opportunities for cooperative action and the promotion of the global public good is affirmed. What sets Bull on a different path from that taken by philosophical anarachism is his overriding concern with pluralist order among sovereign states and his acceptance of the war system as a central feature of world politics. In contrast, the philosophical anarchist views freedom and nonviolence as core value. For Bull order is established among unequal states exhibiting more or less prudence and wisdom in calculating their interests, and benefitting accordingly from the study of history and philosophy.[xii] In essence, Bull, as well as other members of the English School believe is that the best hope for moderate international relations is for a careful assessment of the deep lessons of diplomatic history as further informed by philosophical reflection on the nature of leadership, war, and justice, as well as scrupulous review of past concrete instances of statecraft to learn from failures and successes.[xiii] Bull takes for granted that it will be sovereign states that operate as the dominant political actors for the foreseeable future, and it is not helpful to wipe them off the global map by normative fiat. Anarchists have never devoted systematic attention to how their anti-institutional, anti-war, and nonviolent attitudes would play out globally if ever put into practice. Anarchists are uniformly disposed to deconstruct the state and to repudiate war as the path to human security. It is a genuine challenge for a revived tradition of anarchism without anarchism to develop a global vision that allows its overriding concern with freedom of the individual, autonomy of the group, and harmony among groups to be responsive to the planetary imperatives of a sustainable social life in the early 21st century. The most sustained effort to propose a somewhat anarchist oriented vision of planetary civilization was written without reference to anarchist ideas. Despite this, critics of large-scale polities as regressive presences , perhaps most coherently articulated in Leopold Kohr’s The Breakdown of Nations, can be read as an anarchist approach to world politics.[xiv] It is not surprising that Kohr’s work has made no impact on subsequent international relations writing, and to the extent remembered at all it is by such writers as E. F. Schumacher and Kirkpatrick Sale who were preoccupied with the downsizing  of scale in all forms of political and economic activity. This outlook believed that drastic reductions of scale and size were the indispensable basis of humane and ecologically robust societies and patterns of living.[xv]

Another aspect of Bull’s work antithetical to anarchism is the managerial role assigned to what he calls the ‘Great Powers.’[xvi] He attributes this role to the significance of inequality as a defining feature in the existing world of states, and limits the notion of Great Power to those states that correlate size and resources with preponderant military power.[xvii] Such an elevated status resting on military capabilities directly challenges the philosophical anarchist predisposition toward nonviolence as a necessary precondition for a just and humane society. As Bull puts it, “Great powers contribute to international order in two main ways: by managing their relations with one another; and by managing their relations with one another as to impart a degree of central direction to the affairs of international society as a whole.”[xviii] In this sense, the anarchical international society as conceptualized by Bull and other classical realists are totally at odds with the philosophical anarchist postulates of desirable modes of societal and political existence.

The argument being made is that there is much to be learned from both societal and internationalist forms of anarchist thinking, but that neither is sufficiently responsive to the historical circumstances nor normative priorities of the early 21st century. It would be possible to follow Derrida and speak of ‘an anarchism to come,’ that is drawing selectively on the positive heritage but making it attuned to the contemporary situation, and this could produce arresting intellectual results. Even if this happens, the strong cultural and populist prejudices against the anarchist and anarchism could not be overcome. Any avowal of anarchism as a political orientation would appear to have only a narrow sectarian appeal, and even this restricted to Western audiences. Furthermore, thinking about the anarchical society, even if ambitiously extended far beyond the boundaries of the achievable as set by Bull and his followers, is not helpful with respect to the altered global setting which is inherently reliant on statist approaches that are ill-adapted to meet current global scale challenges such as climate change. Indeed the dysfunctionality of a decentralized world order is most likely to give rise to some kind of imperial extension of statism and depostic patterns of rule, which would be regressive with respect to a wide range of emancipatory goals.[xix] The kind of agency and political action that is most promising from an emancipatory perspective now features non-state actors, transnational social movements, the rise of a human rights culture, and turns toward ecumenical religious and spiritual outlooks. Conceptually, such an agenda could be quite easily incorporated into a 21st century re-description of philosophical anarchism (although not the anarchical society of states)[xx], but unfortunately the language and cultural associations of the anarchist legacy are so misleading and diversionary as to make an embrace of anarchism a disempowering intellectual and political option in any public discourse. For this combination of reasons, the position taken here with respect to policy and program is the advocacy of “anarchism without ‘anarchism.’”[xxi] In effect, a covert borrowing and affirmation of principal anarchist positions and values found in the serious nineteenth and early twentieth century treatments of anarchist thought, but without overt reliance. I suppose this posture could be characterized as ‘stealth anarchism.’[xxii]

I would also draw a distinction between anarchism as political practice and public discourse where the perceptions are so warped as to make the use of the terminology confusingly unacceptable and more academic discourses where reliance on philosophical anarchism might be useful and enriching, especially by linking contemporary efforts at extending this discourse quite explicitly with its intellectual forebears. This proposed dichotomy of treatment seems justified because of the peculiarly contradictory history of the anarchist idea, which signifies recourse to violence in the public mind and a principled commitment to nonviolence as principle and praxis among serious students of philosophical anarchism.

II. Searching for a New Progressive Politics

The normative political priorities of the early 21st century, which includes issues left unresolved from the past, can be set forth as follows:

–opting for radical denuclearization (as opposed to ongoing reliance on a two-tier approach based on selective and discriminatory non-proliferation);

–protecting the global commons (applying the precautionary principle; extending ‘polluter pays’ to all forms of harm as a form of strict liability as in affixing BP responsibility for Deep Horizon oil spill in Gulf of Mexico; regulating geo-engineering and high risk technologies);

–addressing global warming (reducing greenhouse gas emissions to manageable levels on an emergency basis to ensure that global warming does not exceed 2 degrees centigrade; extending assistance to harmed and threatened vulnerable societies currently experiencing harmful effects of rising earth temperatures, e.g. sub-Saharan Africa, Pacific islands, Asian coastal regions);

–acknowledging issues associated with water scarcity and peak oil, and planning for equitable distribution of safe water as well as transitions to post-petroleum circumstances;

–eliminating poverty and drastically reducing economic inequalities (moving beyond the ethos of neo-liberal globalization);

–enhancing global democracy (accountability, transparency, democratizing participation; reducing economic, and other forms of inequality);

–diminishing hard power (militarism) and strengthening reliance on soft power (diplomacy, peaceful settlement, nonviolent coercion—‘legitimacy wars’);

–achieving self-determination above and below the level of the state (communities of choice and autonomy displacing imposed communities of artifice and domination);

–encouraging de-globalization and local self-reliance  (building cooperative, sustainable, voluntary communities at various levels of social order);[xxiii]

–sensitivity to claims of indigenous peoples to maintain traditional ways of life, and to self-determination and sovereignty goals.

Such an ambitious catalogue of normative priorities exhibits the contours of a possible progressive politics to come. There is a deliberate mixture of elements that can be described as urgent and immediate, and others that are less pressing, but no less relevant. The most pervasive critique of current thinking and practice is to contend that the modernist reliance on the sovereign territorial state, understood in Weberian terms as possessing a monopoly of legitimate violence (except for valid private claims of self-defense) is increasingly anachronistic and dysfunctional when it comes to global policy and problem-solving. The primacy of the state as the foundation of human community and the state system that continues to constitute the operative framework for world order needs to be superseded, or modified,  ideologically and behaviorally as rapidly as possible. It is no longer capable of providing minimal security for even the strongest states, much less serve the public good of the state system when considered as a totality.[xxiv] The American situation, especially since the 9/11 attacks is emblematic of this anarchistic and militarist mode of response structure, exhibiting the futility of hard power dominance, often articulated as ‘preeminence’ (a military machine that costs as much as the aggregate expenditures of all other political actors in the world!), the neglect of soft power solutions (bullying Iran about its nuclear program rather than seeking a region, and then a world, without nuclear weapons), and a resulting acute sense of fear and vulnerability (‘homeland security’ without a sense of security within or without).

Given this global setting, it is not surprising that neoliberal globalization aggravates these underlying conditions of insecurity and vulnerability.[xxv] The global economic crisis that started in the United States in 2008 has increasingly been blamed on the greedy opportunism of those seeking to maximize their profits and incomes, especially in the financial sector while simultaneously disguising the resulting burdens on the citizenry by offering unsustainable credit arrangements and facilitating cruel forms of indebtedness. In effect, the most exploitative form of social contract ever negotiated in a capitalist setting came into being after the end of the Cold War. It was encouraged and enabled by the prevailing neoliberal creed of virtually suspending governmental oversight and responsibility in relation to the private sector rationalized by a horde of economists beneath the idiot banner, ‘the market knows best.’ This extreme form of social insecurity became prevalent (‘the Washington consensus’) in the period following the collapse of a socialist alternative, which allowed a triumphalist capitalist consensus to no longer felt challenged in the slightest by socialist values and programs. Capitalism no longer had strong incentives to offer society the semblance of ‘a human face.’

It is a sad commentary on our times that the most coherent and mobilizing voices declaiming these present realities come from the extreme right. The former left does not even provide a sense of oppositional tension. The public reacts to this unidirectional assault on their political sensibilities by a seeming to become more and more receptive to fascist approaches to discontent: hyper-natioanlsim, intensified militarism, xenophobic immigration policy, and an endless search for enemies within and without state boundaries. These pre-fascist clamorings seek to end the insecurities of the age by a combination of geopolitical thuggery, political authoritarianism, and ecological denial in relation to global warming, peak oil, and water scarcity. The absence of a left is partly a reflection of demoralization resulting from the Sino-Soviet experiences and partly a result of the ideological exhaustion of state-centrism as a transformative nexus, providing sites for radical reform and revolutionary possibilities. While the traditional right is partly resurgent, partly in denial, the traditional left (including ‘the new left’) languishes in depression, having been largely expelled from public space in most of the West-centric world. A partial exception to this dreary picture is provided by the rise of social democratic and populist left politics in several Latin American countries, perhaps reflecting the long regional struggle to loosen the chains associated with American hegemony and intervention.

The claim here is that we need to go beyond the progressive promise of traditional left reformist and revolutionary outlooks by selectively reviving the direction and underlying orientation of the tradition of philosophical anarchism.[xxvi] This revival is partial and selective, repudiating that portion of the anarchist orientation that relies on violent tactics in some of the most visible manifestations of anarchism in action, although almost totally absent from the serious anarchist literature. It also enlarges and updates the anarchist orientation by incorporating several compatible, yet non-anarchist, sources of inspiration. These allied modes of thought and practice that seem to enrich the contemporary search for a progressive politics include the worldviews and practices of many indigenous peoples, the theory of and experience with legitimacy wars, the imprint of Gandhi and non-violent struggle generally, social and digital networking, preferential treatment of small-scale and local community, and the transnational advocacy of ecological sustainability and environmental justice.[xxvii]

III. The Re-framing of Anarchist Thinking

The essential qualities of that part of the anarchist legacy that is linked to contemporary efforts to give substance and direction to progressive politics are the following: a primary reliance on non-state actors as the bearers of emancipatory potential; seeking change on the basis of coercive non-violence and soft power, including seeking control of the moral high ground with respect to social and political conflict; reverence for nature and ancient wisdom. There are several focal points that receive an emphasis in policy and values oriented assessments, including resisting predatory globalization, hegemonic geopolitics, and political centralization (that is, opposition to centralizing programs, policies, and visions of the future whether imperial or federalist in character).[xxviii]

Globalization-from-Below. I mention very briefly my own attempt to develop a coherent alternative to the kind of neoliberal forms of economic globalization that were gripping the political imagination during the 1990s, creating the impression that there were no alternatives. In simplifying the originality of this period, I drew a sharp distinction between ‘globalization-from-above’ and ‘globalization-from-below,’ the former being alliance of governments, banks, and corporations that were generating a particularly menacing form of ‘predatory’ capitalism that had an unprecedented global wing spread, was intensifying inequalities, invalidating regulatory oversight, and operating without significant ideological opposition.[xxix] In opposition, was an emergent collection of local, national, regional, and global social movements, initiatives, and visions, labeled ‘globalization-from-below.’ Increasingly, these developments were establishing empowering connectedness through participation at world UN conferences held during the 1990s, demonstrating against meetings of international financial institutions and groupings such as the G-7, G-8, and G-20. Also through reliance on the Internet, mobilizing around local struggles for different forms of justice, and withdrawing legitimacy from the state as the source of security, protection, and identity. A critique of representative and parliamentary democracy was an additional element of this response to globalization. Such forms of democracy were viewed as largely shams or worse, seeking validation, not by contributions to the wellbeing of peoples within a spatially delimited and nationally identified constituency, but merely by the procedural ritual of elections conferring consent of the governed to governance by elites that were capital-driven rather than people-oriented.

What made this critique of globalization-from-above and the perspective of many of those espousing globalization-from-below a virtual species of anarchism in outlook was the turn away from either situating hopes in a reforming state, a revolutionary seizure of state power, or through the global institutionalization of authority via the United Nations or the establishment of world government. Furthermore, the analysis of predatory world capitalism viewed the state as being outmaneuvered as a source of public good in several ways: by the rise of the global private sector, by entrusting security to a highly militarized and globalizing hegemon allied with international corporate and financial interests rather than with the national citizenry, and by situating historical agency in a variety of overlapping arenas of struggle and resistance exhibiting self-reliance and a rising confidence in soft power forms of action. In effect, what exists is an emergent movement for global equity and substantive (as distinguished from parliamentary) democracy.

The Post-modern Prince. In a comparable fashion, Stephen Gill, borrowing from Gramsci, who of course borrowed from Machiavelli, insists that the center of political gravity is moving away from ‘the prince’ who controls from above, as well as away from the transformed vision of social order in Gramsci’s affirmation of the defining and hoped for historical agency of the Communist Party.[xxx] Now Gill comes along proposing a ‘post-modern’ adjustment, re-situating the prince in populist movements of peoples challenging the established order in a variety of ways. Also focusing on the dual priorities of overcoming neoliberal globalization (held responsible for various forms of impoverishment, exploitation, and inequality, as well as for a non-sustainable plundering of the planet) and challenging the military reinforcement of this unacceptable economistic world order and the global gendamerie role played by the United States. From a progressive standpoint Gill sees the displacement of the state through the entrenchment of “the world market as the principal form of governance” as marginalizing organized labor, revolutionary political parties, and working in overall harmony with such state capitalist countries as China, Malaysia, and Singapore.[xxxi] Gill dismisses the effort to relegitimize world order by positing the idea of ‘sustainable development,’ and locates his hopes for a humane future in the emergence of political forces “imagining new possibilities and the making of history” and guided by a societally oriented innovative type of ‘organic intellectual.[xxxii] In depicting these new possibilities Gill draws from a variety of sources to posit a set of conditioning factors: a long-term perspective on change; a broadening of the traditional justice agenda to include gender, race, and nature; reliance on a ‘movement of movements’ without the requirement of a unifying coherent ideology; diversity of organizational forms, ideological perspectives, and policy goals, with shared use of digital tools to achieve effective results and empathy for all those victimized by the established order; due to non-territorial and local sites of activism not easily containable by normal instruments of state police power; and formulating responsive ‘feasible utopias’ and ‘myths’ that project empowerment, autonomy, dignity, and  security, and thus providing reassurances that there are benevolent alternatives to neo-liberal globalization.[xxxiii] Such a progressive imaginary resembles in many of its aspects the approach and activity of the World Social Forum, and represents an antidote to its repudiated step-father, the World Economic Forum, the incubator of neoliberal tactics, strategy, and hegemony during the 1990s.

The affinities with anarchism, as specified here are sufficiently prominent as to require only slight explication. The essential affinity is the loss of credible agency by states, imperial projects, and the state system to address successfully the ethical challenges of inequality and exploitation, the economic failures of regulation and stability, and the ecological urgencies associated with global warming and critical resource depletion.  Yet this circumstance still generates both hope and an alternative imaginary with respect to the future based on the activation of a multiplicity of social forces the world over and a corresponding dynamic of envisioning a just and desirable future for the planet and its peoples.  Building community

and livelihood while marginalizing the role of the state and hegemon is the essence of the anarchist imaginary, whether inside or outside the porous boundaries of the sovereign state. Of course, in this century affirmation of community-based polities while indispensable is insufficient. There is an urgent need to redress the imbalances produced by many decades of ecological depravity, and this presupposes both a planetary ethos, as well as cognitive and enforcement procedures, that is, relevant knowledge and the capacity to act as and when necessary.[xxxiv] Whether 21st century philosophical anarchism can meet this challenge will determine if the legacy must be disregarded and superseded to produce the kind of progressive politics needed at this stage of history and species evolution. It is along such lines that a continuation of the kind of social and moral orientation of the great anarchist luminaries seems so promising, although probably not framed in anarchist language so as to universalize the appeal of core anarchist values and avoid the sort of backlash that is associated with ideological postures discredited by mainstream conventional wisdom. In this regard, anarchism shares the same fate as ‘communism,’ ‘socialism,’ ‘the cultural revolution,’ ‘the left,’ and ‘Maoism.’[xxxv]

Multitude. The middle volume of the brilliantly provocative trilogy of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri offers a way forward to achieve a progressive politics that could be deepened by drawing on the work of philosophical anarchism.[xxxvi] Despite this there is present in this work a somewhat defensive tone that is expressive of the difficulty of relying on anarchist frames of reference. Hardt and Negri directly confront the criticism, ‘You are really just anarchists!’ and seek to deflect its force by contending “that our political alternatives are not limited to a choice between central leadership and anarchy.”[xxxvii] The confusion in language arises from anarchy being generally understood as chaos, confusion as in Yeats’ famous line “mere anarchy is reigned upon the world,” which is most respects the opposite of what it means to espouse philosophic anarchism as thought or practice, a complex imaginary animated by a hopeful vision of human potentiality in opposition to the modernist actualities of exploitation, oppression, inequality, and centralization. It is this dormant anarchist worldview that these authors undertake to explicate and advocate in a suggestive and stimulating manner. At the same time this ambiguous interface between anarchy/anarchism is one more reason to avoid articulating progressive politics in an explicitly anarchist language, however rearticulated to make clear that there is no intention to endorse either bomb-throwers or aimless tumult.

In their sophisticated presentation, Hardt and Negri situate the quest for progressive politics in a kind of transitional phase during which period the peoples of the world, the multitude, are joined in a messy, uncoordinated, and diverse process of discovering and formulating a set of ‘common interests.’ Such common interests of the multitude should be distinguished from older ideas of a ‘general interest’ by the stress on the transnational singularities represented and affirmed as constituting what is common and original among the diversities of the multitude (“multiplicity of the multitude”).[xxxviii] The cohering energy that unifies the quests of the multitude arises from the encounter between the biopolitics of social forces seeking to realize through struggle the conditions for a satisfying life and the biopower of those dedicated to upholding a variety of neo-liberalisms and militarisms.[xxxix] In a moving passage the animating energy of this advocacy of biopolitics is love: “Without this love we are nothing.”[xl] Such a revolutionary stance with respect to the established order resting on an amoral logic of reified capital accumulation represents the countervailing logic of a humanized commitment to emancipatory politics of a radical character. In this regard, there is a resemblance to the radical restructuring of human existence with respect to the fundamentals of economic, social, political, and cultural order that is the essential shared message of philosophical anarchism.

In a more distinctly anarchist idiom, Hardt and Negri identify the most critical feature of their summons to the multitude to be an all out assault on sovereignty, that is a challenging of constituted power of all kinds from above. In their words, “[T]he multitude today needs to abolish sovereignty at a global level. This is what the slogan ‘Another world is possible’ means to us: that sovereignty and authority must be destroyed.”[xli] This is not an ahistoric call, but rooted in the need to take account of historical specifiicities: “The political project of the multitude, however, must find a way to confront the conditions of our contemporary reality.” To do this adequately requires a ‘new science’ described as “a new theoretical paradigm to confront the new situation.”[xlii] Although taking full account of the problems afflicting the planet, this perspective generates a certain non-utopian optimism based on their observation that “never before has the restlessness for freedom and democracy been so widespread throughout the world.”[xliii]

In my view, Hardt and Negri offer us a valuable, if deliberately indirect and probably unintended reinvigoration of anarchism that takes full historical account of a networked world reality (globalization-from-below) that is challenged by global forces that threaten the health, wellbeing, and even survival of humanity (globalization-from-above). The multitude is the differentiated ‘whole’ that must both create the conditions to enable the ‘parts’ to flourish in particular time/space domains but also must address the integrated and imperial mainly unified ‘whole’ that currently oppresses and endangers the ‘parts,’ especially through the mechanisms of the sovereign state, the imperial enforcer, and neo-liberal conglomerate.

Legitimacy Wars. There is abundant occasion for collective despair if the vital signs of the planetary condition are assessed and then projected into the future, especially given the variety of conscious and unconscious techniques being deployed to ensure widespread and deep denial of ‘the real’ by the mass of humanity. The psychological mechanisms of denial operate politically to insulate self-destructive behavior from exposure, criticism, and eventual repudiation.  A pattern of denial is evident with respect to the continuing reliance on a neoliberal approach to global economic policy despite the disquieting actualities of climate change, peak oil, poverty, and human suffering. Such an assessment is discouraging about our prospects for constructive behavior in the near future. At the same time, there is one virtually unnoticed counter-trend that is more encouraging: namely, the declining efficacy of hard power approaches to security and conflict by way of war and militarism, and the increasing success of reliance upon soft power approaches as measured by political outcomes. From the anti-colonial wars in which the militarily weaker side consistently prevailed to the anti-apartheid campaign that transformed racist and militarist South Africa to the ongoing solidarity movement that is fighting for Palestinian self-determination on a symbolic global battlefield relying on the weaponry of coercive non-violence (including boycott, divestment, and sanctions) there is a pattern of political outcomes that defies realist calculations based on military superiority. These Legitimacy Wars are being won by the side that commands the high moral ground, and is able to mobilize a variety of symbolic sources of grassroots support. Illustratively, it was not sovereign states or even the United Nations that effectively challenged the unlawful blockade of the civilian population of Gaza but humanitarian missions of political activists and citizen pilgrims on board the Freedom Flotilla that has finally caused sovereign Israel to acknowledge, at least in part, its responsibilities to the 1.5 million Gazan civilians living under siege and terrifying oppression.[xliv] What is becoming manifest is that in many settings of conflict the weapons of the weak, the biopolitical multitudes, are prevailing over the weapons of the strong, the biopower arenas of sovereign authority. At the same time, caught in their maelstrom of failures, without the political will or imagination to move outside the militarist mentality, the horrifying repetition of wars fought with post-modern weaponry (cyber war, drones) that makes killing as impersonal as possible goes forward with larger and larger investments in the futile quest for the ultimate enactments of ‘shock and awe,’ as well as a continuing effort to wage an utterly misguided permanent war in battlefields around the world in response to the 9/11 attacks. Instead of learning from failure and defeat, governmental elites are captives of a militarist, hard power imagination that is incapable of coping with security challenges while causing widespread death and destruction.

The realities of soft power legitimacy war offer a vindication of an anarchist confidence in human potential for nonviolent political resolution of conflict and the pursuit of justice. At the same time, the disastrous failures of hard power state centricism, relying on money and technology to achieve goals through threats and uses of force illustrates the realist fallacy given the post-colonial setting of the 21st century.[xlv] It is my view that these developments in a globalizing world, with the coordinates of globalization as yet undetermined, provides the basis for an extension of philosophical anarchism to the under analyzed domain of international relations.[xlvi]

IV. A Concluding Remark

The argument being put forth is that part of the anarchist impulse based on the search for freedom, community, and autonomy has a surprising relevance to constructing a globally responsive progressive politics. It is both instructive and inspirational. Some expressions of this search seem to confirm this claim of anarchist affinities. Despite this, it seems desirable to avoid any explicit reliance on anarchism because it has been so widely discredited in the marketplace of ideas and does have an alienating Western intellectual provenance. Beyond this, it is too easy to conmingle the words ‘anarchic’ and ‘anarchistic,’ thereby creating profound disquiet. What the anarchistic legacy does provide is greater confidence in the appropriateness of a radical imaginary of emancipation that is strongly biased in favor of dispersal and decentralism and dismissive of making the big bigger in the name of security and order. Part of the contemporary situation is to move beyond discredited centralizing ideologies and governmental visions of a secure and satisfying human future, while acknowledging that there exists global interconnectedness, complexities, and fragilities that must be given their due in a progressive politics viable for the 21st century.

There are two final observations. First of all, the fundamental anarchist impulse can be actualized to varying degrees by living locally and in accord with the mandates of voluntary simplicity. In this sense, it is not utopian, although it may be shielded from the harsher truths of the contemporary world by enjoying the paradoxical benefits of security provided by a reasonably well-governed state.  Such a search for sustainable community can draw inspiration from the persistence of indigenous nations as well as from the writings of Gandhi, Tolstoy, Paul Goodman, Murray Bookchin, E.F. Schumacher, and countless others who can be loosely associated with anarchist thought and practice.  It is my argument that this perspective should form the nexus of anarchism without anarchism.

There is a second strand of thought that involves the combination of the present circumstances of ecological emergency with the decline of hard power effectiveness that creates a new set of opportunities for an intellectual renewal and adaptation of the tradition of philosophical anarchism to the present historical moment.[xlvii] Here is may be useful to connect explicitly with the earlier writings of Bakunin, Kropotkin, Proudhon, and others, and write and reflect unselfconsciously in the spirit of anarchism with anarchism, or put differently to create a discourse of philosophical neo-anarchism. Here, since the concern is the way in which the world should operate and be organized for the benefit and security of all, the allegations of utopianism must be taken seriously, but not as the occasions for closure of debate and deliberation. After all, since the future is essentially unknowable, what is perceived at present as ‘utopian’ may yet come to pass. Surely, the peaceful transformation of apartheid South Africa to an unfolding form of multi-ethnic constitutionalism seemed utopian until it happened. Besides, by holding a critical mirror before the present, and providing an alternative, can liberate the political and moral imagination from the current gathering sense of doom and gloom. In the more pristine workshop of academic debate, the popular denigration of anarchism and anarchists is not nearly so relevant, and there may be more to gain from retaining the old language than by abandoning it.

[i] See especially the recent articles by Alex Prichard, “Deepening Anarchism: International Relations and the Anarchist Ideal,” Anarchist Studies, 2010; Prichard, “What can the Absence of Anarchism tell us About the History and Purpose of International Relations,” Review of International Studies, forthcoming 2010; compare Richard Falk, “Anarchism and World Order,” in J. Roland Pennock & John W. Chapman, eds., “Anarchism and World Order,” in Anarchism (New York: New York University Press, 1978), 63-87.

[ii] This demise has at least two dimensions: the collapse of the Soviet state, along with the documentation of its continuous reliance on massive repression; the abandonment of socialist economic policy by China, along with its regressive ‘socialist’ political order and spectacular market success story.  Beyond this, the Marxist-Leninist form of revolutionary thought seems ill-adapted to 21st century imperatives, being premised on the revolutionary violence of workers, material abundance, industrialism, state power, and a world of warring sovereignties. For these reasons Marxism-Leninism has lost its emancipatory potential, even its historical relevance, although socialist values continue to animate many anti-capitalist struggles, as well as resistance to neo-liberal globalization.

[iii] Even such sophisticated observers as Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida viewed the post-9-11 world as an aspect of ‘the age of terror.’ See Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

[iv] See Tim Dunne, Inventing International Society: A History of the English School (Basengstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1998).

[v] Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977)

[vi] Bull, “The Grotian Conception of International Society,” in Herbert Butterfield & Martin Wight, eds., Diplomatic Investigations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), 50-73. See also Bull, Note 5.

[vii] On the anthropocene see Simon Dalby, Security and Environmental Change (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2009); Dalby, “Geopolitical Trends in the Near Future: Welcome to the Anthropocene!” paper presented workshop on “The World in 2030: Geopolitics and Global Climate Change,” UCSB/UNU, June 24-25, 2010; also Richard Falk, “A Radical World Order Challenge: Climate Change and the Threat of Nuclear Weapons,” Globalizations 7 (Nos, 1-2): 137-155(2010); also Slavoj Zizek, Living in the End Times (London, UK: Verso, 2010).

[viii] Daniel Deudney mounts a strong conceptual argument for limited world government as essential for the management of nuclear weaponry. See his chapter entitled “Anticipations of World Nuclear Government” in Bounding Power: Republican Security Theory from the Polis to the Global Village (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 244-264; see Jonathan Schell, The Fate of the Earth for deep analysis of the non-sustainability of world order in which state actors possessed nuclear weapons; also see E.P. Thompson, “Notes on Exterminism, the Last Stage of Civilization” in Thompson, Beyond the Cold War (New York: Pantheon, 1982), 41-79.

[ix] For an excellent study of international relations that both explicates the British School and relies upon analogous modes of inquiry see Robert Jackson, The Global Covenant: Human Conduct in a World of States (Osford, UK: 2000), 58-76.

[x] Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979: see also Waltz, “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better,” Adelphi Papers, International Institute for Strategic Studies,

[xi] Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960).

[xii] This is the central theme of Bull’s The Anarchical Society, Note 5. As he puts it, p. xii: “Of course, in common with most men [sic] I do attach value to order. If I did not think of of order in international politics as a desirable objective, I should not have thought it worthwhile to attempt this study of it.”

[xiii] For an example of the latter, see the principal work of Bull’s most talented student, R. John Vincent, Non-Intervention and International Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974); another excellent work in this vein, sensitive to

human values is Nicholas J. Wheeler, Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000).

[xiv] (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1978). It is noteworthy that there is not a single reference in the Kohr bibliography to an author that would be considered to fall into the IR tradition. See also Kohr, The Overdeveloped Nations: The Diseconomies of Scale (New York: Schocken Books, 1978),

[xv] Most notably E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: A study of Economics as if People Mattered (London,UK: Blond & Biggs, 1973) and Kirpatrick Sale, Human Scale (New York: Putnam, 2nd ed., 1982).

[xvi] See Bull, Note 5, 200-229.

[xvii] See Bull, Note 5, 201-202.

[xviii] Bull, Note 5, 207. Michael Mandelbaum, an American writing in a spirit that is akin to the British School except for his enthusiasm for the role of the United States as a virtual world government, is similarly convinced that without such a presence chaos would diminish the wellbeing of all actors. But to favor this kind of centralism in a pluralist framework for human relations contradicts the fundamental anarchist claim and insight. See Michael Mandelbaum, The Case for Goliath: How America acts as the World’s Government in the twenty-first century (New York: Public Affairs, 2005).

[xix] See important strictures on departing from the ‘international’ and embracing the ‘global’ in R.B.J Walker, After the Globe, Before the World (New York: Routledge, 2010).

[xx] It should be observed that the anarchical society hypothesis was always antithetical to the anarchist vision of a good society. At its core, the former was statist and pluralist, while the latter was anti-statist and decentralist.

[xxi] The attractiveness of the anarchist tradition in the context of the present is well formulated in a stimulating book. See Simon Critichley, Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of commitment, politics of resistance (London, UK: Verso, 2007), especially 119-128.

[xxii] For useful survey see George Woodcock, Anarchism (New York: World Publishing Co., 1971); for a lively narrative account of a mixture of popular and academic perceptions of historical anarchism with a somewhat provocative linkage to contemporary concerns about transnational terrorism see Alex Butterworth, The World that Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents (New York, Pantheon, 2010).

[xxiii] A congenial alternate listing of normative vectors with affinities to the spirit of non-violent anarchism can be found in the preface of Boaventura de Sousas Santos, ed., Democratizing Democracy: Beyond the Liberal Democratic Canon (London,UK: Verso, 2005), xxx-xxxiii.

[xxiv] Of course, arguments about the adequacy of the state system from an ethical perspective have existed throughout the entire modern period, indeed ever since the original Westphalian framings of world order in the early 17th century by such figures as Grotius and Hobbes. One line of rationalist critique was associated with Kant’s view of the moral evolution of international political life, enabling a possible ‘potential peace,’ resting on political republicanism and demilitarization. What seems different over the period since 1945 is the apocalyptic shadow being cast over planetary life, initially by the prospects of large-scale nuclear war and more recently by ecological collapse, both caused by human not natural agency. For recent assessements see Falk, Zizek, Note 7. It should be observed that always human experience has been haunted by apocalyptic dangers, but previously due to threats to human existence posed by natural disasters such as disease, drought, flooding.

[xxv] For three excellent analyses along these lines see James H. Mittelman, Hyperconflict: Globalization and Insecurity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010); Joseph A. Camilleri & Jim Falk, Worlds in Transition: Evolving Governance Across a Stressed Planet (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2009); Stephen Gill, Power and Resistance in the New World Order (London, UK: Palgrave, 2nd rev. ed., 2008).

[xxvi] A notable attempt to set forth a reformist program based on social democratic values was made by David Held, Global Covenant: The Social Democratic Alternative to the Washington Consensus (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2004).  But such an attempt seems too beholden to Westphalian statism to offer insight into the distinctive problems and opportunities of this historical moment. See also Anne-Marie Slaughter, A New World Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).

[xxvii] Critchley, Note 20, proceeds from a similar ethical/political standpoint, reinforced by sophisticated readings of Western philosophy.

[xxviii] There are many complexities, and tradeoffs. For instance, arguably regional forms of centralization, as in the European Union, may produce greater autonomy for ethnic and cultural minorities by weakening the internal role of the state in the lives of the citizenry. It may be that regionalism combined with transnational networking and activism is the best available strategic move to weaken the grip of the state on global policy solving and on the lives of peoples caught within the confines of  territorial sovereignty. See Terrence Edward Paupp, The Future of International Relations: Crumbling Walls, Rising Regions (New York: Palgrave, 2008

[xxix] Richard Falk. Predatory Globalization: A Critique (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1999)

[xxx] Stephen Gill, Note 23, especially 237-269.

[xxxi] Note 23, 258.

[xxxii] Note 23, 261, 265.

[xxxiii] Note 23, 266-268.

[xxxiv] For one perspective see Richard Falk, “The Second Cycle of Ecological Urgency.” In Jonas Ebbesson & P. Okawa, eds., Environmental Law and Justice in Context (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

[xxxv] But see Alain Badiou’s extensive writings, particularly relevant is The Communist Hypothesis (London, UK: Verso, 2010)

[xxxvi] See Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin, 2004).

[xxxvii] Note 34, 222.

[xxxviii] Note 34, 356, also see 355-356.

[xxxix] Note 34, 206, 348-358.

[xl] Note 34, 353. “ serves as the basis for our political projects in common and the construction of a new society.” at 352.

[xli] Note 34, 353. This idea of destroying sovereignty is specifically focused on the primacy of the state as the locus of sovereign biopower. “Sovereignty in all its forms inevitably poses power as the rule of the one and undermines the possibility of a full and absolute democracy.” At 353.

[xlii] Note 34, 353

[xliii] Note 34, 353. Hardt and Negri confront the criticism that their faith in the multitude and biopolitics is utopian, at 226-227.

[xliv] On May 31, 2010 the Freedom Flotilla carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian assistance to the entrapped civilian population of Gaza was attacked in the middle of the night by Israeli military forces while sailing in international waters. The attack resulted in nine deaths of Turkish nationals in the lead vessel in the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara. The lethality and brazen unlawfulness of the attack caused widespread international outrage, and a temporary rupture of relations between Turkey and Israel. The resulting pressure also caused the Israelis to announce a termination of the blockade with respect to all items other than arms and ammunition and to break with their practice of non-cooperation with UN inquiries into their behavior in occupied Palestine by agreeing to participate in an international panel appointed by the UN Secretary General.

[xlv] For an elaboration see Richard Falk, “”Nonviolent Geopolitics: Rationality and Resistance,” forthcoming 2010 in festschrift dedicated to Johan Galtung.

[xlvi] A notable, yet preliminary and inconclusive effort to do just this can be found in Thomas G. Weiss, “The Tradition of Philophical Anarchism and Future Directions in World Policy,” Journal of Peace Research 12:1-17 (1975).

[xlvii] For useful depictions of the ecological emergency see Gwynne Dyer, Climate Wars:

The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats (Oxford, UK: One World, 2010); Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change (London: Earthscan, 2010).

12 Responses to “Anarchism without Anarchism: Searching for Progressive Politics”

  1. kester2 November 28, 2010 at 5:28 pm #

    Thank you for this post, Professor Falk. A lot to digest, but those of us looking to find an end to capitalist globalism can find much to consider. Two questions.

    As a person long interested (and somewhat committed) to Buddhism and Taoism, interested to know what you consider the role of these Eastern philosophies in providing non-western ideas that will enlarge the multiplicity of the multiplicity. Taoism is already very much anarchism without anarchism. The Chinese Communist Party is apparently thawing toward it lately.

    Isn’t the non-state actor, al Qaeda, already showing the power and influence of such groupings (Unfortunately in the service of an imperative antithetical to anarchism)?


    • Richard Falk November 29, 2010 at 9:09 am #

      Thanks for this perceptive comment. You are correct that Taoism embodies the spirit of anarchism without anarchism! I will think further about the suggestive idea of a multiplicity of the multiplicity. Yes, al Qaeda qualifies but not as a progressive impulse. With greetings.

      • kester2 December 24, 2010 at 7:58 pm #

        May I ask a favour, Professor Falk? I am working on a novel that treats the US drone warfare as an international crime. Is it possible that Article 8 (c)(iv) of the Rome Statutes – “The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all judicial guarantees which are generally recognized as indispensable.” could be considered to apply to drone assassinations in Pakistan and Yemen? Of course, academic unless the US could be obliged to sign and ratify the Statutes, but my novel covers that.

        Chris Hoare;

      • Richard Falk December 25, 2010 at 11:11 am #

        Yes, definitely. The only counter-argument would involve the uniqueness of the ‘global battlefield’ relating to the ‘war on terror.’ Philip Alston has the best analysis of the international law status of drones. It can be found, I think, on the website of the UN Human Rights Council or by direct request to him; he is a law professor at NYU School of Law. It is also arguable that the USG is bound by customary international law, which also embodies a prohibition against targeted assassinations, as well as by the Geneva Conventions governing international humanitarian law. Wishing you well with your novel. Happy holidays..

  2. Björn Lindgren January 28, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    Dear Richard,

    Here is my comment on your open-minded article on anarchism.

    Inspired by philosophical anarchism and a recent deep reading of Alan Ritter´s excellent “Anarchism. A Theoretical Analysis”, Cambridge University Press, 2010, I have begun to say to people I meet and befriend:

    You are an anarchist, but you don´t know it, yet. We are all well educated, well informed, share deep norms, values, and goals, but as citizens and in our everyday working life, we are treated as slaves.

    When we check the basic values of anarchism and humankind – cooperation, mutual aid, dialogue, solidarity, self-realization (self as Self, including all sentient beings), respect for learning and real work, the virtue of local community and thinking globally,* and an ecolocial lifestyle – most people agree. And are able see themselves and others in a more grown-up perspective.

    As a follower of the buddhadharma (Buddhism) and inspired by anarchism, I do not have the answers, but I am willing to work with others to find long-term and viable solutions. A good start is to cultivate an open mind in uncertain times.

    Cheers, Björn Lindgren

    * Arne Naess´ book, “Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle”, Cambridge University Press 1989, is also very relevant these days.

    • Richard Falk January 28, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

      Thanks, Bjorn, for your comment, which is very helpful to me, as well as congenial in spirit. I will follow up with both books.

      • Björn Lindgren August 12, 2011 at 9:50 am #

        Dear Richard,

        Even though your time for reading new books must be limited, I dare to suggest still another title, well fitting the Anarchism theme:

        Sukie Colegrave: The Spirit of the Valley: Androgyny and Chinese Thought, Virago, London 1979.

        Like Ritter´s Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis, Colegrave´s book is a pearl. Her investigation into psychological androgyny departs at the moment when she at early age suddenly realizes that, from now on, she and her twin brother, will not share the same sphere of identity and intimacy.

        In the further search for psychological completeness, she uses Chinese thought as a example and inspiration. No sursprise, the old Taoist and Ch´an masters get the higest praise.

        I have never seen a book like this.

        Richard, thank you for your untiring and compassionate work for decency, justice, and human rights for all beings. Thank you for your presence and inspiration!

        Warm regards,
        Björn Lindgren

        Björn Lindgren
        Törsbogatan 79
        S-388 91 Vassmolösa
        Tel. 0480 – 41 19 82

      • Richard Falk August 12, 2011 at 10:55 am #

        Dear Bjorn:

        I am touched by your message, and appreciate your warm and supportive words.

        As soon as possible, I will try to find Sukie Colegrove’s book, which does sound remarkable.

        With warm best wishes, Richard

      • Björn Lindgren August 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

        Hi Richard,

        and readers of my recent comment: a slip of thought, or perhaps, still not:

        I don´t really mean human rights for all beings. Most likely, beetles would prefer beetle-rights, and wolfs wolf-rights, and so on.

        In this way, I do think , that all beings share the equal right to self-realization. A realization far away from a small, narrow self.

        In the buddhadharma tradtion, this is expressed through the idea of Indra´s net, where all beings mutually reflect each other endlessly in a subtle web of interdependence.

        A useful model for our efforts to make happiness, equality, and liberation possible for all.

        Cheers, Björn

  3. Jim Catano February 8, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    Thanks, Richard, for a most thought-provoking and well-documented piece. I’m wondering how you feel the Occupy Movement is doing as far as adopting the “the best of anarchism?”


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