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The Possibility of an Anti-Humanist Anarchism

by Joff

The Concept of Humanism and the Promise of Enlightenment

What is humanism? As a philosophical worldview humanism celebrates what it claims to be the highest and most distinct qualities of the human being. Several standard interpretations of humanism argue axiologically that human beings possess superior value over other entities. Humans are seen as dignified creatures worthy of the highest consideration. The rational, autonomous self free from the dictates of unconscious animality is cherished as the site of humanity's unique potentiality. The "soul" or "mind" is a centripetal concept. The universe, in a sense, revolves around the "soul" or "mind".

The Renaissance humanist Vico supports this point when he says :

[it is] a truth beyond all question that the world of civil society has certainly been made by man and that its principles are therefore to be rediscovered within the modifications of our own human mind".

Humanism in the Renaissance returns to Greece and Rome to re-birth the concept of paideia. Humanism in this sense celebrates education in the humanities. From another perspective pleasure and toleration are foregrounded as responses to a debilitating religious dogmatism, zealousness and asceticism of the Medieval Age. To add a further distinction we ought to note the role the concept of God plays in humanist formulations. Humanism is by no means inconsistent with nor is it incompatible with a religious point-of-view. In fact, humanism, on the whole, defends and is tolerant of the right to express religious convictions.

Yet, the twentieth century has witnessed the growth in what we could call a godless humanism. The latter is a much stronger form of humanism for it jettisons the concept of God as the overarching valuer. The human subject, for example, in Sartre's aggressive existential humanism, is unique with regard to its capacity for self-determination and is the source and creator of all (moral) value. Renaissance humanism compared with its twentieth century form stutters as an inchoate adventure to openly express atheistic tendencies. In summa : humanism once traced to a truly human setting in which God is expelled from the universe, confers human beings with the responsibility as the ultimate demiurge and sole intrinsic value bearer and bestower. Man left to himself fulfils his potentialities as a free, creative and rational social being.

Bookchin's insights into the predicament of modernity are illuminating. If Enlightenment is the bursting asunder of humanity's "self-imposed tutelage" (Kant) then anti-Enlightenment is the return of the cultural dark ages of superstition, mysticism, and the irrational. Bookchin's search for a re-enchantment of humanity traces the tendencies which desired the cold and manipulating instrumentalism that led to the gas chambers. What Bookchin's thesis, in effect, boils down to is a defence of ecological subjectivity and the role it plays in the unfolding of self-consciousness. Malthusianism, sociobiology and deep ecology are chastised for their apparent antihumanism.

Yet, Bookchin criticises the employment of an abstract conception of "Man" or "Humanity" but baulks at a way of thinking that decentres subjectivity such as sociobiology which notes the impact genetics and the environment have on the constitution of human beings. "Man" is more than a white-male-middle-class entity. "Man" unifies the composite of ethnic, gendered, sexual differences. Bookchin is cautious to invoke a one-sided biological emphasis which exists at the expense of underemphasising the role consciousness plays in human affairs. Similarly he attacks deep ecology for its anti-anthropocentric impulses which Bookchin contorts into misanthropic statements. Contra biocentrism, Bookchin defends what is "essentially" unique in the human species. From a social ecological perspective, humanity registers a unique potentiality for rationality. At its best, a socio-ecological awareness is a lived rationality which fosters cooperation, empathy, a sense of responsibility for the biosphere, together with new ideas of community and consociation. Bookchin's Hegelian social ecology claims that it is a transcendence of philanthropos and misanthropos. The quintessence of the nature of each conjunct is preserved in a more complex whole. Social ecology thus aims to transcend the anthropo-centric and the bio-centric for Bookchin's organic dialectic implies no centricity. Bookchin conceives "first nature" and "second nature" in terms of organic flow from one to the next which contravenes classical logic's demand for stable identities. Bookchin re-configured humanism is thus an "ethics of complementarity". The culmination of an "ethics of complementarity" is located in the utopos of a "free", nonhierarchical, nature. "Free" nature is thus the synthesis of "first" and "second" nature.

The Enlightenment is read by Bookchin largely in terms of a liberation movement away from superstition and domination. Historically, anarchism is derived from the Enlightenment belief in the powers of reason to rationally re-order society (revolution) and its placing of value in humanity as a unique species with unique capacities. Classical humanism is perceived by Bookchin as a largely regressive movement looking backwards historically towards ancient Greek society and their positive values concerning education and civilisation. Enlightenment humanism, on other hand, moved away from the classical viewpoint towards a more prospective position. It is here that anarchism and the Enlightenment share a common thread. Liberation from superstition also meant the prospective reconstruction of society along communistic lines. Thus spoke Bookchin: "Enlightened humanism is a hopeful message that society can be rendered not only rational but wise and not only ethical but passionately visionary".


In thinking the "outside" of Hegel's confinement of reason, Deleuze avoids the necessity of firmly establishing identities and concluding the resolution of opposites. Resistance to the "infernal machine" can thus entertain practices which are not subsumed under the banners of grand "Ideals" and class antagonisms crying out for supersession. Nodal points of opposition in the form of desires, experiences and events thus assume an autonomy that is not easily recuperable in terms of the System. Temporary autonomous zones (TAZ) of experimentation are thus perceived as troublesome for they as such go uncoded.

Dialectical reason in a sense therefore sacrifices difference for the sake of unity and codification. PS political philosophy, as enunciated by Deleuze and Guattari, moves away from conventional political strategies and thinks instead that revolution is possible when particular configurations of desires are allowed to freely congregate. A nomadic politics is thus tactical, experimental and exploratory. New aesthetic, moral, political and ecological codes are engendered by such tactical praxes.

However, one must guard against the unthinking acceptance that a nomadic politics is a universal panacea for the maladies of what one is opposing. Plant rightly notes that codification and stability are valuable in countering the movements of the State apparatus, though generally, tactical politics shuns the urge to make dogmatic universal judgements. Tactical manoeuvres thus protect themselves against impulses that congeal a fluid tactical alliance into a prescriptive strategy applicable to every social, political, and ecological situation. Molecular revolutions are best considered as local, heterogenous and ephemeral phenomena capable of reflecting global issues, even though they function by subterranean (transversal) connections. In fact, it could be argued that local actions are effective if they thought about on a global level.

Rosi Braidotti in her book Nomadic Subjects has noted that a different kind of nonparty eco-politics is possible if we think coalitions in terms of the temporary and mobile (nomadic). Ecological and feminist affinity groups, for example, synchronise and congregate for the purposes of limited and local upsurges. This point again affirms the possible coalitions or "mutant machines" to be made between anarchism and politically informed PS philosophy.

The issues are rendered even more complex by Perez. Perez sets out to demonstrate the conjunction between desiring-production, schizoanalysis and an an(archical) and nonhier(archical) way of life (a Nietzschean innocence of becoming). Brackets are employed by Perez to make a distinction between a specific and new kind of micro-politics and a relapse into old models of the party-vanguard.

Central to Deleuze and Guattari's theory of desire is the perception that desire is both active and reactive. Desire offers the double possibility of desiring its own repression (fascism and Reich) and liberation (futural possibilities). What is of importance for ecopolitics is the claim by Deleuze and Guattari that Capital is itself propelled towards its own limit of collapse and exhaustion by an immanent logic of deterritorialisation-reterritorialisation.

According to this form of analysis, the unconscious of the employer/employee alike are both bound up with Capital's schizophrenic desire to channel (recode) and experiment with the flows of the universe (capital, desire). It could be argued then that the wreaking of ecological destruction is desired by desiring-machines desiring-production given that hierarchical structures (the collusion between Oedipus and Capital) disseminate schizophrenic desire deep into the heart of the socius.

"The schizophrenic deliberately sets out the very limit of capitalism : he is its inherent tendency brought to its fulfilment; its surplus product, its proletariat, and its exterminating angel. He scrambles all the codes and is the transmitter of the decoded flows of desire".

An(archical) machines are precisely those machines that experiment in confounding the codes and liberating the flux of revolutionary desire. The point to be made is that PS anarchism is constructed here by rethinking an(archism) as no longer definable as the abolition of the State. An(archism) and non(hierarchical) modes of organisation are then experimental ways of living, feeling and thinking. An(archy) is thus an ethics of nonfascist living.

One of the problems of Perez's reading of PS and anarchism is that he reads an(archism) with rose coloured spectacles. Deleuze and Guattari's conception of lines of flight and experimentation as emitting a danger of their own is underexplored by Perez. Too-rapid deterritorialisation engenders its own kind of despair. The outcome from lines of experimental flight are not necessarily positive. "You don't reach the BwO, and its plane of consistency, by wildly destratifying".

Yet, Deleuze and Guattari are ambivalent on the matter of an(archic) deterritorialisation for they also claim that "one can never go too far enough in the direction of deterritorialisation : you haven't seen anything yet". Hegel was the arch-enemy of Deleuze. In this respect, the PS of Deleuze clearly objects to the absolute demand for inclusiveness by Hegel. For Deleuze, there are forces and dynamics which are alien to the smooth functioning of the Hegelian totality.

The other qua otherness disrupts the "closure" of systems. The other is not necessarily "external" to the system for it is conceivable that alien becomings reside in the interstices. A discordant otherness is not necessarily negative. Deleuze is not content to formulate a "negative" philosophy like the dissonant "atonal" thought of Adorno. The other does not oppose itself to the Same in order to affirm itself. It does not contradict contradiction in order to derive a positive moment. Above all, discordant otherness is potentially a creative and essentially positive enterprise.. Singularities or one off events are precisely those flashes which disrupt the smooth incorporation and workings of the system. Deleuze describes the flashes of intensity as singularities or lines of flight which have a "nomadic" trajectory.

What is celebrated by Deleuze is a process of creativity which exists in its own right and is thus not under the sway of the unfolding of negativity. The schizophrenic process is the model for the scrambling of the codes and the utterance of an alien language which confounds the system of Freudian psychoanalysis (a stuttering within one's own language). Desire on this account is positive, it does not "lack" fulfilment for it is essentially productive.

The Domination of Nature and Marx's Concept of Nature

Utopia has no-place "now", not even in our everyday lives, not even in our collective imaginations. Communism is the "now" anachronistic no-place of past adventures. Yet those adept in theoretical matters still say that communism is a humanism regardless of concrete evidence to the contrary. The young, bold, and more interesting Marx desired the revolution that would supersede all hitherto known revolutions. He desired the advent of a truly human society, a humanist society. What germinates under communism, for the Red Terrorist Doctor, is a "practical humanism" demanding the abolition of private property.

However, given that "practical humanism" limits itself to the mediation of private property, it cannot introduce a "positive humanism" for as such it concerns itself with a negative relation to private property. "Positive humanism" returns man's alienated self to itself. Furthermore, such a positive moment inherent in humanism dialectically abolishes the alienation between man and nature, man and his species being, and man and his fellow comrades. Positive humanism, in essence, is thus the positive transcendence of private property (mediation) and self-estrangement. The proletarian once lost in the desert of unjust dessert returns to his unique (human) social essence.

It is difficult not to read the early Marx as propounding an anthropocentric standpoint regarding nature. Indeed, the Paris Manuscripts of 1844 in this sense can be read as a document of theoretical anthropology. Nature is examined as the stuff or material of human activity. A nonartefactual nature, for a disciple of Hegel, is strictly nothing for man.

Marx thus accepts the idealist's view that the world is mediated through the Subject. Without this mediation nature is no thing. Nature's value is posited if there is a valuer behind the valuation. Nature on this account is not intrinsically valuable. In Hegelian terminology, "first nature" lacks a concept. The first nature of natural evolution is contrasted with the second nature of human society (law, society, economy). On Marx's account, pre-history (that is non-communist history) is subject to the blind dictates of natural evolution. Thus, Marx makes no absolute distinction between nature and human society. They constitute a differentiated unity and as such are dialectically intertwined.

Marx's complex dialectical prose are often difficult to unpack. However, we can read the sentence

"Society is therefore the perfected unity in essence of man with nature, the true resurrection of nature, the realized naturalism of man and the realized humanism of nature"

as a refusal to divorce the human and nonhuman spheres into a rigid dualism. What is noted is nature's blind and undomesticated residue that still remains within human society. Human self-consciousness is differentiated from cyclical natural history.

The revenge of nature : Adorno and Horkheimer offer insights into the effects of the dialectic of Enlightenment upon human society and nature. Nature (as internal psychological nature) seeks to exact revenge against those who reduced "her" to mere material for human purposes. Adorno and Horkheimer consider the phenomena of German fascism as a specific instance of the revenge of nature upon history, a "revolt of nature" against the domination it has suffered. The domination of nature at the heart of the Enlightenment project has a human cost which is that man purchases domination at the expense of their own natures. The nature of concrete humans must be suppressed in order that it may dominate others. "The suppression of nature for human ends is a mere natural relationship". The consequence is a denial of pleasure and a warped psychological development.

Adorno makes the point better : "All the contrived machinery of modern industrial society is merely nature tearing itself to pieces". Reason is in a sense still too natural. Thus, the Enlightenment spawns an antithesis deleterious to the nature of the human and the nonhuman. Barbarism is spawned by modernity's drive for technological and social progress.

Adorno and Horkheimer follow Nietzsche in thinking the Enlightenment as a complex unity of reason and domination. By the use of modern techniques of control, barbarism nestles itself deeper into modernity's social and psychological fabric. The domination of nature ensures that man's once primal station in nature is transcended and then forgotten. Thus modernity's radical humanism, which celebrates humans as unique and deserving especial consideration, carries with it the latent threat of species imperialism which ultimately returns to haunt human relations themselves. Thus, the domination of nature intertwines itself with social hierarchy and control. The resolution of the antagonistic predicament of civilisation and barbarism, Adorno maintains, does not lie in the domination of the object by the imperialising Cartesian subject. There is no final reconciliation of the dialectic of Enlightenment in a perfect unity of subject and object or in a return to an original, primordial state.

On a more positive reading of Adorno we can see the flight of man from nature as ultimately progressive though Adorno's Marxism would view the reconciliation of man and world in a future utopia as at best misguided and at worst pernicious. "Adorno steadfastly refused to succumb to any nostalgia for a prehistorical era of plenitude and harmony". For Adorno the problem must address the issue of remembrance. One of the preconditions of scientific control is the obliteration of the memory of a past, or of a nature that was free from instrumental reason. As Adorno and Horkheimer say : "All reification is a forgetting". In summary, the origin of the domination of nature is found as a contradiction within nature itself. The domination of nature is a consequence of nature in so far as it is the result of an inability of self-reflection on the part of human beings. On a rare positive note, the memory of suffering that results from the domination of nature may yet animate the project of liberation.

In tracing modernity's "ambiguous" transformation of reason into rationalism, "the cold logic for the sophisticated manipulation of human beings and nature", Bookchin rethinks the domination of nature with a renewed emphasis upon the structural social causes of domination, namely hierarchy. Contra the Frankfurt School, Bookchin's thesis perceives the domination of nature as emerging from the hierarchical domination of man by man. The conceived limited perspective of orthodox Marxism's analysis of the class composition of Capital is transcended by a philosophy which discloses the structural undergirdings of other pre-capitalist formations and possible formations yet to come (anarchist utopia).

Bookchin, to remind ourselves, is a defender of the uniqueness of human being's capacity for self-consciousness and hence rationality. Yet, reason's objective pursuit is transformed into an instrumental, subjective reason. What Bookchin is intent on demonstrating is the dissolution of objective reason (a reason that incorporates ends as well as means) through the practice of reason as instrumental reason. Whilst Adorno's Victorian reading of Enlightenment "progress" claims that progress necessitates increasing control over internal and external nature, Bookchin believes that the desire for control and domination stems in part from the unconscious of reason itself which retains a residue from pre-rational times. Subjectivity for Bookchin is not synonymous with reason. Reason, from a socio-ecological perspective, is subsumed under a much wider evolution of subjectivity within nature. The failure to incorporate rationality within the development of subjectivity, Bookchin contends, lies at the heart of Critical Theory. A resituated rationality would introduce nature within the compass of sensibilite. This project, Bookchin contends, lies outside Critical Theory's intellectual tradition.

However one of the problems in thinking about an (objective) ethics in which nature is the matrix of ethical substance is found in Bookchin's reference to a requisite ecological wholeness of human beings which is founded upon unity in diversity. Presumably an ecological unity in diversity implies nonhierarchical relationships.

Yet Adorno contends that a reconciliation of opposites negates the preservation of difference in the quest for identity. Adorno shows that unity in the Hegelian system (identity-in-difference) implies domination : subject over the object, mind over matter, universal over particular, history over nature. Adorno claims that a negative philosophy is required which forsakes the final positive moment or reconciliation of identity. Negative philosophy is thus the philosophy of nonidentity in which the reconciliation of difference evades domination. On this reading, identity thinking is animated by a hostility to the other. The domination of all that is deemed other is thus implicit in Hegelian positive-identity thinking.

Bookchin recognises that the other is never fully allowed to be other but finds no quarrels with the incorporation of otherness into his own anarcho-Hegelianism.

"Hegel's concept of transcendence (aufhebung) never advances a notion of outright annihilation. Its negativity consists of annulling the "other" in order to absorb it into the movement toward a richly variegated completeness ".

But "variegated completeness" misses the point. The other qua other is not recognised as pure positive difference for the other's alterity is reduced or transformed by the very act of incorporation. The other like Heidegger's being is never let be. Thus, the complex expression unity-in-diversity conceals a potential structure of domination and hierarchy.

One of the central counter-arguments regarding the claim that evolution evolves towards ever greater degrees of subjectivity, differentiation and complexity is the conspicuous absence of historical evidence of linear social progress. By omitting a final teleological drive in evolution it is difficult to see how we are progressing towards greater ecological sensibility.

Bookchin's anarchist "free-floating" (Mannheim) position apparently is able to decode or extrapolate potentialities that reside in the here and now and posit their actuality in the future. But lacking a teleological structure Bookchin's analysis is substantially weakened. Bookchin simply cannot account for humanity's warped development without positing transcendent ethical ideals. Nor for that matter is the eliciting of a "free nature" inhering objectively in first and second nature instantly discernible. Bookchin claims that a transcendent "free' nature would "diminish the pain and suffering that now exists in "first" and "second" nature". "Free nature, in effect, would be a conscious and moral nature, an ecological society". But, to what extent is such objectivity a question of mere subjective preference and personal proclivity? How would Bookchin diminish the pain and suffering that exists on "first" nature if we mean by "first" nature the animal kingdom? Is it desirable that one should interfere in such a nature? After all, pain and suffering are necessary consequences from the perception of nature as "red in tooth and claw". It seem that Bookchin does not have a mandate for such proclamations.


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