Anarchism and Post-Modernism

Anarchism is the engine of post-modernism and post-modernism is the spirit of anarchism in the sense that both are the zenith and apex of radical social change, radical plurality, radical equality, and pragmatic-egalitarianism in its purest form. According to Errico Malatesta, anarchism “in common with socialism, has as its basis [and] point of departure…equality”1, just as post-modernism “is a social universe…formed by…plurality…[whereupon] all things [are in essence] equal”.2 For Lyotard, post-modernism “is an attitude that [is]…libertine or libertarian”3, meaning, it is a form of anarchism, a form of thought that is anarchistic in nature.  Consequently, anarchism and post-modernism are synonymous. Anarchism and post-modernism are synonymous in the sense that post-modernism is epistemological anarchism in thought-form; i.e., narrative-form, and anarchism is pragmatic post-modernism in active-form; i.e., methodological-form. Specifically, anarchism is post-modernism operating on the ground, working in and across the micro-recesses of everyday life, physically attempting to deconstruct the totalitarian unity of bourgeois-capitalism into a post-modern, socio-economic plurality. Likewise, post-modernism is anarchism operating in theory, working in and across the micro-recesses of everyday life, mentally attempting to deconstruct the totalitarian unity of bourgeois-capitalism into an anarchist, socio-economic plurality. In short, anarchism and post-modernism are synonymous in the sense that they have similar foundations, namely, equality, plurality and a radical antipathy towards meta-narratives, including the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism.

First and foremost, anarchism is pragmatic-deconstruction, that is, the post-modern critique actualized in material-form, while post-modernism is the anarchist critique actualized in conceptual-form, both champion plurality, heterogeneity, and egalitarianism among all narratives. Anarchism is the methodology of post-modernism and post-modernism is the epistemology of anarchism, hence, why both are synonymous with each other; i.e., two sides of the same coin, two peas in the same pod, wherefore the goal for both is to “maximize as much as possible the multiplication of small narratives…[whereupon] none is privileged”.4

For both, anarchism and post-modernism, “all…positions are equivalent”5, which should equitably translate into what Proudhon refers to as “the necessary condition of [an] equality of fortunes”.6 For both anarchism and post-modernism an equality of positions means every narrative should be on an equal plane, wherefore none is more privileged than another. Simultaneously, for anarchism and post-modernism, an equality of positions means as well an equality of fortunes, wherefore no-one is legitimately more privileged than another in possessing a greater fortune than his or her neighbour. As Proudhon states, “society necessarily [implies] equality”7, while, “property is the negation of equality”8, that is, “property is anti-social”.9 Property negates society, it demonstrates that “property and society are utterly irreconcilable”.9 Ultimately, meaning, there is no legitimate basis for the inequality of fortune and property in the sense that all positions are equivalent and inherently equal in status, undermining any notion of legitimacy, pertaining to the unequal distribution of property and fortune.

In effect, the principle of equality underlying anarchism and post-modernism, reveals that all inequalities of property and fortune are illegitimate, unfounded and impeded socio-economic development. As Proudhon states, “the principle of equality kills…the principle of property”10, and “when property is widely distributed [via equality], society thrives [and]…when property is concentrated [via anti-equality], society abuses itself”.11 It is for this reason that Proudhon argues “property originates in violence”.12 For it cannot exist “without robbery and murder”13, due to the fact that property and fortune contradict the inherent principle of equality underlying existence, that is, socio-economic existence. Society suffers when property thrives too much. Consequently, there is no legitimate reason and/or logic for the existence of bourgeois-capitalism other than force, coercive force. As Proudhon articulates, “property rests first on war and conquest, then on treatise and agreements”.14. And since there is no real legitimate reason for the inequality of property and fortune other than violence and force, treatise and agreements serve only to legalize inequality, fortunes and robbery, which is exactly what anarchism and post-modernism have always implied with their radical critiques and analyses. Power decides not verity when, according to Lyotard, “all opinions are acceptable”.15

Notwithstanding, for both anarchism and post-modernism, decision-making-authority and the distribution of power should be guided by the maximization of plurality. According to Lyotard:

What we need today in order to make decisions cannot be the idea of totality, or of unity,…it can only be the idea of a multiplicity or a diversity. [Namely, to] always act in such a way that the maxim of your will may…not be erected…into a principle of universal legislation…[but] into a principle of… multiplicity.16

For Lyotard, it must be plurality that guides any decision-making-authority and any distribution of power in the sense that it must be the maxim of plurality which maximizes the greatest amount of plurality for all, rather than any notion of a despotic totality and/or unity. In similar fashion, according to anarchist, Errico Malastesta, pluralism is the guiding principle of any decision-making-authority and distribution of power in the sense that there is [no] one solution to…social problems, but a thousand different and changing solutions in the same way as social existence is different and varied [both] in time and space…Unanimity of thought and identical conditions are impossible [and]. . . in my opinion, undesirable.17

For Malastesta, unanimity of thought is undesirable because it tyrannizes over the necessity of plurality. For him, the necessary principle for “a network of needs and ideas which reciprocally give rise to and re-enforce one another”18 must be based on plurality rather than unity. The point for Malastesta is the creation of a plural “intelligent decentralization”19, wherefore, in effect, according to Lyotard, “a multiplicity of small narratives”20 is manifested, devoid of any overarching meta-narrative, specifically, the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism. The concept of plurality lies at the core of both anarchism and post-modernism as both are attempts to dissolve all forms of totalitarianism, both conceptual totalitarianism and material totalitarianism, into a socio-economic plurality of multiple nodes of power and decision-making-authority.

Likewise, for anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, the objective of anarchism is to “create…[a] diversity of ideas, interests and aspirations”.21 The point of any form of anarchism is to create and “to embrace [an] infinite multiplicity and diversity of interests…[and] of needs”22, within the loose parameters of a post-capitalist, anarchist socio-economic formation. Similar to Lyotard and his notion that “there is no reference [, or norms,] by which to judge”23, Bakunin in a similar line of thought argues:

It is impossible to determine a concrete, universal…norm. The life of each…is subordinated to a plethora of different historical, geographical, and economic conditions, making it impossible to establish a model of organization [, both conceptual and/or material,] equally valid for all. Any such attempt would be absolutely impractical. It would smother the richness of… life which flourishes only in infinite diversity.24

In many ways, this is what anarchism and post-modernism are fighting for as they fight against the implementation of a unitary world-view; i.e., meta-narrative. The goal for both anarchism and post-modernism is to prevent the implementation of a unitary meta-narrative onto existence. Namely, a meta-narrative which eliminates or seriously curtails pluralist freedoms, by confining natural heterogeneity into a specific, highly-condensed, artificial meta-narrative and world-view, a meta-narrative and world-view, which denies the natural plurality of human existence, the fount of all freedoms. According to Michel Foucault, a world-view or meta-narrative, does nothing but “impose…the same norms and a certain structure of thought [upon society] that …men [and women]…cannot escape”25, which, in the end, negate, according to Bakunin, “diversity…and those differences [that]…constitute…the abundance of humanity”.26

In fact, this is what anarchism and post-modernism are attempting to override and overcome, both conceptually and materially, namely, the tyranny of any singular, overarching meta-narrative, which can impose an ironclad unified set of “homogeneous…regularities…[upon humanity; i.e., a totalizing] discursive formation”27, which can govern all the workings of micro-narratives, circulating in and across the stratums of everyday life. The point that the micro-narratives of anarchism and post-modernism are trying to make is that, through plurality and greater pragmatic-egalitarianism, inequality for all can be minimized, while freedom for all, in contrast, can be maximized in the sense that “freedom of each is…realizable only in the equality of all”.28. For Bakunin, “freedom and equality are impossible without social and economic equality”29 and the only way to achieve this is through the destruction of all meta-narratives, specifically, the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, both material and conceptual.

Like the radical antipathy that post-modernism expresses conceptually for meta-narratives, anarchism expresses a radical antipathy materially for meta-narratives. For both post-modernism and anarchism, bourgeois-capitalism “authority is the negation of freedom”30, which in turn, demands an unyielding incredulity towards any meta-authority, by demonstrating that “there is no [overarching] ontology”31; i.e., intrinsic principle, which can justify any such meta-authority and/or meta-narrative. For anarchism and post-modernism, “equality and…freedom…[are] incompatible with any and all [meta-narratives]”32, including the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism. Both anarchism and post-modernism demand a freedom capable of destroying all the dogmatic, metaphysical, political, and juridical fetters by which everyone today is loaded down, which will give everybody, collective as well as individual, full autonomy in their [narrative] activities and their [material] development, delivering one and…all from [the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism.33

For both anarchism and post-modernism, “the passion for destruction is a creative passion, too”34 in the sense that it liberates plurality from the despotic clutches of tyranny, the tyranny of meta-narratives. And, this passion stems from the fact that there is no overarching ontology by which to determine any universal truth and/or judgment by. As Lyotard states, “there is no place from which one [can understand] the whole”23 in the sense that “we are always within opinion”35  because there is no real ontology, or ground, upon which to fasten any universal truth and/or judgment upon. Therefore, no meta-narrative, whatsoever, is valid or capable of being a justified, all-encompassing totality. A meta-narrative always imposes its rule on another with certain coercive force whether this is soft or obdurate.

Subsequently, like anarchism, post-modernism argues that nothing is, in reality, legitimately privileged over another in the sense that like anarchism, post-modernism ascribes to Bakunin’s notion that “the freedom of other[s]….far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary its necessary condition and confirmation”.36. The freedom of other micro-narratives; i.e., the limits of their freedom, expresses and reflects the freedom of one’s own micro-narratives; i.e., the limits of one’s own freedom. And, when a meta-narrative encroaches on the freedom of another micro-narrative, it simultaneously encroaches on the freedom of all micro-narratives. As Bakunin states, “the oppression of one is the oppression of all, and we cannot violate the liberty of one…without violating the freedom of all”.37 And in a similar anarchist fashion, Lyotard states “who [or what] is right? It is up to everyone to decide”.38  It is not a matter of a select few imposing their will on the masses, which can only be unjust, but it is the masses who must decide for themselves what is right. Meaning, it is the sum of all micro-narratives, together which must decide not a meta-narrative. And, according to Lyotard, “what will be [deemed] just ultimately is that upon which people agree that it is just”.39 That is, “it is [only] the common opinion”40 of the masses, which can determine what equitable justice is and should be. Similarly, Bakunin states, “the only kind of justice that may have authority amongst us…can only be won by and founded upon the solidarity of [all] people [living] in [full] liberty”41, not by any cabal or class living high above the rest imposing a meta-narrative on the general-population.

All in all, it is in this regard that anarchism and post-modernism are synonymous in the sense that both is founded upon, and attempts to maximize, liberty, equality, justice and plurality for all micro-narratives, in relative equal measure while denying the validity and legitimacy of any overarching meta-narrative and/or world-view. Both argue that meta-narratives oppress and impose their will on the masses, denying them the full expression of plurality, liberty, equality and justice for all. Both anarchism and post-modernism comprehend and argue that freedom and equality is fundamentally linked and based, first and foremost, upon socio-economic equality in the sense that economic “equality [is] the indispensable precondition for all freedoms”.42 To deny socio-economic equality to the greatest number is, simultaneously, to deny the greatest number their fundamental right to the means of life. Thus, the reason why the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism impedes human development via private property, money and the profit-imperative.

Notwithstanding, while the micro-narrative of post-modernism focuses its attention and deconstructive critique upon the conceptual tyrannies of meta-narratives; i.e., the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, anarchism focuses its attention and deconstructive critique upon the material tyrannies of meta-narratives; i.e., the institutions of bourgeois-capitalism. The objective of both the narrative of anarchism and the narrative of post-modernism is to marshal together, “the mother of all liberty, the tradition of revolt, …for the realization of…[absolute] freedom”43 as “freedom can be created only by freedom, by a total rebellion of people”.44 That is, a rebellion capable of completely and utterly destroying the Enlightenment meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism so as to allow the full-maturity of post-modernity and anarchism to take place.

Ultimately, the apex and the zenith of post-modernism and anarchism is to be achieved via “the free organization of [micro-narratives] from the bottom up”45, devoid of any federal state-apparatus and any overarching, governing meta-narrative. The goal is a conceptual and material people’s revolution, capable of overturning the Enlightenment meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, while, simultaneously, installing an anarchist federation/patchwork of micro-narratives, whereupon no narrative is privileged over any other. And, each shares, in relative equal measure, the sum of all socio-economic resources in and across the newly-installed, post-modern, post-capitalist, anarchist society.

All in all, both post-modernism and anarchism represent radical equality, radical plurality and a radical antipathy towards all meta-narratives. And, both post-modernism and anarchism strive for the revolutionary implementation of radical egalitarianism in and across the sum of everyday life via conceptual and physical acts of pragmatic-deconstruction.

  1. Errico Malatesta, The Method of Freedom, ed. Davided Turcato, (Edinburgh, Scotland: AK Press, 2014) p. 3. []
  2. Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thebaud, Just Gaming, Trans. Wlad Godzich, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) p. 58. []
  3. Ibid, p. 62. []
  4. Ibid, pp. 59-60. []
  5. Ibid, p. 74. []
  6. Joseph Proudhon, What Is Property?, (United-States: Loki’s Publishing, 2017) p. 75. []
  7. Ibid, p. 136. []
  8. Ibid, p. 128. []
  9. Ibid, p. 31. [] []
  10. Ibid, p. 40. []
  11. Ibid, p. 197. []
  12. Ibid, p. 98. []
  13. Ibid, p. 107. []
  14. Ibid, p. 33. []
  15. Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thebaud, Just Gaming, Trans. Wlad Godzich, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) p. 81. []
  16. Ibid, p. 94. []
  17. Errico Malatesta, Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, ed. Vernon Richards, (London: Freedom Press, 1984) pp. 151-152. []
  18. Errico Malatesta, The Method of Freedom, ed. Davided Turcato, (Edinburgh, Scotland: AK Press, 2014) p. 155. []
  19. Errico Malatesta, Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, ed. Vernon Richards, (London: Freedom Press, 1984) p. 25. []
  20. Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thebaud, Just Gaming, Trans. Wlad Godzich, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) p. 59. []
  21. Mikhail Bakunin, Bakunin On Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972) p. 205. []
  22. Ibid, p. 268. []
  23. Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thebaud, Just Gaming, Trans. Wlad Godzich, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) p. 43. [] []
  24. Mikhail Bakunin, Bakunin On Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972) p. 77. []
  25. Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge, trans. A.M. Sheridan-Smith, (New York, New York: Routledge, 1972) p. 191. []
  26. Mikhail Bakunin, Bakunin On Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972) p. 88. []
  27. Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge, trans. A.M. Sheridan-Smith, (New York, New York: Routledge, 1972) p. 145. []
  28. Mikhail Bakunin, Bakunin On Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972) p. 76. []
  29. Ibid, p. 99. []
  30. Ibid, p. 238. []
  31. Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thebaud, Just Gaming, Trans. Wlad Godzich, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) p. 65. []
  32. Mikhail Bakunin, Bakunin On Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972) p. 305. []
  33. Ibid, p. 284. []
  34. Ibid, p. 55. []
  35. Ibid, p. 43. []
  36. Mikhail Bakunin, Bakunin On Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972) p. 5. []
  37. Ibid, p. 68. []
  38. Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thebaud, Just Gaming, Trans. Wlad Godzich, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) p. 68. []
  39. Ibid. p. 76. []
  40. Ibid, p. 76. []
  41. Mikhail Bakunin, Bakunin On Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff, (New York: Vintage Books, 1972) p. 105. []
  42. Ibid, p. 179. []
  43. Ibid, p. 305. []
  44. Ibid, p. 332. []
  45. Ibid, p. 331. []
Michel Luc Bellemare is the author of The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism) Read other articles by Michel Luc.