09 May 2011

Order is Servitude!

Anarchist ammunition

Anarchists, especially those with philosophical leanings, can be sensitive about being cast as hooligans, as often occurs in the mainstream media. They are right to be upset, because anarchism is a rich political tradition motivated by the deepest respect for democracy and freedom, with an especially keen sense of the need for organization in any desired future society. However, we shouldn’t forget that the ambiguous meaning of anarchy has been actually fostered by anarchists themselves.

The origins of the modern use of the word lie in the French Revolution, particularly in reference to the radical enrag├ęs. The Jacobins used anarchist as a term of abuse against these “fanatics”, and with this in mind the label was knowingly taken on later by Proudhon. Although he emphasized anarchism in terms of its Greek etymology (without government) and the vision of society derived from that, namely the harmonious life of freedom without submission to authority, he also deliberately made use of the provocative and paradoxical aspects of the word, and this has been characteristic of anarchist politics ever since.

To see this clearly, look at how Kropotkin made rhetorical and ironic use of the dichotomy of order and disorder, which is the popular understanding of anarchism that many anarchists themselves object to:

Order is the deprivation for this nine-tenths of humanity of all that is necessary for a healthy life and for the reasonable development of the intellectual qualities.

Order is a tiny minority, elevated into the seats of government, which imposes itself in that way on the majority and prepares its children to continue the same functions in order to maintain the same privileges by fraud, corruption, force and massacre.

Order is servitude, it is the shackling of thought, the brutalizing of the human race, maintained by the sword and the whip.

And disorder? What is this you call disorder?

It is the uprising of the people against this ignoble order, breaking its fetters, destroying the barriers, and marching towards a better future.

Disorder is the blossoming of the most beautiful passions and the greatest of devotions, it is the epic of supreme human love.

Kropotkin, Words of a Rebel

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