Anarchy

 

Screenshot from 2018-03-10 11-51-39

Contrary to the impression given by the demands of socially-minded anarchists, anarchy is already existent and active. This principle does not emerge either from the ground posited by the ranks of the immediatists, the egoists, and general post-left milieu – that anarchy is actualized when we only act in a manner that coheres with the theoretical expectation of what such a (non)state entails. This articulation of anarchy is drab and despondently humanistic, pivoting itself on the power of a given agent to execute their will and desire. Anarchism is distributed along a pole marked by the so-called ‘social anarchists’, and the ‘post-left’ on the other. A common logic binds this pole: everything begins and ends with the human. Exteriority is shunted away, and even if something like it is posed (such as in the common appeals to flowery poetic chaos) it still remains locked into the interior realm of human experience.

Against the binding of the anarchist pole, another way: the realization of an anarchy that is fundamental and unconditional because it serves as the unground for the great struggles of power. To draw this out, consider the global hierarchy of sovereign powers, with its ebbs and flows, consolidations and breakdowns. If we were to begin diagramming these fluctuating arrangements over time, it would quickly become clear that there is no radiant institution that guarantees the stability and rights of the kingdoms beneath it. Not a sovereign of sovereigns, but an immense void: anarchy.

An articulation of anarchy as a transcendental force has been, in fact, a theoretical bedrock in the realist and neorealist schools of international relations. To quote from neorealist theorist Kenneth Waltz’s text Theory of International Politics:

Structural questions are questions about the arrangement of the parts of a system. The parts of domestic political systems stand in relations of super- and subordination. Some are entitled to command; others are required to obey. Domestic systems are centralized and hierarchic. The parts of the international-political system stand in relations of coordination. Formally, each is the equal of all the others. None is entitled to command; none is required to obey. International systems are decentralized and anarchic… The problem is this: how to conceive of an order without an orderer and of organizational effects where formal organization is lacking.

Despite being a far cry from the usual analysis offered by the contemporary anarchist, the IR definition of anarchy conforms very closely to way anarchism was defined by the first anarchist – Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. For Proudhon, there was no contradiction between professing an adherence to an anarchist philosophy and spending time as a politician. A survey of his work betrays a deep fascination with state banking, constitutions, and federated sovereigns. This wasn’t an uncritical embrace of the state – Proudhon challenged the consolidation of dispersed territorial units, communities, and cities into larger European states – but it was a recognition that history unfolds through a dance of cascading variables that wage war against one another, find temporary balance, and break apart again. Adjusting his philosophical framework to Marx’s correct charge that his The System of Economical Contradictions had haply smeared together Kant and Hegel in posing that antimonies resolved into synthesis, Proudhon wrote that “THE ANTIMONY CANNOT BE RESOLVED; this is the fundamental flaw of the entire Hegelian philosophy. The two terms composing the antimony BALANCE either against each other, or against another antinomic term: which leads to the desired result. A balance is not a synthesis in the way Hegel understood it and as I had supposed like him.”

While it’s up for debate whether or Proudhon had a firm grasp of Hegelian philosophy, what’s important is how this framework framed his understanding of the political. Social power is a manifestation of “collective force”, which manifests in the form of the state. This is produced through the movement of antinomic opposition into the temporary alliance of balance which occurs not only internally to the state – convergence on concepts of justice and right – but externally as well, in the form of the balance of great powers across the international stage. The question, then, is the same that Waltz posed: how can order be produced without an orderer? For Proudhon, the engine of multi-scaled political self-organization is force and war:

The right of force, the right of war and the right of nations, defined and circumscribed as we have just done, supporting, implying and engendering each other, govern history. They are the secret providence that leads nations, makes and unmakes states, and, unifying force and law, drives civilization on to the safest and widest road. Through them, many things are explained that no ordinary law, historic system, or capricious evolutions of chance can account for.

War makes and breaks political equilibrium, Proudhon’s term for the balance of power. It engenders the political and also stands for its inevitable unmaking in the swirls of unending progress (understood here as the empty, abstract form of progress detached from normative particulars). It is, therefore, a force outside the state, the external regulator of the state’s activities: a swift and unpredictable force that takes the place of the absent sovereign of sovereigns. In other words, war and anarchy are for Proudhon – just as they are for IR realists – intimately entangled with one another. Bellum omnium conta omnes, the Hobbesian state of nature as the war of all against all, is affirmed, yet Proudhon’s thought converges with Nietzsche’s critique of social contract theory in that state is sustained by this primordial conflict. It is not the antithesis of justice (which for Proudhon is nothing more that the production of balance), but its fount.

Nick Land turns Proudhon’s mutualism pitch-black with his political theology of meta-neocameralism:

The effective cyclic reproduction of power has an external criterion — survival. It is not open to any society or regime to decide for itself what works. Its inherent understanding of its own economics of power is a complex measurement, gauging a relation to the outside, whose consequences are life and death. Built into the idea of sovereign property from the start, therefore, is an accommodation to reality. Foundational to MNC [Meta-Neocameralism], at the very highest level of analysis, is the insight that power is checked primordially. On the Outside are wolves, serving as the scourge of Gnon. Even the greatest of all imaginable God-Kings — awesome Fnargl included — has ultimately to discover consequences, rather than inventing them. There is no principle more important than this.

In Proudhon’s mutualism, as with MNC, how one enters into relations with the outside – or anarchy – is directly relevant to the question of survival. Organization can strive to hold the anarchic at bay, or it can exhibit an openness to it. The cold entropic laws governing the decreased life spans of closed systems sends the former down a path of stagnation and death – yet the latter cannot be mistaken for any semblance of immortality and even long-term stability. It might be that this path leads to Bataille’s sovereign that is marked by total absence, or a cutting-up and unfolding of the sovereign body in a manner akin to Lyotard’s visceral body horror: “Open the so-called body and spread out all its surfaces…”

Do what thou wilt is the challenge that anarchy intones, but to accept it is to enter into a demon’s pact (the Anarch here becoming an anomalous agent, a Sorcerer). Freedom might be found stepping towards that threshold, but at the absolute risk of everything. Balance is precarious, and the threat of complete submersion whips and batters: “No sooner have we reached the condition or ground of our principle than we are hurled headlong beyond to the absolutely unconditioned, the ‘ground-less’ from which the ground itself emerged.” For Proudhon, this means that crowned anarchy topples royalist absolutism. If political organization is sustained, it must be one that goes in the opposite direction from the absolutist doctrine, that rides the waves of progress through that which will decay and dissolve . Such is the supreme law of anarchy:

This double movement, one of degeneration, the other of progress, that resolves itself in a unique constellation, also results from the definition of the principles, from their relative position and their roles: here again no ambiguity is possible, there is no room for arbitrariness. The fact is objectively evident and mathematically certain; this is what we will call a LAW.

ADDENDUM: it seems that Uri already covered much of the content in this post with his superb “Anarchist Transcendental Ontology”. A small sample of this highly recommended read:

at the edge, anarchist ontology seeks the un-ground of power – the realistic source, beyond all mere wishes, from which any ability to produce yields. it incrementally (or, progressively, in a strictly proudhonian sense) found the hints of such un-ground in variation-selection dynamics, or simply “war”.this scale-free framework, implexing itself throughout the universe’s evolution, gives rise and tide to all monarchs, presidents, tyrants and fatherlands.

anarchist ontology, thus, proceeds by breaking up whole into fractal fragments in competition – the only way any order can be produced. thus, it’s not only that the order of the social necessarily falls back on the competition among its individual components, but that the order within the individuals itself falls back on pre-individual components in competition. up above and down below, it’s individualities and collectivities.

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21 thoughts on “Anarchy

    1. xenobuddhism

      Is war a kind of competition, or competition a kind of war? Proudhon wrote that ‘politics, by its essence, by its right and in its institutions is war.’ We all know 20th century types like Foucault who’d say the same thing. In Proudhon’s analysis this is true of politics, and not just international relations. This is what Proudhon would call his ‘revolutionary ontology’ (De La Justice). I can’t help feel this draws us towards Virilio, the thinker for whom progress is driven by technological innovations coupled to the dromological needs of warfare. Progress, state formation, modernity, it’s all the outcome of continuous arms races in the chaotic field where power distributions are ultimately decided through force. In Virilio’s terminology isn’t absolutism a kind of garrison city in eternal preparedness for siege?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. dmf

        that’s why it’s good not to take such speculations too seriously/literally they lose sight of the actual differences that make a difference in the lives of people and in this case the horrors of actual wars.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. >they lose sight of the actual differences that make a difference in the lives of people and in this case the horrors of actual wars.

        Hmm, not sure if I agree with this. Reflecting on the functioning of systems without prefacing acknowledgements of the horror doesn’t mean that the horror has been lost sight of, and the differences that make differences is the absolute heart of the matter.

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      3. dmf

        to simply equate politics/competition (writ large) with war is to render “war” meaningless, as for “systems” and their functions if one isn’t clear about the specifics of the particular components and their capacities/specs one can’t do much in the way of useful/practicable analysis part of why it’s good to stay pretty close to the engineering, otherwise castles in the clouds.

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      4. >to simply equate politics/competition (writ large) with war is to render “war” meaningless

        I don’t think anyone is making a simple writ large equation though!

        >as for “systems” and their functions if one isn’t clear about the specifics of the particular components and their capacities/specs one can’t do much in the way of useful/practicable analysis

        Certainly no disagreement on this point.

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      5. dmf

        I see I thought this was a rhetorical question affirming the views of the authors listed:
        Is war a kind of competition, or competition a kind of war? Proudhon wrote that ‘politics, by its essence, by its right and in its institutions is war.’ We all know 20th century types like Foucault who’d say the same thing. In Proudhon’s analysis this is true of politics, and not just international relations. This is what Proudhon would call his ‘revolutionary ontology’ (De La Justice). I can’t help feel this draws us towards Virilio, the thinker for whom progress is driven by technological innovations coupled to the dromological needs of warfare. Progress, state formation, modernity, it’s all the outcome of continuous arms races in the chaotic field where power distributions are ultimately decided through force. In Virilio’s terminology isn’t absolutism a kind of garrison city in eternal preparedness for siege?
        my bad

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      6. Well, Arran can correct me if I’m misreading, but statements like “a kind of competition” or “a kind of war” signals to me not a blanket equation of war = politics, but that there is an entanglement of politics, war, competition with a question left-open ended in terms of causal relations. As for Proudhon, that’s certainly what he’s trying to work through, and for him it’s how war precedes politics, and impacts its character from the outside, just as collective force impacts it from the interior. Which is a question of assessing components (though I would prefer looking at it in terms of systems).

        Another way to look at is the claim forwarded by Foucault and D&G that Clausewitz’s maxim on politics and war is reversible. That doesn’t make either side of the maxim (war issuing from politics, politics issuing from war) synonymous with one another; it indexes tangling causality and shifting terrains and sequence-scrabbling result from real, long-term historical forces and processes.

        If I can add more fuel to the fire, the classic Schmittian definition the political is that it is, at its base, the management of affairs relating to the friend/enemy distinction. That would mean that the friend/enemy, at some point, served as the a priori of the political, and if the political is the management of this opposition it suggests a state of suspended war (which can tilt into real war). None of the social contract theories get out from this trap either — and this doesn’t even get at the threat of force that underscores the infrastructure of the political itself.

        So unless war and the political enter into relations only by accident, and we can block one another from view, all questions on the table are valid to take seriously imho.

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      7. dmf

        I don’t think that war is a system or something that exists outside of (before, after, etc) politics (or that politics is at base any particular aspect of human relations) and if we can’t identify the components that make up a system not sure how we know where/what it is. When you get into these kinds of abstractions what would/could count as evidence to the contrary, what could disprove the speculation internally/logically?

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      8. Doesn’t deferring the category of the political endlessly into the background when the topic of conversation at the outset was dealing with dynamics of sovereign politics constitute a shifting of the goal posts, and one that undercuts the appeal to focusing on the components?

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      9. dmf

        not sure I follow, my more general question/point is how to we know if the terms we are using are more than figures of speech, how do we define them in ways which grab onto, gear into, off the page/screen happenings?
        It’s one thing to develop a kind of technical shorthand to avoid having to endlessly repeat all the particulars/components that have already been found to be relevant another to simply trade in abstractions. Now abstractions/exaggerations can also have a rhetorical/pragmatist value of foregrounding some aspect of a scene/event under examination as long as we don’t confuse this sort of as-if approach with something more scientific/literal.
        I’m here in the spirit of this from yer twitter feed:
        Armitage@_____078190
        Mar 9
        tfw your blockchain (white paper) is nothing less than an apocalyptic theophany
        “will have the ability to establish and tear down logical and physical circuits at any capacity whatsoever seamlessly and transparently … in real time”
        or pace Land and company:

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      10. That’s well and good and I don’t think I disagree much in general, I just find that the way these posts have unfolded the category of the political has been pushed away from a particularity to something aparticular, and that in doing so the sense of ‘difference that makes a difference’ has actually been lost. I’m more than comfortable (for now) to use the vocabulary and conceptual terrain deployed by the field of study itself, so at this stage reinventing the wheel from top-to-bottom isn’t so much on the agenda. Not that I’m uncomfortable with aparticularity and abstraction — the sense of anarchy in IR theory is rather abstract! — but it proceeds from a logical sequence.

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      11. dmf

        for me the particularity (and not just familiarity) was lacking in the vocab of the field in of study in which actual events seem lacking/occluded, how does one test their theses/logics? either way don’t mean to be threadjacking was just responding to a response, no necessity in all of this.

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      12. I don’t see the vocab as being detached from events, given that Proudhon, Schmitt, Waltz, etc. all developed their thoughts in conjunction with events unfolding in the evolution of the modern nation-state system. Like Proudhon’s defining of the political: it was in response to watching in real-time the consolidation of this system through war, the balanced suspension of war, and war again, and how this looped through the internal body politic of the nation-state. So testing would entail studying how the nation-state came about, how it sustained itself, etc., and IR theory would be tested through, well, interrogating the structuralization of political hierarchies in the international arena.

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      13. dmf

        something like this “the consolidation of this system through war” sounds mechanical/scientific as if we could demonstrate that there were distinct elements that came to be consolidated by war (and not some other factors) into a system, but does he offer us the methods by which to examine/replicate his study, do we have the means to test the results? Take something like “internal body politic of the nation-state” what are the components of such? how do we decide what/who is in and out and what powers/effects they had? I can see I’m out of sync with the tenor of this line of thought so no need to keep at it.

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      14. Great Proudhon quote! And I think that observation is correct, that war is ubiquitous outside and inside the State, and Proudhon’s own writings on the unfolding politics of his time (especially with regards to state consolidation in Italy and Poland) stress the lines of connection between the equilibrium and disequilibrium of external state relations with what is unfolding internally, the social balances of power and dynamics of collective force, to the body politic. Yet there is a distinction to cleave (or the inside/outside dichotomy would be wholly ruptured from the get-go, no?) — if anything, this partially gets at the tendency for the state to breakdown and decay, to slip back wards that towards war. Technonomics is the other part of the equation but it is intimately connected to the question of war in both raw functioning (competitive pressure begin cyberpositive intelligence amplification) and in terms of the machinic phylum (they feed each other). So your question is pertinent…

        >Is war a kind of competition, or competition a kind of war?

        We could take this to its ultimate conclusion in the fundamental baseline scramble for resources in the face of inescapable scarcity, which gets us to not only the logic of war, but the rationale for the existence of the market as a near-universal social force (at least when particular stages of development are reached). Part of me is also tempted to look to the work of Clastres, with the function of war in some societies as the attempt to ward off in advance the formation of the state, especially in the context of how the state tries to ward off in advance absolute decoding and deterritorialization into market meshworks. Not sure how to synthesize all those thoughts as of yet though.

        >I can’t help feel this draws us towards Virilio, the thinker for whom progress is driven by technological innovations coupled to the dromological needs of warfare. Progress, state formation, modernity, it’s all the outcome of continuous arms races in the chaotic field where power distributions are ultimately decided through force.

        Undoubtedly. As a Virilio noob I would be interested in hearing more about your thoughts on this. The dromological question is certainly attached to the question of acceleration, and the accelerationist trolley problem is ported wholesale from Virilio’s speedy crashdown of decision-making possibility spaces (cue the hyperwar).

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