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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

No Beginnings: More on Anarchist Pre-Politicism

A couple of days ago I posted a throwaway observation the glibness of which was sure to cause trouble:
Anarchism means "No Beginnings," from archein, "to begin, to rule": There is no need for a word "archism" because "politics" is that word.
In the Moot to that post friend-of-blog "Elias Altvall" made some reasonable objections:
Actually no. Anarchism is derivations from anarchy which is anarchos which translates to without rulers. I understand the decreipt state anarchist movement is in America with the so called "lifestyle" and libertarians but your always your weakest when you desperately tries to make all anarchists and especially historical anarchism (socialism) into the samething. If archism means rulers then why is politics that word. I atleast thought politics original etymological meanings, especially in its aristotelian meaning, was active engagement with ones community structures and decision making. Yet politics as has been referred to since 16th century has always meant the rich and powerful decision making not the peoples, so to speak.
I am pleased to use the occasion to further elaborate my point, especially since the demands of summer teaching intensives seem to rob me of the capacity for original longform posting on topics outside my lectures these days, but conversation still works. Upgraded and adapted from the same Moot:
archon, ruler, derives from archein, to begin, to rule. My point is not to deny the familiar derivation but to point out that beginning is inherent in that ruling, which is less familiar and provocative. That sense is conspicuous in, for example, our "archetype," a comparable derivation, which is the origin/master/model from which subsequent variations/copies arise.
The nature of such rule is citational and reiterative in a performative account of the political of the kind one discerns in works by Hannah Arendt and Judith Butler (which I have always found congenial), in which norms and institutional forms are enacted in an ongoing way, a matter of improvisation within constraints. What matters to me in proposing politics to be in some sense an "archism" is that it highlights the performative character of ruling as acting-in-public, even -- perhaps especially -- in democratizing contexts.

Yes, of course you are right that politics derives from polis, and names the values/experiences emerging from the state of plurality in which one is immersed in settlements/cities. That plurality is the condition in which Arendtian action -- a matter of beginnings or at any rate interruptons introduced into the given with unexpected consequences -- and the performative rematerialization/refiguration of Butler's forceful but flexible public norms. There is nothing desperate, I hope, about this proposal or weak about its premises, tho' of course it may turn out to be wrongheaded like anything one thinks through so theoretically, but it is just meant to be illuminating if unfamiliar.

I do continue to think anarchist theory misses much that is indispensable to a proper conception of the political, and in its evocations of "spontaneous order" -- whether in the market pieties from its right or in the consensus pieties from its left (I leave to the side the unfortunate Propaganda of the Deed and recurring insurrectionist strains, that cannot be wished away, and tend to exhibit the limitations of spontaneism even more forcefully still) -- anarchism tends to be a reactionary disavowal of the contentious plurality recognition of which is the point of departure for political thinking.
This error sometimes yields bad politics on the ground, and definitely yields some terrible sloganeering, but I still think that anarchist-identified activists are often congenial and indispensable allies in democratizing politics practically speaking, usually in spite of the anarchist notions in the name of which they think they are acting (at their best, which is often, activist and artist anarchists are doing vital democratizing work in my view).

Finally, let me note that the querelle des anciens et modernes in its political face is the distinction of a politics conceived as providing occasions for the excellence of the few as against amelioration of hardship for the many. I am not one to deny the abiding reality of plutocratic power throughout history, but surely what is interesting about politics since the 16th century is precisely the democratizing and sometimes revolutionary insurgencies of people-power?

UPDATE: This exchange has continued on in the Moot linked above. Feel free to join in.

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