Putting “fact” before poetry


Fifth Estate # 343, Fall-Winter, 1993

a response to “Bosnia: End of the State or State of the End?” by Rob Riled, FE# 343, Fall-Winter, 1993

“States cohere like bands of robbers”
— Augustine of Hippo

Augustine, considered the most important of the fathers of the Roman Catholic Church, sounds as if he had anarchist sympathies but he would have included any anti-authoritarian form of social organization under the umbrella of his quote. He considered human beings, without the grace of the christian god, inherently evil. They were tainted with original sin and thus flawed at the core of their being, and only capable of aspiring to perfection.

Rob seems to imply the same, but he would say our fall came not when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, but when we entered western industrial society. He also expresses this fall or inability to ever establish living communities in his concept of biological irreversibility applied to humans enmeshed in technological civilization.

What about Paris in May 1968? Barricades were raised the night of the 10th, two days later 800,000 people went to the streets in support of the insurrection. But it was the quality of what was happening. The revolt spread like wildfire to students and workers alike and across the length and breadth of France. It took everyone by surprise, including unions and marxist organizations, who opposed the revolution because the revolt was beyond their control, for the insurgents denounced them.

Rob says that as civilization is hurtling us toward destruction, changing its trajectory would require much more than just tinkering. This implies that such a break would be made difficult by our inability to conceive of social organization beyond the tinkering stage. The politics of an anarchist [revolution has always been light-years ahead of just tinkering and its critique incorporates a fundamental break with dominant ethics and practices. Look at the revolutions that have happened in the past. These insurgents were not just tinkering. They were fighting for a vision of a living community and were killed in the process. Their revolts failed, not because of a lack of vision, but because they were crushed by nation states or marxists. However they did not die in vain for they are an inspiration for us and for future generations.

When Rob gives his prediction of the future, he presumes to speak for most anarchists. Who are these anarchists, and has he surveyed their opinion to support his forecast of destruction? We cannot tell what the future may hold, but the example of May 1968 shows that a revolution can come about spontaneously to the surprise of everyone, even within a culture that no longer has the characteristics of living community. Emma Goldman was surprised twice in her life by unforeseen revolutions, both of which she took part in, the first in Russia in 1917 and then again in Spain in 1936. Might not the future hold the same for us?

Eve, “…were it not better to believe Vision

With all our might and strength, tho’ we are fallen and lost?”

— William Blake, The Ghost of Abel

When human life is most degraded, human faculties most unharmonious, human sight most dim, it is exactly then that we must cling to a vision by which we perceive, and therefore hope to attain once more, harmony and the qualities that pertain to it.

I regard humans as good and capable of transformation. I see a universal desire for harmony, which the state tries to make us believe it is providing. I also believe in the possibility of universal order. The method is not by purgation, but by affirmation, which means that order is not achieved by denying elements in human nature but asserting their totality and its integrity. Evil is not the opposite of good, but misdirected energy. I only admit one authority, the authority of the whole person. The paradox is that when humans integrate themselves and work as a whole, authority vanishes.

I don’t argue that Rob’s reasoning is an agent of untruth, but rather of partial truth. I see this as a myopic view of the capability of humans. His mode of perception is impoverished and dislocated, not only of human society but human personality. He sees all the facts that characterize contemporary humans as beasts (my apology to beasts), but misses the true poetry human beings are capable of.