File spoon-archives/postanarchism.archive/postanarchism_2003/postanarchism.0307, message 80


Date: Tue, 29 Jul 2003 14:19:35 -0400
Subject: [postanarchism] Guyau


Awhile back, when we were debating the "optimism" of the
classical anarchists, i suggested that the sort of
broad-brush approach of reproaching Bakunin or Kropotkin for
"enlightenment rationalism" or the like was inadequate,
particularly when a phrase like that could cover over 200
years of intellectual cultures, and when the classical
anarchists had made explicit their intellectual
affiliations. I've finally found a little time to follow up
a bit on that thought. Consider the following:

-----------------------------
>From Kropotkin's Encyclopedia Britannica article on
"Anarchism:

It would be impossible to represent here, in a short sketch,
the penetration, on the one hand, of anarchist ideas into
modern literature, and the influence, on the other hand,
which the libertarian ideas of the best contemporary writers
have exercised upon the development of anarchism. One ought
to consult the ten big volumes of the Supplément Littéraire
to the paper La Révolte and later the Temps Nouveaux, which
contain reproductions from the works of hundreds of modern
authors expressing anarchist ideas, in order to realize how
closely anarchism is connected with all the intellectual
movement of our own times. J. S. Mill's Liberty, Spencer's
Individual versus the State, Marc Guyau's Morality without
Obligation or Sanction, and Fouillée's Lamorale, l'art et la
religion, the works of Multatuli (E. Douwes Dekker), Richard
Wagner's Art and Revolution, the works of Nietzsche,
Emerson, W. Lloyd Garrison, Thoreau, Alexander Herzen,
Edward Carpenter and so on; and in the domain of fiction,
the dramas of Ibsen, the poetry of Walt Whitman, Tolstoy's
War and Peace, Zola's Paris and Le Travail, the latest works
of Merezhkovsky, and an infinity of works of less known
authors, are full of ideas which show how closely anarchism
is interwoven with the work that is going on in modern
thought in the same direction of enfranchisement of man from
the bonds of the state as well as from those of capitalism.
----------------------

It's interesting to see Kropotkin, in one of his best-known
pieces, citing Nietzsche, particularly as it is common to
associate an interest in Nietzsche with Emma Goldman and
just a few others. But the really interesting stuff comes as
you start to work through some of the currently lesser-known
names on the list. Of these, Guyau stands out, if only for
the number of times Kropotkin cites him and the warm of his
approval when he does so.

I managed to track down a library copy of "A Sketch of
Morality independent of Obligation or Sanction" - the work
mentioned above. It's fascinating. The first thirty or so
pages clear the field of "optimism" and "pessimism" as bases
for ethics, proposing the indifference of nature as at least
a promising starting point for further investigation. The
next section includes a critique of "practical certitude"
and faith, with some more positive attention shown to doubt
as a motivating force in ethics, though ultimately Guyau is
not willing to rest there.

The morality of doubt that Guyau describes has some
interesting parallels with at least a certain reading of
posstructuralism. The "relativity of knowledge" is a key
element, leading to the importance of the "perhaps" (a term
very familiar to readers of Derrida.) There are a number of
usages that seem very contemporary. It would be interesting
to check the histories of philosophy by folks like Jean Wahl
- who taught the poststructuralists - to see if and how
Guyau might have featured therein.

Guyau that posits "intensity of life" as a motive force for
action and morality. A "moral fecundity" arises out of our
experience of having more powers than we require to survive.
Life is apparently an economy of excess, rather than
scarcity, and in this section the language has lots of
parallels in Bataille.

I'm still working my way through the fine points of the
argument, and chasing some contextual stuff, but there is,
at the very least, a very useful corrective to the argument
about classical anarchism's "optimism" contained here. I
heartily recommend the work to anyone interested in really
understanding the context in which Kropotkin's _Mutual Aid_
and _Ethics_ were written.

-shawn


   

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