Anarchy after Leftism

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Anarchy after Leftism by Bob Black.

Bob Black’s is perhaps the most searing wit of anti-authoritarian political writing. In Anarchy after Leftism, he trains it on the senescence of self-styled eminence grise Murray Bookchin. “Bookchin does not mind standing on the shoulders of giants–he rather enjoys the feel of them under his heel–so long as he stands tallest of all.” (19) Demolishing Bookchin’s Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm Black insists, “This time he’s bitten off more than he can gum.” (102)

In his rejection of the “unbridgeable chasm” of Bookchin’s title, Black sinks his gleaming teeth into the “central conundrum of Western political philosophy,” i.e. the reconciliation of “individual autonomy and social liberation.” (31) This observation, which launches Black’s second chapter, sums up why I, as a (non-anarchist) mystical libertarian, find works on anarchism worth my continuing study.

Anarchy after Leftism is composed in scholarly fashion, with a full editorial apparatus and bibliographic citations, for which Black seems slightly apologetic. He is aware, however, that his selected antagonist (and presumably those readers sympathetic to Bookchin) fetishizes such discursive styling, and so he condescends to the chosen weapon of the duel, showing that he can handle it at least as well as the one who chose it.

A recurrent tactic throughout Black’s argument is to quote the earlier, more lucid writings of Bookchin against his recent output. The goal is not simply to demonstrate inconsistency. Black typically agrees with the young Bookchin that he quotes, showing that at one point, even the antagonist of the moment knew better than he does now.

It takes Black ten short chapters to thoroughly dispose of the so-called “social anarchism” (not anarchism at all) of Bookchin. The eleventh and final chapter bears the title of the book as a whole, and explores Bookchin’s irrelevance as a symptom of a Kuhnian paradigm shift in anarchist theory.

As usual, Black’s writing is littered with trenchant aphorisms. For instance: “‘Policy’ is a euphemism for law, and ‘administration’ is a eumphemism for enforcement.” (85) And best:

“The problem is [not selfishness, but] the prevailing social organization of selfishness as a divisive force which actually diminishes the self. As society is now set up, individual selfishness is collectively, and individually, self-defeating.” (55) [via]