5. Mystical and Irrationalist Anarchism

Submitted by libcom on March 24, 2005

Mystical and Irrationalist Anarchism

The Bey's T.A.Z. hardly stands alone in its appeal to sorcery, even mysticism. Given their prelapsarian mentality, many lifestyle anarchists readily take to antirationalism in its most atavistic forms. Consider 'The Appeal of Anarchy,' which occupies the entire back page of a recent issue of Fifth Estate (Summer 1989). 'Anarchy,' we read, recognizes 'the imminence of total liberation [nothing less!] and as a sign of your freedom, be naked in your rites.' Engage in 'dancing, singing, laughing, feasting, playing,' we are enjoined -- and could anyone short of a mummified prig argue against these Rabelaisian delights?

But unfortunately, there is a hitch. Rabelais's Abbey of Th?l?me, which Fifth Estate seems to emulate, was replete with servants, cooks, grooms, and artisans, without whose hard labor the self-indulgent aristocrats of his distinctly upper-class utopia would have starved and huddled naked in the otherwise cold halls of the Abbey. To be sure, the Fifth Estate's 'Appeal of Anarchy' may well have in mind a materially simpler version of the Abbey of Th?l?me, and its 'feasting' may refer more to tofu and rice than to stuffed partridges and tasty truffles. But still -- without major technological advances to free people from toil, even to get tofu and rice on the table, how could a society based on this version of anarchy hope to 'abolish all authority,' 'share all things in common,' feast, and run naked, dancing and singing?

This question is particularly relevant for the Fifth Estate group. What is arresting in the periodical is the primitivistic, prerational, antitechnological, and anticivilizational cult that lies at the core of its articles. Thus Fifth Estate's 'Appeal' invites anarchists to 'cast the magic circle, enter the trance of ecstasy, revel in sorcery which dispels all power' -- precisely the magical techniques that shamans (who at least one of its writers celebrates) in tribal society, not to speak of priests in more developed societies, have used for ages to elevate their status as hierarchs and against which reason long had to battle to free the human mind from its own self-created mystifications. 'Dispel all power'? Again, there is a touch of Foucault here that as always denies the need for establishing distinctly empowered self-managing institutions against the very real power of capitalist and hierarchical institutions -- indeed, for the actualization of a society in which desire and ecstasy can find genuine fulfillment in a truly libertarian communism.

Fifth Estate's beguilingly 'ecstatic' paean to 'anarchy,' so bereft of social content -- all its rhetorical flourishes aside -- could easily appear as a poster on the walls of a chic boutique, or on the back of a greeting card. Friends who recently visited New York City advise me, in fact, that a restaurant with linen-covered tables, fairly expensive menus, and a yuppie clientele on St. Mark's Place in the Lower East Side -- a battleground of the 1960s -- is named Anarchy. This feedlot for the city's petty bourgeoisie sports a print of the famous Italian mural The Fourth Estate, which shows insurrectionary fin de si'cle workers militantly marching against an undepicted boss or possibly a police station. Lifestyle anarchism, it would seem, can easily become a choice consumer delicacy. The restaurant, I am told, also has security guards, presumably to keep out the local canaille who figure in the mural.

Safe, privatistic, hedonistic, and even cozy, lifestyle anarchism may easily provide the ready verbiage to spice up the pedestrian bourgeois lifeways of timid Rabelaisians. Like the 'Situationist art' that MIT displayed for the delectation of the avant-garde petty bourgeoisie several years ago, it offers little more than a terribly 'wicked' anarchist image -- dare I say, a simulacrum -- like those that flourish all along the Pacific Rim of America and points east'ward. The Ecstasy Industry, for its part, is doing only too well under contemporary capitalism and could easily absorb the techniques of lifestyle anarchists to enhance a marketably naughty image. The counterculture that once shocked the petty bourgeoisie with its long hair, beards, dress, sexual freedom, and art has long since been upstaged by bourgeois entrepreneurs whose boutiques, caf's, clubs, and even nudist camps are doing a flourishing 'business, as witness the many steamy advertisements for new 'ecstasies' in the Village Voice and similar periodicals.

Actually, Fifth Estate's blatantly antirationalistic sentiments have very troubling implications. Its visceral celebration of imagination, ecstasy, and 'primality' patently impugns not only rationalistic efficiency but reason as such. The cover of the Fall/Winter 1993 issue bears Francisco Goya's famously misunderstood Capriccio no. 43, 'Il sueno de la razon produce monstros' ('The sleep of reason produces monsters'). Goya's sleeping figure is shown slumped over his desk before an Apple computer. Fifth Estate's English translation of Goya's inscription reads, 'The dream of reason produces monsters,' implying that monsters are a product of reason itself. In point of fact, Goya avowedly meant, as his own notes indicate, that the monsters in the engraving are produced by the sleep, not the dream, of reason. As he wrote in his own commentary: 'Imagination, deserted by reason, begets impossible monsters. United with reason, she is the mother of all arts, and the source of their wonders.'[10] By deprecating reason, this on-again, off-again anarchist periodical enters into collusion with some of the most dismal aspects of today's neo-Heideggerian reaction.