The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism

The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism

Todd May

Language: English

Pages: 176

ISBN: 0271028890

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The political writings of the French poststructuralists have eluded articulation in the broader framework of general political philosophy primarily because of the pervasive tendency to define politics along a single parameter: the balance between state power and individual rights in liberalism and the focus on economic justice as a goal in Marxism. What poststructuralists like Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Jean-François Lyotard offer instead is a political philosophy that can be called tactical: it emphasizes that power emerges from many different sources and operates along many different registers. This approach has roots in traditional anarchist thought, which sees the social and political field as a network of intertwined practices with overlapping political effects. The poststructuralist approach, however, eschews two questionable assumptions of anarchism, that human beings have an (essentially benign) essence and that power is always repressive, never productive.

After positioning poststructuralist political thought against the background of Marxism and the traditional anarchism of Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Proudhon, Todd May shows what a tactical political philosophy like anarchism looks like shorn of its humanist commitments—namely, a poststructuralist anarchism. The book concludes with a defense, contra Habermas and Critical Theory, of poststructuralist political thought as having a metaethical structure allowing for positive ethical commitments.

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it, to subsume the proletariat under its reign. Rather, it is to bring unity to the various social groups that suffer under capitalism. Unity is a product not of increasing immiseration, but instead of a common recognition of different but complementary experiences of exploitation by capital. The struggle of the working classes, then, whose numbers as counted by the autonomy movement were much greater because of the inclusiveness of its analysis, was to break the homogenization of capital and to

escape the burden of freedom by taking on the concrete determinations of being that characterize the world.26 25. Ibid, 1:90-91. Merleau-Ponty's existentialism is more measured than Sartre's, admitting the possibility of the subject being determined both by the unconscious structure of bodily behavior and by the social institutions in which it is encrusted. (The latter type of determination is conceded by Sartre after his turn toward Marxism.) Nevertheless, until his last writings (most notably

Foucault," writes Michael Walzer, "there is no focal point, but rather an endless network of power relations? And Peter Dews: "[D]uring the 1970's Foucault's inclination is to play down the repressive and negative aspects of power and to present the operation of power as primarily positive and productive." But if power is productive and pervasive, then one must wonder what justification there would be for resisting it, for two related (but not always clearly distinguished) reasons. First, if the

that their view of ethics is less holistic than the view elucidated here. They argue that political discourse and action must not reject, but instead should be predicated on, Enlightenment values: "The task of the Left therefore cannot be to renounce liberal-democratic ideology, but on the contrary, to deepen and expand it in the direction of a radical and plural democracy. "49 Although Laclau and Mouffe offer compelling reasons to reject a foundational analysis of political space—in contrast to

Done?" provide the key to understanding Lenin's thought as a strategy. The purpose of this essay, written in 1905, is to provide the correct course for Russian Marxists in a time of theoretical doubt. Its context is the struggle between evolutionary socialism, whose leading proponent was the German Social Democrat Edward Bernstein, and the revolutionary socialism of Lenin. The fundamental tenet of the former is that society is naturally progressing toward a conjuncture of historical forces that

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