Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unhelpful Dichotomy

By Davis, Laurence | Anarchist Studies, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unhelpful Dichotomy


Davis, Laurence, Anarchist Studies


ABSTRACT

A leading theorist of the anarchist and revolutionary personalist dimensions of the counterculture of the 1960s, some twenty-five years later Murray Bookchin adopted a much more strident and combative stance towards countercultural, lifestyle-oriented anarchism in his 1995 polemic, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm. This essay examines the rationale for Bookchin's shift from reasoned dialogue with participants in the Euro-American counterculture to polemical confrontation. In contrast to those who have charged Bookchin with theoretical inconsistency driven by cynical political opportunism, it argues that while his political thought evolved over time in response to changing historical circumstances, the later position is theoretically consistent with the earlier. However, it also maintains that Bookchin's straw man account of lifestyle anarchism in the 1990s is misguided and politically unhelpful insofar as it obscures what the earlier work helped so well to clarify: namely, the integral connections between the personal and the political aspects of libertarian revolutionary social change. It thus obscures one of the most creative and hopeful aspects of the anarchist currents in the newest social movements that emerged from the rebellions of 1968.

Keywords Bookchin, lifestyle anarchism, countercultures, revolution

INTRODUCTION

The philosophy and practice of revolutionary personalism emerged from the most radical, politicised edge of the counterculture of the 1960s, as well as from anarchist-inclined strains of pacifism, anti-racism, radical feminism and ecologism. Its defining characteristic is the recognition that the liberation of everyday life is an essential component of anti-authoritarian revolutionary change. The influential anarchist theorist Murray Bookchin articulated this point with memorable clarity in the immediate aftermath of the events of May-June 1968 in France, 'It is plain that the goal of revolutionary today must be the liberation of daüy life. Any revolution that fads to achieve this goal is counter-revolution. Above all, it is we who have to be liberated, our daüy lives, with all their moments, hours and days, and not universals like "History" and "Society"' (Bookchin, 2004 [1971], p. 10).

Some twenty-five years later, however, Bookchin characterised the personalist legacy of the Euro-American counterculture in much less sympathetic terms. In a brief but hugely controversial book published in 1995, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm, he lambasted contemporary anarchists for abandoning their social revolutionary and Utopian aspirations in favour of an introspective personalism, escapist aestheticism, and chic boutique lifestyle subculture that posed no serious threat to the existing powers. In this essay I examine the rationale for this polemical criticism. Is it simply a case of what at least one critic (Black, 1997, ch. 1) has somewhat unkindly termed 'grumpy old man' syndrome, or are there deeper issues at stake that merit closer consideration?

The plan for the paper is as follows. First, I will trace the history of the anarchist counterculture in the U.S. context in which Bookchin's thinking developed, focusing particularly on the 1960s and its anarchist revolutionary personalist legacies. Second, I will elucidate Bookchin's sympathetic theorisation of the revolutionary personalism of the 1960s in influential works published shordy after the events of 1968. Third, I will sketch his apparendy contrasting critique of lifestyle anarchism in his 1995 polemic. Finally, I conclude wirh an assessment of the significance and merits of Bookchin's arguments based on my interpretation of the development of anarchist practice and theory since the 1960s.

My argument is that while Bookchin's differing accounts of lifestyle-oriented cultural politics in the immediate aftermath of 1968 and in the mid-1990s are indeed theoretically consistent, the later work is misguided and politically unhelpful insofar as its polemical intent and either/or theoretical premises obscure what the earlier work helped so well to clarify: namely, the integral connections between the personal and the political aspects of libertarian revolutionary social change.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unhelpful Dichotomy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?