Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

The Politics of Postanarchism

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

The Politics of Postanarchism

Article excerpt

Saul Newman, The Politics of Postanarchism Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010; 200pp, £65 ISBN: 978-0748634958

Lewis Call notes, in the pages of this journal (Anarchist Studies Vol.17, No.l, pp.122-3), that Saul Newman is amongst the main theorists of postanarchism, alongside Todd May and Call himself. The Politics of Postanarchism, like Newman's earlier books, focuses on the intersection between anarchism and poststructuralist theory, and interrogates what Newman considers are the faulty Enlightenment presuppositions within anarchism. This is a task which he undertakes in order to renew this radical tradition. Readers of Newman's earlier works will be familiar with many of the key themes and arguments in The Politics of Postanarchism. It is a useful addition to the literature on four main grounds.

First, it is a clear re-statement of Newman's version of postanarchism (with occasional reference to other formulations). Second, it applies postanarchism to contemporary events, such as the banking crisis (p.28, p. 80), the surveillance state wrought by The War On Terror (pp.29-30; p.75), and the struggles around immigrant rights (p.l 15, pp. 172-3). Third, it situates postanarchism amongst recent theoretical developments, such as Badiou's critique of the natural social principle against the artificial political principle (pp.1 10-1 1) or Michael Hardt and Toni Negri's autonomist account of the 'multitude' (pp.I2I-3). Finally, in keeping with Newman's goals, the book provokes the reader to assess the limits of anarchism (p.5), by searching for and highlighting aporia (inconsistencies and contradictions) that are core to anarchism. In doing so, it handily also raises questions about Newman's own postanarchist presuppositions.

Newman's central contention is that anarchism is wedded to an enlightenment rationalist - and indeed positivist - account of knowledge, and to a fixed, essentialist account of the subject, in which, Newman claims, anarchists produce a Manichean split between, on the one side, the benign natural law or social principle (a form of anti-politics) and on the other the malign political principle, an unnatural order of power. The latter is associated with the state (p.4). These classical anarchist assumptions are not only philosophically unsustainable (pp.58-59), but also produce hierarchical political practice. In seeking out the authoritarian moments in anarchism, Newman seeks to make an anarchist critique of anarchism (p.51).

Thus, the first conflict Newman identifies in anarchism is that between its commitment to freedom versus the fixed, essential self. If humans are essentially good, or prone or determined to a particular type of benevolent social relationship, this severely restricts human freedom to produce its own destiny. Newman has made similar criticisms of classical anarchism's essentialism, and this has led to objections to this characterisation. Notable opposition to Newman's account of classical anarchism has come from a variety of sources: Sasha Villon; Jesse Cohn and Shawn Wilbur; author(s) from South Africa's Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation; Alan Antliff; and Nathan Jun. A dominant theme amongst many of these criticisms is that Newman (and other similar postanarchists) has misrepresented classical anarchists, as they were not united by an essen tialist view of the human subject. Significant classical anarchists such as Errico Malatesta Life and Ideas, p.73) viewed the concept of 'natural harmony' as 'the invention of human laziness'. In addition, Peter Kropotkin - who Newman specifically cites as an essentialist (p.36 and p.38) - was clear that humans have anti-social instincts as much as social ones, and whilst Newman acknowledges this (p.39) - perhaps in part in unacknowledged reply to earlier critics - he nonetheless asserts a social essentialism on classical anarchism.

The apparent contradiction in anti-politics identified by Newman is similarly resolvable within the anarchist canon. …

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