Antimodernist Autonomism: Where Left and Right Meet

A correspondent recently informed me of Arthur Versluis’ article, “Antimodernism” (Telos, no. 137, winter 2006, pp. 96-130). This passage is particularly relevant to what we do here: (pp. 122-123):

“Indeed, even those who are often termed ‘leftists’ or ‘anarchists’ share a great deal with what is often termed the ‘far right,’ so much so that I think it more sensible to use the term ‘autonomist’ to describe all those antimodernists, of both the putative left and the putative right, who oppose the centralization, mechanization, bureaucratization, and technologization of life. It is hardly an accident that major anarchist figures like Peter Lamborn Wilson (under his pseudonym Hakim Bey), Bob Black, John Zerzan, and David Watson all seek to affirm individual and local autonomy in the face of what Watson, following Mumford, terms the ‘megamachine’ of technological society. Wilson’s ‘temporary autonomous zones’ (his name for areas or spheres that can be temporarily free from centralized authority) itself reminds us rather strongly of traditional conservative insistence throughout the twentieth century on local and regional autonomy, and even, in a more distant way, of ‘state’s rights’ based upon an extension of the same principle. Without a doubt, late twentieth-century anarchism belonged to the autonomist end of the political spectrum.

“While obviously these various groups and individuals represent a broad spectrum of views (and do not agree with one another on questions like the centrality of religion for human life), when it comes to antimodernism, the themes of their works are very much in harmony. For this reason, Alain de Benoist in particular and much of the European New Right in general explicitly seek a ‘red-black’ or ‘green-conservative’ alliance to cut across political boundaries that are often claimed to be impermeable, but that in fact are not only artificial but also misleading and even illusory. Benoist is quite right in this regard: there really is a fundamental area of unanimity that the theme of antimodernism reveals, and that area of unanimity joins together what once was called ‘left’ and ‘right.’ It is hardly a coincidence that the antimodernism of Noam Chomsky, Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, Alain Joxe, and many others is at least partially in harmony with the antimodernism of Patrick Buchanan, Alain de Benoist, and even to some extent that new Rasputin, Alexander Dugin. They all, from various perspectives, share a profound distrust of American imperialism, of the corporatization and bureaucratization of modern life, and of the superficiality of what is often termed the ‘consumerist’ society of the spectacle, of ‘entertainment.’ ” (pp. 122-123)

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5 replies »

  1. Gary North recently wrote a pretty good defense of Wal-Mart and strip malls:


    The most compelling point, though he doesn’t put it in those terms, is that capitalism broke us free from the Malthusian trap, which plagued humanity from the time we stopped being hunter gatherers to the Industrial Revolution. As much as I bemoan the strip malling of America and long for the small mom and pop shops from a simpler time that Uncle Floyd


    sometimes described in his column for The Italian Tribune


    (do check them out if you can get a hold of some–he doesn’t post them online), I am cognizant of the need for people to eat, and fiddling too much with the capitalist system could have horrific consequences. In other words, I’m asking: Could switching to a system like that espoused by national/tribal anarchists lead to mass starvation?

  2. “I am cognizant of the need for people to eat, and fiddling too much with the capitalist system could have horrific consequences. In other words, I’m asking: Could switching to a system like that espoused by national/tribal anarchists lead to mass starvation?”

    I’m very skeptical of the anarcho-primitivism that some in the N-A milieu seem to have an enthusiasm for, though I very much consider this to be a side issue, and I’m happy to work with primitivists on areas of agreement. As a practical matter, the approach to economic policies I would favor would be somewhere between the Ron Paulians and the left-libertarians. Attack corporate welfare, central banking, the managerial bureaucracy, etc. at the national level like the RP fans do, and attack local economic repression that prevents self-sufficiency and contributes to the centralization of wealth like the left-libertarians do. I’m also for developing alternative model enterprises like Mondragon, Semco, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist federation, Israel’s kibbutzim, etc.

    I’m just as ecumenical on economic questions as I am on social issues. If chain superstores and strip malls can exist without any state support, whether direct or indirect, and if people want to organize and patronize such entities, so be it. I do agree with the Misesians that we need the pricing system of the market to allocate resources with a reasonable level of efficiency, and that the use of money is inevitable in any kind of society that produces beyond the subsistence level. For that reason, I tend to be skeptical that ideas like anarcho-communism could work beyond unique circumstances (like the kibbutzim or an Amish colony or a monastery). I also think private property rights are necessary for both economic productivity and individual freedom, though I think there’s room for flexibility in terms of how property rights are to be specifically defined, both on a macro-level of institutional and legal arrangements, and on the micro-level specific areas of conflict (e.g. to what degree to animals or unborn fetuses have rights against their owners/caretakers/carriers?)

  3. Has rapacious Wal-Mart capitalism really saved us from the ‘Malthusian trap’? Surely at best it’s merely insulated us for a couple of centuries. The flood barriers can’t hold off the waters forever.

  4. Luke,

    Sorry for the delay in replying.

    I happen to believe the free market can save us from the trap. John Locke observed that land, for the most part, is virtually valueless without human creativity being added to it. Oil in the ground, for example, was worthless unless some bright humans came up with uses for oil, ways to get it out of the ground, etc. Early humans used their minds in living off the land, most particularly, according to my understanding, by dividing their groups up when the area they hunted and gathered could no longer support their numbers (hunting and gathering requires a lot of land). A part of a group would branch off and move somewhere else. This stopped the Malthusian trap from taking hold. At some point, however, this strategy no longer worked, as they ran out of land to move to. When humans turned to agriculture, they couldn’t manage their populations like they used to, so from that point until the Industrial Revolution, they would periodically experience mass starvations. I am optimistic that continued advances, brought on by human creativity, will keep us all fed, provided we have sufficiently free economic systems.

    As to Wal-Mart specifically, it does not merely make money by using the political means, e.g., using eminent domain to snatch up valuable locations. It creates wealth by its super efficient method of stocking shelves.


  5. Keith, I’m glad to see you had found this article as I was going to forward it to you if you hadn’t– it sounded just like pan-secessionism

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