Deconstructing Anarchy

Anarchist News

The following text was first delivered as a talk during Anarchē, a two-day conference curated by the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin. Here Italian philosopher Donatella Di Cesare explores the possibility of releasing the anarchic ontology concealed within the anarchist tradition.

1. Although sometimes tempered by nostalgic overtones, the current meaning of the word “anarchy” remains pejorative. It is taken as the negation of principle and command, but even more often as the absence of government and therefore as disorder.

Sovereignty is thus legitimized as the only condition for order, the sole alternative to the crippling absence of government. Anarchy becomes another way of indicating the wild chaos that would rage in the unlimited space beyond state sovereignty. This is why the history of the word and its uses goes far beyond semantic interest and reveals a conception of political architecture that has grown stronger over the centuries.

Hobbes’ successful narrative is at work here. Established to overcome the chaos of nature from which civil conflict must continually arise, sovereign power would be the result of a shared pact, of a willing submission to authority. Hobbes goes so far as to make the state a “person,” an almost anthropomorphic figure whose internal sovereignty, absolute and unquestionable, corresponds to an external sovereignty embodied by the other sovereign states. In a move destined to have long-lasting effects, it projects the Leviathan beyond its borders, the beast of primitive chaos, chosen as the emblem of state power. Wild unruliness, restrained within, is instead unleashed outside in the permanent virtual war between the state wolves, the sovereign Leviathans.

The dichotomy between inside and outside, sovereignty and anarchy, runs through all of modern thought. Right up to the present day it imposes a hierarchy of problems, prescribes solutions, justifies principles: above all that of the obedience to sovereign power. Needless to say, value judgments are introduced: on the one hand, internal space, where one can aim at living well, where progress, justice, democracy and human rights are affirmed; and on the other, external space, where at best survival is a given, where only the vague cosmopolitan projects of a confederation of peoples seem possible, if not the re-proposition of a world state.

Globalization changes the scenario but does not actually challenge the dichotomy between sovereignty and anarchy. It does, however, broaden the perspective, revealing the limits of a politics predicated on traditional borders, unable to see beyond them. The landscape appears more complicated than ever because, while the nation-states continue to impose the regulatory framework of events, the real and virtual spaces that open up between one border and another are being populated by other protagonists. This leads us to take leave of the dichotomy between the inside and the outside, the civilized and the uncivilized, between order and chaos.


Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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