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+2 votes
Question revised from the more loaded: "Is Saul Newman right that 'the anarchist needs the State to constitute [his or her] revolutionary identity?"

But one of many questions pertaining to utterances in Newman's essay "Interrogating the Master: Lacan and Radical Politics" (2004).
by (240 points)
edited by
why do you care whether the person wants black and white answers or not? (in this response you are merely changing the terms, without addressing the substance.) if you're interested in the question asked (or the topic raised), then surely, answering it (or commenting on it) in a way that continues that interest is more engaging and creative then telling someone "you didn't ask this right."
I'm not changing the terms -- that was always my interest ('the way a person asks a question reveals a lot'). Why do you care how engaged and creative I am? I suppose for the same reason I care how engaged and creative the questioner is?
yea, how did i know that was going to be your response...
to the extent that you and i have engaged in internet conversation, i have a lot more context for you then you (or i) have for someone who we may never have engaged before online, and may never again.
or do you find context irrelevant? (as your french-philosophy-quoting friend seems to? ;) )

(i meant that you changed the terms by starting with saying that the question precludes certain kinds of answers, then saying that you know it doesn't really preclude anything but it's a comment on the questioner).
Excuse me, what is this 'your answer was hidden' crap?

I stand by my contention that this question is "useless philosophizing" until "after the state & capital are out of the picture," even if such a rejection of the question does not actually constitute an answer.
I saw the limitation of how the question was asked so I changed it in order to be more fruitful and it is, at least for me. The question was intended as a theoretical one (with practical consequences) regarding to what extent, in what ways, a Lacanian theory of the subject, was, is, could be, might be, useful for anarchist theory and understanding a range of corresponding or not corresponding practices. I'm no authority on either psychoanalysis or anarchism as I think is obvious, and as Schmidt (whose work I respect otherwise I wouldn't have bothered to recast the query) points out. I am sensitive to the fact that I do not know my relationship to my own discourse. Thanks everyone for their patience and I look forward to The Postanarchism Reader.

3 Answers

+4 votes
no gods, no masters.

in one way, sure anarchist identity is dependent on the state:
what we do is predicated on the world we live in--we are reacting to a specific context that includes the state.

in another way, no, our desire to live fundamentally different lives is not dependent on the state at all.

edited to address the change in the question.
by (53.1k points)
edited by
Seems like if you evade, avoid, circumvent, and undermine authority in your daily life and choice of directed efforts, you're an anarchist. The context of the state we live in is real but the main idea is to live as a radically free person and push the idea that others do the same as they come to recognize that they are truly above the law. We don't "need" the state, we're just in the midst of it from birth but are trying to get free of it because we're conscious and can see the harm it brings about. But if the state as it has evolved through history didn't exist, or we had been born in an earlier (or later) age when the state wasn't so pervasive but other would-be masters tried to dominate you, as an anarchist you'd reject them and if necessary fight them off too. It's the rejection of all arbitrary ranks and hierarchies, state or non-state, that we don't accept. Libertaro
0 votes
Hmm.  Two thoughts in response to the original question:

1.) If you "need" the State to constitute yourself as an anarchist, you're not a very good anarchist ("good" in the sense of "real" or "effective," not as in "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?").  More than that: if you need _any_ kind of oppression or domination to be an anarchist, then you're playing a losing game.  Anarchism that is thought and practiced as something that is solely or even primarily about _negating_ something else is poorly developed.  Fortunately, we've got more to say and do than that.  Here's my translation of an entry from Daniel Colson's _Petit lexique philosophique de l'anarchisme de Proudhon à Deleuze_:

"_Positive anarchy_ (see _negation_, _more than oneself_, _equilibrium of forces_, _tension_ and _power of the outside_). A Proudhonian concept that also serves to dissociate the libertarian project from the negative and from the _ressentiment_ that the struggle against relations of domination is always likely to cause when it is not transformed at once from _refusal_, _rupture_, and revolt into an affirmative force able to recompose the world differently, in an emancipatory fashion. Positive anarchy is the affirmation of a dynamics and a new arrangement able to liberate collective forces from their confinement and enable them _to do all that they are capable of_."

(The entry on "emancipation"/"affirmation" goes into greater detail about this.)

2.) On the other hand, there might be a limited truth to the notion that the State is what constitutes anarchists as anarchists.  One way of describing a world in which we have "won," a world in a condition of positive anarchy, is to say that "everybody is an anarchist"; another way of describing the same world is to say that "nobody is an anarchist," because without the forces to which anarchism (the historically specific movement and body of ideas, not the same thing as "anarchy," which is routinely practiced by people who have no contact with it, and which is as old as the species, as far as we can tell) was opposed, "anarchist" no longer has any meaning as a particular identity.  The goal of anarchists might be, from this perspective, to abolish themselves as anarchists.  

This auto-destruction might be what Andrew X was getting at in his widely-read 1999 essay, "Give Up Activism," where he suggests that the "activist," as "a specialist or an expert in social change," needs to be abolished (see  What makes this practically interesting, instead of just abstractly paradoxical or a recipe for inaction, is that folks like the Umsonst groups translated this into experimental practices aimed at turning ordinary, unengaged passerby into the "activists" (see Anja Kanngieser's essay, "Gestures of Everyday Resistance," at

How's that?
by (210 points)
Gotta hand it to you, I really liked this response.
Great answer, thank you. Points in many useful directions. Will read the articles and try to comment then.
Hey, thanks!
0 votes
Yes and no.  As anarchist we are against the state, and all rulers, so even with out the state we might have still come up with this idea of anarchism, and even if we abolished the state now, we would still be anarchists.

If we were all free and equal it would make less sense to have the label.

Speaking specifically about the black flag of anarchism, Howard Ehrlich said this:  
"We are proud to carry it, sorry we have to, and look forward to the day when such a symbols will no longer be necessary."
by (1.7k points)