Nightmares of Reason

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Robert Charles Black Jr. (born January 4, 1951) is an American author and anarchist. He is the author of the books The Abolition of Work and Other Essays, Beneath the Underground, Friendly Fire, Anarchy After Leftism, and Defacing the Currency, and numerous political essays. (From :


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“The general level of insight now is more educated, curiosity is wide awake, and judgments are made more quickly than formerly; so the feet of them which shall carry thee out are already at the door” — Hegel A Word from the Author In 1997, C.A.L. Press published my Anarchy after Leftism, which took the form of a point by point (or tit for tat) refutation of Murray Bookchin’s Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm (A.K. Press [who else?] 1996). In the course of the writing, which occupied two months in 1996, I had the occasion to consult some previous books by the Director Emeritus, as I was sure that he was contradicting most of his previous positions. He was. What only his inner circle then knew is that Bookchin had privately renounced anarchism in 1995 (cf. the “communalism” website maintained by his remaining acolytes, w... (From :

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Chapter 1. Introduction The tale is told of the American tourist abroad who, encountering some natives who didn’t speak his language, assisted their understanding by repeating himself in a louder voice. That is Murray Bookchin’s way with wayward anarchists. In Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm the Director Emeritus laid down for all time what anarchists are to believe and what they are not to believe; and yet many perversely persist in error. The book’s very title announces its divisive intent. Three books and a slew of reviews suggest an overwhelmingly adverse anarchist reaction to the ex-Director’s encyclical, although it pleased Marxists. For Bookchin, there is only one possible explanation for anarchist intransigence: they didn’t hear him the first time. For who — having heard — could fail to believe? And so it came to pass — l...

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Chapter 2. Getting Personal(istic) A decade ago, a Green observed that “Bookchin has a tendency to be vituperative in responses to criticism.” By now Bookchin is completely out of control. My book Anarchy after Leftism, according to the Director Emeritus, teems with falsehoods so numerous “that to correct even a small number of them would be a waste of the reader’s time.” AAL is “transparently motivated by a white-hot animosity toward [Bookchin],” in stark contrast to SALA, which is transparently motivated by Bookchin’s own impersonal, disinterested quest for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him History. “So malicious are its invectives [sic]” that the Director Emeritus “will not dignify them with a reply.” Even a cursory reading of SALA — more than it merits — confirms that Bookchi... (From :

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Chapter 3. The Power of Positive Thinking, or, Positive Thinking of Power Anarchism is a philosophy of freedom. Other philosophies which are older, like liberalism, or better funded, like libertarianism, make the same claim, but they shrink from the logical, unqualified assertion of liberty against its antithesis: the state. To that extent, anarchists easily have a better understanding of freedom than its other, deeply conflicted proponents. But better is not necessarily good enough. The meaning of freedom is something anarchists more often take for granted than articulate, much less analyze. We should think more about this. Bookchin often tries to impress his readers with forays into other fields, including philosophy. And indeed his philosophic dabbling is revealing. Since writing on this topic, the Director Emeritus has finally agreed with my conclusion that he is not an anarchist. For once we can take him at his word, and he is a man of... (From :

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Chapter 4. This Side of Paradise Bookchin might have begun his discussion of primitive society as did Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Let us begin by laying the facts aside, as they do not affect the question.” For all his huffing and puffing, the Director Emeritus adds nothing to the inadequate and dishonest “evidentiality” (one of his gratuitous neologisms) which Watson and I have already shown to be wanting in SALA. He continues to ignore the anthropological studies summarized in John Zerzan’s Future Primitive, Watson’s Beyond Bookchin, and my Friendly Fire and Anarchy after Leftism. He continues to pretend that the thesis that stateless hunter-gatherers enjoyed a sort of primitive affluence was a short-lived 60s fad, like smoking banana peels — little more than the rebellious, euphoric romanticizing of non-Western peoples by tripped-out hippies, like the ones who... (From :

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Chapter 5. Stone Age or Old Age: An Unbridgeable Chasm For many years now the Director Emeritus has exhibited, as I have mentioned, a personalistic preoccupation with old age. Often his opinions are scarcely sublimated emotions — for example, his transparently autobiographical anxiety that “the lives of the old are always clouded by a sense of insecurity.” And only an insecure (and paranoid) old man could suppose that one of the groups against which mass discontent is channeled by reactionaries is — besides the usual suspects (racial minorities, the poor, etc.) — “the elderly.” As so often, Bookchin echoes his beloved Athenians, this time the Aristophanes character who says: “Isn’t old age the worst of evils? Of course it is.” His insecurities are not, however, “always” felt by the elderly — not in primitive societies: “The idea that one might fear or resent... (From :

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Chapter 6. Book Filled with Lies The latest of the ex-Director’s ironic indiscretions is his heavy reliance on Edwin Wilmsen’s Land Filled with Flies to bash the anarcho-primitivists. In SALA, Bookchin asserted an affinity between anarcho-primitivism and post-modernism, with sublime indifference to the fact that post-modernism has no harsher critic than John Zerzan. To any reader of Wilmsen not in thrall to an ulterior motive, Wilmsen is blatantly a post-modernist. One of his reviewers, Henry Harpending, is a biological anthropologist who is charmingly innocent of exposure to PoMo. He had “a lot of trouble” with the beginning of the book, which contains “an alarming discussion of people and things being interpellated in the introduction and in the first chapter, but my best efforts with a dictionary left me utterly ignorant about what it all meant.” Not surprisingly: the jargo... (From :

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Chapter 7. Primitivism and the Enlightenment In his prime, Bookchin could be a harsh critic of the Enlightenment, or, as he invariably referred to it, “the bourgeois Enlightenment.” Now his only criticism is that with respect to primitive society, it wasn’t bourgeois enough. As he now sees it, the Enlightenment, which fought for reason and progress in its own society, inconsistently tolerated and even celebrated stagnant, backward, ignorant and superstitious primitive peoples. In this as in so many other ways, it is Bookchin’s project to perfect and complete the essentially rational and progressive project of the bourgeois Enlightenment. He always understands what people are doing better than they do. “There is nothing new,” the Director Emeritus intones, “about the romanticization of tribal peoples. Two centuries ago, denizens of Paris, from Enlighteners such as Denis Diderot to reactionaries like... (From :

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Chapter 8. The Specter of Shamanism The Sage of Burlington continues: “One of the Enlightenment’s great achievements was to provide a critical perspective on the past, denouncing the taboos and shamanistic trickery that made tribal peoples the victims of unthinking custom as well as the irrationalities that kept them in bondage to hierarchy and class rule, despite [?] its denunciations of Western cant and artificialities.” Mopping up this mess will take me awhile. But briefly: primitive peoples don’t have class rule — according to Bookchin the Younger. Having credited, or rather discredited, the Enlightenment with inventing primitivism, the Director now credits it with refuting primitivism by denouncing the taboos and tricky shamans holding tribal peoples in bondage. But how would “a critical perspective on the past” bring about these insights? 18th century Europeans... (From :

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Chapter 9. The Rule of Law versus the Order of Custom Sir Alfred Zimmern, Murray Bookchin’s favorite historian, intended some derision when he wrote that “the modern anarchists have reinvented ‘unwritten laws,’” but Sir Alfred, unlike the Director Emeritus, was right in spite of himself. Malatesta expressed the anarchist view of custom: “Custom always follows the needs and feelings of the majority; and the less they are subject to the sanctions of law the more are they respected, for everyone can see and understand their use.” So did George Woodcock: “Customs and not regulations are the natural manifestations of man’s ideas of justice, and in a free society customs would adapt themselves to to the constant growth and tension in that society.” Custom (it is better to avoid the confusionist expression “unwritten laws”) is a basic ordering institution in primitiv... (From :

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Chapter 10. Before the Law The Director Emeritus is full of — surprises. He takes David Watson to task for “denigrat[ing] the development of writing” — actually, all Watson did was deny the “dogma of the inherent superiority of the written tradition” to the oral tradition. The irony (as always, unnoticed) is that speaking and listening are inherently sociable, whereas “reading — silent reading — is manifestly antisocial activity.” Astonishingly, Bookchin’s defense of literacy takes the form of an affirmation of law: Before the written word, it should be noted, chiefs, shamans [!], priests, aristocrats, and monarchs possessed a free-wheeling liberty to improvise ways to require the oppressed to serve them. It was the written word, eventually, that subjected them to the restrictions of clearly worded and publicly accessible laws to which the... (From :

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Chapter 11. Humanists and Subhumans The Director Emeritus identifies himself as a humanist. Indeed, he has devoted an entire book to chastising the “antihumanists” in the ecology movement. It is as a humanist, for instance, that he is scandalized by the “blatant callousness” of David Watson. He has dirtied the word. A humanist is supposed to believe in the dignity and equal worth of men. What Bookchin believes is shockingly otherwise. Not only does he deny that all men are created equal, he denies that all men are men. Not only does he consider the societies and cultures of primitives inferior, he denies that primitives are social and cultural beings. They are “merely natural” — in other words, they are nothing but animals (see Chapter 10). In Bookchin’s peculiar terminology, they engage in “animalistic adaptation rather than activity”; put another way, “human beings are capable not on... (From :

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Chapter 13. The Communalist Hallucination The ex-Director’s emphatically prioritizing the social over the individual does not apply when he is the individual. When it comes to English usage, he is, in the rugged individualist tradition of Thoreau, a majority of one. Bookchin expresses his sovereignty in many ways. Redundancy makes for a vigorous, emphatic style: thus, “airless vacuum,” “fly apart in opposite directions,” “etymological roots,” “presumably on the assumption,” “determining cause,” “arduous toil,” “unique, indeed unprecedented,” “domination and rule,” “mechanical robots,” and “direct face-to-face.” Superfluous tics like “as such” and “in effect” add style if not substance. Like raising one’s voice, italics promote understanding. Bookchin is at liberty to reverse a word&r... (From :

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Chapter 14. The Judgment of Athena If Athens was not by his own definition anarchist, Murray Bookchin is not an anarchist. Whatever it was, Athens was exceptional. Most of the Greek city-states were oligarchies. Indeed, in an atypically accurate statement which refutes his whole theory of urban destiny, Bookchin says that city-states naturally tend toward oligarchy. The Director Emeritus errs in claiming that Aristotle (and Plato!) approved of democracy in the right circumstances. Aristotle clearly stated his preference for “polity,” described as a mixture of democracy and oligarchy. He disapproved of democracy, as M.I. Finley puts it, “on principle.” What’s more, he thought Athens was democracy at its worst, the worst being lawless democracy based on vulgar people, merchants, and the multitude of laborers. Socrates and Plato, and lesser Athenian intellectuals, were anti-democratic. For Pla... (From :

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Chapter 15. City-Statism and Anarchy Let us summarize what we know. The city of Athens was not a Commune and it was a slave-based imperialist state, and so it was not anarchist. The self-governing cities of pre-industrial Europe were not Communes and they were states. The towns of colonial New England were not Communes, again by Bookchin’s definition, and they were subordinate to higher levels of state. Revolutionary Paris was not a Commune or a Commune of Communes, and it was subordinate to a national state. It is time for a general characterization of the relationship between the city and the state. According to the ex-Director’s latest ukase, the town and city “historically antedate the emergence of the state.” His opinion is dictated by his politics. If the state preceded the city, the city is at least in part the creation of the state. Another implication is that anarchy is prior to the city, since the state is... (From :

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Chapter 16. Fantasies of Federalism One of its proponents insists that face-to-face direct democracy has to meet a very demanding standard: The first and most important positive act of political recognition which a participatory democracy must pay to its members is to give each of them frequent and realistic opportunities to be heard, that is to say, access to assemblies sufficiently small so all can reasonably be assured time to speak, and to matters of sufficient moment to command practical attention. Bookchin’s standard is just as high: The Greeks, we are often reminded, would have been horrified by a city whose size and population precluded a face-to-face, often familiar relationship between citizens... In making collective decisions — the ancient Athenian ecclesia was, in some ways, a model for making social decisions — all members of the co... (From :

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Chapter 17. Anarchist Communism versus Libertarian Municipalism Previous chapters demonstrate that libertarian municipalism, at the ground level, will be oligarchic and probably oppressive toward local minorities. At the level of the wider society, its federations and multiples of federations will be slow, cumbersome, internally unworkable, cumulatively elitist, and either too powerful or not powerful enough. Inevitably the system will evolve the features of the system it was supposed to supplant. It is objectionable, first, as being a blueprint for the future, and second, as a blueprint with too many pages missing. It has to be the most mundane utopia ever conceived — at once an affront to sense and sensibility. But is it anarchist? Of course not, but here is a direct demonstration. Aside from the federalist frills, the ideology calls for a sovereign, self-governing local assembly, the Commune. Eminent anarchists, as w... (From :

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Chapter 18. The Organization of Power After ignoring the topic since 1971, the Director Emeritus abruptly places the organization question on the agenda: Those who wish to overthrow this vast system will require the most careful strategic judgment, the most profound theoretical understanding, and the most dedicated and persistent organized revolutionary groups to even shake the deeply entrenched bourgeois social order. They will need nothing less than a revolutionary socialist movement, a well-organized and institutionalized endeavor led by knowledgeable and resolute people who will foment mass resistance and revolution, advance a coherent program, and unite their groups into a visible and identifiable confederation. As recently as Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism , Bookchin wrote nothing about revolutionary organization, not even as a virtue of “The Left T... (From :

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Chapter 19. Murray Bookchin, One-Dimensional Man My first time around, in Anarchy after Leftism, I gave Bookchin’s history of recent anarchism the scant attention it deserves. This time I’ll screwtinize it in more detail. Basically it goes like this. At the economic base, there are periods of “apparent capitalist stabilization” or “capitalist stability,” of “social peace,” and then there are periods of “deep social unrest,” sometimes giving rise to “revolutionary situations.” When capitalism is crisis-ridden, Social Anarchism “has usually held center stage” as far as anarchism goes. When capitalism is, or seems to be, stabilized — the ambiguity is a big help to the argument — then the Lifestyle Anarchists come to the fore to flaunt their cultural and individual eccentricities. Unlike most of the ex-Director’s theses, this one is testable. But he did not tes... (From :

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Chapter 20. Conclusion: Whither Anarchism, Indeed? “Now you see, sir, how your fooling grows old, and people dislike it” — Shakespeare, Twelfth Night Whither anarchism? If that’s the question, it is one for which Bookchin has no answer. In “The Left That Was,” the appendix to SALA, he reiterates that the classical left is forever defunct. Long ago he announced that “the traditional workers’ movement will never reappear.” He does not discuss the social composition of the “millions of people today” who experience “the sense of powerlessness” which renders them “a potentially huge body of supporters” of anarchism. Who are they? They cannot be bourgeois, for the bourgeois are by definition the enemy. They cannot be proletarians, for the proletariat, according t... (From :

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Chapter 12. Nightmares of Reason Unconscious irony has become a hallmark of Late Bookchinism, the Highest Stage of Leftism. Well-known examples include Bookchin’s denunciations of leftists with alluring academic careers just as the then-Director retired from an alluring academic career; his scathing contempt for John P. Clark’s “cowardly” hiding behind a pseudonym the way Bookchin did in the 60s; his personalistic abuse of individuals he accuses of personalism; his vilification of other writers for appearing in the same yuppie publications he’s been published by or favorably reviewed in; his denunciation of the political use of metaphor in a book whose title, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm, contains a political metaphor; and his denunciations of anarchists for agreeing with what he used to say. Although inconsistency, not to say hypocrisy, is nothing new for Bookchin, lately the devol... (From :

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Appendix: An American in Paris 1 When Murray Bookchin writes that there is an issue “that I find so offensive and so outrageously false that I feel obliged to examine it in some detail,” you can count on a good show. No one takes umbrage on quite the colossal scale that he does. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is incomprehensible counsel for the Director Emeritus. The issue he finds so offensive and so outrageously false — John P. Clark’s ridicule of an item on Bookchin’s revolutionary resume — holds promise for running his vital signs right off the Richter scale. So I, too, propose to examine it in some detail. As the Director Emeritus explains, “On other occasions I have noted that I witnessed street struggles in Paris between the French police (the CRS) and radical protesters in mid-July 1968.” A pity he does not reference these “other occasions” so... (From :


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