The Ecology of Freedom : Chapter 7 - The Legacy of Freedom
(1921 - 2006) ~ Father of Social Ecology and Anarcho-Communalism : Growing up in the era of traditional proletarian socialism, with its working-class insurrections and struggles against classical fascism, as an adult he helped start the ecology movement, embraced the feminist movement as antihierarchical, and developed his own democratic, communalist politics. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "...Proudhon here appears as a supporter of direct democracy and assembly self- management on a clearly civic level, a form of social organization well worth fighting for in an era of centralization and oligarchy." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "The social view of humanity, namely that of social ecology, focuses primarily on the historic emergence of hierarchy and the need to eliminate hierarchical relationships." (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
• "Or will ecology groups and the Greens turn the entire ecology movement into a starry-eyed religion decorated by gods, goddesses, woodsprites, and organized around sedating rituals that reduce militant activist groups to self-indulgent encounter groups?" (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
Chapter 7 - The Legacy of Freedom
The most triumphant moment of Justitia does not occur in her apotheosis as "bourgeois right," when the marketplace gives materiality to the rule of equivalence. Rather, it occurs in those times of transition when justice is extricating itself from the parochial world of organic society. This is the heroic moment of innocence, before the materiality of equivalence in the form of the commodity reclaims an early idealism. At this time, justice is emergent, creative, and fresh with promise — not worn down by history and the musty logic of its premises. The rule of equivalence is still loosening the grip of the blood oath, patriarchy, and the civic parochialism that denies recognition to individualism and a common humanity. It is opening society's door to personality with all its wild eccentricities and to the stranger as the shadowy figure of the "outsider." But by the bourgeois era, particularly its nineteenth-century cultural apogee, individual fulfillment reveals itself as naked egotism, and the dream of a common humanity becomes the threadbare cloak for harsh social inequalities. Penalty for reward is inscribed all over the face of the century and measured out unrelentingly in the cruel dialectic of the inequality of equals. Heaven and hell indeed hang together, as Horkheimer and Adorno observe.
What, then, of freedom — of the equality of unequals? Where does it begin to separate from the liberatory achievements of justice and pick up its own thread of development? I do not mean a return to organic society; instead, I mean a new advance that will include the individuality fostered by justice's maxim of equals and the shared participation of the individual in a common humanity.
The word "freedom" initially appears in a Sumerian cuneiform tablet that gives an account of a successful popular revolt against a highly oppressive regal tyranny, thousands of years ago. In The Sumerians, Samuel Noah Kramer tells us that "in this document . . . we find the word 'freedom' used for the first time in man's recorded history; the word is amargi which . . . means literally 'return to the mother.'" Alas, Kramer wonders, "we still do not know why this figure of speech came to be used for 'freedom.'" Thereafter, "freedom" retains its features as a longing to "return to the mother," whether to organic society's matricentric ambiance or to nature perceived as a bountiful mother. The classical world is preoccupied with justice, fair dealings, individual liberty, and enfranchisement of the outsider in the world city, rather than with freedom's equality of unequals. Freedom is viewed as utopistic and fanciful, and relegated to the underworld of repressed dreams, mystical visions, and Dionysian "excesses" like the Saturnalia and other ecstatic mystical rituals.
As theory and an explicit ideal, freedom again rises to the surface of consciousness with Christianity. When Augustine places the wayfaring "Heavenly City" into the world as a force for social change, he also locates it in a meaningful, purposeful historical drama that leads to humanity's redemption. Hence humankind is removed from the meaningless recurring cycles of ancient social thought. Here we encounter the radical face of history's "double meaning" as it was developed by the Christian fathers. According to Augustine, creation initiates a distinctly linear, time-laden evolution analogous to the individual's own stages of life. The period from Adam to Noah is humanity's childhood, Noah to Abraham its boyhood, Abraham to David its youth, and David to the Babylonian captivity its manhood. After this, history passes into two concluding periods beginning with the birth of Jesus and ending with the Last Judgment. Within this history, the heavenly and earthly cities are engaged in an irreconcilable series of conflicts in which each achieves episodic triumphs over the other. However, a dialectic of corruption and germination assures the triumph of the heavenly city over the earthly. Redemption thus ceases to be the arbitrary whim of a deity; it ceases, in effect, to be exclusively transcendental and becomes anthropological. History imparts to faith a logic and intelligibility that inspires hope, meaning, and action. Augustine's view of redemption is prospective rather than retrospective; the "golden age" of the pagan now lies in a historically conditioned future, one that is to be attained in a battle with evil, rather than a long-lost natural past. In Augustine's time, this vision served to diffuse the millenarian hopes of the emerging Christian world for an imminent Second Coming of Christ. But it later haunted the Church like a postponed debt, whose claims must be honored by its clerical creditors sooner or later.
The decisive idea in Augustine's work, observes Ernst Bloch, is that for the first time a political utopia appears in history. In fact, it produces history; history comes to be as saving history in the direction of the kingdom, as a single unbroken process extending from Adam to Jesus on the basis of the Stoic unity of mankind and the Christian salvation it is destined for.
By placing Christian eschatology in a historical context, Augustine initiates a concept of utopia that is earthbound and future-oriented. History has a goal that extends beyond cyclic return to a final culmination in the practical affairs of humanity. Biblical narrative parallels personal development; hence it ceases to be an inventory of miracles, rewards, and punishments. The "world order," in turn, ceases to be the consequence of a transcendental world that exists beyond it, however much Augustine permeates it with the Will of God. It is an order in which that Will is immanent in the earthly world as well, an order that includes causally related events as well as miraculous ones.
But Augustine not only provides us with the first notion of a political utopia; he emphatically denigrates political authority. To be sure, early Christianity had always viewed political entanglements as tainted. Like the Stoics before them, the Church fathers of the late Roman world articulated the individual's feelings of increasing separation from all levels of political power and social control. Gone were the popular assemblies of the polis, the hoplites or militias of citizen-farmers, the citizen-amateurs chosen by lot to administer the day-to-day affairs of the community. The Roman republic and, more markedly, the empire had long replaced them with senatorial and imperial rulers, professional armies, and an elaborate, far-flung bureaucracy. For Stoicism and Christianity to preach a gospel of abstinence from political activism merely expressed in spiritual and ethical terms a situation that had become firmly established as fact. It neither challenged the political order of the time nor acquiesced to it, but merely acknowledged existing realities.
By contrast, Augustine did more than counsel indifference to political authority; he denounced it. Franz Neumann, describing what. he calls the "Augustinian position," acutely notes the dual nature of this denunciation. Augustine viewed politics as evil: "Political power is coercion, even in origins and purpose." For human to dominate human is "unnatural":
Only at the end of history with the advent of the Kingdom of God can and will coercion be dispensed with. From this philosophy derive two radically different, yet inherently related, attitudes: that of total conformism and that of total opposition to political power. If politics is evil, withdrawal is mandatory. Forms of government and objectives of political power become irrelevant. Salvation can be attained through faith, and early life should be a mere preparation for it. Monasticism is the first consequence. By the same token, however, the demand for the immediate destruction of politics and the establishment of a Kingdom of God may equally be supported by the Augustinian premise. The Anabaptist movement [of the Reformation era] was perhaps the most striking manifestation of the total rejection of society.
More accurately, the Anabaptists rejected the political world represented by the State.
The conflict latent in this dual message of political quietism and messianic activism could hardly be suppressed once the Christian doctrine became increasingly secularized. The Church was the major factor behind its own transformation from an other-worldly into a worldly power — notably by its growing conflict with the temporal power to which Pauline Christianity had entrusted humanity's worldly destiny. The most explosive of these conflicts developed in the eleventh century, when Pope Gregory VII forbade the lay investiture of bishops and claimed this authority exclusively for the Papacy. The dispute reached its culmination when the Holy See excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, for contumaciously resisting the Church's claims, and called upon Henry's subjects to deny him fealty.
This was more than an extension of ecclesiastical power. Gregory was asserting the higher authority of spiritual over political power. In so doing, he challenged political power and placed it in a tainted ethical light. Accordingly, the Pope traced political authority as such back to evil and sin in a fashion that makes the Augustinian position seem tepid by comparison. Thus, declaimed Gregory,
Who does not know that kings and rulers took their beginning from those who, being ignorant of God, have assumed, because of blind greed and intolerable presumption, to make themselves masters of their equals, namely men, by means of pride, violence, bad faith, murder, and nearly every kind of crime, being incited thereto by the prince of the world, the Devil?
Taken by themselves, these heady words match the most stinging attacks that were to be leveled against political authority by the revolutionary chiliastic leaders of the Reformation period.
Thereafter, Christian doctrine became increasingly social and secular until religious disputes barely concealed harsh clashes over the implications of the Augustinian position. The eventual submission of sacerdotal to secular power did not terminate these conflicts. To the contrary, it made them outrageously worldly in character. In the twelfth century, John of Salisbury bluntly turned his back on the feudal hierarchy of his day, a hierarchy based on the unquestioning obedience of ruled to ruler, and proceeded to explore the validity of governance by law. Tyranny — by which John meant the disregard of law as dictated by the people — was beyond legitimation and could be overthrown by force. This far-reaching, avowedly revolutionary position was drawn not from the Christian father Augustine, but from the republican theorist Cicero. Its medievalistic references to "princes" and "kings" aside, it had a distinctly republican ring.
While Christian doctrine drifted into Thomistic scholasticism, with its explicit justification of hierarchy and its designation of political power as "natural," Joachim of Fiore, almost a contemporary of John of Salisbury, brought the radical eschatology of Christianity completely into the open. Joachim's goal was not to "cleanse the Church and State of their horrors," observes Bloch. "They were abolished instead, or rather a lux nova was kindled in it — the 'Third Kingdom,' as the Joachimites called it." The Third Kingdom — the coming historical stage illumined by the Holy Spirit — was to succeed the Old Testament stage based on the Father and the New Testament stage based on the Son. With the illumination provided by the Holy Spirit, all masters, both spiritual and temporal, would disappear, and "wheat" would replace the "grass" brought by the Old Testament era and the "sheaves" brought by the New.
Joachimism fed directly into the great chiliastic movements that swept through the medieval world in the fourteenth century and surfaced again during the Reformation. Bloch's assessment of Joachim's influence is worth noting:
For centuries, genuine and forged writings of Joachim's remained in circulation. They appeared in Bohemia and in Germany, even in Russia, where sects aspiring to original Christianity were clearly influenced by the Calabrian preaching. The Hussites' "kingdom of God in Bohemia" — repeated a hundred years later in Germany by the Anabaptists — meant Joachim's civitas Christi. Behind it lay the misery that had come long since; in it lay the millennium whose coming was due, so men struck a blow of welcome. Special attention was paid to the abolition of wealth and poverty; the preaching of those seeming romantics took brotherly love literally and interpreted it financially. "During its journey on earth," Augustine had written, "the City of God attracts citizens and gathers friendly pilgrims from all nations, regardless of differences due to customs, laws, and institutions that serve material gain and assure earthly peace." The Joachimites' coming civitas Dei, on the other hand, kept a sharp eye on institutions that served material gain and exploitation, and the tolerance it practiced — namely, toward Jews and heathens — could not but be alien to international ecclesiasticism. Its criterion for citizenship was not whether a man had been baptized, but whether he heard the fraternal spirit in himself.
The Joachimite "financial" interpretation of brotherly love carried Christian eschatology beyond the confines of the Augustinian position into a distinctly secular social philosophy and movement. The social theories of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke owe their secular quality to the assimilation of "other-worldliness" to "this-worldliness," a process that begins with John of Salisbury and Joachim of Fiore. Christian social theory, particularly its radical wing, had overcome the duality between heaven and earth on which Pauline Christianity had been nourished. Once the split was transcended, heavenly questions were superseded by practical problems of law, power, authority, equality, and freedom. Pope Gregory VII had opened sluice gates that his era could never again close. Once the Church itself became the plaything of the temporal powers and the papacy an instrument of Rome's local patriciate, heaven too began to lose its hypnotic power over the human mind, and hope ceased to find refuge in the spiritual dispensation of an otherworldly King. When the Puritans of 1649 removed the head of Charles I in the name of a new religious credo, they effectively removed the head of their heavenly Father as well. In the following century, the Parisian sans culottes were to remove kingly and queenly heads with invocations to no higher authority than reason.
Christian historicism,with its promise of an early utopistic future, taken together with the Church's appeals for direct popular support against anticlerical abuses by lay authority, had a strong influence on radical social movements of medieval and early modern times. Until Marxian socialism acquired the status of official dogma in nearly half the world, Christianity was to play a predominant role in the spiritual and intellectual life of western society. No doctrine could kindle more fervent hopes among the oppressed, only to dash them to the ground when the clerical and civil powers periodically combined to repress subversive sects and radical popular movements. Contradictions within Christian religious precepts were to provide the grindstone for sharpening the knives of social criticism, which, in turn, gave rise to new ideas for social reconstruction. Despite its patently conflicting messages, Christianity offered the principles, examples, social metaphors, ethical norms, and above all a spiritual emphasis on the virtuous life that were to foster an unprecedented zealotry in periods of social rebellion. Its ethical impact on medieval movements for change contrasts sharply with economistic and materialistic explanations of human behavior. Such a tremendous movement as Anabaptism — a movement that enlisted nobles and learned sectarians as well as poor townspeople and peasants in support of apostolic communism and love — could not have emerged without anchoring its varied ideals in Christian ethical imperatives. These ideals outweighed life itself in the eyes of its acolytes.
To describe religion, particularly Christianity, as the "heart of a heartless world," as Marx does, is not to dismiss religion but to acknowledge its autonomous existence as an ethical dimension of society. From the late Roman world to the Enlightenment, every significant radical ideal was cast in terms of Christian doctrine. Even when people looked backward toward a lost golden age or forward to a Last Kingdom, they often also looked upward to a "heavenly" dispensation for inspiration, if not validation. Christian doctrine was a stellar body in the world's firmament of belief — a source of illumination that would not be discarded as a guiding force in human affairs until the eighteenth or nineteenth century.
Freedom's equality of unequals had never totally disappeared as a principle of "compensation," if only because this principle could be used to provide credibility for privilege as well as equality. Where justice assailed the inequities of class rule or its claims to status as a matter of birth, the notion of "compensation" reinforced these inequities by according to "unequals" a greater "compensatory" increment in power, wealth, and authority. "Compensation" acknowledged the "superiority" of the slave master and feudal lord over their slaves and serfs; it accorded the ruler the authority and means to live according to the norms of rulership. Ironically, the nobles of imperial Rome and feudal Europe claimed the "freedom" to live on very unequal terms with the oppressed and exploited beneath them. Normally, it was to Cesar and the feudal monarchs, not to local satraps and lords, that the oppressed turned for justice. Neither freedom nor justice were prevalent as principles in European manorial society; rather, a fairly precise system of rights and duties was established between ruling and ruled classes, based on highly modified customs and traditions that derived from tribal times. Territorial lords were to be compensated for their military prowess in defending their lands and subjects from "barbarian" raiders — and from the dynastic conflicts generated by feudal society itself. Villeins, peasants, and serfs were also to be compensated for the material support they gave to secure safety and peace in a very troubled era. In effect, compensation for inequalities had been denatured into privilege.
Wherever this system of rights and duties broke down, the oppressed often returned to the egalitarian premises that had nourished the principle of compensation. To the oppressed, what held for the territorial lords could easily hold for them; they too could claim the privileges conferred by "inequality." Hence the "backward look" to a golden age was not always evidence of nostalgia or of an ethical drama in which authority and oppression were unavoidable penalties for original sin and the loss of innocence. Often, the "backward look" involved an attempt by the oppressed to restore freedom's equality of unequals — to recover the very premises from which ruling classes had reworked ancient traditions to support their own "compensatory" privileges.
But with Christianity, this "backward look" acquired a vibrant sense of futurity — and not only because of Augustinian or Joachimite historicism. To the pagan world, the memory of a golden age elicited basically quietistic and nostalgic responses. Even in the ancient cycles of eternal recurrence, it was doomed to be succeeded by faulted epochs. From Plato to the Stoics, social theory contains a quietistic core, a sense of fatalism and resignation, in which "ideal" poleis are frozen in their ideality and their distance from the real world, or else reduced to private gardens as loci for an ethical retreat. Within any given social cycle, the golden age could no longer be expected to return; there was no point in striving for it. All epochs in the cycle were as predetermined as the inexorable cycles of nature. To be sure, the oppressed or the morally inspired did not always heed this fate that the ruling classes of antiquity imparted to history; plebians and slaves could rise in great insurrectionary conflicts. But rarely were domination and slavery brought into question. The slave's dream of freedom, as some shortlived but successful rebellions suggest, was to turn the slave-master into a slave. Vengeance, not hope, was the poor man's notion of settling his accounts with his oppressor.
Christianity, by contrast, offered a different vision. Authority, laws, domination, and servitude were explained by the need to restrain a "fallen humanity." Sin, like the afflictions in Pandora's box, had been released by woman's "accursed curiosity," but redemption and its abolition of authority, laws, domination, and servitude lay in the offing. The Christian clergy retained an activistic stance toward absolution and brought the flock into motion to fight sin, Muslim infidels, and the territorial lords as the needs of the Church hierarchy required. Hence, to look back to the Garden of Eden was actually to look forward to its recovery, not to bemoan its disappearance. The ethical drama that eventually would yield its recovery was an active struggle with the powers of evil and wrong: humanity made its own history. Yahweh, as the transcendental expression of Will, had been transmuted into the many existential wills of the Christian congregation. With the Christian emphasis on individuality and a universal humanity, Fortuna now returned in a more spiritual light to remove any notion of predetermination of one's personal fate — a feeling that Calvin was to challenge during the Reformation. The Christian ethical drama became a battleground — not a stage — that was occupied by free-willing combatants, not stylized, carefully rehearsed actors. The masks used in classical drama to express an actor's sentiments were removed to show the real face of the medieval and modern individual. If there was any script, it was the Bible — with all its wrenching ambiguities — not the cold and carefully wrought hexameters of ancient tragedy.
This battleground was marked by several striking features that greatly influenced European struggles for freedom. Its paradisical gardens were located not only in time but also in place. Consigned as they might be to the past, they nevertheless occupied a geographic area on earth. As such, they posed a constant subversive affront to the class and priestly emphasis on the supernatural with its afterlife rewards for obedience and virtue. This implicit opposition of nature to Supernature — of earthly rewards to heavenly — is crucial. It flouts the authority of heaven and tests the ingenuity of humanity to find its haven of freedom and abundance within life itself and on the earth. Hence, such visions were not a utopos, or "no place" but a distinct "some place" with definite boundaries. Historically, attempts to locate the Garden of Eden were made repeatedly — not only symbolically but also geographically. Ponce de Leon's pursuit of the "Fountain of Youth" is merely one of innumerable explorations that for centuries occupied the lives and claimed the fortunes of explorers.
Certainly, the oppressed believed that the Garden of Eden was still on earth, not in heaven — in nature, not in Supernature. In the outrageously heretical medieval image of such a garden, the "Land of Cokaygne," this place was the creation of a bountiful maternal natural world — an amargi — not an austere paternal deity. The utterly anarchic fourteenth-century version of this "some place" broadly satirizes the Christian heaven, against which it opposes an almost Dionysian, sensuously earthy world of nature — a world that, like maternal love, gives freely of its fruits to a denied and deserving humanity:
Though paradise be merry and bright, Cokaygne is a fairer sight. What is there in Paradise but grass and flowers and green boughs?
By contrast, Cokaygne has "rivers great and fine of oil, milk, honey, and wine." Food is bountiful, cooked and baked by nature's own hand; eternal day replaces night, peace replaces strife, and "all is common to young and old, to stought and stern, meek and bold."
Cokaygne, merely by virtue of its location, openly flouts clerical sensibilities. "Far in the sea, to the West of Spain, is a land called Cokaygne." In his analysis of the poem, A. L. Morton adds:
This westward placing clearly connects Cokaygne with the earthly paradise of Celtic mythology. Throughout the Middle Ages the existence of such a paradise was firmly believed in, but the church always placed its paradise in the East and strongly opposed the belief in a western paradise as a heathen superstition. In spite of this ecclesiastical opposition the belief persisted . . . . So strong were these beliefs that in the form of St. Branden's Isle the western paradise had to be christianized and adopted by the Church itself, and a number of expeditions were sent out from Ireland and elsewhere in search of the Isle. Nevertheless, the fact that Cokaygne is a western island is an indication that the Cokaygne theme is of popular and pre-Christian character, and the western placing may in itself be taken as one of the specifically anti-clerical features.
The heretical insouciance of the poem is revealed most clearly in its flagrantly "common" tastes, if not in its déclassé and bohemian tone. To the modern mind, it is notable for its lack of any technological means to achieve its bounty; such a technology, in any case, was hopelessly beyond human achievement at the time. More importantly, there is no toil in Cokaygne, no compulsory exertion, no need to master oneself or others for labor. Cokaygne is created not by humanity, its arts, or its institutions but by nature, which gives freely of its wealth and pleasures. The notion of nature as a realm of "scarce resources," which is articulated clearly in Aristotle's Politics, has yielded to the notion of nature as a realm of plenty and abundance; hence, no need exists for institutions and restrictions of any kind, or for hierarchy and domination. Indeed, Cokaygne is not a society at all but a fecund land, and its human inhabitants may live in it without placing any constraints on their desires. It is libertarian — indeed, deliciously libertine — because nature is no longer the product of a stern, demanding Creator; it is instead an emancipated nature that goes hand in hand with an emancipated humanity and an emancipation of human fantasy.
The premises on which the entire vision of Cokaygne rests are strangely modern. Peace, harmony, and freedom in the most absolute sense are predicated on material superfluity. People require no protection or rule; their every desire can be satisfied without technics or the need to bring other human beings into personal or institutional subjugation. No war, conflict, or violence mars Cokaygne's landscape. In the sheer splendor of this plenty and the givingness of nature, the "pleasure principle" and "reality principle" are in perfect congruence. Hence no conceivable tensions need disturb the security and peace of Cokaygne. Pleasure is the rule, abundance enables desire to replace mere need, because every wish can be fulfilled without exertion or technical strategies.
Cokaygne further implies a view of human nature that is benign rather than conceived in sin. Humanity is afflicted not because it has eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge but because it has eaten of the bitter root of scarcity. Scarcity is not the penalty of sin but rather its cause. Given a level of abundance that removes this bitter root, individuals have no need to dominate, manipulate, or empower themselves at the expense of others. The appetite for power and the desire to inflict harm are removed by nature's sheer fecundity.
The land of Cokaygne appears again, as a sanctuary of privilege in Rabelais's Abbey of Theleme. But for the present, I wish to emphasize that Cokaygne is a consumerist concept of freedom, involving n o labor, technics, or canons o f productivity. This concept is woven through the broad popular movements of history for centuries. And even where it ebbs briefly, Cokaygne is recovered by heretical elites, by the "elect" who acknowledge no authority or denial of pleasure other than that dictated by their own "inner light." Allowing unrestrained freedom to consume, to take from life its proferred riches, this vision of freedom acquires a distinctly utopian form. It passes from imagery and geography into a cerebral sensibility — a philosophy, as it were — and a way of life that is represented by the Brethren of the Free Spirit. During the Reformation, it degenerates into the "military communism" of the Adamite plunderers. In our own time, it acquires distinctly esthetic qualities among the Symbolist and Surrealist artists whose demand for the fulfillment of desire are inscribed as slogans on the walls of Paris during the May-June events of 1968. Charles Fourier's utopian visions incorporate the problematic of scarcity, need, and labor that this tradition of freedom seeks to resolve by natural, elitist, or esthetic means; but his phalansteries, the basic units of his utopia, are technically oriented and involve a recourse to strategies that root it only partly in the Cokaygne imagery.
In contrast to these consumerist concepts, we also witness the emergence of productivist concepts of freedom. These notions of humanity's ability to create a communistic, sharing, and nonauthoritarian society have their material roots in science, technics, and the rational use of labor. In this vision, the means that will yield the reconciliation of human with human are supplied not by nature but by "man" himself. Utopias of plenty will be created by his labor and consciousness, by his capacity to organize society for the attainment of producer-oriented ends. Freedom thus is seen as the technical rationalization of the means of production, a project often associated with the concept of reason itself. The means, as it were, tend to become the ends of the utopian project and human emancipation. Nature is perceived as neither fecund nor even generous but, in varying degrees, ungiving and intractable to human goals.
Initially, this tendency in the realm of freedom is highly ascetic. Inequality will be overcome by a humane, loving denial of the means of life by fortunate individuals for the less fortunate. Everyone works as best as he or she can to create a common fund of goods that is parceled out according to authentically valid needs. Radical Christian sects like the Hutterites emphasized the ethical rather than material desiderata that come with this simple communistic way of life. Communism to them was a spiritual discipline, not an economy. Later, the concept of a free, productive, communistic community draws its primary, although by no means exclusive, inspiration from economic motives that involve the fostering of self-interest ("class interest") and technical innovation. A distinctly bourgeois spirit infuses, if not totally replaces, an ethical ideal. In contrast to visions of a golden age and the Last Kingdom, the realm of freedom is seen not as a backward-looking world of the past but a forward-looking world of the future in which humanity must fashion itself — often in conflict with internal as well as external nature.
But to sharply polarize earlier visions of freedom around categories such as consumerist or productivist, hedonistic or ascetic, and naturalistic or antinaturalistic is grossly artificial and one-sided. Insofar as they aspired to freedom, the sects and movements that commonly are grouped in these categories were opposed to hierarchy as they understood it in their day (particularly in its exaggerated ecclesiastical form) and intuitively favored a dispensation of the means of life based on the equality of unequals. Beyond these two attributes, however, difficulties arise. Ordinarily, many of the medieval and Reformation visions of freedom were highly eclectic and, like the concept of justice, pregnant with double meanings. Moreover, whether these visionaries regarded themselves as rebels or conformists in regard to Christianity's "true" meaning, their ideas were guided by Christian precept. The Bible provided the common realm of discourse and dispute among all parties. Until the Reformation, when the breakdown of feudal society led to an explosion of community experiments, the individuals and groups who held to various libertarian ideals were small in number, often widely scattered, and lived extremely precarious lives. Their ideals were largely formed in the crucible of social transition — in periods of tumultuous change from one historic era to another.
Thus, groups that, during the breakdown of the ancient world and the years of early Christianity, might have emphasized a productivist and ascetic outlook sometimes shifted their perspectives during more stable periods to a consumerist and hedonistic interpretation of freedom. Comparatively large popular movements from the late imperial Roman era became highly elitist sects during medieval times and developed a harshly predatory view of their rights and their freedoms. Naturalistic folk visions of freedom like the Land of Cokaygne underwent a strange shifting of meanings, acquiring a rabidly anticlerical character at one time, becoming a visceral, earthly, and attainable "paradise" at another time, and providing a source of ribald satire at still a third. The Reformation and the English Revolution of the late 1640s brought virtually all these tendencies to the surface in the form of rebellions and significant practical experiments. After that they faded away and were supplanted by secular utopias, more systematically wrought ideals, and major social movements such as anarchism and socialism. Hence, when speaking of consumerist or productivist visions of freedom, one must bear in mind that they often merged and changed over time, being embodied either as ideals of small sects or as social movements that gripped the imagination of sizable segments of the population.
Although Biblical interpretation and exegesis formed the arena for the eschatological debates and conflicts of the late imperial and medieval worlds, the sources for nearly all versions of the Last Kingdom or Last Days were highly eclectic. Ideologically, the opening centuries of the Christian era were no less tumultuous that the Reformation some thirteen hundred years later. The very consolidation of Christianity as an organized body of canon and dogma hung in the balance — less because of its conflicts with entrenched pagan religions than because of its own internal divisions. At the outset, the Pauline Church in Rome (from which Catholicism was to emerge) stood sharply at odds with its Jamesian counterpart in Jerusalem. The two centers of the new faith were divided not only by geography but also by conflicting views of Christianity as a world religion. Pauline Christianity stood for accommodation to the Roman State and for an ideologically ecumenical orientation toward the gentiles. Jamesian Christianity centered around a nationalistic resistance to the "whore" Rome and around the preservation of a largely Judaic body of traditions. Christianity's problem of distancing itself from its Judaic origins was tragically resolved by the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Thereafter, the Jamesian Church disappeared with the destruction of Judea and the uncompromising Zealots who had produced the Christian Messiah.
But the Church's drift toward reconciliation with the State now encountered a crisis. The "gnostic revolt," as it has been so broadly depicted, formed a radically unique reinterpretation of the Judea-Christian doctrine and of the early Church's conciliatory attitude toward political authority. Viewed from a religious aspect, gnosis is literally "illuminated" by its Hellenic definition as "knowledge." Its emphasis on religion tends to be avowedly intellectual and esoteric. But more so than the Greek ideals of wisdom (sophia) and reason (nous), its emphasis on revelation is consistently otherworldly. And its eschatological orientation draws amply on the archaic cosmogonies of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity itself, and a wide variety of pagan cults that invaded Roman society during its decline. Neither Judaism nor Pauline Christianity were immune to any of these far-reaching syncretic melds of religious and quasireligious belief. But Judaic nationalism aside, their battlegrounds were narrower than those of the gnostic religions that began to emerge in the second and third centuries A.D.
Gnosticism must be dealt with very prudently before any of its tendencies are described as a Christian "heresy." In its Manichean form, it is simply a different religion, like Islam or Buddhism. In its Ophite form, it is a total, utterly anarchistic, inversion of Christian canon and dogma. And in its Marcionite form, its point of contact with Christianity is both too intimate and too challenging to be regarded as either Christian or non-Christian. In virtually all its forms (and they are too numerous to elucidate here), gnosticism slowly percolated through the Christian world, affecting later radical sects and movements that were to open startling new visions of personal and social freedom. Gnosticism matured as a rival of Christian doctrine in the medieval Cathari, and it circuitously and indirectly influenced deviations from Christianity such as the Brethren of the Free Spirit, certain creeds of apostolic Christianity, and early historical schisms in Protestantism. It finally reappeared as an increasingly worldly pantheism among revolutionary radicals in the English Revolution, such as Gerrard Winstanley, the Digger leader. In these five major trends that were to destabilize almost every form of entrenched or emerging orthodoxy, gnosticism either anticipated or influenced the religio-social conflicts that were to profoundly expand the legacy of freedom — a legacy conceived as a history of not only doctrines but also of social movements.
The "gnostic religion," as Hans Jonas has called it in his matchless account of the subject, is much too complex to discuss in detail here. Our proper concerns are those common features that give a remarkably emancipatory quality to doctrines loosely described as "gnostic Christianity." Christian gnostics shared with other gnostics a dramatic dualism, a Platonistic doctrine of the "three-souls" and an "ethics" (if such it can be called) that exhibits very challenging, indeed modern concepts of human freedom and the meaning of the human condition.
What unified the "gnostic religion" is a cosmogonic drama and an eschatology as compelling as the Judeo-Christian. Basically, the human condition is shaped by a conflict between two principles: the "good" and its "other" which commonly is interpreted as an evit malevolent, or even "Satanic" principle. These principles ordinarily were personified as deities by the gnostics, but it would be a crucial error to identify them with the Judeo-Christian drama of a heavenly deity and his demonic alter ego. To be sure, Manicheanism, which became Pauline Christianity's most important rival in the third and fourth centuries, patently absorbed the image of a God who is literally represented by light and a Satan who is conceived as darkness and materiality. Valentinus (c.125-160), whose gnostic theology exercised considerable influence in Rome and North Africa, developed a highly exotic cosmogony of "Eons" that terminate in the person of Jesus, who provides humanity with the gnosis for divining the conflict between the Demiurge, the creator of the material world, and the Mother or Sophia, who can be represented for our purposes as a banished spiritual principle. Salvation occurs when the cosmos is restored to a universal "fullness" of spirit by the marriage of Sophia to Jesus. With few exceptions, the Christian gnostics grouped human souls into the spiritually pure and illuminated pneumatics, the imperfect psychics who could be illuminated, and the hopelessly material hylics, who are incapable by their very constitution of redemption and illumination. These distinctions played a significant role in the imagery of an "elect" or "chosen" elite whose claims upon society are virtually limitless, owing to their own perfect and pure nature. Similar distinctions were to mark some of the most radical heresies of the Middle Ages and Reformation.
In terms of gnosticism's ethical consequences, the doctrine closest to Christianity itself, and perhaps more accessible to a Christological interpretation of personal and social behavior, is the Gospel of Marcion (c. 144), who precedes Valentinus. A Christian bishop who was later excommunicated from the Roman Church, Marcion started from a highly selective reinterpretation of the New Testament. He does not burden us with the mythological material that often preoccupied the gnostic teachers, nor does he resort to the dubious allegorical interpretations central to the Catholic theologians of his day and ours. He claims to interpret the meaning of the gospel and the passion of Jesus literally — indeed, to single out in Paul's writings the truly authentic Christian creed. Hence, not only do his views seem to retain a clear Christian identity (a fact that vexed the Church fathers enormously), but also his work became their most disquieting doctrinal "heresy." Nevertheless, at its core Marcionism remained irremediably gnostic and opened the most dramatic cleavage in Christian doctrine, a cleavage in which later "heresies" were to find refuge. His gnosticism has a simplicity that is not encountered in other gnostic teachers. Its very directness gave his "heresy" far-reaching ethical consequences that were later echoed by such cultic groups as the Ophites in Marcion's own era, the Free Spirit conventicles in the Middle Ages, and the Puritan "Saints" in the English Revolution.
Like the gnostic doctrines generally, Marcion's doctrines are rigorously dualistic. The world, including humanity, has been created by a Demiurge, an oppressive creator. In marked contrast is a superior, unknown God, an "alien" acosmic deity who embodies "goodness" and is the father of the Christ person. The "good" God is the alien, even to the people whose salvation Jesus is to achieve. By the same token, this deity is alien to the cosmos that has been created entirely by the Demiurge. Each divinity is separate from and antithetical to the other. The Demiurge is "just"; his antithesis, the alien God, is "good." Here, Marcion uncannily opposes "justness" or justice to "goodness" — which, by a mere fraction of a step forward, could yield the concept of "freeness." This remarkable antithesis between a calculating, petty "justness" and a generous, overflowing "goodness" expresses one of the most remarkable insights in the legacy of freedom. Marcion does not equivocate about the moral contrast created by these two deities. Like the petty, weak, mean-spirited world he has created, the Demiurge is worthy of his own product, as the Church father Tertullian complained: "Turning up their noses, the utterly shameless Marcionites take to tearing down the work of the Creator" — and, one could add, the Creator himself. As to the "good" God of Marcion, Tertullian tells us that he is "naturally unknown and never except in the Gospel revealed." He is as alien to humanity as he is to everything the Demiurge has created, but his overflowing goodness induces him to send his Son into the Demiurge's world and redeem its human habitants.
Examining Marcion's ethical conclusions raises the question whether he advances any ethics at all. Disapproval, aversion, distaste for the "just" Demiurge and his world are apparent, but there is no evidence that Marcion has any other ethical stance. In a cosmos that is tainted but blameless and burdened by justice rather than goodness, it is. fair to ask whether Marcion believes in the existence of evil — even whether "goodness" can have meaning beyond its antithetical and polarized relationship to justice. Humanity's redemption seems to involve a transcendence rather than an act of ethical hygiene. Insofar as human behavior is concerned, Marcion preaches a gospel of uncompromising ascetism — not as a matter of ethics, as Hans Jonas observes, "but of metaphysical alignment." By refusing to participate in sensual pleasures and worldly events, the Marcionites functioned as obstructionists to the Demiurge's creation; the reproduction of the species, for example, merely reproduces the world from which humanity must be rescued.
Marcion's amoral asceticism not only provides a sweeping inversion of the ascetic ideal but also unintentionally lends itself to an utterly libertine approach. The Ophites, a gnostic cult that surfaced in North Africa, extended Marcion's "amoral" stance and his interpretation of the Old Testament to the point of an overt nihilistic "morality." Granting Marcion's view of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament as tainted documents of the "just" God, the Ophites concluded that a correct interpretation of the Garden of Eden allegory ennobles the serpent and Eve. By persuading Eve and, through her, Adam to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, the serpent introduces gnosis into the world. It is not accidental that the "just" deity views this seduction as "original sin," for with gnosis humanity acquires the means to discover the truly despicable nature of the Creator and unmask him and his narrowness of spirit. Hippolytus, in his account of the Peratal, an Ophic cult, extends this dramatic inversion to include the murder of Abel by Cain:
This general Serpent is also the wise Word of Eve. This is the mystery of Eden; this is the river 'that flows out of Eden. This is also the mark that was set upon Cain, whose sacrifice the god of this world did not accept whereas he accepted the bloody sacrifice of Abel: for the lord of this world delights in blood. This Serpent is he who appeared in the latter days in human form at the time of Herod.
Radical "amorality" thus turns upon ascetism to encourage unrestrained freedom and the open defiance of the Demiurge's moral tenets. In contrast to Marcion, the Ophites accept the three-soul classification of gnosticism, with its pneumatics, psychics, and hylics. Marcion would not have accepted this prototypic notion of the "elect," which infected not only official Christianity but also many of the radical "heresies" that were ideologically related to gnosticism. In fact, here we reach the limits of gnosticism as a "gospel" of freedom. Things being what they are, only the few — an elite by nature modeled partly on Plato's "guardians" (albeit without their "asceticism" and "communism") — are free to indulge their every appetite. If gnosticism had been left at this point, it would have retreated back to a questionable libertinism that could no longer be identified with Marcion's generous libertarian message.
What matters is not so much the elitist conclusions that the gnostic cults adopted but the eschatological strategy they used — a strategy that could easily be divested of its elitist sequelae. Based on this strategy, the claim of cults such as the Ophites to "forbidden things" (including orgiastic ones) could also be viewed as a "metaphysical alignment." All "moral" judgment, not only that of the orthodox Christian, is tainted. The "moral" code is merely the "complement of the physical law, and as such the internal aspect of the all-pervading cosmic rule," observes Jonas. "Both emanate from the lord of the world as agencies of his rule, unified in the double aspect of the Jewish God as creator and legislator." Human will in normative law is appropriated "by the same powers that control his body. He who obeys it has abdicated the authority of his self." To defy the authority of the Creator and his juridical minions was turned from a "merely permissive privilege of freedom" into "a positive metaphysical interest in repudiating allegiance to all objective norms . . . ."
Jonas sees in gnostic libertinism more than mere defiance; it is "a positive obligation to perform every kind of action, with the idea of rendering to nature its own and thereby exhausting its powers." Accordingly, "sinning" becomes "something like a program." Its completion is a "due rendered as the price of ultimate freedom." Jonas concludes that it is doubtful whether
the preachers of these views lived up to their own professions. To scandalize has always been the pride of rebels, but much of it may satisfy itself in provocativeness of doctrine rather than of deeds. Yet we must not underrate the extremes to which revolutionary defiance and the vertigo of freedom could go in the value-vacuum created by the spiritual crisis. The very discovery of a new vista invalidating all former norms constituted an anarchical condition, and excess in thought and life was the first response to the import and dimensions of that vista.
But can this exploration of the gnostics end with a discipline of indiscipline? A wild compulsion to be free? Gnosticism's commitment to "goodness" and physical indulgence implies the latent existence of more creative impulses than a "moral nihilism." We hear the message of Rabelais's Abbey of Theleme, whose devotees are no longer spiritual pneumatics but earthly rationalists; we also hear the message of Fourier's "phalanstery," which resonates with a radically new social, cultural, and technical dispensation: its psychological cosmos of personal affines, its gastronomic delights, its artistic and variegated organization of labor, its concept of work as play, and its generous (for Fourier's time) commitment to the emancipation of women. No hierarchy or system of domination infects this message. Fourier can be placed at least partly in the gnostic tradition by virtue of his emphasis on human spontaneity, personal freedom, and a refusal to deny the claims of the flesh. This is even more true for Rabelais, perhaps because of his elitist Renaissance proclivities and his clerical background. Ultimately, the denial of justice for "goodness" and of repression for freedom provide a more secure common ground for the humanistic utopians of the modern world and the gnostics of the ancient world than their dizzying idiosyncracies would lead us to believe.
We also hear another message. Where imagination is permitted to outstrip all the constraints that ideology, morality, and "law" place on human creative powers, what emerges is the voice of art, not merely of theology. Religion has always been a ritualized drama that appeals to esthetic needs as well as to faith. And gnosticism shared with the cultic mysteries of the ancient world, as well as with Christianity, a need to achieve a derangement of the senses, an ecstatic union of spirit with body that theology described as a union of worshiper with deity. A world that is rendered askew is a world that can be seen anew — and changed according to the dictates of art as well as reason. Herein lies the great power of imagination that has vitalized radical movements for centuries: a "world turned upside down" that has been the goal of great anarchic movements, from the ancient world to the French student radicals of 1968.
Gnosticism, by giving desire an unyielding claim on the entire universe of experience, does not seem to limit its credo of "illumination" to a limited place in personal life. Its appeal to defiance as an "obligation" is a program for everyday life. The gnostic experience, if such it can be called, is not locked into episodic rituals and ceremonies; it is an ongoing, unrelieved calling. Gnosis is expected to transfigure every detail of one's encounter with reality — to create a transmundane reality of "goodness" that is close to a communion with the true God. To use the language of Surrealism, it places a "halo" over the ordinary things and events that normally drift by us unperceived. The very spontaneity it fosters in the self is the correlate of a permanent state of desire rather than mere need, of a passionate perception of the world rather than one deadened by custom, routine, and predictability.
If these creative, indeed, esthetic, aspects of the radical gnostic "programs" are depicted accurately, then the closing centuries of antiquity anticipated a more universal secular impulse to freedom than a strictly religious interpretation of gnosticism would lead us to believe. What gnosticism seems to imply is a colonization of every aspect of human experience by desire. Schiller's dream of an esthetically enchanted world and Breton's hypostatization of "the marvelous" as the explosive grenades that unsort the world of given reality would be coterminous with the gnostic experience of "ecstatic illumination." But the gnostics were not "political animals" in Aristotle's sense of the term. They were not citizens of the polis or cosmopolis but ultimately of a highly spiritual world. They emphasized inward-oriented experiences, not an active contact with the social world. The Cathari, a gnostic sect that flourished during the Middle Ages, had a program for self-extinction. Their extreme rejection of the "hylic" or material — from reproduction to food — would have guaranteed a retreat from the Demiurge's cosmos into an utterly ineffable one had the Albigensian "crusade" of the thirteenth century not led to their virtual extermination.
Communism, which cannot easily be reduced to cultic conventicles, drew its inspiration from Acts in the New Testament and other "Judaic" writings that Marcion would have banished from Christian canon and dogma. Because it was apostolic in its efforts to establish its ethical legitimacy and superiority against the Church's self-interest and greed, communism has no discernible roots in ancient gnosticism. But Christianity's ample history — be it the account of its wayward hierarchy or of their "heretical" opponents — is not a story of doctrinal consistency. Just as the Church was to bend before the onslaught of changing events, so too did the devout congregations outside its fold. By the time of Luther and Calvin — and perhaps most markedly during the English Revolution of the seventeenth century — heretical and recalcitrant congregations of revolutionary heretical "Saints" (as they called themselves) were to surface from their hidden folds in Christian society and move to the center of political life. We shall investigate the activities of these "Saints," their various tendencies, their politics, and their growing secularity in the following chapter. Particularly in the British Isles, the Puritan radicals ceased to be mere spiritual conventicles; from religious "Saints" they became "God's Englishmen." Once-hidden heretical congregations and religious pulpits now occupied the seats of rebellious parliaments, parliamentary rostrums, and (perhaps more compellingly) the tents, barracks, and military councils of Oliver Cromwell's New Model army.
What is significant about this sweeping entry of Christian heretics into political institutions is not merely the secularity of the development. At heart, most of the erstwhile heretics were theocrats — and not very tolerant ones at that, particularly in matters of religious dogma. The various Puritan sects of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries had no love for their enemies and no charity toward "Papists," however uneasily they lived with one another within a common Protestant fold. But they were nonconformists. Their hatred of authority often greatly exceeded their hatred of official religious dogma. The attempt of official English Protestantism (that is, the Anglican Church's attempt to contain its Presbyterian dissidents, and the dissidents' attempt, once they became ascendant, to contain the Puritans) was nearly as fierce as the efforts of the English Church as a whole to exorcize its Catholic past. Nonconformity thus introduced a millenia-long tradition of fiery disputes over ecclesiastical structure as such. The Church policy raised stormy questions and, finally, rebellions around the right of the king to head the English Church, the right of bishops to control congregations, and the freedom of the congregation — indeed, of each member — to answer to no authority whatever beyond the claims of his or her "inner voice."
Christianity, in effect, had inadvertently spawned a remarkably new "politics": a politics distinctly libertarian in its orientation, often anarchic in its structure, and remarkably unfettered in the restrictions it placed on individual freedom. It had created an ethical arena for a godly citizenship whose libertarian scope was even broader than that of the Athenian concept of citizenship. Unlike the citizen of the polis, the Christian "heretic" had to recognize that one was answerable only to God, and hence had to be in a higher estate of citizenship in the New Jerusalem than in the earthly city. By visualizing themselves as God's "elect," the "Saints" may have been elitists, especially when they were forced by persecution into the medieval and early Reformation underground of damned heretics. But as the Reformation provided a sweeping impetus for social activism, and as theocracies appeared in Geneva under Calvin, in Scotland under Knox, and finally in England under Cromwell, questions of authoritarian versus libertarian structure ceased to be merely ecclesiastical issues. They became political and social issues as well. The Puritan New Model army that brought English royalty to its knees and placed King Charles on the scaffold was itself a richly articulated, often raging body of radical congregations — the arena of fiery heretical sermonizers — that was represented by rank-and-file "agitators" (as the soldiers' representatives were actually called) who sat on the Army Council together with major-generals. Together they formulated and furiously argued over issues of not only military policy but also social and political policy. On at least two occasions, Cromwell nearly lost control of his own military "Saints" in near or outright mutinies.
By spawning nonconformity, heretical conventicles, and issues of authority over person and belief, Christianity created not merely a centralized authoritarian Papacy but also its very antithesis: a quasireligious anarchism. Up to the seventeenth century and for several generations later, particularly in America, the political and social structures of freedom were as central to Christian discourse as were issues of religious ideology.
From the eighteenth-century Enlightenment until our own time, the waning of this realm of discourse on the structures of freedom was to have the same tragic consequences as the secularization of the individual and the disenchantment of personality to which I have aiready alluded. The moral issues of freedom were to suffer a decline with the secularism introduced by Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Bentham, and the Victorian liberals. In addition, the very notion that freedom — that is, active citizenship in the Periklean and Hellenic sense — presupposes the existence and development of certain distinct libertarian institutions was to be eclipsed by debates and analyzes on the subjects of property ownership, the mystique of nationhood (and the nation-state), and the tendency to equate institutional centralization with social rationalism. Hobbes, Locke, and Marx were obviously concerned with security and property when they did not discourse on the nature and need of centralized authority. The active revolutionaries of the modern era-Cromwell, Robespierre, Babeuf, Blanqui, and Lenin, to cite the most familiar of the lot — were dogmatic centralists who often moved beyond the limits of liberal republicanism in order to foster highly authoritarian political forms. Except for rejoinders by the anarchists and certain utopian socialists who had emerged from the French Revolution, Christian heretics faded out of the revolutionary tradition into a historical limbo, at least until comparatively recent times. The nation-state was now equated with community; the notion of a representative republic, with the direct democracy of the polis. The very terms of the debate over authority had become so distorted that the debate itself virtually ceased to be intelligible to later generations.
The imagery of a recurring history, largely cyclic in character, often replaced Christianity's eschatological vision of the Last Days, with its populist reward of a Land of Cokaygne or at least an earthly Jerusalem. The republican ideal that permeated the Great French Revolution was always haunted by a Caesarist shadow, a republican Bonapartism, that its own contemporary historians justified as a stabilizing factor in Europe's march toward freedom, specifically toward freedom of trade. The Jacobins read Plutarch not only as a guide to Roman virtue but also as a revolutionary handbook; perhaps it was more germane as a source of social forecasts than Rousseau's Social Contract, which was read as a source of social theory. They awaited their Napoleon as surely as the Roman plebes awaited their Cesar. Seeing the world with the new sense of recurrence that had replaced the Christian emphasis on a linear history, they viewed their cards as stacked and accepted the fall of the republic itself fatalistically — indeed, in almost a dreamlike trance, if Robespierre's personal passivity between his overthrow and his execution is any indication.
With the exception of the Paris Commune of 1871, which exploded as an anarchic confederal image of a France administered by a Commune composed of decentralized communes, European socialism had decorated itself with republican trappings at best and dictatorial ones at worst. By the autumn of 1917, Lenin had combined Brutus and Cesar in one person. Despite his slogan of "All Power to the Soviets!" — and even earlier in the summer of the same year, "All Power to the Shop Committees!" (a strictly anarchosyndicalist demand) — Lenin readily dispensed with both forms and replaced them by the Party as a State organ.
The Party, as such, was the unique structural innovation of the post-Reformation era. Its contemporaneity and its impact on political life have rarely been fully appreciated. From the twelfth century onward, Christian heretics found their home in the small, highly decentralized, personally intimate conventicle — an almost cellular type of association that fostered an intense form of intimacy and support that was sorely lacking in the larger Christian congregations of the time. These family-like units lent themselves uniquely to a confederal form of interaction among groups from which, cell by cell, a truly organic body politic could be constructed. With the onset of the Reformation, as such groups became increasingly involved in secular affairs, they functioned more like social organisms than like State or political institutions. Brotherhoods such as the Hutterites even became alternative communistic societies, self-sufficient and complete unto themselves. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that the conventicle form of association never disappeared, despite the ascendancy of the Party. Completely secular in character but no less small, intimate, and decentralized, it persisted within the Spanish anarchist movement as the "affinity group." From Spain it spread throughout the world with the recent growth of libertarian organizations, acquiring the names of "collective," "commune," and "cooperative" with the emergence of the New Left in the 1960s.
By contrast, the Party was simply a mirror-image of the nation-state, and its fortunes were completely tied to the State's development. The Party was meant to be very large, often embracing sizable masses of people who were knitted together bureaucratically in depersonalized, centralized organs. When the Party was not "in power," it was merely the disinherited twin of the State apparatus, often replicating it in every detail. When the Party was "in power," it became the State itself. Rarely has it been understood that the Bolshevik Party and the Nazi Party were themselves complete State apparatuses that completely supplanted the preexisting State structures they "seized." Hitler, no less than Lenin, was to follow Marx's famous maxim that the State must not be merely occupied but "smashed" and replaced by a new one.
But Marx was stating a fact about parties in general that, after the French Revolution, had already ceased to be a novelty. The modern State could more properly be called a "party-state" than a "nation-state." Organized from the top downward with a bureaucratic infrastructure fleshed out by a membership, the Party possesses an institutional flexibility that is much greater than that of the official State. Structurally, its repertory of forms ranges from the loosely constructed republic to highly totalitarian regimes. As a source of institutional innovation, the Party can be sculpted and molded to produce organizational, authoritarian forms with an ease that any State official would envy. And once in power, the Party can make these forms part of the political machinery itself. Our own era has given the Party an autonomy unequaled by any State institution, from the ancient pharaohs to the modern republics. As the history of Russian Bolshevism and German fascism dramatically demonstrated, parties have shaped European states more readily than states have shaped their parties.
Yet the ascendancy of the nation-state, the party, and, in more recent years, the highly centralized bureaucratic State did not lack ideological reactions against them. The English ''Saints" who carried Cromwell to power never encountered the highly coordinated institutions or even the centralized bureaucracies that the absolute monarchs of the European continent and, perhaps, more significantly, the Jacobin "despotism of freedom" had fashioned in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Only the Papacy, a feeble institution by the time of the English Revolution, had anticipated any statelike apparatus like the French Revolution was to produce. The Tudor and Stuart monarchies, while more centralized than English royal houses of the past, were still too inept to anticipate the world of nation-states that would follow.
The French Revolution — first under Robespierre and later under Bonaparte — had fashioned the centralized nation-state with a vengeance. For the first time in Europe, the word "Saint" was replaced by the word "patriot." While Marx exulted in the willfull ruthlessness of the nation-state, lesser-known revolutionaries drew less favorable, icily clear antiauthoritarian lessons of their own. One such was Jean Varlet, a popular street orator (or Enragé) of 1793 who managed to survive Robespierre's murderous purge of the Parisian radicals. Varlet decided (flatly contradicting his more celebrated contemporary, Gracchus Babeuf) that "Government and Revolution are incompatible." This statement, in its sweep and generality, was more unequivocal than any conclusion voiced by the radical "Saints" about the State or even authority. It was anarchist. Indeed, Varlet had been the target of this very epithet by his liberal opponents in the feverish days of 1793 — as, in fact, the Levelers had been in the English Revolution more than a century earlier, when a paper favorable to Cromwell described them as "Switzerizing Anarchists."
The term was to stick and to acquire an ever-richer meaning on the margins of European and American society. Both Thomas Paine and Jefferson drew conclusions somewhat similar to those of Varlet from the quasidictatorship of the Jacobins and its Bonapartist sequelae. Even more significant than Paine's derogatory remarks about government were the essentially reconstructive confederal notions that Jefferson advanced to Destutt de Tracy in 1811. Concerned with the need for relatively federalist institutional forms at the base of society, Jefferson astutely diagnosed the reasons why republican France so easily slipped into imperial France with Napoleon's coup d'etat:
The republican government of France was lost without a struggle because the party of "un et indivisible" had prevailed. No provincial [and one could easily add, local] organizations existed to which the people might rally under the laws, the seats of the Directory were virtually vacant, and a small force sufficed to turn the legislature out of their chamber, and salute its leader chief of the nation.
Having concentrated all political authority in the national State, the Jacobins and their successors, the Directory, had denuded the country of all local, decentralized foci of power from which the revolution could mount an effective resistance to the Bonapartist monarchy.
That Jefferson imputed a greater wisdom to the American Revolution for its confederal orientation raises issues that must be deferred to a later discussion. Jefferson himself was no "Switzerizing Anarchist," and the American Revolution did not reproduce Switzerland's cantonal form of confederation. But a confederalist orientation was to linger on-in the writings of Proudhon, who provocatively declared himself to be an "anarchiste"; in Bakunin, who was to help make anarchism into a movement; and in Kropotkin, who was to vastly enrich anarchism with a wealth of historical traditions, a strikingly pragmatic vision of the technological and social alternatives it offered, and a creative vision drawn largely from the writings of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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