Saturday, November 08, 2008

An absolutely essential bit of anarchist philosophy

I finally picked up a copy of Daniel Colson's 2001 Petit lexique philosophique de l’anarchisme - De Proudhon à Deleuze. It is simply remarkable; easily one of the best works of contemporary anarchist theory out there. As the title suggests, it takes the form of a lexicon, with entries ranging from "Action" to the "Will to power," with a heavy emphasis on Proudhon's mature work and its connections to, and elaborations in, philosophical and sociological works, from Bakunin up to Deleuze. Colson adds a few novel names to the mix: Gabriel Tarde and Gilbert Simondon feature prominently in the work. Deleuze's usual references--Bergson, Spinoza, Liebniz, Nietzsche--also play important roles. Of course, Spinoza and Liebniz were also important references for Proudhon. This work does, with a delightful seriousness and care, what the "postanarchist" writings of Todd May and Saul Newman barely gestured at, bringing together anarchism and poststructuralism, and without the wrongheaded criticisms of "classical anarchism" which pretty well doom those works.

And if you don't read French, but still want to support a sharp contemporary anarchist theorist, grab Crispin Sartwell's Against the State: An Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory. Then grab another for a friend. I'm long overdue for a real review of this one, but the capsule review is this: Good anarchism + good Sartwell = damn good stuff.


neverfox said...

Any chance that you will be translating that work (all 378 pages ;)?

I first came across Colson at R.A. forum ( and it is one of my major references when discussing the question of ethics in relation to anarchism. Many anarchists wonder how exactly you can be one without a belief in natural law. Colson seems to wonder how anyone can be anarchist if you do have one. Or do you think this is a misunderstanding on my part?

I have been profoundly moved by that article and it brings me no shortage of grief from other anarchists when I share it. How does it strike you? What in Proudhon would address this question? His interpretation of "social contract"?

neverfox said...

You may also appreciate this dialogue of questions concerning the “Petit Lexique":

Shawn P. Wilbur said...

I believe that it is Jesse Cohn who should be encouraged to complete that translation. It was Jesse who originally pointed me towards Colson, but I was not comfortable tackling the material until my French, and my understanding of Proudhon, had improved considerably. I'm currently hard at work on the third volume of Proudhon's "Justice" (with some help from Jesse on some sections.)

The relation between natural law and immanent justice needs to be explored, I think. As I have started to argue, a bit clumsily, it isn't clear that Proudhon would argue against "natural society," "natural law," or "natural right," but they would have to be treated either as evolving along with the organization of forces or as to some degree virtual or "to come" (following a formula which Derrida has used.)

Proudhon discusses good and evil in the 8th Study in "Justice." He seems to treat the conscience, and sentiments regarding good and evil, as arising from our sense of good and bad, meaning good and bad functioning of the elements of which we are made up, with regard to the law of our organization. Colson seems to be very much in Proudhon's tradition here.