Anarchy and Posthumanism Part 2: The Anarchist as Ubermensch

Part 1 was a brief overview of anarchist thoughts and ideas. This part deals with the links between posthumanism and anarchism (while part 3 deals wth anarchism in superhero comics). These links can be best introduced by consider the role of Nietzsche’s philosophy in anarchist thought. As I’ve written elsewhere (elsewhere being here), that posthumanism as a critical/philosophical position arguably finds its first full bloom in the ideas of Nietzsche. As Spencer Sunshine has written,

There were many things that drew anarchists to Nietzsche: his hatred of the state; his disgust for the mindless social behavior of ‘herds’; his anti-Christianity; his distrust of the effect of both the market and the State on cultural production; his desire for an ‘übermensch‘ — that is, for a new human who was to be neither master nor slave.”

The pioneering anarcho-feminist Emma Goldman, for instance, gave dozens of lectures about Nietzsche and baptized him as an honorary anarchist.In her autobiography Living My Life she wrote that, “I pointed out that Nietzsche was not a social theorist but a poet, a rebel and innovator. His aristocracy was neither of birth nor of purse; it was of the spirit. In that respect Nietzsche was an anarchist, and all true anarchists were aristocrats”. While in Anarchism: What it Really Stands For Goldman wrote a defense of Nietzsche’s philosophy:

Friedrich Nietzsche… is decried as a hater of the weak because he believed in the Übermensch. It does not occur to the shallow interpreters of that giant mind that this vision of the Übermensch also called for a state of society which will not give birth to a race of weaklings and slaves.

Moving further into the twentieth century, the theoretical school that has come to broadly be known as post-structuralism was also profoundly influenced by Nietzsche in its main thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze. These thinkers would in turn go onto influence the development of critical posthumanism (again, more on that here). Many of these philosophers cam from what has come to be known as the Class if 1968. Indeed, French anarchist and hedonist philosopher Michel Onfray has described the May 68 revolts as  “Nietzschean revolt in order to put an end to the ‘One’ truth, revealed, and to put in evidence the diversity of truths, in order to make disappear ascetic Christian ideas and to help arise new possibilities of existence“. However, the alliance of Nietzschean thought and anarchism has not been undisputed. Nietzsche has of course been much misunderstood over the years, with many thinking of him as effectively fascistic (hence Goldman’s defense above), but this antipathy works both ways.

With this mind Saul Newman wrote an article called “Anarchism and the politics of ressentiment  in which he notes how Nietzsche “sees anarchism as poisoned at the root by the pestiferous weed of ressentiment – the spiteful politics of the weak and pitiful, the morality of the slave“. Instead, Newman proposes how “anarchism could become a new ‘heroic’ philosophy, which is no longer reactive but, rather, creates values…a community of ‘masters’ rather than ‘slaves’. It would be a community that sought to overcome itself – continually transforming itself and revelling in the knowledge of its power to do so.” The result would be a form of post-anarchism, a hybrid of anarchism and post-structuralism. Not that this notion of overcoming and of  “continually transforming itself and revelling in the knowledge of its power to do so” is necessarily a brand new idea in the history of anarchist thought. For instance,  Giuseppe Ciancabilla (1872–1904) wrote in Against Organization that

we don’t want tactical programs, and consequently we don’t want organization. Having established the aim, the goal to which we hold, we leave every anarchist free to choose from the means that his sense, his education, his temperament, his fighting spirit suggest to him as best. We don’t form fixed programs and we don’t form small or great parties. But we come together spontaneously, and not with permanent criteria, according to momentary affinities for a specific purpose, and we constantly change these groups as soon as the purpose for which we had associated ceases to be, and other aims and needs arise and develop in us and push us to seek new collaborators, people who think as we do in the specific circumstance.

This emphasis on becoming, change and process rather than static organisation  has strong affinities with posthumanist philosophy. Indeed, Andy Miah has described critical posthumanism “as a philosophical stance about what might be termed a perpetual becoming” (Miah, 2007:23). To highlight just one example, Deleuze and Guattari talk of ‘becoming-schizophrenic’. Described by Mark Dery as a, “…radical strategy for survival under capitalism” the Deleuzo-Guattarian schizophrenic refuses to be, “the closed, centered subject required (and reproduced) by capitalist society” (from Dery’s The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink). As Deleuze and Guattari themselves put it:

The code of delirium…proves to have an extraordinary fluidity…it might be said that the schizophrenic passes from one code to the other, that he deliberately scrambles all the codes, by quickly shifting from one to another, according to the questions asked him, never giving the same explanation from one day to the next, never recording the same event in the same way (quoted in Dery)

The Occupy Movement presents a recent example of this anti-organizational thinking, having been frequently criticised by those don’t grasp the agenda as lacking focus or real demands, when the point is that one cannot make demands of a system one wishes to abolish. As long as the movement remains open in its outlook it cannot be either appropriated by the machine nor calcify into its own micro-fascism-“real occupiers get their tents from Milletts“. Time will tell what the outcome of that particular movement will be, but its worth remembering that as of yet its openness and lack of definitive ideas has kept the dialogue ongoing and prevented the development of a grand master narrative that a more typically mundane and potentially bloody revolution could be built around. As Leo Tolstoy wrote in 1900’s On Anarchy: The Anarchists are right in everything…They are mistaken only in thinking that Anarchy can be instituted by revolution.” Perhaps the post-anarchists of the occupy movement have understood this lesson.

In the final part of this series we will see how this posthuman anarchism has been represented in comic books, and how these Anarchist superhumans point towards a brand of anarchism that integrates both political and mystical ideas..

About Scott Jeffery

Hello humans. I am Dr. Scott Jeffery. I do the following things (in no particular order): Research into Post/Humanism and Transhumanism and superheroes (seriously, I’ve got a PhD and everything) Stand-up comedy Compulsive rumination I blog about these things (plus occultism and all kinds of other lovely, strange topics) at NthMind. I also write regular short film reviews at Filmdribble. I can be contacted via twitter (@sjzenarchy) or at View all posts by Scott Jeffery

3 responses to “Anarchy and Posthumanism Part 2: The Anarchist as Ubermensch

  • freedomthistime

    Hi Scott, an interesting series of articles, thanks. You sure pulled together a lot of stuff! I had a couple of thoughts/reactions to this as I was reading along:

    Thought #1: Is it really necessary to be tossing around poly-syllabic words like “post-structuralism”? I clicked your link – the Wikipedia page begins with “The post-structuralist movement is difficult to summarize” and I found the rest of the article amounts to a splendid proof of this statement! So I don’t see the value of the term myself. For me, whenever I find a word that can’t be defined using mono-syllables, in a few sentences at most, a ‘red flag’ goes up…

    I think that anarchy as “this notion of overcoming and continually transforming itself” is just good sense. I like how Richard Feynman puts it in his lecture ‘The Uncertainty of Values’ :

    ” Admitting that we do not know and maintaining perpetually the attitude that we do not know the direction necessarily to go permit a possibility of alteration, of thinking, of new contributions and new discoveries for the problem of developing a way to do what we want ultimately, even when we do not know what we want. ”

    ” We are only in the beginning. We have plenty of time to solve the problems. The only way that we will make a mistake is that in the impetuous youth of humanity we will decide we know the answer. This is it. No one else can think of anything else. And we will jam. We will confine man to the limited imagination of today’s human beings. ”

    He wasn’t talking about ‘anarchy’ per se (and certainly not about ‘post-structuralism’, whatever that might be). I assume similar thoughts have occurred to people long before Feynman, Ciancabilla, or ‘anarchism’, for as long as there have been humans alive on Earth perhaps.

    Thought #2: You wrote RE occupy that:

    “the point is that one cannot make demands of a system one wishes to abolish.”

    I think you can and should, if in a position to do so, and if doing so can help advance your cause, rather than leading to its appropriation. Of course, your main strategy shouldn’t be to plead for concessions from tyranny, that’s idiotic. I like how Noam Chomsky expresses this:

    “Corporations are greedy by their nature.They’re nothing else. They’re instruments for interfering with markets to maximize profit and wealth and market control. You can’t make them more or less greedy. I mean, maybe you can sort of force them. It’s like, say, taking a totalitarian state and saying ‘Be less brutal!’ Well yeah, maybe you can get a totalitarian state to be less brutal, but that’s not the point. The point is not to get a tyranny to be less brutal, but to get rid of it.”

    But aiming to eventually get rid of tyranny needn’t imply any strict ‘no demands’ doctrine in the meanwhile. Michael Albert puts it so:

    “What’s needed instead isn’t to have no reforms, which would simply capitulate the playing field to elites, but to fight for reforms that are non-reformist, that is, to fight for reforms that we conceive, seek, and implement in ways leading activists to seek still more gains in a trajectory of change leading ultimately to new institutions.”


    • Scott Jeffery

      Hi David,

      thanks for the comments, glad you enjoyed the article. I’ve been enjoying your blog since too.

      Re: post-structuralism. I think a suspicion (aversion?) to such terms is understandable and it would be disingenuous if I claimed that id idn’t also feel some ambivalence about such terms. I included it for a few reasons. Firstly the articles are about posthumanism as much as anarchy and a nod towards post-structuralist thinkers highlights their genealogical relationship to critical/philosophical posthumanism. Secondly, it highlights that while anarchist (I’m using that term broadly) thought is relatively marginalised in, say, political discourse, there has for some time been a trend towards a sort of anarchy of the imagination, or of thought, in academic discourse (most especially the Humanities). This trend is perhaps best exemplified by what have come to be called post-structuralists, and while it may be possible to reductively sum up all such thought as arguments for the death of the ‘grand narrative’ or something similarly, as you suggest, mono-syllabic, I feel that would do an injustice to the complexity of ideas dealt with by such theorists.

      Whether such complexity is good or helpful (and there are many who argue that most poststucturalism/postmodernism is mostly obtuse or even meaningless) remains open to debate. However, it seems worth noting that a version of anarchist thought, albeit one closer to ontological anarchy than a more recognisable political anarchy, has existed within the ivory towers of the academy for some time. Of course, the fact that it has a found a comfortable home within the ivory tower without necessarily spilling into public discourse is telling but even so I think ultimately i would argue that it is worthwhile having anarchistic ideas articulated in as many different ways as possible, from the pithy tee-shirt slogan to the theoretically complex philosophical tract.

      At least that’s what I think today anyway.

      As for your second point, that is something I am still grappling with. I wonder which ‘reforms that are non-reformist’ could not ultimately be appraopritaed? If nothing else they would require the mechanisms of power to be implemented. i do think however that the reaction of much of the media and particularly right-wing pundits to the Occupy Movement was interesting though. A lot of people seemed to have real trouble grasping the idea of a politics existing outwith of the the left wing/right wing mentality they have grown used to. To me that has a whiff of paradigm shift about it. Not simply one generations politics conflicting with another along an ideological spectrum of left to right, but one generation’s (I use that advisedly of course) politics being somehow different in kind. I suppose I think the danger is not in the occupy Movement making demands so much as coalescing around those demands and potentially calcifying. To become a noun rather than a verb.

      Your comments have got me thinking anyway, and hopefully I can provide a more thorough and articulate answer at some point!

      • freedomthistime

        RE post-structuralism:

        “the fact that it has a found a comfortable home within the ivory tower without necessarily spilling into public discourse is telling”

        This is what I would encourage sincere academics in these post-whatever fields to reflect upon. Maybe giving tenure to people who write in baffling poly-syllables is just another way of co-opting and marginalizing dissent? After all, if you issue challenges to existing structures of power in crystal clear terms, you represent a threat to those structures. If you issue your challenges in obtuse prose that only fellow academics have the time or inclination to decode, you represent no such threat.

        RE Occupy:

        “I suppose I think the danger is not in the occupy Movement making demands so much as coalescing around those demands and potentially calcifying. To become a noun rather than a verb.”

        Absolutely. I think it is critical that this danger is understood and articulated explicitly within the movement if it is going to succeed at what it aims to do – moving beyond the current paradigm of politics. Naturally the mainstream media are baffled by and/or hostile to this aim, since they subsist within that paradigm. I think Occupy can still in principle issue demands, but only with extreme caution and bearing in mind the dangers you cite. Given how serious the dangers are, perhaps you are right and it’s better to play safe, avoiding demands altogether? I don’t know – it’s complicated! 🙂

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