on anarchy in the disaster state: reflections on Bakunin’s fanatic love of liberty

One of the hardest things for me to confront daily on social media right now is the growingly pro-authoritarian takes on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s scary how many people believe that police violence is a necessary evil to keep people from violating the lockdown. I’m constantly horrified at people revelling in reporting neighbours, family members & strangers to the police- as if we have not always known the police to be anti-poor and anti-black.

Moreover, I fear that in this climate people have grown fiercely protective of a government that needed a crisis to finally do its job. I’m tired of being told to not critique the government when it is them who have left in place systems of oppression that are exacerbating this crisis. And I hate the ultra-nationalist sentiment being spewed right now. It bears so much similarity to the fascism of the early 20th century and the neo-fascism & xenophobia of the 21st century.

All of this has made our solidarity networks so much more important in the time of social distancing. It has also made the books on my shelf a little more comforting, they’re the escape right now where I don’t feel gaslit, alienated and afraid. Today I’m reading ‘On Anarchism’ by Noam Chomsky and it has reminded me that I am not alone in being a “fanatic lover of liberty”. 


I am a fanatical lover of liberty. I consider it the only environment in which human intelligence, dignity, and happiness can thrive and develop. I do not mean that formal liberty which is dispensed, measured out, and regulated by the State; for this is a perennial lie and represents nothing but the privilege of a few, based upon the servitude of the remainder. Nor do I mean that individualist, egoist, base, and fraudulent liberty extolled by the school of Jean Jacques Rousseau and every other school of bourgeois liberalism, which considers the rights of all, represented by the State, as a limit for the rights of each; it always, necessarily, ends up by reducing the rights of individuals to zero. No, I mean the only liberty worthy of the name, the liberty which implies the full development of all the material, intellectual, and moral capacities latent in every one of us; the liberty which knows no other restrictions but those set by the laws of our own nature. Consequently there are, properly speaking, no restrictions, since these laws are not imposed upon us by any legislator from outside, alongside, or above ourselves. These laws are subjective, inherent in ourselves; they constitute the very basis of our being. Instead of seeking to curtail them, we should see in them the real condition and the effective cause of our liberty – that liberty of each man which does not find another man’s freedom a boundary but a confirmation and vast extension of his own; liberty through solidarity, in equality. I mean liberty triumphant over brute force and, what has always been the real expression of such force, the principle of authority. I mean liberty which will shatter all the idols in heaven and on earth and will then build a new world of mankind in solidarity, upon the ruins of all the churches and all the states.

Mikhail Bakunin (1871), The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State

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