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Bad Anarchism

Bad Anarchism

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Published by jasper_gregory
Bad Anarchism: Aestheticized Mythmaking and the Legacy of Georges Sorel
Mark Antliff
Bad Anarchism: Aestheticized Mythmaking and the Legacy of Georges Sorel
Mark Antliff

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01/06/2013

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Anarist Developments in Cultural Studies Art & Anary 2011.2 
Bad Anarism: AestheticizedMythmaking and the Legacy of Georges Sorel
Mark Antliff 
*
Abstract
is article considers the varied impact of the notion of revolutionaryconsciousness first developed by the French political theorist Georges
Sorel (1847–1922) on proponents of anarchism and Marxism, includ-ing Walter Benjamin, Bart de Light, Frantz Fanon, Antonio Gramsci
and, most recently, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. I question thestrategy amongst these thinkers to draw selectively from Sorel’s writ-ings in an aempt to create a
co 
don san
it 
ir 
around those aspects of his thought that are problematic by virtue of their impact on proto-fas-cist and fascist ideologues throughout Europe. In addressing this issue
I examine how Sorel’s anarchist theory of anti-Statism, constructedaroundthe poweromyths, led himto endorse anti-capitalistanti-Semitism as an extension of class struggle; and I critique his Janus-faced concept of aestheticized violence as it relates to his quest for
moral regeneration through revolution.
Among those theorists whose ideas served as a catalyst for twen-
ti
e
t
h
-
cen
t
u
ry
ana
r
ch
i
sm
,
Geo
r
ges So
r
e
l (1
8
47–1
922
) (
) r
ema
i
ns
the most controversial, primarily due to his own troubled political
*
Mark Antliff, Professor of Art History and Visual Studies at Duke University, is author
of 
Inventing Bergson: Cultural Politics and the Parisian
A
vant- 
arde 
(1993); co-editorwith Mahew Affron of 
Fasc t Vi on
A
rt and deo og y n ance and It ly 
(1997);
and co-author with Patricia Leighten of two books,
Cubism and Culture 
(2001) and
ACubism Reader: Documents and Criticism, 1906–1914 
(2008). In 2010–11 he co-curated
the exhibition
e Vorticists: Rebel 
A
rtists in London and New York, 1914–1918 
, whichopened at the Nasher Museum of Art atDuke University and then traveled to the
PeggyGuggenheimCollectioninVeniceandtoTateBritain. epresentstudyderives
in part from his book on Georges Sorel’s myriad impact on French politics, art andculture,
A
vant- 
arde Fascism: e Mobilization of Myth,
A
rt and Culture in France,
1909–1939 
(2007).
 
156
Mark Antliff  
Figure 1
George Sorel
trajectory and that of his self-proclaimed followers, many of whom
were drawn to fascism following Benito Mussolini’s rise of power
in1922, theyearoSorel’s death.
1
Despite such associations Sorel’s
notion of revolutionary consciousness and the role he ascribed to
m
yt
h
i
n cons
tit
u
ti
ng and
omen
ti
ng po
liti
ca
l
ac
tivi
sm con
ti
nued
t
o
a
r
ac
t t
heo
ri
s
t
s among
t
he
l
e
 i
n Eu
r
ope
, i
nc
l
ud
i
ng
t
he Ma
rxi
s
t
An
-t
on
i
o G
r
amsc
i,
whose concep
ti
on o
an
i
n
t
e
ll
ec
t
ua
l
and mo
r
a
l “
b
l
oc
was indebted to Sorel, and the prominent champion of Négritude,
Frantz Fanon, whose seminal books
Bla Skin, White Masks 
(1952)
and
e
t 
ed
 f
he Ea 
rt 
(1
962
)
d
r
ew on So
r
e
l’
s
t
heo
ry t
o
i
ns
till
revolutionary consciousness among blacks in Europe andAfrica.
2
Wa
lt
e
r
Ben
 j
am
i
n
i
n h
i
s
i
mpo
rt
an
t
essa
y “
On
t
he C
riti
que o
f Vi
o
l
ence
(1921) interpreted Sorel’s concept of the general strike in terms of the abolition notonlyof the state apparatusthrough non-violent
resistance (the refusal to work) but also the destruction of the legal
1
See
A
vant- 
arde Fascism: e Mobilization of Myth,
A
rt and Culture in France,
1909–1939 
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).
2
On Gramsci, see Enrico Angelli and Craig N. Murphy, “Consciousness, myth andcollective action: Gramsci, Sorel and the Ethical State,” in
nno ti on and Tr ans  f  r- mation in International Studies 
,eds.Stephen Gillandames Mileman(Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1997), 25–38, Jack Roth,
 
e Cu 
lt 
 f Vi 
ence 
So 
and 
the Sorelians 
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 175–178, and chaptersix of WalterAdamson,
Hegemonand Re ti on
A
ud  f  
A
non
amsc i’ s Po litical and Cultural Revolution
(Berkeley:UniversityoCalif ornia Press, 1980);on
Fanon, see
G
eorges Ciccariello-Maher, “To Lose
O
neself in the
A
bsolute: Revolution-
ary Subjectivity in Sorel and Fanon,”
Human Aritecture: Journal of the Sociology of  Self-Knowledge 
(Summer 2007), 101–112.
 
Bad Anarism
157
o
r
de
r
ma
i
n
t
a
i
ned b
y t
he S
t
a
t
e
t
o
j
us
tify it
s opp
r
ess
iv
e
r
u
l
e
.
3
A compa
-r
ab
l
e
vi
ew was
t
aken up b
y t
he ana
r
ch
i
s
t
Ba
rt
de
Li
gh
t
who
li
kew
i
se
endorsed Sorel’s theory in the context of his monumental study of 
d
ir
ec
t
non
-vi
o
l
en
t
ac
ti
on
,
e Conques 
 f Vi 
ence 
An essa 
on Wa 
and Re 
ti 
on
(1937).
4
More recently the Marxists Ernesto Laclauand Chantal Mouffe have sought to resuscitate Sorel’s concept of 
m
yt
h
i
n
t
hecon
t
e
xt
o
ft
he
irt
heo
ry
o
hegemon
y,
and
t
hecons
tit
u
tiv
e
role of antagonistic struggle as a catalyst to a theory of revolutionno longer premised on the outmoded Marxist concept of historical
necess
ity.
5
B
y
b
r
eak
i
ng w
it
h o
rt
hodo
x
Ma
rxi
sm
,
wh
i
ch pos
it
ed c
l
assconflictandrevolution asthe pre-determined outcome oeconomic
inequality, Laclau and Mouffe follow Sorel’s example in seeking toestablish classidentityand class antagonism byothermeans. In
endo
r
s
i
ng So
r
e
l’
s
t
heo
ry
o
m
yt
h as an
an
ti-
essen
ti
a
li
s
t,
an
ti-
de
t
e
r-
minist tool for political activism Laclau and Mouffe argue that thelaterappropriation oSorel’sthoughtbyadvocates of ascism was
me
r
e
ly
one o
f t
he poss
i
b
l
e de
riv
a
tiv
es
fr
om So
r
e
l’
s ana
ly
s
i
s
and b
y
no means a
necessa
ry
ou
t
come
o
h
i
s
i
deas
.
us
t
he endo
r
semen
t
of mythmaking by Sorel’s fascist followers, and their celebration of wa
r
as a m
yt
h
i
c ca
t
a
ly
s
t f 
o
r
e
t
h
i
ca
l r
enewa
l
and p
r
o
l
e
t
a
ri
an he
r
o
i
sm
was not “necessarily determined by the very structure of Sorel’s
thought” which reportedly remained “indeterminate.”
6
What Laclau and Mouffe fail to address is the extent to whichSorel’s theory of radical subjectivity contained within it the seeds
for such ideological volatility, as evidenced by the writings of Sorel
himself. Such findings should stand as a warning to any endorse-
men
t
among con
t
empo
r
a
ry
ana
r
ch
i
s
t
s o
So
r
e
l’
s p
r
ognos
i
s on how
to achieverevolution,howeveraractive histheoryoagitationalmythmaking might first appear. In many respects Sorel’s critiqueof the Enlightenmentastheideologicalmeans bywhich European
democracies establish and maintain power and his related advocacy
3
On Benjamin’s debt to Sorel, see Werner Hamacher, “Afformative, Strike: Benjamin’s‘Critique of Violence’,” in eds. Andrew Benjamin and Peter Osborne,
W
lt 
Ben
 j 
am
n
’ 
Philosophy: Destruction and Experience 
(London: Routledge, 1994), 110–138.
4
Ba
rt
de
Li
g
t’
s book was
fir
s
t
pub
li
shed
i
n F
r
ench
i
n
1
93
5
unde
r t
he
titl
e
Pou 
r
nc 
sans 
vi 
ence 
:
é 
 fl 
xi 
ons su 
r l 
a gue 
rr 
e e 
t l 
é 
ti 
on
; the expanded and revised Englishtr
ans
l
a
ti
on appea
r
ed
i
n
L
ondon
i
n
1
93
7
and
i
n
t
he Un
it
ed S
t
a
t
es
i
n
1
938
.
See Ba
rt
de
Ligt,
e Conques 
 f Vi 
ence 
An Essa 
on Wa 
and Re 
ti 
on
(NewYork:E.P.Duon,
1938)
5
See Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe,
Hegemonand Soc li tr eg y: owa ds a 
Radical Democratic Politics 
(London: Verso, 1987), 36–42.
6
Ibid.
, 41.

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