Mikhail Bakunin: The Philosophical Basis of his Anarchism, by Paul McLaughlin

The primary purpose of this essay, as the title indicates, is to examine the philosophical foundations of Mikhail Bakunin’s social thought. Thus it is concerned not so much with the explication of the anarchist position of Bakunin as such as with the basic philosophy which underpins it. This philosophy has, as far as I can determine, two central components: a negative dialectic or revolutionary logic; and a naturalist ontology, a naturalistic account of the structure of being or reality. These two components are analyzed in the two main sections of this essay — but a preliminary question is begged, relating to the very significance of Bakunin as a philosophical thinker, the very significance of this apparent philosophical “non-entity” (Karl Marx’s judgment, seemingly confirmed by Bakunin’s absence from the philosophical canon). The question might be put in the following way: is Bakunin worthy of philosophical consideration?

The mass of scholarship — or certainly Anglophone scholarship — on Bakunin holds that he is not. Anglophones — not surprisingly, given the ideological order in Anglophone countries — are especially hostile; Bakunin is generally regarded more sympathetically and treated more seriously in Latin countries, for instance. Due to the extent of this hostility, and the sheer orthodoxy by now of this hostile interpretation in the Anglophone world — to say nothing of my own background — it is Anglophone scholarship (and the “foreign” element that it has adopted) that is of utmost concern in what is undeniably a broadly sympathetic (though not uncritical) treatment of Bakunin.

By and large, Bakunin scholarship (if it can be called that) falls into two categories — alas, two ideological categories: Marxist and liberal. Conservative analysis of Bakunin is less conspicuous. Nevertheless Eric Voegelin, whose views will be outlined below, has made a serious contribution from this perspective. What is most noteworthy about the case of Voegelin is that it supports an argument of Bakunin’s Die Reaktion in Deutschland (The Reaction in Germany) (1842): that the conflict between consistent revolutionaries and “consistent reactionaries” is marked by
more honesty than the conflict between the former and “mediating reactionaries”.

(from the introduction)