Anarchy and Pantheism, Proudhon and Spinoza


Together, anarchy and panarchy, atheism and pantheism, represent the two extremes of a spectrum which extends from rule by all to rule by none. On the polar end of rule by none, we find anarchism situated politically, and atheism religiously. These deny the absolutes of God and State. On the other side of things, toward rule by all, we find political panarchy* and religious pantheism. These affirm the absolutes of God and State (using Proudhon’s definition of panarchy).

There may not seem to be a crucial difference between all and none. Both are uniform. But one is positive and the other is negative. Not quite the same, except in their equality. Yet, the two are sometimes confused for one another. The pantheist Spinoza was regularly and still today accused of atheism. Social anarchists often take the position that the elimination of government depends on more participation in governance by voluntary participants. This could easily be confused for government by all, or panarchy. Still, it is considered the highest form of anarchy. Spinoza, too, while preceding anarchism, supported a highly inclusive democracy for his time, but this was founded on his pantheism. Both the Absolute of pantheism, and the anti-absolutism of anarchism, start leading somewhere similar. Both anarchism and pantheism are oriented in participation. Similarly, panarchy and atheism seek greater enfranchisement and less stringent hierarchy in institutions.

Curiously, negation of the absolute in politics, as with anarchism, demands more participation, while affirmation in religion, as with pantheism, does the same; affirmation in politics, as with (de Puydt’s) panarchy, and negation of the absolute in religion, as with atheism, asks more strongly for autonomy. Socialist atheists often demand a strong state, but freedom from religion; Christian anarchists call for freedom from the state, in the name of the Absolute.

Proudhon, the anarchist, was not well-exposed to Spinoza, the pantheist, who had died long before Proudhon’s birth, but naturally took issue with him. Proudhon had ferociously denounced the Absolute prior to reading Spinoza, whose work stood to glorify it.

In specific, Proudhon, a believer in free will, took issue with Spinoza’s necessitarianism. Free will is important to Proudhon’s philosophy. The only absolute he ever evokes on his own behalf is an absoluteness of freedom or liberty. For Spinoza, however, understanding is the most important, resulting ultimately in a gnosis he calls blessedness. Spinoza had famously claimed that only God’s will is free.

As a pantheist, Spinoza understood God– the Absolute– to be the whole of existence as a set, not its individual parts. Spinoza believed that only the Absolute has free will, which stood in glaring contrast to Proudhon’s free will process philosophy.

Nonetheless, both were supporters of free markets and democracy. Spinoza would anticipate both Proudhon and the progressive Henry George in proposing the common capture of ground rent.

As both a Proudhonian thinker and a Spinozist, I find the conflict between these two deeply troubling. But my own outlook resolves the dispute between free will and necessity quite easily.

Taking from Parmenides, we may suggest that Spinoza has mapped the Way of Aletheia, or Truth, while Proudhon has sketched the Way of Doxa, or illusion. Now, traditionally, doxa is understood to be a mistaken outlook, something like being trapped in the maya, or illusion, of Hindu views. Hindus often believe that one can somehow escape the mirage of maya, and Parmenides may have suggested the same of doxa, but I do not believe the mirage is escapable. I reject that view, not in whole, but as a practical necessity. Though not fundamental, the mirage must be navigated as if it were. We are here, experiencing the dream, and seem to make choices, even if we are ultimately not free, and our choices are determined by forces beyond our control.

Proudhon has the epiphenomena well mapped, but Spinoza’s Substance is just that, substantial. Nonetheless, epiphenomena, though not substantial, exists, and isn’t just wished away, particularly by the phenomenon itself (us). Whereas most philosophers, perhaps Parmenides himself, would confuse the sorting of doxa for completely impractical, I, instead, suggest its utility, as I suggest the futility in attempting an escape from samsara. One cannot readily leave their body, fundamental or otherwise.

So, I support a strange position of compatibilism between the two, necessity and free will. While I treat necessity as fundamental, free will is nonetheless a pragmatic engagement. Even if it doesn’t exist, there is still something quite different from mechanical determinism (entropy) at play, and traditionally we have referred to this added element as free will. It’s a useful concept for daily life, though not complete or fundamental, and reducible more logically to telos or retrocausality (syntropy). It’s useful to explain the epiphenomena found in doxa, but does not stand up fully to the aletheia of Substance. Mystical knowledge is rarely as practical as it is motivational.

We have in the conflict of Spinoza’s necessity and Proudhon’s process a more recent rendition of Parmenides’s Monad and Heraclitus’s ever-changing river. It is all too easy to suggest that Heraclitus’s river flows the path of doxa, or illusory epiphenomena, and that Proudhon’s free will processes do the same. That is, in fact, my suggestion: Heraclitus’s river, and Proudhon’s free will, flows through Parmenides’s Monad and Spinoza’s Substance as epiphenomena, a holograph. It is in fact unchanging, despite the utility of this false premise in navigating maya. Maya, Heraclitus’s river, must be navigated, or you’re going to have a nightmare. No, it’s not real, but it’s not enjoyable either. You’re here, make the best of it.

This makes Proudhon’s philosophy comparatively valuable to a flatland mysticism wherein all epiphenomena is treated as equal regardless of content, a view which can at times be derived from someone like Joseph Campbell, who suggests merely to “follow your bliss,” without caring to give any form to such an abstract sentiment (remaining open to the motivating bliss of murderers and so on), or even in Parmenides himself, who seems to denounce the value of doxa as confusion, rather than circumstance. I agree with these thinkers on a metaphysical, but not a phenomenal level.

Still, it’s easy to give a flatland reading to Proudhon himself, and in a way his project is so open so as not to provide prescribed necessities, but he did give a potential form to his philosophy on a number of occasions, particularly in regard to his ideas for mutual banking and worker’s associations. Those to follow him, from Charles Dana to Benjamin Tucker would provide further form to various aspects of the mutualist project.

Ultimately, Proudhon’s anti-absolutism and misotheism is exactly what would be expected of a god that is becoming self-aware on a planet that is worshipping the image of a long-dead God (pandeism). Naturally, as such a new god started to define itself and claim its position on the throne, as the one and only God, all imposters would have to be removed. Little does Proudhon know that this is what he is doing, and that the collective mission of mankind is to once again restore God’s kingdom, in an act of henosis. That is, Proudhon’s free will is exactly the kind of false sentiment that is needed to motivate man to collectively give life to the Absolute through living incorporation, mutualism. It is the sentiment or feeling of having a choice, given life through association, that ultimately culminates in God the Omega, and thereby allows God to later be Alpha, the creator, again. Proudhon denies the Absolute, claiming its free will for himself and his associates, just as all atheists do, and as God must have done before establishing the Big Bounce singularity. God must have been an atheist, believing in nothing outside of his own freedom, becoming complete, before dying, only to be reborn in the eternal return.

Brahma sleeps and wakens, forevermore. As he reawakens, he climbs from within his dream to become himself, only to go back to sleep and dream that he is overthrowing his creator, which is none other than himself.

Repeat forever.


*For sake of this essay, and except where noted, I use panarchy in a hybrid sense between that used by Proudhon (communism) and that used by de Puydt (panarchy proper). The hybrid result is a meaning similar to a democratic federation, strangely like Proudhon would have proposed.



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