“Liberty, for you, is the Devil”: Divinity and Subordination in Anarchist Thought

Come, Satan, come, slandered by priests and kings! Let me embrace you, let me clutch you to my breast! – Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1858)

God — in nearly all monotheistic incarnations — represents the ultimate authoritarian. The creation must adhere to the creator’s rules for fear of eternal judgement. Anarchist thought has long reflected this, and while some may wonder where anarchist opposition to religion comes from, there are many reasons that anarchists throughout history have made dual enemies of the church and the state. Historical actions of churches and other religious institutions aside, there are reasons for the anarchist to oppose religion in the common conception of God itself.

To begin with, God’s judgement is binary: right or wrong, heaven or hell, black or white. No room for gray — the color most symbolic of humanity. God is the absolute authority. As Mikhail Bakunin (1882) wrote, “God being master, man is the slave. Incapable of finding justice, truth, and eternal life by his own effort, he can attain them only through a divine revelation.”

In fact, God serves as the ultimate panopticon. God sees everything his creation does but they are unable to see their creator. Not only does God see and know everything, he (because God has a gender) judges it. Foucault’s description of the panopticon echoes this endless oppression: “Inspection functions ceaselessly. The gaze is alert everywhere.” God is omni-present and omni-judgmental.

And what does God judge his creation based on? Obedience, worship, and sacrifice — the trinity of devotion. It’s the same thing any authoritarian longs for. Why should that be surprising? God is the king of kings. God preaches faith, not skepticism. The order laid out by this panoptic authority is for us to simply accept.

[For God,] man will only be the creature and plaything, profoundly religious as to consciousness, is atheist in beliefs. The supremacy of God is a mutilation of Humanity: it is atheism.  — Proudhon, 1847

The conception of God cuts deep into the heart of humanity. Not only does this idea of God divide humans into two categories- – those approved to live alongside divinity and those rejected — but it reinforces the myth that authority gives birth to order. It presupposes that a divine and sacred order exists above our material world. The egoist Max Stirner (1844) summarizes this:

He who believes in a spook no more assumes the “introduction of a higher world” than he who believes in the spirit, and both seek behind the sensual world a supersensual one; in short, they produce and believe another world, and this other world, the product of their mind, is a spiritual world; for their senses grasp and know nothing of another, a non-sensual world, only their spirit lives in it.

The social construction of a spiritual world is given priority over the real material world.

The theist rationale is antithetical to reality — social order gave birth to authority, not the reverse. Authority, which is an authorization of power, is a social construction.  It was not God, but humans who created authority within society.

God once installed, he was naturally proclaimed the cause, reason, arbiter and absolute disposer of all things: the world thenceforth was nothing, God was all; and man, his real creator, after having unknowingly extracted him from the void, bowed down before him, worshipped him, and avowed himself his creature and his slave. — Bakunin, 1882

In Ecology of Freedom (1982), Murray Bookchin argues that the emergence of authority and organized religion are intertwined. Those who were first to allege to be able to bridge the divide between the material and divine world were those who given authority over individuals. Bookchin claims that “the shaman is the incipient State personified.” Bakunin (1882) basically foresaw this argument when he stated, “Whoever says revelation says revealers… and these, one recognized as the representatives of divinity on earth, as the holy instructors of humanity, chosen by God himself to direct in the path of salvation, necessarily execute absolute power.” The shaman’s alleged ability of being able to interact with the divine places them above the community.

Once those who are “divinely-inspired” emerge, an authority structure inevitably arises with divine legitimacy behind it. The role of this authority structure that rests on faith is to govern the people under it. Or as Benjamin Tucker put it:

God, to be God, must be a governing power. His government cannot be administered directly by the individual, for the individual, and through the individual: if it could, it would at once obliterate individuality altogether. Hence the government of God, if administered at all, must be administered through his professed vicegerents on earth, the dignitaries of Church and State.

While the divine right of kings has now been thoroughly beheaded, the divine right of government remains. Just as religion is based on faith and authority, so is government. It is imposed on all individuals that happen to live within the nation, without any endorsement from the individuals themselves. The legacy of God lives on through the state. The state still upholds the trinity of devotion: obedience, worship, and sacrifice.

In the words of the notorious Renzo Novatore (1924):

We are the great iconoclasts of the lie.

And all that is declared “sacred” is a lie.

We are the enemies of the “sacred”.

And to you a law is “sacred”; a society “sacred”; a moral “sacred”; an idea “sacred”!

By denying all divinity and the “sacred,” the anarchist refuses to be subordinated by a social construction. The anarchist points to the need for individual endorsement in order to legitimize social structures. Without receiving individual endorsement, the State rests solely on faith and sheer force alone, just as religion has for thousands of years. It is for this reasoning that I embrace Proudhon (1851) when he infamously exclaimed, “Aid me, Lucifer, Satan, whoever you are, demon opposed to God according to the faith of my fathers! I will speak for you; and I ask nothing from you.”

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