Wednesday 10 September 2008

Anarchism or Nihilism? The Buddhist-Influenced thought of Wu Nengzi

I've quoted below from a paper presented at the recent ASN. It's from the conclusion to Professor John Rapp's paper, "'Anarchism or Nihilism? The Buddhist-Influenced Thought of Wu Nengzi'". While the whole research was fascinating to me it was his conclusion that challenged me most and led to other questions: What is a 'lifestyle anarchist'? Do we hide our fear of commitment to an ideology behind post-modern irony and see irony as a greater mechanism of change than it really is? Do I live like life matters or like matter isn't life?

This dialogue between the many faith traditions and anarchism is going to blow upon all kinds of areas of our thinking as activists and disciples of Christ.

IV. Larger Problem: Is Post-Modern Anarchism Nihilism?

To this observer, the larger problem presented by the breakdown of Daoist anarchism in the thought of Wu Nengzi is the obvious lesson for post-Modernist thought, especially those post-modernists who call themselves anarchists. There is insufficient space here to spell out this lesson fully, so I will conclude only with what is intend to be a provocative suggestion. While they claim to deny any overarching “metanarrative” as valid for all other people, one must ask whether such post-Modernists reserve for themselves the right to be critical of all other narratives while preserving their own as something other than a true narrative and thus taking up a stance of “ironic detachment” that too easily smacks of intellectual superiority. Going beyond classical anarchists who viewed all religious and political doctrines as attempts to enslave people with metaphysical or real authority, one must ask whether post-Modernist anarchists go further to deny the existence of all truth, even truth that cannot be known objectively or imposed on others. If so, as many critics have asked about post-Modernism, how is one to criticize any political doctrine or state as evil, even fascist ones? This charge was most famously and perhaps for post-modernists most infuriatingly raised by Richard Wolin (2004), who tries to relate the collaborationist and even fascist background of some of the seminal post-Modernist thinkers to flaws in post-Modernist thought as a whole. While those who want to find a genuine liberatory critique in postmodernism may decry his attack as relying almost completely on guilt by association, it seems to this author that the shift among Daoist thinkers such as Wu Nengzi from anarchism to nihilism might have been based on a similar shift in emphasis. This charge against postmodernist and/or “lifestyle” anarchists who think their intellectual stance alone will serve to achieve anarchism may be the opposite side of the coin of those who find Daoist anarchism a metaphysical doctrine that relies on a supernatural authority and is thus inherently un-anarchist. Instead, a Daoist anarchist would argue, any doctrine based on the idea that some may know objective truths better than others and thus know also when to apply those truths for others, may lead to an equal and perhaps greater danger of leading would-be anarchists to acquiesce and participate in establishing authority over others. Only by embracing the whole, a Daoist anarchist would argue, that is, by accepting the underlying unity and thus equality of all things, even if by its very nature that whole cannot be objectively known and hierarchically organized, can one stay loyal to a fully anarchist vision.

The image above is of Lao Zi, the founder of Daoism.