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GOD AND THE STATE — Michael Bakunin

£1.50

Bakunin’s classic and highly influential atheist text setting out the anarchist critique of religion as bound up in legitimising the state. The book did not appear in print until 1882, six years after Bakunin’s death. It was only then that the manuscript was discovered among his papers by two well-known anarchists, Carlo Cafiero and Elisée Reclus, who had been closely associated with him during the last years of his life, when his libertarian doctrines saw their fullest flowering. In it Bakunin proclaimed an all-out war against the church and the state. If men are to be free, they must throw off the double yoke of spiritual and temporal authority. To accomplish this they must bring in bear the two “most precious qualities” with which they are endowed: the power to think with an act of thought and rebellion. If Adam and Eve had obeyed the Almighty when he forbade them to touch the tree of knowledge, humanity would have been condemned to perpetual bondage. But Satan — “the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds”—persuaded them to taste the fruit of knowledge and liberty. These same weapons—reason and rebellion—must now be turned against the church and the state. And once they are overthrown there will dawn a new Eden for mankind, a new era of freedom and happiness. But the task of liberation, warns Bakunin, will not be easy. For already a new class has emerged that aims to keep the masses in ignorance in order to rule over them. These would-be oppressors are the intellectual, above all Marx and his followers, “priests of science,” ordained in a new privileged church of superior education. The rule of the intellectuals, according to Bakunin, would be no less oppressive than the rule of kings or priests or holders of property. The government of an educated elite, like the worst religious and political despotisms of the past, “cannot fail to be impotent, ridiculous, inhuman, cruel, oppressive, exploiting, maleficent.” With this warning Bakunin anticipated the “new class” label that later critics were to pin on Marx’s heirs in the twentieth century. He assailed the theorists and system-builders whose so-called “science of society” was sacrificing real life on the altar of scholastic abstractions. He refused to shed the fictions of religion and metaphysics merely to see them replaced by what he considered the new fictions of pseudo-scientific sociology. He therefore proclaimed a “revolt of life against science, or rather, against the government of science.” For the true mission of science and learning, he insisted, was not to govern men but to rescue them from superstition, drudgery, and disease. “In a word,” he writes in God and the State, “science is the compass of life but not life itself.” But how can this new form of despotism be avoided, Bakunin’s answer was to wrest education from the monopoly grasp of the privileged classes and make it available equally to everyone. Like capital, learning must cease to be the patrimony of the few and become the patrimony of all men, “in order that the masses, ceasing to be flocks led and shorn by privileged priests, may take into their own hands the direction of their destinies.”

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Bakunin’s classic and highly influential atheist text setting out the anarchist critique of religion as bound up in legitimising the state. The book did not appear in print until 1882, six years after Bakunin’s death. It was only then that the manuscript was discovered among his papers by two well-known anarchists, Carlo Cafiero and Elisée Reclus, who had been closely associated with him during the last years of his life, when his libertarian doctrines saw their fullest flowering. In it Bakunin proclaimed an all-out war against the church and the state. If men are to be free, they must throw off the double yoke of spiritual and temporal authority. To accomplish this they must bring in bear the two “most precious qualities” with which they are endowed: the power to think with an act of thought and rebellion. If Adam and Eve had obeyed the Almighty when he forbade them to touch the tree of knowledge, humanity would have been condemned to perpetual bondage. But Satan — “the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds”—persuaded them to taste the fruit of knowledge and liberty. These same weapons—reason and rebellion—must now be turned against the church and the state. And once they are overthrown there will dawn a new Eden for mankind, a new era of freedom and happiness. But the task of liberation, warns Bakunin, will not be easy. For already a new class has emerged that aims to keep the masses in ignorance in order to rule over them. These would-be oppressors are the intellectual, above all Marx and his followers, “priests of science,” ordained in a new privileged church of superior education. The rule of the intellectuals, according to Bakunin, would be no less oppressive than the rule of kings or priests or holders of property. The government of an educated elite, like the worst religious and political despotisms of the past, “cannot fail to be impotent, ridiculous, inhuman, cruel, oppressive, exploiting, maleficent.” With this warning Bakunin anticipated the “new class” label that later critics were to pin on Marx’s heirs in the twentieth century. He assailed the theorists and system-builders whose so-called “science of society” was sacrificing real life on the altar of scholastic abstractions. He refused to shed the fictions of religion and metaphysics merely to see them replaced by what he considered the new fictions of pseudo-scientific sociology. He therefore proclaimed a “revolt of life against science, or rather, against the government of science.” For the true mission of science and learning, he insisted, was not to govern men but to rescue them from superstition, drudgery, and disease. “In a word,” he writes in God and the State, “science is the compass of life but not life itself.” But how can this new form of despotism be avoided, Bakunin’s answer was to wrest education from the monopoly grasp of the privileged classes and make it available equally to everyone. Like capital, learning must cease to be the patrimony of the few and become the patrimony of all men, “in order that the masses, ceasing to be flocks led and shorn by privileged priests, may take into their own hands the direction of their destinies.”

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