on 15 November 2011
Michael Bakunin (1814-1876), is viewed as an important figure in the development of modern, philosophical anarchism. In this philosophy, Bakunin sought to repudiate every form of authority and coercion. To this end, he perceived the 'state' and the 'church' as the key instigaters of oppression of free thought and movement, and this book emphasises his belief that the state is an instrument whereby a privileged few hold power over the majority, with the church assisting this ongoing process by keeping humanity ignorant of science. The key to this ignorant enslavement is the belief in 'god', which Bakunin sees as keeping the structures of the political state firmly in place. Bakunin states that the dual yoke of spiritual and temporal authority must be over-come, if humanity is to be truly free.
The paperback (1970) edition contains 89 numbered pages, and consists of an Introduction, a Preface and the text itself:
Introduction To The Dover Edition (By Paul Avrich).
Suggestions For For Further Reading.
Preface To The First French Edition.
God And The State.
Index of Persons.
Bakunin wrote much but finished nothing. God and the State is no exception, and finishes with no obvious conclusion. Nevertheless, the original French editioned, published six years after his death in 1882, is considered a pivotal anarchist document. The text presented here, is the English edition of 1916, which was itself an updated and edited reprint of the English edition dated 1883. Professor Paul Avrich gives a history of the text in question, (through his Introduction), explaining that what is now known as 'God and the State', is actually the latter part of a much longer (but incomplete) work by Bakunin entitled ' Knuoto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution'. This book deals in general with the idea that German and Russian authoritarianism of the time, (late 1800's), conspired together to stamp out social progress. Avrich also makes much of the philosophical disagreement between Michael Bakunin and his contemporary, Karl Marx. Bakunin refered to Marx as a priest of scientific socialism, and criticised the idea of historical forces and economic theories. And yet the book begins with an allusion to evolutionary theory - stating that humanity is the off-spring of gorillas, or very near relatives of gorillas, and that humanity, as an animal, with its intellectual, moral, political and social developments, is merely the reflection of humanity's economic history.
Bakunin wants humanity to be absolutely free of everything that has come before. Following Bakunin's passing, his unfinished written works were disorganised and difficult to discern. Two anarchists - Carlos Cafiero and Elisee Reclus - both of whom had been closely associated with Bakunin, found this fragment amongst his papers. It is they, who gave it its current title, as this directly reflects the content of the work. Bakunin uses this text to firmly establish his idea that materialism is correct, and that idealism is wrong. Everything that humanity 'is', develops out of its physical, material presence, and nothing else. Therefore, according to Bakunin, humanity is corrupted and oppressed by the structures of the state and the strictures of religion. It is interesting to note that Bakunin criticised Karl Marx and his supporters as forming a clique of the educated elite, and yet within this text, it is clearly seen that Bakunin's wide sweeping criticism of Western civilisation, including the philosophy of ancient Greece, is not only the product of an extensive educated, but requires a similar education in the mind of the reader, if the criticism is to be fully understood. On page 66, Bakunin, via a footnote, expresses his belief that different 'races' of people have different levels of intelligence, an atttitude, that is today, considered racist and unscientific. Ironically, Bakunin, at the time, believed that he was being very scientific by advancing such ideas. Whatever the case, this is an interesting historical text, worthy of study, regardless of the political persuasion of the reader.