The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism, compiled and edited by G. P. Maximoff, 1953.

CHAPTER 7: The State: General Outlook

Is the State the Embodiment of the General Interest? What is the State? The metaphysicians and the learned jurists tell us that the State is a public affair: it represents the collective well-being and the rights of all as opposed to the disintegrating action of the egoistic interests and passion of the individual. It is the realization of justice, morality, and virtue upon the earth. Consequently, there is no greater or more sublime duty on the part of the individual than to dedicate, to sacrifice himself, and if necessary, to die for the triumph and the power of the State.

Here we have in a few words the theology of the State. Let us see then whether this political theology does not conceal beneath an attractive and poetic appearance rather vulgar and sordid realities.

The Idea of the State Analyzed. Let us analyze first the idea of the State as presented to us by its panegyrists. It is the sacrifice of natural liberty and the interests of everyone -- of individuals as well as of comparatively small collective units, associations, communes, and provinces -- to the interests and liberty of all, to the prosperity of the great whole.

But this totality, this great whole, what is it in reality? It is an agglomeration of all the individuals and of all the more circumscribed human collectives which comprise it. And if this whole, in order to constitute itself as such, demands the sacrifice of individual and local interests, how then can it in reality represent them in their totality?

An Exclusive But Not an Inclusive Universality. It is then not a living whole, giving everyone the chance to breathe freely and becoming richer, freer, and more powerful, the more extensive the development of liberty and prosperity for everyone becomes in its midst. It is not a natural human society which supports and reinforces the life of everyone by the life of all -- quite the contrary, it is the immolation of every individual as well as of local associations, it is an abstraction which is destructive of a living society, it is the limitation, or rather the complete negation, of the life and of the rights of all the parts which go to make up the whole in the purported interest of everybody. It is the State, it is the altar of political religion upon which natural society is always immolated: a devouring universality, subsisting upon human sacrifices, just as the Church does. The State, I repeat again, is the youngest brother of the Church.1

The Premise of the Theory of the State Is the Negation of Liberty. But if the metaphysicians affirm that men, especially those who believe in the immortality of the soul, stand outside of the society of free beings, we inevitably arrive at the conclusion that men can unite in a [207] society only at the cost of their own liberty, their natural independence, and by sacrificing first their personal and then their local interests. Such self-renunciation and self-sacrifice are thus all the more imperative the more numerous society is in point of membership and the greater the complexity of its organization.

In this sense the State is the expression of all individual sacrifices. Given this abstract and at the same time violent origin, the State must continue restricting liberty to an even greater extent, doing it in the name of the falsehood called "the good of the people", which in reality represents exclusively the interests of the dominant class. Thus the State appears as an inevitable negation and annihilation of all liberty, and of all individual and collective interests.2

The Abstraction of the State Hides the Concrete Factor of Class Exploitation. It is evident that all the so-called general interests of society supposedly represented by the State, which in reality are only the general and permanent negation of the positive interests of the regions, communes, associations, and a vast number of individuals subordinated to the State, constitute an abstraction, a fiction, a falsehood, and that the State is like a vast slaughterhouse and an enormous cemetery, where under the shadow and the pretext of this abstraction all the best aspirations, all the living forces of a country, are sanctimoniously immolated and interred. And since abstractions do not exist in themselves nor for themselves, since they have neither feet with which to walk, hands to create, nor stomachs to digest this mass of victims turned over to them to be devoured, it is clear that just as the religious or celestial abstraction God represents in reality the very positive and real interests of the clergy, so God's earthly complement, the political abstraction the State, represents no less positive and real interests of the bourgeoisie, which is now the principal if not the exclusive exploiting class. . . .3

The Church and the State. To prove the identity of the State and the Church, I shall ask the reader to take note of the fact that both are essentially based upon the idea of sacrifice of life and natural rights, and that both start equally from the same principle: the natural wickedness of Men, which, according to the Church, can be overcome only by Divine Grace, and by the death of the natural man in God, and according to the State, only through law and the immolation of the individual on the altar of the State. Both aim to transform man -- one, into a saint, the other, into a citizen. But the natural man has to die, for his condemnation is unanimously decreed by the religion of the Church and that of the State.

Such, in its ideal purity, is the identical theory of the Church and the State. It is a pure abstraction; but every historic abstraction presupposes historic facts. And these facts are of an altogether real and brutal character: they are violence, spoliation, conquest, enslavement. Man is so constituted that he is not content merely to commit certain acts, he also feels the need of justifying and legitimating those acts before the eyes of the whole world. [208] Thus religion came in the nick of time to bestow its blessing upon accomplished facts, and owing to this benediction, the iniquitous and brutal facts became transformed into "rights."

Abstraction of the State in Real Life. Let us see now what role this abstraction of the State, paralleling the historic abstraction called the Church, has played and continues to play in real life, in human society. The State, as I have said before, is in effect a vast cemetery wherein all the manifestations of individual and local life are sacrificed, where the interests of the parts constituting the whole die and are buried. It is the altar on which the real liberty and the well-being of peoples are immolated to political grandeur; and the more complete this immolation is, the more perfect is the State. Hence I conclude that the Russian Empire is a State par excellence, a State without rhetoric or phrase-mongering, the most perfect in Europe. On the contrary, all States in which the people are allowed to breathe somewhat are, from the ideal point of view, incomplete just as other churches, compared to the Roman Catholic, are deficient

The Sacerdotal Body of the State. The State is an abstraction devouring the life of the people. But in order that an abstraction may be born, that it may develop and continue to exist in real life, it is necessary that there be a real collective body interested in maintaining its existence. This function cannot be fulfilled by the masses of the people, since it is they who are precisely the victims of the State. It has to be done by a privileged body, the sacerdotal body of the State, the governing and possessing class which holds the same place in the State that the sacerdotal class in religion -- the priests -- hold in the Church.

The State Could Not Exist Without a Privileged Body. And, indeed, what do we see throughout history? The State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class: the sacerdotal class, the nobility, the bourgeoisie -- and finally, when all the other classes have exhausted themselves, the class of bureaucracy enters upon the stage and then the State falls, or rises, if you please, to the position of a machine. But for the salvation of the State it is absolutely necessary that there be some privileged class interested in maintaining its existence.4

The Liberal and Absolutist Theories of the State. The State is not a direct product of Nature; it does not precede, as society does, the awakening of thought in man. According to liberal political writers, the first State was created by man's free and conscious will; according to the absolutists, the State is a divine creation. In both cases it dominates society and tends altogether to absorb it.

In the second case [that of the absolutist theory] this absorption is self-evident: a divine institution must necessarily devour all natural organizations. What is more curious in this case is that the individualistic school, with its free-contract theory, leads to the same result. And, indeed, this school begins by denying the very existence of a natural society antedating [209] the contract -- inasmuch as such a society would presuppose the existence of natural relations among individuals, and consequently a reciprocal limitation of their liberties, which is contrary to the absolute liberty enjoyed, according to this theory, prior to the conclusion of the contract, and which would be neither less nor more than this contract itself, existing as a natural fact and preceding the free contract. According to this theory, human society began only with the conclusion of the contract. But what then is this society? It is the pure and logical realization of the contract, with all of its implied tendencies and legislative and practical consequences -- it is the State.

The State Is the Sum of Negations of Individual Liberty. Let us examine it more closely. What does the State represent? The sum of negations of the individual liberties of all of its members; or the sum of sacrifices which all of its members make in renouncing a part of their liberty for the common good. We have seen that, according to the individualist theory, the freedom of everyone is the limit, or rather the natural negation of the freedom of all the others. And so it is this absolute limitation, this negation of the liberty of everyone in the name of liberty of all or of the common right, that constitutes the State. Thus where the State begins, individual liberty ceases, and vice versa.

Liberty Is Indivisible. It will be argued that the State, the representative of the public weal or of the interest common to all, curtails a part of everyone's liberty in order to assure the remainder of this liberty. But this remainder is security, if you please, yet it is by no means liberty. For liberty is indivisible: a part of it cannot be curtailed without destroying it as a whole. This small part of liberty which is being curtailed is the very essence of my liberty, it is everything. By a natural, necessary, and irresistible movement all my liberty is concentrated precisely in that part, small though it may be, which is being curtailed.

Universal Suffrage Is No Guarantee of Freedom. But, we are told, the democratic State, based upon free universal suffrage for all its citizens, surely cannot be the negation of their liberty. And why not? This depends absolutely upon the mission and the power which the citizens delegate to the State. And a republican State, based upon universal suffrage, could be exceedingly despotic, even more despotic than a monarchic State, when, under the pretext of representing the will of everyone, it bears down upon the will and the free movement of every one of its members with the whole weight of its collective power.

Who Is the Supreme Arbiter of Good and Evil? But the State, it will be argued again, restricts the liberty of its members only in so far as this liberty is bent upon injustice, upon evil-doing. The State prevents them from killing, robbing, and offending one another, and in general from doing evil, leaving them on the contrary full and complete liberty to do good. But what is good and what is evil?5