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Love, garlic and Anarchy

by Luigi Corvaglia

Karl Kraus, one of the most brilliant authors of those semantic condensations known as aphorisms, wrote, “An aphorism can never be the whole truth; it is either a half-truth or a truth-and-a-half.” That’s the perfect aphorism! It expresses the sense, wit, paradox, a half-truth and of course, a truth and a half. But perhaps the best definition is that of Nilt Ejam, “An aphorism is a big delight in a small space.” Correct. Without the satisfaction of a witticism, the taste of the bon mot, or a hyperbole, a phrase remains an observation, it maintains the level of a mere reflection. The success of aphorisms lies instead in aberration and paradox, or the capacity to condense larger philosophical and moral principles.

Oscar Wilde, a brilliant libertarian mind, made an art of producing sketches of complacent vacuity (“I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.”) and humorous judgments about the virtue of vice (“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.”). In the context of political thought, there is one idea more than any other that can boast of many witty aphorisms: anarchism. This must be said in praise of anarchist thinkers, who are able to condense knowledge and principles in formulas that taking up little space, produce much delight: “Anarchy is order” – for example.

That motto, the relish of which is in the apparent paradox, is by the man who first dared call himself ‘anarchist’ in a positive sense, specifically Pierre J. Proudhon. Who does not know the slogan, also by the typesetter from Becancon: “Property is Theft”? The phrase is delicious, in fact, without doubt, it’s short and contains a dose of truth that goes from half a unit to one and a half.

To the disgrace of anarchists however, it must be said that very often they know no more than the aphorisms of their authors. So there are self-styled anarchist partisans, who despite being almost literate, are convinced that Proudhon was opposed to free trade. Some others, able to add two plus two, know that twenty five years after having given to history and T-shirt manufacturers that motto, the Frenchman came along with a powerful defense of private property. The latter, armed with such rudimentary knowledge, are the architects of that harebrained theory whereby there would be two Proudhon’s, one opposed against the other, corresponding to the young anti-proprietarian and the mature free-trader.

These people may well speak with the character from Wilde’s aphorism, the one who loves to talk about nothing, because it’s the only thing he knows anything about. Patience. If they had taken the trouble to read a few more lines they would have understood that in 1840 [1] the author responded to the question “What is property?” and acted as an earnest theorist of natural law, denying by its very nature the idea that this was a natural right, concluding that it was instead an act of abuse and a pillar of exploitation. In 1865 [2] there was not a change of perspective, but one of method. In his own words:

The only thing we know about property and for which we can distinguish it from ownership is that it is absolute and abusive; very well: precisely in its absolutism and its abuse, to say nothing worse, that we must seek its own ends.[3]

“Must seek its own ends.” The approach is no longer ontological, but utilitarian. Since the State, the second and the largest pillar of exploitation, is even more abusive, the full sovereignty that the individual has over a piece of property, may play for him a defensive role. Property is a counterweight to the abuse of the state. Proudhon in fact, had already identified well in advance the risks associated with a complete abolition of private property. That’s all. He even anticipated Ludwig Von Mises in highlighting that without a free market it was impossible to define the value of goods and ensure their allocation, all issues over which any attempt to question the devotees of the aphorisms, obtains a change of subject, perhaps another aphorism. There are people who confuse the free market with capitalism.

Those same people that are appalled with this defense of property as an anti-state argument, are not bothered at all when some anarchist comes in defense of the state as a function of an anti-capitalist agent, as championed by some of the stars of international anarchism like Noam Chomsky [4] or Hakim Bey. [5] The idea that in addition to a liberal and a socialist one, there exists an anarchism with a statist soul is a new acquirement, and a concept that as well as being better tolerated than propertarianism, also enjoys the merit of originality.

Another formula of success is owed to Mikhail Bakunin and relates to the precarious balance in which the first two principles of the revolutionary triad, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity prove to be, since the great Mother of the Enlightenment gave birth to her three bastard children: liberalism, socialism and anarchism. The Russian says:

Freedom without socialism leads to privilege, to injustice, and socialism without freedom leads to slavery and brutality.

Hard to blame him. Between Marxist promises of a farewell to the realm of necessity and capitalist pledges of an always better distributed freedom, the only prophecy that has been fulfilled is this one by the Russian anarchist. However, if you think about it, you understand how this balance is maintained, and it is necessary to presuppose what Rocker called “voluntary socialism”.

In fact, Bakunin is a collectivist, although he discards centralization and safeguards the property which is fruit of individual work. The question, from the logical point of view, is put exactly in the wake of what the psychologist Paul Watzlawick has called, “confusion between garlic and love”. [6]

The disappointed wife, says, in fact, to her husband: “If you really loved me, you would eat garlic voluntarily.” The problem is not garlic or socialism, which can be liked or not, but the claim that those who do not appreciate the one, the other, or both, not only have to allow the thing in question to be administered, but that they should also take it with pleasure.

It has to be made clear that the paradoxical intimation, i.e., the pretense of authority over something that should be spontaneous, is considered one of the most pathological forms of communication. So behind this well-known aphorism, on whose absolute truth nothing can be argued in descriptive terms, is however implied at a prescriptive level, nothing more than the most extreme variation on the theme of confusion between love and garlic, in other words the exhortation to behave spontaneously.

Bakunin says, “We must want freedom and equality.” We must want garlic! Moreover, since, “no man can emancipate himself without emancipating together all the men around him,” he orders every other man to“be free”,that is, contradictorily, “don’t follow any orders.”

The two giants of anarchism, Proudhon and Bakunin, spent many nights drinking cups of tea and coffee (the lovers of aphorisms know that the Russian agitator wanted it “black as night, sweet as love, hot as hell “) and arguing their methods of implementation of a free society. The Frenchman saw a self-organization among individuals and composite groups that would have gradually eroded the spaces of statehood, the Russian a violent revolution that would have replaced the society of inequality with a new society without classes (“The passion for destruction is also a creative passion”).

This sort of “voluntary socialism”, which in Peter Kropotkin becomes real anarchist communism, requires the assumption of a benign anthropology, which characterizes somewhat all classical anarchism. This can be then considered a secularization of Christianity. In fact while the first two elements of the revolutionary triad , Freedom and Equality will be claimed as “rights”, Brotherhood is an ethical imperative, and upon an ethical imperative, nothing better than a religion can be founded. Nietzsche could well say that anarchism is “Platonism for the poor” (another wonderful aphorism).

This conception, in addition to being inconsistent from a logical point of view, shows many things. Firstly the apparent equidistance between liberalism and socialism which the Bakuninian slogan seems to reveal on its surface, is absolutely false, since there is a clear bias towards collectivism. [7]

As the paradox demonstrates in fact, the revolutionary from Prjamuchino offers his own revolutionary triad, which are the means to produce liberty in socialism and socialism in liberty: “poison, noose and knife.” In this regard, the aphorism by free-market anarchist David Friedman, comes to our rescue by highlighting the fallacy of this reasoning:

Under any institutions, there are essentially only three ways that I can get another person to help me achieve my ends: love, force, and trade.[8]

Love of course works, but, as the voluntary self-administration of garlic, it cannot be imposed. It only works with those who already appreciate garlic. Force also works. Poison, noose and knife ran the whole world for the “ancient regime” and in countries in which property was abolished, even beyond. You can not however define as “anarchist” the condition of shoving garlic down the throats of the recalcitrant.

All is left is trade, or the arrangement by which A agrees to help B to achieve his purpose if the latter helps him to realize his own. The idea that goals and preferences may be different, is not however acceptable to those who believe that social happiness is an indisputable and uniform recipe: like garlic for everyone. Bakunin rejects trade and pursues the principal two systems, the first, insufficient, an the second, inconsistent.

George Orwell incidentally, points out well the close connection between “love” and “power” when he writes:

(…) public opinion, because of the tremendous urge to conformity in gregarious animals, is less tolerant than any system of law. When human beings are governed by “thou shalt not,” the individual can practice a certain amount of eccentricity: when they are supposedly governed by “love” or “reason,” he is under continuous pressure to make him behave exactly the same way as everyone else. [9]

This moral coercion, real power imposed on individuals, which seems to be accepted by Bakunin within certain limits, and by Kropotkin wholesale, shows that a stateless society is not necessarily a free society. Therefore aphorism fans, can even memorize the truth and a half contained in the Bakuninian exhortation, “Do you want to make it impossible for anyone to oppress his fellow man? Then, make sure that no one has the power, ” but they will forget that the community, society itself, is still a power.

It is here that Proudhon comes out with extraordinary relevance. Devoid of prophetic enthusiasm, free from messianic dressing, insensitive to the charms of the end of history, he proposes a self-organization that is realized through free association and free contracts. Here there is no confusion therefore between love and garlic. The community thus conceived is made up by a network of voluntary agreements by which individuals and workers’ associations (mutualism) – but also social groups and local governments (federalism) – are connected to each other by regulating their own interests independently. Proudhon embraces, the second option proposed by Friedman: trade. Garlic for those who want it, fresh breath for others.

Also, regarding the idea of building communism based on “brotherhood”, Proudhon argued that it is like trying to, “build a house starting from the dormer.”

Some aphorism connoisseur not completely inexperienced could, highlighting the common basis between the mutualist conception described above and economic liberalism, dare to stand up and denounce in Proudhon an imbalance that is exactly the opposite of Bakunin’s. That would be terrible in his eyes, because denouncing the liberal ethos implies denouncing the “free market”, and everyone in his class knows, that the free market means “capitalist exploitation”.

“Extreme” economic liberalism then, the only true liberalism, is in fact Murray Rothbard’ s anarcho-capitalism , a sort of taboo for left-anarchists. [10]

This front row anarchist however, could only make a good impression in a class of dunces. In fact, the balance between freedom and equality is not pursued by Proudhon in a static synthesis between the two elements in opposition, but actually in a dynamic equilibrium, a tension constant and unsolvable. That’s the way life is.

Only dead things are given and finite. The best metaphor is the one about the tightrope walker whose rod swings up and down in seemingly random ways, but instead is dictated by the ever-changing circumstances, which if fixed in advance, would hurtle the acrobat to the ground. No palingenesis. “The antonymous terms” – Proudhon said – “attain no more resolution than opposite poles of an electric battery destroying each other”. “Self-government of the producers” is therefore, a pluralistic decentralized socialism, i.e. a system of equilibrium in which everyone gets the same benefits in return for the same services. A system that is essentially “egalitarian” and “liberal.”

Years later, Francesco Saverio Merlino will express himself in similar terms. Socialism – Merlino says -, is the condition of equality in access to credit and to the means of production without the “capitalists”, understood here as a political caste connected to the state, preventing free competition and producing legal monopolies and parasitic incomes.

This is a perspective by which socialism is not the overthrow of liberalism, but something beyond it. [11] With all due respect to the advocates of imbalance. The same things could be said in his country, producing less outrage, by the editor of “Liberty” Benjamin Tucker, the American anarchist strongly attached to his self-definition of “socialist”.

As for Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism, a political ideology that proposes the abolition of the state and its replacement with the free market, the fact that these pro-capitalists consider Proudhon a noble reference does not imply completely similar views. It is clear that anarcho-capitalism turns upside-down the Frenchman’s concept of property. The latter considering it an abuse, conceived of it as a means. The aims are to ensure freedom and fairness. The “orthodox” anarcho-capitalists, considering it as a natural right, make of its defense an end.

According to the “libertarian” view, the sacredness attributed to property entails questionable consequences. So if a monopoly is born out of a legitimately acquired property, or if the owner on the basis of legitimate acquisitions, constitutes an illiberal domain (i.e, forcing all human capital on his property – for example, individuals who make up the population of his private city – on a diet based on garlic), that however it should be defended from any group of “bandits” that was intent on reconstituting conditions of greater equity.

This “liberism” (economic liberalism) was peeled off from “liberalism” and runs alone. The relationship between the mutualist vision derived from Proudhon and “classic” anarcho-capitalism is therefore not very close. One example is the following excerpt by a contemporary neo-mutualist, Kevin Carson, a ‘”left wing” member of that “free trade” galaxy which is stigmatized as a friend of capital by those who fed on aphorisms, continue to confuse free market and capitalism:

Capitalism, arising as a new class society directly from the old class society of the Middle Ages, was founded on an act of robbery as massive as the earlier feudal conquest of the land. It has been sustained to the present by continual state intervention to protect its system of privilege, without which its survival is unimaginable.[12]

These sentences seem taken from a pamphlet from any of the activists scattered along the spectrum that goes from more “retro” communist anarchism, to a more “à la page” insurrectionalism. All people who take seriously the words by the good old dandy, “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.”

However known aphorism repeaters, which are not always ashamed to be accompanied by the most backward and xenophobic reactionary right-wingers, united by the hatred for liberal globalization and bourgeois modernity [13], often reveal (especially in Europe) an attitude of outrage against those who set themselves out, with an open mind and with an experimental disposition, to handle the delicate matter of free trade. Whomever confronts the liberal mindset, is more of a pariah than a heretic, an untouchable guilty of renouncement. An Italian online encyclopedia for this purpose coined the definition of “pseudoanarchico” (false anarchist). It is in short a revisionist, if not an anarcho-capitalist in disguise. These little priests of the “circled A” must have read some critical aphorism by Noam Chomsky [14] ignoring that the well-known linguist however, defines himself as “founded in the origins of liberal thought.”

In other words, anasrchists sometimes appear to distribute anarchist patents, based on others’ agreement with their own bagful of aphorisms. Sometimes even with the orthodoxy – understood in aphoristic terms, of course – of their acquaintances. It is legit to have doubts about the logic of this type of judgment. Mephistopheles, who Goethe deems “part of the force that constantly pursues evil and always creates the good”, is a character whose acquaintances you could not really define as good company. Where he uses to stay, good companies are rarities. But from sulfur, says the great German, come good things. It should be noted rather, that Judas Iscariot attended what were said to be irreproachable people.

In conclusion, if you abandon some dusty catechism, you might even venture some daring idea. “It ‘s looking for the impossible that man has always made the possible.” That’s Bakunin.


[1] Proudhon, P.G., Che cos’è la proprietà, Laterza, Bari, 1978 (IT. ED.)

[2] Proudhon, P.G., La teoria della proprietà, Seam, Roma, 1998 (IT. ED.

[3] Cit. in Treglia, E., Proprietà e anarchia in Proudhon, Edizioni La baronata, Lugano, 2007, pag. 19

[4] (…) the anarchist vision, in almost every variety, has looked forward to the dismantling of state power. Personally, I share that vision, though it seems to run counter to my goals. Hence the tension to which I referred. My short-term goals are to defend and even strengthen elements of state authority which, though illegitimate in fundamental ways, are critically necessary right now to impede the dedicated efforts to “roll back” the progress that has been achieved in extending democracy and human rights.(

[5] Bey’s anti-globalization ideology goes as far as to set up a facile opposition between globalization (‘sameness’) and the nation-state (‘difference’???). Bey states: “Like religion, the State has simply failed to ‘go away’ — in fact, in a bizarre extension of the thesis of ‘Society against the State,’ we can even reimagine the State as an institutional type of ‘custom and right’ which Society can wield (paradoxically) against an even more ‘final’ shape of power — that of ‘pure Capitalism.’” ( )

[6] Watzslavick, P., Istruzioni per rendersi infelici, Feltrinelli, Milano, 1984, (IT. ED.)

[7] On these issues, some authors able to go beyond the aphorisms have focused their critical attention. Michel Onfray, for example, writes:

Bakunin differs from Marx only by means, not for the purpose. In the two thinkers you can find the same sacrifice to teleology, the same optimism, the same Hegelian belief in the possibility of a end and accomplishment of history, an identical communion in hatred for private property inherited from Rousseau, from which both take borrow their critique of modernity, their ridiculous discrediting for the technique. Both believe in the whole man, freed from its alienations for the simple fact that he moves in a classless society.We know the story (translated from: “La politica del ribelle”, ponte delle Grazie, 1998, Milano, pag. 92) IT.ED.

Massimo La Torre, for his part, says,

Sorry to say, but in Bakunin we can found a critique of democracy and of the parliamentary system similar to the anti-modern and anti-egualitarian one of political romanticism. (translated from: Reasoning, discuss, act publicly, negotiate (II)”A City” n. 88 September 2000

[8] Friedman, D., L’ingranaggio della libertà, Liberilibri, Macerata, 1997, pag. 36 IT.ED.

[9] Cit. in Woodcock, G., L’anarchia. Storia delle idée e dei movimenti libertari, Feltrinelli, Milano, 1977, pag. 73 IT.ED.

[10] Rothbard, M., Per una nuova libertà. Il manifesto libertario, Liberilibri, Macerata, 1996 IT. ED.

[11] Merlino, F. S. , Pro e contro il socialismo, Esposizione critica dei principi e dei sistemi socialisti, Milano, 1987, p. 41

[12] Cit. in Sheldon, R., Libertarian Left. Free-market anti-capitalism, the unknown ideal, AmericanConservative,

[13] Fraqueille, M., A destra di Porto Alegre, in Libertaria, 1-2004, 24-37

[14] For example, “Anarcho-capitalism, in my opinion, is a doctrinal system which, if ever implemented, would lead to forms of tyranny and oppression that have few counterparts in human history” (

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