Against Verticality

Philosopher Catherine Malabou wants to change anarchism’s bad rap.

Catherine Malabou is a Professor in the Philosophy Department at Kingston University, at the European Graduate School, and in the department of Comparative Literature at the University of California Irvine

Why did some of the most important philosophers of the 20th century develop concepts of anarchy without ever recognising themselves as anarchists? What can we learn from them? In a time where the need for alternative politics is more urgent than ever, the French philosopher Catherine Malabou proposes, in her new book Au voleur! Anarchie et philosophie (Thief! Anarchism and Philosophy, 2022), an anarchic philosophy which questions the need to be led in order to survive, forging a transformative path through the history of ideas and actions. 

Au voleur! Anarchie et philosophie is structured like a journey through different anarchic or anarchy-theorising thinkers, from Aristotle via Pierre-Joseph Proudhon to Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Rancière, Nathalie Zaltzman and others working today. Malabou offers an overview of contemporary political issues and the need for the emancipatory potential of anarchy.

Often called “the philosopher of plasticity,” Malabou is one of the most radical and innovative philosophers working today. In her books Plasticity: The Promise of Explosion (2022), Pleasure Erased: The Clitoris Unthought (2022), Self and Emotional Life: Merging Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience (2014), What Shall We Do With Our Brain?(2008), to mention only a few, she has bridged the gaps between philosophy, psychoanalysis, politics, and neuroscience, offering new readings of thinkers such as Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Kant, and Freud in a constant quest for new forms of knowledge production, resistance, action, and liberty. 

Malabou is a Professor in the Philosophy Department at Kingston University, at the European Graduate School, and in the department of Comparative Literature at the University of California Irvine, a position formerly held by Derrida. I met her in order to ask some questions about the necessity of anarchy today, its positive and dangerous sides in relation to the uncertain times we’re going through, and the possibility of an anarchic future. 

Your new book Au voleur! Anarchisme et philosophie, which has just been published by PUF (Presses Universitaires de France), is, if I may say so, the book we have all been waiting for without knowing it. Especially in France with the resurrection of authoritarian power figures such as Emmanuel MacronAt the same time, we have, from a psychoanalytical point of view, seen a long decline and failure of the father figure. 

This is true. At the same time, as you suggest, the decline is slow. This is not to say that the father figure is bad per se, but it starts to be problematic when it conflates with the master’s one. 

How would you position your book in relation to the decline and resurrection of the father figure, and, foremost, how come you wanted to write this book? 

It started with a contingent event. In 2018, I was to give a keynote at a conference on teleology [from the Greek telos, ‘end’, ‘aim’, or ‘goal,’ and logos, ‘explanation’ or ‘reason’], and I wondered what the most radical critique of teleology was. It appeared to me that it was anarchism. I knew that the German philosopher and Catholic priest Reiner Schürmann(1941–1993) had challenged what he called “teleocracy,” arguing that metaphysics and politics have until now revolved around the notion of telos. So, I started getting interested in philosophical anarchism, and discovered that the motif of anarchism was present in many twentieth-century philosophers. At that time, I also became aware that movements, like the ZADs [Zone á défendre, a French anarchist movement], the Black Bloc, and the Yellow Vests had common problems in some respects, all revolving around anarchism. It resonated with the fact that I’ve been struggling all my life against different forms of domination. First of all, the domination of women, then, intellectual, symbolic, and political domination. 

Yet, anarchy has a bad reputation. 

For many people it means violence. It also lacks a serious, deep philosophical approach.

You have so many beautiful definitions of anarchism. If you had to explain it in a very simple way, what does it mean?And what is anarchism’s relation to arkhè (origin)? 

Etymologically speaking, an-arkhia comes from an-, meaning ‘without’, and arkhè meaning both ‘beginning’ and ‘commandment’. Aristotle claims that a beginning is always linked to a hierarchical position (what comes first has to be ‘the first’, the superior one). At the same time – and this is interesting – when Aristotle characterises Greek democracy in his book Politics, he clearly states that democracy implies radical equality between the citizens. In that sense, democracy is an-archic, meaning that there are no citizens above others. So right from the beginning, there is no arkhè without an-arkhia. Over time, an-arkhia started to designate rebellion, disorder, and chaos, but initially, and this is also what Rancière explains, arkhè and anarkhia were intimately linked to democracy.

And you link anarchy to philosophy. Can you tell us how? 

Traditional philosophers have always considered metaphysics and politics as archic structures, thus trying to find the first principle, the beginning of everything that defines the rest. Archic thinking is a quest for supremacy. Who commands? Who has to be the first? But in the 20th century, along with the deconstruction of metaphysics, some philosophers started to understand philosophy as anarchy. Like Schürmann, as I mentioned, but also, though less explicitly, Emmanuel Levinas, Foucault, Rancière and Agamben. 

President Donald Trump and President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, 2017. The return of the authoritarian father figure? Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

You claim in your book that philosophical anarchy takes the paradoxical form of anarchy without anarchism. 

Anarchy has been acknowledged philosophically and ethically, but not politically, which means that all those philosophers I’m referring to in the book have a very strong concept of anarchy, but they say, “we’re not anarchists.” So, the contemporary philosophical concept of anarchy is, following this, an anarchy without anarchism.


Because they argue that anarchism is contradictory. It recreates metaphysics and old principles, be they freedom, reason, or human nature. Also, as you say, it has a bad reputation. They say that you can be an anarchist in thinking, but that if we don’t have a government, we will have chaos. So, they all defend the old governmental forms. That’s the paradox. 

You also mention that some people see Donald Trump as an anarchist. 

Yes, but this is something else. Capitalism today has changed from a very centralised form of functioning to a horizontal one, the capitalism of platforms, an apparently democratic form of being, which means that you can be the manager of yourself. We are living in this kind of coincidence of anarchic protest movements and anarcho-capitalism. 

Some people call it the hegemony of anarcho-capitalism. 


And in that anarcho-capitalism, someone like Donald Trump would be an anarchist, is that right? 

Yes. It’s a form of power, which is extremely authoritarian, but that is just a mask of an extremely open society. Trump is, for example, arguing against taxes, against social security, against all forms of state welfare, saying people are free, they can do whatever they want, they can use bitcoins, cyber-currencies, etc. Trump paradoxically incarnates the authoritarian man, but behind that, he is for a liberalisation of the economy. He is a libertarian. Bolsonaro, in Brazil, does exactly the same. He is authoritarian on a political level and anarcho-capitalist on an economic one. 

Hegel used to say that the slave had access to the object of jouissance, while the master didn’t. Would you say that we’ve come to a point where the master has taken the place of jouissance? 

Yes, absolutely. But the master’s jouissance relies on the apparent destruction of mastery itself. It’s a very sophisticated mastery that denies itself as such. It would be interesting to study it from a psychoanalytical point of view. 

You’re writing about the responsibility of the anarchic subject and you differentiate between responsible and non-responsible anarchy. Can you explain what you mean by that? 

The deprivation of responsibility is what I describe as factual anarchy. Soon, in France, we will manage our own health reports. We are all caught in this factual anarchy, where there is no authority, only platforms. We’re abandoned, so to speak. We think that we are empowered by new technologies, but in reality we are absolutely disempowered. We have to create a theory of responsible anarchism. What do we want? And what kind of political regime will be able to guarantee social justice? All the political debates in France are out of place. They don’t treat this matter at all. They think we are still in the 19th century. 

Gustave Courbet, Portrait of Proudhon and his Children, 147 cm × 198 cm, oil on canvas, 1865. Paris, musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais. The philosopher Pierre-Jospeh Proudhon is often considered to be the father of modern anarchism.

You claim in your book that we have reached a state of cyber anarchism. 

Yes, that’s what I’ve just talked about. Cyber anarchism is all the financial bank transactions that occur through these platforms. 

And this horizontalisation of society is not good, if I understand you right. What do you think of someone like Chantal Mouffe, who claims that we should work politically both horizontally and vertically? 

I don’t agree with that. Verticality, for me, cannot function without a form of domination; I’m against verticality. Take a simple problem, like that of the platforms. What kind of verticality would be able to regulate it? The response has to be horizontal. Only in that way can we reach equality and equity. So no, I don’t believe in verticality anymore. 

You’re also making this distinction between the political and politics. How could anarchy engage with the political sphere? 

I think that, first of all, we have to refashion territories. We have to give much more autonomy to the regions. We should open more platforms between citizens and power, like citizen participative assemblies. 

When it comes to the pluralisation of such platforms, there’s also a risk there, no? In your book you quote Derrida who says that the plural can kill you. Can the abundance of platforms also kill us in a way? 

Yes, but once again, I don’t see how verticality can help. We have to turn pluralisation against itself. Can you imagine if Macron would say, “we’re closing the internet”? It’s not possible. They can do that in China, but China is a dictatorship. 

What do you think about the violence in the anarchic movements that you mention? 

There has been anarchic violence. And we have seen it in demonstrations when Black Bloc [members] were destroying ATMs or the like. But firstly, this is only a small part of anarchy. Secondly, there can’t be any politics without violence. There’s a massive violence in communism, but also in right-wing Catholicism. Violence is everywhere. Of course, anarchism has its violence. But we should start asking ourselves if there can exist any form of political movement without violence. This question is annoying, since people ask me very often about that. 

Can you tell us a little bit about Proudhon? 

Before the 19th century, anarchy had a negative meaning. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865) was the first to subvert this by calling himself an anarchist, thus inverting the meaning of the term. Instead of disorder, he explains, anarchy means another order, an order without power. He affirms that people can’t live without being governed. To think the contrary is to be unconsciously attached to what he calls a “governmental prejudice.” He challenges it by saying that we can have order without government. He claimed this in 1840. Then anarchism as a constituted, organised political movement developed at the end of the 19th century, with Mikhail Bakunin and Pyotr Kropotkin, for example. 

He claimed that property is theft. 

It’s not that easy to understand. “Property is theft” means that in protecting property, governments in reality deprive us of autonomy. Power becomes the thief of our freedoms. 

It’s a theft of a theft. 


And anarchy is not a disorder, if I understand you right, but an order. 

Yes. When people choose the way that they want to live, this is the only real order. 

You also have a Freudian reading of anarchy, no? 

Well, that’s the big question of psychoanalysis: is the unconscious an anarchist? You can understand it as if the id has no laws. I’m very interested in Nathalie Zaltzman’s (1933–2009) book La Pulsion Anarchiste (The Anarchist Drive, 2011), which says that the unconscious protects us against the violence of death drive. And yes, I do think that the unconscious is anarchist. 

The Yellow Vests Movement (Le Mouvement des Gilets Jaunes) in Brussels, 8 December 2018. Photo: Pelle De Brabander/wikimedia commons.

The unconscious is a place of resistance, of what insists. How can we work with that resistance today, when people are trying to colonise the unconscious more and more? I’m thinking, for instance, of Elon Musk’s company Neuralink. 

It’s funny that you mention Elon Musk. Do you know how he defines himself? As a “utopian anarchist.” 

What do you think about the fact that people like him and other scientists are trying to navigate the brain with devices like RTMS and DeepTMS (repetitive and deep transcranial magnetic stimulation, respectively)?

They are controlling the brain more and more. They are trying to transform the brain into a platform. I see what you mean by colonising the brain, absolutely. The thing we can do is to resist it, to say no. If I understood it right, neuralink is meant to make you think faster. 

It’s going to create hypomanic subjects. 

I really wonder. Yes… But I’m not opposed to neurology. My position is that we need to build a dialogue between psychoanalysis and neurology. It’s not possible to leave psychoanalysis totally cut from the actuality of neurology. We know that the brain is not only a deterministic organ, that our psychic life is also dealing with the brain. So yes, we need to find a neuro-psychoanalytical form of dialogue. 

In your book you also write about Foucault’s take on anarchy. In which way has Foucault been important for you in your thinking? 

Foucault has more than anyone else interrogated the concept of government through his concept of “an-archeology.” I think he was very close to anarchism, even if he didn’t acknowledge himself as an anarchist. 

He believed in the micropolitical, the idea of working on a small scale. How far should one strive in one’s anarchic movement? Should one withdraw in one movement or connect movements to each other? 

That’s a good question. I think that Chantal and Ernesto have worked a lot on that, trying to figure out how it is possible to create connections between different movements, to build a platform for agreements. This is what they call “hegemonies,” or “socialist strategies.”

You also speak about the uncertainty of politics, reminding us of Aristotle’s take on prudence, phronesis. Should one be anarchist in a prudent way, or what does it mean to be a good anarchist? 

I’m currently reading Paul Ricœur’s book Oneself as Another [1990] with my students. He says that we have to engage with “critical phronesis.” So yes, a good anarchist as you say, is a critical anarchist. 

You assert that ontological anarchy makes the response to the question “what should I do?” complicated, since it throws us back to arkhè. It’s a very vertiginous thought, and I’m not sure what you meant by it. 

Schürman notices that Heidegger refuses to answer these questions. We shouldn’t ask ourselves what we should do, we just have to do it. This is what anarchists call “prefigurative action.” 

That’s very close to psychoanalysis. 

Yes. It is the “passage à l’acte.” [the passage to the act] 

Would you then say that what you’re advocating for is an ethics of desire? That we should follow our own desire even when we don’t know where it’s taking us?

Exactly. I believe in the proximity between psychoanalysis and direct action, even if psychoanalysis takes time.

So the power of anarchy is the power of desire? 

Anarchy is not without power. It is about living without a government, which is not the same thing at all.

You also approach the impossibility of anarchy, can you tell us a little bit about that? 

Aristotle says that everything has an origin, and therefore, anarchy is not possible because there is necessarily a first, then a second, and then a third, etc. Yes, we all come from an origin. I have a mother and a father. But that doesn’t mean that my mother is superior to me. It’s the challenge of the idea that what comes first is necessarily superior. 

As you say, providence and commandment are not the same. They are not identical.

When the Greeks made a cake, they put eggs, then flour, but that didn’t mean that the eggs were superior to the flour. But Aristotle says that 1, 2, 3 have to become first, second, third…

You’re actually deconstructing Aristotle here. 

Absolutely. Even if it is impossible to do without him. 

Paul Signac, Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon, 1890. Fénéon was the anarchist activist and critic who coined the term Neo-Impressionism to describe the pointillist technique of artist such as Signac and Georges Seurat, which Malabou considers to be “a technique of anarchist painting”.

Then how should one commence in a good way? And how should one dissociate between commencement and recommencement? How can we start acting without entering into the neurosis of repetition? 

Freud is interrogating the nature of the beyond the pleasure principle, which is not a beginning, but a loop of a beginning without beginning. So how do you avoid that anarchy becomes a repetition of that repetition? By cutting fusional links. Zaltzman is very provocative here; she says that Eros is destructive. You have to cut from the too compulsively imprisoning links that Eros is building. She argues that survivors from concentration camps had to break the loops of repetition. They had to understand themselves as being radically solitary. It’s about returning the death drive against itself. 

That’s very interesting. You mean by cutting oneself from one’s origin? 

Yes. One has to cut oneself from the repetition of the original trauma. 

Would you say that the mystics in a way did that? 

Yes. Exactly. Zaltzman also takes the example of the Inuits – she refers to [French anthropologist] Jean Malaurie’s work – who prefer living on their own in extreme weather conditions rather than getting domesticated by settling in a city. They don’t want to be protected. They defend their isolation.

Is it a way of attending liberty or is it an illusion of liberty? Some people claim that liberty doesn’t make us advance, that it’s a cry in the desert.

Precisely, but there are situations where you have to cry in the desert because it is paradoxically the only way to survive.

Even if no one is listening? 

Yes. This is precisely what Nietzsche says. Zarathustra insists that we must learn how to preach in the desert.

Would you say that this is precisely the way one can get out of the binary arkhè–telos? 

Exactly. Speaking in the desert, for no one, is a revealing force that does not turn into supremacy or a will to power. 

You wonder, inspired by Plotinus, if one could obtain a unification without an act, which is neither a commencement nor a commandment, a unification that doesn’t rule. That’s a very beautiful description of what it means to go into analysis, I think. 

Yes, or of what it means to do art. All of a sudden, things appear without any commandment. All different parts create a unity without commencement. But we don’t know why, or where it comes from. And you’re right, an analytical session can function like that. 

When it works, in ideal cases, yes… And then you add something very beautiful: you say, inspired by Schürman, that the event takes place horizontally, and this event is what holds things together. It’s also the ideal condition for, as you say, the creation of art. 

Yes, and it’s also adaptable to politics. People can create a unity without being commended from above. Schürman draws the political consequences of Plotinus. He also talks about these stones in Machu Picchu that hold together without any cement. 

Desire is perhaps what holds them together… You also write about anarchic economy. Would you say that the blockchain desire of bitcoin currencies is a way of holding people together like these stones in Machu Picchu? 

One thing for sure is that capitalism is perfectly able to steal ideas from philosophers. I think that capitalists have perfectly understood the meaning of anarchy and how to subvert it.  How do we bring people together without command? That’s the paradoxical problem of capitalism. How can it give people the illusion that that they are free? Capitalism has always integrated criticism within its own system, more rapidly perhaps than its opponents. Such is what Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiappello call the “spirit” of capitalism.

When Slavoj Zizek says that we can imagine the end of the world, but not the end of capitalism, do you think that we should act within capitalism, or should we imagine an anarchic end to it? 

I think that we should continue to think that there can be an end to it – with the ecological crisis and everything collapsing everywhere. Capitalism will not necessarily last forever. It will take time. But I don’t think that it’s eternal. Even if pessimism is becoming a major theoretical and political creed.

And you think that the bitcoin economy can contribute to its collapse?

Sure, absolutely. It is currently collapsing, by the way. And ecology has an essential part to play in this debate. 

You also said in a debate for [the public radio channel] France Culture, that ecology was the place for anarchy…

I do think so.  Ecology in place of economy.

At the same time, anarchists in general don’t seem to feel much guilt. How can an anarchist be an anarchist and at the same time pay the debt? How can we anarchically inspire others to act responsibly? 

Well, there are many movements for defence of territories, water, and redistribution of resources. I’m working with a journalist called Juliette Duquesne on a book on water and the democratic distribution of water, since we’re running out of it. 

You say at a specific moment in your book that claiming that one is anarchist contradicts the anarchic position as such, yet in the beginning of the book you say that you are an anarchist. 

Yes. That I’m an anarchist doesn’t mean I have a dogma with principles and so on. I’m just positioning myself in the debate between horizontality and verticality. Having dogmas and so on, as an anarchist, would once again be contradictory. 

I would like to go over a question which is very important in Sweden and France, but also elsewhere, which is the question of identity. How would you define identity, and what do you think about the identitarian movements today? 

Anarchy affirms that there is no original identity. Identity is entirely constructed, politically. There is no such thing as an essential identity. It’s not a question of negating our origins, but to transform them into something political, or a play. I don’t defend identity politics. This is precisely why I talk about plasticity. It means that we have to give a form to our identity. Not just accept it like that, and become entrapped in it. 

Zygmunt Bauman claimed in Liquid Modernity (2000) that there is nothing more static than the nomad. Applied to anarchy, how can subjects become anarchic without getting entrapped in their own escape? 

I know it’s complicated. To change, to fashion yourself is a lot of work. But at the same time, if we don’t do that, we’re just imprisoned in the standards of identity politics. 

A friend of mine, the psychoanalyst Silvia Lippi, says we should look upon identity as a symptom. 

Yes. A symptom that can’t be identical to itself then…

Can you tell us a little bit about Derrida’s more or less unconscious thoughts on anarchy and the way you interpret them? 

I was surprised to find many references to anarchy in his work starting with Of Grammatology [1967], in which Derrida claims that Claude Lévi-Strauss is an anarchist to the extent that he thinks of the government as violent, etc. Derrida also reflects on Levinas, Walter Benjamin, anarchic strikes, and he makes an extraordinary reading of Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle [1920]. “Beyond the principle” literally means anarchy. At the same time, Derrida declares that he is “a responsible anarchist,” which means that, for him, anarchy has to be deconstructed, since classical anarchy was too metaphysical and too dogmatic. He then invents a position of yes and no: yes, we have to acknowledge anarchy; and no, we shouldn’t transform it into a doctrine. So he constantly plays with the yes and no. At the same time, when he reads Freud, he stops saying yes and no; he says no. The question is: is there an anarchy within the death drive? Is there a beyond the pleasure principle or not? And Derrida, very surprisingly, answers no. 

I don’t know if I understood it right, but it’s a beautiful passage in your book, especially when you talk about pure power. What do you mean by that? 

Pure power appears like power detached from any form of government. The pleasure principle is a government, Freud is very clear on that. If there is a beyond the pleasure principle, the government disappears. So what are we left with? We’re left with pure power, Derrida says, which can be even more violent and destructive than the government. For Derrida, anarchy would be this pure power. I’m not sure that Freud thinks the same. 

And you also say that Eros is not only linked to life and Thanatos is not always linked to death, they can change places. 

Exactly. So, I think that Derrida is perhaps too quick when he says that death drive is pure power. Freud is clear that it also means detachment and rest. 

You’re making a distinction between anarchic and anarchist power. 

Yes, anarchic would be driven by pure power, but being anarchist is maybe a way to proceed to a new organization. And I think that Freud is balancing between both options. 

Audrey Tang, anarchist, computer programmer and former Minister of Digital Affairs (now Minister without a portfolio) in the Republic of China Taiwan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Can you tell us a little bit about Agamben? 

Agamben says that the traditional anarchists have eliminated religion too quickly. We have to see that the problem of anarchy is inscribed in the Christian God right from the beginning. Between the father and the son appears the impossibility of government. Agamben claims that Christianity is a form of anarchy, since there is a discrepancy between God that is, but is not commanding, and the son who doesn’t have any ontological essence, but is acting in this world. The church is just a discourse that hides this first split between the Father and the Son. Agamben shows that the Christian God can’t do anything, since he sends his son to do things in his place, but then the son is independent from the father and the father cannot recuperate the power from the son. So Agamben says that we have to go back to this first anarchism, but we have to desacralise it in order to appropriate it politically. Anarchism would not then be an invention of the 19th century, but has a long tradition. 

Do you agree with him? 

First, I am not sure that serious theologists would agree with him. We would need more proof, you know. In any case, I think Agamben’s way of thinking is a messianism without messianism, which in itself is messianic.

Yes. There is a return of the aura of the lost object. 

To me, it’s very problematic. 

You’re much kinder to Foucault in your book, where you try to rescue him from this criticism that has been directed towards him, regarding his so-called neoliberal self-governmentality. 

It took me years to read Foucault. I discovered that he redefined political thinking and in particular, if you read any kind of political treaties, he always says that the first political question is not that of the government, but that of resistance to government. If we have to do political philosophy, we have to start with resistance, since resistance comes before that which it resists. And this is a total revolution of all classical political philosophy. There is obviously a genuine revolutionary power of Foucault’s thinking. 

When it comes to alternative facts these days, thank you for reminding us of the importance of parrhesia, meaning to speak freely, not only for oneself, but also for the common good. 

People think that in his last seminars, as you said, Foucault becomes neoliberal. Which is perfectly stupid. Parrhesia is an immense political question. Even now. Imagine you go to Macron and tell him exactly what you think of him; you would go to jail. That’s what Foucault calls resistance, the modality of direct truth. 

You also say that it’s important to first tell the truth through a free relationship to yourself before going and telling it to others. But how do we know that the content of parrhesia is truthful?

I think a criteria is to renounce, as you just said, governing others. For example, when we speak together now, I don’t have the will to govern you, or be right. And neither do you. I think this is parrhesia: a truly free discussion. As soon as you want to have power over the other, the relationship ceases to be free. Yet, the limits of parrhesia are very fragile. It has to be truth without flattery; it has to be a discussion without power. These limits are porous.

Let’s speak a little bit about art’s relation to anarchy, and your beautiful passage on Georges Seurat. 

During my research, I discovered that many artists in the 19th century were anarchists. Stéphane Mallarmé was one of them. He invited many artists to his home. He himself said that the “poem is a bomb.” Many painters also were anarchists. Gustave Courbet was friend with Proudhon. We can see it in his self-portrait The Painter’s Studio (1855) at Musée d’Orsay, where you see Proudhon next to Eugène Delacroix in the back. Neo-Impressionists like Georges Seurat and Paul Signac invented the technique of pointillism as a way of figuring radical equality by the juxtaposition of little touches. For them it was a pictorial translation of anarchism. It’s a technique of anarchist painting. 

You speak about the white particles in the middle which hold the paint together. It made me think of Democritus, who speaks about the empty space in the rain of atoms… You end your book with so many thought-provoking questions and examples. One of them is a minister in Taiwan, Audrey Tang, who is also a state hacker, helping the state to subvert its own power. 

Exactly. She is also a transgender woman. In the beginning, she was part of this hacker movement which was against the Taiwanese government [Sunflower Revolution]. She found a way to hack herself into the system, and defines herself as an anarchist. In the beginning of the internet, there was a large anarchist movement, thinking that the internet would allow anarchy to develop, that we all would be equal, communicating through networks, etc. Then she understood that in order to be heard, she had to be powerful. But as soon as she became a minister, she installed these open platforms in which citizens can participate. I don’t know how it works in Taiwan. Is it really anarchist? People tell me that at the same time it’s capitalist. The case is nevertheless very interesting.

I like the fact that you end your book with not knowing, without taking positions in political matters. I find it very delicate. You make us understand indirectly that a true anarchist is never too sure about their opinions. 

Thank you for discovering that, since I’ve been quite criticised by anarchists when I talk about Audrey Tang or anarcho-capitalism. They say, “no, no, this is not anarchism.”  To me you’re right, we cannot be too sure of the frontiers, and we have to take into account technological inventions. We’re not in the 19th century anymore. 

I very much appreciate your non-dogmatic way of reflecting on current events and also giving us the tools to imagine a better future. I think that your book is not making tabula rasa of history, but, on the contrary, revealing the hidden – sometimes hidden, sometimes unconscious – anarchic parts in philosophical thinking from the beginning of times until today. I would like to ask you a last question: if you would have to imagine an anarchic future, what would it look like to you? 

If it were to be a utopia, it would be that of a world in which everyone would directly participate in the management of society, through propositions, discussions, decentralised networks, without any central power – staying at the horizontal level and discussing everything. I would retain the good aspects of technology. There are very good aspects of it if we use it for our benefit, our prosperity, our well-being. And I would put them in the service of everything that is not technological, thus inventing hybrid modes of being. Equality and hybridity have to be conceptualised together.

ZAD [Zone á défendre, a French anarchist movement] de la Colline in the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland.