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The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
  William Godwin
  Emma Goldman
  Peter Kropotkin
  Errico Malatesta
  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  Elisée Reclus
  Max Stirner
  Murray Bookchin
  Noam Chomsky
  Bright but Lesser Lights
  Cold Off The Presses
  Anarchist History
  Worldwide Movements
  First International
  Paris Commune
  Haymarket Massacre
  Spanish Civil War
  Art and Anarchy
  Education and Anarchy
  Anarchist Poets


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"Troilus and Cressida" from the same theme as developed at an earlier epoch of English literature by Chaucer. Jesus based his entire ethic on the simple truth that the gods of power and violence must pass away. Every martyr since has expressed the same conception. Holy Synods and Czarist police knew nothing about such subtleties. By destroying bodies and burning books they expected to perish thought. To the contrary, by destroying mere messengers, they gave body to thought itself. Men die only that that thought may be resurrected in a new body unto triumph and glory. In Russia, Bakunin became that new body. He was the word incarnate, a most brilliant member of a brilliant group of thinkers and disputants.

Herzen''s contention, at first challenged and then accepted by Bakunin, was that Hegel's system was nothing less than the algebra of the Revolution. It set men free in a sense that no other philosophy had done or could do. It liberated the world from obsolete restrictions. It left no authority secure in Christendom. It proclaimed the idea that nothing was immutable and asserted that every social condition contained the germ of its own destruction. This idea, a platitude of all modern socialist argument, belongs, not to De Leon or even Marx, but to Hegel. The idea led Herzen to the study of the French Revolution. He went further back. The revolution led to the philosophers who had foreseen and inspired it. They became the divinities of his thought like so many stars in the firmament. Hegel had proven Herzen's direct path to the study of Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, and d'Alembert. In his turn, Herzen had brought Bakunin to worship at the same altar.

Bakunin's changed attitude made his writings radical and his outlook on theology very clear. From this time on he was not merely an Atheist but an anti-theist. Voltaire needed God to explain the universe and to restrain the wildness of democracy in riotous mood. Freethinkers have complained that Bakunin was not too much concerned with disputing the validity of Voltaire's deistic explanation. That is true. Bakunin's concern was to remove once and for all, the authority of the idea of god in order that man might breathe freely. Bakunin assumed what most freethinkers were not prepared to accept: not only did god not exist, but even if he could or did man had rights against god. In a word, Bakunin set his cause on liberty.

Herzen was impressed with Bakunin's incomparable "revolutionary tact." At least he was awake. He personified tireless energy. Days of reaction had made him thoroughly at home with the German language and the German philosophy. He employed its forceful concentration to express French libertarian ideas. Proudhon noted the effect of his German studies on his thought and style. The great French Anarchist regarded Bakunin as a monstrocity in his terse dialectic and his luminous perception of ideas in their essence.


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