Box 17, Item 984: Remarks on 'Communitarian anarchism and human nature'


Box 17, Item 984: Remarks on 'Communitarian anarchism and human nature'




Note, one item digitised from item 984.



The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 17, Item 984


This item was identified for digitisation at the request of The University of Queensland's 2020 Fryer Library Fellow, Dr. N.A.J. Taylor.


For all enquiries about this work, please contact the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.


[2] leaves. 1.53 MB.




Lake George - Floor - Pile 7



This article makes a worthwhile historial contribution concerning communitarian

anarchism, in helping to remove a familiar criticism. It needs considerable redrafting, in my
opinion, before it is published. Necessary redrafting concerns both structure and several points
of detail. In what follows some points are sketched and some suggestions made, in no
particular order of importance. (It should not be simply assumed that what I have not

commented upon, e.g. historical interpretation, I generally find more or less satisfactory.)
• The naivety thesis is not satisfactorily specified. (It is said to be an inference, and then what
is offered is a poorly structured argument, not strictly a thesis). In fact, most of the argument

and discursion concerns thesis (i), better restated (cf. pl7) as the following target thesis
(ti) Anarchists believe that egoism is a product of (contemporary) social organisation, not an
inherent part of human nature.
The main work is devo ted to trying to rebut such a thesis, at least as regards three classical

anarchists. (The success of this main work is partially assessed below.)
Part of the trouble with the “naivety thesis” arises because of apparent errors concerning
the interrelations of propositions (i) and (ii) on the one side and propositions (iii) and (iv) on the

other (as also as to (v) and its consequent). Showing (i) and (ii) are false does not show (iii)
and (iv) and the back of (v) are all false (contrary to p.3 middle, and to p.20 end also). For the

most part, as here, a believes that p is independent of p. (Note too that (iii) and (iv) look rather

more plausible than what (ii) and (ti) cover.)
As it happens, I suspect our author intended to cover all propositions, not just (iii) and
(ti), by ‘anarchists believe that’. However such covering will not effect a repair.
In sum, the naivety thesis should be better characterised, the associated argument should

be clarified and rectified, and the interrelation of theses should be worked out properly. This

affects the total structure of the article.
• It may seem to be a minor matter that feature f is innate says something different from feature
fis an inherent part of human nature, for features such as egoism, sociability, etc.. (E.g. the
feature may be bom in, but fade out or be educated out, or it may not be “innate” but invariably
develop.) However this comes to assume a larger role because of the emphasis put upon

nativism (from p.4 on), nativism getting linked to innateness, when it is inherentness that

There is also an historical problem, that nativism is characterised in late 20th century

terms, not in terms that automatically apply in a 19th century setting. A less metaphorical
explication is required, which connects nativism with apparatus of the target thesis.
• As regards elaborating and establishing the main thesis of the article, namely
(ci) communitarian anarchism, as manifested in three major espositors, is not dependent upon a

naive account of human nature (that of (ti)), much in the article is strictly irrelevant. The article
could be substantially cut in length and sharpened.

Much space is devoted to trying to show that
(li) ‘only in their later writings’ do ‘Proudhon and Bakunin adopt a clearly defined nativism’—
‘subsequent to their repudiation of Hegelian metaphysics’. This involves considerable perusal
of their early writings, material that does not assist in supporting (ci). If historical exegesis
directed towards (li) is to take up such a large part of the article, then the early part (e.g. p.l)
should be reoriented to indicate what much of it is really about. Otherwise much of pp.5-9, for
instance, can be chopped.
Without such restructuring, but a. fraction of what appears on pp.5-19 is needed (a few

critical points). A much sharper less circuitous defence of (ci) could be provided. And even
with radical restructuring much diffuse material on “the intellectual voyages” of the expositors

could be profitably deleted.
• There is a serious difficulty as regards Proudhon; so much so that there is real doubt that he

can be regarded as furnishing positive support for (ci). The problem is that, by the time

Proudhon abandons ‘too ideal a conception of man’, he appears also prepared to abandon (or at

least indirectly erode) communiitarian anarchism: for instance ‘it is unlikely... that all trace of
government and authority will disappear—’ (both quotes from p.l 1).

• The historical argument developed is not entirely decisive in shoring up communitarian
anarchism (contrary to the impression given). For a critic could contend that the historical
figures were either deluded about their continuing commitment to communitarian anarchism or
else mistaken about the coherence and viability of their theory in this regard. In short, the

historical examples are not genuine counter-examples to the naivety of such anarchism.

Something should be added to offset this sort of objection.
Richard Sylvan



Richard Sylvan, “Box 17, Item 984: Remarks on 'Communitarian anarchism and human nature',” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed June 4, 2023,

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