Chapter 18: “A Sociological Theory of Postmodernity” by Zygmunt Bauman
Anarchism is an idealist position within revolutionary anti-capitalist movements due to its reliance on metaphysical organizing; it overestimates what anti-authoritarian control and crowd psychology is able to manifest; to overcome the modern mode of living through cooperation and mutual aid, while ignoring the militant realities of capitalism, can only result in political destitution. Zygmunt Bauman, however, is not talking about Anarchism. Indeed, I only reference my views on Anarchism because Bauman’s conception of a postmodern society as seen through a sociological lens, has much in common with Anarchism if gazed through a rational eye.
In Bauman’s mind postmodernity is a unique stage of modernity which is “conscious of its true nature (238)”. Emancipated from the “false consciousness” of its earlier form, postmodernity thus strives to articulate an understanding of society as without equilibrium; there is no centralized organic whole directing matters through that of a universalizing policy (239). It is only through this unequal conception which freedom for people (“Agents”) is allowed to become fully fledged. The randomness in this uncentered social organism, which passes through many incarnations as agents vie for what Bauman calls “self-constitution”, totalizes in a non-totalized fashion; namely, that the postmodern “habitat” is one which creates culture and law out of decisions, daily voting, and a constantly shifting supply of “orientation points” which serve to replace dictated goals; points which instead generate what would be known today as sub-cultures or recreational activities.
Under this conception of the world decisions become vital. Without the politics of redistribution, which Bauman sees as “more often or not those on winning human rights (245)” instead of being grievances towards which of actual wealth, the ethics of responsibility, of each agent understanding their own agency and control in regards to a plurality of contending authorities, becomes the stand-in for centralized state-control. How people come to conceive of the world, their standing in it, how they ascertained their conception of the prior, and the cultural and self-constitutive course interacts with every other agent’s own social praxis, takes its place as the determining societal pillar in lack of modernist regimes. Ethics and morality, therefore, are tightly intertwined as the actions of each agent comprises that of a praxis determining the whole of responsibility and moral ethics. Each concept feeds into the other and is unable to exist in totalizing frameworks which end in totalitarian constructions.
Bauman, like the Anarchists (and libertarians) before him, has an idea of society. This society is centered on human rights, of freedom and reasonability, and of each person striving to be their best under a given set of conditions. It is an ideal society where much of what was wrong about the world has been righted. And yet, this society, like the ones proposed by the Libertarians, and the method of getting their advocated by the Anarchists, is impossible. Ignoring the superstructure of bourgeois society and the realities of international capitalism, the base, any attempt to transfer control from a finance oriented reality to a human oriented one, will result in dismal failure unless joined with revolutionary violence. Bauman is on to some good ideas but in lacking the theoretical lens to bring them to fruition only succeeds in being another idealist among many.