The Three Lives of “God and the State”

I have been thinking about “God and the State” in terms of a choice between two texts: the fragment, “God and the State,” and the incomplete work from which it was drawn, “The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution.” This is the choice proposed by James Guillaume, when he suggested that the publication of the latter should be the occasion for no longer publishing in the former. But, if Guillaume’s suspicions were correct and Reclus and Cafiero knew what they were publishing, and engaged in a bit of “literary artifice” when they presented it as a fragment, what we have is the abandonment of the full text, which was being published piece by piece, for the decontextualized fragment.

I think there are good reasons to believe that Reclus was aware of the source of the fragment and that he made a choice roughly opposite to that of Guillaume. And that opposition is probably just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the complex history of conflicts among those who had a hand in presenting Bakunin’s work to future generations. But I also think that there is a third text that has to be considered: “God and the State” as presented by Max Nettlau, with its remarkable collection of introductions, afterwords, explanations and such.

It is that text that really interests me, particularly as the years have multiplied its far-flung appendices. There were undoubtedly reasons why Nettlau would not have been as explicit as Guillaume in emphasizing the conflicts, but they are probably not reasons that concern us much now. So it is possible, and almost certainly useful, to “complete” Nettlau’s work by gathering evidence of the conflicts and using that body of work as a starting place for the Bakunin Library.

This is perhaps a small insight, but I will admit that I feel more comfortable finding myself more completely in the camp of Nettlau, who was a fine theorist of anarchy, than in that of Guillame, who considered the term “Proudhonian” and redolent of “rhetoric and bad taste.”

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