Michel Némitz

Dogmatism, puritanism, moral order





Source: The March-April 2023 Bulletin of the Espace Noir Cooperative in St-Imier (CH).



In February 1846, Marx and Engels took the initiative to launch a network of communist correspondents. Marx sent a letter to Proudhon asking him to be one of them and, at the same time, to get rid of Grün [*] qualifying him as a "charlatan" and a "parasite". Proudhon's reply, accepting Marx's proposal with many reservations, turns out to be a polite refusal: "Let us not become the apostles of a new religion." "... briefly said, I openly profess an almost total economic anti-dogmatism". "After having demolished all a priori dogmatism, let us not think in our turn of indoctrinating people. [**]

This wise advice from Proudhon would have undoubtedly avoided many of the perversions of the regimes who took inspiration from Marxism. Marx was a great thinker whose analyses were relevant. Unfortunately, his dogmatism, which he transmitted to many of his followers, distorted the emancipatory aims of a "communism" that became overly authoritarian and that obscured other revolutionary movements. The drifts that resulted in many countries discredited the social movements for a long time, until the awareness of the negative effects of a dogmatic capitalism led to the resurgence of other social proposals, including those concerned with the protection of the environment.

However, nothing is won and certain attitudes of the participants of the anti-authoritarian movements make me worried that Proudhon's advice is still not fully accepted. Certainly, the danger is not very big, because, contrary to what somebody would like us to believe, the authoritarian fringe is still only a minority. As was with Marxism at that time.

However, take the most humanistic, liberating ideology, imbue it with a quasi-religious belief that it alone holds the truth and you will, if it takes hold, turn it into a totalitarian nightmare. There will be no social justice or positive change in our society without pluralistic debate and experimentation.

The absolute leads to absolutism. This pursuit of the absolute, so often praised, is the gateway to fanaticism and irrationality, which exclude criticism and levity, which are indispensable tools for a proper understanding of reality and for overcoming prejudice, stereotypes, and simplistic generalisations.

Dogmatism, intolerance, and puritanism have invaded public debates in all circles, but it is even more regrettable that people who claim to be inclusive, socially just, and respectful of living beings are also contaminated by these scourges which are at the origin of authoritarianism, domination, wars, and dictatorships. Paradoxically, never has the systemic origin of societal problems been so emphasised, while, at the same time, making individuals feel guilty, singling them out for condemnation and killing off the discussions with insults, sweeping judgements, exclusion, and boycotts. All these brotherhoods for the purity of the faith, blacklist and excommunicate people who share the anti-authoritarian view, but who have the audacity to disagree with the doctors of virtue. Besides, don't try to conform to their demands because they don't agree with each other... and you will succumb in any case! Some activists have become afraid to speak out in public for fear of committing blasphemy.

Certainly the sanction can be harsh: to cancel, to boycott and, as with excommunication in the Middle Ages, to boycott even those who do not boycott them. These attitudes divide us and alienate the working classes.
Let us reject dogmatism and partisanship. No one holds the truth. As in nature, a multiplicity of responses is an indispensable factor for survival and development. A strategy that is effective at one time in a given environment may prove useless or produce perverse effects elsewhere and at another time. Only constructive debates, without taboos or sectarianism, can enable us to create the conditions necessary for the emancipation of all.

Dominated people of all countries and conditions, let us unite!


[*] Grün: young German philosopher, disciple of Feuerbach, with whom Proudhon became friends, despite many ideological differences.

[**] Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Textes et débats, Pierre Ansart éd., Le Livre de Poche, 1984


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