Bakunin on science


extracts taken from Chapter 4 “Science and Authority” of Maximoff’s “The political philosophy of Bakunin: scientific anarchism” (here)

A scientific body entrusted with the government of society would soon end by devoting itself not to science but to quite another interest. And that, as is the case with all established powers, would consist in its endeavor to perpetuate itself in power and consolidate its position by rendering the society placed in its care even more stupid and consequently ever more in need of being governed and directed by such a body….

What I preach then is, up to a certain point, the revolt of life-against science, or rather against government by Science not against the destruction of science — for that would be a high crime against humanity — but the putting of science in its rightful place so that it would never forsake it again…

Though we can be almost certain that no scientist would dare to treat a man today as he treats rabbits, nevertheless there remains the fear that scientists as a body, if permitted to do so, might submit living men to scientific experiments, doubtless less cruel but none the less disastrous to their human victims. If scientists cannot perform experiments upon the bodies of individuals, they are eager to perform such experiments upon the collective body, and it is in this that they must be unconditionally stopped…

In their present organization the monopolists of science, who as such remain outside of social life, undoubtedly form a separate caste which has much in common with the caste of priests. Scien­tific abstraction is their God, living and real individuals their victims, and they themselves the licensed and consecrated priests…

Science cannot go outside of the realm of abstractions….History, however, is not made by abstract individuals, but by real, living, and passing individuals. Abstractions do not move by themselves; they advance only when borne by real people. But for these beings who are composed not of mere ideas but of flesh-and-blood reality — science has no heart. It considers them at most as material for intellectual and social development. What does it care for the particular conditions and the ephemeral fate of Peter or James? Since by its very nature science has to ignore both the existence and the fate of the individual — of the Peters and Jameses — it must never be permitted, nor must anyone be permitted in its name, to govern Peter and James. For science in that case would be capable of treating them much the same as it treats rabbits. Or perhaps it would continue to ignore them. But its licensed representatives — men who are far from being abstract but on the contrary quite active men with real interests, yielding to the pernicious influence which privilege inevitably exercises upon men — would finally end up by fleecing those individuals in the name of science, just as they have hitherto been fleeced by priests, politicians of all shades, and lawyers, all of whom did it in the name o f God, or of the State, or of Juridical Right.

It would be better for those masses to dispense with science altogether than to allow themselves to be governed by men of science. The first effect of the existence of such a government would be to render science inaccessible to the people. For such a government necessarily would be aristocratic, because existing scientific institutions are aristocratic by their essential nature. An aristocracy of intellect and learning! From a practical point of view, this would be the most implacable and from the social point of view the most arrogant and offensive aristocracy. And such would be the power established in the name of science. Such a regime would be capable o f paralyzing all life and movement in society. The scientists, ever presumptuous, conceited and impotent, would want to meddle with everything, and as a result the sources of life would dry up under their abstract and learned breath. Picture to yourself a learned academy composed of the most illustrious representatives of science. Suppose that this academy were charged with the task of legislating and organizing society, and that, inspired by the purest love of truth, it dictates to society only laws which are in absolute harmony with the latest discoveries of science. I maintain that such legislation and such organization would be a monstrosity, and this for two reasons: First, because human science is always and necessarily imperfect, and when we compare what it has discovered with what remains to be discovered we can say that it is still in its cradle. That is true to such an extent that were we to force the practical life of men — collective as well as individual — into rigorous and exclusive conformity with the latest data of science, we would thus condemn society as well as individuals to suffer martyrdom on a Procrustean bed, which would soon dislocate and stifle them, since life is always an infinitely greater thing than science. The second reason is this: A society obeying legislation emanating from a scientific academy, not because it understood the rationale of this legislation — in which event the very existence of this academy would become useless — but because the legislation, emanating from the academy, was im­posed in the name of a science venerated without being understood — such a society would be a society not of men but of brutes. It would be a second edition of the wretched Paraguayan Republic which submitted so long to the rule of the Society of Jesus. Such a society would sink rapidly to the lowest stage of idiocy. And there is a third reason which makes such a government impossible. It is that a scientific academy, invested, so to speak, with absolute sovereign power, were it composed even of the most illustrious men, would inevitably and quickly end by becoming morally and intellectually corrupted. Such has been the history of the academies even with the limited privileges they have enjoyed up to the present.

Let us honor the scientists on their proper merits, but let us not accord them any social privileges lest we thereby wreck their minds and morals. Let us not recognize on their part any other rights but the general right freely to advocate their convictions, thoughts, and knowledge. Neither to them nor to anyone else should be given power to govern, for by the operation of the immutable law o f Socialism, those invested with such power necessarily become oppressors and exploiters of society…

On the one hand, science is indispensable to the rational organization of society; on the other hand, being incapable of interesting itself with that which is real and living, it must not interfere with the real or practical organization of society. This contradiction can be solved in only one way: Science, as a moral entity existing outside of the universal social Life and represented by a corporation of licensed savants, should be liquidated and widely diffused among the masses. Called upon to represent henceforth the collective consciousness of society, science must in a real sense become everybody’s property. In this way, without losing thereby anything of its universal character, of which it can never divest itself without ceasing to be science, and while continuing to concern itself with general causes, general conditions, and general relations of things and individuals, it will merge in fact with the immediate and real life of all individuals.

One Response to Bakunin on science
  1. El Steppenwolf says:

    Thanks. I’ve been wondering as a scientist myself what an anarchist view of science may well be. Having seen, through a few simple Google searches, calls by various anarchists (as is their right) for a wholesale destruction of everything remotely relating to science including itself, I took it to mean that science had no role in any anarchist outlook. To red this excerpt has brought some balance to that view, especially as it coincides with my experience and many of those who play the same game. There is no delicate swing of the baseball bat with respect to these institutions and the flow of money that arrives to such is intimidating.

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