George Woodcock (1912-1995)

Anselme Bellegarrigue

by George Woodcock (1912-1995)

Excerpted from George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1962), pp. 276-78.

© 1962 by The World Publishing Company

Most of the revolutionaries who turned toward anarchism as a consequence of 1848 did so by virtue of hindsight, but one man at least, independently of Proudhon, made his defense of the libertarian attitude during the Year of Revolutions itself. “Anarchy is order; government is civil war.” It was under this slogan, as willfully paradoxical as any of Proudhon’s, that Anselme Bellegarrigue made his brief, obscure appearance in anarchist history. Bellegarrigue appears to have been a man of some education, but little is known of his life before the very eve of 1848; he arrived back in Paris on February 23 from a journey in the United States, where he had met President Polk on a Mississippi steamer and had developed an admiration for the more individualistic aspects of American democracy. According to his own account, he was as little impressed as Proudhon by the revolution that broke out on his first morning back in Paris. A young National Guardsman outside the Hôtel de Ville boasted to him that this time the workers would not be robbed of their victory. “They have robbed you already of your victory,” replied Bellegarrigue. “Have you not named a government?”

Bellegarrigue appears to have left Paris very soon, for later in the year he published from Toulouse the first of his works that has survived, a pamphlet entitled Au Fait! Au Fait! Interprétation de l’Idée Démocratique; the epigraph, in English, reads: “A people is always governed too much.” During 1849 Bellegarrigue was writing articles attacking the Republic in a Toulouse newspaper, La Civilization, but by early 1850 he had moved to the little village of Mézy, close to Paris, where, with a number of friends who had formed an Association of Free Thinkers, he attempted to set up a community devoted to libertarian propaganda and natural living. Their apparently harmless activities soon attracted the attention if the police; one of their members, Jules Cledat, was arrested, and the community then dispersed.

Bellegarrigue returned to Paris, where he now planned a monthly journal devoted to his ideas. The first number of L’Anarchie: Journal de l’Ordre appeared in April 1850; it was the first periodical actually to adopt the anarchist label, and Bellegarrigue combined the functions of editor, manager, and sole contributor. Owing to lack of funds, only two issues of L’Anarchie appeared, and though Bellegarrigue later planned an Almanach de l’Anarchie this does not seem to have been published. Shortly afterward this elusive libertarian pioneer disappeared into the depths of Latin America, where he is said to have been a teacher in Honduras and even – briefly – some kind of government official in El Salvador, before he died – as he was born – at a time and place unknown.

Bellegarrigue stood near to Stirner at the individualist end of the anarchist spectrum. He dissociated himself from all the political revolutionaries of 1848, and even Proudhon, whom he resembled in many of his ideas and from whom he derived more than he was inclined to admit, he treated with little respect, granting merely that “sometimes he steps out of the old routine to cast a few illuminations on general interests.”

At times Bellegarrigue spoke in the words of solipsistic egoism. “I deny everything; I affirm only myself. ... I am, that is a positive fact. All the rest is abstract and falls into Mathematical X, into the unknown. ... There can be on earth no interest superior to mine, no interest to which I owe even the partial sacrifice of my interests.” Yet in apparent contradiction, Bellegarrigue adhered to the central anarchist tradition in his idea of society as necessary and natural and as having “a primordial existence which resists all destructions and all disorganizations.” The expression of society Bellegarrigue finds in the commune, which is not an artificial constriction, but a “fundamental organism,” and which, provided rulers do not interfere, can be relied on to reconcile the interests of the individuals who compose it. It is in all men’s interests to observe “the rules of providential harmony,” and for this reason all governments, armies, and bureaucracies must be suppressed. This task must be carried out neither by political parties, which will always seek to dominate, nor by violent revolution, which needs leaders like any other military operation. The people, once enlightened, must act for itself.

It will make its own revolution, by the sole strength of right, the force of inertia, the refusal to co-operate. From the refusal to cooperate stems the abrogation of the laws that legalize murder, and the proclamation of equity.
This conception of revolution by civil disobedience suggests that in America Bellegarrigue may have made contact with at least the ideas of Thoreau,* and there is much that anticipates American individualist anarchism in Bellegarrigue’s stress on possession as a guarantee of freedom, though this of course he shared with Proudhon. His picture of the progression of the free individual places him clearly outside the collectivist or communist trend in anarchism.

He works and therefore he speculates; he speculates and therefore he gains; he gains and therefore he possesses; he possesses and therefore he is free. By possession he sets himself up in an opposition of principle to the state, for the logic of the state rigorously excludes individual possession.

* [Online editor’s note: Another possible influence is Étienne de la Boétie. – RTL]

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