Natural Order and the 'Divine Legislator'
(according to Bakunin)

by Paul McLaughlin

According to Bakunin, nature "is imposed upon [and not by] our mind as a rational necessity". [14] It is manifest as a series of "inherent" laws or forms of development particular to each thing. However, it is the human mind that imposes the form of law on nature, since "nature itself knows no laws". [15] That is to say, there were no natural laws as such prior to the development of human thought; there were only natural facts and more or less regular natural processes.

Natural laws reflect the fact that, given certain conditions, certain facts or effects "invariably" follow from certain actions or causes; these laws, and the processes of which they are (true but nevertheless still abstract) reflections, are, within the context of universal causality, though, relative in character. (We should note in passing that there are two kinds of natural law. First, there are general laws [which reflect processes] which are apparently essential to all natural things, or which are, in a manner of speaking, “inherent in matter”; Bakunin clearly has the laws of physics, in particular, in mind, and remarks that "all the orders . . . of real existence are subject" to these [processes and their] laws. Second, there are particular and special laws, which are strictly applicable only to certain orders of things [or which reflect processes within these orders], though never entirely foreign to any other order in the unified totality that is the universe; Bakunin offers the examples of geological laws, physiological laws, and, importantly, "laws which preside over the ideal and social development . . . of man".) The (processes and their) laws which "govern" each thing determine its nature: these (processes and their) laws being relative, the nature of each thing is only relatively fixed (though, on the scale of human time, fixed to all intents and purposes). Nevertheless, it is the totality of these (processes and their) laws that accounts for the order of nature as a whole. As Bakunin puts it:

This [to all intents and purposes] constant reproduction of the same facts through the same processes constitutes precisely the legislation of nature: order in the infinite diversity of phenomena and facts. [16]

This view of natural creation and natural order, of "a magnificently organized world in which every part [stands in] necessary logical relation to all the others" [17], rules out the existence of the personal creator, divine or otherwise. Such a creator, this "divine legislator", could only destroy the natural order by his "arbitrary personal edict" [18] or intervention in the universal causal web. To maintain that he exists, contrary to logic, is therefore plainly absurd. Bakunin reiterates: “If order is natural and possible in the universe, it is solely because this universe is not governed according to some system imagined in advance and imposed by a supreme will". [19] Or, in characteristic fashion, Bakunin offers a choice: "The existence of God can have no other meaning than the negation of natural laws, from which this inevitable dilemma results: God is, so there are no natural laws, there is no natural order, and the world is chaotic; or else, the world was self‑ordained [est ordonné en lui‑même], so God does not exist". [20] Bookchin argues, likewise, that the idea of a "presiding agent" or "hidden hand" that "predetermines the development of life‑forms" ruptures natural order by introducing a dualism—a dualism which, as we will see, necessarily underpins hierarchy and the view of all differentiation as degrees of domination and subordination". [21]

The ultimate source of natural order, that is, the "absolute and first cause", will seemingly always remain “unknown”. Indeed, according to Bakunin, this concept of a first cause is meaningless. He asks, “how can we find the first cause if it does not exist?" [22] If nature, the totality of actuality or universal causality, consists essentially of the infinity of "particular" causes in their ongoing relation, it makes no sense to seek an absolute, primary, original cause among these, since, if it ever existed or meant anything (which we have no reason to believe), it has been lost and has effectively become meaningless. In fact, to seek this first cause is to arbitrarily, and artificially, render the natural order chaotic. This is the essence of Bakunin's critique of the deity of the Aristotelian‑Thomist tradition, a critique largely informed by Feuerbach, who held that the concept of a first cause, and the correlative concept of "second causes", represents the “capitulation" of religious belief. If God is merely the first cause, he is evidently "an idle inactive being" of whom the natural world—"the realm of second causes"—is independent. if this is the case, God is “only a hypothetical Being [existing] not for his own sake, but for the sake of the world"—in order to explain its very existence. However, he is only required as such by the mechanistic mind, which has no understanding of the "godless self‑subsistence" of the world. Feuerbach infers that "To the mechanical theorist, the creation [or the first cause] is the last thin thread which yet ties him to religion". [23] (The implication here is that Christian theology, in conjunction with Aristotelianism (which, in spite of its metaphysicality, is sufficiently naturalistic to undermine it), has lost sight of its very theocentrism; and that it contains within itself the “transitional" seed of speculative philosophy or anthropocentrism.) But, in any case, Bakunin's broader critique is aimed at the deity of the Cartesian‑Kantian tradition (the transitional-anthropocentric tradition), that is, at the "phantom" of modern idealism or, in Feuerbach's words, "speculative philosophy", which, by necessity, as a compromised or humanized form of divine idealism, has an even more pernicious influence.

Notes

14.  Considérations philosophiques, p. 194. Emphasis added.

15.  La Commune de Paris, p. 301.

16.  Considérations philosophiques, pp. 194-95. Emphasis in original.

17.  Fédéralisme, socialisme et antithéologisme, p. 115. Emphasis added.

18.  Considérations philosophiques, pp, 199, 201.

19.  La Commune de Paris, p. 301.

20.  Considérations philosophiques, p. 199, first footnote. Emphasis in original.

21.  Op. cit., p. 82.

22.  Considérations philosophiques, p. 201.

23.  The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989), pp. 189-91.


SOURCE: McLaughlin, Paul. Mikhail Bakunin: The Philosophical Basis of His Anarchism (New York: Algora Publishing, 2002), Part 2.3, pp. 109-111 (notes, p. 229).


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