For Stirner discourses such as morality and rationality are fixed ideas or spooks.
They are apparitions, ideological abstractions that nevertheless have real political effects—they provide the State with a formal justification for its domination.
Koch argues that Stirner’s attack on fixed ideas represents a decisive break with the transcendentalism of Western thought, exposing the power behind these dominant ideas and “transcendental masks” (Koch 1997:101). This power has become abstracted from the individual and is held over him. The dominance of morality, for instance, is fundamentally linked to political power, preserving the continued existence of the police State (Stirner 1993:241). For Stirner morality is not only a fiction derived from Christian idealism, but also a discourse that oppresses the individual. It is based on the desecration of the individual will— the ego. Morality is merely the leftover of Christianity, only in a new humanist garb: “Moral faith is as fanatical as religious faith!” (Stirner46).
Morality has become the new religion — a secular religion — demanding the same unquestioning obedience. For Stirner, the State is the new Church — the new moral and rational authority wielded over the individual (Stirner 1993:23).
Similarly rationality may also be seen as a discourse which perpetuates State power. Rational truths are always held above individual perspectives and this is another way of subordinating the individual ego to an abstract power above him or her. As with morality, rational truth has become sacred, absolute, removed from the grasp of the individual (Stirner 1993:353). So for Stirner, morality and rationality are discourses of the State, and their function, rather than to liberate us from domination, is to further subordinate the individual to State power. Therefore, according to Stirner, in order to wage war on the State one must also wage war on the principles which provide political power with a moral and rational foundation.
Deleuze also unmasks forms and structures of thought that affirm State power. Like Stirner, Deleuze believes that thought has complicity in State domination, providing it with a legitimate ground and consensus: “Only thought is capable of inventing the fiction of a State that it is universal by right, of elevating the State to de jure universality” (Deleuze and Guattari375).
Rationality is an example of State thought. Deleuze goes one step further than Stirner: rather than seeing certain forms of thought as simply lending rational and moral authority to the State, he contends that rational and moral discourses actually form part of the assemblage of the State. The State is not only a series of political institutions and practices, but also comprises a multiplicity of norms, technologies, discourses, practices, forms of thought, and linguistic structures.
It is not just that these discourses provide a justification for the State—they are themselves manifestations of the State form in thought. The State is immanent in thought, giving it ground, logos — providing it with a model that defines its “goal, paths, conduits, channels, organs. . . ” (Deleuze and Guattari 434).
The State has penetrated and coded thought, in particular rational thought. It both depends on rational discourses for its legitimisation and functioning while in turn making these discourses possible. Rational thought is State philosophy: “Common sense, the unity of all the faculties at the centre of the Cogito, is the State consensus raised to the absolute” (Deleuze and Guattari 376). It is only by freeing thought from this moral and rational authoritarianism that we can free ourselves from the State (Deleuze 23).
For Deleuze the model of State thought is what he calls aborescent logic (Deleuze 25). Aborescent logic is a conceptual model or “image” of which predetermines thought on a rational basis. It is based on the root and tree system: there is a central unity, truth or essence — like Rationality — which is the root, and which determines the growth of its “branches”. Deleuze says:
. . . trees are not a metaphor at all but an image of thought, a functioning, a whole apparatus that is planted in thought to make it go in a straight line and produce famous correct ideas. There are all kinds of characteristics in the tree: there is a point of origin, seed or centre; it is a binary machine or principle of dichotomy, which is perpetually divided and reproduced branchings, its points of aborescence;’
Thought is trapped in binary identities such as black/white, male/female, hetero/homosexual. Thought must always unfold according to a dialectical logic and is thus trapped within binary divisions that deny difference and plurality (Deleuze 1987:128). For Deleuze this model of thought is also the model for political power — the authoritarianism of one is inextricably linked with the authoritarianism of the other: “Power is always arborescent” (Deleuze 1987:25).
So instead of this authoritarian model of thought, Deleuze proposes a rhizomatic model which eschews essences, unities and binary logic, and seeks out multiplicities, pluralities and becomings. The rhizome is an alternate, nonauthoritarian ‘image’ of thought, based on the metaphor of grass, which grows haphazardly and imperceptibly, as opposed to the orderly growth of the aborescent tree system. The purpose of the rhizome is to allow thought “to shake off its model, make its grass grow — even locally at the margins” (Deleuze and Guattari 24). The rhizome, in this sense, defies the very idea of a model: it is an endless, haphazard multiplicity of connections, which is not dominated by a single centre or place, but is decentralised and plural. It embraces four characteristics: connection, heterogeneity, multiplicity, and rupture (Deleuze and Guattari 7).
It rejects binary divisions and hierarchies, and is not governed by an unfolding, dialectical logic. It thus interrogates the abstractions that govern thought, which form the basis of various discourses of knowledge and rationality. In other words, rhizomatic thought is thought which defies Power, refusing to be limited by it — rhizomatics “would not leave it to anyone, to any Power, to ‘pose’ questions or to ‘set’ problems” (Deleuze and Guattari 24).
One could argue here that Stirner’s attack on abstractions, essences and fixed ideas, is an example of rhizomatic thought. Like Deleuze, Stirner looks for multiplicities and individual differences, rather than abstractions and unities.
Abstractions, like truth, rationality, human essence, are images which, for these thinkers, deny plurality and deform difference into sameness. Koch comments on Stirner’s disdain for transcendental fixed ideas. However I would argue that Stirner here invents a new form of thought which emphasises multiplicity, plurality and individuality over universalism and transcendentalism. This antiessentialist, anti-universal thinking anticipates Deleuze’s approach.
Moreover this anti-essentialist, anti-foundationalist style of thinking has radical implications for political philosophy. The political arena can no longer be drawn up according to the old battle lines of the State and the autonomous, rational subject that resists it. This is because a revolution is capable of forming multiple connections, including connections with the very power it is presumed to oppose: ‘These lines tie back to one another. That is why one can never posit a dualism or a dichotomy, even in the rudimentary form of the good and the bad’ (Deleuze and Guattari 9).’ So according to their critique of rational and moral discourses, both Stirner and Deleuze would see political theories based on a rational critique of the State, to be forms of thinking which actually reaffirm, rather than resist, State power.
Such theories, because they do not question the essentialist distinction between rationality and irrationality, and because they see the State as fundamentally irrational, neglect the fact that the State has already captured rational discourse itself. In other words, to question the rational,basis of the State, to say that State power is “irrational” or “immoral”, is not necessarily a subversion of the State, but may instead be an affirmation of its power. It leaves State power intact by subjecting revolutionary action to ratio-nal and moral injunctions that channel it into State forms. If the State is to be overcome one must invent new forms of politics which do not allow themselves to be captured by rationality: “politics is active experimentation since we do not know in advance which way a line is going to turn” (Deleuze 1987:137). I shall address this question of resistance later.
So for Deleuze and Stirner a philosophy like anarchism, which posits a critique of State authority based on moral and rational principles, would reaffirm State power. Traditional anarchism sees the State as profoundly immoral and irrational, and constructs a manichean dichotomy between the State and the essentially moral, rational subject which resists this power (Bakunin 1984:212).’
As I have argued, however, Deleuze and Stirner’s anti-State thinking goes beyond the categories of traditional anarchism precisely on this point. For these two thinkers the very ideas of essence, centre, and rational and moral foundations — the principles upon which the anarchist critique of authority is based — are themselves authoritarian structures which lend themselves to political domination. In other words, Stirner and Deleuze, in different ways, have gone beyond the limits of the anarchist critique of authority, turning it back upon itself. They have taken the critique of State authority into an arena in which the anarchists could not go — that of rational thought itself, thus breaking with the categories of Enlightenment humanism that bound anarchism.
Unlike the anarchists, Deleuze and Stirner do not allow us the privilege of this strict opposition between the irrational, immoral, corrupt power of the State, and the rational, moral essence of the human subject. They do not allow, in other words, the uncontaminated point of departure of human subjectivity that is at the centre of the anarchist critique of authority.