The other shore: on politics and ‘spirit’ in Fredy Perlman’s Against His-story, Against Leviathan

2017-05-15T07:19:28Z (GMT) by Huba, Mark
This thesis is a critical textual analysis of the imbrication of politics and spirituality in Fredy Perlman’s Against His-story, Against Leviathan, a foundational work of primitivism. This study is the first prolonged critical examination of Perlman’s work and the ideas of a single primitivist thinker. In this thesis, I detail how Perlman reads his radical political concerns, his opposition to the State or Leviathan and ‘Western civilisation,’ through the esoteric framework of a spiritual ‘vision’ replete with references to the human ‘spirit’ and numerous spiritual luminaries. As I maintain, because Perlman politicises spirituality, his work binds ‘spirit’ to the foundational dualistic antagonisms and binary oppositions of Western political thought, exemplified by his primitivist inversion of Thomas Hobbes’ conflict between the ‘state of nature’ and Leviathan. His work similarly finds inspiration in the antagonistic spiritual symbolism of dualist religions within the Western Judaeo-Christian tradition. This, I argue, leads to numerous contradictions insofar as Perlman presents his work in radical opposition to ‘Western civilisation,’ whereas these dualistic antagonisms highlight Perlman’s identity with certain maligned aspects of Western political and religious thought. As I further consider, this is doubly problematic because there are subtle intimations of another conception of ‘spirit’ in Perlman’s work, taken from an alternative current of Western thought, emphasising reconciliation and relationship, dialectic and dialogue between opposites. This problematic is explored across three parts. In Part One, I examine the lineaments of Perlman’s spiritual ‘vision’ through ideas of spiritual renewal. Detailing the symbolic and temporal oppositions on which he bases renewal, I consider how Perlman exacerbates the spiritual malaise of what he terms the ‘Western spirit,’ and how he invokes a simulacrum of spiritual renewal through recourse to an apocalyptic catastrophism. In Part Two, I turn to Perlman’s understanding of spiritual transformation. Attending to his dualistic and politicised celebration of Life against Death, I note how Perlman defines spiritual transformation through the return to an immanent monistic unity, a position that elides the reconciliatory image of transformation as ‘resurrection.’ In Part Three, I turn to questions of ‘spirit’ and political resistance. I argue that Perlman’s ‘spirited’ resistance reflects the warring politico-spiritual antagonisms he opposes, despite the appearance in his text of spiritual influences that communicate a gentler form of social change.