22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2005
Bakunin's political beliefs rejected governing systems in every name and shape, from the idea of God downwards; and every form of external authority, whether emanating from the will of a sovereign or from universal suffrage. He wrote in his Dieu et l'Etat or God and the State (published posthumously in 1882):
"The liberty of man consists solely in this, that he obeys the laws of nature, because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been imposed upon him externally by any foreign will whatsoever, human or divine, collective or individual."
Natural laws being thus recognized by every man for himself, Bakunin's reasoning went, an individual could not but obey them, for they would be the laws also of his own nature; and the need for political organization, administration and legislation would at once disappear.
Bakunin similarly rejected the notion of any privileged position or class, since "it is the peculiarity of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the intellect and heart of man. The privileged man, whether he be privileged politically or economically, is a man depraved in intellect and heart."
Bakunin's methods of realizing his revolutionary program were no less purposeful than his principles. The revolutionist, as Bakunin described, would be a devoted man, who allowed no private interests or feelings, and no scruples of religion, patriotism or morality, to turn him aside from his mission, the aim of which is by all available means to overturn the existing society.
The dispute between Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx highlighted the difference between anarchism and communism: While both anarchists and communists share the same final goal (the creation of a free, egalitarian society with no social classes and no government), they strongly disagree on how to achieve this goal. Anarchists believe that the classless, stateless society should be established right away, as soon as possible. Communists believe that such a thing would be impossible and that the anarchists are too idealistic; the communists want a more gradual transition towards the classless and stateless society, involving a transitional stage of democratic government and planned economics, which they call "socialism".
His works are erudite and forceful and should be read by anyone interested in polictical science and/or philosophy.
50 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 1998
This book features Bakunin's unfinished essay of the same title. It is an excellent exploration of the psyche and motivations of one of history's more influential also-rans. Bakunin's ideas eventually evolved into what became known as anarchism -- the idea that the only way to a just society is through a society where no one rules over another...where all are equals.
This short book provides a window into the underlying ideas that came to be anarchism. Bakunin was an excellent pamphleteer and polemicist, but wasn't able to write a complete book. Perhaps this was ultimately better for anarchism.
Bakunin's historical contributions to political radicalism are largely overshadowed by Marx, his contemporary, even though Bakunin's core critique of Marx -- that socialism could never be forced on people and remain socialism -- was essentially correct. History, represented by the former USSR, Cuba, North Korea, etc. has vindicated Bakunin, and repudiated Marx. Where socialism was imposed by way of a political vanguard, it ceased to be socialism.
Thus, at this time, it's good for people to read Bakunin to realize there was an alternative vision of socialism in his ideas -- namely, anarchism. Marx successfully blocked Bakunin's ideas in his day, but I think that with the collapse of faux-communism, Bakunin may finally get the reading he deserved.
Bakunin represented in his time the very embodiment of radical revolution, and this book lets the reader get a sense of this.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2002
This is one of the first books I have read on anarchism, and it certainly makes some very powerful points, especially on issues of "divine authority" and the church in general. Bakunin also reveals some novel ideas about religion, its origins and most importantly of all, how church and state support one another to have power over the masses. I have read some of Bakunin's essays but this short book (although incomplete) is good overview of his thought, and a rich overview of some of anarchism's core beliefs.
I also recommend Emma Goldman's "Anarchism and Other Essays" and if you are willing to search for out of print titles "Bakunin on Anarchism".
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2002
Next to "Atheism: a case against god" by G.Smith, this book by Bakunin is among the essential readings if you are set out to get rid of the mythology of "god".
People like to refer to this as an "anarchist" book , and i guess in a sense it is, since it is written by one of anarchism's most important and effective leading figures. However, i don't think you need to be anarchist to reach Bakunin's conclusions, you need first to respect your own intelligence. The fact that this might lead you eventually to anarchism is another matter.
Bakunin deals with the "god" issue as he should from his position: he examines how religion is used by the ruling classes to manipulate us, to keep people ignorant and believing in theological myths. A person that lives on the doctrine of "believe without evidence" is a person destined to be a slave and Bakunin's fiery rhetoric does a good job to drive this point home.
This book might seem polemic to some , especially those not acquainted with the equation religion=slavery, but then again this is exactly the point. Bakunin is merciless in his critique because in order to free slaves you need to first free their minds.
As close as any book can come to being explosive...
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2009
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"Therefore, if God existed, only in one way could he serve human liberty - by ceasing to exist." (28)
In God and State, Russian anarchist/revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin excoriates religion's suffocating grip on the masses as stifling humanity's twin destinies of freedom and equality. In Bakunin's eyes, the mastery of God implicitly involves the slavery of man, and in this relationship that unilaterally permeates all forms of idealism, freedom and equality are both illusory and impossible. Bakunin posits an inverse relationship between the health of God and the health of man. As God strengthens, man's well-being suffers and vice versa. For man to progress to a society that universally affirms every individual's dignity, agency, rationality, and freedom, God must be removed.
"Slaves of God, men must also be slaves of Church and State, in so far as the State is consecrated by the Church." (24)
Bakunin observes that it is when God nefariously bonds with state that He afflicts mankind most - for his dominion then not only concerns the metaphysical and the personal, but now extends over the political and social realms. It is this union that suppresses social revolution most, for it quiets a citizenry's social discontent by consoling its existential and spiritual discontent. In promising heaven, it persuades the people to tolerate a terrestrial hell.
"We should strive to understand the historic genesis, the succession of causes which developed and produced the idea of God in the consciousness of men. In vain shall we call and believe ourselves Atheists, until we comprehend these causes, for until then, we shall always suffer ourselves to be more or less governed by the clamors of this universal conscience whose secret we have not discovered." (22)
Bakunin briefly examines the metaphysical mystery that is God, and notes that no theologian has ever succeeded in understanding the untouchable and opaque mysteries of God and spirit, in "reconciling and irreconcilable". Bakunin, cutting some philosophical and ontological corners, subsequently concludes that the "absurdity" that is theology has been inherited from our ancestors, which for one reason or another, conceived the idea of God for epistemological, existential, and/or pragmatic purposes: "The historical development of this terrible religious insanity which continues to obsess and crush us...I know not how many centuries were needed to develop this belief....religion is a collective insanity, the more powerful because it is traditional folly, and because its origin is lost in the most remote antiquity." (68)
Bakunin suspects theology to be some thoroughly contrived metaphysical formation, insidiously machinated by some men to enslave others. However, theology is probably more innately and innocently conceived than Bakunin claims, and the exploitation of it by unscrupulous men to rule others is an indirect consequence rather than the direct cause of spiritual belief. Bakunin's caustic antagonism towards all things God is best understood by realizing that as an anarchist adamantly opposed to all forms of authority, God is the penultimate authority. These anarchist tones underlie most of Bakunin's atheism, and quite understandably, he believes that extirpating goverment requires extirpating God.
Bakunin's animadversions appear directed at the religious establishments of continental Europe, and hence his broad stroke generalizations towards religion - more generally any doctrine of idealism - are both unfair and inaccurate. Not every mode of spirituality/idealism entails the abdication of freedom and reason.
Not every form of idealism condemns man to miserable servitude to the absolute (both God and State in some forms), nor does every form of idealism proscribe an onerous and seemingly arbitrary code of behavior/morals. Bakunin's insistence however, is understandable since the religious traditions Bakunin encountered in his fight for social revolution doubtlessly did. Thus while his condemnation of religion assumes a bitter and biased countenance, the historical context of Bakunin's writings can elucidate why this is so.
"If God entire could find lodgment in each man, then each man would be God." (50)
Bakunin asserts this supposition to refute theism, but he actually speaks the words of idealism here, borrowing the tongue of avatars for monistic and gnostic (for example) spiritual conceptualizations (Ralph Emerson and the Upanishads to name a few). These spiritual traditions do not conform to Bakunin's generalized notions of idealism, and hence Bakunin's denunciation of religion could certainly benefit from a more comprehensive and objective survey of all theological traditions of spirituality. Unsoundly committing all these traditions to the fires of "insanity" and "imbecility" by simply stating that the conception of God is inevitably unprovable and asinine, Bakunin's credibility as an exponent of atheism is undermined.
"Science is the compass of life - but it is not life." (55)
While Bakunin exalts science excessively in its ability to provide us with answers, Bakunin astutely takes care not to simply substitute science upon the altar of dogmatic devotion which inevitably leads to the loss of freedom. Rightfully fearing a government of scientists replacing a government of idealists, he admonishes individuals not to worship scientists like priests, but instead - skeptically consulting their counsel - determine on their own whether their expertise should incur obedience. Using the ironic metaphor of Protestantism, Bakunin claims that science is our Christ - and we should not obey the priests and the churches and simply follow the followers. Instead, we should employ the empiricism of science and the rationality of mind towards truth in the most ideal and non-personal manner.
Bakunin perpetuates the problematic construction of materialism/spiritualism, God/Science, etc. - as if existence is metaphysically constituted by this banal either/or proposition. Must we exclude all idealism in order to achieve a MATERIAL happiness and freedom? Must we exclude all idealism in understanding the MATERIAL truths of our world? Bakunin would proclaim an unequivocal yes, but I am not so sure.
God and State is a well crafted writing, which elucidates the religious impediments that political thinkers such as Marx and Bakunin encountered in striving to overturn the inegalitarian societies of their day. The pertinent feature of religion for Bakunin is its relationship with the state. There is a distinction between the authority of God coexisting with the authority of State, and the authority of God colluding with the authority of State. The latter scenario doubtlessly is Bakunin's 'beef' within this book.
Even if Bakunin erroneously supposes all "idealisms" as unilaterally wrong and illusory, his writings provoke some interesting questions. In a free, classless and stateless society, what role - if any - can God have? Can any 'idealism' sit back and allow humanity to consult INDEPENDENTLY its own devices of reason, and its own ideas of justice?
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2005
Bakunin was a true activist. Spending little time writing, Mikhail Bakunin was a full time revolutionary and heavy critic of the existing movements of the time. In his only published work, God & the State, Bakunin lays out his arguments against "Gods and Masters" with great accuracy. He is truly a man to be admired (he once was a wealthy aristocrat but rejected this life for one of constant struggle.
Worth Reading, even if you don't agree with him.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
It is often said that Michael (Mikhail) Bakunin was more a doer than a thinker, a professional revolutionary who never compiled his political views in a systematic manner. This incomplete work (it ends in the middle of a tortured sentence with a platoon of clauses) was actually to be a part of a longer, more systematic work, "The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution." Paul Avrich's Introduction does as nice job of placing "God and the State" in context.
Bakunin begins by pointing out that humans were given (Page 9) "two precious faculties--the power to think and the power to rebel." He rails against the concept of God, since, in his view, is stands to give comfort to people who are being exploited. Most think of only two options, given their misery--(Page 16) "the dram-shop and the church. . ." He notes, though, a third option--social revolution. That is the route, of course, that this radical thinker advocates.
He observes that the state and the church cooperate to keep people from realizing liberty, from living in freedom. Hence, the title of this slender volume. At one point, he observes that Page 24): "Slaves of God, men must also be slaves of Church and State, in so far as the State is consecrated by the Church." In the end, he contends that (Page 28) ". . ., if God truly existed, it would be necessary to abolish him."
His view of revolutionary activity? He once said that ""the urge to destroy is a creative urge." Thus destruction of the state and of religion would be creative, allowing for liberty and freedom to be practiced.
Again, this is not a systematic work, but it provides a flavor of Bakunin's views. It is useful to compare his works with those of contemporaries such as Marx and Engels. If interested in Bakunin's political thought, this is an accessible starting point.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2010
This book is a wonderful classic, written by Marx's biggest rival, Michael Bakunin. What he promoted was an atheistic anarchism due to his belief that the ruling classes use religion to keep the masses ignorant and enslaved. He believed that eliminating religion would end the grip that the ruling powers held on the people.
This book is rich with history and written by a truly independent thinker. It's a combination of politics, history, and classic literature at its finest. It's fascinating to see such a brilliant mind at work. His ideas are very well defined, very well thought out, and very thought provoking. His style of writing is powerful and compelling.
If you are interested in political philosophy, I believe you will really enjoy this classic on anarchism. It's one of the few political ideologies that puts its trust in the people, and that alone makes it a strange and rare (and refreshing) thing.
It's also a great book for history buffs, not to mention a favorite of atheists. Bakunin was a true radical and this book continues to inspire the open-minded. It will really get you thinking.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2012
This book is indeed a thinker's book because many statements written in the book are still true even for this moment. Without discussing his view on religion, Bakunin's view on state, on science and on scientists, whom he used the French word, savants, are true today. On the other hand, Bakunin did not present his view on how to organize a state without the shortness and weakness. Very unfortunately, the modern politicians still have yet to solve the problem on how to make a state or government less hateful. This is a point discussed in the book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2013
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This book gives a Marxist/anarchist view of God and the state. Both are oppressive. I think that books as these come out of the European experience where the state and church were rigid authority figures. This book eschews any kind of authority. Regarding religion, it does not see it as being in any way beneficial, but, rather, it is something to be overthrown. Clearly, this book was written long before the Social Gospel or Liberation Theology. In these views, religion is liberating not suppressive.