Eric, in response to my post about Raymond Geuss’s book, writes the following:
Geuss in describing his take on Prof Wolff's In
Defense of Anarchism put into words what I have been feeling:
"The real question for me was, 'Why be so daft as to start from this quasi-Kantian conception of 'individual autonomy' at all? If you do start from that assumption, you have no one but yourself to blame if you end up nowhere.' Wolff, I took it, found it inconceivable that one might simply not adopt or accept something like the conception of 'individual moral autonomy' which one finds in Kant (and also in liberalism) as absolutely fundamental. That, however, seemed to me wrong. Despite his appropriation of a (kind of) Marxist approach, and his self-characterization as an 'anarchist,' Wolff was in this domain something very much like a liberal.
Unless these two very different forms of anarchism [egoistic libertarian anarchism of Max Stirner vs mutualist communist anarchism of Kropotkin] are clearly distinguished and kept separate, nothing but the greatest confusion will result. While liberals can find some common ground with the libertarian form of anarchism, the communist version would be anathema to them. Looked at from this point, Wolff's libertarian anarchism was just a form of liberalism that got out of control."
In view of the intensely personal character of Geuss’s book, perhaps my best response should be equally personal. When I wrote In Defense of Anarchism in the summer of 1965, I was still deeply committed to finding a justification for Kant’s claim that there is a fundamental principle of morality that can be established universally and a priori by rational argument. In the course of writing my commentary on the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, I came to the conclusion that Kant had failed to sustain his claim. It seemed to me quite natural to conclude that if Kant could not find an argument for that claim then there was none to be found.
Contrary to what one might imagine, I found this failure oddly liberating, not at all dispiriting. It freed me to define my life by my free choice of the comrades with whom I would make common cause in our struggles. I frequently told the story of the radical Columbia undergraduate who, after hearing my lectures on Kant’s ethical theory in the fall of 1968 during which I confessed that I was unable to find the argument I was looking for, asked me why it was so important to me to find such an argument. I replied to him rather condescendingly that if I could not find that argument, then I would not know what to do, to which he responded “first you must decide which side you are on – then you will be able to figure out what you what to do.” As I have often said, this was the wisest piece of advice anyone ever gave me. Ever since that time, I have experienced the world as a series of barricades in which all that really matters in the end is which side of the barricade I am on.