Summary from publisher:
In the 19th century anarchists were accused of “conspiracy” by governments afraid of revolution, but at the beginning of the 21st century various “conspiracy theories” suggest that anarchists are controlled by government itself. The Illuminati were a network of intellectuals who argued for self-government and against private property, yet the public is now often told that they were (and are) the very group that controls governments and defends private property around the world. Intervening in so much misinformation, Lagalisse works with primary and secondary sources in multiple languages to set straight the history of the Left, and illustrate the actual relationship between revolutionism, pantheistic occult philosophy, and the clandestine fraternity: Imperatives of class respectability have so far led professional Leftists to largely ignore the “conspiracy theory”, yet in doing so neo-fascist theories of history gain ground.
By exploring hidden correspondences between anarchism, Renaissance magic and New Age movements, Lagalisse also advances critical scholarship regarding Leftist attachments to “secular” politics, in which a certain theology has simply been mystified. Inspired by anthropological fieldwork within today’s anarchist movements, her essay challenges anarchist “atheism” insofar as it poses practical challenges for coalition politics in the 21st century: Charting “anarchy” among indigenous peoples is a popular anarchist project, yet anticolonial solidarity requires acknowledging “anarchism” as a distinct “ism” informed by the history of its practice.
By studying anarchism as a historical object, Lagalisse also shows how the development of Leftist theory and practice within clandestine masculine “public” spheres continues to inform 21st century anarchist understandings of the ‘political’, in which men’s oppression by the state becomes the prototype for power in general. Readers behold how gender and religion become “privatized” in radical counter-culture, this historical process being in dialectic with the “privitization” of gender and religion by the modern nation-state (as above, so below).
“Erica Lagalisse’s ‘Occult Features of Anarchism’ is a wonderful and learned provocation. Taking the concept of modern politics as a form of theology and magical ritual, she traces some aspects of the origins of socialist and anarchist politics and performance to the Hermetic tradition which influenced the Radical Enlightenment and its originators, in for example, the work of Spinoza. But she also argues that this ‘magical’ or Hermetic tradition rested on masculinist coup against women’s knowledge, especially in the tranformation of women healers into malevolent witches. But this work is not merely a work of academic research. Lagalisse then argues that the gatekeeping behaviour of anarchist and radical militants in the Global Justice Movement. Occupy/Square Movements, and their more recent spin-offs replicates the masculinist keepers of the esoteric knowledge of the Free Masons or varieties of secret societies drawing directly or indirectly on the Hermetic tradition. Thus forms of ‘indigenous’ knowledge in the Global South and the widespread popularity of conspiracy theories in the Global North are belittled, ignored and not engaged to the peril of the Left’s empancipatory project. Lagalisse takes the concepts of cultural capital and indirectly the New Class to a new, interesting synthesis.”
– Dr. Carl Levy, professor in the Department Politics and International Relations at Goldsmiths, University of London, and author of works including ‘Social Histories of Anarchism’ in the Journal for the Study of Radicalism (2010).
“Occult Features of Anarchism is an engrossing read that hijacked my attention from start to finish. Lagalisse excavates the theological, spiritual roots of Anarchism to identify some of the contemporary shortcomings of left activism. Engrossing, enlightening, and often surprising, the book delights and dazzles as it ruminates on a stunning array of topics from gender and intersectionality to secret societies, the occult, and conspiracy. A must read for those interested in the history of anarchism, rethinking the role of secrecy in revolutionary movements, and emboldening Anarchist organizing today.”
– Dr. Gabriella Coleman, Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, and author of works including Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous (2015)
“This is surely the most creative and exciting, and possibly the most important, work to come out on either anarchism or occultism, in many a year. It should give rise to a whole new field of intellectual study.”
-Dr. David Graeber, Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and author of works including Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011).
“A tour de force. Any self-respecting radical should know this history, right down to the dirty history of the A for anarchism sign from its location within Freemasonry and magic. Ripping apart with historical detail our contemporary common sense we learn the tactics of how elite radicals claim power through difference. The significance of this history for the politics of now should not be underestimated and most certainly more widely known. Essential reading”
-Dr. Beverley Skeggs, Director of the Atlantic Fellows programme at the International Inequalities Institute of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and author of works including Class, Self, Culture (2004).
“Lagalisse deftly demonstrates the gendered qualities of anarchism and how these have been undertheorized. Trained as an anthropologist, she applies her astute ethnographic eye to a historical study of the Left, unearthing the development of classical anarchism and socialism within private brotherhoods defined by gendered exclusion, yet granted as the “public sphere” of politics. Her study of anarchism as a historical object in this current work well complements her previous ethnographic studies of the “public” and “private” taken for granted within today’s anarchist social movements, such as we find in her essay “Gossip as Direct Action” (2013). Fun and fascinating, playful and serious at once, Occult Features of Anarchism reveals further why and how the social worlds of the Left often carelessly reproduce and even further entrench mainstream forms of gendered power.”
— Dr. Sally Cole, Professor of Anthropology Emerita, Concordia University, and author and editor of works including Contesting Publics: Feminism, Activism, Ethnography (2013)