In The New Yorker , Kelefa Sanneh analyzes the paradoxes of the anarchism promoted by David Graeber, the eminence grise of the Occupy movement.

According to Sanneh, “Graeber refers to march planners and other organizers as ‘verticals,’ and to him this is an insult: it refers not just to defenders of Kim Jong-un but to anyone who thinks a political uprising needs parties or leaders. He is a ‘horizontal,’ . . . . as he listened to speeches in Bowling Green, he realized that many of the people there seemed to be horizontals, too. Working with some like-minded activists, on the opposite side of the park, Graeber helped to convene a general assembly—an open-ended meeting, with no agenda and a commitment to consensus. Adbusters , a Canadian magazine, had called for an occupation of Wall Street on September 17th, which was six weeks away; that afternoon, in Bowling Green, a few dozen horizontals decided to see what they could do to respond.”

The result was predictable: “When the day came, Graeber and his allies had to fend off two different enemies: the people who wanted to stop the occupation and the people who wanted to organize it. Occupy Wall Street succeeded, and survived, in its original location—Zuccotti Park, halfway between Wall Street and the World Trade Center site—for nearly two months, much longer than anyone predicted. It inspired similar occupations around the country, creating a model for radical politics in the Obama era. And it became known, more than anything, for its commitment to horizontalism: no parties, no leaders, no demands.”

And the other result was equally predictable: “Inevitably, this triumph of horizontalism increased the prominence of a handful of horizontals, none more than Graeber, who has emerged as perhaps the most influential radical political thinker of the moment.”

Pity the anarchist.

More on: Politics

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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