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Commentary on Reclus

The Research on Anarchism site on Reclus

"Elisée Reclus, The Anarchist", letter to the London Daily News reprinted in the New York Times, March 4, 1883

The Dialectical Social Geography of Elisée Reclus, by John Clark

Comment on Reclus and Social Ecology by John Clark

Clark, John P. [Review] Marie Fleming, The Geography of Freedom: The Odyssey of Élisée Reclus.

Yves Lacoste, "Alle origini della geografia sociale"

Letter to Elisée Reclus, Feb. 15, 1875.

Béatrice Giblin, Storia di un uomo

Martin Zemliak Reclus, gli anarchici e i marxisti

Béatrice Giblin Un ecologo ante litteram

Brief summary

Elisée is considered to be a classic anarchist. He was friends with Kropotkin, and together, they worked on popularizing a version of anarchist communism. However, today Reclus is most noted for his use of geography as a scientific basis for anarchy. He is known to have said: "Yes, I am a geographer, but above all I am an anarchist." Indeed, anarchy was a way of life for him, whereas geography was what he devoted his time to doing.

"Reclus was involved in the experience of the Paris Commune." According to Peter Marshall, it was this experience that turned him into "a militant anarchist" (Marshall).

Reclus was of the opinion that geography was the "study of people's changing relationships with each other and with their environment." Reclus was able to come to the conclusion that there are natural settings for people. He thought that the State ignored these boundaries, while favoring the artificial ones of the State.

Reclus focussed on the idea of progress. "He believed that evolution and revolution both take place in history, and that Darwin's theory confirms the eventual success of the revolutionary cause." (Marshall, p. 340.) He believed that biologically and socially, people were more likely to to progress from the simple to the complex. Mutual aid was a central factor in this process. Reclus held that there existed three main laws that determined the process of human progress: "the class strugle; the search for equilibrium and the 'sovereign decision of the individual'." (Marshall p. 340.)

Reclus was against "the role of race in historical development." (Ibid.) His opinon was that all races were "fundamentally equal." (Marshall, p.341.) The differences were only a result of the different environment they lived in. "He further championed the fusion of the races and welcomed the social and cultural 'Europeanization' of other countries to create an interrelated world." (Marshall, p. 341.)

Reclus ought to be admired for his championning of the liberation of women, and the equality of the sexes. He "called on complete co-education" (Marshall, p. 341.) He believed that women and men should form "free unions amd create a family based on affection." (Ibid.)

Reclus conception of anarchy is based on: natural law. He firmly believed that obeying the laws of nature, rather than man-made laws, was an important step towards complete liberation.

Reclus is also known as one of the forerunners of 'social ecology'. He maintained that by closely observing other species, one would acquire more "depth on the science of life." (Marshall, p. 342.) Although Reclus was very sensible and sensitive to the animal kingdom, he was not against the use of violence to overthrow an oppressive force. "If I see a cat that is tortured, a child that is beaten, a woman who is mistreated, and if I am strong enough to prevent it, I prevent it." (Quoted in Fleming, The ANARCHIST WAY TO SOCIALISM, pp. 180.)

Like Kropotkin, Reclus stressed the importance of the gradual and evolutionary side to social change. Marshall explains this in his own terms: " Evolution is the natural order and habitual course of events and revolution occurs only when the old stuctures become too limited and insufficient for an organism." (Marshall, pp. 344.)

Work Cited: Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible. Fontana Press, 1993.


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