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Jorge Luis Borges: Argentina’s Misunderstood Anarchist

By: Adam Dubove - @dubdam - Sep 1, 2014, 1:21 pm
Jorge Luis Borges en 1951.
Jorge Luis Borges in 1951. (Ministry of Eucation of Argentina)

I think that in time we will deserve to not have government.
~ J.L. Borges

EspañolAugust 24 was the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). Let me take the opportunity to explore his political thought, so distinct in his native Argentina.

Borges was a true citizen of the world, a cosmopolitan, and a unique figure in the world of literature.

Capable with the pen, he created alternative realities and memorable characters. His unique political philosophy, however, set him apart from other artists of his era.

Borges defined himself as a Spencerian anarchist, one who does not believe in the state but in the individual. Both in his work, and in the interviews he gave, his thinking became apparent — a fact that sparked a reaction of those in power. There is now widespread belief that these views deprived him of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

As an enemy of the state and collectivist movements and a fierce opponent of wars and borders, his views were largely lost on the people of his homeland. Between 1938 and 1946, for example, he worked at the Miguel Cané Municipal Library in Buenos Aires. After he criticized then-President Juan Domingo Perón in Montevideo, however, he received the dubious honor of being “promoted” to Inspector of Fairs of Chickens, Hens, and Rabbits, at the traditional Abasto Market on Corrientes Avenue.

“The masses are an abstract entity and perhaps nonexistent. To assume the existence of the mass is like assuming that every person whose name begins with the letter ‘b’ forms a society,” Borges explained, as documented by Argentinean economist Martin Krause.

Borges proceeded on, and stated his political ideas with the same aesthetics and poetry of his short stories: “Unfortunately for men, the planet has been parceled into countries, each provided with loyalties, fond memories, a particular mythology, rights, grievance, borders, flags, shields, and maps. As long as this arbitrary condition of things lasts, wars will be inevitable.”

He remained hopeful, and in Utopia of a Tired Man, Borges predicted the end of governments:

What happened to the governments? According to tradition, they were gradually falling into disuse. They called elections, declared wars, imposed tariffs, confiscated fortunes, ordered arrests, and tried to impose censorship, but no one on the planet abided. The press stopped publishing their collaborations and their effigies. Politicians had to find honest occupations.

Although the libertarian ideas that Borges conveyed date back to the 19th century, he was a man ahead of his time. In particular, he managed to avoid the anti-values ​​that dominated the century in which he lived: genocides, wars, dictatorships, authoritarianism, and other expressions of domination from the political class.

Translated by Rebeca Morla.

Adam Dubove Adam Dubove

Adam Dubove is a journalist, co-host of The Titanic's Violinists radio show, and the secretary of the Amagi Institute. Follow him on Twitter: @dubdam, and read his blog: Diario de un Drapetómano.