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Mural of poet Hakim Bey

Hakim Bey: Between Ontological Anarchism and Mystical Revelry


Poet, philosopher and social theoretician, Bey is a radical prophet of our times that paradoxically distills our society’s history and future.

Hakim Bey was born into this world as Peter Lamborn Wilson in 1945. We know little of his early years, except that from a very tender age he travelled the world over and became soaked in Middle Eastern philosophy, especially that imparted by Turkish and Arabic mystics and poets of classical ages, whom he translated into English. As a matter of fact, Hakim Bey means “The Master Judge” in Turkish, and some will go as far as to associate the sound of his name with “hacker”, since Bey is unanimously considered to be the “spiritual father” of the movement.

Summing up his work would be a brutal endeavor; locking him up and limiting him to single category, impossible. He is not just a poet, essayist, lecturer, political philosopher, historian (due to the lack of sources on the subject, he wrote the history of the pirate economy of the 17th century, which later inspired his concept of “temporal autonomous zones”), and a poetic terrorist, although he defines himself under the all-encompassing title of “ontological anarchist”.

His anti-philosophy is based on the re-reading of classics of dissident thought, such as Fourier, Stirner and Nietzsche, from whom he rescues the guild of marginality, the need to group and organize those who were put aside by the State and hegemonic thought, but unlike Marxists or Communists, Bey does not advocate for a new type of national State, but for a “natural law” expressed through guild-like forms of coexistence and participation that make the political representation of the National democratic states inoperative. His work, undoubtedly, rescues the notion that the horizontal organization of small self-regulated groups will eventually produce on its own, a notion of an order that, none the less, no-one can notice, from classic anarchists such Feyerabend and Prudhon. Bey advocates for not abolishing chaos — for it is the natural state of the Universe — instead, he is for living in the crevices, the cracks and the grey areas of chaos; using chaos as a driving force capable of changing society.

Said chaos is not expressed in radical forms against political chaos (recognizing it in this manner, and reinforcing it, as in traditional terrorism, shall we say, as that of 9/11 or suicide attacks in public areas), but to radicalize the order of the feelings and companionship:

If I were to kiss you here they’d call it an act of terrorism—so let’s take our pistols to bed and wake up the city at midnight like drunken bandits celebrating with a fusillade, the message of the taste of chaos.

But, are we to trust a poet’s economic theories? What sets him apart, for example, from the situationists, of the vanguardists, and of the Pleiades of commentators of the economic movements and social engineers, some as harmful as to advocate in favor of Eugenics and other forms of fascism that would make the Third Reich pale with shame? Hakim Bey is interesting because he does not ask the reader for a full “conversion”, he doesn’t even ask for considerable trust: he simply asks that they pay attention to the order of the immediate and surrounding reality. Everything Bey expresses in his theories departs not from a utopian “ideal state” which society would reach sooner or later —as utopian communism— but in the revaluation of past and present efforts to find new ways of organisation —which are already among us.

If Bey was a prophet, we would have to say he is a prophet of our present times: his cause is the inoculation against what he calls the “Religion of Information”, a new form of control of technocracy through the net. While it is true that “information wants to be free”, it is imperative to question the manner in which the owners of information set it free. The crack is for those rebels that can live on the margin, not solely in the margins of political exchange, but also, those that can deprogram and reprogram themselves from a culture of consumers and audiences to one of generators and participants. As he asserts:

Once the image of Heaven on Earth, the state now consists of no more than the management of images. It is no longer a “force” but a disembodied patterning of information. But just as Babylonian cosmology justified Babylonian power, so too does the “finality” of modern science serve the ends of the Terminal State, the post-nuclear state, the “information state”.

Constructing temporal autonomous zones (such as the pirate islands on the imperialist economic map of the sixteenth and seventeenth century), could encourage potlatch as a ludic exchange, building an idea of history as palimpsest instead of a line (meaning, as confluent presents in the same instant —this instant—instead of giving the idea of recurrent actions, eternal returns or coincidences) are a series of mental deprogramming operations that have consequences in the world of relations. Hakim Bey is hence, unquestionably, one of the most necessary thinkers in order to understand and resist the first attacks of the twenty-first century.

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