In Defense of Anarchy
Up until very recently, I had no use for the concept of Anarchy. Now I embrace it (or at least one version of it). Let me tell you what changed.
I used to think that Anarchy was untenable for two reasons:
- The state protects us from violence, and
- The state is inevitable.
I still believe both of these premises. If you don’t, that is a discussion for another time. But these are both what are called “minor premises” (i.e., statements of particular fact) in the syllogism which goes:
- All things which are inevitable and necessary should be supported.
- The state is both inevitable and necessary (because it protects us from violence).
- Therefore, the state should be supported.
So yes, I reject the “major premise” (i.e., the universal principle) that just because something is inevitable and necessary that it should be supported. The key to rejecting this is the term “support”. What does it mean?
To a large extent, states exist because people hold allegiance toward them. That is, people accept a moral responsibility to maintaining the state. The authors of the book Sovereign Individual put it like this:
Long before a battle begins, predominant organizations must convince individuals that upholding certain duties to the lord, or the nation-state, are more important than life itself.
They argued they argued that Democracy is successful because it creates an immediate sense of loyalty between each individual and the nation state. Compare this to a Feudal system, where individuals owe loyalty to a feudal lord, who owes loyalty to an even higher lord, etc. until you get to some highest sovereign king.
Most people these days probably aren’t willing to die for their country. But they do feel some level of identification with, and moral obligation to, the state where they live.
I believe Anarchy starts with the rejection of this moral obligation. First, you treat the state like a stranger. And guess what? The state already treats you like a stranger. The state is not your friend, nor is it your family. It doesn’t care about you because it is incapable of caring. Realizing this is the first step toward Anarchy.
In fact, let me go back to my two minor premises. One of the reasons why it is safe to reject the state is because the state is inevitable. Rejecting the state as an individual is not going to cause global chaos. The state will go on without you. It is like a law of nature. The state depends on the allegiance of many people, but it does not depend on you personally.
You might object to this way of thinking. If everyone thought this way, wouldn’t the system collapse? Yes, it probably would. But let’s be realistic here. Neither I, nor anyone else, is going to convert the whole world to Anarchy. So it doesn’t even really matter what the consequences of such a collapse would be. Would it lead to a libertarian utopia? Global war and chaos? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. The state is inevitable.
In saying this I am implicitly breaking not only from the state but from much of humanity. I believe that worshipping the state is dehumanizing. I also believe that most people will continue to worship the state. In accepting that the state is inevitable I am breaking from the tribe of humanity. I can’t save everyone, nor will I try.
One of my favorite philosophers, Murray Bookchin, might lump me in with a group he derided as “lifestyle anarchists”. In his view, there was a basic division between individualistic lifestyle anarchists who only sought individual liberty and “social anarchists” who wanted to engage in a social struggle.
But really, I am neither. I do not want to struggle against the state, but I also believe that humans are social animals. We need a tribe. So if any Bookchin fans are reading this, let me point out the following quote of his:
Our purpose should be to make individual life a more rounded experience, and this we can hope to accomplish…only by restoring the complexity of man’s environment and by reducing the community to a human scale.
It is not that we shouldn’t owe allegiance to anyone or anything. I am not an individualist. I simply want to limit the scope of my moral allegiance to things that exist at human scale. And in struggling against the state, Bookchin was engaging in a superhuman activity (i.e., activity that expands the relevant community beyond the human scale).
But what does human scale even mean? In social terms, it basically means sub-Dunbar. That is, we should limit our loyalty to groups under about 150 people. Thus, I would introduce a third category somewhere in between lifestyle anarchy and social anarchy: communal anarchy.
So what does communal anarchy look like? It is a balanced philosophy with both negative and positive elements:
- Rejecting moral allegiance to the state (and every other super-Dunbar organization),
- Reducing dependence on the state,
- Cultivating loyalty to a small community,
- Cultivating dependency within the community.
That is, both morally and physically, we reject the state and replace it’s hold over our minds and bodies with something more local. This is not easy. Currently the state taxes us and then provides us with numerous goods, both public and private (e.g., education, health care, employment security, retirement, law and order, dispute resolution). Accepting this deal crowds out the need for (and thus the opportunity for) communal interdependence.
Of course, the state is not the only thing interfering with communal development. The market does that too. Whenever we buy goods and services produced outside our local community, we diminish the possibility of communal interdependence.
Thus, communal anarchists are wary of both the state and the market. But they need not completely reject either one. Like the state, the market is an inevitability. We do not want to tear it down (or completely sever our relation to it). We just do not trust it, and we do not want to be overly dependent on it.
The existence of a healthy community does not require that we reject all benefits of state and market. Humans need social interaction, and as long as there is a substantial level of interdependence a healthy community can emerge. But a world dominated by nation states and markets tends to interfere with communal level in such an unfettered and absolute way that most of us live without belonging to any healthy, complex (i.e., multifaceted) sub-Dunbar community.
So, to conclude, here are a few concrete things that can be done to cultivate strong communities in the communal anarchist sense:
- Live in a location that does not have too much government interference
- Avoid getting involved with state and national politics
- If possible, do not become an enemy of the state
- Be ready to move if political conditions change
- Live close to family and friends
- Work with family and friends
- Become financially independent (by living modestly)
- Buy goods and services from people you know
- Use decentralized and open source technology
- Use technology that preserves your privacy
- Educate your own children
- Take care of your own parents
- Resolve disputes locally
- Talk about spiritual and philosophical things with your neighbors regularly
Some of these things are beyond reach for many people. I don’t do all of them. But I am working toward it.