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Tyranny of One, Tyranny of All

Anarchists and Politics

Written by Darrell Anderson.

Can anarchists participate in political systems and not compromise their beliefs? After all, anarchy is an apolitical system, a social system of no rulers. However, anarchy does not mean no societal government or rules. Anarchy does have boundaries. Anarchists believe in law and order. Anarchy is a system of self-government, but does that foundation preclude involvement in political processes?

If an individual is an anarchist and a statist uses force and coercion to violate and trespass against other people, does that individual provide the statist legitimacy when participating in such efforts? Can an anarchist deny the bad parts of politics yet still participate in the process?

By simple definition, politics would be the effort of using persuasion and cooperation to invoke change. From that perspective, politics provides no conflicts to anarchists because anarchists also believe in persuasion and cooperation and not force and coercion.

However, by nature statists use force and coercion. As practiced, politics is power. The challenge is that political processes might start with persuasion and cooperation, but always ends in violence or the threat of violence. Any act whereby an individual is involuntarily deprived of property is trespass and is an act of violence.

Anarchists believe they cannot violate the principle of not trespassing. A primary criterion is not initiating aggression. Some anarchists believe that violence can be used but only in self-defense. However, for those anarchists who believe in self-defense, most believe that the act of self-defense is limited in nature. Stopping a pick-pocket does not mean killing the offender, but merely stopping the act.

However, what about self-defense within the political arena? Suppose a ballot measure is presented to support a bond to add a new wing to the local statist school building. To float the bond all land titles will be pledged as security and collateral. Title holders will be compelled to pay for the bond through increased taxes. If not providing explicit consent then certainly such an act is an act of violence because the threat is foreclosure.

Should an anarchist participate in voting in the hopes of defeating the theft? Such a pure act is certainly an act of self-defense. Indeed, the 19th century American anarchist Lysander Spooner noted that most people participate in voting only as an act of self-defense. I cannot answer this question for other people, but for myself I have chosen to not participate. I see participation as an overall act that legitimizes the entire process. Even if I vote against such theft, in the eyes of the statists I have legitimized the voting process and will be expected to accept the results. Yes, one way or the other I personally suffer from extortion, but if another anarchist chose to participate in the vote on that one particular issue and no others, I certainly would understand if the other anarchist explained the act as one of self-defense. The issue is difficult for many people because as Spooner noted, voting is merely trading bullets for ballots; the form of the violence changes, but violence still occurs. In the end, force and coercion are still used. Yet, the right to self-defense still exists.

Many anarchists want to change the world, or at least, change how many people think and perceive the world. Some anarchists believe in pure isolation, pure non-participation. Yet, because anarchists believe in the principle of not trespassing and believe in persuasion and cooperation instead of force and coercion, there is plenty of room for both approaches. Neither type of anarchist has any intention of interfering with the peaceable coexistence of other people.

For the anarchist who desires to see change, such people must somehow find ways to involve themselves in the world. Because the only avenue available is persuasion and cooperation, such efforts must be educational in nature.

Thus, one guideline for any anarchist would seem to be that if an individual chose to participate in the political process — only from a perspective of persuasion and cooperation — then there can be no seeking of political power. Political power is the willingness to use force and coercion for both self-defense and initiating aggression. Once a fight breaks out, distinguishing between self-defense and initiating aggression is impossible. Anarchists must reject all opportunities to use political power.

Suppose an anarchist chooses to run for office in the local town council. Would such an act contradict the foundations of anarchy? Perhaps not necessarily. That individual could be instrumental in teaching other council members the true meaning of not trespassing. For example, should the council members contemplate an act of eminent domain, the anarchist certainly has plenty of opportunity to educate other council members that eminent domain is theft. Furthermore, the anarchist could begin a public education campaign in the neighborhood enlightening “voters” likewise. In the end, the anarchist might lose that struggle, but nobody can accuse the anarchist of violating his or her beliefs.

Suppose too that an anarchist decides to support a rare legislative proposal that actually strives to promote liberty and freedom, unlike the majority of legislation that actually promotes privilege and legalized plunder. Would the anarchist be violating preciously held principles by writing to a legislator to encourage enacting such legislation? Perhaps not. The anarchist is not seeking political power and is seeking the benefit of all people, not just a privileged few.

Suppose an anarchist decides to “obey” a jury summons. If the action turns out to be a statist star chamber enforcing fiat statutory victimless crimes, the anarchist could refuse to convict and hang the jury to spoil the statists’ game. Be mindful that such an anarchist must play smart — first to get through voir dire (jury stacking) and second, to skillfully handle the remainder of the jury during deliberation. Playing smart means not openly arguing jury nullification, but discovering arguments to skillfully create reasonable doubt. With enough skill perhaps an anarchist might convince the entire jury to acquit. This is not to say the anarchist always opposes the process in all court actions — true crimes require justice. However, the majority of statist complaints, petitions, and indictments are fiat statutory victimless crimes; and in those actions whereby true trespass was committed, most often victims receive no restitution, thereby negating any credence such actions might possess.

The main challenge for many anarchists is they often do not see both the trees and the forest. Many anarchists want to see a world filled with more liberty than witnessed today, but have little idea how to get there. Certainly they can take control of their personal lives and provide daily examples of not initiating trespass, but participating in the political process is not always contradictory.

Do not seek political power. Do not trespass. With those two guidelines, an anarchist might be able to still participate.

There is one more element that might be helpful. Don’t become an emotional prisoner. Passion is a part of human existence, but often emotions tend to entrap. If an anarchist decides to participate in the political process, but allows his or her emotions to run wild, then more than likely that individual is no longer seeking methods of persuasion and cooperation but force and coercion. After all, why would an individual become frustrated unless that individual was seeking political power?

Be careful out there.

Finis.

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