Simple Liberty  



Tyranny of One, Tyranny of All

Anarchy — An Abused Concept

Written by Darrell Anderson.

Straightforward etymology should convince most people of the true definition of anarchy. A straightforward definition of anarchy means “without rulers.” For example, monarchy is the “archy” or rule of one, oligarchy is the rule of a few, hierarchy is a layered rule; thus anarchy is the rule of none.

Unfortunately, politicians, the media people, and other interested parties have distorted the meaning of the word. The philosophy of anarchy is one of the more maligned and misunderstood philosophies. The definition of anarchy has been highly politicized.

Most people today carelessly use the word to mean bomb-throwing, unlimited boundaries, chaos, and disorder.

Anarchy merely means no rulers — nothing more and nothing less.

William Godwin often is credited as the founder of philosophical anarchism, with his book An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). He lived during the 18th and 19th centuries. He married Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792). They were the parents of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author of “Frankenstein.”

There were several philosophical anarchists during the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the more widely known names are Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Max Stirner, and Emma Goldman.

Some people think that anarchy basically resolves to extreme individualism. Extreme individualism would be more properly labeled as egoism — a philosophy popularized by Max Stirner. The philosophy of anarchy is interestingly split into several major branches: anarcho-individualism, anarcho-socialism, anarcho-capitalism, anarcho-mutualism, anarcho-communism, and anarcho-syndicalism. These terms should not be confused with politicized capitalism, politicized socialism, politicized communism, unionism, economic capitalism, philosophical socialism, philosophical communism, Marxism, or egoism. Although basic anarchy theory allows for extreme individualism, most rational anarchists accept and embrace that humans are social creatures that would have a difficult time surviving without one another.

All proponents of the various twists of anarchy contain their own perspectives for overall social order and justice, but there is one element of their theories embraced by all — rule by none. All social relations are based upon voluntary persuasion and cooperation, not force and coercion.

Much confusion arises because many people incorrectly believe that “rule by none” is synonymous with bomb-throwing, unlimited boundaries, chaos, and disorder. Yet, such a connection is incorrect. Anarchy does not mean “without rules.” Anarchists strongly support and embrace social order and justice. They merely reject the concept that any specific group of people can be appointed, elected, or trusted to provide social order and justice. Anarchists reject centralized political processes. All anarchists reject processes of political privilege and political systems are nothing but processes of such privilege. Anarchists reject any process whereby property titles are created through political privilege instead of true free association and voluntary exchange.

Anarchist theory can be reduced to a simple question: are humans generally benevolent or evil? If humans essentially are good then no centralized political process is necessary to regulate human action and no justification then exists for the philosophy of statism. If humans essentially are evil, then no human can be entrusted to provide protection and all centralized political systems are doomed to failure because of that corrupt nature. Anarchists therefore argue that whether good or evil the only rational route to follow is to allow free association and voluntary exchange.

Essentially that is what anarchist theory is all about: free association and voluntary exchange. Philosophical anarchists do not encourage violence, overthrow, or civil war, they merely want to be left alone to form their own relationships and communities. They reject the idea that other people possess standing to rule them. They are strong believers in self-government and self-regulation. Because they embrace social order and justice, they believe in some sort of process to ensure and provide that order and justice. They merely reject self-appointed nannies and political processes to provide those goals. Although philosophical anarchists reject initiating violence, most embrace the concept of self-defense.

Anarchists strongly believe in boundaries, especially property boundaries created through free association and voluntary exchange. Thus, all common trespasses, such as murder, theft, fraud, rape, etc., are condemned.

As might be surmised, anarchists of all natures are anti-war. The reason is not because anarchists are pacifists — most are not because they believe in the concept of self-defense, but because most if not all wars are political in nature and are nothing but thin veils for imperialism and economic exploitation.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the generalities, but this introduction fairly summarizes the concept of philosophical anarchy.

Several questions often arise even if people accept this basic introduction.

First, what about the so-called violent anarchists, particularly those of the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Second, without force and coercion and the threat of violence, how do people provide certain goods and services that are difficult to coordinate?

The first concept to understood is the meaning of anarchy. Based upon the previous introduction, one should notice that if violence is involved then the people promoting that violence probably are not philosophical anarchists. However, one must carefully examine every story. Humans are animals, and if pushed hard enough will recoil like an animal. Anarchists are no different and most believe in self-defense, even if that self-defense is violent. However, generally, anarchists prefer to vote with their feet and prefer to avoid conflict as much as possible. They merely want to be left alone to be self-governing and self-regulating. They detest self-appointed nannies and processes of privilege.

That desire to be left alone does not mean all immigrants into the United States were philosophical anarchists, but one should not be surprised if many of them were. During the great immigrations of the 19th century, many people were leaving oppressive political environments and moved to America. Although America began sliding the slippery slope during the War Among the States, arguably, America still was the best place to escape until World War I.

Within America, probably the two most widely known cases of violence with respect to the topic of anarchy are the Chicago Haymarket Riots and the Italians Sacco and Vanzetti.

Both events centered around labor movements.

The 1886 Haymarket Riots started after a bomb was thrown at demonstrations promoting an 8-hour work day. Some of the speakers that day were noted anarchists. Nobody ever discovered who threw the bomb, but the fact that some of the speakers were anarchists meant that the political elite automatically blamed the bombing as an anarchist event. Several policemen died from the bomb.

There was no evidence against the eight men who were convicted of the bombing. Their only feature was they were acknowledged anarchists. The trial was strictly political. Politicians could not afford anarchist theory to become popular and the newly found group of industrial capitalists did not want to deal with labor unions and 8-hour work days.

Sacco and Vanzetti were involved with the local labor movements in their area, but they had no criminal records prior to the trials. Both men were known political agitators and anarchists. The Sacco and Vanzetti trials were highly politicized and to this day, many people reject that either man was guilty of the bank robberies and murders in which they were charged. Bear in mind that the trials were held shortly after World War I and the 1919–1920 “Red Scare.”

Anarchists who defend unionism and labor movements often are called anarcho-syndicalists. Their basic complaint is the inability to act through free association and voluntary exchange. The problem is politics and the legal fiction of corporatism. Modern corporatism is a political mechanism of privilege and status.

The primary purpose of incorporating is to avoid legal responsibilities and to create a legal fiction through which people can create a veil of protection and political privilege. Philosophical anarchists believe and embrace free association and voluntary exchange and political corporatism blocks those avenues. Nobody likes going to “work for the man,” and anarchists are no different. However, when the entire market is politicized — and thereafter highly regulated and controlled, most people have no choice but to work for the man. In other words, because of political corporatism, many people are forced to become a wage-slave instead of being able to be a proprietor or artisan. The little guy rarely can compete with large corporations and those corporations are protected by politicians. There are many complicated parallel and tangent issues involved, but that is the basic picture about anarcho-syndicalism. They are people who are fighting to keep the family farm, small shops, etc.

Unfortunately for the name of philosophical anarchy, often anarcho-syndicalists resort to violence as a means of achieving their goals. However, once anarchists migrate into using the realm of politics and violence to achieve social and political change, they no longer are philosophical anarchists but statists and terrorists. Anarchists do not believe in force and coercion, but free association and voluntary exchange. This simple distinction is important. The moment violence and politics is involved then stop using the term anarchist and find a more appropriate term to describe the individual involved.

Exercising violence as a mechanism of self-defense is one thing, but when violence is used to coercively convince other people of certain human action, then people have crossed the line of philosophical anarchy and are acting like statists and terrorists.

Unionism and syndicalism were natural outgrowths of the politicization of business and free trade. Although voluntarily forming a union falls under the large umbrella of free association and voluntary exchange, the true solution is not unionism but removing politics from business and trade. That root cause solution has not yet been realized and instead people continue to patch symptoms and pick at the scabs rather than treat the disease — politics and statism.

Politicians become the snakes they are because that is their nature. To justify their existence they need to exercise fear, uncertainty, and doubt to keep people scared. The politically elite will pursue any event that will further the illusions that keep the masses blind and ignorant. Anarchists realize that social order and justice are not the same thing as statism and politics. Philosophical anarchists typically are well read people, intelligent, and peaceful. They are people who refuse to be fooled by the monkey business known as politics and statism. Anarchists realize that what politicians masquerade as justice is not justice at all.

What can be seen throughout history is if a majority of people are kept ignorant, they often will be unable to render intelligent decisions. The Haymarket and Sacco-Vanzetti trials were highly politicized and the ignorant masses were easily encouraged to support political agendas rather than seek true justice. Ignorance to such a wide effect is called “herd mentality.”

Pay attention to how the politicians and media people talk whenever politics and violence overlap. Often they refer to such violence as anarchy, when rightfully, they should be referring only to violence and conflict. Unfortunately, the ignorant masses who have been dumbed down for decades, accept this incorrect reference to anarchy. Thus, today, anarchy is a despised word by many people. However, the politicians, bureaucrats, media people, and the politically elite desperately need such illusions in order to control people. If people became more knowledgeable they would realize the politicians are unnecessary. Just like that, the politically privileged would be out of a job and would have to find honest work instead of depending upon the illusion of coerced wealth redistribution. That observation summarizes why the word anarchy must be highly politicized and discredited.

Based upon all of this, one should realize that every human is an anarchist to one degree or another. Many people travel without using seat belts, for example. Many people look for ways to avoid the status quo and the numerous nonsensical statutes. The only difference is each person must decide individually the risks versus the perceived benefits of various actions.

The other common question is how to provide certain goods and services that are difficult to coordinate. There is a wonderful adage that if you get people to ask the wrong question you don’t have to worry about providing the correct answers. The question about coordinating common goods and services is not a political question but an economic and social question — a question of coordination.

The right to freely associate necessarily implies a right not to associate. Whenever the right not to associate is exercised, there will be coordination challenges. Try to imagine, for example, if you were forced to marry an individual that you did not want to marry. That person faces a coordination problem in finding a spouse, but your right not to associate necessarily negates that desire for that individual. Nobody would support the idea that anyone may be forced into marriage, but strangely, many people argue that other activities can and must be forced upon people. Anarchists reject that foundation. Just as there is no such thing as being partially pregnant, anarchists argue that there is no such thing as partially free association.

If one understands basic philosophical anarchist theory, then one realizes that anarchists embrace social order and justice, but most importantly, free association and voluntary exchange. Political process are all about coerced association and involuntary exchange.

Of course, the most common way of providing those commonly used goods and services is through taxation. Taxation, simply put, is a coerced levy or taking of property.

However, by phrasing the ancient challenge of large-scale economic and social coordination as a political question instead of an economic and social question, the ignorant masses are educated and convinced that forced takings and theft under the color of law is not only acceptable, but to be promoted. So much so that many people have no qualms about jailing or shooting other people if they refuse to pay “their fair share.” Anarchists reject such thinking.

Many thinkers and authors have addressed the issue of providing for commonly used goods and services, although generally, the politically elite are rather proficient at quashing such discussions. Although there might exist coordination problems with providing some of those goods and services, the better question to ask is whether facing coordination challenges is such a bad thing as opposed to coerced takings of the fruits of labor. Anarchists say no, they would rather live with coordination problems than live with the nonsense of being forcibly deprived of their property and products of their labor. Would you rather marry by your free will or through force and coercion? The argument is the same.

Thus, for philosophical anarchists, the question is not one of obedience, but one of sanity. Which social system best promotes social order and best reduces conflict and violence? Anarchists believe a social system of free association and voluntary exchange provides the better solution. No philosophical anarchist believes that there is such a thing as a perfect social or legal system, they merely believe that free association and voluntary exchange provides fewer problems. What also should be seen to those who do not buy the lies of politicians, is that anarchists are not violent people. The politicians and bureaucrats are the violent people. They are the ones who operate under the illusion of the color of law and coercively take from the labor of other people.

Someone once wrote that there are only two political theories that are perfectly consistent: anarchy and totalitarianism. The former embraces free association and voluntary exchange and believes that each individual is the sole owner of his or her self. Totalitarianism rejects those beliefs. In between the two theories is the hodge-podge of convoluted political theories and compromises.


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