I have thought for a very long time that anarchy has been unjustifiably derided.
It is used as a pejorative too easily, synonymous with chaos.
A ‘descent into anarchy’ seems so akin to a descent into Hell, doesn’t it? It must be evil.
Yet at its heart, anarchy is love.
Anarchy is, after all, an absence of hierarchy and an acknowledgement of mutuality of power.
It is a rejection of exploitation by one of another.
For anarchy to thrive we must each see one another as equals, as deserving of our needs and of peace.
Anarchy requires that every individual is able to consider their own needs and the needs of everyone else and choose that course of action that respects all needs.
Who could argue with that?
Here’s the but…
But perhaps anarchy merely has the potential of love, and is truly more likely to result in violence.
‘Anarchy as love’ falls down whenever an individual is incapable of or simply chooses not to respect the needs of others and reverts to violence to claim for themselves disproportionate and selfish use of one thing or another. Such expropriation is exploitative and anti-anarchist.
Anarchism also, then, provides that each individual is entitled to exercise their own violence to prevent such expropriation.
It also provides that to claim an anarchist future (some say reclaim, but I’m not convinced anarchy ever truly existed) it is appropriate to use violent means to overthrow capitalist patriarchy (I’m not sure if that’s a tautology but will take my chances).
If, for anarchists, might does not necessarily make right, nor is it necessarily wrong.
I’m a pacifist (though one prone to fits of anger from time to time which manifest as some swearing and shouting which I always regret. Also an extremely problematic attitude to what should be done about things like genocide).
So, for me, violent overthrow of patriarchy isn’t an option.
And I’ll always be prone, won’t I, to anyone who wants to gratify themselves violently or is prepared to take my stuff by force. And I’m a 180cm bloke in full command of my muscles. I’m sure you don’t need to imagine the circumstances of someone with different physical attributes similarly disinclined to violence. Or simply incapable of it.
Who do I licence to protect me (and is such a licence even OK)?
I’d rather I wasn’t assaulted or my stuff nicked, so maybe I need to be protected. As soon as I admit to this need I empower the person whose role it is to provide my protection. I am indebted to them, and must pay a price.
So long as that person doesn’t exploit their relative power to my detriment, perhaps anarchy can persist (although leaving us with the problematic position of the pacifist apparently licencing violence by another).
Far more likely, though, is that violence between those agents will progressively escalate and formalise. That’s what history shows us, anyway, and perhaps it’s OK to take past behaviour as indicative of future behaviour in this regard.
If we’re going to have people who are authorised to exercise violence on behalf of those who don’t want to or can’t then they ought to be constrained from doing so arbitrarily and to their own advantage in an exploitative way. There ought to be rules we agree to apply to those who accept the responsibility to exercise violence on our behalf.
In short, out propensity to violence means that we need a state in recognition of the fact that we simply do not all share equal capacity for violence, even if we all had the will, and the controlling minds of that state must be accountable for their decisions.
That’s not anarchy.
So is there a place for anarchist thought in a statist society?
I do believe, though, that we should be considering public policy from, in part, an anarchist perspective.
My expectation, my demand, is that the entity to which I contract my right to violence does not abuse that contract by exercising violence to entrench or deepen exploitation and disadvantage.
Our society is improved every time we find a way to peacefully and kindly resolve differences using our individual agency. Talking to our neighbour about their noise and agreeing to a compromise on how it may be reduced is superior to calling their landlord or the police. It is more respectful and loving. Collectively and voluntarily providing a safe space to meet the needs of children is superior to locking them up.
The state isn’t going anywhere in a hurry, if at all. But its controlling minds can, in considering how to respond to any particular public policy question, look to how they can best empower individuals and communities to agree to solutions rather than impose measures upon them.
Public servants already, in proposing particular policies or programs, report on the consequences of their proposal by way of ‘impact’ reports. They consider, for example, the impact on families, on small business.
I say let’s have ‘Anarchy Impact Statements’, where a proponent must reflect on how a particular proposal either dismantles or entrenches hierarchies that rely on violence to sustain exploitative relationships. In particular, proponents should be required to defend measures that defends or advances exploitation that relies on recourse to the ‘lawful’ violence of the state without which those who suffer from such exploitation would resist it.
If the state is going to continue to be used to protect expropriation and entrenched disadvantage, its controlling minds ought to be required to at least acknowledge that they are doing so every time they act.