Launching ‘Lawyers for Anarchism’, Or, Why I’m Not an Anarchist Part 2

Launching ‘Lawyers for Anarchism’, Or, Why I’m Not an Anarchist Part 2

So, spoilers, I’m not really launching ‘Lawyers for Anarchism’.

Late last year I wrote about how my pacifism means I can’t totally subscribe to anarchism.

To recapitulate –

Anarchism includes the right to exercise autonomous violence.

My desire to live a life of non-violence in a violent world requires me to (at least) implicitly licence others to exercise violence in my defence if necessary to protect me from other people’s violence.

This means I have to give up certain things (principally some money and some freedom) so that the state – which is the manifestation of a collective interest in arming some of our citizens to protect us from other citizens who are disposed towards violence – can exist.

All of which leads to a system of laws to govern the terms under which resort to violence by some is permitted by those of us granting the licence.

Now we’ve found law(ful violence), what are we going to do with it?

Violence exercised on our collective behalf should be for a lawful purpose.

We must have a system in place that monitors the violent practices of those holding the licence (namely, in civil society, the paramilitary wing of the state called ‘police’).

I wouldn’t be a police officer for so many reasons, chiefly because I abhor violence but also because there are a number of laws I don’t agree with and which I wouldn’t want to be duty-bound to enforce with violence if necessary.

Those in the state’s paramilitary accept that duty, and I’m thankful for their protection.

But police must be held to account for occasions on which it is alleged their exercise of violence exceeds the lawful purposes for which the licence is granted.

In short, our remaining freedoms include the freedom from fear of arbitrary (unlawful) violence and the freedom to apply the law equally to those licenced to enforce it.

A large part of why I became a lawyer is a desire to protect people from unnecessary application of laws, from excessive punishment under the law, and from arbitrary exercise of otherwise lawful power.

And having become a lawyer, not just a subject of the law but an officer of the court, is another part of the reason I’m not an anarchist.

Anarchism, rules and freedom from state intervention

It’s pretty hard to uphold your duties as an officer of the court – the judicial arm of the state – while arguing that people should create for themselves the conditions of how they relate to one another free from the constraints of laws created by a state and enforced by that state.

There’s a limit to how far advocating those kinds of state-free relationships can go, particularly if anarchists want to form relationships or engage in conduct that actively undermines the state.

But at essence, concepts such as ‘alternative dispute resolution’ are inherently anarchic.

They promote resolving disputes without recourse to the coercive power of the state as applied by its judiciary and executed by its paramilitary, remembering that this coercive power is at best securing compliance through apprehension of lawful violence.

It is a resolution between people according to rules those people agree upon.

The further those rules are from relying on the state for legitimacy, the more anarchic they are.

Of course, to the extent that such agreements comprise demonstrations of asymmetrical power applied to the benefit of one party and the exploitation of another they’re probably not as anarchic as those which are founded on equity, if not parity, in power relations.

That is, it’s pretty hard to have a capitalist anarchism. Some might say impossible.

The core principle, though, that humans can between themselves without intervention of or reliance on the state agree on the basis of their relationship and how to resolve disputes, is at the heart of moving beyond litigation.

And it turns out that, just as tax accountants are the best at figuring out how the wealthy can ‘minimise’ their taxes, lawyers can be pretty good at helping people crystallise the rules they want to agree to be bound by and resolve disputes free from the threat of state intervention.

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