In the first diary I talked about my radicalization and how I came to identify as an anarchist.(Go read that diary now if you haven't.) In this diary I am going to talk more about what anarchism is and what my anarchism looks like. This will be a less personal diary and focus more on the history, philosophy and practice of anarchism. I apologize for how long it took me to get to this second diary, but I've been overloaded at work (Yes! Anarchists have jobs.)
I want to start this diary in a different way than I did the last, with a quote from and a link to what I consider to be one of the best philosophical essays on Anarchism. On Violence by Robert Paul Wolff.
On the basis of a lengthy reflection upon the concept of de jure legitimate authority, I have come to the conclusion that philosophical anarchism is true. That is to say, I believe that there is not, and there could not be, a state that has a right to command and whose subjects have a binding obligation to obey. I have defended this view in detail elsewhere, and I can only indicate here the grounds of my conviction. Briefly, I think it can be shown that every man has a fundamental duty to be autonomous, in Kant's sense of the term. Each of us must make himself the author of his actions and take responsibility for them by refusing to act save on the basis of reasons he can see for himself to be good. Autonomy, thus understood, is in direct opposition to obedience, which is submission to the will of another, irrespective of reasons. Following Kant's usage, political obedience is heteronymy of the will.Minus the gendered language what I find to be the most compelling ethical argument for anarchism is this: "Each of us must make himself the author of his actions and take responsibility for them by refusing to act save on the basis of reasons he can see for himself to be good." What this says to me is that "I was just following orders" is not an excuse, whether it is an action that directly does harm or indirectly does harm.
Now, political theory offers us one great argument designed to make the autonomy of the individual compatible with submission to the putative authority of the state. In a democracy, it is claimed, the citizen is both law-giver and law-obeyer. Since he shares in the authorship of the laws, he submits to his own will in obeying them, and hence is autonomous, not heteronymous.
If this argument were valid, it would provide a genuine ground for a distinction between violent and nonviolent political actions. Violence would be a use of force proscribed by the laws or executive authority of a genuinely democratic state. The only possible justification of illegal or extralegal political acts would be a demonstration of the illegitimacy of the state, and this in turn would involve showing that the commands of the state were not expressions of the will of the people.
But the classic defense of democracy is not valid. For a variety of reasons, neither majority rule nor any other method of making decisions in the absence of unanimity can be shown to preserve the autonomy of the individual citizens. In a democracy, as in any state, obedience is heteronymy. The autonomous man is of necessity an anarchist. Consequently, there is no valid political criterion for the justified use of force. Legality is, by itself, no justification. Now, of course, there are all manner of utilitarian arguments for submitting to the state and its agents, even if the state's claim to legitimacy is unfounded. The laws may command actions that are in fact morally obligatory or whose effects promise to be beneficial. Widespread submission to law may bring about a high level of order, regularity, and predictability in social relationships which is valuable independently of the particular character of the acts commanded. But in and of themselves, the acts of police and the commands of legislatures have no peculiar legitimacy or sanction. Men everywhere and always impute authority to established governments, and they are always wrong to do so.
The crux of the argument here is that there is an irresolvable tension between ethics and relinquishing authority to the state, AKA the government to use the American term. We must recognize that the government is primarily concerned with authority, not ethics. When I am given a law to obey, be it something as simple as a stop sign, I have to ask myself if I should always obey that law. If we relinquish our own accountability to the authority of the state then we must say that obeying that law is always the correct course of action. We must obey the letter of the law because when we relinquish authority we agree that those who possess it must always be obeyed. If we reject that law, even once, then we reject the authority of the state. If the state says "You may not possess marijuana," and I say, "No, I am going to have some marijuana" for whatever reason, then the fact of the matter is that I do not accept the authority of the state. I do not accept the state as a legitimate authority. Although I may accept the state as a de facto authority.
Of course, in this broad sense we are all a bit anarchistic. Who hasn't broken the speed limit or rolled a stop sign or broken any other of a number of laws that we simply see as not pertaining to us, because we know better? I would say that the number of people who don't fall into that category are exceedingly small. We all know better than the authority of the law at some point. And of course we do, because we have to live a real life, not just the theory the law is based on, written by people who have probably never been where we have. How is a white, straight christian senator from Alabama going to tell a black lesbian from Oakland, California how to live her life? But they do, but that's what government is. Telling people, in more or less subtle ways, how to live their life.
Of course, all this belies the real argument that people make against anarchism; not that it lacks a philosophical basis, but that it lacks a practical basis. What amazes me most about this is how much the argument has changed over the years. The first time I ran into the practical argument it was the most basic form: "Who will take out the trash?" After that it was "Who will grow the food?" And, most recently it has become "Who will be the police?"
I want to address the first two together, because they are important questions, and clearly would be the downfall of a political system if not addressed. Both of these are at their root the same question: How will we get people to do work, hard work, if we don't have the threat of force behind making them do that work? But this question is based on faulty assumptions, specifically that people need the threat of force to motivate them. I know from personal experience that they don't. The idea that people could do something to help others without a threat is both endemic to our society and easily shown to be false. People regularly do things out of altruism. People make whole careers out of altruism. The facile answer to that, and the one that I too often use, is that if taking out the garbage is really the only thing stopping us from living in an anarchist society then hey, the anarchists will do it! Of course, this isn't really an answer, because each of these tasks represents a much larger set of tasks that people generally don't want to do. The final nail in this coffin came from the national exposure that Liberty Plaza got. We took out our trash, we made our food, we even had people in charge of getting people bedding. All without the threat of violence. In fact, all of that happened in spite of the threat of violence against us for doing it. Not only that but there are other examples in history, the most commonly cited being that of Revolutionary Catalonia. Although there have been no lasting examples, but that is a function not of the failures of the societies but of the fact that every single one has been overwhelmed by outside forces that seek it's destruction through overwhelming violence.
The final question is more complicated. The quick answer is that there will be no police. Of course, the quick answer isn't completely correct. But the question brings up an important point: what are the police? The police are the domestic method that the state uses to employ violence. They are the institution that enforces policy through the use of violence. Of course, most people don't think of them like this because they have other functions as well. The authority of the police is used in numerous ways, some of those are rather good. The state needs the police to do those good things to justify the use of force in other areas. For example, there's no reason that we need the same people that direct traffic during a parade to be the same people that forcibly evict people from their homes. In fact, we don't need police to direct traffic at all, pretty much anyone can do that with a bit of training, or with no training. There are times when using force is necessary to ensure that people aren't oppressed. If someone is being attacked it's necessary to defend them. Unfortunately the police generally don't serve this function except where it is beneficial to the state. There is no reason that we can't set up a system of accountability and a way to defend people outside of the state apparatus that would be focused on actually helping people and not on enforcing policy.
The point here isn't to discuss all of the solutions in detail but is to show that while there are problems to be worked on in an anarchist society they are not the overwhelming problems that they seem. In fact most of these problems have solutions for which we can find historical examples.
Ultimately what anarchism is for me is an answer to the problem of oppression. The state has through out time been the number one means of oppression. It has been the biggest murderer. It has been the biggest purveyor of injustice. The idea that it can be reformed strikes me as hopelessly naive. To end oppression we need to work outside of the state instead of directing state violence as a tool.
You might be wondering at this point why I'm on this site given that I'm an anarchist and reject government. It's simple, while I reject the legitimacy of government I don't reject the existence of government. I may be idealistic but I'm not stupid. Checking the government's oppression, even if just some of it, is important. Making sure women have access to abortions is important. I could go on with the various specifics, but what it boils down to is the fact that this is me being a pragmatist. I organize outside of the electoral and state apparatus but I have no doubts about the pervasive power that apparatus has. I don't however operate under the assumption that government is actually going to stop any of these oppressions but instead hope to mitigate them as best possible.
In the next and final part of this series I'll talk about the different strains of anarchism and, at long last, the black bloc.