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Is Anarchy the Ideal?

Published: May 10, 2023 | Print Friendly and PDF
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Anarchy --a combination of the Latin prefix a- meaning "without" and -archy meaning "ruler" or "government"  defined most simply as "absence of government" -- has influenced Western political philosophy for centuries.

Far from merely the superficial, rebellious ideology embraced by punk rockers, anarchism informed major political events throughout history such as the French Revolution (although that particular social experiment didn't paint anarchy in the best light) and the short-lived breakaway state of Catalonia in 20th-century Spain.

Since I was 19, the universal symbol of anarchy – the iconic Circle-A – has been tattooed on my left forearm. Following my personal development of political consciousness, without interruption, anarchism has been central to my personal identity and worldview.

But lately, I've been mulling, as I work through story after story of of corporate state abuse, the role of ideology and its practical applicability in realpolitik.

In my heart, I still reject ill-gotten authority in all of its ugly forms, no matter the ideology used to justify it. I still hate bullies and despots worldwide with a passion and experience sadistic glee when they fail.

I have not fallen so far as to consider myself a statist. Obviously, any lasting, meaningful political transformation will necessarily consist of dismantling the existing rotten state. That conviction has not changed, and I can't foresee that it ever will.

The cause for reflection, rather, is the mechanism by which the requisite shared, well-cultivated sense of decency and honor necessary for civilization to flourish – with or without the presence of coercive authority – could be promoted in the absence of a centralized mechanism such as the state, however the state is conceived.

The concerns here I wish to express are not merely abstract/academic in nature. Real-world dilemmas, which require a balancing of interests in order to tackle in a thoughtful and morally consistent way, abound.

What entity, for instance, could be in a position to halt gain-of-function research by the likes of Anthony Fauci in some dingy Chinese lab if not a state? The so-called experts' reckless experimentation jeopardizes the existence of the human race itself. As technology develops further, and more and more people and groups motivated solely by personal gain or avarice will gain access to increasingly awesome and destructive powers, the danger they pose increases.

What I wish to convey is that there are people in the world, a certain percentage of the population, who cannot be reformed and civilized because they have no moral core. They are psychopaths in the clinical sense, in that their behavior is not bound by moral qualms.

What is to be done with nefarious, power-hungry figures such as, for instance, Bill Gates, who publicly broadcasts his agenda to inject Frankenstein genetic material into children -- potentially mutating the human genome in unpredictable and catastrophic ways forever?

When characters such as Gates demonstrate their immorality through transgressions against other persons or their property, they must be constrained for survival purposes. If there is no collective mechanism, such as a state, we are left with only vigilante justice, meted out with no organized consideration of the crime or its appropriate punishment.

It is insufficient to claim that merely dismantling the currently existing state, stripping it of its (officially designated) power, would be enough to achieve a lasting state of anarchy for the following reason:

Left to their own devices, groups with a will to power such as multinational corporations (or consortia thereof like the World Economic Forum) motivated solely by power and unconstrained by morality will assume for themselves the de facto role of government.

A new de facto state, no matter how unconventional, is then formed. The group commandeers territory for itself. The group regulates behavior among the people in the territory it has taken. The group acts sovereignly, within its territory, whether it is officially recognized by states outside of its territory or not.

The most basic urban street gains, for instance, exercise a rudimentary form of state power to rival the official state, represented by the police, on the streets they control. Force, in the absence of a willingness to negotiate by agreed-upon rules, is the only remedy available.

After all, in its most basic function, stripped of the liberal niceties that mask the true nature of government, the state's power rests ultimately in its ability to impose its will through legal, social, and economic means, backed in the final analysis by force.

For these reasons, I have begun to question the long-term viability of anarchism as a governing philosophy. I still subscribe to it as a personal philosophy in terms of self-actualization and a rejection of undue constraints on personal liberty by powerful institutions.

A force to enact justice, and a logistically necessary infrastructure to accomplish it, is what I want. Is that necessarily in the form of a state?

That said, I understand that to legitimize state power to any degree is to flirt with authoritarianism.

Do all states necessarily descend into despotism, on a long enough timeline? Certainly most, if not all, in the historical record have to some degree but that doesn't necessarily mean they must as a matter of course.

(I still favor maximum decentralization of power, state or otherwise, down to the most local level possible, a sincerely-held conviction that I have previously written about elsewhere.)

But the balancing of interests that I have begun to question is whether the merits of some form of state power, for the reasons explored here, outweigh the risks of abuse of power and undue influence.

What is my political identity?

Who am I?

I don't quite know.

But here are some foundational non-negotiables:

  • Maximum freedom of movement
  • Maximum potential for self-actualization
  • Maximum freedom of speech
  • Maximum economic liberty
  • Constraint of malevolent actors from intruding on preceding liberties
  • Minimum state power necessary to foster the preceding five conditions

Does that make me a social libertarian? A minarchist?

The desired political ends are clear; the means by which we achieve them, and the label assigned to the philosophical scaffolding, are less so.

This has been an ongoing discourse among political philosophers for millennia, and I imagine it will continue capturing the imagination of idealists for millennia more (assuming humanity survives that long).

What do you think? A penny for your thoughts in the comments.

Ben Bartee is an independent Bangkok-based American journalist with opposable thumbs.

Join Armageddon Prose via Substack or Locals if you are inclined to support independent journalism free of corporate slant. Also, follow Armageddon Prose at Gab and Twitter for the latest content. 

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