Anarchy is messed up. There are many different factions claiming to be anarchists and most don’t seem to have a clue as to what they are talking about. Additionally, far too many incorrectly associate the word anarchist either with chaos or violent revolutionaries. So I felt it important to set the record straight.
What Anarchy Is
Anarchism derives from the Greek word anarchos, meaning “without rulers,” and “rulers” is meant to indicate those in public office (i.e., government). In other words, anarchy means the “absence of government.” It’s not more complicated than that. I’m not sure how so many so-called anarchists swayed from the original meaning of the definition, but it’s likely because they took the basic definition and then applied their own suppositions. Anarchy does not mean chaos; it does not mean lack of organization or hierarchy; it does not mean a lack of rules; it does not mean that no one has authority; it does not mean that wrong-doers won’t be punished for immoral actions, and; it does not mean “liberat[ing] humanity from oppressive systems of control–whether they be the state, capitalism, patriarchy, or religious institutions.” It means no government. Simple. Period. End of story. Anyone who claims otherwise supports some form of totalitarianism as they are using a Newspeak definition.
Politics is one of five branches of philosophy that deals with the principles of a social system as specifically related to the proper/legitimate use of physical violence – aka force. Why is the proper use of force important when defining and evaluating a social system? One word: reason. Ayn Rand wrote “Reason is man’s only means of grasping reality and of acquiring knowledge – and, therefore, the rejection of reason means that men should act regardless of and/or in contradiction to the facts of reality.” Fundamentally, it is only force that prevents us from acting in accordance with our own minds. Granted, we don’t always use reason properly and that leads to negative results. Our senses might be off. We might fake reality by refusing to look at truths that go against what we want. Our logic might be flawed (e.g., using mysticism in place of facts). But the only way humanity overall can survive is through the proper use of reason. Force prevents us from using reason. I think Ayn Rand put it beautifully when she observed in Atlas Shrugged: “Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins.”
So any political/social system that legitimizes certain individuals to initiate force against others is a system that is, to some extent, anti-reason. By definition, all social systems except anarchy allow some set of government “rulers” the authority and a “legitimized” monopoly to initiate force against others. In contrast, and by extension, anarchy requires that all forms of the institutionalized initiation of force be illegitimate. This does not mean that anarchy is free from force, including the initiation of force – quite the contrary. All societies will have individuals who choose to initiate force against others to their own ends. Even those who support government have to admit that government does not eliminate violence. The difference with anarchy though, relative to all other social systems, is that anarchy does not institutionalize the initiation of force. The only reason governments have power is because they are “allowed” to initiate force against others. Governments without the power to initiate force would be superfluous.
Anarchy is a system of voluntaryism and operates wherever politics do not. When I walk my neighbor’s dog and he gives me a bottle of wine in gratitude, that’s anarchy. When I arrange a play date between my daughter and one of her friends, that’s anarchy. When two people date each other, that’s anarchy. When a group of friends get together to go out and listen to a band, that’s anarchy. When a friend spills red wine on my shirt and then pays the dry cleaner to remove it, that’s anarchy. Billions of choices and actions occur every day within anarchy.
What Anarchy Is Not
Philosophically, I think that the only legitimate social system is one where people freely and voluntarily choose to interact and assent to the rules under which they want to live
Economics is a component of a social system that is often misapplied when discussing anarchy. (For example, reddit’s Anarchism group claims in their title page to be “Anarchism: Unremorsefully anti-capitalism and anti-state.”) Again, by definition, anarchy is simply being without government rulers. The specific economic systems chosen to operate within anarchy are distinct from the social system itself. For example, it is perfectly proper for people operating under anarchy to choose an economic system where there isn’t any private property and all participants voluntarily agree to pool all of their labor outputs together and then distribute based on need. However, as soon as it is government requiring participation, whereby a participant is coerced through force to participate (e.g., “either contribute your labor outputs to the common pool or we will forcefully take them from you” as socialism or communism require), by definition, this cannot be considered anarchy as the state is involved. This means that individuals who claim that they are anarchists while, at the same time, advocating for socialism or communism, are contradicting themselves. This isn’t a matter of opinion – it’s definitional.
For comparison, and contrary to reddit’s Anarchism group, anarchists who voluntarily choose to operate under a capitalistic economic system don’t suffer any contradiction as capitalism, by definition, does not include government involvement. Also known as laissez-faire or anarcho-capitalism, these economic systems specifically remove government involvement from the marketplace. I often read comments from people complaining that capitalism has proven to be a failure. I am not aware of any country that has operated or currently operates under a real capitalistic system. (Calling a bird a fish doesn’t make it so.) All current, purported, capitalistic systems are, by definition, mixed economies. For example, the U.S. does NOT operate under capitalism. At best, the U.S. operates a mixed economy of capitalism and socialism. At worst (and I happen to agree with John Flynn on this), the U.S. really operates under fascism:
…we may now name all the essential ingredients of fascism. It is a form of social organization
- In which the government acknowledges no restraint upon its powers – totalitarianism
- In which this unrestrained government is managed by a dictator – the leadership principle
- In which the government is organized to operate the capitalist system and enable it to function – under an immense bureaucracy
- In which the economic society is organized on the syndicalist model, that is by producing groups formed into craft and professional categories under supervision of the state
- In which the government and the syndicalist organizations operate the capitalist society on the planned, autarchical principle
- In which the government holds itself responsible to provide the nation with adequate purchasing power by public spending and borrowing
- In which militarism is used as a conscious mechanism of government spending, and
- In which imperialism is included as a policy inevitably flowing from militarism as well as other elements of fascism.
Wherever you find a nation using all of these devices you will know that this is a fascist nation. In proportion as any nation uses most of them you may assume it is tending in the direction of fascism.
Ayn Rand, who was not an anarchist, once said “Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state — and nothing else.” Whether or not the government’s coercive power is morally correct and which economic systems produce the most prosperity are different issues and not my focus here. I’m also not intending here to defend anarchy. (There are plenty of good defenses available, such as Chaos Theory: Two Essays On Market Anarchy. The essay shows that the two most crucial “functions” of government – law and defense – can be efficiently supplied by the free market. The state is thus shown to be completely unnecessary.) Philosophically, I think that the only legitimate social system is one where people freely and voluntarily choose to interact and assent to the rules under which they want to live (as opposed to, say, the social contract hypocrisy which takes less than 5 minutes to destroy). As a proud anarchist, my purpose of this article is to clear-up many of the misconceptions around my chosen social system. For those of you who are real anarchists, please step forward and introduce yourselves. It will be my pleasure to meet you.