Freedom and Equality

ANARCHISM IS A PHILOSOPHY in its own right. Although as a social movement it has developed a wide variety of strands from extreme individualism to communism, all anarchists share certain common concerns. They offer a critique of the existing order, a vision of a free society, and a way of moving from one to another. Above all, they reject all coercive forms of external authority in order to achieve the greatest degree of freedom and equality. In the process they illuminate many of the fundamental principles of moral and political philosophy. While they may not always be consistent, they cannot be accused of having a naive or simplistic view of the great ideals of liberty and equality launched by the French Revolution. It is usual to see absolute freedom as the anarchists’ supreme ideal and their central commitment. Sibastien Faure wrote in the twenties: ‘The anarchist doctrine may be resumed in one word: liberty’) For Herbert Read freedom is ‘the value of all values’.2 Anarchists certainly see freedom as a permanent and necessary factor in the life and progress of humanity, as an intrinsic good without which it is impossible for human beings to reach their full stature. The American individualist Josiah Warren speaks for most anarchists when he writes: ‘Man seeks freedom as the magnet seeks the pole or water its level, and society can have no peace until every member is really free.’3 As philosophers are only too well aware, the notion of freedom can be a conceptual labyrinth and it is important to consider its different meanings. Anarchists wish to expand human freedom in the negative sense of being free from restraint. Most anarchists also see freedom in the positive sense of being free to do what one likes and to realize one’s full potential. 4 But freedom is always a triadic relation and involves not only freedom from something in order to do something, but also the freedom of certain agents. 5 In the anarchists’ case, they are not codcerned with the freedom of a particular class or elite, but the freedom of all human beings. They recognize that the freedom of all is the necessary condition for the freedom of each; as Bakunin declared, ‘Man is truly free only among equally free men.’ Herbert Read distinguishes between ‘liberty’ as a political ideal, which is expressed in social organization, and ‘freedom’ in which man achieves spontaneity and creativity! While this verbal distinction is peculiar to
Freedom and Equality 37
English, most anarchists reject the Roman sense of libertas as popular government embodied in a republican constitution. Their principal concern is with freedom from external political authority. They do not accept like Locke that the State is necessary to protect individual liberty. They equally reject Rousseau’s notion of civil liberty in which one can be legitimately forced to obey the laws one makes for oneself. They have no truck with Hegel’s idealist definition of liberty as ‘necessity transfigured’ so that the individual somehow realizes his ‘higher self’ in obeying the law of the State. On the contrary, anarchists believe that genuine freedom can only be achieved in a society without the State. They therefore embrace the traditional socialist freedoms such as freedom from want and insecurity as well as the liberal freedoms of expression, thought, assembly and movement. When they talk about economic freedom, they mean both the liberal sense of freedom from the economic controls of the State and the socialist sense of freedom from economic hardship. The alleged ‘freedom’ of the few on the other hand to exploit and to command is not a desirable form of freedom since it leads to oppression. They are thus the most coherent and consistent advocates of freedom. Some anarchists have taken up Rabelais’ motto ‘Do what you will!’ Faure insists that ‘the man who does not do what he wants, only what pleases him and which suits him, is not free!’ But few anarchists believe that one should do what one wants whatever the consequences. Elisee Reclus sees in anarchism the ‘right to act according to one’s own agreement, to do “what one wants”‘, but adds immediately ‘while associating one’s will to those of other men in all collective works’. 9 Similarly, Godwin makes a distinction between freedom and licence. He rejects the positive right to do as we please on the grounds that we have a permanent duty to contribute to general happiness. Freedom from constraint (except that of reasons presented to the understanding) is of the utmost importance, but ‘moral independence’ is always injurious.° We should therefore be free from political constraints, not moral constraints. Godwin’s position resembles Spinoza’s description of a free man as one who lives according to the dictates of reason alone. Bakunin went even further to argue that the idea of absolute independence from natural law is a ‘wild absurdity’, the brainchild of metaphysicians: ‘absolutely self-sufficient freedom is to condemn oneself to nonexistence’.” As with Marx and Engels, freedom for Bakunin involves control over ourselves and over external nature which is founded on a knowledge of natural law. Anarchists are not therefore immoralists asserting absolute freedom for themselves alone. They do not, like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, believe that it is right to assert one’s independence whatever it may cost and wherever it may lead, or maintain that the greatest good is ‘one’s own
38 Demanding the Impossible
free and unfettered volition, one’s own caprice, however wild, one’s own fancy, inflamed sometimes to the point of madness . .”2 To see freedom entirely in personal terms in this way would seem to justify the kind of self-assertion which leads to the oppression or exploitation of others. Malatesta argued for instance that the simple desire to be free to do as one pleases is not enough to make an anarchist: ‘That aspiration towards unlimited freedom, if not tempered by a love for mankind and by the desire that all should enjoy equal freedom, may well create rebels who, if they are strong enough, soon become exploiters and tyrants, but never anarchists.'” Malatesta believed that men are not naturally harmonious, and that living together in society involves a limitation on freedom since we must sacrifice desires which are irreconcilable with those of others. He called for freedom as the power to do as one wishes with the important proviso that it must be freedom for everybody and in everything, with the only limit of the equal freedom for others'. '4 Even the most extreme individualist anarchist Max Stirner does not entirely reject morality and believes voluntary co-operation with other rational egoists desirable. While refusing to accept binding moral rules imposed from without, anarchists look to some form of morality to replace political authority. Kropotkin looked to our innate moral sense as a compass in a free society, and argued that moral principles should replace man-made laws as a guide to human conduct. Even the arch-individualist Benjamin Tucker insisted on a moral code, even if he did reduce the only moral law to 'Mind your own business'." To adopt moral rules for oneself is not therefore inconsistent with anarchism. Government, with its laws, restricts our freedom by the threat of force, but if a person imposes rules on himself he is not being compelled but acting voluntarily. Freedom in the sense of government by reason is quite acceptable. As Tucker wrote: 'If the individual has a right to govern himself, all external government is tyranny'.16 The idea of ruling oneself rather than being ruled by others is implicit in the anarchists' advocacy of self-government and self-management. The whole thrust of the anarchist argument for social freedom is that the absence of laws would not lead to a state of moral chaos or disorder since people are capable of governing themselves. Nevertheless, they do not accept that rational freedom in the sense of governing oneself through constraints imposed from within is enforceable in any way. It is not for the community to compel one to obey the general will; anarchists will have no truck with Rousseau's pernicious paradox that it is possible to 'be forced to be free'." On the other hand, they would accept Kant's view of autonomy as self-imposed rules which have been freely chosen for oneself.
Freedom and Emtaliy 39
The anarchist stress on personal morality does not of course mean a commitment to past values. Kropotkin sees the value of age-old patterns of co-operation and mutual aid, but would like to combine them with a modem sense of individuality. Most anarchists call, like Nietzsche and Emma Goldman, for a transvaluation of values, a going beyond existing definitions of good and evil, to forge a new morality for a free society.° While rejecting man-made laws, all the classic anarchist thinkers except Stirner recognize the force of natural law as a way of achieving social cohesion in the absence of government and man-made laws. Godwin believed that the universe was governed by universal laws and believed that truth is always victorious over error. He was convinced that morality is independent of positive institutions; that it is 'immutably true' that whatever tends to procure a balance of happiness and pleasure is to be desired.° Proudhon too based his whole case for anarchy on the existence in nature and human nature of immanent justice which was revealed through his moral sense. Bakunin presented himself as a 'scientific' anarchist and argued that natural law is the foundation of our liberty. He celebrated the liberty which consists in the full development of our potentiat
the liberty which recognizes no other restrictions than those which are traced for us by the laws of our own nature’. But according to Bakunin these are no real restrictions since ‘these laws are not imposed on us by some outside legislator, beside us or above us; they are immanent in us, inherent, constituting the very basis of our being, material as well as intellectual and moral; instead, therefore, of finding them a limit, we must consider them as the real conditions and effective reason for our liberty.’20 Kropotkin, too, argued that anarchism should be based on the method of modern science. He believed the same laws governed nature and society, especially the law of sociability, which gave rise to a social instinct in animals and humanity and enabled them to survive in the struggle for existence and develop a moral sense. Although Malatesta criticizes the attempt to make anarchism ‘scientific’, since this would deny free will, he still recognized the great law of solidarity, which predominates in society as in nature'?' It should now be clear that anarchists do not take absolute freedom as their ideal. Given the physical and social limits we all experience, the very idea of absolute freedom is strictly speaking absurd. Without recognizable limits, a definition of freedom is empty and meaningless. Such 'freedom' if it could exist would be like the senseless and hopeless 'inviolability' which K experiences in Kafka's The Castle when people have broken off relationships with him and left him alone.' It has even been questioned whether freedom is the supreme ideal of anarchists. As Malatesta wrote, since living in society necessarily involves
40 Demanding the Impossible
curbing some of our desires freedom, in its absolute sense, could not solve the question of a happy and voluntary co-existence'.23 In addition, for those who principally define freedom negatively as freedom from restraint it is difficult to see how it can be a supreme value. Even as a necessary condition of self-development it is valued as a means, not an end. Godwin, for instance, argued that civil liberty is chiefly desirable as a means to encourage a certain type of personality: 'To be free is a circumstance of little value, if we could suppose men in a state of external freedom, without the magnanimity, energy and firmness that constitute almost all that is valuable in a state of freedom.'24 Again, the anarchists' readiness to use public opinion, censure and social pressure to reform conduct in place of law and punishment might suggest that they do not value freedom above everything else. Censure, even in the form of reasoned argument, curtails the freedom of some in an anarchist society to enable the maximum amount of freedom for all. By wishing to combine the greatest individual development with the greatest communal unity, Alan Ritter has argued that their overriding goal is
communal individuality’ and that they therefore cannot strictly speaking be called ‘libertarians% their libertarianism is ‘not of direct intention, but of oblique effect’.25 Freedom is thus valued more as a means than an end. This view, while pointing to an important element in the anarchist conception of freedom, is not comprehensive enough. Stirrer, Tucker and other individualist anarchists, for instance, do not see community as supporting individuality. But it does remind us that anarchists accept that liberty has physical and social limits and recognize that personal freedom is inevitably curtailed in some way by the freedom of others. For the strict individualist other people must inevitably stand as a constant threat to his or her freedom. Afraid of those who would invade his ‘sphere of discretion’ and reduce him to clockwork uniformity, Godwin felt compelled to conclude that everything that is usually understood by the term co-operation is, in some degree, an evil.'26 But the more collectivist anarchist thinkers like Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin believed that since we are social beings we can only be free to realize ourselves in the company of others. Individuality, in their case, is based on reciprocal awareness. As Proudhon put it, the individualrecognizes his own self in that of others’. 27 People need not therefore be a threat but a help. Anarchists experience freedom as potentially joyous. Malatesta became an anarchist precisely because of his aspirations towards a society which reconciles ‘the liberty of everyone with co-operation and love among men’. For him freedom is not an abstract right but the possibility of acting. It is the , isolated individual who is powerless; it is ‘by co-operation with his
Freedom and Equality 41
fellows that man finds a means to express his activity and his power of
While celebrating personal and social freedom as a central if not supreme ideal, anarchists are strongly aware that it cannot easily be achieved. They are aware of the strong social, cultural and psychological obstacles which block the way to a free society. Randolph Bourne not only noted that war is the health of the State but that a herd instinct drives the individual into obedience and conformity since ‘You feel powerful by conforming, and you feel forlorn and helpless if you are out of the crowd’. The State — ‘the organization of the entire herd’ — is founded on these impulses and makes careful use of them. 29 Anarchists are also aware, as Erich Fronun pointed out, that many people fear freedom because of the responsibility it entails and in times of economic insecurity and social unrest look to strong leaders to tell them what to think and do. Isolated and rootless individuals in modern society readily resort to devotion and submission to authoritarian organizations or the State. Like Adam after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden for rebelling against the authority of God, newly won freedom can appear to modern man as a curse; ‘he is free from the sweet bondage of paradise, but he is not free to govern himself, to realize his individuality.'” Again, anarchists appreciate the insights of Wilhelm Reich who has shown how the subject person only too easily becomes an active participant in his own subjection. The utter powerlessness of the modern citizen can often lead to the primary masochism of internalized submissiveness so that he begins to identify with the agent who has thwarted his vital energy. He becomes, as Etienne de la Bo6tie pointed out, a voluntary slave. Moreover, modern man’s experience of our ancient patriarchal and authoritarian society and culture encourages ‘an armouring against nature within himself and against social misery outside himself leading to ‘helplessness, craving for authority, fear of responsibility, mystical longing, sexual tnisery’. 31 Yet for all their appreciation of the psychology of obedience and dependence and the powerful influence of the State and culture in shaping conforming citizens, anarchists still believe that all human beings are ultimately capable of breaking out of the Crystal Palace, of releasing themselves from their physical manacles and mental chains of illusion. They call for freedom for all from all forms of imposed authority as well as the freedom to achieve the active realization of the individual self. Clearly anarchists do not have a naive or crude view of freedom. Moreover, their aspiration to create a free society need no longer appear a utopian dream as it has done in the past. Malatesta at the turn of the century argued that ‘All specifically human life is a struggle against outside nature, and every forward step is adaptation, is the overcoming of a natural law’. 32 In
42 Demanding the Impossible our post-scarcity society of relative abundance, the objective conditions are there (in the West at least) to enable us to pass from the historic realm of economic necessity to the realm of freedom. For the first time in human history, we are now free to choose our needs. Desire no longer may be seen as a form of bondage to be controlled by reason since the free satisfaction of desire is possible to a large degree. Indeed, Bookchin has even argued that human beings while freeing themselves are now in a position to create a free nature' by helping it to realize its evolutionary trend towards consciousness and subjectivity.33 Of all political doctrines, anarchism responds most to the deeply felt human need for freedom which is essential for creativity and fulfilment. It holds up the ideal of personal freedom as a form of autonomy which does not restrict the freedom of others. It proposes a free society without government in which people make their own free structures. It looks to a time when human beings are not only free from each other, but are able to help each other and all life-forms to realize their full potential.
Authority Another way of saying that anarchism takes freedom as its ultimate goal is to claim that it opposes authority. 'All anarchists', George Woodcock insists,
deny authority’.34 Certainly many anarchists have argued this to be the case. Bakunin, who called himself an ‘anti-authoritarian’, advocated the absolute rejection ofevery authority' while Kropotkin maintained that anarchism works 'to destroy authority in all its aspects'. 35 Malatesta also defined anarchy as 'society organized without authority', meaning by authority 'the power to impose one's will'.36 More recently, Colin Ward has called an anarchist society 'a society which organizes itself without authority'.37 This definition of anarchism as an opposition to authority comes from the common definition of the State as the supreme authority within a given territory, and since all anarchists are opposed to the State, it is inferred that they are opposed to authority. Authority however is more fundamental and exists prior to the foundation of the State. In addition, it might be misleading to define anarchy as an absence of authority fo'r strictly speaking it would appear that a society without some form of authority is virtually inconceivable." Nevertheless, it is true to say that all anarchists are opposed to political authority in the sense that they deny anyone the legitimate right to issue commands and have them obeyed. As Robert Paul Wolff has argued, sincethe state is authority, the right to rule’, anarchism which rejects the State is the only political doctrine consistent with autonomy in which the individual alone is the judge of his moral constraints.39 Anarchists also reject
Freedom and Equality 43
legal authority as defined by Max Weber as ‘a belief in the “legality” of enacted rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands’.4° Communist anarchists further reject what they call economic authority% as Faure pointed out, 'Authority dresses itself in two principal forms: the political form, that is the State; and the economic form, that is private property'.41 Anarchists however are less clear-cut about traditional authority resting on a belief in ancient traditions and the legitimacy of the holders of the tradition. Kropotkin, for instance, stressed repeatedly that customs precede man-made laws to regulate human affairs, and thought they could replace them again in the future. Proudhon even accepted the need for patriarchal authority within the family while opposing it in wider society. Anarchists are also prone to being influenced by charismatic authority, that is by the exemplary character of an exceptional person. Godwin appeared to Shelley as a wise mentor and did not reject the role. Bakunin undoubtedly possessed enormous charisma and exploited it to influence his comrades. Many were also affected by Kropotkin's saintly aura and were prepared to be his followers. Apart from Bakunin, they all saw the dangers of unthinking obedience to or slavish imitation of a leader. It has been argued that anarchism does not preclude the legitimacy of every type of authority and that anarchists are really opposed only toimposed authority, or authoritarianism’.42 Again, it has been asserted that libertarians reject ‘command-authority’ in coercive institutions, but are willing to accept ‘belief-authority’ in which a person voluntarily legitimizes the influence- any other person may have upon them. 43 There is some evidence to support this view. Some anarchists have accepted certain attenuated forms of authority. Bakunin, while rejecting the government of science, accepts the authority of superior or technical knowledge. However, while recognizing the authority of technical competence, he insists that the advice of an expert should only be accepted on the basis of voluntary consent: if I am to accept the authority of the cobbler in the matter of shoes, my decision to act on his advice is mine and not his. Malatesta also believes that it is inevitable that a person who has greater understanding and ability to carry out a given task will succeed more easily in having his opinion accepted, and that it is all right for him to act as guide in his area of competence for those less able than himself. It is also the case that many anarchists look to some kind of censure in the shape of public opinion or social pressure as a means of influencing the behaviour of others in the absence of positive laws. Such censure can be extremely authoritarian by making people comply with threats. Indeed, in a society without public authority, Godwin wrote that ‘general inspection’ could provide a force ‘not less irresistible than whips and chains’ to reform
44 Demanding the Impossible
conduct.” Bakunin also argued that the ‘only great and all powerful authority . . . we can respect is the collective and publiciri sp More recently, Giovanni Baldelli has followed Bakunin in arguing that the ‘rule of authority’ is acceptable if it is based on competence as well as consent.46 David Wieck has gone even further to defend delegated authority if it does not entail power over persons.47 Alan Ritter has also tried to elaborate an anarchist justification of authority by claiming that it is legitimate if it is shared by all and if it is ‘intimate, particular and internal and cannot issue directives of a legal sort’.48 And Miller argues that anarchocommunists accept a form of authority, although it is ‘non-compulsory, non-coercive, functionally specific, and exercised collectively in a particular locality or shares a particular interest’ .” But it would be wrong to infer from this that despite their alleged claims to the contrary, anarchists in fact all accept some form of authority. Bakunin’s defence of the authority of superior knowledge, for instance, would be anathema to Godwin as an infringement of the right of private judgement. Any reliance on someone with superior knowledge is for him the most pernicious form of authority since it prevents independent thought and encourages a spirit of dependence. Again, while accepting that the influence of public opinion is preferable to the tyranny of the law, Godwin rightly insists that ‘coercion cannot convince, cannot conciliate, but on the contrary alienates the mind of him against whom it is employed’.” People may advise and admonish an individual, but he should act by his own deliberation and not theirs. In general, anarchists reject the use of physical force or even manipulation by unconsciously changing beliefs and actions. They deny anyone the right to issue orders and have them obeyed. They are highly critical of political and bureaucratic authority and do not wish to become dominating leaders, even within small, informal groups. Instead, they prefer to influence others through persuasion, offering rational arguments for their anarchist beliefs and practices. Some may accept a temporary form of leadership based on competence, but most believe in leaderless groups and have no time for bosses or masters. Even if in practice anarchists have voluntarily followed charismatic leaders, they are aware of the dangers of such a form of leadership. Michael Taylor argues that if we get a person to do something he would not otherwise have done by using convincing reasons, we are still exercising authority.5′ But this would seem to confuse persuasion with authority. What distinguishes authority from persuasion and influence is its claim to legitimacy, a claim which all anarchists deny. Authority is also invariably exercised in a clearly defined hierarchy in which superiors assert the right to issue commands and subordinates are obliged to obey. Of the classic
Freedom and Equality 45
anarchist thinkers, only Bakunin was ready to resort to manipulation through his ‘invisible dictatorship’ and his secret societies. If they do not reject all forms of authority outright, all anarchists are suspicious of authority, especially that imposed from above, and seek to minimize its influence in society. They certainly do not want to erect an anarchist authority', even if all participate in it.52 What distinguishes anarchists from other socialists is the precise fact that they are 'antiauthoritarian'. Unlike Engels, they believe it is quite possible to organize production and distribution without authority. For anarchists, organization without compulsion, based on free agreement and voluntary co-operation, is the only cure for authority. To this end, anarchists call for the decentralization of authority and finally for its maximum dissolution.
Authority is clearly a manifestation of power, but they are not identical. Power may best be defined as the ability to impose one's will. Power is different from authority for where the latter asserts the right to command and the right to be obeyed, the former is the ability to compel compliance, either through the use or threat of force. A society without political authority can still have coercive power relationships. In general, anarchists believe not only that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but that power destroys both the executioner and victim of power. Their awareness of the corrupting nature of power is the basis of their criticism of concentrated power and their reluctance to relinquish any power to leaders and rulers. The State consists of nothing more than a small elite who have more power than the rest of society. Anarchists therefore call for the decentralization of political power in the short term and would like to see it dissolved as much as possible in the long term. But power is not only political. Bertrand Russell defines power as 'the production of intended effects'.53 Power in this sense in existing society is ubiquitous, diffuse and often concealed. Power over human beings may usefully be classified by the manner of influencing individuals or by the type of organization involved. An individual may be influenced by direct physical power over his body, (army and police); by rewards and punishments which act as inducements (economic organizations); by the sway of opinion or propaganda (schools, churches, political parties). Indeed, the distinctions between the organizations are not always so clear cut as they often use different forms of power at the same time. Within society, there is also traditional power (an ancient form based on custom); newly acquired power (such as law based on coercive power of
46 Demanding the Impossible
the State or 'naked' military power); and revolutionary power (of party or group). Anarchists would condemn all three, though some like Kropotkin would accept the first as the least pernicious, and others like Bakunin would accept the last in the form of a mass uprising. All however would oppose any centralization of power, which, as Alex Comfort has argued, leads to psychopathic leadership: 'The greater the degree of power, and the wider the gap between governors and the governed, the stronger the appeal of office to those who are likely to abuse it, and the less the response which can be expected from the individual'.54 Even
anarcho-capitalists’ like Murray Rothbard assume individuals would have equal bargaining power in a market-based society. At the same time, while opposing power over others, anarchists are not necessarily averse to power over oneself in the form of self-discipline, self-management, or self-determination. Given the unequal distribution of power between the rulers and the ruled, Bookchin has borrowed the language of liberation movements and made out a case for ’empowering’ the weaker members of society.” And they are not merely concerned with political power in the form of the State and government, but with economic power in society and patriarchal power in the family. Anarchists are opposed to all power which is coercive and nonreciprocal, especially in the sense of domination which involves force and conflict between two parties. But they sometimes wield a form of power in trying to influence others by making things unpleasant. Indeed, in the place of law, Godwin and Kropotkin both look to public censure to reform wrongdoers. Tucker might well reduce ethics to the sole moral law of ‘Mind your own business’, but he is ready to exert ‘the influence of reason; the influence of persuasion; the influence of example; the influence of public opinion; the influence of social ostracism; the influence of unhampered economic forces; the influence of better prospects . . 2 56 The two principles would seem to be contradictory, and the latter form of influence undoubtedly involves a form of coercive power. The desire to have power over oneself is quite compatible with the anarchist position. But as Paul Goodman has pointed out, people live quite happily without ‘power’ that manages or coerces from outside. Most human activities moreover do not need external motivations in the form of reward or punishment.57 Anarchists are well aware that an authoritarian upbringing and education produce people who are either submissive or imperious types. As Alfred Adler observed, ‘the servile individual lives by the rules of others, and this type seeks out a servile position almost compulsively’.58 At the same time, they recognize with Hobbes and Adler that the will to power over others is a common tendency amongst human beings. They are aware
Freedom and Equalio 47 that, given the opportunity, not only do ex-slaves often try to become masters, but oppressed men try to find weaker beings to lord it over. But anarchists do not see that this tendency is intrinsic in human nature, but rather a product of our authoritarian and hierarchical society. They reject the view that the only possible human relationship is that in which one issues orders and the other obeys, one asserts himself and the other cringes. Such an unequal distribution of power enslaves both the ruler and the ruled. Anarchists look to a time when there will no longer be masters and servants, leaders and followers, rulers and ruled. Anarchists have therefore principally been concerned with the way in which organizations and individuals have acquired power over people’s lives. In the past, anarchists rejected power over each other, but still thought it was necessary to increase power and control over nature. Kropotkin not only entitled one his books The Conquest of Bread but argued like Marx that industrial progress required ‘conquest over nature’.59 Despite this, Malatesta still criticized Kropotkin for his view of natural harmony, and insisted that men must combine to harness the ‘hostile forces of Nature’. He even went so far as to define anarchy as ‘the struggle, in human society, against the disharmonies of Nature’.69 More recently however anarchists have been increasingly concerned not only with the unequal distribution of power between human beings, but man’s power over nature. Indeed, Murray Bookchin has traced the origin of man’s destructive domination of nature to man’s domination over man and woman and calls for the dissolution of hierarchy.6I Breaking with the historical Western anarchist tradition, he has developed an organicist view which see man as an integral part of nature. Working within a similar framework of social ecology, John Clark has also argued that a thoroughgoing anarchist critique is ‘a critique of all forms of domination’ that block the attainment of the goal of ‘universal self-realization’. 62 Anarchism as a philosophy wishes to dissolve all forms of authority and power, and if possible, seeks their complete abolition. All anarchists reject political authority in the form of the State and government, and most reject the moral authority of exceptional individuals. Where some allow the authority of competence, they stress that it must be based on accountability and consent. The ideal still remains for all people to judge and act for themselves and not to rely on experts. Given the present unequal distribution of power, they would prefer it to be spread more evenly. They recognize the right of the individual to have power over his or her own person, but ultimately they prefer a situation where no one has the possibility or desire to impose his or her will on others. More recently, anarchists have gone beyond traditional humanism and called for an end to power over nature itself. In a condition of anarchy,
48 Demanding the Impossible
there would be no State and thus no concentration of force or political specialization.63 Human beings would be equal partners in a nonhierarchical world without domination. And while it may be impossible to realize in practice, the ultimate goal would be to achieve the complete absence of imposed authority and coercive power.
What distinguishes the democratic ideal from other political ideals is its attempt to combine liberty and equality. Anarchists are democratic in a broad sense. They would agree with Plato that the ends of democracy are liberty, equality and variety, and most would add like the French revolutionaries, fraternity. But it is a commonplace of liberal political theory that liberty and equality are incompatible. Anarchists are as aware as De Tocqueville and J. S. Mill of the potential dangers of the tyranny of the majority and the triumph of mediocrity. They do not want to submerge the individual in the community or level all society to one common standard of grey uniformity. They reject all rulers, whether one man, a few, or the `people’. Government, even in Abraham Lincoln’s definition as ‘government of the people by the people for the people’, is inadmissible. Nevertheless, unlike socialists and liberals, they seek a genuine resolution of liberty and equality, and believe that everyone has an equal claim to be free. Anarchists go beyond the liberal concept of equality as equality before the law. Equality before the law, they point out, does not mean the end of injustice, for all people could be treated with equal unfairness under unjust laws. Moreover, if structural inequalities exist in society, the application of the law is likely to be unequal: one law for the rich, and another for the poor. Since they reject man-made law as an interference with personal freedom, clearly any legal concept of equality is inadequate. As for the doctrine of equal opportunity to develop one’s talents, anarchists do not deny that everyone should have an equal claim to selfdevelopment. But they recognize that the principle of equal opportunity is fundamentally conservative since existing society with its hierarchy of values only supports the opportunity to develop those talents and abilities which it considers worth developing. The application of the principle will also increase inequalities by creating a society ruled by a meritocracy. Above all, it is founded on an antagonistic, competitive model of society in which there are more losers than winners in the race for goods and status. In general, then, anarchists go beyond the liberal concept of equality as equality before the law or equality of opportunity. Like the socialists, they have a commitment to economic and social equality. But different anarchist thinkers try to combine equality with liberty in very different ways.
Freedom and Equality 49 Godwin, for instance, believed that humanity had a common nature and advocated sexual and racial equality, but did not think all people should be treated equally. By defining justice as utility and linking it with the principle of impartiality, he maintained that we should give preferential treatment to those most likely to increase human happiness: in a fire where I could only save one person, I should save a benevolent philosopher who might contribute to the happiness of thousands before his vicious maid, even if she happened to my mother. Proudhon, on the other hand, accepted that men and women had equal rights and duties, but he believed that ‘done compares sex with sex, women are inferior’ 64 His notion of justice involved the idea of equality of respect, but his insistence on exchange of equal shares based on labour time meant that he tolerated economic inequality. One of his principal criticisms of authoritarian communism is that it would produce an equality of slaves. The individualist Tucker was even more willing to countenance economic inequalities which might result from the superiority of muscle or brain. As for the ‘beautiful world’ in which absolute equality had been achieved, ‘who would live in it?’, he asks. ‘Certainly no freeman’.65 Bakunin had an entirely different approach. He asserted that all humanity was physically and socially equal, and insisted that since man is truly free only among equally free men, the ‘freedom of each is therefore realizable only in the equality of all. The realization of freedom through equality, in principle and in fact, is justice.'” Yet by retaining a collectivist system of distribution according to work done he endorsed like Proudhon economic inequality. Kropotkin went one step further than Bakunin. He shared his belief in human equality but adopted a communist definition of justice: from each according to ability, to each according to need. Clearly this is also an unequal principle, since under a system of voluntary communism the distribution of burdens and rewards will depend on different abilities and needs. In practice, the communist idea of just distribution according to need is more concerned with fair shares than equal shares. Malatesta was a communist like Kropotkin, but he tried to bring equality and freedom together in his definition of social freedom as ‘equal freedom for all, an equality of conditions such as to allow everybody to do as they wish, with the only limitation, imposed by inevitable natural necessities and the equal freedom of others’.67 More recently, Bookchin has been inspired by the concept of the ‘irreducible minimum’ practised by organic societies in which everyone has their basic needs satisfied. He also calls for an ‘equality of unequals’ which recognizes differences between human beings within an overall framework of social equality and economic communism.
So Demanding the Impossible
In general, anarchists see no contradiction between freedom and equality, but believe that one reinforces the other. Over the last two centuries, they have extended the principle of equality to embrace all humanity. At the same time, their concern with individuality has prevented them from calling for absolute economic equality. While advocating the impartial consideration of everyone’s worth and need, they do not insist on equal treatment and equal shares. They would accept John Rawls’ principle in his definition of justice as fairness that each person has ‘an equal right to the most extensive liberty compatible with a like liberty for all’, although they would add the proviso that any inequalities in a free society would ideally be the result of voluntary agreement.” But they go beyond Rawls who believes that citizens of a country do not object to there being different offices of government. Because they adopt a principle of justice that everyone has an equal claim to a maximum of freedom they reject all political authority as an illegitimate interference with freedom. As Tucker put it, they seek the ‘greatest amount of liberty compatible with equality of liberty’.69