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 concerned 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 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 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.

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 recognizedthe 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 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 thateverything 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 individual recognizes 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 fellows that man finds a means to express his activity and his power of initiative”28

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 Boetie 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 misery’. 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 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 fulfillment. 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.

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