Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Essence of Anarchy

My latest intellectual adventure is into anarchy, because their riots look fun, and because I know nothing about it.  From a good source I believe the founder of modern anarchy to be Emma Goldman, so I have been reading her essays.
Emma Goldman, 1919.
[Credit: The Granger Collection, New York]
(Emma Goldman)

First, an attempt to explain what anarchy is...what it stands for..

ANARCHISM:—The philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary...
...The history of human development will disclose two elements in bitter conflict with each other;...the individual and social instincts...


...Anarchism is the only philosophy which brings to man the consciousness of himself; which maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man's subordination....

Of course, anarchism is a struggle (they are always mad, aren't they?), but against what?

Anarchism has declared war on the pernicious influences which have so far prevented the harmonious blending of individual and social instincts, the individual and society. Religion, the dominion of the human mind; Property, the dominion of human needs; and Government, the dominion of human conduct, represent the stronghold of man's enslavement and all the horrors it entails.

In many ways Goldman sounds like a modern libertarian, or an atheist Bastiat (maybe he was atheist, I don't know).  Even the most extreme libertarian believes in a government to protect property, protect us, and enforce good laws.  When we think of the absence of government we think about thugs coming into our house and taking our belongings, and we having nothing to defend ourselves.  It seems Goldman has heard this before.

...The most absurd apology for authority and law is that they serve to diminish has come to an absolute standstill in coping with crime...

Her arguments against the state sound much like the Public Choice arguments.  You tell me a utopian vision for government.  I tell you how government really works.  You are surprised at what you learn, and decide that faith in government is hopeless, and it causes more harm than good.  Consider he comments on labor laws.

What does the history of parliamentarism show? Nothing but failure and defeat, not even a single reform to ameliorate the economic and social stress of the people. Laws have been passed and enactments made for the improvement and protection of labor. Thus it was proven only last year that Illinois, with the most rigid laws for mine protection, had the greatest mine disasters. In States where child labor laws prevail, child exploitation is at its highest, and though with us the workers enjoy full political opportunities, capitalism has reached the most brazen zenith.

So, what exactly would an anarchic society look like?  I still haven't figured that out, but she does assert there is no single "program" like the inevitable revolution Marx would predict occur in a specific fashion.

The methods of Anarchism therefore do not comprise an iron-clad program to be carried out under all circumstances. Methods must grow out of the economic needs of each place and clime, and of the intellectual and temperamental requirements of the individual. The serene, calm character of a Tolstoy will wish different methods for social reconstruction than the intense, overflowing personality of a Michael Bakunin or a Peter Kropotkin. Equally so it must be apparent that the economic and political needs of Russia will dictate more drastic measures than would England or America.

Do not doubt the Utopian vision she has though.

Anarchism, then, really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations.

She even invokes Thomas More's assumption (from Utopia) that once power was taken from the wealthy there would be enough loot to go around for everyone.

If society were only relieved of the waste and expense of keeping a lazy class, and the equally great expense of the paraphernalia of protection this lazy class requires, the social tables would contain an abundance for all...

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