Originally posted at LessGovernment.com.
I’ve seen it expressed in many different ways:
- “I hate the government, but anarchy would be even worse.”
- “Voting for radical reformers is one thing, but we shouldn’t just throw away our republic/democracy/whatever!”
- “Anarchists want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
- ”Getting rid of the government is just quitting. Corporations will take over, and that won’t solve anything.”
And so on.
In my experience, the idea that anarchism = “giving up” stems generally from the same type of misunderstanding that leads people to believe anarchists are all bomb-throwing terrorists. Believe it or not, there’s no such thing as anarcho-terrorism. Anarchists by and large have simply adopted the natural conclusion of libertarianism. The images of violent teenagers so often affiliated with anarchy are, in all likelihood, not even representative of actual anarchists, or show people who have adopted the name only and are oblivious to any underlying philosophy.
So let’s be clear here that anarchism is the political philosophy that government is unnecessary. Other qualifiers can be attached, such as opposition to hierarchy and capitalism (the latter being a subset of the former), all of which are interrelated, but “no rulers” is the main idea. Anarchists of all persuasions tend to hold in common the desire for a voluntary society, one that is as free from coercion as possible. This is not a fanciful notion of utopia, but rather a recognition of the fact that people can organize freely. Even if they can’t, that by extension eliminates any possibility of those same people being qualified to elect a competent government and any possibility that the government itself can ever be successful at anything beyond magnifying the ineptitude and ethical failings of its members and constituents to national or global proportions.
So when statists tell me anarchists are giving up, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, etc., I marvel at the irony. It is the statists who have concluded that violent monopolies are necessary; that thuggery is a blight on civilization unless it is carried out by individuals in uniform with titles like “Officer” and “Corporal” and “Sergeant” in front of their names; that theft is undesirable unless carried out on a massive scale by properly ordained tax collectors and agents; that murder is undesirable unless carried out on a massive scale by properly ordained soldiers and law enforcement personnel, or ordered remotely by somone holding a particular office at a particular time, exercising his so-called right to shed the blood of so-called enemies using money he has stolen from his subjects, whom he claims to represent and work for.
In this world-view, a single death is indeed a tragedy, while a million deaths are a mere statistic. And this is how it must be, they say, because this is what we are and what we will remain.
Who then has given up? It is most certainly not the anarchists.
Even behind the most inclusive and so-called “democratic” states, I see an oligarchy and a hierarchy I see a multitude that is almost entirely alienated from the process in which the rules are determined and enforced, with the power to do so delegated to a political elite that acts on the behalf of an economic elite. If anything, it is precisely this notion that “democracy” exists that seems to be an ideological tool of legitimacy, by propagating the illusion that the social order is structured on the basis of the multitude’s decisions. To be sure, the multitude do make decisions every day that effect the social order, but these are incredibly marginal decisions (like buying a loaf of bread). When it comes to the decisions that actually have a significant impact on everyone (I.E. the political realm), this power is in the hands of an exclusive elite.