Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
In response to my recent post about Emma Goldman’s essay on Anarchy, I have received a long comment from blogger Abandon TV, to which I would like to respond. You can see my post and his complete comment here.
Abandon TV begins with a statement of what he believes that Anarchism is:
I like to think of an ‘anarchic society’ as being the natural consequence of a society rejecting *the initiation of force* as a LEGITIMATE means to get things done. This does NOT mean an anarchic society would be magically free of all coercion or violence …. it just means that society has overwhelmingly rejected coercion and violence as a legitimate way for human beings to transact and interact with each other.
This definition is different from Emma Goldman’s. Goldman rejects property rights, laws and moral strictures, but she does not reject violence to demonstrate in a good cause: the propaganda of the deed. Goldman does not consider whether we need violence within an anarchic society to protect the weak and incompetent from the unconstrained actions of the strong. She is comfortable in the belief that freedom will produce only benign results. For example, when there is no private property, then by definition crimes against property cannot occur.
Abandon TV’s use of the expression “legitimate means” implies a system of rules under which actions are legitimate or not-legitimate, in other words, some implied constraints on action. The constraint may be on coercion but, like Goldman, he does not explain how rules are to be enforced, including the rule against coercion itself.
Now I’m willing to bet that you’d be prepared to debate me in an attempt to win me over. You might even be prepared to beg me to fund your scheme if it was really that important to you… but I bet you would NOT be prepared to *initiate force* against me, such as threatening me with violence …… or, if I still resisted, actually hiring armed thugs to drag me away from my family and lock me inside a cage for refusing to fund your scheme….
Resorting to coercion and violence to achieve one’s personal or political aims is, after all, the dictionary definition of terrorism. It is highly immoral. We all know this. We learn it in kindergarden “Don’t hit to get what you want… don’t steal to get what you want”
We did learn it in kindergarten, or even earlier. I also learned not to slurp with my straw in the bottom of the milk bottle. That restriction no longer has any force for me, but I still believe that it is wrong to steal just to get what I want – yet I might steal to protect myself or someone else. The restriction on stealing is not any more absolute than the do-not-slurp rule; it just has a different set point. However enforced, these rules come from some place.
Abandon TV equates personal violence – hiring armed thugs – with the violence of the state.
And obviously – in a moral sense – it makes no difference if you threatened me or kidnapped me *in person*, or if you hired some thugs dressed in matching blue costumes to do threaten or kidnap me *on your behalf*.
The “matching blue costumes” are the police or the military, acting on behalf of those who are in power, often with the support of the many who are not in power. Emma Goldman remarked this, saying that “the majority cannot reason; it has no judgment.” She was influenced by the Haymarket affair in Chicago in 1886, as I am influenced by the police riot at the Democratic National Convention, also in Chicago, in 1968. In both cases the police acted with the support of the political powers and the acquiescence of the public, with the police claiming to protect that public against still greater violence.
We see here the conflict between private action and public control. It’s an old story, so old that the Greeks told it. In Aeschylus’ play The Eumenides (“Furies”), after Orestes kills his mother he is pursued by the Furies. Their pursuit is often interpreted as his madness of guilt and grief over what he had done. That is not how Aeschylus resolved it, however. Orestes killed his mother as an act of necessary vengeance (she had killed his father, after all). His deed made him a matricide, a parent killer. Poor Orestes could not win. His acts were dictated by the gods, and the Eumenides also acted on behalf of the gods. Athena negotiated a settlement whereby in the future such difficult cases would be decided by the citizens of Athens, consulting together – in effect, a jury. Private vengeance, previously mandated by the gods, is replaced by control of such violence by the public, represented here by the citizens of Athens. This is generally regarded as progress.
It is almost impossibly difficult to establish fair social rules by which we can all live together, whether the dictating power is property, or religion, or government, or “the people” through some democratic process. After all, 15% of the population is left handed. If the 85% who are right handed decide that left-handedness must be eliminated, that would be the will of the majority – and it would be wrong. If it is so difficult to establish the standards for civil society, then the implied violence to enforce those rules is only part of a larger problem.
Abandon TV makes this very point when he points out that to choose those to make the laws is to choose coercion to enforce those laws. First the choice; then the violence.
One simply cannot ‘vote’ in a democracy, or *willingly* pay taxes, without advocating for coercion and violence be used against millions of other people to make them do things against their will and pay for things against their will….. advocating for coercion and violence to be used against others is what ‘voting’ means!
One does not ‘vote’ for a candidate or party to simply get into office. One ‘votes’ for a candidate or party to get into office and then impose various policies, laws and agendas onto everyone by force…. literally at gunpoint (disobey and they put you in a cage or just shoot you).
Like I said, anarchy is the natural consequence of rejecting *the initiation of force* as a legitimate way for anyone to behave in society.
When we reject force as a legitimate way to behave, what protects those who reject force from those who do not reject force? Emma Goldman does not explain; she believes that when we are freed from the restrictions of property, religion and government we will not have any reason not to behave well.
Abandon TV approaches this issue somewhat differently. He points out that the state is an abstraction that “the only thing that actually exists is PEOPLE.” Anarchic society does not reject rules or hierarchies, but it does reject violence. He says that it is the statist society which has no rules, only laws.
A law is not a rule. A law may indeed reflect a rule (including a moral rule), but it does not have to…. It *feels* like governments enforce those moral rules, but in reality governments maintain a VIOLENT MONOPOLY on the LEGAL right to VIOLATE those moral rules…… they grant themselves the legal right to steal (tax) and murder (wage war).
Abandon TV is a social and political libertarian. The rest of his comments are in praise of personal freedom and a condemnation of government when it restricts that freedom.
Here’s another observation….. except for where the state is involved, every transaction and interaction in our personal and business lives is ALREADY conducted in a state of anarchy. There is no authoritarian agency of coercion and violence dictating who we choose to have as friends, where we go for our holidays, what we wear, what we eat, who we marry, where we live, what career we have, what books we read, how we spend our weekends and so on. If any agency tried to dictate these things for you I’m sure you would be outraged and you’d protest.
I take his point, but the anarchic freedom he describes is not total, as Abandon TV will discover when he walks down the street naked or tries to marry his sister. He assumes some level of organization which makes it possible for us to eat and marry and choose a career, to go on holiday or read a book. We live in a complex world. We may not like it, but here is where we find ourselves. I am hungry. I go into the store which is well lighted (by whom?) and take money (from where?) to buy food which I assume is safe to eat. I want the freedom to do these things, but they represent very considerable constraints on the freedom of others who operate the power plant and issue the money and sell the food. Surely some means of coercion is implied by these constraints.
Abandon TV thinks, however, that government has no constructive role to play.
So what justification or benefit is there for a coercive and violent agency (such as a government) taking control, by force, of all the other aspects of our lives? (banking, currency, trade, transport, education, healthcare, welfare etc)
There is no justification and no benefit. Instead there is only chaos, destruction, war, misery, death, abuse, persecution, injustice, tyranny, hypocrisy, deceit, fraud, theft, violence and a great deal of confusion.
I wish I could believe that renouncing violence and removing the restrictions of property, religion, government and the use of force would lead us to the Promised Land, but I don’t. Imperfect as they are, our restrictions and the associated coercion have evolved over centuries of human experience as we all try to live together. We live within a system, but it is not immutable.
I think that anarchism is the power to say no. Anarchists say no to injustice, to property rights which benefit some at the expense of other, to war, to prison, to religious persecution. What each group of anarchists rejects derives from their historical experience. That is why there are so many different flavors of anarchist thought. Wikipedia lists many, from anarchic communism through anarcho-naturism and insurrectionary anarchism to platformism. In the rejection of conventional social and political arrangements, anarchism overlaps with utopian movements like the Oneida Perfectionists and the Shakers. The difference is that the utopians dreamed of – and in some cases built –a deliberately-designed alternative society. They opted out of what was and tried to construct something better. After they had said no, they said yes.
Rabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world],
but you are not free to desist from it either” Pirkei Avot