Warlords, Militias, and Private Defense Companies

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In countries such as Somalia, Libya and Syria, there is a variety of armed groups, warlords and militias. Their funding varies, as from public, semi-public and private sources. In many cases, they are fighting and warring. They are not anarchists, even if the state happens to be weak in their countries. That is not the anarchism that I have in view. I agree with Jacques Ellul in saying “By anarchy I first mean an absolute rejection of violence. Hence I cannot accept either nihilists or anarchists who choose violence as a means of action. I certainly understand the resort to aggression, to violence.” I agree with non-aggression as a central tenet of anarchy.

It may seem to some that these individual armed groups are, in effect, private defense companies. In response, I say this.

Any defense provider, public or private, has to decide what’s a defense action and what’s an offense action. These two unalterably opposing kinds of action have to be clearly distinguished on some reasonably objective basis. Otherwise, it’s very easy for what is claimed to be defense to be in reality aggression. In addition, when there is defense, the means of defense should be as minimal as possible in using violence. The goal, unattainable for human beings, is total nonviolence.

In order for private defense not to degenerate into blood feuds, there has to be some common ethical ground, some ground rules, or perhaps some institution building that involves neutral third parties that maintain a society’s ideas of what constitutes proper defense and defense measures against a variety of possible acts of violence that call for defense. When warfare breaks out as in Syria, it is impossible to think of rebels, jihadists, anti-Assad and pro-Assad groups as being engaged in the kind of private defense that anarcho-capitalists envision.

While the distinction between public and private and between state and anarchy is important, the point I am making is that in concrete instances, these distinctions are sometimes less important than simply whether or not the defense is really defense or whether it is aggression and offense.

I am of the view that one should never use violence against the State. Do not fight the State. Ignore it as much as possible. If possible, homeschool one’s children. If possible, form communities that are outside a society that is imbued with the State. The degree of disillusionment with politics and politicians is immense in this country. This provides a fertile ground for building new institutions away from the State.

In Syria, the situation is both changing and murky. There appears to be a great deal of violence on both sides, often lacking in restraint. A military spirit prevails on both sides. Aggression is on both sides.

The U.S. is poised to intrude with its own violence, claiming some sort of defense when it is very much aggressive. Any large-scale violence has a tendency to go too far. Already the U.S. spokespeople are mentioning broadening their targets. The spirit behind a U.S. intervention is one of violence and punishment. It is a martial spirit, not a peacemaking spirit. The spirit of violence is the antithesis of the anarchist spirit as Eller conceives it.

Anarchism properly conceived has an entirely peaceful cast to it. The agencies of the U.S. government associate the term anarchist with violent groups in their teaching materials. My feeling is that part of this is being ignorant and out of date. They are using ideas of anarchy that go back to the nihilists, revolutionaries and bomb-throwing anarchists in the early 1900s. But another part is intended to discredit anarchists who are peaceful and those who believe in black bloc demonstrations. These are subject to infiltration by government agents who attempt to promote violence.

We have to continue to make clear that being anarchist and anti-State has nothing to do with violence. Being anarchist has to do with building peaceful societies within a country whose dominant norms are to acquiesce in violent means.

8:21 pm on September 6, 2013