LX – What Is Anarchy?

have mixed feelings about the use of labels to describe philosophical
views, whether of myself or others. It is difficult to avoid doing
so because our efforts to understand and communicate about the world
necessarily involve the use of words and words are, as Alfred Korzybski
warned us, abstractions that never equate with what they are meant
to describe. His oft-quoted statement that "the map is not
the territory" offers a caveat whose implications for confusion
are further compounded when addressing such abstract topics as political

philosophical abstraction that seems to befuddle most people is
"anarchy." To those challenged by complexity — such as
radio talk show hosts and cable-TV "newscasters" who are
convinced that all political opinions can be confined to the categories
of "liberal" and "conservative" — the word anarchy
evokes an unfocused fear of uncertain forces. Images of bomb-throwing
thugs who smash and burn the property of others are routinely conjured
up by politicians and the media to frighten people into an extension
of police authority over their lives. "Disorder" and "lawless
confusion" are common dictionary definitions of this word.

there have been some, calling themselves "anarchists,"
who have engaged in violence on behalf of their political ambitions,
is not to be denied. Nor can we overlook the provocateuring
occasionally engaged in by undercover policemen — operating under
the guise of "anarchists" — to justify harsh reprisals
against political protests. But to condemn a philosophic viewpoint
because a few wish to corrupt its meaning for their narrow advantage
is no more justifiable than condemning Christianity because a man
murders his family and defends his acts on the grounds "God
told me to do it!"

long as a president continues to rationalize war against the Iraqi
people as "operation freedom"; as long as the Strategic
Air Command insists that "peace is our profession"; and
as long as police departments advertise that they are there "to
serve and protect," intelligent minds must be prepared to look
behind the superficiality and imagery of words to discover their
deeper meaning. Such is the case with the word "anarchy."

late Robert LeFevre made one such effort to transcend the popular
meaning of the word when he declared that "an anarchist is
anyone who believes in less government than you do." But an
even better understanding of the concept can be derived from the
Greek origins of the word (anarkhos) which meant "without
a ruler." It is this definition of the word that members of
the political power structure (i.e., your "rulers") do
not want you to consider. Far better that you fear the hidden monsters
and hobgoblins who are just waiting to bring terror and havoc to
your lives should efforts to increase police powers or budgets fail.

there murderers, kidnappers, rapists, and arsonists in our world?
Of course there are, and there will always be, and they do not all
work for the state. It is amazing that, with all the powers and
money conferred upon the state to "protect" us from such
threats, they continue to occur with a regularity that seems to
have increased with the size of government! Even the current "mad
cow disease" scare is being used, by the statists, as a reason
for more government regulation, an effort that conveniently ignores
the fact that the federal government has been closely regulating
meat production for many decades.

can we ignore the history of the state in visiting upon humanity
the very death and destruction that its defenders insist upon as
a rationale for political power. Those who condemn anarchy should
engage in some quantitative analysis. In the twentieth century alone,
governments managed to kill — through wars, genocides, and other
deadly practices — some 200,000,000 men, women, and children. How
many people were killed by anarchists during this period? Governments,
not anarchists, have been the deadly "bomb-throwers" of
human history!

of the disingenuous manner in which this word has been employed,
I endeavor to be as precise in my use of the term as possible. I
employ the word "anarchy" not as a noun,
but as a verb. I envision no utopian community, no "Galt's
Gulch" to which free men and women can repair. I prefer to
think of anarchy as a way in which people deal with one another
in a peaceful, cooperative manner; respectful of the inviolability
of each other's lives and property interests; resorting to contract
and voluntary transactions rather than coercion and expropriation
as a way of functioning in society.

am often asked if anarchy has ever existed in our world, to which
I answer: almost all of your daily behavior is an anarchistic expression.
How you deal with your neighbors, coworkers, fellow customers in
shopping malls or grocery stores, is often determined by subtle
processes of negotiation and cooperation. Social pressures, unrelated
to statutory enactments, influence our behavior on crowded freeways
or grocery checkout lines. If we dealt with our colleagues at work
in the same coercive and threatening manner by which the state insists
on dealing with us, our employment would be immediately terminated.
We would soon be without friends were we to demand that they adhere
to specific behavioral standards that we had mandated for their

you come over to our home for a visit, you will not be taxed, searched,
required to show a passport or driver's license, fined, jailed,
threatened, handcuffed, or prohibited from leaving. I suspect that
your relationships with your friends are conducted on the same basis
of mutual respect. In short, virtually all of our dealings with
friends and strangers alike are grounded in practices that are peaceful,
voluntary, and devoid of coercion.

very interesting study of the orderly nature of anarchy is found
in John Phillip Reid's book, Law
for the Elephant
. Reid studied numerous diaries and letters
written by persons crossing the overland trail in wagon trains going
from St. Joseph, Missouri to Oregon and California. The institutions
we have been conditioned to equate with "law and order"
(e.g., police, prisons, judges, etc.) were absent along the frontier,
and Reid was interested in discovering how people behaved toward
one another in such circumstances. He discovered that most people
respected property and contract rights, and settled whatever differences
they had in a peaceful manner, all of this in spite of the fact
that there were no "authorities" to call in to enforce
a decision. Such traits went so far as to include respect for the
property claims of Indians. The values and integrities that individuals
brought with them were sufficient to keep the wagon trains as peaceful

spent many years driving on California freeways, I have observed
an informal order amongst motorists who are complete strangers to
one another. There is a general — albeit not universal — courtesy
exhibited when one driver wishes to make a lane change and, in spite
of noncooperative drivers, a spontaneous order arises from this
interplay. A major reason for the cooperative order lies in the
fact that a driving mistake can result in serious injury or death,
and that such consequences will be felt at once, and by the
actor, unlike political decision-making that shifts the costs to

may answer that freeway driving is regulated by the state, and that
driving habits are not indicative of anarchistic behavior. The same
response can be made concerning our behavior generally (i.e., that
government laws dictate our conduct in all settings). But this misconceives
the causal connections at work. The supervision of our moment-to-moment
activities by the state is too remote to affect our actions. We
are polite to fellow shoppers or our neighbor for reasons that have
nothing to do with legal prescripts. What makes our dealings with
others peaceful and respectful comes from within ourselves,
not from beyond. For precisely the same reason, a society can be
utterly destroyed by the corruption of such subjective influences,
and no blizzard of legislative enactments or quadrupling of police
forces will be able to avert the entropic outcome. Do you now understand
the social meaning of the "Humpty-Dumpty" nursery rhyme?

study of complexity, or chaos, informs us of patterns of regularity
that lie hidden in our world, but which spontaneously manifest themselves
to generate the order that we like to pretend authorities have created
for us. There is much to discover about the interplay of unseen
forces that work, without conscious direction, to make our lives
more productive and peaceful than even the best-intended autocrat
can accomplish. As the disruptive histories of state planning and
regulation reveal, efforts to impose order by fiat often produce
disorder, a phenomenon whose explanation is to be found in the dynamical
nature of complexity. In the words of Terry Pratchett: "Chaos
is found in greatest abundance wherever order is being sought. Chaos
always defeats order because it is better organized."

is an expression of social behavior that reflects the individualized
nature of life. Only as living beings are free to pursue their particular
interests in the unique circumstances in which they find themselves,
can conditions for the well-being of all be attained. Anarchy presumes
decentralized and cooperative systems that serve the mutual interests
of the individuals comprising them, without the systems ever becoming
their own reasons for being. It is this thinking, and the practices
that result therefrom, that is alone responsible for whatever peace
and order exists in society.

thinking, by contrast, presumes the supremacy of the systems (i.e.,
the state) and reduces individuals to the status of resources for
the accomplishment of their ends. Such systems are grounded in the
mass-minded conditioning and behavior that has produced the deadly
wars, economic dislocations, genocides, and police-state oppressions
that comprise the essence of political history.

and women need nothing so much right now as to rediscover and reenergize
their own souls. They will never be able to accomplish such purposes
in the dehumanizing and dispirited state systems that insist upon
controlling their lives and property. In the sentiments underlying
anarchistic thinking, men and women may be able to find the individualized
sense of being and self-direction that they long ago abandoned in
marbled halls and citadels.

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