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Is Anarchy the Ideal?
Ben Bartee

Anarchy –a combination of the Latin prefix a- meaning “without” and -archy meaning “ruler” or “government”  defined most simply as “absence of government” — has influenced Western political philosophy for centuries.

Far from merely the superficial, rebellious ideology embraced by punk rockers, anarchism informed major political events throughout history such as the French Revolution (although that particular social experiment didn’t paint anarchy in the best light) and the short-lived breakaway state of Catalonia in 20th-century Spain.

Since I was 19, the universal symbol of anarchy – the iconic Circle-A – has been tattooed on my left forearm. Following my personal development of political consciousness, without interruption, anarchism has been central to my personal identity and worldview.

But lately, I’ve been mulling, as I work through story after story of of corporate state abuse, the role of ideology and its practical applicability in realpolitik.

In my heart, I still reject ill-gotten authority in all of its ugly forms, no matter the ideology used to justify it. I still hate bullies and despots worldwide with a passion and experience sadistic glee when they fail.

I have not fallen so far as to consider myself a statist. Obviously, any lasting, meaningful political transformation will necessarily consist of dismantling the existing rotten state. That conviction has not changed, and I can’t foresee that it ever will.

The cause for reflection, rather, is the mechanism by which the requisite shared, well-cultivated sense of decency and honor necessary for civilization to flourish – with or without the presence of coercive authority – could be promoted in the absence of a centralized mechanism such as the state, however the state is conceived.

The concerns here I wish to express are not merely abstract/academic in nature. Real-world dilemmas, which require a balancing of interests in order to tackle in a thoughtful and morally consistent way, abound.

What entity, for instance, could be in a position to halt gain-of-function research by the likes of Anthony Fauci in some dingy Chinese lab if not a state? The so-called experts’ reckless experimentation jeopardizes the existence of the human race itself. As technology develops further, and more and more people and groups motivated solely by personal gain or avarice will gain access to increasingly awesome and destructive powers, the danger they pose increases.

What I wish to convey is that there are people in the world, a certain percentage of the population, who cannot be reformed and civilized because they have no moral core. They are psychopaths in the clinical sense, in that their behavior is not bound by moral qualms.

Bill Gates is truly evil. I’m not sure how he’s considered a marketing genius, but he’s literally giving me creeps.

“We’re taking genetically modified organisms and injecting right into the kids arms… right into their veins”

What is to be done with nefarious, power-hungry figures such as, for instance, Bill Gates, who publicly broadcasts his agenda to inject Frankenstein genetic material into children — potentially mutating the human genome in unpredictable and catastrophic ways forever?

When characters such as Gates demonstrate their immorality through transgressions against other persons or their property, they must be constrained for survival purposes. If there is no collective mechanism, such as a state, we are left with only vigilante justice, meted out with no organized consideration of the crime or its appropriate punishment.

It is insufficient to claim that merely dismantling the currently existing state, stripping it of its (officially designated) power, would be enough to achieve a lasting state of anarchy for the following reason:

Left to their own devices, groups with a will to power such as multinational corporations (or consortia thereof like the World Economic Forum) motivated solely by power and unconstrained by morality will assume for themselves the de factorole of government.

A new de facto state, no matter how unconventional, is then formed. The group commandeers territory for itself. The group regulates behavior among the people in the territory it has taken. The group acts sovereignly, within its territory, whether it is officially recognized by states outside of its territory or not.

The most basic urban street gains, for instance, exercise a rudimentary form of state power to rival the official state, represented by the police, on the streets they control. Force, in the absence of a willingness to negotiate by agreed-upon rules, is the only remedy available.

After all, in its most basic function, stripped of the liberal niceties that mask the true nature of government, the state’s power rests ultimately in its ability to impose its will through legal, social, and economic means, backed in the final analysis by force.

For these reasons, I have begun to question the long-term viability of anarchism as a governing philosophy. I still subscribe to it as a personal philosophy in terms of self-actualization and a rejection of undue constraints on personal liberty by powerful institutions.

A force to enact justice, and a logistically necessary infrastructure to accomplish it, is what I want. Is that necessarily in the form of a state?

That said, I understand that to legitimize state power to any degree is to flirt with authoritarianism.

Do all states necessarily descend into despotism, on a long enough timeline? Certainly most, if not all, in the historical record have to some degree but that doesn’t necessarily mean they must as a matter of course.

(I still favor maximum decentralization of power, state or otherwise, down to the most local level possible, a sincerely-held conviction that I have previously written about elsewhere.)

But the balancing of interests that I have begun to question is whether the merits of some form of state power, for the reasons explored here, outweigh the risks of abuse of power and undue influence.

What is my political identity?

Who am I?

I don’t quite know.

But here are some foundational non-negotiables:

  • Maximum freedom of movement
  • Maximum potential for self-actualization
  • Maximum freedom of speech
  • Maximum economic liberty
  • Constraint of malevolent actors from intruding on preceding liberties
  • Minimum state power necessary to foster the preceding five conditions

Does that make me a social libertarian? A minarchist?

The desired political ends are clear; the means by which we achieve them, and the label assigned to the philosophical scaffolding, are less so.

This has been an ongoing discourse among political philosophers for millennia, and I imagine it will continue capturing the imagination of idealists for millennia more (assuming humanity survives that long).

What do you think? A penny for your thoughts in the comments.

Ben Bartee is an independent Bangkok-based American journalist with opposable thumbs.

A tree should be judged ideally by its fruits. If its bounty is rotten, it is of no utility. If it produces plentiful, delicious fruit, on the other hand, most people welcome it.

Perhaps a better analogy might be the mighty mushroom. Some are deadly and others are treasure troves of selenium, copper, and magnesium. They have the capacity to either enhance life or snuff it out – as the state does, arguably, with liberty.

In public school, at the age of thirteen or so, my social studies teacher had us perform a project: a river meandered through several pieces of property. We in the class were each assigned one all our own and told we could do with it what we wanted.

The teacher, whom I now recognize as an ultra-lib, then instructed us to draw our ideal use of the riverside property – for example, a factory or an amusement park, etc. Afterward, we were then made to discuss how each of the uses to which we put our properties would affect the others downstream of the river.

Call it statist propaganda, as I know libertarians and anarchists of the peculiar North American variety reading this likely will. It probably was, but regardless it left an indelible impact on how I think about politics.

Smear me as a communist environmentalist tree hugger radical if you will; I believe in not destroying water sources that sustain life, and in constraining other actors from doing so. I don’t approve when the government dumps fluoride into the water supply for dubious purposes (almost certainly not for any Public Health™ purposes as they claim). I similarly disapprove when corporations, or any actor public or private, dump into them atrazine – a chemical sterilizer that turns animals into eunuchs.

In my estimation, the objective of any ideology worth its salt should be maximum individual sovereignty — but true, meaningful sovereignty. Nominal sovereignty doesn’t matter if you’re forced by the laws of physics to drink water laced with a chemical that sterilizes your whole family into eunuchs.

Until the technological capacity exists to truly separate oneself from the environmental interconnectivity to which we are all subject, what is put into the water supply affects everyone and everything that uses it.

It would be nice, of course, to live in a world where cause and effect were confined to the individual – in which good, wholesome, wise decisions are rewarded with health and wealth. What you get is what you give, as the adage goes.

Such is an admirable ideal, embraced by many libertarians and anarchists as the moral case to dispense with the state, that would be hard to argue with if it were true.

But it’s not true. If you believe it, no matter how noble the reason, you are living in something besides the real world. Malevolent actors have an enormous capacity to poison and degrade and ruin quality of life for everyone. Some mechanism must constrain them, lest we are left to the destructive whims of socoiopaths.

“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

― Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

The logic of the state, though, extends to disturbing conclusions. For that, I feel an unshakable sense of shame in offering its defense – as if I have assumed the role of Judas to my previously anarchist convictions.

If we accept that the mandate to dispense justice and prevent abuse of persons and property exists – the entire moral justification for the state – then it is not clear why the collection of nation-states that currently exist in international anarchy are the ideal:

“Anarchy in the context of the international system implies there are no higher authorities, and because nation states are considered by many as primary actors in international relations, an anarchical world would be one where there is no higher authority than that of the state.”

In the brand of particularly violent anarchy that currently characterizes the international system, states compete for finite resources in the pursuit of self-preservation, often leading to war – not the sort of peace and prosperity that most people, libertarian or otherwise, believe we should be striving for.

It is not clear, therefore, why the logic of the state should be limited to the national level. Abuses of persons and property still happen in this environment. However, they are committed by collective groupings of individuals that constitute nation-states against other groups formed along the same lines, rather on an individual basis that occurs in a true state of nature with no state whatsoever.

The same dilemma recurs: who or what will enforce justice at the international level?

This, as anarchists point out, is the flawed logic of statism from the start, in that there is no limiting principle to its expansion and consolidation into a Borg-like singularity that’s certainly not friendly to the individual.

The logic I have previously laid out leads seemingly to the justification for a singular world state of the United Nations variety, but with real teeth in the form of a globalized military. Of course, despising the United Nations myself, this is a conclusion I hypocritically will never embrace, despite my own apologism for the state in some form that I previously laid out.

So where does that leave us? With more questions than answers, it would seem.

Join the conversation. What do you think about the arguments for and against the existence of a state, in whatever form? Can illegitimate transgressions against persona and property be prevented or remedied in a state of anarchy?




Ben Bartee is a Bangkok-based American journalist with opposable thumbs. Follow his stuff via his blog, Armageddon ProseSubstackPatreonGab, and Twitter.

Join Armageddon Prose via Substack or Locals if you are inclined to support independent journalism free of corporate slant. Also, follow Armageddon Prose at Gab and Twitterfor the latest content. 

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