An Anarchist Apology, Part 1

I’m an Anarchist; I tell people about it and I don’t hide it on the internet. Lately that’s garnered more interest than usual from my friends on Facebook, so I decided to write a bit more about it than works well in that medium and then post that here, shamelessly bringing traffic to this site at the same time.

I’m formatting my apology for Anarchy in a question and answer format. I’ve asked for some questions on Facebook and have come up with a few of my own, but any new questions you may have can be answered in a later part of this apology.

Question 1: What is Anarchy?

Short Answer: When I use the term Anarchy, I usually mean “direct democracy with the individual right to secession.”

Long Answer: Most large political groups include factions or sub-groups that disagree, sometimes violently, with each other. Many times, they don’t even agree on what it means to be part of the group they share membership in. Democrats and Republicans are classic examples of this. What do, say, Ron Paul and Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common? Just about nothing, except that they are both Republicans.

It stands to reason, then, that Anarchy is no exception and that many different Anarchists have many different definitions of Anarchy. Definitions can range from the angrily atheistic “No gods, no masters” to Jaques Ellul’s “absolute rejection of violence.” Anarchists come with all sorts of political and religious leanings, from those who find the basis for their political beliefs in their understanding of Jesus to those who believe that God, if He exists, is the ultimate tyrant.

From what I can tell, Anarchists do have this in common, however: their belief that power should be decentralized. All Anarchists seem to believe that those in power use that power to oppress weaker people and so the concentration of power that allows for this oppression should be abolished. They believe that power should be spread among the people in such a way that oppression of others will be impossible, or at least very difficult and risky.

Even within that unifying principle, however, Anarchists will differ on exactly how the strong are oppressing the weak. Anarcho-Capitalists will say that the many, strong through numbers, oppress the few who are the most industrious. Anarcho-Syndicalists (perhaps the most famous kind of Anarchists, thanks to Monty Python), who mix Marxist economic thought with Anarchist political thought, will say that the bosses, managers and owners of the factories are oppressing the wage-slave workers.

Most Anarchists also agree that politicians (or most politicians) are generally ineffectual in solving societal problems. This may be because politicians are in cahoots with whoever is doing the oppressing, because the political system is inherently ineffectual or both. Anarchists generally believe in accomplishing their goals through “direct action,” meaning that they work to accomplish their desired goals themselves instead of asking politicians to do it for them, which is called “indirect action.” What direct action looks like in practice depends on the Anarchist carrying it out. Depending on the beliefs and courage of the Anarchist, it can be anything from lobbing Molotov cocktails and cobblestones at police to establishing relief-houses for the poor that government and society has failed to care for to taking the government to court because they are trying to vaccinate your cows even though you’ve gone out of your way to make sure they don’t need to be vaccinated to calmly and non-violently walking up to police in a protest, knowing that they will brutalize you.

Anarchists also vary widely in their goals. Most, if not all, would like the current system of nation-states to go away in one way or another. Some believe that this is possible, while others don’t, but work toward it because that’s what they believe to be the right thing to do.

Next time I’ll answer the question “Who are some famous Anarchists you admire or find inspiring?”

  1. A question I would like to see answered:

    Usually ‘anarchist’ is understood to mean ‘one who opposes all forms of government.’ Is this true, and if so, what does it mean for political/economic/social action? Does everything come down to the individual, or can groups of people acting together qualify as non-governmental but still have power?

    • Yeah, that is a good question. “Anarchy” is often understood to be an overall lack of order rather than a benevolent state of people working for the betterment of themselves and others, free from the interference of too much authority. What would the world look like when you get a critical mass of anarchists together? What if half of the world lived as anarchists?

      To beat my favorite dead horse, Christian Reconstructionism talks about establishing Christian republics all over the world with laws based upon the Bible. The government is supposed to be small and non-oppressive. The question that comes to my mind for Reconstructionists is, “So who is going to make this happen–you???”

        • Post169
        • March 26th, 2011

        Christian Reconstructionism as you describe it sounds like what started the USA.
        Unchristian greed for power seems to be what pushed most of the net change in the US between the beginning and now – though definitely not all of the change.

      • What I have read from the Reconstructionists indicates that they see the original settlers in the American colonies as their ideological forbears.

        As for Anarchism, it’s one of those things that seems to require something beyond human effort to accomplish. I mentioned Christian Reconstructionism because it assumes ultimate victory in every sphere of life, but it seems to be grounded in the American experience of history. Reconstructionism puts forward the necessity of intervention by the Holy Spirit to change society, but I fear that its proponents may not be prepared for the Holy Spirit’s non-involvement in their visions for the future.

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