Home / Culture and Society / In Defense of Anarchism, Part II

In Defense of Anarchism, Part II

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

Let’s address the vagaries of statehood from the vantage point of practice. I’ll continue with the original formatting (see Part I) by way of random remarks. 

(1) One would assume that the formation of the State was precipitated by a desire to deal with, and effectively resolve, inter-societal conflict. And indeed, given this premise, it’s a noble undertaking both in concept and in practice, because the State can be posited thus as the ultimate authority to resolve all manner of important disputes. But therein lies the rub. Since the State has been charged thus with this all-important function, it must, nominally at least (and provided of course that it takes it task seriously), pay lip service to all divergent and potentially conflicting interests. This is more true of the so-called democratic regimes than of the totalitarian ones; however, even the totalitarian states, such as the former Soviet Union or the present-day People’s Republic, can’t help but yield at times to international or domestic pressures resulting from the perception of state-generated injustices. The Third Reich represents a short-lived exception: the Nazi state was firing on all four, politically, economically and militaristically, no doubt because of Hitler’s charismatic leadership and especial vulnerability of the German people.

The irony is that whereas the State was conceived with the idea of doing away with, or at least reducing the intensity of, inter-societal conflict to manageable proportions, it turned into a crucible, a theater wherein said conflict has become legitimized (so at to form a leitmotif) and is continuously being re-enacted on the grandest possible scale. All of which seriously undermines the rather simplistic proposition that the State is governed by the ruling class alone, or that the State interests are therefore expressed by, and confined to, the ruling class interests. A far more reasonable hypothesis would be that just like a good neighbor, the State, especially a welfare state, aims at being all things to all people: no one is being excluded.

(2) Aside from the domestic pressures which keep the State forever on its toes lest it be perceived by any dissident group or faction as anything other than impartial, there are international pressures as well. Indeed, no state can rightfully exercise its intended function unless it is perceived by all its subjects as commanding a modicum of sovereignty. And that means, of course, a measure of independence from other, more powerful states, without which quality, if the State is perceived, that is, as weak and subject to other powers – think of the lord-vassal relations from our feudal past, for instance – none of its edicts, just and reasonable as they may be, are enforceable. Simply put, there is no projection or exercise of power from a position of weakness.

North Korea’s recent, what some might call, “belligerent attitude,” is a case in point: bolstering its dwindling authority at home could well be the basis for its bellicose attitude and posture with respect to other nation-states. Of course, our State Department officials can’t bring themselves to think outside the box: life outside of statehood is something they cannot possibly consider.

(3) The existing paradigm, along with the conditions which seem to preclude any other, makes for certain pathology (because of the erosion that inevitably sets in and corrupts what may have started out as a perfectly innocuous and well-formed, if not well-intentioned, concept). For let’s face it, the (institution of the) State is in a bind both from within and without. In the former instance, there is this constant pressure always having to appear fair-minded and just by means of a fine balancing act between ever-conflicting interests; but it’s the latter, I’d say, which circumscribes the inescapable dynamics of international relations, that sets the ship of state, state, on the road to perdition. For indeed, every state large or small, powerful or weak, must vie for comparative advantage not only for reasons already mentioned but just as importantly perhaps, lest it not be consumed by another. It is thus that the condition of ongoing conflict is part of the setup, a built-in feature of the dominant paradigm, and there’s no escaping the fact. Diplomacy is but a gloss we put on what is, at bottom, mortal combat, a zero-sum game. Aggression is the order of the day and war the ultimate solution. Machiavelli and Metternich both had it right. Both were realists to an extreme.

(4) Needless to say, the attendant results, whether anticipated or not, are anything but promising. The bottom line is that all states, regardless of intention, are required to act in a manner of speaking like bullies, assuming thus personal characteristics, qualities of character we tend to associate with real-life persons. There is a caveat, however. “Acting a bully” is a bad enough trait in the realm of personal relations, but it pales into insignificance when some such description is applicable, and accurately, to behavior of impersonal entities such as the corporation or the state.

I suppose the point I’m making is that real-life persons always have the prerogative to walk away when faced with an act of bullying; nothing but pride stands in their way of so doing. Well, pride needn’t enter the decision-making processes on behalf of such impersonal, legal constructs as the state or the corporation, entities which have a far greater axe to grind, their very survival as an institution.

(5) The constrains placed on the State, pressures both internal and external, to play the part of a good sovereign (so as to fulfill its designated function) have the effect of turning even a democratic state into a tyrannical institution and a ruthless adversary. On the home front, terms such as “the enemy of the state” or the FBI most-wanted list, the War on Drugs and the Sedition Act of 1918, the Pledge of Allegiance, the RICO Act and the IRS tax code, indeed, the very foundation of our criminal justice system whereby every defendant must plead his or her case v. the State – each is emblematic of an institution that is hell-bent on maintaining its sovereignty by hook or by crook; if you stand in the way, you do so at your own peril. The usual suspects cover a broad spectrum, from members of organized crime to all who engage in illegal activities – “not sanctioned by the State” is another way of putting it – anything in fact that tends to challenge or undermine the authority of the State in all matters of life and death. And it’s all couched in legalese, the idea of due process, law & order, and the like, but don’t let this veneer fool you. The State is bent on upholding its supremacist position, all who disagree beware.

Likewise with the state’s foreign enemies, except that nowadays we call them terrorists – a term reserved for perpetrators of hostile acts against the state, overt or covert, perpetrators who are denied the usual protections that come with acting on behalf of another state. It is thus that acts of espionage or open warfare between the states are conveniently distinguished and set apart from all manner of terrorist activities by denying the latter the legal status that comes with statehood. Again, the irony is that the most terrorist organization ever reserves for itself the sole right to act as an aggressor: violence is deemed legal but only if sanctioned by the State.

(6) Julian Assange, the face behind WikiLeaks, provides another, albeit more subtle example. Understandably, Assange justifies the WikiLeaks’ raison d’être in terms of promoting government transparency, in accord with the best in the journalistic tradition, but make no mistake about it: the larger point is to degrade the institution of the State. That this point isn’t lost is evidenced by the vast array of adverse reactions ranging from outright denial, minimizing the significance of the leaks, to outcries calling for his head. Just as interesting is the fact that the sense of outrage is shared by all and all alike: even the “rogue states” have joined the chorus. But this shouldn’t surprise us since for reasons already alluded to, which stem from a defect in the original concept, all states devolve into rogue states: it’s only a matter of degree.

(7) In the closing segment of this three-part series, I will lay out the foundations of anarchism as a political philosophy, the only viable political philosophy for our times. The movement of history is already favoring some such development although it’s less-than-clearly defined, operating more on the level of the subconscious than in terms of any human design; consequently, I’ll address the present manifestations and where they might lead. I’ll also address the common confusion conflating anarchism with anarchy. Contrary to popular opinion, anarchism, property understood, is not devoid of administration, management and structure. It’s not at all the kind of situation where anything goes. I’ll address these misconceptions too.

(8) Let’s face it. We’re experiencing a crisis in the realm of political philosophy and thought. Politics, as understood by the ancient writers, Aristotle and Plato, has failed. The original idea was to imbue the body politic, the emerging political and social institutions, with morality. It was a simple idea since morality was already part and parcel of human relations, the standard. Consequently, nothing more was called for than mere extension of what already obtained in the realm of the personal and the individual to the political and the social.

Well, the experiment backfired In the process, it led to the formation of the State, the most tyrannical institution ever; and the notion of sovereignty is the culprit, the root cause of what’s essentially a flawed concept. It’s time to disavow ourselves of this notion and look for solutions elsewhere.

Powered by

About Roger Nowosielski

  • John Lake

    I have made a decision to leave matters concerning Anarchy as a viable force in your able hands. JL

  • I don’t worry about Alan’s bedside manner, Cindy. It’s the least of my concerns. As long as he can stimulate the dialogue, that’s all that matters. For all his faults, and aside from his motivation, he’s got more balls than most denizens of BC, and I appreciate that.

    How many regular contributors have commented on this thread thus far, you tell me, other than the usual suspects? I understand the topic is a taboo, not to mention the level of abstraction somewhat prohibitive to most. Even so . . . This site presumably features some real bright lights, especially by their own admission. (Zing comes to mind, ready to battle you on every single turn.) So where are they?

    That’s why I give Alan credit. At least he’s got intellect.

  • Well, I could deal with it occurring, but not continuing.

  • Roger,

    You would make a great parent to an annoying child–one who keeps interrupting, who runs all around the restaurant jumping on the seats of the booths, who whines and demands and stamps its feet.

    I could never deal with such a thing.

  • Gonna have to respond tomorrow, Mr. Lake.

  • John Lake

    It is fortunate that those with the strength to do so aren’t required to formulate new principles of population management overnight. This development comes with time. It is not a quick reaction to new or intolerable situations. In modern times designers are apt to start with such principles as “all life is sacred’, or “the lives of those who follow our lead are sacred”… some such thing. All of this becomes the more confusing with the infusion of religious principles. We are fortunate that those founding American culture only determined a belief in “God”, without going further with definition. Religion can be very destructive to new or evolving cultures.
    Once having established a workable system of governing, including the necessary establishment of laws and funding (taxation), we can turn our attention to less inclusive issues. You say, “there is this constant pressure always having to appear fair-minded and just by means of a fine balancing act between ever-conflicting interests.” It would be bad enough were it only that, but in fact, with many individuals involved at every turn, it is necessary to be fair minded and just within the framework of the ever-conflicting interests. To this end a fair and wise judiciary might be a sensible integrant. It might be helpful in some cases to seek a common element that all those “interests” can agree on.
    The issue of “war” is mentioned. Shall we fight for right and self preservation? Shall we fight to enlarge our territory, have more of those things needed to provide comfort? Shall we fight to spread our religious leanings? All these things are considered in light of the very principles on which we began. And it our principles become so unbearable to domestic and foreign observers that groups form to oppose us, we have lost. We must devote time, effort, money, lives, just to continue the ways that these observers see as non-acceptable. I am not at this juncture criticising the “bully” necessity. You may be right, and in any case, being big and brash appeals to many constituents.
    Julian Assange is a current and unique situation. In a perfect society, any attempt to reveal imperfection, or corruption would be laudable. Joe Wilson is an example. He brought information to the population. Unfortunately, many in the current government are threatened by liberal men of integrity like Assange, and therefore they strike back . The fact that it happens doesn’t make it right. The entire general area of having a media, an unrestricted media, an un-coerced media is beyond the scope of my comment here.
    One last thing. When the Congress responds to a violent shooting (Arizona) with the thought of further abridging the popular freedom of speech, they are simply subjecting themselves to further violence from anarchists and citizens in hearing of their foolishness.

  • John is confused. Alan is being provocative on purpose and asks poignant questions.

    I appreciate that.

    Tomorrow perhaps give some thought to my observations.


  • But anyhow, Roger…that Jerome was irritating the hell out of me. Notice I did not reply the same way to John Lake.

  • Cindy, a belated response:

    1) Associating anarchism with violence is a commonly made association and one shouldn’t be angered at it but look at it as an opportunity to clarify the concept.

    2) On a larger point, any political philosophy, of any ilk, is liable to evoke (in some adherents) violent responses (so anarchism is no exception here). This is a rather modern phenomenon, whereby politics and political ideology, are in the driver seat and determine human action rather than being merely an expression, or a composite, of a wide array of forces which go under the rubric of human motivation.

    3) This insight is brilliantly portrayed in Middlemarch, a Masterpiece Theater production (1994 TV Serial), including the commentaries, a must see.

    One of the enduring merits of this perennial classic is the manner in which Ms Eliot demonstrates how one’s politics and political views merelyemerge out of a wide variety of ordinary human concerns – religious, moral, business-related, personal, you name it – rather than define them. I suggest now Ms Eliot is right on the money; that how life used to be for most in our not too distant past.

    4) How do I account then for what I view as a radical shift from our past to the present, a shift whereby political motivation, ideology and concerns become center-stage? Two factors: (i) the general impoverishment of ordinary life; and (ii), heightened consciousness, no doubt as a result of greater exposure to ways of life beyond the provincial life.

    As an interesting aside, this also throws a new light on the nature of conservative thought on the part of ordinary folk. (I’m not speaking of demagogues now!) They still behave and act in the olden, provincial ways so brilliantly portrayed by Ms Elliot: their politics emerges out of ordinary concerns rather then the other way around. We should be more understanding therefore.

    5) Lastly, the idea that foreign relations drive states in the direction of absolutism is a new idea for me and it emerged in the course of my thinking on the subject. Yet it appears to make perfect sense. Which, by the way, also accounts for the failure of political philosophies of the past: the concept of the State was never considered in the context of international relations but only in isolation, as though that context hadn’t existed.

    There is of course justification for this oversight. The Athenian Empire, once the Persian threat was effectively dealt with and repelled, had no equal economically and militarily, until it folded like a deck of cards. Likewise with the Roman Empire. Consequently, there was no apparent reason to think through the concept as part of a larger, international context, because those empires were all unto themselves; there were no competitors to speak of. Needless to say, this isn’t the case today.

    These are rather new ideas for me, still in the process of forming, so your input will be appreciated.

  • Yes, below is where that happened. All he has to do is email whatever he wishes to write to a second party to consistently get the one IP for Irv and another for himself.

    7 – Alan Kurtz
    Nov 01, 2010 at 2:08 pm
    Shit. For the past few months, my BC bio has maintained that I am “Running Unopposed for Blogcritics’ Most Hated Writer of 2010 Award.”

    However, now [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor] Irvin F. Cohen has materialized out of thin air to challenge me for that coveted prize. It’s damned discouraging. I worked and slaved all year long to earn the Most Hated Award, submitting over 100 articles published on BC from January through October. Yet here comes Sergeant Slacker, with a grand total of three blogs over the last two weeks, and I seriously feel him breathing down my unleathered neck.

    I appeal to the many BC regulars who have taken such pleasure in vilifying me throughout 2010. Please, I beg you, remain loyal in hating me above all others! Do not be swayed by a latecomer, no matter how much you may despise him! I am the most deserving of your malevolence. Vote for me as Blogcritics’ Most Hated Writer of 2010!

    8 – roger nowosielski
    Nov 01, 2010 at 2:53 pm
    Alan, you’re just vying for attention. [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]

    9 – Irvin F. Cohen
    Nov 01, 2010 at 3:01 pm
    Please note blogcritters,

    That first and foremost I am not me, but am rather him. That, I Alan Kurtz, have created this loathsome, detestable character Irvin F. Cohen, this much desired noble and compelling fictional persona that I could only dream of for myself in my wildest imagination; solely in order to gin up interest in my own personal, overweening loathsomeness and overwhelmingly despicable nature, heart and mind, and very lowly, nay, make that lowliest soul.

    So second, I, Allen Kurtz do hereby reclaim my rightful place to being truly the most loathsome, reptilian, lowlife, scumbag critter in all of Blogocritterland. So please, reconsider, and do not allow this upstart figment of my deranged imagination to beat me at my own game. Please, Please, pretty please with sugar and spice on it, and I’ll even throw in ten bucks to boot. Oh, alright, you drive a hard bargain, I”ll make that 20 bucks and to show you what a decent sort I truly am, I’ll give you the super-duper, sech-a-deal, Jewish, double, super, absolutely going out of business, crazy Irv, deep-deep-deep Jewish wholesale, reduced for quick sale, clearance absolutely must go, price of only $ 2.99! That’s right, if you vote for me as the most loathsome and detested blog-o-critter in all of blog-o-critter-land I’ll give you all of $ 1.99. So vote for me…or die or go fornicate yourselves up your collective anuses, in your ears, in your nostrils under your arms, in your mouths, between your toes and wherever your masculine, erect phallus will goeth or reach or fit.

    10 – Irvin F. Cohen
    Nov 01, 2010 at 3:14 pm
    Dear Roger, [Edited]

    Let’s see, you don’t hate me nor do you hold me in contempt.

    I’m a little confused… does that mean you love me?

    11 – Alan Kurtz
    Nov 01, 2010 at 3:16 pm
    Roger (#8), you take everything so seriously. I bet you’re no fun at all at a party. Or maybe you’re still suffering from the flu? If so, here’s hoping you get well soon.

  • Didn’t Alan explain in a thread that he created Irv and that he used a different IP for Irv? I thought he did.

  • The Craven Mevyn

    Alan! Dude! My muse and inspiration!

    …should’a known

    How’s it hanging?

  • Alan who is Jerome but not Irv: Once again you have managed to delude yourself – perhaps sticking to just one ID from now on, as you have been formally informed also, will make you less confused.

    The differences between Nietzschean and anarchistic are not “fine philosphical distinctions”, no more than are the differences between, say, faithists and the non-superstitious or those who can follow a change of reasoning and those who can’t.

  • My goodness, it is Kurtz. The syntax of #12 betrays him.

  • Is he Alan aka Irv?

    ignore Alan/Irv/Jerome

  • Jerome Ludlum

    My point exactly, #10. While you’re debating with yourself the fine philosophical distinctions between Nietzschean and anarchistic, the true anarchist man of action is loading his gun. He has as much contempt for you as he does for the denizens of government and commerce.

  • It is thus that the condition of ongoing conflict is part of the setup, a built-in feature of the dominant paradigm, and there’s no escaping the fact…it is, at bottom, mortal combat, a zero-sum game. Aggression is the order of the day and war the ultimate solution.

    Great stuff, Roger. I hadn’t considered things from a competing world power issue in quite this way. But it makes perfect sense.

  • I think that sounds more Nietzschean than anarchistic myself but you seem to be enjoying yourself so who am I to intrude…

  • Jerome Ludlum

    That’s why Czolgosz would be proud. The true anarchist man of action is a loner. He’s a fighter, not a philosopher like those on this thread. He’d sooner kill you than debate you.

  • Jerome: I fail to see what would be anarchistic about the scenario you depict; care to explain yourself?

    Secondly, is it not the case that Czolgosz was not in fact accepted as a member of any anarchist organization and acted alone, rather like Loughner?

  • Anarcissie

    I guess we can never stop reciting the ABC’s. The most efficient form of doing violence is war. The most effective way to organize war is by forming a state — that’s why they exist. Therefore, if one tries to get rid of the state by means of violence, obviously one will only bring about a new state, probably worse than the previous one. Anarchists above moron level should generally recognize this obvious fact.

    The equation of anarchism with violence suggests that if it were not for government repression, human beings would inevitably and constantly be at one another’s throats. However, the same human beings who are supposed to be too violent to control themselves would also have to staff the government which was to keep them under control. The strategy does not look like it would be very successful. And, indeed, its failure is exactly what we observe.

  • Jerome Ludlum

    People who espouse anarchism as a philosophy ought to condone the recent Tucson massacre. What better anarchist act could there be than showing up at a public political gathering, shooting a congresswoman in the head, and murdering a federal judge? Czolgosz would be proud.

  • Thanks, BTW, for re-introducing the historical perspective; the rarified atmosphere at Mount Olympus makes one forget.

    Which brings me to R. G. Collinwood’s concept (The Idea of History which served as basis of would-be PhD thesis during my communitarian phase:

    The Republic of Plato is an account not of the unchanging ideal of political life, but the Greek ideal as Plato received it and re-interpreted it. The Ethics of Aristotle describes not an eternal morality but the morality of the Greek gentleman. Hobbes’s Leviathan expounds the political ideas of seventeenth-century absolutism in their English form…. [etc]”

    But to cut to the chase, Hobbes was responding to the Cromwellian era and the execution of Charles I. And since the figure of the King was no longer untouchable, the ultimate and absolute authority had to be anchored in the State.

  • Alright, Mark, let me get to the meat of your comment, the deeper layer.

    (1) Your account is far more sinister (shall I say Foucauldian?) than the one presented, arguing that the concept of the State was flawed from the get-go because it was designed (by the power interests) to reside over and perpetuate those very interests and the condition of injustice and inequality. Consequently, the failure of the State is a failure that can be traced to those very sinister designs; it fell victim to its own hubris.

    (2) By contrast, my account is “ideational,” from the standpoint of the political concept itself (and the logic of the concept), putting aside thus all questions pertaining to the underlying motivation. In short, I’m presenting what may be called “best case scenario.” So even assuming the most honorable intentions on the part of those who conceived of the notion (of the State) as a solution to their “problems,” the concept, when carried to its logical conclusion, breaks down from within: it can be shown to be detrimental to the best interests of the political community (and that’s regardless of the original intent behind the concept). In a sense, therefore, I think I end up to be validating your hypothesis as to sinister design by showing that even if we suspend that motivation for the time being, the State ends up a sinister institution.

    (3) Don’t both accounts have their merit?

  • Provocative comment, Mevyn. Let me try to respond.

    (1) The account provided was not only schematic but also ideational. Nonetheless, there is a kernel of truth to it, in that the need to deal with inter-societal conflict figured among the causative factors. See Thomas Hobbes, the nominal father of the modern concept of statehood. Hobbes’s account is also ideational, as opposed to sociological or archeological, reinforced besides by the dwindling authority of the Church in what was rapidly becoming a secular society. The modern political concept of the State, the Sovereign, was Hobbes’s solution to the crisis of faith.

    (2) The economic underpinnings of what’s essentially a political concept is a point well taken and primary one to boot; for if “inter-societal conflict” was one of the initial conditions, one must ask why, what was the conflict about. Hence, the push toward “anti-egalitarian hierarchical division of labor and distribution of product,” away from the communal mode, is a fairly reasonable assumption, although I’m not certain how it would bear under the historical scrutiny of what still was, in the main, a feudal system. Anyway, it’s an intriguing suggestion, for it implies that the forces which led to the eventual destruction of feudal type of relations were already well underway and clearly enough defined to be identified as a major cause of inter-societal conflict and strife. Are we also talking here about precursors of the capitalist system of production?

    (3) The push “to implement an anti-egalitarian hierarchical division of labor and distribution of product” also presupposes, I should think, a push to establish a system of private property. Perhaps economic histories of the Middle Ages – by such as Fernand Braudel, George Duby and Marc Bloch – might shed some light on questions raised in # 2 & 3. Hobbes’s own account, to the best of my knowledge, is unhelpful in the mentioned respects.

    Anyway, thanks for the feedback. My usually reliable discussion circle has been hibernating during these winter months, and I hope your thought-provoking comment will wake ’em all up from their dogmatic slumber.

  • The Craven Mevyn

    perhaps the formation of the State was tainted from the get-go precipitated by a desire to implement an anti-egalitarian hierarchical division of labor and distribution of product and was a cause of rather than a response to what came to be the norm of inter-social conflict

  • Page #2, remark #3:

    amended to read:

    “… but it’s the latter, I’d say, which circumscribes the inescapable dynamics of international relations, that sets the ship of state, any state, on the road to perdition.”