The word has become generally synonymous with chaos and disorder. Dog eat dog. As EPautos’ king troll (Clover; see here for more about him) puts it, anarchy means “do whatever the hell you like.”
Anarchy, strictly defined, means simply the absence of government.
It does not mean people won’t – much less can’t – govern themselves.
The fact is most people do exactly that.
And they do it without government.
Do you need government – its threats and laws – to keep you from taking a ball peen hammer to your neighbor’s head? Would you transform, like Wolfman, into a run-amok creature “doing whatever the hell you like” if Congress, the president and every federal and state bureaucrat got Jesus Hoovered into the sky tomorrow?
Well, you might do many things currently not legal.
There are many possibilities – given that almost everything is currently illegal unless done precisely the way the government demands it be done.
But it’s not likely you’d become a murderer or a thief, even if government disappeared tomorrow. Because you – like most people – are capable of self-government. Have no desire to hurt others and so try to avoid doing so, law or no law.
It does not mean the absence of rules or order.
It certainly does not mean chaos.
That is merely the bogeyman presented by those hoping to delegitimize opposition to top-down control of every last detail of our lives by remote, centralized authority. It’s not unlike the scarecrow in Wizard of Oz. He did not need the Wizard to give him a brain; he already had one.
Similarly, people are capable of self-government without needing government.
Do you behave a certain way when you are a guest in someone’s home? Do you behave that way because of government? Or because you self-govern?
Consider your interactions with neighbors and friends and co-workers. Are you only behaving decently because you dread “the law”?
Would you rip-off your customers if there were no law that said otherwise? Beat your children? “Do whatever the hell you liked”… regardless of consequences, no matter who you hurt?
Because like most people, you are probably not a narcissist or a sociopath or a psychopath. Such people are, according to academic studies of the matter, always a small minority of the general population. You will, however, encounter them regularly in government, which attracts defective people afflicted by the sick desire to lord it over others.
Which brings up an interesting point.
The critic of anarchism argues that people not under the yoke of a government will “do whatever the hell they like.” That is, they will not practice self-government. But who comprises the government? People! The same people (one assumes, unless we are talking about a new species) who are, according to the critic, prone to “doing whatever the hell they like.” Only now, these people are organized into a mighty gang – armed and anointed with the legal authority to “do whatever the hell they like.”
Which of course they tend to do.
Narcissism and sociopathy plus power usually results in big problems. The Holocaust or the Killing Fields or the Trail of Tears or the Iron Curtain… vs. the small problems that inevitably occur between individuals.
Which would you rather have?
Most of us manage pretty well without being managed.
If you’re married, probably no one forced you. No laws required it. You and your spouse agreed to it. Made a commitment, together. Consent was actually asked – and freely given.
You chose the place where you wanted to live, bought the house you liked from other people who built it without anyone holding a gun to their head (setting aside the codes and other at-gunpoint dictates of the government; the thing itself was done freely).
You decided to have children – or not.
You do not need government to coercively organize and manage and mediate your social circle, either. You have friends because you – and they – want (and choose) to be friends. It happens organically. As would – and could – other social and economic interactions.
You choose your line of work, you elect to go for a walk, pursue this interest or that hobby. Whether you’ll own a car or learn to fly an airplane or take the bus.
But these choices are individual and personal and so variable. They are not predictable by a central authority, do not happen in a controlled and ordered fashion.
Everyone marching in step (the Germans had a word for this, gleichschaltung) according to the “plans” of powerful individuals, who see themselves as the managers of society, of the lives of other people. Whose “plans” take precedence over your right to be left out of them.
This is the meaning of government … as distinct from self-government… that is, anarchy.
We rule ourselves, according to the Golden Rule.
Or, we are ruled by others – according to the rules they decree.
Which do you prefer?
Anarchy does not mean the absence of problems. It means the de-collectivization of them. Whatever problems may occur between and among individuals, they are necessarily small-scale. The individual stands a chance.
When the individual is faced with government, he stands no chance. The outcome is preordained, in favor of the government.
You and your neighbor have a disagreement. He may be a jerk – but it’s just him and so you (and other neighbors) have a reasonable chance of working things out satisfactorily. But what happens when your jerk neighbor has an army (and “the law”) backing him up?
You have no real choice but to back down. To submit and obey.
This is the order admired by people who get their backs up when anarchy is mentioned. They want you to do as ordered.
As they order.
They abhor discretion, individual judgment. The very idea of a free man, as that was once understood, absolutely appalls them. They view themselves as masters – and to be a master, there must be slaves. The degree of bondage isn’t the relevant consideration. A “house slave” was no less a slave than a “field slave.” Neither was free. Both were owned.
And so are we.
The fact that most of us own cars, a house, have some discretion as to the type of car (and house) and the “spending money” we’re allowed to use – according to certain conditions – in no way changes the fundamental fact that we are owned because we are controlled.
Because we are governed.
And that is why “anarchy” must never be carefully examined.
People might get ideas.
The wrong ones… from a certain point-of-view.
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