March 07, 2004

Why I am not an anarchist

Posted by Curt at 05:46 PM in Ramblings | TrackBack

Among the many benefits of writing a weblog (other than Google celebrity) is the opportunity for spontaneous exchanges of views, with people whom one did not seek out and who come of their own accord to start stimulating discussions about various matters. One of the more prevalent views I notice expressed by many people who read this site (and by my co-author and brother, as well) is a fairly pronounced and seemingly genuine anti-governmental sentiment (as opposed to anti-governmentalism of the “I hate payng taxes but I’ll be damned if I give up my social security checks” variety), which seems to span a somewhat murky spectrum from simple libertarianism all the way to full-fledged anarchism (for those of you well-versed in the distinctions among these various terms I apologize for my inexact usage, but it will become apparent that these differences do not greatly affect my purpose). I too share a decidly skeptical view of the machinations of power, as well as the quasi-perverse desire to destroy the idealistic illusions surrounding hierarchical power structures, like democracy for example, in order to expose the veritable oppressiveness that really characterizes them. For all that, I simply cannot move all the way over into some sort of positive political counter-philosophy, like anarchism or something of the sort.

The problem, it seems to me, is not the ideal of a world without hierarchical power structures, where the powerful do not institutionally oppress everyone else. A fine idea that (and almost a universal among political philosophers, by the way), but the problem is in the relative applicability to human society of such an idea. Specifically, anarchistic philosophies (in all their many incarnations and varieties) seem to proceed on the assumption that humans can exist in a state in which the powerful do not bind the weak to them in order to exploit them, and in this way in my opinion runs into the same problem that plagues Rousseau’s conception of “free” primitive man. Rousseau seemed to believe that humans are (or at least were at some point) basically solitary, misanthropic beings (like Rousseau himself, or myself for that matter) who could avoid oppressive social structure simply by steering clear of each other. However, all the evidence of human societies in any era seems to indicate the converse, namely that humans are fundamentally social, and simply cannot help forming hierarchical structures for the most part. This conclusion is open to dispute, of course, but I suspect anyone wishing to take it up will have a long search through the archaeological record before they uncover anything of use to them.

So much for specific difficulties. The more general problem is one that all ideologies share, more or less, which is their ultimate feebleness. I don’t mean intellectual feebleness, but rather historical feebleness: again, as far as history is my guide, ideologies rarely provide anything more than the pretext for the mechanisms of power. Remember, almost all the various sorts of socialism, including Marx’s, although communalistc rather than individualistic, originally conceived of governments eventually being dissolved into voluntary associations of long-minded men. And yet lo and behold, when such an ideology was ostensibly implemented on a nation-wide scale for the first time, in Russia, the ambitious power-seekers among the revolutionaries simply used Marxist/socialist ideology as a Trojan horse under the cover of which to re-fashion the tsarist state, albeit with themselves, naturally, in power, spouting the rhetoric of “liberty” and “equality.” Of course, this is not an intellectual argument against any particular ideology, but simply my rather apolitical conclusion that political ideologies rarely serve as more than the figureheads, the clowns, which co-opt the periodic explosions of discontent and angst among the people at large so as to allow the movements of power to continue on exactly as they always and always will. Hence, any ideological ideal of change seems to me as generally no more than a pernicious illusion which seduces us into the belief that we are involved with, and partly responsible for, our current condition.

In light of all this, my earlier comment that I find the idea of a state-less, non-hierarchical world pleasant is perhaps somewhat misleading. As a “vision of heaven,” or something of the sort, I find it pleasant enough, but its real-life correlaries somewhat less so. As I have said before, places such as Somalia and Afghanistan should be evidence enough that violence, brutality and oppression can subsist just as well in conditions of state-less anarchy as in highly centralized bureaucratic states, if not more so. I am sure that proponents of anarchism would reject these cases as illegitimate examples of their theory in practice, but one ought perhaps nonetheless ponder whether the economic and cultural benefits we enjoy in this politically emasculating society do not to some degree depend on the stability and order created by that very political trivializing of the individual. As for myself, who knows what is the most superior mode of living, either personally or collectively, but at the least I do know that I detest politics and those who participate in it, even those who do so ostensibly in the service of an ideology that seeks to put an end to it, and it seems far preferable to me to withdraw from such participation on a personal level than to seek to effect some change on the world-historical level, as is the practice of those ego-maniacal scourges of the earth, the idealists.

p.s. Food for thought: it occurs to me that HTML works very well as a conceptual example in support of an argument for Berkeley’s idealism, but I don’t quite have the energy to explain my reasoning at the moment to those for whom the connection isn’t evident.


That's a good critique, which I don't really have the time to deal with in depth, but I would like to make two points, one general and one specific. First, if there's any particular message that comes through in what I write here, I hope it's a strong anti-ideological bent. I'm suspicious of all ideologies and try, as much as possible, to point out the flaws in each. Now, this position could certainly be attacked as an ideology of its own, but I think it differs from a proper ideology in the sense that a generalized skepticism and cynicism about ideologies is neither positive nor exclusive in the way that a true ideology is.

Second, as regards your Somalia reference, I certainly wouldn't claim that it is an ideal society, but I would point out that, so far as I can tell, Somalia is better off now than it was either under Siyad Barre or during the period of UN "peacekeeping". Not that that is necessarily saying very much, but it's something to keep in mind.

Posted by: shonk at March 8, 2004 02:58 AM

Interesting post Curt.

"...and it seems far preferable to me to withdraw from such participation on a personal level than to seek to effect some change on the world-historical level, as is the practice of those ego-maniacal scourges of the earth, the idealists."

Curt, based on what you've said, above, you're aleady on your way to individual sovereignty.

Posted by: John Venlet at March 8, 2004 07:27 AM

peĚdanĚtic adj. - Characterized by a narrow, often ostentatious concern for book learning and formal rules: a pedantic attention to details.

Posted by: Tim Swanson at March 14, 2004 03:00 PM

care to elaborate?

Posted by: Curt at March 14, 2004 05:39 PM