In a recent article published on Strike the Root called Real and Fake Anarchism I argue it is important to use the term “anarchism” to describe one’s ideals. (At least if one is an anarchist.) Because not doing so means distancing yourself and your personal interpretation of anarchism from other anarchists today and in previous times. There are many great anarchist thinkers throughout the anarchist tradition of thought who gladly – and proudly – used the term to denote their convictions.
Anarchism as an ideal is the very opposite to that which most people think of when hearing the word. As we know, people think of destruction, chaos, and war. But anarchism as an ideal has always been about the right for every individual to lead his or her life as he (or she) sees fit. Every man, woman and child has an inviolate right to self – life, liberty, as well as possessions – and that right needs to be respected. Since the state, by its very existence, violates the rights of individuals, the state must be abolished.
This destructive property of the state is inherent – it is an organization that by definition is based on the use of force, and it is hierarchical and seeks to centralize power in society. Force, hierarchies, and power are not compatible with individual freedom, and therefore the state as well as statism are examples of the very opposite of anarchism. Anarchism seeks peace and harmony through liberating people from oppression – force and power are the opposites of anarchism, and whoever has, seeks, or advocates such are thereby disqualified from being anarchists. Rather, they would be enemies of anarchists.
This definition of anarchism makes any attempt to label as “anarchists” people burning property or violating people nothing but ridiculous. But it is also, in a sense, a sad attempt by antagonists of the anarchist tradition to denigrate anarchism, to make anarchism seem like a (or the) bad alternative. It is nevertheless a widely used tool for those with power to work over anarchism.
How to best denigrate each individual’s right to life and liberty? To make it appear as the worst possible alternative.
“Lawlessness” is sometimes used to define anarchism. Even though it is true, at least in the sense that anarchism does not allow for government-enforced laws, there is nothing in the concept of lawlessness that without a doubt makes it chaotic, destructive, and war-like. Why would the lack of rules set and enforced by a centralized power entity mean chaos and destruction?
To draw such a conclusion one will have to embrace the thesis that man is inherently bad, and would willingly kill, rape, and plunder were it not for a superior power forcing him not to. Yet, the champions of this strange philosophy fail to show how a society of such bad people become a peaceful and orderly society when all are subdued by a single, centralist power – and how that power, run by men, does not degenerate into terror and destruction. After all, if man is inherently evil, there is nothing we can do about it – and it certainly rules out making some of those inherently evil folks the rulers of others.
Anarchism does not, however, claim that man is inherently good – that only harmony is possible. If this were true, then there would be no wars, no problems, no terror. But there are an awful lot of bad things happening in our world – and bad things have always happened, throughout history. Anarchism does not claim man is inherently good or bad, only that man is – and that is every man’s right to live his life as he sees fit. The argument for anarchism is different depending on the individual anarchist’s perspective, but it always boils down to this: people have a right to be free, and that freedom is only limited by other people’s equal right to their freedoms.
How can this be chaotic, destructive, and a cause of terror?