Anarchism builds on the proposition that smaller communities, growing outward from the sovereign individual, ought to determine for themselves the parameters of governing social mores. “Any decentralized, post-state society … ,” teaches the work of Kevin Carson, “is likely to be a panarchy,” a diverse patchwork of contrastive but mutually-respectful legal and social systems.
Accounting for the wide variations between ways that society might be voluntarily ordered and constructed without coercive authority or hierarchy, this pluralistic idea makes statelessness a starting point; it leaves to cooperative associations of free people what Benjamin Tucker called the “constructive work” of actually getting down to solving society’s problems, to confronting them without the albatross of the state.
Anarchism doesn’t contemplate a Utopia, society without crime or unjustified force, but it does urge that we do away with the grant of authority that we now give the state to carry out criminal acts in the name of “the People.” As dissatisfied Algerians and Yemenis are violently disbanded, sent back to their homes to endure the villainy of their countries’ elites, anarchism offers the promise of justice. If the people of Algiers and Sanaa are willing to tune out the state’s bans on their peaceful, public gatherings, they are more than capable of recognizing just how arbitrary and needless the rest of the state’s prohibitions against consensual behavior are.
Their guns, their armored tanks, their statutory paper tigers — all of these are impotent faced with the irrepressible spirit of voluntary, civil society, of a force opposite what Frank Chodorov styled the state’s “spirit of conquest.” Northern Africa and the Middle East have been blighted for generations by the legacies of foreign, colonial rules, and their revolutions have sought autonomy and self-rule in the face of imperialism. The revelation of anarchism is that all of statism is imperialism, external rule imposed by one group on another.
As Franz Oppenheimer and Albert Jay Nock so well understood, “[t]he State originated in conquest and confiscation,” never for “any other purpose” but “continuous economy exploitation.” The subjects of statism from Algeria and Yemen to Canada and the United States — the exploited — have no reason at all to identify with our captors. We ought instead to look on them as foreign invaders, to look at their state’s culverts of power as an empire occupying civil society.
It may be that the Yemeni statesman speaks the same language, has the same culture, and prays to the same God as the Yemeni common man, but the former is as foreign to the latter as any colonial governor. BBC News reported that an estimated 30,000 riot police were cut loose on the crowds in Algiers on Saturday, but the country is home to almost 35 million.
All over the world, the tiny minority of exploiters who laze about collecting from the industry of productive people balance their power on the constant, if latent, threat that free people may — as Orwell described it — shake them off as a horse shakes off flies. Unlike the invasive garrisons of the state, its outposts all around otherwise thriving society, anarchism is for everyone rather than for some. It invites everyone to provide for herself through honest, nonviolent exchange and prohibits nothing but invasion.
Society’s power has been dormant under the bondage of statism, but it is the greater power. As Étienne de La Boétie wrote, “Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces.”