Blogging 'The Conscience of an Anarchist' by Gary Chartier

Article by E. D. Kain.


I’ve just started reading Gary Chartier’s anarchist manifesto The Conscience of an Anarchist. I intend to blog about it as I progress through the book, so if you’d like to read along with me click on that link. First a few scattered thoughts on anarchism, liberalism, and my own pragmatist’s conundrum.

I find the critique of anarchists and left-libertarians like Chartier, Kevin Carson, Roderick Long and others compelling. Long’s recent post on healthcare reform and the mistakes right-leaning libertarians fall into when talking about government programs was spot-on, and reveals – I think – some serious shortcomings in not just how right-libertarians talk about the world, but how they think about the world.

In a proverbial nutshell, here is where I walk with my anarchist friends: the critique of power and privilege, of the many ways the state uses its power to favor the elite, and the belief that people left alone will mostly form voluntary, peaceful societies. State’s are inherently violent institutions, as the 20th century helped illustrate to the tune of many tens of millions dead.

And yet, even accepting all of this, I can’t help but believe that the actual process of removing the state would end up backfiring, and that this very process would inevitably favor the elite and powerful. Thus, my conclusion differs: instead of removing the state entirely, simply work toward removing those aspects of the state which are the most harmful. Meanwhile, those branches of the state that actually do help the poor and working class should be maintained. For a while I used the “chains first, then crutches” argument that Jim Henley and Kevin Carson have used, but lately I think “chains first and then crutches from those who don’t need them but leave or improve the crutches for those who do”.

Which ends up being a sort of free-market liberalism. On the one hand, deregulate the economy as much as possible. End the war on drugs; drastically scale back the defense budget; end corporate subsidies; make the tax code much more progressive and the welfare state much more redistributive; give workers some freedom from wage labor vis-a-vis both the deregulatory push and universal healthcare, boosting the from-home do-it-yourself and gig economy. On the fringes of the policy stuff, I support all the open-source efforts that many anarchists have written about, and the various alternative institutions that anarchists believe could be created to run alongside the state.

In any case, these are scattered thoughts. As a liberal, I cannot walk the same distances as my anarchist friends, but I do appreciate and enjoy their critique, and I think that regardless of whether you are a liberal, a libertarian, or an anarchist (of whichever stripe) understanding that critique and internalizing it as much as possible is a useful thing. So I look forward to Conscience of an Anarchist, and hope that you will read along.

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