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The Ungovernability of Anarchism

An exchange between Shawn Wilbur and myself is in the comments section. 

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There is a lesson about anarchism that seems extraordinarily hard to learn, even though we are constantly confronted with it: As a tradition and as an idea, anarchism is essentially ungovernable. As an idea, it is too basic and logical a response to the statist status quo to remain the exclusive domain of any particular class or faction of dissenters. As a tradition, it emerged alongside many of the categories we presently use to distinguish those classes and factions, positing itself, at its origins, as much as an alternative to those classificatory schemes as fodder for their work.
 
When it is a question of a choice between more-or-less anarchist approaches, we should certainly expect everyone to proclaim the overwhelming advantages of their particular theory or strategy—and if there are certain rhetorical advantages to “no true Scotsman” sorts of arguments, they will be used, and their use may help us to focus on what the real essence of anarchism might be. But let’s be clear when we’re being rhetorically clever or expedient, and acknowledge that there is no question of forcing any fraction of the thought that has a legitimate claim to the title of “anarchism” into the little ideological boxes that most of us favor. That ship has sailed. Anarchism hardly had a name before it had an internal diversity that no amount of spinning is ever going to reduce to a single orthodoxy.

And the more of our history that we uncover, the more irrevocably irreducible it will appear. 

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6 replies »

  1. His article sais one thing but the tone of his comments another. I can only write from my own realities in South-Africa. But is this not the problem with Anarchy, they keep on debating non issues and it distracts from ever putting anything into practice. Nationalism; Democracy; Capitalism; Communism; Fascism; Theocracy and many more; they are all good words and they are all ways in which communities can rule and order themselves voluntarily. These words call to a deep seeded need of people to belong to communities. But those same words are all terrible ideas when married with “State” and centralised government. Now let’s argue we have anarchy tomorrow in South-Africa, no more government and we can do with our resources what we want, well an online poll 2 years ago in the biggest Afrikaans newspaper had 57% of readers saying they would move to an ethno homeland, now my people are deeply tribal by nature. If I explain that in Anarchy they can have that, they will storm the gates of hell with you, you tell them no, and you are going to get a bloody nose before you even step into the ring.

    The point is these so called left anarchist don’t want anarchy, they want to sit and debate gibberish that make them sound cool, if they have a problem with Jesus, Mohammed or any other belief why don’t they make war against God, why care how other people are going to organise or live in Anarchy and what they believe? They want to debate who is an anarchist and who not, instead of fighting the state they are scared and clueless. Now, our self governing ethnic village of Orania is valued at over 18 Million US Dollars, last year they exported over 120 metric Tons of pecan nuts to China, this community is running almost exactly to Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s idea of a private property anarchy. So here is my revolution in action, where is the lefts hippy-transgendered-distributive-antifa-commune? What is it worth and how much do they export? WHAT!! Are you telling me it does not exist, wow?! They never had time to build a living economic sustainable successful example that is capable of secession from the state because they where debating, “who is an anarchist?”
    They remind me of the joke: What does a insomniac-dyslectic-atheist do?
    He sits up all night wondering is there a Dog?

  2. I think there are some interesting things in this exchange, but what strikes me immediately is the clear ideological break between the “mainstream” of leftist anarchist thought and “voluntarism.” I’m willing to engage with either of these tendencies as a well-meaning set of assumptions for guiding an anti-statist future. The left-anarchist paradigm, however, fails entirely in defining the liberty for which it fights which gives po-mo nutjobs plenty of “open-endedness” to get their dicks hard over, but leaves the rest of us in the lurch.

    The advantage of opposing the state (as opposed to patriarchy, Catholicism, heteronormativity, showering, etc.) is that it makes the smallest possible normative declaration: “thou shalt not agress.” If you’re willing to tag on a whole bevy of further moralistic injunctions onto that, knock yourself out.

  3. I don’t know a lot about Shawn Wilbur except that he’s done a lot of good work at making available the works of a lot of early anarchist writers. His blogsite has tons of that stuff on it. Here’s some of his past comments about me: http://libertarianleft.freeforums.org/here-is-your-archenemy-t724.html#p12384

    His comments about Bookchin and relating him to Marx and Lenin reminds me of the anti-Bookchin sentiments that used to come out of the “Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed” camp, the whole post-left, post-structuralist, situationist, lifestylist scene. So my guess is that Shawn may have some origins in that milieu.

  4. “Nationalism; Democracy; Capitalism; Communism; Fascism; Theocracy and many more; they are all good words and they are all ways in which communities can rule and order themselves voluntarily. These words call to a deep seeded need of people to belong to communities. But those same words are all terrible ideas when married with “State” and centralised government.”

    Yes, exactly. That’s one of the core arguments I try to make.

    “Now, our self governing ethnic village of Orania is valued at over 18 Million US Dollars, last year they exported over 120 metric Tons of pecan nuts to China, this community is running almost exactly to Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s idea of a private property anarchy.”

    Indeed. Two, three, many Oranias. Btw, this is what Matthew Lyons had to say about Orania:

    “Orania, an Afrikaner separatist community in South Africa, involves some of the same issues — but with a radical difference, because it’s a community directly rooted in apartheid racism, designed to protect and preserve the country’s traditional oppressor caste. Orania is for whites only; people of color may visit, but with sharp constraints on where they can go and what they can do. Oranians may claim that they’re just minding their own business and preserving their culture, but what kinds of racial and political attitudes and practices does Orania promote, and what impact do these have on South African society? ”

    That sounds like something some fundamentalist cleric might say about the red light districts in Belgium, Holland, and Germany.

    “So here is my revolution in action, where is the lefts hippy-transgendered-distributive-antifa-commune?”

    Well, I’d certainly encourage those elements to form communes of their own, though you could probably smell such a place from 20 miles away. Seriously, though, there is such a left-wing commune about 30 minutes from where I live that’s actually very successful, and I know of at least one transexual that’s lived there! Here’s a documentary about them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTwJz8c4wcY I used to have some anarchist friends who stayed there for a while. They used to bring me samples of products they produce.

  5. Matthew Lyons knows little about Apartheid, and how it dis-functioned in practice. “people of color may visit, but with sharp constraints on where they can go and what they can do” this is crap, anyone is welcome of any color or tribe and they can go where they please, all Orania does is employ only Afrikaners that is it, if a thousand white Germans think they can just move in they got another thing coming. I don’t want to get into a discussion about apartheid, forced integration, forced segregation forced whatever is a bad idea. Now I think with the lifting of all prohibitions on drugs, prostitution and everything ells comes the lifting of the prohibition on discrimination, that is how each individual decide who he/she/it and transgendered (LOL) want to associate with.

    When Lyons asks “what impact do these have on South African society?” It is a positive because it creates wealth and harmony by giving people non forced options but if he means the territorial expression that is South-Africa, one almost wonder if he is not concerned that it undermines the central state. If the central state do not lift the prohibition on discrimination they are forever going to box us into groups /race/religion/ethnicity and play us of against one another, only when the prohibition against discrimination is lifted can we be free sovereign individuals who choose. Keith I am currently writing an essay called “race and the state – a call for anarchy” It is about 10 pages thus far and I want to send you the draft copy once translated into English I want you to add to it so that it makes sense and would be acceptable to minority and majority tribes. I would really appreciate your help on it.

  6. Yes, I would very much be willing to help with your essay.

    Some years ago, I came to the conclusion that Anarchism is no further along than it is because anarchists have gone about things all wrong in terms of trying to promote their ideas.

    Instead of maintaining some sectarian political stance where anarchists are trying to convert people to an ideology en masse (like Christian missionaries) it’s better to promote the idea of independent communities organized by people who feel alienated from the system for whatever reason with the broader goal of pan-secessionism being a weapon to weaken the state overall.

    As Pearson recently said, most people in a pan-secessionist project would be people who simply want sovereignty for their particular group or who want to advance their own individual interests, not true believers in anarchism or any other philosophy or who care anything about secessionism for its own sake. In the “Liberty and Populism” essay I identified a long list of political interest groups that are at odds with the current state here in the US as possible constituents for the anarcho-pluralist/pan-secessionist project. Very few of them would likely be anarchists by inclination. Instead, their interest in our movement would simply be as a means to an end.

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