Operational Anarchism?

I first posted this piece in November of 2020. I am reposting it again, with some additions, in order to provide readers of Attack the System with an overview and explanation of how I approach political commentary, news analysis, theory, and strategy.

By Keith Preston

My general approach to politics is modeled on what Lawrence Dennis called “operational thinking” which essentially means an empirical, evidence-based approach as opposed to an approach driven by pre-conceived ideological presumptions that require bending the corners of reality into some kind of ideological box. I try to approach political analysis the same way I would approach being a sportscaster (“this is what is actually happening”). When discussing different political groups, I am unusually writing as an ethnographer (“this is what they are”) rather than as an advocate, although I certainly ridicule their silliness in many instances (the same way I might ridicule snake handlers if I were writing about religion rather than politics). When it comes to possible future outcomes, I generally prefer a predictive rather than prescriptive approach (“this is what is likely to happen” rather than “this is what I want to happen” or “this is what some ideological principle says should happen”).

As to how this relates to my anarchist viewpoint, I generally agree with the evidence-based examination of the origins of the state and critique of concentrated power developed by a wide range of anarchist, libertarian, decentralist, classical liberal, and even some socialist or conservative scholars. James Scott’s work in anthropology is currently the state of the field on these questions, IMO. I generally agree with the narrative concerning the history of anti-authoritarian thought outlined by Peter Marshall (although I could expand upon Marshall and offer additional branches or depth to this trajectory)

The concept of pan-secession is based on an effort to answer the question of “If you really want to abolish the state, centralized power, overreaching hierarchy or authority, etc., what is the most viable route that is likely to yield at least some degree of probable success?’  The concept of pan-anarchism (anarcho-pluralism, anarcho-ecumenicalism, etc) is based on an effort to answer the question of “If all governments everywhere in the world stepped aside and told the people they were on their own, what would happen?” with the outcome containing the greatest amount of combined probability and optimality being a world of a million Lichtensteins reflecting an infinite array of microcultures, some of which might not even look like the same species when compared with others.

On a meta-paradigmatic level, I think the anarchist achievement of cultural and intellectual hegemony would rival the emergence of the Axial Age, the transition from polytheism to monotheism among world religions, or the Enlightenment in terms of world-historical significance. On a more intermediate or micro-level, we have prototypes like separation of church and state and the diversity of religion that resulted, the variations that are found in food customs, the diversity among indigenous cultures that are native to every region of every continent, music and fashion-oriented youth cultures, etc. And if anarchism achieved the hegemony Catholicism held in the middle ages or liberalism in the modern era, it would still have to share space with other philosophies (liberalism, conservatism, socialism, nationalism, etc.) the same way that Christianity, while the world’s largest religion, has to share space with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Again, my viewpoint on this is as much predictive and speculative as it is normative or prescriptive.

Problems anarchists would face in such a world include the potential emergence of new oligarchies (Pareto, Mosca, Michels), new bureaucracies (Weber), authoritarian opportunism (“anarcho-Bolshevism”), the problem of the “worst getting to the top” (Hayek), the use of moral panics for authoritarian ends,  the issue of anarchist Pharisees, problems of economic efficiency, potential military conquest and state repression by still existing states, remnants of former states, and aspiring states, localized violence, insurgencies by authoritarian tendencies, localized authoritarianism, crime, social conflict, and normal human problems generally. However, hopefully, states would continue to be phased out in favor of non-state transnational federations (similar to the World Council of Churches), systems where anarchists at least share space with other philosophies in decentralized polities (like the Greek cities, the Holy Roman Empire, or Ottoman millet system), micronations, free cities, eco-villages, communes, anarcho-syndicalist labor federations, peer-to-peer networks, temporary autonomous zones, seasteads, autonomous territories, mutual aid societies, etc., etc., etc.

Another issue is that anti-statism is not the primary value for some, or even many, anarchists. For others, it’s more about anti-capitalism, anti-technology, anti-pollution, anti-patriarchy, anti-social conservatism, anti-racism, anti-religion, anti-violence, anti-industrialization, anti-civilization, etc. Nor is there an agreement among anarchists as to what “government” actually is, why it is a problem, why it should be abolished, what the most objectionable features of government are, what it should be replaced with, etc. I don’t really have a theoretical problem with that kind of open-ended “anarchism as an eco-system of philosophies” idea except in many of their cases the hyphens become more important than the anarchy part, so they end up siding with whatever ruling class factions they find most unobjectionable (e.g. “at least Democrats believe in climate change,” etc.).

Yes, some anarchists  will say that “anarchism is not just anti-statism, it’s anti-all forms of oppression, domination, hierarchy, etc.” Maybe so, but the state (and its adjacent institutions) is the nexus in which all of that intersects. And voluntaryism, decentralism, free association, mutual aid, “mere anti-statism,” etc. are certainly prerequisites for anarchism. I also think there is a great deal of hypocrisy in the attitudes of the anarcho-left. For example, many of them despise an-caps, N-As, or decentralist paleocons, but seem to have no problem collaborating with liberal Democrats, statist progressives, or even outright totalitarians like Stalinists and Maoists. So which are they, anarchists or commies?

Whenever I encounter any political, cultural, or religious group, my question is always how voluntary is this project/proposal? How decentralized is their proposed system? Is it localized enough to make exit costs low enough to make voluntarism meaningful? How peaceful is this group? If they have unsavory or objectionable ideas, how well can they be contained? As Kirk Sale pointed out, the matter of scale is extremely important.
And when it comes to political alliances, I tend to look at it from a cost-benefit analysis perspective. Some of the Marxist-Leninist groups in the US are the best, and often only, antiwar organizers there are. I have no problem collaborating with them as long as they are not in a position to take over the state. A lot of “anti-American” international media like RT, CGTN, Press TV, and Telesur provide a platform for a lot of foreign views you’re obviously not going to get from mainstream US media, even if they represent other authoritarian states. Some of the “far-right” and even ordinary conservatives are pretty good on at least a handful of issues. For instance, I generally have a favorable view of the sovereign citizens, who strike me as right-wing anarchists even if they don’t know when to quit. They know who the real enemy is. These 2nd Amendment people are good on the “right to bear arms” which all anarchists ought to be defending rather than worrying about whether a lot of 2A people are “culturally reactionary” or not.
Over the past 35 years, I’ve tried working with the Left, Right, Third Position, and Alt-Right, and each time the problem is that the anarchist message gets diluted by the surrounding milieu. That’s why I eventually came to the viewpoint that the pan-anarchist umbrella and the 0 to 100 scale are the only way to go.

As Isidro Rodriquez has said, “Bob Black was right.  Anarchism must move past leftism. It should be its own thing and an actual anti-state ideology.”

Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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3 replies »

  1. Well said.

    “…optimality being a world of a million Lichtensteins reflecting an infinite array of microcultures”

    This is why I have moved away a bit from the identifier “Anarchist” and have been trying to coin the somewhat cringe term “More Monaco’s” (which rhymes).

    By the by, this is everyone’s favorite Anarchist hero Snake Plissken:

    “We need you to rescue the President.”

    “President of what?”

  2. Anarchism is pure ideological utopianism. “The state” is just the hierarchy of male violence. If you do away with the state, it will simply reform after a war.

    Humans don’t really have “free will.” Humans are just mammals, acting on instinct.

    The greatest economist/sociologist was Thorstein Veblen.

    Left-wing “anarchists” are just an edgier version of Berniebro “Democratic Socialists.” As Aimee Terese demonstrated conclusively, they are just partisan Democrats choosing Biden over Trump because it is uncool to be a white prole.

    The best you can hope for is to reduce violence. Frankly, a military dictatorship, along the lines of a Curtis Yarvin/NRx type, is likely the best you can do – and ironically, it allows for the most “freedom.”

    • We already have an “anarchy of nations” in international relations, although those are gradually being overrun by American globalism and global capitalism generally. Maintaining an “anarchy of nations” is one of my primary reasons for being such a hardline anti-imperialist/anti-interventionist/anti-globalist.

      “Separation of church and state” is an “anarchy of religion” that is maintained through a combination of cultural and intellectual consensus.

      The elimination of centralized food production in the USSR and its satellites created an “anarchy of food services” in the same way we have an “anarchy of restaurants” in the West.

      I don’t really see anarchism as some kind of utopian end game as much as a process.

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