by Anna Morgenstern at Center for a Stateless Society
If you have an interest in a stateless society, you need to understand what the state is. Otherwise you could end up chasing shadows, and many self-proclaimed anarchists often do so, unfortunately. When you look around you, you can see examples of its handiwork everywhere. Every police car you see, the various “permits” and “licenses” when you go into a business establishment (once you start to look for them, you’ll see them all the time without even trying to…), and then the more subtle things. Now, you’ll notice I didn’t mention roads, or schools or traffic lights. These are all things that would exist with or without the state. The particular form they tend to take in our world however, this is the work of the state, as are the particular forms that all of our institutions and business establishments do. (remember the “permits” above?)
But all of that is the trail the state leaves behind. So what is the state? Many people think that it is an organization sometimes called “the government”. That’s one piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the complete answer. The governments of the world act as a sort of administrative organization and enforcement agency for the state, they are necessary for its continued existence. But there’s more to it than that. In totalitarian countries, “government” and “state” seem very much to be the same, because the government controls everything so directly. In more liberal/libertarian countries, the differences start to emerge. One perspective I’ve found that sheds a lot of light on the state is to examine the Mafia. Is a “legitimate business” owned by the Mafia, really not part of the Mafia? Even if it’s not a money laundering front and is operated for a profit, it’s still basically part of the Mafia.
Now the government and the Mafia while they have similarities, have some glaring differences too. One big one that doesn’t get looked at is that government officials never directly get actual profits from their activities. In fact, most of their most prominent activities are non-profit, or run constant losses even if they do take payment. They get a salary, which is paid out of stolen money, but that salary is relatively fixed and not dependent on performance (for which I am sure they are quite grateful). So you have to broaden your gaze and see that these officials rotate into and out of “private sector” employment, and then it starts to make more sense. The businesses favored by the state are the ones that hire ex-government employees and vice versa. The fact that government officials are allowed to own stock (though that’s regulated to some extent) in private companies is another clue.
So why the pretense? Why go through this ruse of “public” and “private”? Well that’s it. That’s the state. The state IS the ruse. The state… is a social fiction. It is the myth of legitimacy. This myth is the thin black line that separates “the government” and its “private sector” attachments from any other Mafia. The fact that people believe that “the government” is legitimately allowed to kill and steal, and that when it does so, it represents something good and just, is what has allowed it to dominate the earth. And despite the secondary myth that the government exists to fight crime, it is the very existence of the government that allows the lesser Mafias to thrive.
In the past this myth of legitimacy was carried out through religion. As various religions were the “private sector” beneficiaries of government, they would preach that the state was the secular arm of their organization, devoted to enforcing “the lord’s will” on Earth.
While bunk in and of itself, at least they admitted the connection.
Nowadays, a new religion, that of “democracy”, legitimizes the state by claiming that it is “the people’s will” that they are charged with enforcing. (Even when the people seem to be quite against what the government is doing, ala the recent bank bailouts) Other flatulent high sounding ideas like “social order” , “tradition” and “public goods” are also used to weave this magic spell in people’s heads.
So now that we know what the state is, we know what Anarchism is. Anarchism, truly, is simply the understanding that the state is merely a social fiction and has no legitimacy. When you live that truth, you will not follow the law simply because it is the law. You will let your conscience be your guide. At that point you are no longer being ruled, though you might have crimes committed against you by the “government” and its lackeys. When the Mafia forces someone to pay protection money, that guy isn’t being ruled, he’s being robbed.
So what then is liberty? Liberty is the absence of crime. Real crime, crime that has a victim. Crimes that all persons’ conscience would acknowledge as such. A libertarian then, is someone who wishes to abolish (or more realistically) minimize crime.
Not all anarchists are libertarians (some Stirnerites come to mind), but most are, at least to some extent. But all anarchists understand that no one has any special authority to commit crimes that no one else has.
All political theories involve some level of crime. Someone is getting victimized for someone else’s benefit. The “liberals” (as we know them today) tend to favor a very mild, safe plutocratic regime — one that seeks to round off all of lifes sharp corners for the sake of making us all viable economic resources to exploit. The “conservatives” have a more dog-eat-dog approach in which the workers are set up to fight over ever more scarce resources; a Darwinian approach to maximizing our productivity. Ultimately, these are just differing livestock management techniques.
Ahhh but you say, this is an age of ascendant corporatism and collectivism. What about the political theories of the past? Classical liberalism was a sort of minarchist libertarianism. We must have this much organized crime (committed by the ruling classes), simply in order to fight sporadic, disorganized crime (usually committed by the lower classes). The problem is that leaves all sorts of “wiggle room” which leads to the liberalism we have now.
Classical conservatism / Paleo-conservatism is a sort of patchwork of ideas that claims that “this social order is good”, and whatever crimes we have to commit to keep that order are thus justified. It’s almost hearkening back to the ancient regime of religious statism, and indeed does attract a lot of religious types.
Both of these ideologies are a lot less totalitarian than modern corporate democracy, but that’s simply to be expected. They realized at some point that totalitarian control is counter productive… the host that does not thrive leaves little for the parasite. And so they developed political strategies that would allow the host to thrive, while still providing a decent feast for the parasite.
Nowadays we are seeing an attempt to use spurious financial-economics to min/max the amount of crime vs. the health and wealth of the population that crime feeds off. The predators have charts and graphs you see, and they are giving lectures on “how to get the most from your prey”. They also don’t think as long term as they used to, because they have thrown off sentimentality toward their children. (and could you blame them for that?)
Anarchism has, itself, broken up into many sub-divisions and factions. But in reality, all these factions are, are differing beliefs about what a stateless society will “look like”. All anarchists, that is to say, all people who understand that no one is authorized to commit crimes, have one goal if they wish to see their desired future(s) come to pass, which is to destroy the myth of legitimacy. This is the one way that one can smash the state. Now there are several strategies and methods that might be used to do so, but everything that does not attack the myth of legitimacy directly or indirectly is extra-anarchist. It is perhaps a strengthening of a social order that was hollowed out by the state, or a diversion of resources feeding the state, but no matter. Where we disagree as anarchists is less important than where we agree.
A lot of “left” anarchists will claim, for instance, that anarcho-capitalists are not actually anarchists. This, to me, seems like confusion about what capitalism means to anarcho-capitalists. By the light of what leftist anarchists mean by “capitalism”, anarcho-capitalists are not non-anarchists, they are non-capitalists. And the reverse holds true too. An anarcho-socialist is not the sort of socialist that an anarcho-capitalist thinks of as “socialist”. But all anarchists believe that the state is nonsense and has no right to assert some sort of magical authority to do things that you or I cannot.
There are pseudo-anarchists, yes, but they are the sort that end up cheering for this magical super-Mafia when their own pet issues come to town.
Having listened to the actual concepts (not just imaginations of their ideas) of anarchists of all stripes, I have come to the conclusion, as did Voltarine DeCleyre, one of my heroes, that I am an anarchist without adjectives. Let us dispense with the fiction of the state, and then let everyone try what they can, and we will see how it all works out.