Anarchy: More or Less Government? Reply

By Will Schnack

Evolution of Consent

Compared to monarchy, is democracy more or less government? It seems to depend on who is asked. Some will suggest that democracy is less government than monarchy is, because people have the ability to participate directly in the governing process. Others, however, will point to bureaucratization and suggest that democracy is most certainly more government than monarchy is.

The same can be said of anarchy.

Anarchy, of course, is a word often confused for chaos, while actually referring to no rulers. No rulers, of course, is not the same thing as “no rules.” No rulers refers to a situation in which existing human rules are not applied by a ruling party, but by way of agreement.

The natural world requires that an anarchy, if it is to exist in an industrialized world, will require greater amounts of organization than a democracy would, in much the same way that a democracy required greater amounts of organization than monarchy did. Does greater organization amount to greater degrees of government? Well, again, it depends who you ask. Most anarchists will tell you that it does not, but some idealists might suggest that it does.

Actually-existing democracies (oligarchical republics and parliaments) represent the interests of a contemporary upper class that had prior been the middle class of Medieval society. The unity of this ex-middle, now upper class— which was larger in number than the monarchy and aristocracy that they limited or displaced—, organized around concepts of “Right,” organized their might. And because we are in a world in which might makes right, they prevailed. Might makes right, but right makes might.

Likewise, anarchy—a society in which there is no class of rulers: no royalty, politicians, bosses, landlords, usurers, etc.— can only be brought about by the unity and organization of the lower class, larger in number still. Such an anarchy will necessarily entail more organization and more group process. It may even have more rules than both a monarchy and a democracy. But, unlike a monarchy in which the ruler is a single individual, and a democracy in which the ruler is a majority, an anarchy lacks rulers. Is this more or less government? You be the judge.

Cleaning the Muddied Waters of Anarchy Reply

By Will Schnack

Evolution of Consent

Ideologies and philosophies that go by the title “anarchism” are wide-ranging in their span. These include mutualists, individualists, collectivists, communists, capitalists, nationalists, primitivists, futurists, and more. It has become something of a common trend for people to come up with the next new “anarcho-” position. Even more recently, as a revival of an attempt to settle the “infighting,” positions which include all of these into their ranks have been taken, with titles such as “anarchism without adjectives” or “without hyphens” and “pan-anarchism.” However, when one actually analyzes these different factions, one quickly comes to realize that most of the hyphenated positions are not much different from the standard views of the statist, except for a few minor details, usually philosophically inconsistent.

I’m here to do what I can to stop all of the confusion.

The first form of anarchism was mutualism, as Pierre Proudhon was the first to label himself as such. Yes, there were thinkers long before Proudhon who espoused anarchic philosophies. These folks did not call themselves anarchists. William Godwin, labeled an anarchist posthumously, and Josiah Warren, whose writing precedes Proudhon’s by some years, were only widely referred to as anarchists after Proudhon’s use of the term in describing himself. Josiah Warren had actually resisted comparisons to Proudhon made by William Greene, but nonetheless Proudhon’s title of “anarchist” would be attached to Warren’s name in the United States through the thought of folks such as Benjamin Tucker. It is those elements which have something in common with Proudhon’s thought—mutuality—that are responsible for each individual’s claim to the title. Without these similarities to the man who was the first to identify himself as such, there would be no claim for these others. William Godwin and Josiah Warren, like Proudhon, described a liberty of the individual accompanied by a widespread access to land, which set them apart from both state socialists and classical liberals, and made comparisons to Proudhon easy.

Any positive use of the term “anarchist” must relate to the philosophy of Proudhon’s in some way, and indeed this seems to have been the case historically. Proudhon seems to have set the precedent for defining an anarchist. Perhaps what makes Proudhon the most relevant basis for anarchist thought is that it was Proudhon who was the main philosopher of anarchism during anarchism’s rise as a social movement in Europe, during the Paris Commune and First International, where Proudhonists were a dominant presence.  No other anarchic thinker had inspired a social movement of this magnitude in the modern era. Because Proudhon was both the first to self-identify as an anarchist, and because he was also the first to inspire a large movement of anarchists behind him, it’s not unreasonable to use his defining thought as a standard from which to gauge the merits of others. In fact, it seems the reasonable thing to do so.