During this past year with the COVID-19 lockdowns, mask mandates, and the culture war that seems to be engulfing our government and institutions, there is a lot of chaos going on in our world. Every day, the United States I grew up in seems crazier and more bizarre. Elon Musk maybe right, we are living inside a ‘simulation’ with a sociopathic god guiding us down the pathway of his choice. Because of this lack of social interaction over the past year, I have spent thousands of hours re-embracing something that captured my interest in my late 20s, the political philosophy of anarchism. But before we dive into this political philosophy, I want to give an important clarification.
The word anarchy is often misused and improperly classified by institutions of power. For many people, anarchy means a state of chaos created through the lack of authority or violent actions that lead to dangerous and chaotic situations. I personally believe that this ‘distortion’ is important to understand from a propaganda perspective. Here is what dictionary.com says about the word anarchy.
a state of society without government or law.
political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control.
lack of obedience to an authority; insubordination.
confusion and disorder.
The actual definition would be the top line. Anarchy means “no government or leader” through its historic Greek origins. The three definitions below the top line explains why people confuse and use the term ‘anarchy’ whenever there is a mass shooting, or terrorist uprising, or violent protest against a government or business. Historically, the anarchist movement is based on non-violent principles. To get to the proper anarchy definition, you have to use the word anarchism. Here is what the Oxford dictionary says about that term which is the correct interpretation.
belief in the abolition of all government and the organization of society on a voluntary, cooperative basis without recourse to force or compulsion.
anarchists as a political force or movement.
Now that the definition is clarified, it will be vitally important to understand this term when describing it its political principles.
There are individual actions and philosophies of life that every flawed human being tries to embrace during this long, crazy journey. Some of these beliefs are meant to evolve the human mind to a new perspective or way of life. The idea of enlightenment in Buddhism or heaven in Christianity are examples of this type of thinking. Both religious philosophies lay the groundwork for the type of life that every human being should live. There are other social philosophies that also fit into this mindset. As a political philosophy, anarchism is often defined as the ultimate state of political practice that should be embraced by humanity. But because we are flawed and often looking for easy and simple solutions, the difficult work that is needed to achieve these sort of utopian ideals is often undermined by power seeking individuals and institutions. The Linux kernel and its development are one of the best practicing examples of present-day anarchy. The Linux kernel is an open-source evolution of the Unix programming language that creates a democratic alternative to the monopolies of Microsoft, Apple, and Google (Even though Google’s Android system is proprietary and built upon Linux. Apple’s OS is also Unix based). The existing corporations and their products appeal to 98% of the population because of their user-friendly properties. Linux has a strict learning curve which causes the majority of people to dismiss it. Anarchism as a political philosophy has the same problem. The need to take responsibility for everyone of your actions and behaviors and suffer the consequences of bad decisions is unappealing to the majority of our world. But like Linux, there are 2% of people that believe these ideals need to be passed along through education and practice so future generations can evolve into adopting this philosophy. God bless this 2%, the rebels and the free thinkers.
Anarchism has always existed in the human experience. Often practiced by tribes or small communities throughout human history, the political philosophy did not develop until the end of the 18th Century during the Age of Enlightenment. William Godwin was the first individual to write about anarchism in the political sense. Later influential writers like Max Stirner and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon created their own philosophies based more around individual action. Stirner created the anarchist philosophy of individualism and Proudhon created a more socialistic version of anarchism called mutualism (More on these later). But the anarchist movement was not taken seriously until a fracture occurred among anarchists and communists over their contradictory philosophies. Mikhail Bakunin was opposed to the ideals of a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ due to his embrace of anarchism and voluntary action. This led to his expulsion from the Communist movement and the creation of an anarchist movement that had a large impact on political systems in the late 19th to mid-20th Centuries. Starting with Bakunin’s movement, we will discuss the five most popular types of anarchic philosophies and show why this ‘fracture’ among anarchists will likely never lead to a unified movement against existing power structures.
1. ANARCHO-COMMUNISM – Probably the one ‘anarchist’ philosophy that has had more impact on political systems. The philosophy is based around the abolition of the state, the capitalist economic system, wage labor, hierarchies, and private property (With a small allowance for ‘personal property’). Anarcho-communists believe in common ownership of production, direct democratic action, and voluntary workers’ councils. The philosophy is based around the idea that human beings will evolve to respect and understand everyone’s individual needs to help create a perfect collective and voluntary society. A cousin of anarcho-communism is the voluntary anarchist movement of workers called anarcho-syndicalism. There are some famous examples of anarcho-communism in practice but none of these communities lasted longer than a few years. The most famous example is the anarchists of the Spanish Civil War who rose up against Franco in the mid-1930s which is explained in wonderful detail in George Orwell’s historical novel Homage to Catalonia. With the help of Hitler and the infiltration of authoritarian communists into the anarchist ranks which split the movement, Franco was able to defeat the anarchists in 1939. The ‘Free Territory; of the Ukraine, inspired by anarcho-communist philosopher Peter Kropotkin, lasted a few years until the Soviet communists destroyed it. Also, the country of Korea had an anarcho-communist system in place for a couple of years until imperial Japan and the Chinese captured the territory in the early 1930s. Even though this philosophy still exists in the present in small communities or in some cases, at the corporate level, anarcho-communism is still thriving in the 21st Century. The United States has a strong anarcho-communist movement which is trying to disable its current authoritarian state-run capitalist system. These anarchists have been known to create random autonomous zones in large cities but also have no problems with embracing violence to achieve their long-term goals which runs counter to the goals of other anarchists.
2. MUTUALISM – This is the movement that got me personally involved in the anarchist movement. in the mid-2000s. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a French philosopher, who also came out of the communist movement of the late 19th Century and like Mikhail Bakhunin, eventually left the communist movement after getting into a disagreement with Karl Marx. Mutualism differs from Anarcho-Communism in many ways. Large institutions would be democratically run by free associations of men. Public land was collective, but land occupied by private citizens could remain in their ‘possession’ as long as the property was used. Proudhon believed in the idea of free market economics and made a distinction between property used for exploitation and personal property used by individuals. He understood the importance of labor value and its impact on the free market. Proudhon is also credited with being one of the first individuals to create the idea of the banking credit union, a type of banking that I have personally embraced my entire life. Unlike communists, he was also not opposed to the idea of rent or interest as long as people got involved in these contracts voluntarily. Mutualism also embraces the idea of small business and artists and recognizes their important individualistic contributions to society and the economic value they create. Mutualism is still practiced in the present day through education articles provided by the Center for a Stateless Society, run by Kevin Carson. Left-Libertarianism is also a present-day branch of the fundamentals of Mutualism which incorporates the idea of equality more broadly into its belief system.
3. INDIVIDUALIST ANARCHISM – Over time, this is the political philosophy that has come to resemble my own personal beliefs. Individualist anarchism was founded by German philosopher, Max Stirner. The philosophy was expanded in his most popular novel The Ego and its Own. Individualist anarchism is the only branch that both sides of the anarchist spectrum claim as their own. The foundation of it is simple. The individual is supreme over every institution on the planet and any organization or government that tries to coerce you into behavior against your personal ethics, the individual has the right to reject it. The idea revolves around individual personal responsibility, mutual contracts, and voluntary associations that can grow into massive business co-operatives as long as they are not coercive towards other people. Property can be owned, and any person has the right to defend it against aggressors. Individualist anarchism’s ideals are similar to the current political movement of libertarianism. An example of individualist anarchy in practice can be seen through religious practices. Religion, despite some of its violent and repressive history, is a theology that is based around the idea of personal growth. Buddhists seek individual ‘enlightment’ so they can understand the world as a whole and contribute their bodies to making the universe a more satisfying place to live. Individualist anarchism should not be confused with ‘selfishness.’ Because selfish behavior that harms other individuals is a form of violence which is rejected by individualists and libertarians.
4. LIBERTARIANISM – This one is controversial because many libertarian are minarchists, meaning that they believe in a small form of government. Libertarianism probably has the most diverse range of believers across the political spectrum. Libertarianism qualifies as an anarchist philosophy because of its core philosophical tenets. Personal liberty is promoted above everything else (Which resembles the idea of individualist anarchism above). The non-aggression principle is a foundational belief that all libertarians have to adopt to become part of the movement. The idea is that you only commit violence against someone else as a form of self-defense against aggressors. This idea is the foundation of the libertarian anti-war stance. Autonomy, free association, and freedom of choice are also fundamental ideas of the libertarian philosophy. In the present day, the libertarian movement is the most common practiced form of anarchy. In the United States, the libertarian party is the 3rd largest political party in the U.S. with famous adherents to the philosophy ranging from Ron Paul, to Jesse Ventura, to Tom Woods, to websites like www.lewrockwell.com and www.zerohedge.com. Libertarians have found their greatest success in the two-party system getting elected as Republicans. This is why libertarians are often seen as members of the right wing even though the libertarian ideology is diverse and has a strong left-libertarian representation.
5. ANARCHO-CAPITALISM – For many liberals and ‘leftists’, the inclusion of anarcho-capitalism violates their conceptions of anarchy. But anarcho-capitalism definitely qualifies as an anarchic philosophy. Even though it has a few fundamental differences from individualist anarchism and libertarianism which also violates anarchic principles by participating in elections and sometimes being represented in the state, anarcho-capitalism is more of an economic anarchic philosophy based around ‘Austrian Economics’ that was invented by Ludwig Von Mises and promoted by his followers Friedrich Hayek and Murray Rothbard. Anarcho-capitalism is the belief that governments are unnecessary and that the best solution for society is a system of private property run by private individuals, total free markets including legalizing all forms of trade that are banned and eliminating global tariffs, while also adopting many of the core tenets of individualist anarchism and libertarianism when it comes to the question of personal responsibility and autonomy. The biggest difference from the other forms of anarchy is that anarcho-capitalists believe that society should be voluntary, and that economics and systems tend to self-regulate. As an example, if a government is printing money and creating inflation, the form of currency will eventually deflate and correct the error of the money printing and wipe away those bad economic transactions. Also, they believe that the privatization of many governmental responsibilities would be better handled by private organizations and individuals. Because of these beliefs, many other forms of anarchism reject anarcho-capitalism because the concept of private property and organizations will naturally lead back to hierarchal structures. Interestingly enough, anarcho-capitalists feel the same way about anarcho-communists and the fact that voluntary collectives will inherently become coercive towards people not participating in the system. The best place to read about anarcho-capitalist ideals is the Mises Institute, the Ron Paul Institute, and www.lewrockwell.com where you can find many educational tools that explain this philosophy in greater detail. Some ideas of anarcho-capitalism in practice are the city-states of Europe during the Renaissance, Gaelic Ireland, and the United States Old West.
The individuals that participate in these types of anarchy above number in the millions. But there are also some other outlier philosophies that have been growing over the years. Christian anarchism is a philosophy among Christians that the Bible and God are anti-authoritarian. Anarcho-primitivists reject the industrial and technological age and want to help evolve the society back to a more simplistic agricultural and rural state. Anarcho-tribalism is an offshoot of the anarcho-primitivism belief. Technological anarchism is rising among people who believe that technological advancement will evolve humanity into rejecting the idea of government. Crypto-anarchism is an offshoot and cousin of this ideology. There are also anarchist philosophies revolving around the “Green movement” (Green Anarchism) and its offshoot anarcho-naturalism. The “Feminist rights” movement also is prominently represented in anarchist studies (Anarcha-feminism).
Feel free to add any that I may have missed. But the ideology of anarchism is complex and diverse with hundreds of years of intellectual thought behind this philosophy. What kind do you think best represents you? Please leave a comment and let me know.
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