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Anarchy is juvenile rebellion

Devils Avocado | 24.08.2004 01:30 | Analysis | Free Spaces

“Man is by nature a political animal.” Aristotle

A lot of very bright and well intentioned people talk about anarchy as a solution to political problems. They are barking up the wrong tree...

We as a species are neither good nor bad. There is no inherent evil in us, no original sin. Neither is there any purity.

We have evolved from apes that took to hunting and scavenging. We learned to kill and we leaned to share far more than our vegetarian ancestors. All apes are pretty disreputable in their behaviour, we are no exception. We fight, we kill, we steal. We also feel guilt. Guilt is probably our best feature, that and the power to discern a difference between the way things are and the way things could be.

There was no Garden of Eden, no fall, no golden state of nature, no single social contract. We have grown, we have spawned. We are nasty apes with the brains to be especially nasty, and the culture to help us transcend our animal nature.

Political philosophers have long argued about the true nature of man. Are we fundamentally nasty people who should expect to be treated nastily, like Machiavelli thought?

"It is necessary for him who lays out a state and arranges laws for it to presuppose that all men are evil and that they are always going to act according to the wickedness of their spirits whenever they have free scope. " Niccolò Machiavelli, 1513

Or are we fundamentally nasty but capable of good if correctly organized and governed, as Hobbes thought?

“During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man.”

“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Thomas Hobbes, 1651

Or yet again are we fundamentally good but seemingly destined to suffer under tyranny, as Rousseau thought?

“L’homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers.”
Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Du Contrat social (1762)

We do not act as rational agents in pursuit of our own naked self-interest. We have a real tendency to co-operate whenever possible. This tendency is not perfect, if it was any political scheme you care to devise would work perfectly, whether it be democracy, anarchy, benign monarchy or communism. In a way it is only the shortcomings of human nature that show up any difference between any political systems.

Cheating is a natural instinct with us, an instinct which we can only partially control with our innate tendencies to co-operate. We evolved our large brains principally in order to police cheating in social situations. Baboons are successful scavenging omnivorous apes, they show us that tool wielding intelligence is not necessary to make your way in the world. We did not evolve intelligence to outwit our food, we evolved it to outwit each other, and more especially to avoid being outwitted by rivals.

Anarchy as a political code relies on us having an alien nature. It relies on us trusting each other and not cheating. It could never work. The biggest danger does not come from our innate wickedness, we are not naturally wicked, but from our willingness to accept the idea that we are naturally wicked. Huge numbers of people treat their fellow man as if he was evil and amoral, this attitude can develop into a self-fulfilling prophesy. White South Africans feared that their black neighbours would rape their wives and they acted accordingly, as a result of this South Africa has one of the highest incidences of rape in the world, and most of the victims, like their rapists, are black. When people are expected to act in a certain way they will tend to do so.

People are more moral and co-operative by nature than we usually dare to allow. But if people practice universal trust they will be betrayed. We cannot police ourselves fully in a society of more than a few dozen people. Our brains are not powerful enough to allow it, we have evolved in small bands of up to 150 or so individuals, we are socially well equipped to police give and take in groups of up to this size but once the threshold is crossed we are no longer well equipped to cope.

Beyond the size of the natural human unit, the small band or tribe, we need some form of structure to allow us to cope, without it we descend into the chaos of the mob.

I do not particularly like governments as such. But that does not mean that I am frightened of them or believe in conspiracy theories. Without a government there would be chaos. There would be no rule of law, no safety from cheats. Gangsters would run many markets. Corruption, nepotism and casual violence would be widespread, because it would be expected. Even in modern societies with formal legal structures the streetwise people know that fair and honest dealing is not always to be found in travelling carnivals and sleazy nightcubs; with no courts or Police at all how much further would endemic corruption travel? Are the dubious market forces that operate in the drugs market a good omen for unfettered free trading?

The absence of a formal government will not lead to more freedom, quite the contrary. There will always be somebody who wants to run the place. If you do not elect somebody to do the job then you leave the position vacant for the strongest man to seize the power. While some kings, tyrants and gangsters have been popular leaders on the whole their record is significantly worse than democratic leaders.

Governments cannot simply be uninvented or tossed aside. Governments exist, so they say, to protect the people from danger. It follows that there must be a danger, it follows that there must be a force to meet that threat. Any state needs an armed force. Indeed, it is the very capacity to declare and fight a legitimate war that defines what a nation-state is. California is not a nation-state. It has a huge government but it has no armed forces or legitimate right to declare war. Many tiny African nations have little government, but have armed forces. Once you have a government, a territory an army and a tax raising power you have government for ever. If that government stopped paying the army there would be a coup. This is the fundamental reason why anarchy can never operate on a national level. Government cannot be dismantled from below. The only hope to dismantle national government is to take away the powers it holds gradually to both local government and to supranational organizations, and to dismantle the military structures of the nation state in a gradual way, avoiding any confrontation with the existing military powers. Perhaps even natural wastage could be applied, keep paying the soldiers to drill and dig trenches but stop all recruitment; so the army, like the old soldiers, will not die but will simply fade away.

There has to be a rule of law. There has to be a government behind the rule of law. There has to be democracy behind the government. The trick is to have a government that serves the people and not the other way around. We need democracy, we need plurality of expression, we need education, we need plurality of education.

Many young people posture as anarchists because it is cool. Being an atheist is rejecting God, being an anarchist is rejecting government, rejecting is cool. Rebel, maverick, unconventional, heretic, leftfield, renegade, dissident, outlaw, infidel; all these terms are worn by the young with uncritical pride in today's society. But differing from the norm is not intrinsically either good or bad.

Rebelling against tyranny is usually noble.
Rebelling against consensus democracy is usually juvenile.

I have every confidence that when true global democratic government is established there will still be hundreds of millions of people who will decry it as despotism. Rebellion is always so much more fun. Strife and conflict are essential. Young men will always be rebels and will always find a cause against the status quo. There never could be a society utopian enough to avoid teenagers feeling they were being stifled by the dead hand of the repressive older generation.

You are safe to attack the government only because you live in a democracy. It is not safe to speak against the pharaoh, the Führer, the Chairman, Mr Big or scarface.

Until we can organize a world government, democratic national governments are the least inconvenient way to conduct our affairs. That is hardly a slogan capable of getting anybody to man the barricades is it? But why should the truth make a good T shirt slogan?

Devils Avocado