August 2008 - Posts

Anarchism As Skepticism

"The government is necessary. The government is legitimate. Democracy is representative of the people. Democracy is the best form of government. Majority rule is legitimate. Checks and balances actually function. Voting is meaningful or even an obligation. We have a meaningful choice between political parties and canidates. Governments form as a result of the social contract. The good of society. The rule of law. Law provides order. Only the government can provide certain services. Society must be modeled or planned. Without a pre-existing design, there cannot be a society."

What do all of these things have in common? They are political myths, incoherant abstractions and apologetic devices. Before a political discussion even takes place, generally most of this is simply assumed. But why do we have to assume legitimacy in order to have a discussion or debate in the realm of politics? Are these not assumptions that must be proven to begin with? A claim of authority isn't something that is legitimate before any arguementation takes place, it must be proven like any other positive claim. Unfortunately in the bulk of political discourse such positive claims are simply assumed and calling them into question is like sticking monkey wrench into the conversation. Why is it taboo to question these assumptions and concepts?

Technically one need not make any positive assertions at all in order to come to an anarchistic conclusion. All that is necessary is that one retains skepticism towards the positive assertions that are common in political discourse, and to consequentially deconstruct the language and the assumptions of politics. Once one has consistantly engaged in such a deconstruction, one eventually is left with the conclusion that political authority as such simply has no legitimate foundation. The alleged legitimate foundations are reduced to something that holds no more weight than the concept of a deity, which is to say none at all.

The anarchist rejects the idea that there is a particular political model that works for a society as such. It is erroneous to think of anarchism as if it is a political model. The function of the anarchist is the deconstruction of political models. The archist or statist is someone who maintains faith in a particular political model or process, or one who maintains faith in a particular person or group in a position of political authority. The function of the archist or statist is to justify these political models or authority figures. In this context, the anarchist is the skeptic and the archist is the one who is maintaining faith. From a skeptical anarchist perspective, particularly the perspective of an atheist anarchist, the archist's faith is analogous to the theist's faith, the main difference being that the archist merely uses political authority in the same way that the theist uses the concept of a deity.

In the same way that a creationist thinks that a deity must have created or planned the universe and all that follows from it, the archist seems to think that a political model and authority must have planned society in order for it to either exist or function in the first place. In both cases, it is inconcievable to the advocate in question that order of any kind can arise without a central planner or designer. And just as the theist maintains faith in the ability of the deity to maintain the order of the universe once it has been created, the archist maintains faith in the ability of the political authority in question to maintain the order of the society that has allegedly been created. The archist must maintain faith in the ability of law generation and law enforcement to lead to the desired ends and sustain them. The archist must maintain faith in the ability of political authority to counteract the elements of dynamism within a society. The anarchist is merely a skeptic with regaurd to such beliefs.

The historical connection between religion and politics is very interesting. The earliest justifications for political authority tended to be religious in nature. In some primitive cases, the legitimization was simply that the political authority literally was the religious authority or deity. This was watered down one step further with the notion that the political authority has the sanction of the deity or at least the religious organization that represents such a deity, which in the context of European history is known as divine right. Before any notion of the social contract was formally put forth, the justification for political authority was overwhelmingly and blatantly religious.

But with the fall of religious absolutism, such purely religious justifications began to be worn threadbare, and political philosophers began making comprehensive attempts at justifying political authority without a direct appeal to the divine. Instead, all they really did was anthropromorphicize certain human beings or social groups in order to create a trasncendental relationship in which "society" or at least certain segments therin are treated as if they were divine. In a strange roundabout way, the divine justification has merely been secularized, and the human all to human has been divinized. In short, the traditional concept of a divine right that was formly used to justify political authority has merely been shifted elsewhere. It has not been eliminated. Instead, abstractions such as "society" or "the people" or "natural elites" serve the same function.

Instead of allowing their skepticism to end when religious absolutism starts to diminish, the anarchist calls such justifications into question and sees them as no more reasonable than previous justifications.

The Headroom Between Mutualism and Anarcho-capitalism

I find it inaccurate to use either the terms "anarcho-capitalism" or "mutualism" to describe my own viewpoint. Being a pluralist as well as a person with a fairly complex and subtle heirarchy of preferances that may situationally change, I don't accept either of the two as a singular system that everyone is expected to be a part of. In some ways it could be said that I feel somewhere in between the two.

In the sense that I endorse it, I define private property in an ethical sense as the natural product of labor and voluntary exchange or gift. Anything being called "private property" beyond this I see as a fraud. I do not accept "private property" in a purely legalistic sense, as in whatever the state happens to call "private", thus I draw clear distinction between the status quo of property titles and property rights or a legitimate claim to property. Neither do I necessarily accept "private property" if the term is used to refer to any property that happens to be exclusively controlled, as stolen property and state property can be and is exclusively controlled.

I think that there is a lot of stupid semantics over private property and that those who claim to oppose private property most often actually support some limited or particular form of it but they call it by some other name such as "personal property" or "possessions". I think that in particular situations there can be some kind of private commons or private property that has a policy that effectively makes it "public" in a meaningful sense (see Roderick Long for an exposition on this concept).

I interpret Proudhon subtley. On one hand, I think that it is a misconception to interpret "property is theft" as an absolute statement either pro or con (indeed, taken at face value such a statement is logically incoherant, since the concept of theft relies on the concept of legitimate ownership in order to make any sense), as it has two corrolaries: "property is impossible" and "property is liberty". Each statement refers to a particular context. Socialists who grab onto "property is theft" as an absolute statement against private property are misreading Proudhon, as it refers more to property in the context of an arbitrary legal privilege that can be traced back to thefts than anything else, and they are ignoring the contexts in which Proudhon quite blatantly endorses private property as the only meaningful counterweight to the state.

This position is, in theory, consistant with both mutualism and what's called "anarcho-capitalism", hence making mutualism and "anarcho-capitalism" not as far off as some may like to think. In terms of the labor theory of property (as opposed to value), the two are in total agreement and only disagree in terms of terminology. Wherein they meaningfully differ is in the accessement of what the outcome of freedom of association with respect to property allocation would tend to be. I honestly find myself somewhere in the middle of the two accessments.

On one hand, I do not see anarcho-capitalism as a uniform model, I do not think that a free market would be dominated by a small number of centralized and vertically integrated incorporated firms, I see a possible role for voluntary labor unions as a simple form of collective bargaining, I see the possibility of more individual propietorship and the expansion of enterprenuership, and I see some co-ops as a possibility. On the other hand, I don't see mutualism as a uniform model either, I think that some of the mutualist questioning of the division of labor is misguided or silly and I reject the labor theory of value.

Overall, I do think that the natural of an outcome of a free market would result in an increase in prosperity across the board that could be construed as somewhat egalitarian (in comparison to the status quo at least). Of course, I don't think that it would lead to absolute equality of wealth or ownership in any absolute or consistant sense (nor would I find such a scenario desirable at all), but I do think that workers and consumers would be greatly benefited and in some ways labor would gain much more bargaining power relative to capital. I do not think that wealth being concentrated in the hands of a small few while the majority of people are just above the substinance level is the natural outcome of a free economy, nor do I find such a scenario desirable.

In short, I don't take a doctrinaire approach to either of these ideologies. I value them both enough to synthesize attributes of both of them into my worldview.