When I say that “you are an anarchist” then it does not mean that I am enforcing a conclusion on your soul. I am simply letting you know that everyone, at least sometimes, is an anarchist.
Many people seem to believe that anarchists are proponents of violence, chaos, and destruction, that they are against all forms of order and organization, or that they are crazed terrorists who just want to blow everything up. On the contrary, nothing could be further from the truth.
Anarchists are simply individuals who believe that human beings are capable of behaving in a reasonable and voluntary fashion without having to be forced to. It is genuinely a very lucid notion. But it’s one that the government and their supporters have always found extremely perilous.
To qualify the criteria for what I said, the following two elementary assumptions should be better enough:
- Humans are, under mundane circumstances, about as rational and decent as they are allowed to be, and can organize themselves and their communities without needing to be told how.
- Power corrupts. Even if it is minimal, it tends to corrupt absolutely. The opposite of this setting is anarchism. It is just a matter of having the courage to take the simple principles of common decency and accountable freedom that we all live by, and to follow them through to their logical conclusions.
My fellow anarchist David Graeber believes that the most basic anarchist principle is self-organization: the assumption that human beings do not need to be threatened with prosecution in order to be able to come to reasonable understandings with each other, or to treat each other with dignity and respect.
Every decent individual believes that s/he is capable of behaving reasonably. If they think laws and police are necessary, it is only because they don’t believe that other people are. But if you think about it, don’t those people all feel exactly the same way about you?
Anarchism is just the way people act when they are free to do as they choose, and when they deal with others who are equally free — and therefore aware of the responsibility to others that entails: 1) Every time you treat another human with consideration and respect, you are being an anarchist, 2) Every time you work out your differences with others by coming to reasonable compromise, listening to what everyone has to say rather than letting one person decide for everyone else, you are being an anarchist, 3) Every time you have the opportunity to force someone to do something, but decide to appeal to their sense of reason or justice instead, you are being an anarchist. The same goes for every time you share something with a friend, or decide who is going to do the dishes, or do anything at all with an eye to fairness.
Now, you might object that all this is well and good as a way for small groups of people to get on with each other, but managing a city, or a country, is an entirely different matter. And of course there is something to this. Even if you decentralize society and put as much power as possible in the hands of small communities, there will still be plenty of things that need to be coordinated, from running railroads to deciding on directions for medical research. But just because something is complicated does not mean there is no way to do it freely. It would just be complicated. In fact, anarchists have all sorts of different ideas and visions about how a complex society might manage itself. To explain them though would go far beyond the scope of a little introductory text like this.
Suffice it to say, first of all, that a lot of people have spent a lot of time coming up with models for how a voluntary, healthy society might work; but second, and just as importantly, no anarchist claims to have a perfect blueprint. The last thing we want is to impose prefab models on society anyway. The truth is we probably can’t even imagine half the problems that will come up when we try to create a voluntary society; still, we’re confident that, human ingenuity being what it is, such problems can always be solved, so long as it is in the spirit of our basic principles — which are, in the final analysis, simply the principles of fundamental human decency.
If anyone says they like government, ask them how they feel when it gets directly involved in their life. Odd though this may seem, in most important ways you are probably already an anarchist — you just don’t realize it.
About the author
Prof. Jaimine Vaishnav is an anarcho-capitalist based in Mumbai, India. His hobbies are about defending the liberties of all his dissents without charging any fee.