What is Anarchy and why are people so afraid of it? As a normal, law abiding citizen, the first image that comes to mind when hearing the word “anarchy” is well…anarchy. A lot of street violence, burning cars, looting going on everywhere, people with bandannas over their faces throwing Molotov cocktails… the whole package. But why do we see it like that and where does this mental image come from?
First things first! What is it really? Well, anarchy is a political ideology or philosophy, just like democracy, monarchy, communism, fascism, liberalism etc. and not just a temporary state a country is in right after a natural disaster, uprising or war. Even if this term is used as such in dictionaries, for all intended purposes, it shouldn’t.
Nevertheless, what does anarchy stand for? To understand it we must first look at the word itself. Anarchy comes from the ancient Greek ἀναρχία (anarchia) which combines ἀ (a), “not, without” and ἀρχή (arkhi), “ruler, leader, authority.” Basically it’s talking about a society without leaders but not without rules (which is a very common misconception). Now we can start to see where all this confusion comes from.
And where does it stand on the political chart?
As we can see above, Anarchism can be found in the very bottom left of the scale. It’s a Socialist-Libertarian movement. We shouldn’t however confuse Anarchism with former or present day socialist states like the USSR or North Korea since these are “Big Governments“, as compared to Anarchism which is on the other side of the spectrum, all the way down there. Just look at where Stalin is in regards to Anarchism. In a standard socialist regime for example, the government represents the people while in an anarchist one, the people represent themselves.
While this concept first came into being in Ancient Greece, along side democracy and other political systems, it was only later, in the late 18th century AD, when the anarchist philosophy was fully developed. After the French Revolution in 1793, anarchy gained prominence as an alternative to the abusive theocracies and monarchies at that time.
Anarchism basically aims to dismantle the hierarchical system and class society we put in place for ourselves ever since the dawn of civilization some 12,000 years ago. That’s when man first discovered agriculture and the abundance of goods that came with it. It’s also the time when it became profitable for one person to own another for material gains, thus creating a hierarchy…and incidentally, slavery. Now, a system as old as this one is hard to remove from people’s subconscious, since it’s the only way we know how to “govern” our lives and how we think a society should function.
To take things even further, one key difference between anarchy and democracy is the distribution of power. Anarchists believe that a democratic / capitalist government which has the power to uphold the rights and liberties of its citizens, can also as easily take them away. This was the case during of the WWII Internment of Japanese Americans when the US government sent somewhere around 110,000 of its citizens into internment camps. People who were of Japanese ancestry but who have been living on US soil for generations. Not very democratic, really!
Anarchists also consider a ruler as a person who stands above the law and thus cannot be subject to it. They say it would be naive to think that a government guilty of war crimes would ever be prosecuted as war criminals since they are unofficially above the court of justice in the scale of power. Which incidentally is true in many cases!
So, they propose an equal distribution of this power to all citizens within that society. People would thus be the ones proposing and voting the laws within their own country. This of course would involve a great deal of participation of that society, otherwise it would not work. This can be achieved to some extent through Direct Democracy.
But the whole point behind having a government in the first place is divided into two major ideas; just so we can simplify things. One is to protect its citizens from outside threats. And the other is to take care of everything that the average “private property” citizen would not do on his own or think that it’s not his responsibility. Things like infrastructure, roads, parks, hospitals, schools etc.
Anarchy has an answer for both these points.
For one, wars would become more or less obsolete since the ones who usually initiate conflicts in the first place are not the ones who actually have to fight in them (the common people), but really the ones in power (hundreds of miles away from where the fighting is taking place). If you were to put it to a national vote, no sane society of people would choose war over peace. Not in today’s world and not when you or your children would have to die in order to attack someone else! No matter how big the profit! Not when it’s your own life at stake!
Let’s take Switzerland for example, since it has a sort of Direct Democracy as its form of government and the closest to anarchy as you can get today. How long has it been since this country fought in a war, let alone start one? They however have a big defensive army and all citizens must go through military training… just in case some other country gets some funny ideas.
And just as a side note; when looking at the Anarchist symbol we can see that it’s made out of an A which obviously stands for anarchy, but it’s also surrounded by a circle. That circle is actually an O which stands for the word Order. This symbol comes from Pierre Joseph Proudhon, a very well known French philosopher and journalist, who said that “Anarchy is Order!”.
The second idea behind having a government can be solved, as we said before, through people involvement, a high personal civic duty and some knowledge of the states affairs. Instead of leaders and taxes, nations could have non profit organizations for all sorts of different projects (infrastructure, health and education systems, military, culture etc.) on which all citizens can vote and decide for themselves. Each country following an anarchist philosophy would look very different from one another in the end, each being specifically tailored according to that nations traditions, problems, issues etc.
Here however lies anarchy’s biggest flaw. The people themselves; we are simply not ready for it! After such a long period (12,000 years) of political and social hierarchical systems of all types, we are no longer used to be truly free and equal in the eyes of each other. And of course, the government or those who have more power than the rest, will never help us achieve it. Power, like wealth, is relative. They both are relative to other people’s wealth and power of course. You can only have more power or money to the expense of others not having them. Both are finite in the end and only so much can go around.
Even Noam Chomsky, a true supporter of Anarchism, says that: “I tend to agree that anarchy is formless and utopian…”
Nevertheless we have to try! Try to better ourselves and the communities we live in. To do things regardless of our immediate personal gain and see the benefits as a whole. Take matters into your own hands, as some might say! If we can’t live in a utopia we should at least strive towards one.
One American philosopher, John Rawls, came up with an ingenious social experiment / game which will help us on our way to doing just that! It’s called “The Veil of Ignorance” and it helps us ask ourselves some really interesting questions about the society we live in and how we can better it. A first step if you will.
One final thought and one of the biggest advantages that anarchy has over all other political systems is that, if it were not to function properly and people would no longer want to live in it, they could just simply vote on it and anarchy would be gone literally overnight. People have that power after all.
When the power of love becomes greater than the love of power, then you’ll have…well, Anarchy.
Next are some great videos which might help you better comprehend this misunderstood ideology and from which we were inspired and able to share its story with you