If I was to boil the years of my political positions down I’d say that when I was a social democrat aged about 14 or so,I had no well developed or considered idea about Positive Liberty ,and so I focused on Negative Liberty which seemed easier to understand.This influenced me(along with mistreatment from my peers) to get into an extreme Objectivist inspired Individualism and Egoism-What young teen doesn’t want to be told you have the right to control your life free from any others influence in rebellion against society itself.
Down the years I encountered later, Objectivism and Libertarianism.I believed they explained why negative liberty is good and positive liberty bad.When I became a ‘Left Libertarian’, it gradually opened me up to re-examining this belief and I ultimately came to see them both as complimentary and two sides of the same coin.Infact as I understand now,the only reason we care about Negative liberty is because of how it grants us positive liberty and is thus empowering.To believe in merely negative liberty is to miss the point then.’Freedom to be poor’ is no freedom at all.No one is empowered by allowing them the ability to use their property to discriminate against you.In understanding this ,I came to accept collectivism.Both individualism and collectivism are important and when either exclusively dominates you run into problems.
I then moved away from any kind of Libertarianism to a quite traditional anarchism.Anarchism as it is and always was.Anarchism as it’s always meant.I read Emma Goldman,Proudhon,Marx,Kropotkin,Bakunin,Bookchin and Berkman to name but a few.
Many months after this casting off of libertarian residue and acceptance of anarchism as it’d always been , I came to doubt the worth of Anarchism.I came to doubt it’s ability to secure the just equal rights protecting society I want, due to positive liberty being so important and my doubt about that is incredibly strong now that I consider anarchy to be a vastly undesirable state to work for.I saw people arguing that to be anarchist you had to be opposed to cities or marriage and I was turned off by that.I was only ever in it for a just equal society not a totalizing way of thinking.I wondered if it might be too much.Too ‘out there’.
When I was an anarchist at the start of these Tory cuts, I thought we must oppose these and that we need government intervention and reforms(as the second best option) until we get to anarchy.Once the doubts set in,I dropped “until we get to anarchy” for the thought that we need reforms and to fight these cuts for their own sake.I became a democratic socialist.
Quite a path I’ve travelled: Social democratic to Objectivist to ‘Capitalist Libertarian’ to ‘Left Libertarian’ then Carson Mutualist to Anarcho-Collectivist anarchist inspired by Bakunin then back to the left with Democratic Socialism.
In a brief summary, what were my motives for giving up anarchism?
Anarchism seemed an unrealistic society to work for.I saw no obvious conceivable means of achieving it (especially without massive deal of violence).I saw anarchism as not offering practical solutions to the problems of today but instead casting it off with talk of “when we have anarchy”.That is not helping anyone.I don’t deny anarchists do a great deal of good in community organizing and the like, but when they cannot lay down policies to work with then they have nothing to add to the conversation on that.They’re talking past us who want reform.It’s there prerogative but when we’re talking about things like how to reduce global warming they have no plan we can globally put into action in the here and now.
I worried about allowing racists,fascists and the like free choice to determine community norms.I believe government despite it’s errors and evils,is not all bad and does provide some perennially good things which are huge steps forward in human society for example food licensing laws,right to roam,health and safety, laws against at will firing,road maintenance,water purification,the welfare state,government healthcare,public transport-to name but a few.Because of that I didn’t see a need to do away with the state merely improve it ,as that’s all we can do.The state is just an institution which executes the desires of those who most influence it and promotes their values.The goal is to make the state more influenced by the many not the few.
Statelessness as an impossible achievement.
It seems to me unlikely that statelessness is a possible condition of society.As I used to conceive it, a stateless society would involve a community coming together to decide on a course of action then implementing it.I favoured direct local democracy with as wide an inclusion as is humanely possible.I was told by my critics this was still a state.I have come to see they were correct.Regardless of the fact that this is more democratic,vastly less hierarchical and vastly egalitarian it is nonetheless a state!
While this democracy would allow for disagreement and aim to resolve conflict it may at times not be possible i.e. regardless of the modifications to a proposal a person or group still may not agree with it.Now in the choice of whether to built a new hospital or not, both cannot be done. Some group or individual is going to be dissatisfied and have a choice which is not there own carried out.Even within the glorious grassroots direct democracy of the Occupy movement this type of thing occurred ,as I can personally attest to.For organizations this is not so bad, any member(s) are free to leave if unhappy.But for a society,that’s just not possible and so you are forced to put up with what has been chosen. You may ask well why do we have to go with a majoritarian model.Can’t we have an unanimous one? Well in some cases but even in localized cases it can break down.On a large societal wide scale it just would not work.The two sides in a question of war could never resolve their differences.There is a large number of questions like this that would never be sorted out and decisions have to be made somehow.
So in returning to my point, someone or some group is going to have a decision forced on them that they did not directly consent or agree to except by their agreement ,acceptance and involvement in the procedures of decisionmaking(this is not meant to imply a comparison with voting in represensative democracy).This shows that the sense in which government is a monopoly on enforcement of decisionmaking cannot be avoided.If a decision affects the society in which you live,even if you disagree you cannot remove yourself from being involved in the consequences of the decided result of that decision making.
Anarcho-Capitalists have claimed the solution to this is competiting agencies of decision making yet all this would likely result in is a society of civil war ,of competiting privatized mini states It is more and more apparent to me that most of the things said about anarchy are true to some extent(though I do not deny it is often exaggerated or misrepresented or bad arguments are made.)
Anarchy is Chaos.
Anarchy is fine insofar as you only consider communities with your own modern liberal cultural preferences setting their own rules.But when you consider communities with more conservative or inhumane norms you run into problems.There could be a community of rapists,religious fanatics pimps ,paedophiles or forced marriages.Mormons and Scientologists would try to run and buy up the world.There would likely be fascist communities,absence of fair trials,lack of inclusivity,hierarchy,sexism etc.Just utter regression of society.
So far from being a promised better society, anarchy would (or at least could ) be a worse society.It could be more open to evil of all sorts.Few would want that,even the risk of that.
The state can( at least in theory) safeguard and promote modern liberal values.The state can(potentially) limit how far cluture can be made to regress.I don’t consider ‘the freedom to chose a racist society’ a real freedom.I don’t want a society where they could chose to have a widescale institutional order like that.I don’t want a society without institutional requirements that disabled people aren’t restricted by organizations from access and therefore can’t be socially excluded.I don’t want a society where it’s ever possible to exclude a person or group from a shop based on gender,race or sexual orientation.I want a society where such actions are forbidden and if discovered,punishable.
Anarchism wants a direct democracy(which is also what I want ,as far as possible).However it wants and cannot allow for, imposed limits to that(Here Rothbard was right to say that there’d have to be a uniform libertarian legal code otherwise society could be worse). I see that as chaos since rightwing and other undesirable philosophies could institute their ideas and have a repressive regressive society.There would be no protection of rights other than the community saw fit and no right to force communities to defend rights.Anarchists may well say that they’d stop such horrors or prevent them.But with no overarching set of norms to refer to it could well fall on deaf ears.The result could very well be civil war- religious fanatics vs atheists, black people vs fascists etc.
I have to be modest in saying that I don’t think every anarchist community would be horrible.Some could be amazing.There might be a great deal of fellow feeling and sharing.Some communities might be the best humanity has ever seen.But the risks ,the worrying communities, go a great length to negate that.
Democratic Socialism accomplishes the need for direct democracy while allowing and admitting that there must be legal limits on what can be chosen i.e. you cannot chose to violate human rights. Absolutist opposition to hierarchy results in allowing the bad to run riot.It allows a measure of chaos. Anarchism is anti- authority in excessive way and ends up endorsing free unlimited choice at a community level which are taken as a dogma,as absolutes which are unviolable.
Without some imposed norms or codes e.g. laws, anything goes which may allow good to flourish but also evil to fester and spread.There must be limits on choice if a choice is going to be so destructive and bad for society.Allowing free choice is a rule of thumb, a presumption but not an absolute ,not an idea which is true in all cases for all things.Freedom and choice also require responsibility ,reasonableness and compassion.
Even in a good anarchist community there would need to be people enforcing norms and punishing violaters thus violence is required even if just in an organized sense for defense against rape or murder.
Non violent enforcement on a ground level would not work if the person violating the norm was persistent and ignored all attempts at debating with them or ignoring or excluding them. A violence free community could not work.While I am sympathetic to and can understand why someone might want to be a pacifist or against forcing people to obey certain norms while acting non violently ,I am not in favour of it .Without enforcing reasonable norms decided by the majority ,the community breaks down.
Lets take an example I have encountered myself. Say you have an alcohol free community, a ‘dry zone’.What would you do about someone who violates this? you can try to exclude them or criticize them but that may not work.They may persist anyway.This happened with Occupy groups.They did not use force to remove the alcohol(My preferred response) nor remove them nor forcibly(if need be) exclude them.They just used words.But the dry zone policy is just mere words without enforcement.It is just an abstract.This example applies to many things.A community without enforcement of norms is in actuality normless ,in a state of insecurity and chaos.
One of the best examples of this is governments which do not protect rights, for all they declare them to exist .It’s exactly the same.
For any social change to be deep widespread and abiding , the majority must accept it.For racism to become generally considered abhorrent ,it took time till the majority accepted it.Other examples could be given: Gay rights,feminism etc. Anarchism needs to convince the majority that it is better.It needs to be shown practical and achievable.People are going to demand a vague picture of what it’s like and how it will be worked towards- better pictures than have been given so far- people will not give up there lives as imperfect as they are now.
People by in large favour security over the unknown.Until anarchism manages to do this, it will never succeed.It will also have to contend with the minority of racists,fascists,nazis etc who like the idea of having a state to try to move it towards there ends and who would in some cases be violently opposed to egalitarian and anti- hierarchical societies.Until these fears and concerns have been sufficiently settled in the minds of the great wealth of people globally and nationally,anarchism is not a viable alternative to the status quo.
Notes in reply to criticism.
“Confused teen moves through Objectivism and capitalist libertarianism and various pseudo-individualist muddled bits of nonsense before becoming a mainstream social-democratic type, then becoming a supposed anarchist at some point.”If you had read what I wrote I said it was(in broad strokes)Social democrat > Objectivism> libertarianism> ‘left libertarianism’ > Anarchist> Democratic Socialist.
“middle-class perspective”Except that I grew up in a council house, and I don’t have any savings.Genius!
“assuming that an anarchic society could (or should) only function if everyone is a middle-class liberal like them ”
My point there was anarchism would only work if people believed in values anarchists do.
“Not a single critique of capitalism”
This wasn’t a piece about that.” Also, they loved reformism too much to embrace the idea of revolution.”Revolution is unrealistic. I believe in a revolution of ideas not actions.
“Wilsonian idealist who cannot bear a society where they might not be able to dictate values.”
I expected this kind of insult…. I’m not the kind of person who things everyone should conform to me but some norms are like that.
“they wouldn’t make choices we like, so we shouldn’t let them make choices.”
I’m not saying that.I’m saying there’s has to be imposed limits on the choices that can be made.
“It’s not clear to me from your article why you gave up anarchism. “
I stopped believing it was necessary or achievable. I then came to see it as undesirable if it were achievable and
“Were you an anarchist because you were a libertarian? “
I thought of myself as an anarchist when I was an ancap then when I was a ‘left libertarian’ but I then moved beyond that to a more traditional anarchism inspired by Goldman, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin,Marx,Bookchin etc taking influence from Mutualism,Anarcho-Syndicalism and Anarcho-Collectivism.
I am not a libertarian now.
I am a democratic socialist( by which I mean I oppose the USSR and so called ‘actually existing socialist’ countries.)
“Rights don’t protect people “
I disagree.Protecting people is itself a right.
“Also, even if peoples’ rights cannot be secured in an anarchist society, that still does not mean that a state would be justified. “
I disagree. Such a society would be worse than now.
“the state is an inherently aggressive institution”
True to some extent though it can be justified sometimes.
“Did you give up anarchism because you gave up libertarianism?”
No. I gave up libertarianism FOR anarchism.
“what are competing privatized mini-states”?
Ancaps favour (generally) complete privatization of everything.These would be de facto states but privately funded and ran or at least state like.
“I believe government despite it’s errors and evils,is not all bad
and does provide some perennially good things which are huge steps
forward in human society for example food licensing laws,right to
roam,health and safety, laws against at will firing,road
maintenance,water purification,the welfare state,government
healthcare,public transport-to name but a few.”
“if not then how you believe these great acts of aggression are justified?”
Because the absence of them is a great danger to society.With them there can be greater wellbeing and risks of harm are reduced. They are quite vital necessities to any civilized society.
“Any response to any of what I said within the next week will be read and appreciated. Thanks.”
Thank you for your interest.I appreciate your reasonable tone despite my disagreement and I respect your willingness to engage my ideas.
I resent the slur that I am a capitalist.How about debating the argument not just personally attacking me.I am not a capitalist. I am critical of consumerism,corporations,planned obscolescence and a whole lot of capitalist values.I hate most banks…