At one time, I used to identify as an anarchist. Before that, I was raised conservative. I don't remember not being a conservative anymore; however, I remember waking up one day, being against the Iraq war at 17, and suddenly suspecting, quite erroneously, that I must have everything else in common with everyone who was against the war. At the time, the most visible people against the war, at least to me, were liberals (liberals in America don't care about war unless it is being waged by a Republican). It followed logically, I felt, that I was a liberal. This lasted six days. By the end of the six days, I shrugged and resolved myself to the suspicion I'd had when I was a conservative; that liberalism represented the politics of emotion (and not even interesting emotion), though I was still against the war.
But no matter what degree of conservativism I still possessed, there was no going back to identifying my position with the Republican party - an approximation which would have simply been a given, growing up. In my own dialectic way, it followed naturally that if I didn't support either represented arm of the government, it was likely that I didn't support the idea of government at all. My conservativism, though never renounced entirely, seemed stale, lifeless and dead. Not only was I not a liberal or a conservative, but I was a supporter of no parties; much less did I believe there was one out there for me. I knew what that made me and didn't fuss too much about it, not then of ever after that. I never belonged to any anarchist groups or organizations, but I was familiar with some of the literature and history. I identified as an anarchist more after reading people like Henry Miller, Walt Whitman, Rimbaud and other free spirits, rather than anyone who expressed anarchism in a strictly political sense. It wasn't until later that I explored the writings of Proudhon, Bakunin, Goldman, Kropotkin and the like; in other words, all those who were classically associated with the core principles of the movement. Their critique of the state itself and their proposed alternatives to it were useful, as all I had acquired of anarchism up until then was a distrust of authority, a live and let live attitude toward others around me, a conviction that no government meant no war (another grave error) and a conviction that having fun should be far more than a minor priority.
I was never enchanted by any statist positions after that, but now and again, my anarchism did fancy itself in accordance with different tones and ideological hues as I struggled to find myself, politically (the idea of finding myself politically now causes me to cringe). Finally, I would have identified myself, if pressed, as an 'anarchist without adjectives.' The most anarchistic thing I did, however, was not vote, and now and then, obstinately defend my not voting when confronted about it or scolded for it.
Now and again, I thought about trying out local groups who leaned that way politically.
I found, invariably, libertarian dogmatists and socialist dogmatists. It would have seemed that people who didn't possess adjectives were not partial to meeting one another. I decided I probably wasn't either, for the most part, and preferred people who didn't really talk about politics altogether. My views were and are an eclectic mix, which did and often still do result in others identifying their own positions with me, full stop.
Over the years, as I became interested in philosophy, I came to question the fixedness of any political position. It seemed to me that politics should be subordinate to wisdom, to the pragmatic application of it, and to philosophy itself. While I didn't think that any government was in a position to see this happen, I was certainly under no delusion that anarchists could accomplish it either.
The main paradox I encountered in working anarchism out, both logically and in approximation to the patterns which establish themselves within anarchistic communities and cultures, follows thus. Anarchy means 'without rulers.' This sounds fair enough. No one wants to be ruled, necessarily. But then what is a ruler exactly? Well, most people would say that the government is a ruler. Fair enough... My next question is, what is the government? Is it the president? The president certainly makes decisions, yes, but he doesn't live anywhere near me or act in ways that directly affect my life. The government is a network of agencies spread out across various fields. So when does government 'rule' me? The most obvious answer would be that I don't really feel the weight of my rulers until I am either in trouble or when I fail to do something required of me. For most people, this is going to be the police and the IRS. The police pull you over if you speed and the police also take you away if you fail to pay your taxes. Now, if we could just minimize the role of the police, some might say, so that they are just keeping people from murdering one another, then that would be all we need in the name of law. There are many anarchists, in fact, who take great pains to explain that protection services could still exist in an anarchist society; it would just be volunteer work or private (paid). One of my problems with this is that most criminals are volunteer criminals as it is. To simply say that you can then have people who voluntarily deal with them (or who do it for profit), wouldn't it follow that there would need to be some social mechanism by which we establish what a criminal is?
Force, coercion - you certainly don't want them, but what are they? Isn't one of the fundamental problems we are having today one in which people play it loose with the term 'oppression' and 'unsafe?' To bring it home to anarchism in particular, the Spanish Revolution, which was largely anarcho-socialist in nature, saw the annexation of farms by revolutionaries who then turned them into public spaces. They acted perfectly in accordance with the ideas of the first self-described anarchist, Proudhon, who stated that 'property is theft.' Once we arrive here, there's no going back to simply believing that coercion is when someone is willing to use a weapon to use force on you in the present. The anarchist mentality, with its ever present residue of socialism, sacralizes original acts of violence - interpreted as those transactions which first established the construct of 'property' - as ever-present realities which indicate the instance of a sort of Fall, in a religious sense. Property owners - those who, in order to sustain themselves, create privation for others (a notion both explicit and implicit in much anarchist thought), even if not acting directly against anyone else, are exploiters of resources they didn't properly earn. Property is the first 'state' as such, as owners, by definition, allow themselves the 'right' to use force to deter people from, in their mind, unlawfully using their property. There is, of course, far more to it than this, but in order to take anarchism at its word, we must first look at this series of politico-economic developments in this materialist, linear fashion.
There is, one will note, a pro-property anarchistic perspective which runs counter to this attitude in the form of anarcho-libertarianism. Anarcho-socialism and anarcho-libertarianism, more often than not, dismiss one another as illegitimate anarchisms, on the grounds that the measures by which the other maintains its lack of rulership is, in fact, coercive. If ever we were in the domain of empiricism or flirted with it, we have now most certainly dived headlong into the domain of hermeneutics, and inevitably, semantics. It would seem to complicate things further that the very notion that these two different anarchisms could 'live and let live' would amount to the institution of borders in need of defense, which in the mind of propertarian anarchists would be perfectly legitimate and, to the socialist anarchists, aligned with the use of state force.
You see the problem here. Often, anarchists maintain that anarchism is quite simple. A simple statement, however, can have complex implications. A fundamental hermeneutic of force would ultimately need to be created in order to sustain the privilege of a precept's simplicity. A word like God, for instance, is quite simple, but not easy to sustain in every context, as comparative religious history has shown us. To some, God is personal. To others, impersonal. To some, God is part of nature, to others, transcendent of nature and responsible for it. And all this is assuming, from the very outset, that God exists to begin with. It is hard enough to maintain the essence of an idea when its existence is accepted.
Such is the case with words like 'state,' 'freedom' and 'ruler.' But do they 'exist' in the verifiable way in which we could build them into standards? The anarchist who maintains that we can have order without law is, to my mind, not unlike the atheist who says that we can have morality without God or religious piety. This is not to say that both law and morality are nonexistent, but rather the opposite. They are most certainly, violently, incontrovertibly real; that is not the issue. The issue is the reality of their very authority, their ontological sovereignty in the hierarchy of cause and effect, as it were. In other words, from where do these things come? What is it that announces their arrival and who holds them up for others to maintain and sacralize?
Theoretical anarchism has performed a series of intellectual deconstructions which, as is often the case with the deconstructive mode of critique as a whole, are less the result of intellectual rigor and more the result of ethic dissimulation. To universally maintain the unacceptable nature of the universal use of coercion can only result in confusion where force is concerned, as it always seems to be the case that force is the only way to prevent or deal with force, at which point one says little better than 'My force is better than your force because it is being performed on moral grounds.'
Very few modern anarchists would be willing to admit to the moral grounds of their aversion to force as such. Very few would be willing to cling to the last bastions of the classical anarchist appeal to human nature or the ghosts of that woolly, post enlightenment notion, 'rights.'
It is not at all surprising that what is referred to pejoratively by some and with proud resignation by others as 'individualist anarchism' has looked, if not in whole than at least in large part, to the writings of Max Stirner for dialectic authority concerning personal freedom. His endorsement of egoism would, at first, seem to lead quite inevitably to anarchism. If one cared only about what could properly be attained for oneself, wouldn't it then follow that one had no leaders? If one is not being given freedom, but taking it, one is not appealing to any authority but oneself.
But this is where individualist anarchism ultimately hits a dead end (or a cul-de-sac?), in that its ultimate discursive gambit dissimulates the role of desire in the use of force; force as something which achieves the object of desire. If this mistake in individualist anarchism is performed on account of an implicit moralism - a miraculous sense of trust that force as such is alien to human self interest - it is often not stated, but acts much like the ethical elephant in the room. If anarchists have turned Stirner into a more extreme form of themselves, it is they who have failed Stirner and not the other way around, as his having been made an anarchist would indicate the birth of a less extreme Stirner.
Upon reading Stirner, there is no reason to suggest that Stirner is 'against' the use of force, just as there is no reason to think that he is 'for' it. Is not the ultimate conclusion of Stirner's The Ego and Its Own simply that everyone acts in self interest even if one calls this self interest something else and even when one convinces oneself otherwise? To then turn it around and raise a phantom 'freedom' which is largely an ethical gesture which subordinates the ego to the speculative recognition of an equal ego existing in others would seem to be no different than the altruism which most individualist anarchists are confused enough to think manifested by way of state sacralization. It is rather the other way around: it is altruism (and if we're to be thorough, any 'ism' really) which sacralizes the state.
Individualist anarchism, egoist, pseudo-Stirnerite anarchism, unfolds and reveals itself as a rabid, unfettered, tempestuous caricatural subconscious of of western liberal values by way of a perfectly ironic inversion... In western liberal values, the Other is exploited for the sake of self. In individualist anarchism, the self is exploited in the name of the Other. The Ego requires the Other in order to simulate an anti-altruistic transgression which is only meant as a performative gesture against bourgeois morality. This defiance against the Other is so framed that it lies within the very realm of moral calculation, even where it claims to reach beyond good and evil. Egoist anarchism/individualist anarchism ultimately chooses to fight the moral position which most inhibits its own position, rather than transcend moral positions even as it claims to do the latter.
Is the anarchist who tries to rally other anarchists to vote Democrat this one time as a precautionary measure against the heinous crimes of the Republican party really more laughable than the anarchist who both insists on never voting and insists that anarchists who vote are not 'real anarchists?'
Anarchism's relationship with capitalism is not so much a comedy of errors as it is a comedy of estrangements. It is capitalism which allows the anarchist an ideological excuse to stop thinking. The nature of capitalism is such that it not only produces commodities, but also phantoms of identity, illusions of friendship and camaraderie, ensured and insuranced love, along with more than a few excuses to draw ideological borders between people where morality in and of itself would have failed without a locatable, highly centralized value system. Seeing capitalism as a restraint on desire, paradoxically, through its production of desire, anarchists assume that the notion of 'arming one's desire' is, in fact, revolutionary. Desire then takes on the form of a religious mantle; a sort of classical liberal Holy Spirit, in which our ability to get fully swept away in it will determine just how much force we should be expected to use ('the more desires fulfilled, the less need for force,' would seem to be the anarchist formula, psychologically). However, their very critique of capitalism contradicts this. Someone desires to expand further into foreign territories to 'exploit their resources,' and thus, international conflict is born. Both the libertarian anarchist endorsement of 'capitalism' in their terms, and the socialist anarchist critique of capitalism take on the significance of a religious position marked with eschatological implications: the first possessing a moral prejudice in favor of law through contract without representation, the latter a moral prejudice against the accelerated proliferation of desire through the market. It is assumed that the desires produced by capitalism are 'unnatural,' 'inauthentic'... The anarchist takes the position of metaphysical dualism, telling the average citizen that there is some better, truer world which we do not now see and which cannot be proven - a world in which all are fundamentally free from false (what Christians would have called 'worldly') desires.
The anarchist does not believe in 'the world.' Even when one assumes that one understands just what authority the anarchist speaks against, when one begins to peel back every hidden motive in their demands, dig up every seed in their discourse, one begins to suspect that they are more than simply against the government... Rather, they are an emotive vehicle which, by necessity, looks for and eliminates certain traits with which it cannot form compatible, reciprocal gestures - gestures which are ever determined by semantic reconfigurations in direct accordance with the space of privation approximal to the level of apparent provisional satiation in the Other. They are not against the state because they believe in the freedom of humanity. They are against the state out of jealousy. Anarchism wants what the state has.
When did the need to identify as an anarchist stop being futile? Did anarchists wake up one day and realize that anarchy will never be possible? (or, closer to the truth, that the world has always been anarchic?) Did they discover the degree to which they are unaligned in the entropy of the universe? The degree to which they are futile, self-ironic in the fundamentally rich depths of their nihilism which more resembles faith? One is touched more by the failures of anarchism - or those who woke up and realized that anarchism's successes were little better than its failures - than one is touched by the ever-hopeful proselytizer, ever on the lookout for the day that her revolution, the extreme cosmic violence into which she projects her personal values, will sweep her up in a rapture of historical closure which will end the ontological sovereignty of authority as such.
All political events are fantasies. There is only karma - the endless chain of cause and effect in which there is no end but only eternal beginnings. Freedom is part of a cycle, but this cycle does not occur unilaterally, but rather, it is something which occurs as part of a cycle to be found in all things. But these points of freedom, these eases in cosmic tension, are unknowable to the observer. They can only be experienced. Perhaps this was the origin of the Mysteries of the ancient world; acceleration to a point of tension between two points of trauma - one pole the trauma of birth and the other pole the trauma of death. And yet, this realization of the mystery in initiation, spiritually, represents what in nature only tends to occur in death and dissolution; a great dispersion of energy which gives up its will and ability to operate in a unitive form but dissolves back into the mold, the protein deposits and plant soil from which it came.
'Freedom' in the west is a parasitic venture. In our idea of 'freedom,' there is always an implicit sense that a victory over oppression has occurred. As the original trace of this victory recedes from western consciousness, western consciousness, addicted to victory but not possessing the faculties of self awareness needed to sustain it, seeks out the nearest scapegoat which could pass for impeding on some pretense to a collective value. This is so fundamental to our psycho-mythical institution of civilization that we have yet to see the end of it (if we ever do). Every modern group defines itself in direct contradistinction to an oppressing enemy. This only seems laughable where it is most noticeably incongruous. White supremacists, for example, cause us much confusion as they proclaim their supremacy whilst vying for sympathy in the face of a supposed Semitic conspiracy by which they've allowed themselves to get thoroughly duped to the point of social ostracism. We, for some reason, take them less seriously than anarchists. As white supremacy is a marginal phenomenon (regardless of what American progressives will tell you) they don't have much cultural influence and are ultimately not much of a threat. Anarchism, though marginal, has extracted most of the tenets of enlightenment values and progressivism, even if only through the back door. The lack of marginality in their moralizing is precisely why it is hidden so well. Woe to the one in whom the anarchist sees a potential ruler.
The error of anarchism is its universality of negation; its infinite demand answering an infinite demand, and so on and so forth. A ruler in a democratic society is not going to be the same as a ruler in a communist or monarchic society. And yet, the universality of this value of negation is to be carried out in accordance with how much force can be mustered from the bottom up. The 'anarchy' put forward by anarchism is then not a lack of law, but law freed from morality and morality freed from law - an abstraction between the demands of the two in which force is not diminished but free to take hold of the community without scruple, free to both name and eliminate evil where it wants without temperance or gradation.
Such a universality is only the destiny of any ideology, any 'ism,' though with anarchism, it takes on a more occult form in that it is more vulnerable to universality, as provinciality would ultimately marginalize anarchism further, so that it would appear, not at all as an affective force or agent of change in the world, but in the interstices between civilizations, nations, peoples, empires and states; a people without a home because they have found no place in this world that resembles the home they want.
Anarchism would, perhaps, greatly benefit from adopting this level of provinciality, though it is unlikely that they would do so, as this would likely be interpreted by them as a form of defeatism, or fatalism in the face of the enemy. Ontologically, however, there is potential for a great hermeneutic shift to occur, in which the blocs of sovereignty to which anarchism sees itself as alien would recognize the sovereignty of anarchists as a people as such - in other words, they would be regarded as no different than a tribe or a religion whose demands and desires are worth hearing and respecting... Surely a treasonous complacency to most anarchists.
There are, however, anarchists of note who come close to this notion and are quite resolved to the implications of its lack of fixity - for instance, the writer Hakim Bey with his idea of The Temporary Autonomous Zone. One also might recall the ideas of Libertarian anarchist, Hans Hermann Hoppe, who described the idea of 'covenant communities,' in which members of a community would agree to uphold certain standards and obey certain guidelines, otherwise, face exile. Most anarchists would cry 'fake' of the latter example. My personal answer to this would be, if the semantic shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it.
All discourse aside, and to state more plainly, I do not consider myself an anarchist, 1, because I don't live in an anarchistic society, 2, because I do not necessarily and unconditionally subscribe to their definition of 'freedom,' and 3, because I necessarily subscribe to a different definition of freedom.
Mind you, I'm no fan of the state. In fact, I don't even think the state is a necessary evil. You won't catch me thanking the state for building the roads.
I'm pro-free-association. I'm pro-free-disassociation. I'm against scapegoatism. I'm against racial chauvinism no matter which race, but understand that free-association will inevitably mean one that certain tribes will choose to freely disassociate with others. I'm against the deportation/exile/death/imprisonment of people who have not committed any crimes/social transgressions. Even in the event that someone has committed crimes/social transgressions, I think exile/deportation and, in the worst cases, death, are far more humane, pragmatic and cost-effective than imprisonment.
I think people wish to stay alive, at the very least, and are therefore going to gravitate toward systems which protect them (assuming they aren't the ones who desire to protect others). In this event, it would be preferable that people would be able to find security measures that were not parasitic and harmful to them.
I'm not a fan of taxes, but I pay them because it's the law. I understand that breaking the law means I go to jail. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't think we could replace taxes with something noncoercive. I don't pretend to know what it would look like. Perhaps companies which offered certain services would themselves tax their employees to then donate the money to causes which are mutually beneficial for the community. For example, car lots could tax the employees with formal, written disclosures when they begin the job, saying that they agree for a percentage of the money to go toward the building of roads (or they could volunteer their own percentage like a charity, which would be far better).
I don't think the free market will fix everything, however, and doesn't work so well with law, which is why I'm not a libertarian, either.
One could say my ideal society would be one in which laws were clearly posted and contingent to the community's values and culture, with the option of free exit, if needed, and that the laws would be reasonable and would not include victimless crimes (though I understand 'victim' is a tenuous category, which leads inevitably to complication).
There would be beat-cops or night watchmen with access to seldom needed backup, but no patrol cars looking to fulfill quotas by exploiting ridiculous traffic laws.
There could be 'empires,' perhaps, but empires of a quite different ontological nature - empires of provincial, autonomous regions which form an alliance, not based on any sort of economic scheme, but strictly with the intention of preserving the well being of the people who share a way of life. Each autonomous region would have their own legions of warriors or militias, free to fight together against invaders and enemies who threaten the well-being of their respective communities.
Nation states, as such, would be no more. There would be, rather, orders, guilds, peoples, institutions, businesses, communities, villages, tribes, unions, nations in the proper fluid sense, special interest groups, families, communes, co-opts, temples and churches and individuals.
There would be leadership without 'rulers' per se, which is, aside from everything else, the technical/semantic reason I couldn't rightly be called an anarchist. In the modern world, we conflate manegerial duties with leadership. I think these should be two different things. Managerial duties like handling money, should be held accountable by people who are sworn to loyalty. They will be held to their own voluntary word and would reap the punishment or reward of breaking their word by the people most affected by it.
A leader would be someone who inspires people through charisma, passion, enthusiasm, as well as sobriety, temperance and wisdom. The further they step into the path of leadership, the more they would feel compelled to accept charity and free gifts for their services and sustenance. But ultimately, all people would strive to be leaders of themselves and others no matter what station in life they are in.
Respectful men should be allowed to settle their conflicts with duels, once again. Rather than being emasculated by a state which doesn't care about their standing in society, they would hold each other accountable. A man can spare himself a duel and keep his life by not showing up to the duel, at the risk of social shame; ultimately, people would think twice before they dishonored others, if the result was death or humiliation.
Intimacy would return to the communities, vanquishing widespread social alienation.
There would be more shops full of healthy herbs and plants creating good will, and bars and alcoholism would be marginal as a result, even though alcohol would be widely available, of higher quality and unthinkable without the coextensive consumption of rich, hot food and general love of life.
School would be no more. Instead, education. Education would never end, but would be available to people of all ages, and they would spend lots of time outdoors or by fires engaging in Socratic dialogues; iron sharpening iron.
There would be a philosophy of clothing, like Carlyle's satirical vision, only this would have a drop of seriousness. People would wear their thoughts.
Nothing would be suppressed. People would make it their mission to healthily exercise what is in their minds, their hearts and in their bodies.
People belonging to different religions would seek to study the core principles which bind them and the theology which separates them for the sake of understanding.
There would be whole cities whose economies were based around beautiful, dim restaurants with warm colors and coffee houses which stay open until the early hours of the morning.
Anarchists would be respected as sovereign individuals in their own territories. If anyone didn't like the way they did things, they could go home.
Mutual aid and social cooperation would exist alongside/next to markets, and the two would engage in free trade.
The only organized, centralized theft that anyone would find at all moral or tenable would be the acquisition of all nuclear warheads and bombs, for the aim of repurposing them to either destroy malignant meteorites or to send toward some distant star - a star which we would objectify as symbolically embodying some great evil threatening mankind (it's stupid but it's better than scapegoatism).
Ultimately, this is all a fantasy. But that is precisely what we need more of. In my opinion, people do not fantasize enough. They don't dream enough.
My issue is not with people who want freedom. My issue is with people who think that freedom is all we should ever want. If anything, we've become so jaded by our lack of freedom that we see freedom as the only mountain we can or should try to scale. What if freedom was only, in the scheme of things, a means to an end? Ancient man built monuments which directly mirrored the stars, complete with ornate detail, crenels, messages and meanings which far surpass what I suspect could have been accomplished by mere 'slave labor,' as some scholars try to say to dismiss the care and ingenuity of these sites.
Ultimately, I think anarchism isn't free enough. Though I much admire its energy and its ability to pass through the trials of our age, coming out the other side in New forms, I feel that it doesn't go far enough. Rather than anti-political, it is simply anti-government, but retains the destructive features of government by calling its moralism something else.
I would hope to oppose to this something positive, though, admittedly, I don't know how this would ever come about. On the other hand, anarchism as a methodology, as something which has any relevance in the real world, has not come anywhere near the vision it has historically set out for itself, nor do I think it is capable of doing so, because of its fundamental stratification, and thus, politicization of one stage in a bigger ontological process.
It would be far more constructive, in my mind, to think about the ways in which those who are determined to rule themselves might interface with people whose collective identity is dependent on leadership which is contingent to their respective cultures and communal goals.
I think there is still a lot that can be learned from anarchist models of organization and anarchist thinkers. I am under no delusions that anything I have written here constitutes some kind of knockdown argument but have, as the title suggests, simply offered a personal perspective. It would be my hope that in a more imaginative future, where true diversity could come to its own in the bearing of many fruits, that anarchism would be one actually possible model of sovereignty among many, capable of teaching others and remaining a fellow traveller in the re-coloring of the world as we know it. There's room in this world for all kinds. And though I don't identify with anarchism personally, I recognize quite well that life itself is anarchic.