State ideologies require an underlying cultural disposition, if they are to stand the test of time. This cultural disposition is inevitably tied to the core concepts of an ideology. Nationalism subordinates the individual’s values to those of their national community, while numerous strands of socialism focus upon the lives and pastimes of the proletariat. Romantic conservatism paints an idyllic vision of pastoral simplicity, all watched over with love and grace by a landed aristocracy. But what of anarchism? Where is the shared culture of a movement that rails against such concentrations of power?
At first glance, the question may appear oxymoronic. Indeed, it is true to say that anarchists of all stripes disagree on “fundamentals” such as wage labour. What then makes anarchism a distinct mode of interpreting the world? A vague aversion to the State will not do: such a disposition is necessary but insufficient. The State is just one of numerous power structures (e.g. patriarchy and institutional racism), and any anarchist worth their salt is concerned with hierarchies in general.
Note that I say “concerned with” rather than “automatically opposed to”. As Austrian competition theory explains, freed markets allow concentrations of economic power to ebb and flow like the tide. Competition is a state of flux and dynamism, with firms, workers and entrepreneurs constantly adjusting to a changing world. It is inevitable that — in some cases — power structures will emerge. The anarchist concern is to ensure such structures are beneficial and are not entrenched to our detriment. To be an anarchist is to commit to constant evaluation of power structures; our damning verdict of the State, as the instigator and catalyst of oppression, is a product of this commitment. Paul Goodman sums it up cogently:
[The] relativity of the anarchist principle to the actual situation is of the essence of anarchism…It is always a continual coping with the next situation, and a vigilance to make sure past freedoms are not lost and do not turn into the opposite, as free enterprise turned into wage-slavery and monopoly capitalism, or the independent judiciary turned into a monopoly of courts, cops, and lawyers…
The anarchist culture of scepticism towards power structures is key to human flourishing. On an individual level, this manifests in critically examining our everyday habits. Samuel Beckett reminds us that “the pernicious devotion of habit paralyses our attention, drugs those handmaidens of perception whose co-operation is not absolutely essential”. Our unwavering collective devotion to entrenched power structures paralyses society, and blinds us to the evils that plague it. Embrace change and the possibility it provides.