Anarchy as the Golden Mean

My Center for a Stateless Society colleague Roderick Long once described full anarchy as the golden mean, not a form of zealotry or extremism, but a middle way “between mandating what should be optional and prohibiting what should be optional.” Professor Long’s point is not mere framing or spin, attempting to pitch anarchism to an audience indisposed to considering the position or its arguments; rather, it contains an important insight about what it is that anarchists actually want for the future, hinting at our philosophy’s tolerance of experimentation and its essential pluralism.

Anarchism is a method more than it is a vindication of one particular end result. Accordingly, the condition of anarchy—should it come into existence—will mean any condition that has proven consistent with the methodology prescribed by anarchism. “The ideal of anarchism,” writes Donald Rooum, “is a society in which all individuals can do whatever they choose, except interfere with the ability of other individuals to do what they choose. This ideal is called anarchy, from the Greek anarchia, meaning absence of government.” When we consider what anarchists have said about themselves and their ideas, caricatures of anarchists as either dangerous or fanatical agents of chaos or starry-eyed utopians grow dubious.

It is indeed statism which we ought to regard as the philosophically extreme position, all of its myriad forms espousing the facially absurd and counterintuitive notion that some people should have the right to arbitrarily rule all others. Were it not so, it would be difficult to imagine that such an untenable claim would be the default position in political philosophy for both professionals and amateurs—yet superstition and myth have bolstered the State in the face of reason and argument. Where once those superstitions involved such now debunked delusions as the divine right of kings, they now rely on, for example, the equally derisible assertion that current “democracies” are governments “of, by, and for the people.” The claims of rulership and authority never deserved the benefit of the doubt, of course, but even if they had the evidence against them has accumulated into a monument to death, spoliation, and poverty.

Rather than contemplating anarchism as a self-contained cure-all to be administered to an unwell society, anarchists see our movement as a rubrical tool against which to evaluate social phenomena. Competing with dominant, ruling class narratives, it offers us new, different ways to think about how we relate to one another as human beings.

Discussing the relationships between the various social currents of his own day, the mutualist William Batchelder Greene put his finger on an important truth, observing that all were concurrently true and false—“false as partial, exclusive systems,” yet “true in their mutual relations.” Greene’s work thus emphasized and searched out balance and reciprocity, seeking the golden mean that would avoid both “individualism unbalanced by socialism, and socialism unbalanced by individualism.” The guiding principle of market anarchism, the law of equal freedom, attempts to do just that—to strike such a balance and allow each individual her full liberty while conserving community.

Today’s free market libertarians often misunderstand the relationship between liberty and equality, and so treat the two as fundamentally incompatible. Libertarians like William Batchelder Greene understood that the two in fact compliment each other, at least insofar as they are properly conceived. There can be no real liberty without equality, no real equality without liberty. By definition, the State has been the great enemy of both; it makes some “more equal than others,” destroying liberty and equality together. Thus is the enemy of the State—the anarchist—the champion of liberty and equality, of the golden mean that, through competition and cooperation, ties the interests of all harmoniously together.

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