Darian Worden on Practical Anarchy

[C4SS News Analyst Darian Worden gave the following presentation at Drexel University this past weekend. – ed.]

I’m Darian Worden, an individualist anarchist writer with experience in libertarian activism. I write fiction and non-fiction, which you can find at my website DarianWorden.com. I affiliate with the Alliance of the Libertarian Left. I’m a News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society, a regular contributor to ALLiance Journal, a co-host of the internet radio show Thinking Liberty, and contribute to the multimedia website LibertyActivism.info.

I’m here to talk about anarchy!

Anarchy is actually a simple idea. It comes from the Greek anarchos, which means no ruler. Mon-archy is one ruler, an-archy is no rulers. You’re free do what you will, until you start trying to rule over other people.

One way I like to think of it, which I got from Roderick Long’s essay “Equality: the Unknown Ideal,” is that true liberty involves an equality of authority – we each rule our own lives, but do not get to rule over others. No individual or combination of individuals gets special privileges that other people don’t have – even if they put their colors on a banner and get called a “state.” For anarchists, organization should be done on a consensual basis, and social and economic relations as much as possible conducted between equals.

What’s difficult is getting to the point where you’re willing to embrace the idea of no-rulers, after a lifetime of being told that we need people in charge of us and we need to obey those who outrank us.

“Because that’s the rules, that’s why! Now don’t make get an even higher-ranking person to talk down to you!”

Thinking of anarchy as positive and practical can be difficult when it goes against so much of what you’ve been taught. So hopefully this talk will shed some light on why anarchy is good, why advocating anarchy is good, how anarchy might work in practice, and how to get there.

Let’s start with principles.

Each individual exists for his or her own sake. Nobody has a better claim to the life of any person than the person who actually lives it.

From this we could formulate The Law of Equal Liberty, as described by the 19th century philosopher Herbert Spencer (who is often derided by people who probably haven’t read him). The Law of Equal Liberty, in various forms, states that “each has freedom to do all that he wills provided that he does not infringe on the equal freedom of any other.” Government inherently takes a position of superiority over the subject. The state is the concentrated force of authority which invades liberty to extract wealth and compel obedience to whatever has been legislated by the most powerful elements of society. Government does not obey The Law of Equal Liberty.

Where force is concerned, we can look to some form of the zero-aggression-principle, though it might be less confusing to call it the Principle of Not Initiating Force: coercion may only be used to stop someone from unjustly coercing another person. Government is defined by the coercive authority that it exercises. An organization that does not claim the right to compel obedience to all of its decisions by force, is not really a government. At most it is a pretentious power structure with high potential to become a government.

Government exists to protect and serve rulers at the expense of the ruled. It responds to political demand, where those with the most political pull get the most, not to market demand, where those who want something arrange to get it consensually.

Advocating anarchy is more practical than advocating minimal government.

To say that government should only be involved in matters of force gives off the perception that you want to use government only as a club, and never as a crutch – to hurt people, not to help them. You’ll be seen not as a principled individual, but as someone who wants to make oppression run more efficiently and cares most about keeping people in line. It will be easier to confuse you for the conservative reformers who wish to keep forcing people to obey and support coercive monopolies, while giving them less in return besides a politician’s promise of eventual lower taxes. And if you say that you believe that a free market will enable the poor to advance themselves and the sick to be cured more easily, a critic might wonder why you believe a government is necessary to provide security and arbitration.

Challenging these perceptions is probably just as difficult as challenging the idea of government itself. And keeping a small government from growing when politicians and administrators are incentivized to expand their power is a bigger challenge than keeping states from growing out of a society in which there is broad participation in consensual organizations of freedom.

The military, police, and court-prison systems are actually the worst offenders of government and support the rest of its crimes. They should be delegitimized to stop authority’s attacks on freedom.

It is best to be a consistent supporter of maximum freedom, a consistent libertarian – and learn how to be an anarchist.

The history of classical liberalism is instructive.

Classical liberalism’s support of government prevented the promise of freedom from being realized by those on the receiving end of authority. After the abolition of slavery, government still prevented many from advancing. Liberty didn’t reach into workplaces because established interests were supported by artificial barriers on land use, money creation and banking, and intellectual property. Reformers who accepted the legitimacy of government did not address the problems inherent in the classical liberal order – problems created by an unwillingness to embrace full liberty.

Milton Friedman, rather than being remembered as a liberator, is often is held up as the human face of efficient exploitation through governments that allowed enough liberty for the right people to stay in power. This really isn’t fair, but it’s not an unexpected result of trying to reform, to refine, what is fundamentally destructive.

But why associate with bomb-throwing maniacs by using the word anarchy? I’ll tell you why.

To an anarchist the state is the enemy. It is not a wayward institution to be reformed or a power structure to be seized. It is the number one thing that must be dismantled. Identifying as being in opposition of rulership implies a clear and consistent libertarian program.

If you identify as an anarchist, people will probably get that you’re opposed to the system because of you don’t like authority. The roots of the word anarchy – no rulers – presents a simple conversational direction on why you do not believe in rulers, instead of starting with complex economic theory that has often been misapplied and misnamed. But you can always say libertarian in company that is more receptive to the l-word, because a consistent libertarian is an anarchist.

And some of those bomb-throwers had good ideas anyway. Anarchists have defied state regulations, defended themselves from oppression, improved working conditions, killed a king, fought bravely against state-communism and fascism, and stood for maximum individual autonomy. So what if there were a few who did things you don’t agree with? How many people claim the label of libertarian who advocate deadly oppressions like government war policy or militarized borders? The label is a conversational shorthand that signifies a general affinity, not a chain that binds together everyone who uses it to describe themselves.

What might an anarchist society look like?

I can give generalities, but the specific forms of organization are up to those who will actually make them. I cannot centrally plan a free society, and different arrangements will work best for different individuals.

The economy will be open for all kinds of experimentation, and any consensual arrangement that satisfies enough people will exist. This will lead to work being more satisfying. And because economic activity would not be distorted by government action, and money would not be taken by taxes to be poured into bureaucratic and military dead-ends, people could work less and get more for their effort. Privileges will not be locked in by artificially high costs of living and restrictions on starting businesses, so the economy will be more flexible, provide more opportunity, and be more responsive to individual choice.

Grassroots and netroots organizing will take the place of government regulations written by lobbyists in ensuring business ethics and housing and workplace standards. Product quality is better ensured by independent testing and certification than by government standards that are greatly influenced by industry lobbyists. A bad reputation will find its way online where potential workers and consumers will make the choice to use one of the other numerous options that will be made available by the liberation of human creativity.

Labor relations will be significantly different when workers have more options available to them. Management would not only have to compete against other companies for laborers, but also against options that will be more viable in a free economy populated by people who fiercely value liberty. This would include self-managed firms, self-employment (possibly as part of a guild), labor federations, and communes. Whatever mode of production a group of individuals chose, it would have to give participants at least as good of a deal as its competitors in order to stay in existence.

How about defense and arbitration services? Like any services, there’s no reason that competition and cooperative organization could not provide them better than the coercive monopoly of government.

An anarchist society would likely see much less crime than we see today. Reduced poverty and inequality, combined with the greater ease of creating legitimate economic opportunity, means that there would be less motivation to commit crimes. And when society is not arranged by the authoritarian lines that enable government coercion, less coercive behavior will trickle down to the streets. Government prohibitions that empower the biggest cutthroats of the underground to compete with violence would be ended. Also, crime will likely be deterred by more people being home and awake at hours of their choosing. As I said above, fewer working hours would be necessary to meet living needs, and there would be no restrictions on home-based businesses that do not harm others.

Responses to crime might often be through an informal militia model of armed neighbors working together for common defense. Whether agreements are made for volunteer patrols of the neighborhood, or consensual associations hire patrols, or both, would depend on the circumstances. But no group that infringed on liberty would be allowed to continue doing so. There would likely be professional detectives, as this is a skilled trade, but there’s no need for government to get it done.

This would facilitate a safer society, because security workers and other peaceable individuals would actually have the same interests – unlike today where the cop is looking for a way to dominate the citizen, and the citizen is looking for a way to avoid the cop.

Military defense would likely be done by a mix of militias and professional units. This would be more flexible and quicker to respond than bureaucratic power structures. But there’s no reason to think they would go to war with each other with anything close to the frequency that governments do. War is generally not in the interests of people who actually live in the war zone. And rogue defense organizations would have to deal with a population sensitive to infringements on liberty, and deal with all the other defensive services that were supported by a liberty-loving population.

Remember, I said at the beginning that for anarchists, “No individual or combination of individuals gets special privileges that other people don’t have.” People voluntarily associating to meet needs like the common defense do not qualify as a government. It is only when some individuals claim the right to coerce peaceful individuals into obedience – to exert authority over other people – that government is formed.

Transportation infrastructure is another thing that government is expected to provide. But how well does it really do that? What is seen might be giant interstates, airplanes usually not crashing into each other, and busy trains. What is not seen are the transportation options that could have been created in a free society. Roads that serve to unite communities by facilitating all kinds of traffic instead of restricting mobility to those with cars, greater automation in air-traffic controls, and mass transit companies that can actually support themselves are some possibilities. And a free economy might even see less of that surreal enragement called rush hour as people are more able to work from home or start businesses locally.

Mobility is something that people demand, and transportation is depended upon for a functioning modern society. It would really not be that hard to satisfy this demand outside of state controls. Independent companies might spring up to manage freeways, while local roads could be handled by residential or business associations. If you perceive someone as not pitching in their fair share for road maintenance, they can expect no help or business from you. And egregious freeloaders might find their reputations noted online with the ability to sue for damages if falsely accused. So freeloaders would face social costs.

But how might courts and arbitration work in an anarchist society? However people found worked to solve problems. Numerous systems of arbitration were created in the American Western frontier before the arrival of formal government. A peaceful society is in the interests of those who want to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and those who do not comply with arbitration can be isolated until they make restitution. Multiple arbitration organizations could exist on a reputation rating system, similar to with independent product certification.

So maybe this anarchy thing sounds great and all, but how do we get there?

I’m going to put action under four categories, but they can certainly overlap and specific activities might fit under more than one category. They are: One, education. Two, direct action. Three, mutual aid. And four, counter-economics.

Though my individualist anarchist views can be placed under the category of market anarchism – where exchange of goods for monetary value takes place – I want to take a short aside to talk about other types of anarchists and what we can offer each other. A free society would be an inclusive society and the best way to actualize libertarian principles depends on the desires of those applying them. Every individual will need to work with people who don’t agree with them 100%, so it’s important to find ways to make things work with people who hold different views.

If you can frame your discussion of market anarchy in a way that notes the reduction of the power of bosses over laborers, then social anarchists will often be receptive to your ideas and be interested in having you around. Although the most obnoxious and intolerant adherents of any philosophy tend to stand out in internet comment threads.

Though I don’t see anarchist communism, exchange of goods between federated labor groups (anarcho-syndicalism), or gift-based economies being the dominant forms of organization in a free society, they certainly have their places and will deliver more value to those who adhere to them than the varied types of monetary exchange would. So long as a mindset of maximizing individual liberty is firmly in place, specific structures come second.

Let’s talk about anarchist education. This is the basis of all action. Because anarchists do not wish to seize power and compel obedience, but to distribute political power among all peaceable individuals, a broad base of people must be willing to act in accordance with anarchist ideas. The increase of libertarian sentiment is how to get to an anarchist society and how to keep it free.

Education could take the form of discussion, or the form of propaganda. With propaganda, one party has an idea and propagates it as widely, and as effectively as possible. With discussion, there is an exchange of ideas among multiple parties. I’d consider a conference to be an atmosphere of discussion, which might also make people better at discussing and propagating ideas outside of the conference.

Direct action is opposed to parliamentary or electoral action. Direct action is when people directly affect the changes they want instead of building a giant expensive political campaign to exert pressure from inside the state.

Direct action makes the authorities give concessions – the game is for them to appease the people as much as they can to keep in control. The more anarchist principles and practice spread, the more they have to give until things spiral out of their control.

An example of direct action would be hampering military recruiting efforts by removing their advertisements or blocking recruiting centers. These would also be educational opportunities.

Mutual aid, when individuals help each other for mutual benefit, is an essential anarchist tactic. If we don’t help each other out, who will? The state?

The famous anarchist Peter Kropotkin observed that species that cooperate do better than those that don’t. So will political movements that cooperate have a greater chance of success. This is related to the idea of solidarity, which is perhaps best expressed by the slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

And mutual aid provides something that people can fall back on when the state fails or is brought down.

Counter-economics, the creation of an economy that operates counter to the interests of the state, and facilitates resistance, is an essential part of creating effective opposition to the state. The less that people rely on the state-run economy, the less attached they will be to the status quo. Though he sometimes might focus a little too much on breaking the law to get wealthy, the works of Samuel Konkin will be very valuable in crafting personal counter-economic strategies.

Talking amongst friends to create informal networks of trade and defense could fall under the categories of counter-economics, mutual aid, and direct action. It would also probably teach you something about anarchist practice, so it would be educational too.

Anarchism is a well-developed philosophy of freedom with a clear path to reaching liberty. Anarchy is more practical than limited government at achieving the ethical and practical end of maximum individual liberty.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory