Anarchism and its Deeper Commitments

Anarchism & Non-Domination

Will says that I “[c]learly come from an anarcho-capitalist, individualist, strain of anarchism, which is not necessarily well-versed in the social strands of anarchism that see anarchism as synonymous with participatory decision-making processes, rather than simply voluntary association.”

First of all: I do not consider myself an anarcho-capitalist. I take “capitalism” as best used to refer to a cluster of things including the wage system (as distinct from wage labor simpliciter), large concentrations of wealth in a relatively small number of hands, and the ubiquity of large, top-heavy firms without much availability for alternatives. I think “capitalism” in this sense would not survive in a genuinely freed market, and I think that’s a good thing.

That said, I follow Voltairine de Cleyre in not being afraid of bugaboos. I certainly take a lot of influence from people who do call themselves “anarcho-capitalists,” and I tend to think that the (by far) most interesting developments in anarchism during the 20th century were typically made by people who identified that way.

Yet something that they often forgot to emphasize was the centrality of non-domination in the anarchist ethos. This is why Will is incorrect to imply that I see anarchism as simply synonymous with voluntary association and nothing more. Voluntary association is necessary and non-negotiable, but the anarchist’s work is not over if non-violent forms of domination persist.

One problem with Will’s analysis, to me, is that he also forgets the centrality of non-domination. He glorifies “the social strands of anarchism which see anarchism as synonymous with participatory decision-making,” but this conflates means and ends. Participatory decision-making processes can certainly be helpful for moving towards non-domination, but they are not identical to it. Sometimes — especially as those “participatory decision-making processes” grow in size — they can just result in less obvious forms of domination. To fully prevent that outcome, formal outlets for voice are not enough. Real opportunities for exit are also crucial to keeping social practices and institutions on their toes.

I am not particularly confident that the large, militaristic organizations that Will insists are necessary are ones where we would be free from domination, no matter how “participatory” they really are. Nor do I find anything in his response that gives me reason to think otherwise. He correctly states that “a cooperative federation owning property should not be rejected under principles of voluntary association or property, any more than a capitalist holding property.” But, since I think bare voluntariness is not enough to fully satisfy the demands of anarchism, that doesn’t establish much. Even though its voluntariness would restrict against violently opposing them, it would still warrant resistance in other ways. Much in the same way that a hypothetical (yet unlikely) capitalism that arose and survived in a genuinely freed market would.

Will thinks that these militaristic institutions are necessary for overthrowing the state. They may will be. But of course, overthrowing the state is the wrong goal. For a serious hope at sustainable anarchy, we need to build up the institutions of a free society here and now, rather than waiting or one big moment where we get rid of government. The goal, as Kevin Carson has said elsewhere, is not to overthrow the state, but to prevent the state from overthrowing us. This will also require, at some point, some violent means of self-defense, but not necessarily anything like the militaristic institutions that Will has in mind.

Anarchism & Self-Sovereignty

Will supports an essentially contractarian framework for rights. The most obvious problem here is that for the informal contract itself to be obligatory, we need to already have an obligation to keep contracts. If the obligation to keep contracts comes out of a contract (which is itself not already obligatory), then the entire explanation here is abortive from the start.

A better way of explaining rights would be to retain Will’s egoist foundations, but question the content of that egoism. Rather than the nature of our interests for granted, we can posit a more objective understanding of what’s really good for us as human beings. Part of that is learning to see other human beings as social creatures deserving of respect, and understanding that obligations of non-aggression and non-domination are prior to any contract.

Speaking of non-aggression, Will insists that because bodily integrity is typically much more important than external property, non-aggression cannot authorize physically removing people from your property. Not only is this implausible, it seems incoherent with other beliefs that Will holds. Presumably, if I refuse rent, Will would support the community removing me from my land. But if my bodily integrity always trumps external property so solidly as to prevent Lockean homesteaders from removing me, then it’s also strong enough to prevent Georgist communities from removing me. A more likely framing is that proportionality allows for the minimal amount of force necessary to evict trespassers, but still does allow for that force.

Anarchism & Decentralized Defense

Previously, Will defended forcible rent collection by “the community” as a result of the role played by “the community” in defending property rights. I countered this by drawing attention to alternatives like private security, private arbitration, and other things more disconnected from “the community.” Will responds: “Here I am not necessarily in disagreement, except that that I have a strong reason to prefer, nurture, and expect the success of participatory institutions over private landlords.”

I find this confusing. Security agencies and private arbitration services are not landlords, so it’s unclear why Will brings up landlords here. Furthermore, there’s no reason why these institutions couldn’t be partly or wholly “participatory” in the way that Will favors — in fact, I expect that a large portion of them will be. If me and my neighbors organize a mutual protection association, that’s probably too small to count for what Will has in mind by “the community,” but it’s also certainly participatory.

And as I mentioned earlier, I’m much less convinced than Will that formally “participatory” structures are good enough to consistently stave off domination. To address landlords specifically, there are certainly dangers of domination present when my home is owned by another person. But it also seems like there are pretty strong dangers of domination when it’s owned at the mercy of “the community.”

For instance, Will writes that “Whether it is between three people or fifty-thousand, I prefer participatory decision-making.” As a general rule, I certainly agree. Yet it seems to me that no matter how formally “participatory” an organization of fifty-thousand people is, domination is a pretty relevant worry. In fact, I feel confident saying that if we were to choose between one strictly “participatory” organization of fifty-thousand people vs. twenty thousand organizations with wild variation in structure, the latter is strongly preferable on non-domination grounds. Will is right to emphasize the importance of voice, but fails to consistently consider the power of exit. Anarchy is not just a state organized around principles of direct democracy, and institutional diversity is probably the best safeguard for the kind of freedom we really want.

In my last contribution, I said that if Will “believes that the institution taken to be representing the community should have the ability to prevent potential competitors, then his ideal society is one in which I’d certainly find something still worth revolting against.” Will wonders what I mean by “preventing competitors.” In short, I mean preventing competitors. If “the community” wants me to pay them rent for the protection of my home, and I tell them “Nah, that’s fine, Dawn Defense has me covered,” they should leave me alone. If they tell me that I’m not allowed to rely on someone other than them for protection, or that I still owe them rent (despite relying on some other service), they are monopolists. Perhaps Will believes there are some tax-collecting monopolies on security and law that don’t qualify as states. Even if that’s true, they seem close enough to me to warrant resistance.

Will says that my “concept of neo-Lockean property would prevent competitors, and not even under voluntary contract.” If by this he means that people would be forced to respect Lockean property norms, he’s correct. However, I think the crux of our disagreement here is in that I believe in natural rights, and Will doesn’t. Since I believe in natural rights, forcing people to respect people’s property rights is not “preventing competitors,” but defending self-sovereignty.

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