Bloody Rule and a Cannibal Order! Part II: The Anarchist

This essay is a response to Jason Lee Byas’ series of essays: “Against Moral Cannibalism,” “Anarchy is Moral Order,” “The Authority of Yourself.”

There is something else happening in Byas’ account of our own self-enslavement that I find interesting. It’s not just that Byas’ portrayal of anarchism is meant to be retroactively binding, emerging from our selves only to ensnare us after the fact. There’s something about this portrayal that forces a binding conclusion.


The most extreme liberals … want to hear nothing more of heresy trials. But no one is to rebel against the “rational law” … they do not want a free movement and currency of the person or of me, but of reason, i.e., a rulership of reason … the bourgeoisie wants an impersonal ruler.[1]

In his second essay, Anarchy is Moral Order, Byas describes the snare that is meant to spring out of our self-interest. In his view, anarchism provides a projected end goal in anarchy — a society defined by “cooperation without power” — and, like all end goals, there are things which help reach it and things which get us lost along the way. That is, “if you want to get to Decatur from Atlanta, you need to go east.” What’s more, anarchism “requires irreducibly moral concepts” to remain coherent, as “without any morality to which we can appeal, the distinctions [between domination and non-domination] fade away, and rejections of aggression and domination start to become meaningless.” Byas has already attempted to demonstrate that morality is our cause; what he attempts to do here is prove that this morality is anarchism. Still, there’s something here that looks to me as if he is attempting to catch us in a bait-and-switch.

Byas doesn’t define “power” overtly, but through his treatment of later terms like “aggression” and “domination” it seems to mean some kind of violation of the self. As an example, he puts forward a hypothetical where Max attempts to take his toothbrush, which is clearly wrong, not because of any legal title, but rather because of a moral one; Byas owns the toothbrush and is violated by its nonconsensual loss. In a similar sense, “associations”, whatever they may be, put forward a non-bullying agreement and enforce it against Max, someone who wants to bully; Max is not violated by a no-violation rule as “a principle of non-domination is itself the grounds on which Max is prevented from bullying, not just that people don’t want him to be a bully.” That is, it’s because these rules’ enforcement uphold the assumed moral order that they are not dominating.

See, Byas doesn’t want to avoid his moral gang from squashing its detractors, he wants them to have a good enough reason to do it. As he notes, “domination involves someone being able to command another person, and that other person being compelled to obey them,” but, “it’s important in talking about domination that what must be obeyed is the person, not a principle.” What’s important for Byas’ anarchism is not that we are not commanded, but that we are “compelled in the name of reasons, not persons.” For Byas, like all moralists, we must not serve any one person. Instead, we must serve the spirit, the idea, that rules us. Anarchy is our ideal city on the hill and the immoral stand in the way of its utopic realization!

It’s not too difficult to see the inherently governmental quality to this kind of analysis, that domination is not gone, only done in service to the right cause. We still have polities, associations which put out rules, and we still have rule in some form, it’s just that now there is proper justification. Really, there is very little difference between the ‘moral’ order Byas lays out and the various attempts at ‘good government’ we’ve seen come and go over the years. His anarchism is nothing other than (in the Stirnerian sense of the term) a social theory: a means of social regulation and all the violence that it entails. The “associations” which he describes as establishing a series of rules to enforce, even if these rules are “anti-bullying”, still entail a social order in which a collective of some kind is capable of, in large part, expressing itself as a polity. It still entails a legitimization of some authority, one legitimized by its close proximity to a moral order — one perspective among many — in a way not dissimilar to the mandate of heaven or the rubber stamp of democracy.

But there’s something else going on here that we have to address, because in his own way, Byas is correct. Let’s ignore, for a moment, the point that at the end of the day, reason’s command is only realized by a real person’s fist. We still encounter the same problem Byas is raising: Pursuing anarchy does seem to entail understanding, to repeat his metaphor, whether we drive east or west out of Atlanta. We need a way to clarify and define anarchism, “to make sense of a rejection of aggression, we need a way to distinguish aggression from mere force … to make sense of a rejection of domination, we need a way to distinguish domination from mere social compulsion.” That is, anarchism, here understood, is in a way a map and compass. It is a conceptual world which we construct and navigate.

What I sought to demonstrate in the previous section was that a Stirnerian is already well-equipped to construct this world themself and not at all the way that Byas envisions. Now, however, I want to show that the world we ourselves can begin constructing is far more vibrant than Byas comes close to allowing. I think the problem we are presented with is less the presence of a necessarily governmental or (in the Stirnerian sense of the word) hierarchical element to anarchism and more a lack of imagination on Byas’ part.


The state is founded on the—slavery of labor. If labor becomes free, the state is lost.[2]

Anarchy, from the Greek an (without) arche (authority), is, in one respect, a theory of society antagonistic toward, or emerging from the absence of, authority — archy. That is, it can be best understood as a consequence of authority’s absence or of resistance against it, while being an anarchist entails, in some part, exploring what those consequences are.

For those hoping to establish anarchy as a kind of moral order — a justification for rule — this approach to the concept poses immediate problems. Importantly, it denies the basis on which that moral order stands by decentering ‘justification’ and instead focusing on the social reality itself; that is, it denies the kind of justified hierarchy that presupposes moral order. No authority is legitimate, no rule can be maintained in a society resulting from its absence. From this vantage, the difference between domination and what we might call the reality of social living isn’t morality — ‘correctness’ or ‘proper’ justification — but archy, authority. Now, this is a word with many potential meanings, for our sake it might now suffice to be labeled simply as the social ability to command and enforce obedience.

Byas may deny that his presupposed moral validity, say, his aforementioned property titles, take the form of legal titles, but in practice, their enforcement by an agency asserting itself as an authority, even if it is in the name of a lofty spirit like morality, make the difference trivial to nonexistent. His moral order is still a structure in which ‘things’ are categorized, explicitly or implicitly, as licit or illicit in relation to a social center. By contrast, a conception of anarchy recentered around an-archy brings with it the challenge that we might not actually have any center around which to relate.

Let’s return to the toothbrush. Byas claims there is a valid moral title to it on the grounds that a toothbrush is something we all, “even communists”, agree can be owned. In short, returning to his aforementioned appeal to normalcy, toothbrush ownership is something we all already believe in, and we believe in it because that moral title springs out from ourselves just like anarchism should if we were just honestly self-reflective. As usual, ‘people just think like me’ seems to be the recurring, go-to excuse for his moral claims.

But if we were to abandon a presupposed order of right and wrong, licit and illicit, on which a polity-by-another-name might enforce its rule, what are we left with? Two people with two rationales. All in all, two powers riddled in concurrence and contradiction. Or perhaps not just two, but a number of forces and reasons interpenetrating one another, a web of reciprocity. From the perspective of an-archy, competing claims over use would seem less likely to be tied to presupposed universal values and more to the resultant balancing of different values. Any two people may have a myriad of reasons to contest each other’s actions and just as many reasons to reforge those then broken bonds. With no central axis around which to pivot, it seems to make more sense to visualize an anarchic order as that order emerging from what would otherwise be concurring and contradicting forces.

There are many ways to go about doing this and you would not be wrong in seeing overlap between my interpretation of an own anarchy and certain ideas of justice and collective-force going around neo-Proudhonian circles. Although my interpretation is rooted more in a sense of my, or in this case our, ownness and property. Again with the toothbrush, it may not be that we all hold within ourselves a fixed moral reality, but rather that something like a toothbrush might just be so insignificant as to never occur to us to be worth contesting. Should such a contest erupt, anarchic order would be those equally eruptive relations which work to resolve the contradiction.

This view of society, one perhaps lacking the simple, atomistic subjects we may be comfortable with, brings with it a few other problems for moralism, too. It implies that an anarchy would be, funnily enough, quite similar to an egoist. Someone who acknowledges that there is no presupposed reason and only their own reason, far from lacking any reason to act, is actually presented with a plurality of reasons to choose. They are, simply put, more than any concept can encompass. The veritable chaos that results from anarchy may present us with a similar conundrum: Far from lacking means to commune with one another, those finding themselves in an anarchy may be more presented with a plurality of means, a vast diversity of avenues through which to associate and dissociate. Not a society without references, but a society without one point of reference, a society without a center.

What we might traditionally call insurrection or even revolution, then, is the active, reciprocal rearrangement of peoples. Punctures and tears in the fabric of archic society, spaces where the social relations of authority seem to first bend, then snap. Here, we’re presented with a sense of anarchy as itself a balancing of a variety of anarchies between a variety of anarchists, a balancing which exists in contradiction to its surrounding archy.

This all seems horribly abstract, so let’s concretize this view a little more. This view asks us to focus on moments or instances of rupture, slow or sudden breaks in hierarchical daily life. What is it that happens in the absence of archy, or conversely, what does it mean to resist it? What are relations that we own?

There are a few ways anarchists have historically thought of this: Informal or formal organization, illegality or conspiracy, attentat or insurrection, the strike, the riot, the affinity group, the committee and countless other examples. In each of these we see potential instances of anarchy, its ‘anarchistic’ character defined by the active equilibrium of different reciprocal forces between people, or at the same time, its antagonism toward archy. Anarchism here is made to mean both an analysis of what it is that’s really happening, how it comes about, why we might want it to come about, and what might become of it all.

Thus far I’ve tried to open the conversation to a much richer anarchy than we may have previously thought worth discussing; it is an understanding of anarchy not as a single order, but as a shifting order, the order emerging from a balance of reciprocal forces. In this sense, anarchy also cannot be seen as a thing which happens once, say, the day of the revolution, but rather as a continuous, consistent process. Not an eternal union, as Byas described, but an actually egoistic one. We simply can’t rely on a ruling principle, the theoretical equivalent of training wheels, to explore something which seems to be quite unprincipled. At the end of it all, there seems to be something eerily similar about the actual union of egoists and a constitutionless anarchy.

Black Flag Burning

The revolution is aimed at new arrangements, while the insurrection leads us to no longer let ourselves be arranged … the entire political period is bubbling with constitutional fights … the insurrectionist strives to become constitutionless.[3]

If we are to continue with a view of a consequential anarchy, we need to do away with anarchy the ideal, and, by consequence, the virtue. What we’re left with is not one social relation but many particular relations, relations between people which cannot really be seen as means of governing them but which rather emerge from them and are destroyed by them, relations which are thoroughly their own. It’s the terrifying prospect of an anarchism presenting itself as an expression of our ownness, not an authority over ourselves — anarchy as self-restraint — one where your “own authority is the one to which you must bow,” but a power through ourselves — anarchy as self-expansion. Not a permanent life-path but an immediate life-consumption.

This, of course, leaves us in the quite awkward position of acknowledging that what anarchy might look like may be very foreign to us, if not even a bit scary. The kind of consequential anarchy we’re looking at may not at all resemble the grand project Byas envisions. It also has consequences not just for our understanding of the ‘end goal’ but of the way, the wayfinders, and the map. It may not be good enough to ask whether or not we drive west out of Atlanta. In fact, we may even be left wondering if anarchy can be reduced to a simple destination at all, let alone one from which we can derive an easy, objective distinction between right and wrong. It is just not useful anymore to understand anarchy in a way that can be alienated into a virtue in the first place.

Indeed, anarchy may make a variety of objective demands of us, but we also make objective demands of anarchy; we exist in relation to it, but it also exists only in relation to us. From our current vantage, anarchy takes on a sense of immediacy, not anarchy but this anarchy, the anarchy between these people, resulting from their power — their ownness — as something they have. The conceptual universe that is anarchism now presents itself not as a goal to be achieved, but as a kind of tool, a material for my use.

From Byas’ perspective, anarchism itself must be a fixed thing that I adopt, but is an adopted anarchism any more my own than an external one? My voluntary choosing of a Lord God to submit to makes that Lord God no more my own then he would have been had I submitted involuntarily!  My Lord is not my own, they are thought-content I am hoping to fill my low and empty self with, I’m not an owner but a tenant. No! I am the content of my anarchism, just as I am the content of my love. My anarchism is my own when I am its definition, its definer; my sociality — my being with others, among others, through others —  means only that the resulting anarchy comes through the synthesis of many anarchisms, many anarchists, their history and reality.

All of this presents us with a view where the “right thing to do” is unsettlingly fluid, nestled less in expectations or moral constitutions and more in the resulting anarchies which present themselves. Reasons for action, and action themselves, can be seen as something which are immanent to the actors meant to enact them. The reasons are self-reasons, the reason emerging from our reciprocal self-interests. Not ‘what is right’ but ‘what I find right’ and how I combine or contend that right with the rights of others. At this point we might as well ask how different the egoist and anarchist methods really are?

The anarchy we are left with and the anarchy we have now to explore sets us up to radically break from a traditional view of politics, one which asks how best to govern or how best to order. Endless variations of authority, countless governmentalisms, replaced with a view where people cease to be governed, where police gangs cease to command and cannibalize, where the only black flag waving overhead is the smoke rising out of the burning rubble.


[1] The Unique and its Property, Stirner. Pg. 75

[2] The Unique and its Property, Stirner. Pg. 82

[3] The Unique and its Property, Stirner. Pg. 201

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