Egyptians Should Beware Political Unity

A Time headline on Friday, July 8, 2011 read “Egypt’s Protesters Return in Force But Don’t Speak with One Voice,” pointing out that although “[a]ll [protesters] had gripes about pace of change,” differences of opinion remained. Since the country’s former President Mubarak vacated office five months ago, Egypt’s military — the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces — has been running the show.

Regime change has thus far failed to produce the kinds of changes promised by the Arab Spring, but then the uprisings across the Arab world were consistently more about broad notions of transparency and democracy than they were any definite vision. Instead of lamenting the fact that the protests have been a muddled mélange of views — and not a unified, harmonious song — we might take the opportunity to celebrate difference.

That individuals in society do not share one singular and coordinated vision should never be taken to mean that peaceful organization and social harmony are impossible. Market anarchists see the range of diverse interests and opinions in society as a strength, not a weakness, as something to be let alone, not stifled or controlled.

At least prescriptively, market anarchism is very simple, requiring simply that people deal with one another as equally independent and autonomous, with all of the same rights and freedoms. Where the social system of the state is built upon and entails an extensive crisscross of invasions against the individual, market anarchism means that society would rest on collaboration and voluntarily undertaken exchanges of value.

The state is designed to force people to make trades that they wouldn’t otherwise make absent fraud or duress, to structure economic relationships in such a way that one party can take advantage of a completely unjustified position of power. Exploitation, then, depends upon coercion, some aggressive interference capable of overbearing a person’s own judgments about what kinds of connections — economic or otherwise — they’d like to forge.

The state is the embodiment of that coercion, the institution within society that enjoys a legal monopoly on the use of force. Although people use force all the time, from criminals who rob banks to those who commit murders, the state is different in that we rightly condemn bank robbers and murderers, but approve of the state as legitimate.

The state is often thought to represent the will of society as a whole, and to serve the interests of the public in organizing services or fulfilling roles that people couldn’t or wouldn’t without it. But as Murray Rothbard wrote, “Treating society as a thing that chooses and acts, … serves to obscure the real forces at work.”

The Egyptian state, as an example, does serve a purpose, but rather than serving the interests of society at large — or even most people — it serves those of a small power elite. Without any conscious or concerted action, which might suggest some tenebrous cabal of conspirators, the state serves the class of people that are intimately engaged in its functioning.

Those people happen to be the rich, well-connected class who occupy not only Egypt’s legislative and bureaucratic offices, but also its corporations’ highest seats. It should therefore come as no surprise to us that they would resort to the coercive means of the state to cement their social and economic power instead of, for instance, creating a framework for genuine, fair competition.

Attempts to enforce order in society, an ineffable thing made up of all of our human idiosyncrasies will always give us the disorder of the state and its ruling class. Market anarchy would be a spontaneous order, one to emerge from the nonviolent mix of our voices. “One voice” is both unnecessary and impossible. Egyptians and their society can do well — can do better — without the arbitrary conductor of the state forcing the many to sing the song of the few.

Translations for this article:

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