Anarchy Not Apathy

With the din of another presidential election overwhelming all other would-be news, it’s not easy to be among the uninterested. It isn’t just that you’re barraged with details of an election whose outcome doesn’t matter to you — it’s that the outcome actually doesn’t matter.

An indifference toward practical, electoral politics, however, shouldn’t be taken as apathy regarding political or social questions more generally. As hard as it may be for the proselytizers of the Republocrat total state to grasp — the contemporary civic religion abiding deep in their guts — it is my interest in theories of politics that impels my disinterest toward this or any other election. From the perspective of an anarchist, they are all no more than hollow spectacle.

Regarding the philosophical bases for the adoption of the anarchist view, there are, as a practical matter and as one might expect, as many as there are anarchists. Some fight shy of the idea of preexisting and inherent rights, contending that these are secondary, not primary, granted to men under the constructs of given social creation.

Still some more are utilitarians, concerned with versions of what Bentham notably discussed as “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” with finding a calculus through which social efficiency and coherence might reign. Then there are egoists, elevating self-interest and maintaining as some do that, fundamentally speaking, might makes right.

An anarchist may embrace a combination of all of these, or none of them, gravitating to no system or to another not enumerated here. Anarchists therefore disagree (and spiritedly so) on any number of important questions in connection with the rationales engaged to come to the conclusion that the state is undesirable and ought to be opposed.

Taking different paths, anarchists all nevertheless subscribe to something like what Benjamin Tucker called “the law of equal liberty,” explained generally as “the largest amount of liberty compatible with equality and mutuality of respect, on the part of individuals living in society, for their respective spheres of action.”

This is the simple idea that itself brings anarchism about — that if carried to its own ineluctable conclusions provides all that is necessary for abandoning confidence in the state. Once the principle is established, we have “the distinction between invasion and resistance,” and thus a framework within which we can analyze various proposed social relationships and systems.

It is essential to understand that it is just because the state is and must be an “invasion of the individual sphere” that anarchists oppose it. We stand against authority, conceived in the abstract, first and so are necessarily against the state as a particularized and distinct embodiment of authority. We don’t idiosyncratically decide that we’re against government at the outset, working backwards from there, hoping to discover some reasonable or plausible explanation for our stance.

And then even after anarchism’s disapproval of invasion, or aggression, or authority is confirmed, anarchists diverge on the question of what it means to invade or to aggress, of where the borderline falls in a hypothetical free society. These questions and debates remain a part of the doctrine of anarchism (if such a thing can be said to exist), outside of the hubbub of mainstream political contests, elections, and the maddening babel of Republocrat talking heads.

Our rejection of politics is not a product of acedia, but of a careful and deliberate observation of events; we actively, as opposed to passively, abstain from engaging with the “proper channels” of the political process.

The way to change society is not to willingly allow yourself to be folded into the systems of political authority, but to counterbalance and neutralize the importance of those systems through the way you live your life. There’s nothing apathetic about that.

Citations to this article:

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist