Thursday, August 27, 2009

American anarchism

The easiest way to challenge American political power at an individual level is to engage people with their own principles and ask them to be consistent in a way that political parties, inevitably, are not.

If a person is liberal, surely they must agree to be liberal toward every individual, and unafraid of any particular view; after all, this is the very foundation of freedom of speech. A consistent liberalism acknowledges this; it defends the right of free expression to every individual, including those with unpopular views. This is quite in contrast with the liberalism of the Democratic Party, which distinguishes itself by attacking the rural poor as too stupid to understand their own affairs in the event they are swayed by conservative appeals pointing out this fact!

Conversely, a conservative who is skeptical only in the face of governmental power, and happily ignores every other variety, is no conservative at all. Conservatism must be a skepticism toward all power, otherwise it is not a principle; anyone who argues that government is the only "coercive" authority under the sun should be invited to planet Earth for a stay, where examples abound. Similarly, arguments that "social order must be preserved," are easily undone by a principled conservatism which preferences certain social orders over others; few would argue that all things are justified simply because they exist.

Liberalism toward the individual, conservatism towards power; by another name, anarchism -- but nobody understands it by this name, and I find it a strong argument to say that most Americans never will. The relevant question for anyone engaged in social action is whether they want to speak persuasively to a clique of overeducated converts or to whomever they encounter in whatever context, usually on their terms.

Many popular principles can be broadened to their libertarian conclusions, obviating endless tutorials on "What is Libertarian Socialism?" -- which amounts to proselytizing the uninitiated with one hand, while sponsoring a kind of intolerance for those who "don't get it" with the other. It is too great a handicap to begin a course of social action anywhere most people are not.


Montag said...

few would argue that all things are justified simply because they exist.

a lot of day-to-day American, Republican voting, self-described conservatives that i talk to, (boss, brother-in-law, fellow school parents, co-workers, etc,) seem to subscribe to a "might makes right" view towards power. (a variation of the above?) whether they have given much thought to the consequences of this, i do not know, but they are at least fairly consistent in viewing events through this lens.

JRB said...


I'm glad you talk to them and listen to their concerns.

If "might makes right" then our conservative friends should have no problem with big government and be happy to surrender their AR-15's to a central authority.

The fact is many Republicans are disenchanted with their party since W. because it betrayed the principles of "less government" so egregiously.

Montag said...

point well taken.

d.mantis said...

Unfortunately, I think it comes down to basic group think in most cases.

The republicans (out of personal principle I refuse to capitalize any party) speak of God more and are identified as conservative. Therefore, they garner the corresponding votes. Other issues bolster this basic foundation (ie gun rights) but this is the basic formula.

The democrats are associated with specific non-issues that they will never actually do anything about but garner an almost dogmatic following (ie abortion, gay rights etc).

Politics are local. When I speak to people of either label, what usually distinguishes one from the other is a single issue.

However, if the discussion can be led by a round-about path to matters of libertarian socialism, then it is amazing how quickly people agree. Of course one cannot ever use that term, but it works just the same.

JRB said...

I think the advantage is to approach people without preconceptions about who they are or how they should be engaged. Let them do the work. If they are sincere about their values, it's not hard to reveal how their political allegiance betrays them. To do it effectively -- without alienating the person -- only requires patience and some creativity.

Attacking and discrediting the political class is something "conservatives" do constantly to good effect -- and yet anarchists could be doing it so much better. If only we weren't so afraid to talk to people.

d.mantis said...


Too true. People generally agree that the political class does not have any interest in mind other than their own yet will soil themselves if asked to do something about it.

I also believe that there is a significant language gap. The terms 'socialism', 'libertarianism' and 'anarchism' are words everyone recognizes and few understand. I can speak to my rocket-scientist brother-in-law about jet engines but when it comes down to it, I know fuck-all what he is actually talking about.