Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Anarchism revisited

I wanted to say something about anarchism, since you are interested.

If somebody tries to tell you what to do, anarchism, as the political philosophy concerned with authority, places the burden on this person or institution to show why this must be. Sometimes a justification can be shown: the person has been democratically delegated responsibility for administering a social task, for example.

The important point is that the burden of proof is on whomever assumes a position of authority to demonstrate that is socially justified. All authority is illegitimate by assumption, unless this burden is met. This is because anarchism's preference is always to move power from greater to lesser states of concentration.

Sometimes, this can't be immediately accomplished, as with elements of the welfare state: in the absence of anything else, there is a social justification for having a hierarchical state administer programs which afford people some basis for life when they cannot procure them from employers.

In fact, there may be many aspects of modern life which are popularly supported, like the technological advances coming out of defense research (the internet, for example), which imply some kind of state or state-like structure; i.e. institutions which may be democratically delegated responsibility in a such a way that amount to de facto concentrations of power.

While some anarchists extrapolate from the preference for less concentrated power a vision of a world where concentrations would not exist, to set this as the standard by which every institution must be judged may in itself deny the democratic preferences of communities amongst which such judgments will naturally vary. These are not simple questions, and it is for this reason that evaluating the legitimacy of social arrangements is best undertaken on a case-by-case basis.

32 comments:

Jack Crow said...

Interesting. How can demo-cracy be reconciled with an-archy, especially since "-archy" and "-cracy" both mean the same thing (rule of)? Is "rule of the neighborhoods/the people" really compatible with "no rule, no power"?

JRB said...

This isn't a question that interests me, for real-world reasons.

Cüneyt said...

There is no anarchy as you define it, Crow. There will always be power over others. But by critiquing concentrations of power, we might push toward anarchy, while acknowledging that democracy is more anarchic in a relative sense than autocracy.

Jack Crow said...

I didn't define anarchy, Cuneyt. I wondered at how rule can be reconciled with unrule.

If you think that people will always have power over others, that's okay - but that isn't a matter of how I or anyone else defines anarchy. It's how you reject it, conceptually and materially, with an a priori denial of even the potential for non-coercive relation.

Coldtype said...

"I wondered at how rule can be reconciled with unrule"-JC

I believe the point was that unrule is not applicable in all cases. Under certain conditions rule and unrule just won't be reconciled.

Jack Crow said...

If unrule cannot be reconciled, why call it "anarchism" in the first place?

Cüneyt said...

Define practicable anarchism. Where would families go? Would any populations outnumber others? Would every puddle be divided evenly among drinkers? Would the tardy gather as much of a resource as the first to reach it?

Define it, please.

Jack Crow said...

Cuneyt,

I'm not offering a definition. I'm just questioning the use of the word "anarchism" to describe patently non-anarchist social hierarchies.

You're trying, instead, to debate whether or set of circumstances called anarchism can even be created, no?

Isn't that a separate discussion?

I understand that you don't appear to believe anarchism is possible at all. Fine. No problem. That's not the topic of inquiry I pursued.

I want to know why the word anarchism would be used to describe non-anarchist choices, behaviors and social situations.

**It's like me asking "why would yo call corporate capitalism 'communism'?" and you responding by demanding that I "prove that communism works and is practical."**

There is no twain, there, by which the never could meet...

Cüneyt said...

I find it troubling that you insist on declaring what anarchism is not yet refuse to say what anarchism is. You're right; you don't offer a definition, but you certainly seem to have one in mind.

Jack Crow said...

Cuneyt,

See again:

**It's like me asking "why would you call corporate capitalism 'communism'?" and you responding by demanding that I "prove that communism works and is practical."**

I'm not arguing that something must always be treated as exactly only one thing. I'm suggesting that what it is can be identified in relation to what it is not.

And anarchism is one of the easier things which can be clarified by what it is not - because of that lovely "an-" in the original, which self-defines it by all the things it is not.

An-archism. No rule. It's not an ambiguous term. If you are advocating rule - regardless of your beliefs about the likelihood or improbability of anarchist society - you are not arguing for anarchism.

Cüneyt said...

Crow, if you're going to play the linguistic game, carry it out all the way. "-cracy" and "-archeia" are similar in use, but not similar in derivation. Archy carries with it connotations of rule in the terms of position, rank, and title. Cracy is derived from a word for power. Go back and read yourself, first comment.

'Is "rule of the neighborhoods/the people" really compatible with "no rule, no power"?'

That's equivocation, because rule by the ruled is not the same as rule of another; one suggests that. One may lead logically to another, but they are not the same.

But all of this is academic, which may be your intent, which is why I am trying to pin you down on operational definitions. Words have ancestral meanings, but they also have the meaning imbued by utility. Hence my seeking to have you explain even so basic a thing as one word. I don't know what it means to you. And if I want to talk to you, I need to know what it means--not to me, but to you.

So is democracy compatible with anarchy? Maybe the words clash as you understand them. That does not mean they clash in other people's heads, or in practice, and that is why I am sticking with one basic fucking question. What is anarchy? I can't compare two things in reality and, as long as you stay in the realm of ideals, we really can't move forward, or at least I can't.

I am not saying anarchy cannot work. I am saying that anarchy in the sense of there being no power to withstand or impose, no power at all, acracy, impotence--that such an anarchy cannot exist. I did not say that there could not be, say, an anarchy in the sense of there being no power over others, no rulers by title and position... And that's why I'm inviting you to step away from the book of Greek and Latin roots and tell me, for the love of mental revolution, what the fuck anarchy means to you.

I do not want a tract. I do not want a plan. I do not want a manifesto or a platform or a bullet-point of acts to be carried out. I just want a basic sense of what anarchy means to you so that I can compare it to what democracy is. Does it mean no rule? What is rule? Does it mean no rulers? What is a ruler? Come up with your own little metaphors and say that I don't believe this or that I'm saying that or that this is like I said blah fucking blah.

What I am asking is what anarchy means. Not where the word was born. Not the Greek roots. What is anarchy? That's what I'm asking.

Cüneyt said...

And if you want to keep playing in derivations, which I did enough of when I studied this shit, then yes, I'll tell you that "empowered segments of the population" may not be compatible with "no rulers," but neither excludes the other. But there is no direct translation, and when we say that rule = archeia = regulum, we start losing our sense of the original by blending it with our own.

And our own is the one that matters anyway.

Justin said...

Jack Crow strikes me as a very abstract thinker, whereas I think I am more like the author of this blog in that I don't feel comfortable/interested getting too far into hypotheticals or models, but would rather apply frameworks to the world as it exists. That is not a criticism of Jack, but these two approaches often create heat when trying to communicate.

All I can say about anarchism, as I understand it, or rather how I find it relevant, is as an approach to authority as it currently exists. I don't see much value in anarchism as conceiving of a new society, because an anarchist society would be so divorced from our current context, that it is (for me) meaningless to imagine.

For our current world, as it exists, I find anarchism most value in changing how we think of our relationships with authority. The premise is that any authority has the burden of proof to justify its existence, and where it is found wanting, it is to be directly opposed with the aim of dismantling it. This paragraph begs for plenty of explanation, such as by what standards does authority justify itself, who sets those standards, by what criteria do you analyze those standards, are there different criteria, what happens when some find those standards met and others don't, how exactly do you dismantle an institution of authority when by definition there exists a power disparity, and so on. All of which is to say, I don't think anarchism is a program or how to manual for a perfect world, and turning it into a political platform or trying to encode the above principles in some kind of system of governance is predictably unworkable. Therefore, anarchism is an approach toward authority that exists at the individual level.

To give a real world example, the difference between a liberal/progressive and an anarchist is something like this: A liberal, like Dennis Kucinich, thinks the solution to American military aggression abroad lies somewhere in the State Department and creating a Department of Peace to counterbalance the Department of Defense. An anarchist approach would forget about creating a department of peace, and begin questioning/scaling down the department of defense.

All of the above is my understanding of anarchism derived from a very superficial knowledge of the anarchist canon. I am very open to being corrected on any point.

Jack Crow said...

Cuneyt,

I can conjure up a diversion to beg the question, too, if you'd like.

Which would also still fail to address the only question I asked: why call something it's not? I don't accept the conservatarian argument that corporate state capitalism is a socialism any more than I care to accept on faith the proposition that democratism is anarchism.

I understand that you really seem to want to discuss whether or not anarchism is definable, practical or ideal - and I'm open to the discussion, elsewhere.

Justin,

It's not an abstraction or an idealization of the concept or framework of actual anarchist conduct. It may be a difference of perspective, insomuch as I see practical anarchism (right now, not in a limitlessly postponed future) as a decision tree of self-restraints, of absentions, and you and JRB seem to be arguing that it's devolutionary. That what is best available to anarchists is to ameliorate the state with some sort of popular will.

I'm just of the (very material) opinion that if you do power, you don't get to claim anarchism. At best you get to claim it as a possible goal, or an ideal one. Which places you in dodgy company with all manner of other people who continuously lose sight of the anarchist critique itself - which is cooperation with power is power (and it didn't work out so well for the Makhnovists or the Catalans, did it?).

Obliquely, the world would be a more awful place if Emma Goldman had returned to Russia and compromised, on the off chance that the (entirely and exclusively grammatical) faith the Bolsheviks had in the withering of their own state would prove - always at a remove in time - true.

Respect,

Jack

Cüneyt said...

"Why call something it's not?" But you don't even say what anarchism is! You say what the word's derivation is and appear completely ignorant of all the subtleties of interpretation. Anarchy can mean "no rulers," "no rule"...

You say, again, that you "understand" what I really want to talk about, which is practicability. I'm just calling for more detail on an inconsistency you see between democracy and anarchy.

"Why call something it's not?" Interesting how, from the beginning, you've insisted that you know what anarchy is and what it is not. And if you're determined not to let me explore the logic behind that, then we're not in a conversation. The word "anarchy" does not equal anarchy. You don't own the concept or the word we use to express it. And if you're incapable or unwilling to share the logic behind your conclusions, then this anarchist will use his right to question your interpretative authority. They're my words too, you pedant.

Cüneyt said...

And I might have added to my second para that you are once more trying to assert an authority over my purposes and argument that you have not been granted. Kindly do not tell me what I'm trying to talk about, or what I should be talking about. You've struggled to define what is and is not part of this conversation all along, and that's a little silly. It'd be shorter to say "anarchy is whatever I say it is, and democracy is not it;" you've articulated nothing further.

Jack Crow said...

Cuneyt:

seem, appear

I use these words with deliberation.

Cüneyt said...

However you qualify your read of me, your exclusion of my line of thought from your intended conversation is unequivocal.

At least your answer to Justin says something.

Justin said...

I'm just of the (very material) opinion that if you do power, you don't get to claim anarchism. At best you get to claim it as a possible goal, or an ideal one. Which places you in dodgy company with all manner of other people who continuously lose sight of the anarchist critique itself - which is cooperation with power is power (and it didn't work out so well for the Makhnovists or the Catalans, did it?).

Jack, I think this is exactly what I was trying to get at when I said that the anarchist approaches raises a lot of thorny issues that all work against the anarchist position, as they imply some authority, decision making, and priority setting. I think that is why I closed by saying it is more of a personal approach toward authority than an operations manual. But, I'll reiterate my qualifier that I am aware that I may be embarassingly ignorant about some or all of this.

Cüneyt said...

From what I gather/assume here, the Catalan anarchists ceased to be anarchists the moment they raised arms against the nationalists. How little did the taxi drivers of Barcelona know that by ramming their cars into guardposts, they were doing the work of the state!

Jack Crow said...

Cuneyt,

They joined the government of the failing Republic. The Makhnovists cooperated with the Bolshies. And I guess I have to repeat: I choose "seem, appear" deliberately - precisely because I'm am constantly editing out my judgments.

Justin,

I don't think authority is ever merely or simply implied. I think it is enforced. If John and Jane agree to fashion a pair of shoes and then Jane decides to opt out, Jane has only decided to opt out. John has no native claim to her time and effort. John may believe that the pair of shoes must be completed, but his belief in necessity is not a functional claim on anyone's time but his own - until he decides to enforce it.

He can only introduce authority when he **chooses** to make Jane do what he wants.

That's obviously a simplification, but I think we need to take great care not to omit or elide the choice to enforce. We're not describing automatic functionalities. We're discussing human decisions.

Cüneyt said...

Mr. Crow,

We can argue--and indeed, they did--about affiliating with parts of the government. In actuality, however, there were many independent anarchist bands and, as is well-documented, they were not part of the Republican war machine, even as they served in loose affiliation with it. The anarchists did not receive arms from the Spanish military, or their Soviet allies. They held their own, and voted their own, and were in many ways a separate, though non-hostile, group.

But that's not what I was talking about. You said once you "do power," anarchism is out. Well, initial revolts in the war weren't in league or support of the republic as it was. It was unled popular resistance to the army that sought to impose its will. But was that "doing power"? Does the anarchist become a statist the moment he imposes his will on a fascist seeking to kill him--by killing him in turn? That is what I am talking about, the moment of exercise of power. Does one's anarchism survive the exercise of power to stop another's action?

Jack Crow said...

Cuneyt,

If you are attempting to rape my wife and I put an ice pick through your skull, I am not using a hierarchical enforcement of normalized subject-command relations in order maintain my (a) wealth, (b) privilege (c) continued rule.

If you are a fascist who seizes the state and I cooperate with others to actively resist your use and seizure of power - which is always social - I am not necessarily engaged in a power relationship myself, unless I assume a rank and a position in a hierarchy, give orders, delegate, expect them to be obeyed and punish (or threaten to punish) the disobedient.

If a band of anarchists takes up arms to actively fight the police, I don't see an automatic reconstitution of power. If, upon the capture of a police station, they force the captive police to perform labor, or imprison them, then they cease to be anarchists because they have reconstituted an enforceable hierarchy of control.

Hope that helps.

If you are using the word "power" to mean "quantum of energy, or force" then we aren't really talking the same moral language, since I mostly reject that usage as a confusing mystification.

Is there an existential challenge to the idea that society can be reconstituted without force? I think so - in so much as we have little experience with it. We also have little experience with a warless world, but that doesn't mean I must needfully assume that people can never stop waging war.

JRB said...

Jack:

So is it accurate to say that an act of force is not necessarily an act of power?

mandt said...

So, that's where "Question Authority,' issues forth.

Cüneyt said...

Well, not trying to mystify, but thanks for clarifying. What you call "power," I call "power over," or "domination." In my opinion, the power itself is value-neutral. It is the same act to kill a man in self-defense as it is to kill a man in cold blood, but context matters, blah blah blah. Anyway, that's why I used the word as I did and why I wanted to clear that up.

Thank you, again.

Montag said...

posted my two cents on this, before reading this thread. it appears, though, that i've only rehashed Justin's second paragraph @11:35. [http://stumplane.us/2010/12/09/what-weve-got-here-is-a-failure-to-imaginate/]

next, i'll be late to the party to jump into the fray of this ongoing debate on the nature of power. going to rework a couple of my older posts on power.

Jack Crow said...

JRB,

Depends. Punching a motherfucker in the face may be a way to establish a power relationship. It may also be a way to buy time for the victim of the motherfucker to escape a power relationship.

Respect,

Jack

Brian M said...

But... if one honestly beleives there is no such thing as private property, and one honestly believes thus that one can simply "use" whatever property is out there, than a homeonwer defending "his" "propoerty" against a brigand is by definition using force to establish/reinforce a hierarchical (assuming "have" is higher than "have not")power arrangement. So...how is self-defense anarchistic in any way? Given that there is no "property" you should just happily GIVE your property to your fellow anarchist, right>?

Brian M said...

and...given that there can be no hierarchies, there can be no ruled, why is the "victim" automatically morally better than the victimizer. What if the victim is an evil capitalist or other "class enemy"? How dare any authority rule over me to stop my victimizing over people I, as an independent, virtuous anarchist, feel should be a victim? Or...are you assuming, once we eliminate the police and all centralized authority, that we wioll devolve back into the glory days of clan or family vendettas? Those mountain holler clans certainly recognized no outside authority?

Note...I did not use the word "Somalia." I am thinking of "Tennessee". (LOL)

JRB said...

Montag:

Thanks for the heads-up on the new Stump Lane. Everyone please update accordingly!

There's definitely a revival in the air on the topic of power, so I think you might be ahead of the curve.

Great new post, by the way.

Montag said...

thanks, JRB!