Anarchism has been both a vision of a peaceful, cooperative society—and an ideology of revolutionary terror. Since the term itself—anarchism—is a negation, there is a great deal of disagreement on what the positive alternative would look like. The black flag comes in many colors.The Anarchist Handbook is an opportunity for all these many varied voices to speak for themselves, from across the decades. These were human beings who saw things differently from their fellow men. They fought and they loved. They lived and they died. They disagreed on much, but they all shared one vision: Freedom.
Publisher: Independently published (May 9, 2021) Language: English Paperback: 365 pages ISBN-13: 979-8748719629 Item Weight: 1.37 pounds Dimensions: 6 x 0.83 x 9 inches
“What started the craze to kill was a lecture I heard some little time ago by Emma Goldman. She was in Cleveland and I and other Anarchists went to hear her. She set me on fire.
Her doctrine that all rulers should be exterminated was what set me to thinking so that my head nearly split with the pain. Miss Goldman’s words went right through me and when I left the lecture I had made up my mind that I would have to do something heroic for the cause I loved.”
Leon Czo lgosz
HOCH DIE ANARCHIE!
When I was in college I took a bioethics course. Within the first couple of pages of our textbook there was an illustration charting the spectrum of relationships between morality and the law. One end was marked as legalism, the belief that the law defined what it is moral. The other end was labeled antinomianism, which was presented as the view that one’s conscience is the arbiter of morality and that laws are of no moral relevance. I can’t remember if it was the textbook or the professor, but our class discussion opened with, “Since no one believes in antinomianism, the answer is somewhere to the other side of the bar?’
If an ideology had a name, the odds were quite high that someone did, in fact, believe in it Antinomianism in ethics is anarchism in a sociopolitical context, the belief that the imposition of authority is illegitimate. In one sense, anarchism is nothing more than the declaration that “You do not speak for me.” Everything else is just implementation.
It is impossible to have a radical philosophy without at first sounding like a lunatic or a moron. One of the reasons for this is that most radical philosophies are lunacy, and the rest for the most part are moronic. To proclaim earnestly that This, the status quo, doesn’t just need tweaks or massive changes but a fundamental reorganization is an enormously high task to argue for. It’s akin to discussing a friend and mentioning that he’s very tall. One can perhaps push the envelope with an eight-foot-tall friend. But to claim someone is, say, twenty feet tall or apple feet tall simply wouldn’t make any sense. The listener would have no frame of reference to even approximate what was meant to be said. This is what a society without the state sounds like to most people, for they have taken the legitimacy of government for granted all of their lives. An alternative is incomprehensible.
There are many common visceral arguments against anarchism: Anarchism is a bad idea because it would lead to a government Anarchism would mean authoritarian warlords being in charge of the society. Anarchism is utopian and hasn’t worked anywhere on earth—except when it has, in which case it doesn’t count because a government exists somewhere and therefore made it work. Anarchism cannot work on a large scale, and anarchism cannot work on a small scale either because those areas would immediately be invaded. Inherent in this argument is that governments are, by their nature, invasive and predatory—this being the anarchist view of the nature of government.
There are already several countries on earth that don’t have a military, and yes many rely on foreign governments to protect them against invasion. The argument is that these foreign governments are thereby the “real” government But outsourcing the delivery of security is no different than outsourcing the delivery of food. If the security insurers were the “real” governments, they would be the ones giving and not taking orders. Yet all this misses the broader point: Anarchism is not a location. Anarchism is a relationship, one in which none of the parties has authority over the other.
Every nation is in an anarchist relationship with one another. If a Canadian kills an American in Mexico, there is some agreed-upon mechanism to adjudicate the situation without involving a higher authority—because there is no higher authority to invoke. The situation would be the same if one’s “citizenship” were voluntary and as easy to switch as a cell-phone provider. Citizenship by geography is landline technology in a post-smartphone world.
At base level, all anarchism claims to do is to resolve one major problem in interpersonal relationships: the forceful interjection of the state. Curing cancer would make things a lot better for many people. Yes, there would be costs: oncologists would be out of work, and cancer researchers would need new subjects to explore. An anarchist world would still have murderers, and thieves, and evil men and women. It simply wouldn’t put them in a position to enforce their evil on everyone else via getting elected and decreeing the law.
Curing cancer does not mean or imply curing diabetes. But neither does it mean or imply that curing cancer is “utopian” or a goal that should not be sought. As Randolph Bourne put it over a century ago, war is the health of the state—but plunder and societal conflict are not far behind when it comes to the government. It’s quite easy to stump statists by asking if they would consider it anarchism if there was a system of taxes and state action in place without a police force. How would it work is beside the point Whether this would be anarchism is the question.
If government was a useful mechanism for adjudicating disputes, lawsuits would be as common and as easily resolved as returning an item to the store or quitting one’s job. If government was an effective mechanism at solving or preventing crime, crime would be as minor a political issue as fashion is. Everyone needs to feel safe in their person, just as everyone needs clothing. Yet only one is a political issue year in and year out.
So what is the alternative to the state? Private police—or none at all? The original version of anarchism, in the left-wing European tradition, is opposed to domination by one person over another and advocates for a society based on mutual aid and complete equality. The more recent version, the right-capitalists, define themselves by opposition to the state. The right-anarchists think the left-anarchists are naïve, and lack a fundamental understanding of economics. The left-anarchists think the right-anarchists aren’t anarchists at all, but mere apologists for corporate control and predation. Anarchism has been both a vision of a peaceful, cooperative society—and an ideology of revolutionary terror. Since the term itself—anarchism is a negation, there is a great deal of disagreement on what the positive alternative would look like. The black flag comes in many colors.
On November 11, 1887, four men were hanged by the State of Illinois. They were accused of conspiring to murder because of their common bond in preaching their anarchist views, and they became martyrs for the cause. At the base of the monument erected in their memory are carved the last words of one of them, August Spies. “The day will come,” he had proclaimed from the gallows, “when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”
The Anarchist Handbook is an opportunity for all these many varied voices to speak for themselves, from across the decades. These were human beings who saw things differently from their fellow men. They fought and they loved. They lived and they died. They disagreed on much, but they all shared one vision: Freedom.