Reason for a New Age

Words – Anarchism, Libertarianism, and Communism

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/10/24


If you have any particular image of what an Anarchist looks like in your head, I suspect that it is of some mohawk-bearing punk who seems mostly to want to go about getting into fights. You wouldn’t think that it is a fairly philosophic outlook that forms the basis for at least two major political movements in the modern world. …And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with punks nor fighting.

The core of Anarchism is the basic assumption that people are rational beings. We know well enough to enter into deals and contracts with others — or not — without needing someone else to watch over us. The Anarchist doesn’t wish for “lawlessness”, he just doesn’t see the need for government. If people want a road, they’ll get together and figure out how to make it happen; if they want a school for their children, they’ll start a school on their own.

Now, this isn’t to imply that Anarchism stops at those boundaries as a political philosophy, just that such is the primal nugget of thought that would mark anything as being a flavor of Anarchism. But that nugget really is that short and sweet so far as I can tell. And as such a basic idea, sounding fairly decent as a premise, it has formed the basis for an array of beliefs from Libertarianism to Communism.

Indeed, what you likely view as opposite ends of the spectrum are branches of the same tree. Basically, for both of these beliefs, at core they are simply trying to answer the question of how reasonable people would enter into deals and contracts with one another in the absence of government? But what that answer is depends on the speaker. The one might think that reasonable people, having freed itself of hierarchical order, would allow us to all treat each other as equals, sharing produce as needed. The other thinks that the free market supplies its own order, where market forces are able to provide whatever is needed and discourage negative behavior.

Of course, Anarchism has spawned further ideas than these two (and of course Libertarianism has grown away from Anarcho-Capitalism to accept government in a limited degree), but I will leave it to the Wikipedia to walk you through them all.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchist_schools_of_thought

You might say that Communism can’t be a Anarchist theory,  as it advocated a strong centralized central government with ownership of all property and production — the very antithesis of Anarchism. But the thing is that an Anarchist society was only the end-goal for Communists (or, at least, Marxist Communists). A strong centralized government was intended as a transitional middle-ground on the road to a world free of government. No Communist state ever actually became a Communist state. For better or worse, this meant that the popular view of what “Communism” meant became perverted to mean an Authoritarian state where everything was owned by the State. There is in fact no name for that form of Authoritarianism except “Communism”. And seeing as one variant of Communism means no government and the other means lots of government, I think it’s safe to say that use of the word is bound to be confusing.

To get back to the discussion of Anarchism itself, I’d like to note that the principal flaw in the theory — so far as I see it — is that it is indeed correct.

Mankind is, indeed, a reasonably rational species — at least once we have access to paper. We are able to meet together as individuals and establish the apparatus that our society needs. But more importantly, we were that rational starting way back thousands of years ago. And as such, we realized that hierarchy is a useful tool for the protection of the individual. We aren’t kind and thoughtful creatures, we’re rather greedy and sociopathic ones. Our only protection against the other individuals is by establishing and enforcing some simple rules like that this fruit I grew and harvested for my family is mine. And we’ve discovered that we’d rather elect people that we trust to oversee that the people enforcing those rules aren’t beholden to anyone but all of us — not the richest man in town nor the one who has the most friends.

We do live in an Anarchist world. But through the benefit of one generation passing on their knowledge to the next via spoken and written word, we were able to learn and develop methods of free interaction that work fairly well. Starting the process over from scratch with each individual or family fending for itself would just get a lot of people killed. And in the long run, we’d likely just end up exactly where we are — as has happened with the Communists and all forms of Utopianists. While it may be true that you didn’t have the chance to review and determine for yourself whether you agreed with the end-result of mankind’s experiments — you were simply forced by the government and its police to submit to the authority of the government — the road forward is to understand and address all of our experiences, not to cast it all aside with some asinine assumption that we’ll be able to come up with something better if we just force ourselves to start the process all over again.

In the defense of Karl Marx, as an example, he was writing at a time when the introduction of Capitalism into a class-bound society was creating hardship for a large number of people. Where classism may never have been a great thing — for most of history it was likely a fairly innocuous trait of most societies — Capitalism exacerbated the differences, giving the upper classes the motive and power to work the lowest to death. Marx had no way to know that the free market will gradually erode classism and lead to meritocracy. It was fairly reasonable for him to pinpoint the need for a classless society as the solution to the problems he observed. He just didn’t have the experience nor foresight to see that a hierarchical society can be classless.

Marx may have an excuse for being wrong on that point, but the average person of today does not.  But as his example shows, where you see a problem in society, if the answer for it that you arrive at calls for destroying everything and starting from scratch, you’re almost certainly wrong. Correctly identifying the problem does not mean that everything in the world must focus itself on correcting that one issue. Millions of potential problems for society have been solved through the millenia. Tossing all of those answers away for the sake of solving the one or two which haven’t yet been patched is silly. Evolve what we have, and you’ll almost certainly be more happy with the result.

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One Response to “Words – Anarchism, Libertarianism, and Communism”

  1. Roberta said

    Even though communism may (at least at the beginning) have been just a way to finally get to anarchism (free of government), the problem is that once you put a group of people in power over everyone else, those people just don’t want to give up that power (part of human nature) and so, they resort to becoming strictor and more restrictive in order to retain that power and to remain in power. They become, in a manner of speaking, mere ‘bullies’ over everyone else.

    More often than not, communism will finally end in collapse, a type of implosion, where — I suppose — a sort of anarchism would ‘finally’ come to be as the government would no longer exist in any real way. Although, that short-lived anarchism usually ends badly because you would now have a population without any initiative or creative work ethics. The people would have been taught to wait around for the government to tell them what to do or to give them what little they had. That would breed a type of ‘mafia’ to rise — another form of bullying — because the population would be so compliant and wouldn’t know how to resist.

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