Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Anarchist Insight

I’ve finished the first issue! I’ve discovered that this publication is not like reading the newspaper. Newspapers give me highly processed and pre-digested information, sugar-coated to make it go down easy, even to the point of telling me what to think. But when reading this publication, I have to really take time to chew on thoughts and ideas and so my brain can digest them and I can mentally process them to a conclusion.

Wow, look at all those eating metaphors. Who knew how much this project would actually mirror Julie and Julia?

This first issue contains a feature article written by George H. Smith called “The Ethics of Voting.” This is noted as part one, so there is more to come. So I guess we can consider this the appetizer.

In this article Mr. Smith wants to speak to the group he calls “political anarchists.” (And yes, he does mention the contradiction.) He uses this article to set up definitions and ideas for a discussion of whether or not voting is ethical according to the ideas that political anarchists hold.

He goes into a lot of detail setting this all up and I am not going to repeat it here. That’s not the intent of this blog. The intent is to share what I found interesting, what hit me, and why. Past that, you can choose to read the article yourself and/or discuss with me the points I bring up here. So to that end, here’s what I found interesting about this article.

* First of all, I was intrigued by the term “political anarchist” because I really never heard that term in the discussions I had over the years. In the groups I participated in, these types of debates were generally labeled as “purist” versus “pragmatist.” Same idea I suppose.

However, it did make me wonder if the anarchistic folks moved to the word purist because anarchist just really made what they were doing there look so much more obvious in its contradictions. I don’t know, but if I had heard the term political anarchist more often, maybe I would have moved through my process faster.

Eh, probably not, I’m a slow learner.

* Secondly, he discusses the idea of vicarious liability and how important it is for all libertarians, anarchistic or not. This is the understanding that people can play an important part in the aggression even when they are not the ones actually performing the aggressive act. You can probably see why he’s pointing this out as an important piece if he’s going to talk about voting and its possible implications.

Finally, what I found most interesting about this article is this:

Voluntaryists are more than libertarians; they are libertarian anarchists. They reject the institution of the state totally, and it is this element that is not contained (explicitly at least) within libertarianism.

This is the anarchist insight, recognizing the institution itself as invasive.

Libertarians in general do not necessarily analyze and reach the conclusion to reject the institution. This was an important point for me to understand because it helps to see how my communications with those in the party changed after I started realizing this to be the case. It was like speaking a different language after a point.

When someone knows something is wrong within an institution but does not reject the institution itself, what they naturally conclude is that the people in charge just aren’t running it “right” and if only the “right” people were in there, it would be okay.

One reason I think I was able to eventually reject the institution is that, over time, I had already done that with schools. I began to understand that real education could never really happen in an institution because they simply could not hand over enough freedom for that to occur.

So perhaps that’s one thing to consider for anyone who is interested in communicating these ideas to people: find the ones who have been harmed by institutions in some way and use that to reach an understanding. Has anyone else though of that and tried it? If so, what happened?

Smith says if an institutional analysis can get us to anarchism, then it can also get one to voluntaryism. I think I see where he is going and am curious to read what he says next in this series.

In other words, I’m hungry for more.


Joe said...

My understanding of "political anarchist" is not in the sense of "purist" (or "plumb line") vs. "pragmatist." I see it more in the sense of "political libertarianism" as used recently by Tom Knapp (see, i.e., libertarians (or "anarchists") who see political action as conducive to or effective in eventually eliminating the state.

Anonymous said...

Yes, kind of like drinking to cure alcoholism.

Derek said...

If you define "libertarian" as someone that adheres to the principle of non-aggression, then a libertarian is also an anarchist (since any state must employ aggression to exist).

For newcomers, this is a great place to start.

MamaLiberty said...

I left the Libertarian Party in 1980 after working hard for the various campaigns. I had come to the same conclusion - that there was no political solution to the problem of politics!!

Here is a short, but excellent article a friend wrote for my website a few years ago. It describes the thought process pretty well, though he STILL hopes for a political solution after it all.

The problem for so many people, it seems, is that they can only see two possible solutions: one political and one total bloody civil war.

I'm hoping that there are other options, though I'm getting less optimistic by the day. Just too many people think that the "will of the majority" is dandy - as long as THEY are not the ones being robbed and murdered.

Ned Netterville said...

"So perhaps that’s one thing to consider for anyone who is interested in communicating these ideas to people: find the ones who have been harmed by institutions in some way and use that to reach an understanding. Has anyone else though of that and tried it? If so, what happened?"

Here is a lady who was harmed by the government. She is a really radical environmentalist. Julia Butterfly Hill spent (survived) 2+ years atop a giant sequoia tree) in a rather successful endeavor to save the remaining coastal redwoods in California. Subsequently, the IRS drove her into becoming a "war-tax resister," her purpose being to deprive the feds of funds for making war. She is, I think, halfway to becoming a voluntaryist. Fear of the state's awesome power, which in practice often turns out to be a boogeyman, keeps many people from following their conscience. Julia is over that. She discussed her experience in a speech that is available on Youtube (

Debbie H. said...

Ned, I watched the first 20 min of the video you posted. I think you are right that she is on her way to being a voluntaryist. She made a lot of excellent points, such as how she knew she had to live according to her vision of how she though the world should be. I also saw your comment to her video, maybe you'll make a connection, just as she was talking about herself. :)

Lloyd Licher said...

Thanks for giving us something interesting to look forward to whenever you post a new piece. Your first one mentioning anarchism moved me to get the dictionary definitions, because it has such a bad meaning in most peoples' minds. The ism word doesn't sound too bad, advocating a voluntary society, but the ist word centers on rebellion with violence. The y word (anarchy) centers on absence of government and order. That isn't what we voluntaryists advocate, so I think it is misleading to use any form of anarchy. And I don't think we should give up the word and concept of government, just the political and coercive versions of it. Self-government is what we want, in such forms as the family, associations and businesses, where participation is on an individual basis and one can opt out if the form of it is not performing to one's satisfaction. Thus whenever one uses the word government, meaning political government, that modifier should be used with it. Robert LeFevre came up with autarchy to describe his concept of self-government, but I think that sounds too much like anarchy for most people to comprehend and the dictionary relates it to national economic self-sufficiency and independence, rather than individual. I like the concept of voluntaryism to label what it is that we advocate and aspire to. Keep going!

By Lloyd Licher

Anonymous said...

RE: Lloyd

Anarchy as in definition #3 from


1. a state of society without government or law.

2. political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control: The death of the king was followed by a year of anarchy.

3. a theory that regards the absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and that proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society.

4. confusion; chaos; disorder: Intellectual and moral anarchy followed his loss of faith.

You might also check out this nice opinion piece from the Christian Science Monitor:

Do anarchists at tea parties really want to kill all politicians?