Why You Want Anarchy: No State, No Laws, Impermanent Organization
Anarchism is not about choosing a particular life. It is not a particular recipe for how to live. Rather, at the center of anarchism, there is your choice. You should have a choice – always. Your choice may not significantly take away the ability for other people to have their choice of course, but otherwise in anarchy, it is your ability to choose what life you want that is important.
Living within a state however, this is not the case. You don’t choose to be part of a state. You’re either born there, accepted as an immigrant or refugee, or forced into membership by military conquest. And because the entirety of livable space on Earth is claimed by states you are forced by circumstances to endure either of these. On Planet Earth, even statelessness is a form of forced state membership, it just means you’re deprived of citizen rights whereever you reside.
But what’s wrong with living within a state? What if you like your state.
Everything works great – until it is doesn’t.
The promise of anarchism is not that it is simply a better life – although I would argue this as well – but that its social organization is never set, done, or final. Here there is no state, no laws, and no permanent organizations like bureaucracies or corporations. And as a consequence of this there is always the ability for you to live a different life, a life partially or entirely created by you and your comrades. A life only limited by the hard physical limitations of the natural world, and that shared belief that everyone should be given the same unlimited level of freedom as you have.
Instead of a state, a town, or an organization, there are fully voluntary gatherings of people, who come together to create an organized form of life that is entirely their own. This includes arrangements for living and for thriving, and the voluntary participation in the responsibilities necessary for making these things possible. Such groups can in turn federate with other similarly voluntary groups, to form federations, so that more ways of life become possible, like the ones dependent on more complex and interdependent kinds of labor.
The difference between this federation, and the state, both of which are forms of “Greater Society”, is that in the former, the federation is an entirely voluntary construct, and furthermore, only exists as long as its members want it to. Unlike the state, the federation does not insist on being as big as possible, as mighty as possible, or on lasting as long as possible. It exists only to fulfill the immediate desires of the members of its groups to come together and share in different responsibilities. When circumstances make this no longer desirable, because it is no longer necessary or has become impractical, then the members leave, and the federation can dissolve. In other words, the state is a tumor without bounds and lacking in reason. It’s a machine hungry for more and more control, influence, and power. An anarchist federation is the opposite, it only exists while it’s wanted, and dies peacefully when no longer wanted.
But what about the laws? The carefully crafted regulations? Our inherited customs and norms? Instead of laws and regulations, customs and strict norms, there is intention and reason. Because we all should be free, our actions must carry this intention of universal freedom with it. This means that unlike laws and regulations, which at best only come to exist and be effective after someone in position of power have been made aware of an existing or possible issue, the intention of universal freedom is always acting ahead of time and for every single person's actions. This also means that there has to be a continuous discussion and deliberation about how we should collectively understand the risks and rewards that our actions may have upon the future. For circumstances with largely contained impact, these discussions are held locally or within the affected small group of people. For circumstances with possible wide-reaching impact, the discussions include whoever are likely to be affected, far and wide, such that nobody are excluded who may be victims of fault, accident, or unwanted disruptions to their environment.
Like is true for the state, you may of course feel okay with most laws. Why wouldn’t you when you’ve become accustomed to them? Or if you happen to be on the direct receiving end of one of its promised benefits. But what about when the law is purposively used against you, those you care deeply about, or against sympathizable strangers? Or what about laws that don’t make sense? Or laws that are just poorly crafted – which all laws are, because they are treated like those behind them had access to absolute truths, when it’s just some few people’s idea of how everyone else should live.
What about when the law doesn’t work out for you or your community, or even for the majority of the populace, and those who are in positions of power, those who have been granted social privileges, have no inclination to change it? The same law may also seem okay enough for one situation, but then wrong for another, and because it is absolute (though may be widely interpreted by privileged jurists or the like), it is still executed in defiance of good reason. Generally speaking then, the law, regulations, customs, etc., usually lag behind developments, are corruptible, and invite us to perform immoral acts (such as punishing someone who are otherwise morally innocent). The solution to these problems is to make people use their reason, alone and in discussion with others, and to expect from ourselves and from each other that we work with this intention of universal freedom. A universal freedom worked out in active, truth-seeking, social deliberation.
And if you think that the law may be of help in making decisions – and it is true that our existence can include an overwhelming amount of decision-making – there is still nothing wrong with using rules of thumb as a replacement for laws. The difference between a law and a rule of thumb, is that the rule of thumb is only a guidance for decision-making when we don’t know better and don’t have an interest in experimentation. The law, meanwhile, demands obedience, and while it may perscribe the use of reason at times, it will only be the very limited kind allowed by its wording.
So okay, you might say. Surely, even if one should want neither state nor laws from the above arguments, should one not want something steady to hold onto, like a permanent home, or place of work? Why must all organized life be impermanent? The answer is that there is nothing that stops a voluntary organization in anarchy from existing for a very long time. However, it must justify its existence. If it shall exist for a long time, are there good reasons for this that will hold up to close scrutiny? What is the price of keeping it going, when life and society and ecosystems are always changing? In our time, we even speak of climate change, think about what that might mean. How then can we justify the continuation of the same organizations (or the basically same societies) when reality is constantly changing?
Consider a factory that produces cars for our time. Perhaps the organization that runs it should be dissolved to free up the labor, its resources, and its facilities, to take up other more important responsibilities in society. Maybe the problem is even that people are doing too much work to begin with, that the continued existence of the factory is poorly grounded in reasons of freedom and societal well-being, and that everyone just needs to relax more and spend time on hobbies and on each other instead. Societal changes, analogous to a factory and its organization being dissolved, does sometimes happen outside of anarchy. But they are very rare, and usually occur as a cause of dysfunctional collaps, and not because of an intentional, voluntary, social deliberation about what is deemed the best course of action.
And why is this so? In capitalist and other authoritarian societies, people don’t take up responsibilities that they wholeheartedly believe are necessary, or that have been sought in discussion with communities. Rather, they take on jobs that pay money for their own limited subsistence and confined thriving. Often these jobs involve acts of immorality that are contract-bound, and we learn to brush aside or not question these immoral aspects of our jobs because we are unable to gain this limited subsistence and restricted thriving if we can’t perform them. Whether it is abusing ourselves or others through pressure and stress-inducing actions (performative labor), treating people as irrelevant parts in our plans and actions (exploitation of the vulnerable), or as targets of manipulation (advertisement and sales). This is also true for other jobs in society, in non-profit organizations and in government agencies, and for non-job roles in society, such as parenthood, or marriage. We don’t perform these roles because it’s what we want, or because it’s the best course of action we could be doing – we do them because circumstances force us to.
In the two latter cases: a child has 1 or 2 parents, possibly a guardian of some kind, or maybe a responsible institution if the former is not unavailable. A marriage involves usually a singular spouse, contract-bound into a permanent relationship (making it similar to a job, interestingly enough). These roles are all either prescribed directly by law, by custom, or by law-abiding contracts. They are not built upon well-founded and continuously justified reasons, or the principle of universal freedom. And quite obviously so. The institution of parenthood makes no sense if we really care about extending universal freedom to children as well as their parents. Children need the support of adults true, but to foist the responsibility of children onto a few people, and to limit the child’s freedom to a few individuals with immense power over them, is borderline cruel outside of the circumstances when it by chance works out well. Children require many more people to depend upon, and the responsbility for supporting the children in growing up, their subsistence, and their thriving, should be the immediate responsbility of many people, so that no single person is kept unfree by an obligation of parenthood, or that the child becomes vulnerable to the limitations of a few select dependents who are likely to fail one way or another, whether it is due illness, to periods of stress, lack of necessary nurturing instinct, or the plain inevitability that is in not having all the skills at hand for the best outcome, given the complex task.
Similarily, marriage makes no sense. Love must be free and follow the active desires of people for spending time together, to bond, and to form tightknit community. This means that one does not acquire a single individual to depend upon for support, companionship, intimacy, sex etc. for the rest of one’s life, or even for a temporary time. Rather, it is in the interest of everyone to make as many loving relationships within one’s community as is allowed without strain, including relationships into other communities, and to bring these relationships to their fullest potential. That is, to take advantage of attractions, affections, and other such beautiful gifts of human nature, and to seek the most out of them, and to help each other in being able to do this – to reach one’s maximal potential for close and fulfilling relationships with others.
All of this above, ultimately, is why you want anarchy. Why you should want to embrace anarchism. To live free among the free, to not be coersed, and not suffer the psychological trauma of experiencing or knowing others to suffer that coersion. To be able to say no when things are not right, and to say yes, when you discover that life harbors more than is within the horizons of your state, its law, and its hope-crushingly undying institutions.