Is Anarchy a Viable Concept?

Even within a family, clan, or voluntary community there are usually persons who possess some combination of status, physical strength, strength of will, cunning, or persuasiveness that enables them to impose their will on the group. The motivation — an urge to control the group or a sincere belief that the group will benefit from their control — is unimportant; the fact of control is what matters.

There is the complementary need, felt by many persons, to be led or dominated because of lack of status, physical weakness, weakness of will, lack of cunning, etc.

Thus do leaders emerge, even within a family, clan, or voluntary community. And they may be venerated and prized just as they may be feared and hated. But they do lead (command) the group, and in doing so they set state-like rules that may help the family, clan, or community to thrive and survive — or put it on a path to strife, poverty, or extinction.

Businesses, of course, are notoriously and unavoidably commanded. As are gangs (which aren’t necessarily voluntary), cults, religious organizations — and on and on.

All of the organizations mentioned thus far (and their unmentioned ilk) may not be dictatorships or oligarchies. That is, their leaders may, formally or informally, seek the advice or consult the preferences of those whom they lead. But in all cases, there is a hierarchy of some kind, and the person or persons at the top have the moral or physical means to command obedience to their decisions.

In sum, the removal of a formal state does not mean the removal of state-like control over the lives of individual persons. At best, it devolves that control to smaller — but still state-like — institutions. And those institutions — like formal states — will devise various means of cooperation and conflict resolution, or like states they will engage in outright coercion and conflict of one kind or another (ostracism, rules enforced by sanctions, combat, economic warfare, etc.).

The argument for anarchy is therefore an argument in favor of replacing a formal state with myriad state-like institutions. These will range, in their preference for cooperation or conflict, from close-knit neighborhoods to mutually beneficial contractual arrangements to violence-prone gangs (of many scales) to uncompromising sectarian and religious organizations that are bound ideologically (e.g., Communist and Islamic cells).

It is beyond me how this would make the United States (let alone the world) a better place — in practice, that is, as opposed to Utopian dream-spinning. The realistic alternative, therefore, is an accountable state, the power of which is checked by constitutional means. It is far from a perfect alternative, as I will soon explain, but it is the only viable one.

Arguably, the United States was once something like an accountable state. And even then (from the late 1700s until the early 1900s), it was far less than a paragon of classical liberalism. Since then, aside from participating in at least a few senseless and horrendously costly wars, the central government has been depriving Americans of much of their liberty. Even the advances for blacks and other identity groups have not been unmitigated gains for those groups — think “welfare dependency”, for example. And those advances have imposed on most Americans the deadweight losses of taxation, reverse discrimination, punishments for “wrong thinking”, etc., that inevitably accompany favoritism for some groups at the expense of others.

But the retrogression of the United States as a force for liberty doesn’t mean that anarchy is a viable alternative to the kind of state represented by the United States. All it means is that no kind of human endeavor is exempt from corruption. Anarchy is just another kind of human endeavor, one that can deliver economic and social liberty only if the all-too-human urges to dominate others and to commit violence against them could be eradicated.

Those urges can’t be eradicated or kept in check — as history amply attests. The urge to perfection — as history also amply attests — only gives the “perfectionists” (Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc., etc.) an excuse for waging war on their own people and on the wider world.

What would a doctrinaire anarchist do if he saw others behaving un-anarchically to his detriment? Well, I suspect that if he were not a pacifist (i.e., self-destructive) he would organize his fellow thinkers into some kind of pro-anarchic army (oxymoron alert), and that the army would have to be hierarchical in order to succeed. I suspect, further, that if it did succeed, the result would be the de facto creation of an anti-anarchic “anarchy”, for the protection and preservation of anarchistic dogma. Shades of dictatorial “peoples’ republics” and Orwellian double-think.

Anarchy, after all, is an ideology. And ideologies always run afoul of human nature, in one way or another. And ideologies aren’t to be trusted because ideologues are dangerous, no matter what they profess to believe. If the Constitution of the United States, which was framed in the light of human nature, failed to deliver lasting liberty to Americans, what can one expect of a naive ideology that dismisses human nature?

The answer to the question posed by the title of this post is a resounding NO.

Related posts:

Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style
Fundamentalist Libertarians, Anarcho-Capitalists, and Self-Defense
Anarchy: An Empty Concept
The Fatal Naïveté of Anarcho-Libertarianism
A Critique of Extreme Libertarianism
Anarchistic Balderdash
Old America, New America, and Anarchy
Extreme Libertarianism vs. the Accountable State
A Few Thoughts about Anarchy
Anarchy: A Footnote
Another Footnote about Anarchy