Or, the political philosophy of freedom
"In times of universal deceit, speaking the truth is a revolutionary act."
- George Orwell
The crisis of legitimacy grows daily, while the ruling elite try desperately to consolidate their power, by any means available, before they lose it all. That is the context of early 21st century society, which it is critical for us to understand.
There is a vacuum of vision, and a vacuum of ideology, at present in the world, and there has been for at least thirty years. This has produced nihilism, apathy, anxiety, despair, escapism and malaise, as well as giving birth to an opportunistic, global corporate-fascist coup; which, though it is extremely brazen, overt, openly declared by the elite in their own writings, and glaringly obvious; the great majority of people, including most activists and intellectuals, and virtually all of the Left, still fail to see. But an awakening of humanity is underway, and the undeniable realities cannot be pretended away by a fearful and cowardly denial, for very much longer. In that context, reflections on vision, as well as social-political analysis, and on political philosophy, become imperative, and more urgent than ever. Here, I will reflect briefly on anarchism, as a current of political philosophy and social movements, both past and present.
Anarchism is a wide river - it has many different currents within it, some of them completely at odds with one another. At its core, anarchism is a disposition, a spirit of freedom, with no fixed ideology. There are ideologies or political philosophies within that wide river of thought which is anarchism, but there is no one single ideology or political philosophy which all anarchists agree to.
For example, Stirner advocated an amoral, nihilist egoism, which makes many, if not most anarchists, shudder in horror. Kropotkin on the other hand, advocated freedom combined with voluntary mutual aid, a view which is in some ways the polar opposite of Stirner's egoism, since Stirner felt individuals should have no concerns or commitments to anyone but themselves; certainly not to their community, nor even to their family. For myself, and for most anarchists, Stirner's views, while valuable in their critique of the state, are unacceptable in their one-sided valuing of freedom over community, cooperation and mutual aid, or any sense of human moral decency.
In the 21st century, among anarchists, and also among the broader human family, I believe the current direction of human consciousness is moving towards an embracing of freedom, in harmony and integration with cooperation, a spirit of community, and voluntary mutual aid, and a rejection of any one-sidedness, which on one extreme produces totalitarian collectivism, which denies freedom, and on the other extreme, produces a nihilistic, hyper-individualism and narcissistic egoism, which denies the values of community, cooperation, mutual aid, ethics and compassion, thus dissolving all social bonds into a Hobbesian war of all against all, heading invariably towards either social collapse, or a fascist-authoritarian reaction to the chaos and decay that it causes and brings about.
To embrace, uphold and unite the two fundamental values of freedom and compassion - or freedom and community, or freedom and mutual aid, however you prefer to phrase it - I believe, is the road to true freedom, a better life, a moral and virtuous life, and a better world for all. In fact, it is the road out of our present dark age, and into a new renaissance.
So, while there are distinct political philosophies within anarchist thought, taken as a whole, anarchism is more of a disposition than a single over-arching philosophy. It is a disposition of scepticism with regards to authority, an aversion to, or rejection of domination, and of course, a spirit of freedom; which necessitates also, a spirit of anti-authoritarianism and anti-elitism. How these values are articulated and applied, varies widely within that great, wide river which is anarchism.
We could say that all anarchists are libertarians, but there are many forms of libertarianism, ranging from anarchist-communists such as Kropotkin, to left-libertarian republicans such as Thomas Paine; to the neocons, who in reality are among the extreme right, and who want to eliminate government in favour of a straight-forward corporate rule.
(Neoliberals seek the same thing, in essence, as the neocons, by merging corporations and the state, but with a veneer of cosmopolitan humanism, a facade of liberal democracy, and a velvet glove to conceal the iron fist. Both the neoconservatives and neoliberals are crypto-fascists, by the way, so we must beware that not everyone who poses as republicans, democrats or libertarians, value freedom. Some simply value fascism, and the bipartisan ruling elite are among them.)
Basically there are two broad wings to libertarianism: that of the left, and that of the right. Libertarians on the right, who sometimes call themselves anarcho-capitalists (a clear oxymoron, suitable only for morons) seek to shrink or eliminate government, but advocate laissez-faire capitalism - foolishly believing this will yield freedom, being blind to the fact that corporate power, not state power, has ruled for over a century, and will rule unencumbered, and in utter tyranny, if we simply remove the state, without also removing the corporate oligarchy from power. Left libertarians seek to reduce and ultimately eliminate *any* form of tyranny or domination, whether by a political elite or a business elite. The former are dangerously naive, in my opinion. The latter at least have some grip on reality.
The elements I will briefly list here are *sometimes* attached to anarchist thought by *some* anarchists, but not all. Remember that, for it is extremely important.
What are some of the elements of anarchist thought that I agree with?
A spirit of freedom, and an active valuing of freedom
Horizontal networks of shared power, and a rejection of top-down, pyramidal power structures rooted in domination and submission
Radical, participatory democracy
Self-management, self-determination and self-government
Voluntary association, cooperation and mutual aid
An emphasis on the individual and the local, while retaining and nurturing federations and networks of mutual assistance regionally, nationally and internationally
Aversion to dogma, group-think, and doctrinaire attitudes
A rejection of absolutism
Anti-censorship; pro free speech - of course
A rejection of legalism - not a rejection of law, rules or regulations, but a rejection of undue deference or veneration of laws, rules or customs over conscience and common sense (see Lao Tzu, Thoreau, Godwin and Proudhon)
A rejection of perfectionism
A recognition that for human life to flourish requires a balancing of structure and spontaneity; and a recognition that life is better, more vibrant, richer, more fulfilling, freer, and better organized and ordered, when order emerges organically, than when "order" is imposed from above, through regimentation, uniformity, and command and control structures of domination and submission, which squash freedom, along with creativity, dignity, imagination, innovation, natural intelligence, compassion and cooperation, and joie de vivre.
An openness to genuine progress, but rejection of fatalistic, self-justifying ideologies of inevitable "progress"; and a rejection of the notions of industrialism, economic growth or technology as panaceas or as ends in themselves
Utopianism in its imaginative, creative, visionary, and also, patient, non-aggressive and humble forms
Rejection of the various forms of domination and bigotry, including classism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, aggressive forms of nationalism, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, and anthropocentrism, to name a few
A valuing of tolerance and diversity, and a rejection of homogeneity or standardization of culture
A rejection of militarism and war in general, and especially of war-profiteering, and war as a permanent state that is used to distract and to suppress the domestic population
Pro-revolution, but Gandhian, and by way of non-violent direct action
Revolutionary acts, such as speaking the truth (see Orwell) and others, not only as acts of defiance, resistance, and negation of unjust or tyrannical orders, but as joyous, life-affirming acts of creation and celebration - a la Emma Goldman: who said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.
Internationalism, but without a rejection of the nation-state, as a legitimate and potentially useful temporary tool for creating greater freedom from corporate oligarchy, or any form of elite rule
A rejection of Puritanism
Communitarianism conjoined with individual freedom
Individualism without selfishness or materialism
What elements do I disagree with?
Rejection of religion
Rejection of the family
Rejection of the nation-state, even in the short term
Violence as a political means
Impatient idealism, or impatient utopianism, which leads to hubris, arrogance, aggression, domination, elitism, prescriptive ideology, fanatical ideology, and authoritarianism
This is an incomplete list, clearly, but a good rough outline.
Whose views are closest to mine? In terms a long term vision, Kropotkin is closest to my own views, for his valuing of freedom combined with voluntary mutual aid, above all; and Oscar Wilde, for his valuing of the arts, culture, creativity, self-actualization, self-expression and imagination. For near term vision, Bookchin is closest to my views. But closer to my own thoughts, especially in terms of immediate priorities, are Thomas Paine and Henry David Thoreau.
(Lao Tzu, Thomas Paine and Thoreau lived before anarchism became a recognizable political philosophy or body of ideas, but they are unquestionably anarchist in spirit; or in the case of Thomas Paine, who was a left-republican, and maybe the greatest of the democratic revolutionaries, his views are decidedly left-libertarian, which makes him a close kin to the anarchists, if not a definite member of the family.)
As Thoreau said.... "When men are ready for it", then only, will men have no government. He, like myself, did not believe that people were or are ready for it yet. Hence, he was an eminently sensible, and practical anarchist. And I agree with his statement, "I do not wish for, at once, no government, but at once, a better government. Let every man state what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward attaining it."
What we cannot afford to do, is to lose the extremely important foundations which we have in terms of constitutional democracy, freedom and human rights. That means we need, as Chomsky argued, a limited and temporary defence of the nation-state. If we lose the nation-state now, we will have a consolidated global corporate oligarchy, not freedom, and we will lose constitutional democracy and human rights, which would mean we face an even uglier and more brutal tyranny than we have now. Sadly, many anarchists and libertarians fail to understand this, even though it should be blindingly obvious.
We must move forward and upward, and not allow ourselves to be beaten down and driven back into the Dark Ages, as the current global oligarchy is actively and zealously seeking to do, in their quest to create a neo-feudal global fascist empire.
See the self-described "proud anarchist", Rocco Galati, who also happens to be the leading constitutional lawyer in Canada. He understands well, what the faux-left, along with most liberals, social democrats, progressives and conservatives, and many anarchists and libertarians, do not.
It is of extreme importance that we, no matter what are philosophies, ideologies or views may be, first come to understand what is actually going on, and now.
Liberal democracy is dead. It died because the great majority of the people were too lost in their cell phones, their addiction to getting and spending, materialism and consumerism, and their addiction to social media and entertainment, to defend it, or even to realize it was in danger. It died because the global corporate elite took advantage of a crisis, and took advantage of the sleep-walking and distracted, opiated masses, to impose a thinly veiled global fascist coup. But it died, above all, and at root, because, while the founders of liberal democracy took pains to place checks and balances on the powers of church and state, they left the growing economic powers of business elites and the corporations they control, unchecked. We failed in our vigilance; now, we are paying the price. The question now is, where do we go from here?
In short, as I wrote about at greater length in my first published book, Enlightened Democracy, I would hope for anarchist-communalism, akin to Kropotkin's vision, as a long term goal - when, or where, the people are ready for it, and not before, because the principle of non-aggression is fundamental; libertarian socialism, visa-vis Bookchin's social ecology, as a near term goal, with the same stipulation; and a vigorous and passionate defence of constitutional democracy, as the immediate, urgent necessity of the hour.
Again, we must not so lose sight of present realities in our idealized utopian visions, that we fail to defend what modest but important gains we have made, and what foundations we do already have, and in our blindness and idealism, be driven back literally into the Dark Ages. We must defend the basic foundations of freedom and human rights, which lie in constitutional democracy, or else be ready for a dark and dismal, Orwellian dystopia ahead.
Distinguish and separate long term vision from immediate practicalities and short term goals, and we can have an anarchism, or more simply and more broadly, a popular movement, with sensibility, practicality, vision, and power, which will inspire and catalyze the people to action - maybe not to the instant revolution which the more naive utopians wish for, but toward a better world for all, in reality, and not just in a fairy tale or a dream.
The great majority of people now are disillusioned with neoliberalism, globalism, globalization, crony capitalism, monopoly capitalism, de facto corporate rule and corporatism; and they are not impressed by, but are rightfully and deeply sceptical and wary of, Marxist-Leninism, statist authoritarian socialism, state capitalism, or authoritarianism in any form. Their instincts are good, and their awakening continues - and their instincts are toward freedom and mutual aid. This bodes well, at least for the long term; even though the near term looks dark, and dystopian in the extreme.
Keep a long term perspective, and fight the good fight - which means, fight for freedom, united with compassion and mutual aid.
Above all, we must counter, and demolish, the lie that freedom and compassion are incompatible. They are not. In fact, history has proven, that if we lose one, we will invariably lose them both.
Remember: Those who would trade a little liberty for a little security, deserve neither. And I would add, they will lose both, in that Devil's bargain.
No to authoritarianism - under any pretext, or for any supposed justification. That is the most essential point, now or at any other time.
J. Todd Ring,
December 1, 2021