“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
- Lord Acton
“The most improper job of any men, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it - and least of all, those who seek the opportunity.”
- JRR Tolkein
"In times of universal deceit, speaking the truth is a revolutionary act."
- George Orwell
“You should keep a long term perspective.” - The Dalai Lama
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.
There are several political philosophies which still have some influence in the world, even though most of them have been discredited, and for that reason, there is a vacuum of vision and ideology at present. But the great majority of people have had no education in political philosophy, or in philosophy more broadly; and what education they have had in it, is almost exclusively a miseducation, and a blinding indoctrination. There is much to be clarified. And it is true that if people have no political philosophy, then they are likely to have no strong principles or values either; and when people have no strong or clear principles or values, they will stand for nothing, and will fall for anything. That is nihilism, and it is a rotting bog, and the seed pool for totalitarianism - and it is the real pandemic that is plaguing the world now. That is just one of the reasons why it is critical to gain a greater clarity on political philosophy, history and political-economy now.
Still, classical liberalism, which is to say, the main current of democratic republicanism, and its variations of conservatism and libertarianism; along with democratic socialism, Marxist-Leninism, and anarchism, still hold some power, and are worth reflecting on and discussing; and particularly left anarchism, or left libertarianism, which I would say holds the most promise of them all. Of course, there are a few who prefer theocracy or absolute monarchy, or military dictatorship, but only a very few. And it should not surprise us that the elite prefer totalitarianism - since they have a demonstrated and openly confessed lust for power; either in the form of fascism, or in the form of the Chinese model of corporate-communist totalitarianism, which the Western elite are now madly in love with, and are eagerly and aggressively importing and imposing on the people across the West, and around the world, as we speak.
Here, I will reflect briefly on anarchism, as a current of political philosophy and social movements, both past and present.
For the record, normally I would not count myself as an anarchist, nor even a libertarian. I would say that, above all, and first and foremost, I am a republican and a democrat (though I generally despise labels), and a philosopher who is far more in sync and in harmony with Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Henry David Thoreau, or with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., than with Karl Marx, for example.
(Marx was a brilliant sociologist, but a terrible philosopher, and, at best, a dangerously naïve political philosopher, filled with messianic elitist fantasies of how the wise and benevolent vanguard elite would save the world, not realizing what Lord Acton understood, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. One Thoreau or Thomas Paine, therefore, is worth thirty million Marxists, or thirty billion. I respect Marx and the Marxists - I just think they are naïve. But we can agree to disagree - as long as they don’t set up a vanguardist police state where I live.)
The terms, libertarian, and especially the term, anarchist, are simply far too misunderstood to be useful in general conversation. In fact, I generally avoid the use of labels and -isms altogether, or at least as much as possible, and stick to a straight-forward discussion of the specific issues.
People tend to behave as sheep, sadly, more often than not - in part due to a human weakness which is the down-side of the social instinct of cooperation and mutual aid, wanting to stick with the pack at all costs, and to a larger degree, due to social conditioning, in a society based in hierarchical power structures and institutions, and a culture of obedience to authority - and their indoctrination over-rides their innate common sense and natural intelligence, such that, as soon as they hear or read a label, all critical thinking, and all rational thought, becomes impossible for them. Better to leave all labels aside, therefore, at least as a general rule.
But every rule, or nearly every rule, has its exceptions.
If pressed, I would say that my long term hopes for humanity would be some form of libertarian socialism. But by far my greater concerns are with the more immediate and pressing issues, which are, the defence of our fundamental human rights, basic freedoms, and constitutional democracy. Without those things, we will not have a utopian society, but a positively dystopian one. I think it is of critical importance that we bear that in mind, and come to understand it fully, deeply, and viscerally.
But on to the subject of anarchism, and its broader context of libertarianism, both right and left.
Tolkien was unquestionably a libertarian, by the way, and with strong anarchist leanings; and a left libertarian, who clearly believed in voluntary mutual aid as the greatest source of strength we have, not only to enrich and ennoble our lives and the lives of others, but also, to resist and to defeat tyranny and evil, and to oppose and undo all forms of domination and subjugation. The fact that his major work, The Lord of the Rings, is the most widely read book in history, bodes well for humankind.
The Lord of the Rings tells of the corrupting influence of power. And what is the Shire, but an idyllic rural village, which Tolkien himself said is basically libertarian in nature - based in simplicity, self-reliance, and voluntary mutual aid?
We understand the sensibility of The Lord of the Rings, as well as its good-heartedness, instinctively and intuitively. If, or when, the people begin to trust their intuitions and common sense more, and their “leaders”, and "great men”, a little less, then only, will we be free; and then only, will we see a better world for all. But there is clear hope, because, as Chomsky has said, “The great majority of people have basically decent impulses.” The problem is, the people have been conditioned not to trust themselves. That, is the very crux and core of the problem, and not any ruling elite, or sociopathic few.
Henry David Thoreau, another great literary figure, was also undeniably libertarian in disposition, and also with clear and strong anarchist affinities. So too were Zamyatin, Huxley, Ursula Le Guin and Orwell. Thomas Jefferson was also unquestionably a libertarian republican democrat, who urged federalism with political decentralization, participatory town hall democracy, and a crushing of what he called “the moneyed aristocracy” - which would also make him a left libertarian. But let’s step back, to cover the spirit of anarchism in its breadth, before we become lost in the figures associated with anarchism and libertarianism, and their thoughts. Big picture first, always; then zoom in to flesh out the details. Otherwise, we may never be able to see the forest for the trees - a condition which is, sadly, the nearly universal norm, and particularly so among intellectuals.
“I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least”; and I would like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it amounts to this, which also I believe: That government is best, which governs not at all. And when are prepared for it that will be the kind of government that they will have.” - Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau, and my greatest literary hero: iconoclast, free-thinker, free-spirit, beloved naturalist and lover of nature, fierce critic of any and all abuses of power, abolitionist, anti-war activist, and America’s greatest philosopher, in my view (who else compares? Only his close friend, Emerson), as well as the author of Walden - the best critique of the modern world, ever written; and the monumentally important essay, On Civil Disobedience. Remember, all great tracts, even such as the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, are mere pieces of paper, unless we have the courage to defend them - and this short essay urges us to obey our own conscience, and not any external authority, and to resist and to revolt, whenever the government or the law violates that sacred trust, to obey our own conscience, above all. That, to me, makes it the single most important political tract ever written; seconded closely by Etienne de La Boitee’s essay, The Discourse On Voluntary Servitude. Not bad for one man, who lived alone in the woods for a good part of his life.
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 moral human 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.
Those, in a nutshell, are the founding principles of left libertarianism, or left anarchism, or a left-libertarian republicanism, by the way. I believe they are the only sound basis for any just or decent society, or any society of people who want to be free, and, who want to have a society that is not hell-bent for self-destruction and collapse, as our current 21st century society is.
In asserting that the deeper current in our 21st century, late-modern world, and the current which will win out in the end, is towards freedom, independence, self-government, and also, voluntary cooperation and mutual aid, we can look to many sources of evidence. One source are public opinion polls, which routinely show that 70-80% of people in the US, for example, want universal public health care, as is the norm in the rest of the major industrialized nations. Most people now, across the world, favour a social safety net, public pensions, publicly funded colleges and universities, and public primary and secondary education (though these are problematic, for reasons of systemic indoctrination, which is not inevitable, but is sadly the norm), public health care, public assistance for the poor, unemployed, sick or disabled, publicly funded, or privately funded but mandated, minimum paid annual sick leave and vacation leave (5-8 weeks in Europe for the latter), publicly funded maternity and parental leave (1-2 years in Europe), publicly funded (or co-op) child care, even publicly funded laundry services, as they have in France, publicly funded hospice care, elder care, and in-home respite care and personal support for the elderly and disabled, public utilities such as electricity, water, sanitation, and internet, public libraries, public fire departments, public roads and public transit, public parks, nature reserves, sports centres, theatres, art galleries and museums, and other public venues, public funding of the arts and sciences, public funding to support entrepreneurship, innovation, new business ventures and local or national economic development, public funding of infrastructure programs and job creation programs, public funding for environmental protection, and public health protection (hopefully in non-authoritarian ways, with civil liberties, basic human rights, constitutional rule, and the right to refusal, the right of free choice and conscience, and uncoerced, voluntary, prior informed consent, as its rock solid foundation, in both law and in custom), along with a progressive tax system that moderately redistributes wealth, and puts checks and balances on excessive or extreme inequality. These are all socialist elements of society, as Michael Parenti has pointed out, and the great majority of people of have absolutely no qualms or objections to them, but in fact, strongly favour them all.
At the same time, we should also note that 70% of citizens of the United States, when polled, responded by saying that the motto of, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, seemed so ethically and morally just, decent and right, and so common sensical, that they thought it must have come from the Declaration of Independence, or the US Constitution. Of course, the maxim comes from socialism, and is shared by both authoritarian state-socialists, or Marxists-Leninists, and by anti-authoritarian socialists, or left libertarians. (Actually, the maxim was adopted by Marx, but preceded him in the traditions of the Left; and it ultimately traces back to the Bible, to the writings of Paul, in Acts, where he described how the early Christian church practiced what today we would call anarchist-communism.) So yes, there is widespread public support, and strong public support, for what I would call the cardinal, fundamental values of left libertarianism, which are freedom and mutual aid.
In short, the twin ideas and principles of freedom and mutual aid, or freedom and compassion, have overwhelming appeal to people globally, and especially so in our 21st century, hyper-alienated, techno-entranced, choked on consumerism, and becoming disgusted by it, ecocidal, genocidal, imperialist, technocratic, corporate-ruled, late-modern world. The fact that these two principles of freedom and mutual aid, or freedom and compassion, have widespread popular appeal, should be heartening, and deeply encouraging. And these are the founding principles of left-libertarian republicanism, which by now, is the political philosophy most in harmony with the hearts and minds of the people, even if they are momentarily caught up, entranced and ensnared, in a cult of obedience to the new normal of corporate oligarchy and authoritarianism. Their better instincts will prevail in the long run, even if the short term looks dire, and is.
We should also be aware that there was a quiet revolution in anthropology in the 1970s, which radically negates the more or less standard view of history, which was unwisely and unduly shaped by Hobbes, and his own great ignorance. Hobbes knew nothing of anthropology, which had not even been invented when he wrote his major work, Leviathan. Hobbes famously said that life before civilization was, “nasty, brutish and short”. Now, anthropology has decisively proven him wrong. We now know, from irrefutable archeological evidence, that we human beings have spent the vastly greatest part of our history on Earth (195,000 out of 200,000 years), living in societies that were based on freedom, equality and mutual aid. This proves that not only can we live in such a better way, but in fact, that it is the age of empires, built on a social model of hierarchies of power, domination and submission, that are the aberration. It is therefore anything but naïve to believe we can do it again. What is naïve, and steeped in ignorance and delusion, is to think that our current status quo is permanent and immutable, inevitable, unalterable, or that we can do no better. Certainly we can.
Moreover, science has now confirmed what Kropotkin himself demonstrated with ample evidence, as an evolutionary biologist, and one superior to Darwin, frankly, in his major landmark book, Mutual Aid. That is, we human beings, like all of the more social and intelligent species, have a natural empathy and compassion, and a natural impulse toward cooperation and mutual aid. Why we put up with a society with such predatory elites, systemic injustice, and extreme inequality, is a matter of social psychology, not one of inevitability or immutability, but simply a temporary bondage and blindness that can be overcome.
(See Bookchin, Eisler, Gimbutas, Rifkin, and Joseph Campbell.)
Has anarchism, or left-libertarianism, ever been tried on a large scale, in the modern world? Yes, in the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939, the main forces, or actors, called themselves republicans, as I would also call myself by the way; but they were mainly left-libertarian republicans, or what we could alternately call left anarchists. And the people ran the factories, the farms, the logistics, shipping and distribution, the economy, the schools and hospitals, and every part of a modern industrial society, on the anarchist principles of self-management and voluntary mutual aid; and they ran an advanced industrial economy and society very well - even while fighting a war against the fascists. George Orwell, and many thousands of others, volunteered to go and fight along side the republicans, and against the fascists, by the way; which Orwell wrote about in his book, Homage To Catalonia. Unfortunately, the US and Britain supported the fascists over the republicans; and so, Franco and his fascist forces crushed the revolution, which would likely have succeeded, were it not for the demolition forces of the US and Britain. (The faux-liberal Western elite have demonstrated a strong preference for fascism, over the past century, so we should not be surprised at this.) Nonetheless, important lessons were learned, and experience was gained. Most importantly, it was proven beyond any reasonable doubt, that an anarchist model of society, or left libertarian, can function extremely well, and in a modern industrial society.
Mondragon, the biggest co-op in the world, which is also in Spain, and is one of Europe’s largest and most consistently successful, stable and profitable corporations, also proves the anarchist/left-libertarian model works perfectly well - and with better working and living conditions for the people; and not just in remote, rural agrarian societies.
In short, anarchism, or left libertarianism, works extremely well in pre-industrial, rural agrarian societies, or in highly urbanized industrial societies - and it is certainly far better than feudalism, absolutism, state-capitalism, statist-authoritarian socialism, neoliberalism, or the technocracy which we are being force fed, and shackled to, today.
What would an anarchist or left libertarian society look like? Imagine community-controlled policing, budgets, utilities, transportation, health care, schools, and food and agriculture systems. These things are all possible, and many of them have already been done, and have been proven to work. In short, an anarchist or left libertarian society would mean greater freedom, greater equality, and a far greater degree of empowerment for individuals and local communities. What is so bad or terrifying about that? It sounds very reasonable, and very good, to me.
It would mean that our participation in the democratic process would go from casting a ballot once every few years, to going to a town hall meeting once a month, but that is about the only drawback, if that’s even a drawback, since that too is radically empowering.
What about economics? Economics are obviously a major part of our lives, and our society, but they are not the sole issue, nor would I say they are even the primary issue; moreover, if we focus too exclusively on economics, we can easily lose sight of many other important issues - the central one being power. The left has often lost sight of the need for a redistribution of power, which is absolutely fundamental and critical, because they either focus too one-sidedly on redistribution of wealth, or else get lost in identity politics, and forget about economic issues altogether. We need a redistribution of wealth, clearly, and a redistribution of land, far more fundamentally. Identity politics have also played, and continue to play, an important role, in countering the cultural issues of racism, sexism and xenophobia. But identity politics have made millions of people forget about basic issues of whether or not you can feed your kids, or pay your mortgage or rent. That’s a problem. It has also sadly divided the people, when we need precisely the opposite: to unite the people. But the central issue is not economics or identity politics, but power. Naturally all three intersect, but if we cannot distinguish each one of the three, and see how they interrelate, then we are lost. By saying the central issue is power, I mean that the richest 1% of the 1% are not only stratospherically rich, while five billion live people in poverty: I mean, we have allowed the business elite to amass such vast ecnomic power, that they have now taken over the governments, and have effectively taken over most of the world. That is a hyper-concentration of power, and that is the central issue. Certainly it is intertwined with economics, race, gender, etc., but it is the vast over-concentration of power which is the central issue. We need to keep that clearly in mind, or we are lost. And at this point, I don’t see how that is going to change, short of a revolution - a non-violent, Gandhian revolution, I would urge. But we have to build up to that. I don’t think the people are ready for it yet, although I would be overjoyed to be proven wrong.
How do we help the people and the planet now, while building the momentum needed for truly revolutionary change? I believe it starts at the grassroots, and at the local level. One way is to build parallel structures, systems, networks and communities. Build the new society within the shell of the old. Revolutionary change will most likely be facilitated and catalyzed by that.
We have witnessed the failure of gigantism, globalism, corporatism and globalization. There is a rebirth of the local underway. That is a good and necessary thing. That, and not so much elections, and not vanguardist or elitist political parties, are what will most likely bring about real change.
As to economic systems, again, if we value freedom or democracy, then we must also value tolerance and diversity. Why not have semi-autonomous, highly self-reliant, vibrant communities, some of which are libertarian socialist, some are anarchist-communist, some are anarcho-capitalist, and some with mixed economies, with family-owned farms and businesses working alongside co-op farms and businesses? Diversity is a strength, remember, not a weakness.
And moreover, we need to unite the people across our great and wondrous diversity, and form alliances, networks and federations, for mutual protection and mutual aid. This is all achievable, and in fact, is already underway. And the left-libertarian, right-libertarian and anarchist models, can be, and are, a big part of that growing relocalization movement, which is now beginning the task of healing the planet, while uplifting the people.
(See also, my essays on land reform and regenerative agriculture.)
But what of the bad apples? What of human nature? Surely it cannot be that easy or that simple? The most important answer to that, I think, is a saying from Switzerland, which my great Swiss aunt was very fond of: “Complicated works too.”
It also makes me think of the Buddhist teachings on Buddha Nature, or the intrinsic, basic goodness and wakefulness of Being: It is said there are only three obstacles to realizing our Buddha Nature: “It’s too close, it’s too simple, and it’s too easy.” Again, complicated works too.
Most people associate anarchy with chaos - as they have been indoctrinated to think. They have been suckled from birth on the Hobbesian delusion, ideology, or lie, that without a strong central government, ruled of course by wise and benevolent, paternalistic elites, life would be “nasty, brutish and short”, and would devolve instantly into a war of all against all. There is no empirical evidence to support such a delusional ideology, however, or such a plain and obvious rationalization for elite power; and in fact, the anthropological evidence is overwhelming in its contradiction and refutation of such a deluded world view. People, when left alone, tend to spontaneously form voluntary associations of mutual aid and mutual protection. They spontaneously organize themselves in ways that are mutually beneficial. There are small crimes, yes, and they are dealt with by the community; but the really big crimes, and the great atrocities, are only possible when power is centralized and greatly over-concentrated in a few hands. Remove the hierarchical power structures of vast over-centralization and extreme over-concentration of power, and the small crimes will remain, but all of the really great atrocities, generally speaking, will be a thing of the past.
Anyone who uses the term anarchy as a synonym for chaos, by the way, is either deeply indoctrinated and deeply ignorant, or else a liar and a propagandist. Anarchy is a word that stems from the Latin, an-archos: meaning, an absence of an over-arching power. It means there is no central government, and no ruling elite: it does not mean there are no rules, no order, no organization, or no way to deal with crime and punishment. Certainly there is. There always is. People are not stupid. They see a problem, and they deal with it.
The really great problems arise when you have elitist institutions of hierarchical, overly centralized power, when two things happen routinely as a result: great crimes and great injustices become institutionalized and routine; and simultaneously, the people are treated like children, which means, they learn to think and to behave like children - helpless and dependent upon the state, the government, and the ruling elite, to think for them, and to protect them, and to solve their problems for them. That is the inevitable result of hierarchical power structures and over-centralization. But when these things are removed, people quickly recover their innate common sense, and they work out their own problems, collectively, because that is what human beings do - we are instinctively social creatures.
What happens with hierarchical power structures of greatly over-centralized and excessively concentrated power, is that the government and the state quickly becomes captured by the most powerful individuals, groups, or vested interests in the society. That is why Thomas Jefferson warned in 1812, more than 200 years ago, “I pray we shall crush the moneyed aristocracy in its infancy, for already it bids defiance to our laws and seeks a contest of strength with our democratic government.” Unfortunately, we did not heed the warning, and now, the corporate elite have thoroughly taken over.
When powerful vested interests institutionally capture the government and the state, which is the nearly universal pattern, then the government and the state no longer serves and protects the people, as it theoretically is supposed to do, but instead serves and protects the privileged elite.
In sociology it is called institutional capture - and that happened over 150 years ago, in the formerly liberal democratic nations, virtually all of which rapidly descended in crony capitalism, and by the 1970s, into neoliberalism or neoconservatism, which is essentially the merger of big business and the state - which, as Mussolini himself said, is the definition of corporatism, which he said, is the proper term for fascism.
As Chomsky has said, “This is a business-run society, whose cardinal virtue is deceit.” That should be considered Political-Economy 101. In fact, it should be the subject of the first lecture, on the first day, of Political-Economy 101. Anyone who doesn’t realize that fact, is simply living in a dream world. The knowledge of this fact should inform and contextualize every issue and every subject within the society. If it doesn’t, then we are simply not dealing with the real world.
It is not inevitable that the government or the state serves the interests, primarily and overwhelmingly, of the rich, and not the people as a whole, but it is the nearly universal norm. If we don’t like that, we do have the power to change it. But we should at least have no illusions about government, the state, or centralized, hierarchical power structures. They are marketed to the people, from birth, as a necessity, for the protection and benefit of the people; but in reality, in truth, they are there, primarily and above all, to serve and protect the wealthy elite from the masses. Let’s not be naïve about it. I know I have used that word a lot, but it is appropriate, and there is no other way to describe it. If we wish for a better society or a better world, we have to start by educating ourselves, and by questioning our indoctrination; otherwise, all our efforts are an exercise in futility.
What of crime and punishment; law and order? There are only a few crimes which are of significance, and virtually everyone agrees they are unacceptable - and they would be dealt with in any society, no matter what its form of government, or whether or not it even had a government. Murder, rape, theft, assault, arson, fraud, pedophilia, despoiling of the commons - these summarize the main crimes, and any community with basic common sense, can deal with them all, even simply on a community level. A combination of restitution, mediation, community service, fines, and as a last resort, prison or exile for repeat offenders, would take care of the problems of crime and punishment; and they can be dealt with at the local level, without the need for a labyrinthine legal code, a bloated, vast, labyrinthine bureaucracy, or a million rules, with a million and one loopholes - and they can even be dealt with, without a central government.
Our great, vast excess of complexity in modern society, which only gets staggeringly greater, virtually by the day, as the historian Joseph Tainter has said, in his study of how and why societies collapse, may well be our undoing - and probably will be, judging from our present course, unless we change our course. A greater degree of complexity is not what we need. We are already drowning in an absurd level of over-complexity. And as Einstein said, “A problem cannot be solved by using the same thinking that created it.” And moreover, “To continue to repeat the same methods, expecting different results, is the very definition of insanity.” We have built a towering ziggurat, of technocratic, bureaucratic, elite rule, and vast complexity which leads to exponentially increasing fragility of the system. The ziggurat may look impressive, towering into the sky and piercing the clouds, but it is a castle made of sand, and the tide is now coming in. Preparing the lifeboats would be a wise idea now. This system will not last.
We moderns have a tendency to vastly over-complicate everything. Life does not have to be so complicated. And our tendency to overcomplicate things, simply causes us great stress, meaningless toil, frenzied rushing, loss of dignity and freedom, greatly diminished quality of life, isolation, alienation and loneliness; and no real gains of any significant worth come out of the bargain. As Thoreau said, “Simplify, simplify.” And trust yourself. Alan Watts was right: “People who mistrust themselves and others are doomed.” It is the pervasive mistrust and alienation of the modern world which is its biggest problem and greatest danger - stemming from our disposition to vastly overcomplicate everything, and in turn reinforcing the alienation, mistrust and fear, in a feedback loop made in hell. It is not the few individuals who do terrible things that are the real problem; but the great majority who live in perpetual fear, who create a dystopia out of their fear, and then wonder why life is so dismal.
In every culture and every generation there is a tiny minority who are simply sociopathic; and in every culture and generation there are those who have an insatiable greed, or lust for power, or a will to power, which, being confused, perverted and distorted, leads to a will to dominate. These are essentially boyish men and childish women, who, in their deep, hidden insecurity as to their own worth, seek to feel special, and important, by dominating others. But not everyone shares in their pathology. The great majority do not. Most people intuitively realize the truth of the matter, which is: the will to power is the will to dominate, which degrades and demeans both the dominated and the dominator; but the will to empowerment, is, or can be, mutually empowering, mutually uplifting, and mutually beneficial. When the many trust themselves more, and habitually obey and defer to authority less, then their better instincts will prevail, and we will have a better world for all - not because humanity has undergone a radical change in nature, but because our better selves are simply coming to the fore.
Remember, the people outnumber the power elite by over a million to one. Moreover, the elite are utterly dependent upon the people; but the people can live quite well, and much better, without the elite. That means the people always have the greater power, as Etienne de La Boite, David Hume, and many others, realized as well.
Further, the elite have no power unless the people give them their power. When the people refuse to continue giving away their power, the game is over. For example, who runs the post offices, the mail system, the telecommunications system, the shipping and transportation system, and all of the systems of the global corporate oligarchy, which now rules over most of the world? It is the people who make all of this work, and if the people stop work, and stop lending their power to the elite, in order to make the machine run, the systems grinds to a halt. At that point, we have won, and we can set our own terms of surrender - for the elite to follow, not us.
When more people live as men and women, and not as sheep and mice, then we will quickly be free, and we will see a better world. So long as they submit to a system of chronic degradation, stress and exploitation, they will remain in chains - even if they are too indoctrinated, inured, distracted and numb, to see their chains.
We should note here that the level of popular discontent is rising to a fever pitch, and to a tipping point. Protests continue to spread and to grow world-wide. The great majority of people world-wide have lost their faith, confidence, and trust in the political and business elite, and in the media as well. (See the WEF poll of 2003, as commented on by Chomsky, in his talk, Confronting the Empire.) We have had over 40 years of neoliberalism in the West, which means austerity for the masses, and a bottomless feeding trough for the super-rich corporate elite, and with a merger of big business and the state, and the full institutional capture of the state, the government, the media, the economy and the financial system by the business elite; that has fueled skyrocketing inequality and the gutting of the middle class, which has fueled the long standing crisis of legitimacy, and deepened it; and the answer of the elite, since 2001, has been to go into lock-down mode, meaning, to shift to fascism - which of course, has been amplified and intensified under the pretext of “fighting covid”. The major political parties, particularly in the US, but across the Western world, are facing a profound and deepening crisis of legitimacy, as are the political and business elite generally. The opinion polls routinely show the Democratic and Republican parties in the US, for example, to have lost virtually all of their credibility. Remember that two major, long-standing political parties in the US, collapsed and ceased to exist in the late 1800s. The US Democratic and Republican parties are heading fast toward the same fate. Their legitimacy and public support are paper thin. More people in the US are now independents than are supporters of either major political party. And among people under 40, the figures are even more glaring. Millennials are now the biggest voting block in the US, bigger than the Baby Boomers, and they are massively disillusioned with the system they live under, having no real economic future ahead, and with 45 million people now yoked and mired in student debt, that they are starting out with in life, with no way of ever paying it back, while the government, the major political parties, and the Wall Street business elite who rules them all, say no way to debt relief, much less a global debt jubilee, which would be the only economically sensible reboot option, as well as the only ethical thing to do. The situation is rapidly approaching critical mass. In 2006 I wrote that the situation has become a powder keg. The analysis was correct, and things have only become more explosive since then. 50-70% of people polled say their jobs are senseless and meaningless. The overwhelming majority of people either dislike or hate their jobs. Mental illness, anxiety, depression and addictions are pandemic. People are getting desperate, or alternately, fed up. And people are voting en mass, with their feet. There is an exodus from “bullshit jobs” (as a recent book title puts it) that is now underway. Wildcat strikes are popping up like mushrooms in the forest after a spring rain. People are quitting their jobs in groups, and just simply walking out the door. In the US, four million people resigned from their jobs in the month of September alone. Something big is coming. Be ready for a tectonic shift, or a tidal wave. The elite know this, which is why they are panicking, and building bunkers, as well as continuing to build their global police state, while simultaneously fantasizing about escaping to colonies on Mars. And again, I would say, man the lifeboats now - or be ready for a revolution; or both. Place yourself on ground where you feel strong, I would say, following the advice of Sun Tzu, and continue the fight for a better world from there. And remember, we certainly are not out of the woods yet. There is great conflict and turmoil on the near horizon.
I pray it is a peaceful rebellion, but it could also quite easily turn violent. And of course, whatever the people do, the systemic violence conducted and imposed by the state, the government, and the ruling elite, dwarfs any violence in the streets, by many orders of magnitude.
We are re-living the 1930s, in many ways. Think about that. What came out of the economic depression of the 1930s? On the one hand, a moderate compromise between the ruling elite and the 99% was reached, called the New Deal. But at the same time, fascism arose, and threatened to take over the world. We are now living through another global economic depression, with over half of Americans in the US now living below, at, or just above the poverty line - and that was before the political decision to lockdown the economy wiped out tens of millions of small businesses in the US alone, and drove millions more into poverty. Things are ripe for a major change, but that change could go in many different directions - some good, some horrific. It is akin to what Ilya Prigogine called precipitous conditions, for which he won the Nobel Prize: when gradual changes in a system accumulate, the system becomes unbalanced and unstable, and can shift radically and suddenly into a new state - and, the nature of the tiny elements or factors affecting the system at that time, can dramatically affect what kind of new state arises. In other words, what comes next, is largely up to us. But the situation remains unpredictable, and highly volatile. It is important that we stay calm, clear-headed, and alert. This is truly a pivotal time in our history. And we cannot afford to be mere spectators, or pretend to neutrality. Neutrality now is complicity with evil. It is complicity with the rising tide of fascism. It is unconscionable, and it is foolish, in the extreme. Now is the time for clear heads, good hearts, and courage.
Of course, while the great majority do have “basically decent impulses”, as Chomsky has said, and I heartily concur, and as the scientific evidence also fully supports; they can also be deceived into supporting authoritarianism, fascism, or totalitarianism of some other sort, and to abandoning their principles, their better instincts, and their common sense - as has happened, since 2020, and continues at the time of this writing.
The propaganda war is failing, however, so there is definite reason for hope, and more, for confidence. The official narrative is crumbling rapidly. It cannot be propped up for very much longer. A new narrative will surely be constructed, and as always, it will be used to rationalize vastly excessive powers for the ruling elite. But the propaganda war can no longer be won simply by shifting from one deceitful narrative to the next. Too many people are now seeing through the ruse. That is why the police state has been put in place, beginning in 2001. The elite know the showdown with the people is coming. And they are panicked. We should be ready - to avoid the dangers, and to seize the opportunities as they arise.
In any case, there is good reason to agree with Thomas Jefferson: we need not fear the people, but rather, the elite. It is, in Jefferson’s view, in Thomas Paine’s view, and in my own view, and in the view of all anarchists and libertarians, and anyone with a trace of common sense, the over-concentration of power, in too few hands, which is always the greatest of dangers. This is the context which is vital to keep in mind, if we are going to have any sensible or intelligent discussion about political or social philosophy. Remember, perspective is everything.
(The master of the preamble finally finishes his preamble, or nearly so… some 2,000 words in. Now to continue to the narrower subjects of anarchism, and its slightly broader context within libertarianism… A good essay should be like a good conversation, by the way - languid, thoughtful and meandering, and relaxed, returning to common themes for further discussion, in a pirouette of joy. Or it should be like making love - savored and unhurried.)
It would be good here to clarify some basic terms, which are widely misunderstood, or else poorly understood. Let’s go back to Political-Economy and Political Philosophy 101 - because it is simply necessary to return now to first principles, given that our society has clearly become unhinged, untethered, and completely lost, if not frankly insane.
What is a republic? What is a democracy? What is republicanism? Many people will assume they know the answers, but a greater degree of clarity is needed generally, including among most intellectuals and politicos.
Republic is a term stemming from the Latin, meaning, res publica: a thing of the people. Generally, a republic is based in democracy, but not always. The People’s Republic of China is a totalitarian regime, and certainly not a democracy, but it calls itself a republic. So we need to clarify what kind of republic we want, since virtually any nation can call itself a republic.
Democracy is a term that stems from the Latin as well: demos critus - meaning, people power, or, the people have the power. Most people today are in favour of democracy, and so, want a democratic republic, whether they are familiar with the terms or not. They are republican democrats, or democratic republicans, whether or not they know it. But then the next question arises: what kind of democracy do we want?
Do we want mob rule? Do we want a tyranny of the majority? If not, then we want a constitutional democracy, where the rights and freedoms of all individuals are guaranteed by a constitution. And again, most people today are in favour of constitutional democracy. They don’t want a majority of people to be able to decide to deport or exile all Muslims or Jews, for example, as was done in Spain in the 15th century. They want constitutional democracy, in order to protect the rights of every person.
The next question is, what kind of constitutional democracy do we want? Do we want power to be highly centralized in a national government, or a federal government; or do we want to decentralize power, in a federation, as Thomas Jefferson advised and urged? If we truly value freedom and democracy, then we will have to side with Jefferson, and seek a decentralized federalism, with limited powers for the national or federal government, and greater powers for its member provinces, territories or states.
Most of the more thoughtful libertarians agree with all of that so far, but want to limit the powers of any central government quite firmly. Most of the more thoughtful anarchists, I would say, would agree with all of that, accepting constitutional democracy and a federalist republic - except that they want to decentralize power even further, and limit the central government’s powers even more, giving the primary power to local governments, and the least amount of power to the highest levels of government, at the federal or nation-state level - if they agree to the existence of a nation-state at all, as I do, in a limited role, and as a temporary measure, in order to reign in the powers of the transnational corporations, and the global business and financial elite.
Anarchists and libertarians on the left advocate for a further step towards greater freedom and democracy: they urge economic democracy, to compliment the institutions political democracy - and they urge that the powers of economic democracy be held at the local level, and not in a centralized state, or national or federal government, such as in the Soviet Union or Communist China. And I would say, again, if we value either freedom or democracy, then we would accept this proposal, and see it as a necessary and beautiful, further unfolding and evolution, of freedom and democracy in human society.
When viewed in this light, anarchists are simply the most consistent in their application of the principles and values of republican constitutional democracy. They are neither naïve, nor starry-eyed: they are actually the most lucid of the lot.
But we need not seek an overnight utopia. In fact, whenever that has been tried, it has resulted in tyranny and dystopia. The Nazis and the Soviet Union, for example. Therefore, as Thoreau said, “when men are ready for it”, then they shall have a far greater share of freedom - and not before. Forcing idealistic programs down the throats of the people does not make you a radical: it makes you a tyrant. The world certainly needs less of that, not more.
Where libertarians of the right differ from left libertarians and left anarchists, is that libertarians of the right simply want to shrink or eliminate government and the state, believing this will result in freedom. It will not. First of all, it would leave the corporate empires and the corporate oligarchy in place, and effectively grant them total power, since there would be not even the slight bit of restrain put on them, that a democratic government provides. That would be neo-feudalism, not freedom. It would be tyranny worse than we already have, not liberation. Secondly, the principle of democracy is one person - one vote. But if you remove the democratic nation-state, and you leave the capitalist system unchecked, then you end up with a system based on one dollar equals one vote. Then you have all the democracy, and all the power, you can afford to buy. And again, we are back to oligarchy, tyranny, and neo-feudalism, not freedom or liberation. The fact that this has to be spelled out is appalling, but sadly, it must.
We should note here that libertarians of the right, who advocate for limited or no government, combined with laissez-faire capitalism - an economic system that destroys itself in short order whenever it is tried, as Pinochet’s Chile attests, we should further note - view all taxation as an act of coercion and aggression. That’s fine. The 5- 20% of the people who want right wing libertarianism, with deregulation, limited to no government, no taxes, and free-reign, wild-west capitalism, should be respected in their right to self-determination, independence, freedom and self-government. Let them have their own communities, or even states or regions, if referenda show the majority there want it, which operate autonomously, where they can make their own rules and laws, and be free of any state or nation’s laws, regulations or taxation - other than the one stipulation that they do not build or harbour weapons of mass destruction. I think most libertarians of the right would be thrilled with that prospect. Let them have it now, I say. Why delay a single moment? Do we believe in the principles of freedom and democracy, or do we not? If we do, then let them have their autonomous communities, counties, or regions. Why not? Do it right away, and let us be done with the pointless and futile quarrelling. Let the libertarian socialists build their own autonomous communities, counties and regions, based in freedom and mutual aid, and let the libertarians of the right build theirs, based on whatever principles or philosophy they choose to adhere to. Quarrel over.
And no, this is not an impossible dream. The potential, if not inevitable, break up of the US, Canada, UK and EU, over a fundamental disagreement between those who support authoritarianism, and those who value freedom and basic human rights, is coming fast to a head. There is roughly 30% of the people who are opposed to authoritarianism, which, just in the Western Hemisphere alone, amounts to roughly 500 million souls. If just one in five of them feel strongly enough to relocate, or even emigrate - myself included - that is 100 million people who are actively seeking, right now, a freer life, and a freer place to live and to raise children. Watch for parallel structures, communities and societies being born, and being created. It is already begun, and it will be a trend with explosive growth over the next two decades, as the reality of permanent totalitarianism sinks in to more people’s minds, and becomes suffocating and intolerable to a growing sea of millions, who prefer freedom to fascism, or totalitarianism of any kind. The exodus has begun. So too, the renaissance, and the awakening. Revolution is now brewing, as well. The coming years and decades ahead will be very interesting times. In some places, it will be nothing short of a rebirth. In many others, it will be a nightmare. Choose your ground wisely.
A bit more context for perspective may be in order, for those who have been sleep-walking - which, it would appear, is the great majority.
We have entered into a Devil’s bargain. We have traded a little liberty, for a little security - or at least, the illusion of security. This never ends well. But it will end.
The great majority of people have been lulled into surrendering their rights, their constitutions, and their freedom, out of fear, in return for the illusion of safety. There is no true safety or security in life. Life is unpredictable and insecure by its very nature. There are reasonable steps we can take to increase our safety, such as wearing a seatbelt in a car, or not driving 50mph down city streets. And then there are unreasonable, and deeply counter-productive steps we can take to increase our perceived safety. Surrendering our rights, our constitutions and our freedom, for the illusion of safety, is one of the more extreme, and extremely counter-productive and irrational, steps we can take.
We need to find a balance between safety and openness to life; which is also to say, a balance between safety, and the more important and fundamental value of freedom, without which, life is not worth living. If we pursue safety obsessively, and take our pursuit of safety to extremes, then we not only become deeply neurotic and paranoid, but we invite fascism - which is a horror and a danger far worse than any virus, or virtually any other danger we can possibly imagine. Short of a meteor wiping out all life on Earth, fascism, or any form of totalitarianism, is the worst possible thing that can happen, or be allowed to happen. And we have allowed it to happen - because we were neurotically obsessed with safety, to the point of irrational and insane degrees.
Furthermore, when we pursue safety in extreme and obsessive ways, we are moving towards the only certainty in life, and the only place of true and complete safety, which is being dead. No more life equals no more risk. By obsessing over safety in extreme degrees, we move towards death, and we become the living dead in the process - as well as fanatical, rabidly overzealous, tyrannical, fascistic, and insane.
The problems of modern society ultimately come down to an error of parallax: we are looking at things from the wrong perspective. Shift the perspective, and the problems become clearly seen, and clearly understood: then only, can we come up with meaningful, sensible and sane solutions, which do not simply treat the symptoms, while ignoring and even exacerbating the root causes - which is the virtually universal norm, especially among the ruling business and political elite. In order to do this, in order to gain a clearer perspective on what is really going on, and what the problems and potential solutions are, we need to be willing to question everything, and to question authority, and standard, official narratives, above all. This is now happening, fortunately. Things are dark indeed, but all hope is not lost. In fact, hope is only lost when we surrender to permanent subjugation or despair. Never surrender. As Thoreau said, “There is more day yet to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”
To return to our overview of anarchism, having established some sense of context, and some measure of critically important perspective, we should say again: 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 skepticism with regards to power and 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 façade of liberal democracy, and a velvet glove to conceal the iron fist. Both the neoconservatives and neoliberals are crypto-fascists, so we must beware that not everyone who poses as republicans, democrats or libertarians, values freedom. Some simply value fascism, and the bipartisan ruling elite, or tripartisan, since most social democrats have now joined their ranks, 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, to be perfectly frank) 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, a religious elite, or a business elite. The former are dangerously naïve, 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 willingness to think critically, and to think for oneself
A skepticism with regards to top-down thinking, and with regards to all systems and modes of thinking of command and control
A valuing of all life and all individuals, in their rich and great diversity, and a respect for the dignity of all human beings
A rejection of assimilation, and a strong favouring of cosmopolitanism, and unity amidst diversity
A willingness to question authority; and, where it is needed, because either the system or those in power, or both, are either inept and inadequate, or simply oppressive or corrupt, to challenge authority (see Henry David Thoreau, On Civil Disobedience, and Howard Zinn on civil disobedience)
The axiom which expresses the self-evident truth, that: Power, hierarchy and authority are not automatically justified or legitimate, but must prove their justness, and their legitimacy. The burden of proof lies always on the authority or power structure to prove its legitimacy. And most of the time, it has absolutely none, and therefore should be resisted, rejected, circumvented, and ultimately, abandoned and overcome.
The sovereignty of the individual over his or her own person, body and mind - which is also the foundation of all constitutional law, dating back to the signing of the Magna Carta, 800 years ago, in 1215; which means, it is also the foundation of all rule of law; and the foundation of all human rights. Without this firm principle, we will lose all our human rights, our freedom, our constitutional democracy, and all rule of law, and will be thrown back into the Dark Ages, living under a new form of feudalism, and rule by decree. Given that this is what is happening now, sensible and sane people should be deeply alarmed. Note also, that these are natural rights, and as such, are not granted by any government, but are innate, and hence, inalienable. That does not mean, however, that authoritarian regimes cannot abuse and disregard them; in fact, they invariably do. And again, that is exactly what is happening now, and that is precisely what has become, our deeply pathological, unjust, illegitimate, and criminal, “new normal”. Stand up for yourself! And moreover, stand up for your family and for humanity - and now!
The unassailable premise or axiom that: No government or state has any rights, or powers, but those which the people grant to it - and moreover, such rights and powers, unlike human rights, which are inalienable, can be revoked and withdrawn by the people, at any time of their choosing.
The natural right to self-defence, which includes the right to amend or to abolish the government, when it infringes upon the natural rights of women and men - which means, the right to revolution and revolt, as Thomas Jefferson also asserted, in the Declaration of Independence, of 1776. And that is a point that also deserves serious and earnest, substantial and sober-minded, reflective thought. Taxation without representation? If there were legitimate grounds for revolution in 1776, and there were, there are surely a thousand-fold stronger and more urgent grounds for it now, as the people now face a global corporate fascist coup, and the annihilation of all of their most basic human rights. What on Earth are we waiting for? A written invitation? Consider this it.
A spirit of freedom, and an active valuing of freedom, not just in theory, but in practice
Non-aggression - not obsequious niceties and feigned compassion, masquerading a thinly veiled authoritarianism, which is always a form of systematic aggression, institutionalized violence, and crimes against humanity. During the first Nuremburg Trials, and there will be more to come, Nazi war criminals sometimes made the defence, “I was just obeying orders”, or, “I was just doing my job.” The defence was found to be an indaequate excuse for committing crimes against humanity, and they were hung. We should bear that in mind. What are we complicit with today?
A separation of church and state - which must now, I would urge, be extended to include a separation of science and academia from the state, and likewise from the ruling corporate oligarchy. Without this protective measure, freedom of inquiry will certainly perish, and neither science nor academia will survive - and it will be back into the Dark Ages that we will plunge, as is already happening now.
Anti-globalization, or better put, alternative globalization (from below)
Fair trade over neoliberalism and corporate-imperialist rape and pillage
Independence over debt bondage
Horizontal networks of shared power, and a rejection of top-down, pyramidal power structures rooted in domination and submission
Radical, direct, grassroots democracy
Economic democracy - the workers manage themselves, or elect their own managers, and they do so at the local level, rejecting central planning and elitist state control, as well as rejecting laissez-faire capitalism, both of which result in tyranny and domination, of one form or another
Self-management, self-determination and self-government (see Rocker, Bookchin, Michael Albert, and The Take)
Voluntary association, solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid (see Kropotin)
A fairer and more egalitarian distrbution of land, which is the basis of all wealth, and therefore, also the basis of all power (see the Mexican Revolution and the Zapatistas)
An emphasis on the individual and the local, while retaining and nurturing federations and networks of mutual assistance regionally, nationally and internationally
A recognition of the difference between empowerment and domination; or power to, versus power over. Empowerment can be mutual, and mutually beneficial, and ennobling. Domination and its attendant submission are mutually degrading and dehumanizing to all parties. The former should be nourished; the latter, abandoned, and gradually abolished.
A recognition of the difference between leadership and mere dominance. True leaders inspire, uplift, and empower the people. Fake leaders seek their own power and privilege, and engage in a systematic swindling of the people, deceiving them into giving up their power to the “leader”, usually in return for promises that are seldom kept, and always bought at far too dear a price.
Wariness of careerism, opportunism, and cults of personality
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 and above conscience and common sense (see Lao Tzu, Thoreau, Godwin and Proudhon)
A rejection of perfectionism. Remember the deliberate flaw in the Persian rug: only God is perfect; mere mortals should always strive for excellence, never perfection; for the simple reason that perfectionism drives oneself and others crazy, and leads, furthermore, to perpetual anxiety and stress, and to self-doubt, and a loss of confidence, self-dignity, and trust in ourselves, which leads to apathy, cynicism, and passive-aggressive odedience and conformity; and to despotism, self-hate, tyranny and misanthropy (which is projected self-loathing), and frequently to the horrors of totalitarianism. Shun it like the plague. It is exactly that: a plague of the mind, and a social disease. Trust yourself. It is critically important. Keep an unvanquishable quiet confidence and self-dignity at all times. Practice compassion for all beings, oneself included.
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
A rejection of Social Darwinism - that crude, anti-empirical, pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-scientific, gross misinterpretation of Darwininan evolutionary theory, which is beloved by the elite, because it serves their self-deceptions, their lies and their delusions, by justifying and rationalizing extreme inequality, injustice, predation, greed, egomania, callousness, imperialism, innumerable atrocities, oligarchy and empire, by way of its pseudo-scientific psychobabble. (See Kropotkin for a truly scientific correction to the obvious self-delusions.)
An openness to genuine progress, but with a rejection of fatalistic, self-justifying ideologies of inevitable "progress", which can be used, and have been used routinely, to rationalize every kind of violence, tyranny and atrocity; and a concommitant 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 - and a thorough rejection of messianic authoritarianism, coming from either the right or the left
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 natural and sensible alliance with libertarian, republican, democratic, and anti-authoritarian socialist movements, labour movements, peasants movements, indigenous movements; antiwar, anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism movements, the womens’ movement, LGBT movements, decentralist and localist movements, the anti-globalist, anti-globalization and alternative globalization movements; the ecovillage, Transition Town and intentional community movements; and the environmental movement, and other liberatory movements, when they are not reactionary, authoritarian, or coopted by the ruling corporate elite, as they sometimes are
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 civil disobedience - conscience over custom and law
Pro non-violent direct action (see Gandhi, MLK, Howard Zinn and Thoreau)
Pro-revolution, but Gandhian, and by way of non-violent direct action, as well as activism by way of literature, culture, consciousness, and the arts, and through the building of parallel structures and better working models for human society
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, and particularly, constitutional democracy, as a legitimate and potentially useful temporary tool for creating greater freedom from corporate oligarchy, or any form of elite rule (and yes, some anarchists and libertarians are intelligent enough to understand this - it is about establishing a baseline, not an upper limit, to freedom)
A rejection of Puritanism is also essential, since it invariably leads to a deep-seated mistrust of life, nature, human nature, one another, and ourselves; which produces, in turn, a psychology and sociology of free-floating, generalized anxiety, frstration, discontent, anger and aggression, leading to mass mental illness, passive-aggressive norms, patterns of alternating domination and submissiveness, general docility punctuated by outbursts of misdirected anger, hate and rage, and a projection of underlying self-hate onto others, particularly scapegoats and official enemies; and to repression of oneself and others, which creates deeply neurotic and fearful individuals and societies, compulsively trying to prove their worth, and oscillating between hedonism and licentiousness on the one hand, and grim authoritarianism on the other. In short, Puritanism is another disease of the mind, and a social disease; like perfectionism, and closely related to it. Eradicate it. Naturalness with compassion, is the antidote. Or we could say, with the ancient Greeks, “Moderation in all things, including moderation.” Puritanism in short, is an intended cure, which produces far more darkness than it cures. And it cures nothing - it merely temporarily represses. And when the darkness breaks through the repression, as it inevitably does, it is generally far worse than if there had been no repression to begin with. A wholesome but gentle self-discipline is helpful; Puritanism and repression are anything but. (See William Blake, Erich Fromm, and the Taoist writings.)
Communitarianism, libertarian socialism, or federated municipalism/localism, conjoined with individual freedom, and a vigilantly firm stance of anti-authoritarianism
Individualism without selfishness or materialism, and with a remembrance that we are stronger, richer, safer, more ennobled, more creative, more empowered, and freer, when we unite and work together, than when we are divided and stand alone.
What elements do I disagree with, that are *sometimes* present, in certain currents of anarchist thought and praxis?
Nihilism - which is a rotting bog of mental illness, philosophical psychobabble and delusion
Materialism - which is a proven unscientific view, based in pre-quantum Newtonian physics, which is now obsolete for more than a century, and a disproven and delusional mechanistic view of the world: non-dualism, and not materialism or idealism, is the only accurate, scientific, or empirically valid view
Rejection of religion
Rejection of the family
Rejection of the nation-state, even in the short term
Violence as a political means.
Violence must be rejected, because it is strategically self-defeating. That is aside from the fact that it is repugnant to me personally, and I want nothing to do with it. This is not 1776. The great majority of people now reject violence. If you want their support, you must renounce violence. Otherwise, you are simply gesticulating futilely, and alienating the people whose support you are trying to enlist - and probably for reasons of self-indulgence or vanity, wanting to be heroic, or “radical”, not for strategic purposes, in any case. Furthermore, Sun Tzu was right, and he is the unrivalled master of strategy: you do not attack where your opponent is strong. That would be senseless. Martin Luther King Jr. also understood it well. He said, “If I was not opposed to violence for moral reasons, I would be opposed to it for reasons of strategy. Throwing bricks at people with machine guns is not only violent, it’s foolish.” The elite have the overwhelming advantage in terms of force and violence. Clearly, you do not fight them on the grounds where they have the overwhelming advantage. You must use other means, and fight on other grounds. See Gandhi for examples. Non-cooperation is the primary key. Economic warfare is another. You don’t preach or sermonize to the pathological - you make it impossible, or simply too costly, for them to continue with their actions, their system, or their tyranny. And remember Gandhi’s statement: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you; then you win.”
Impatient idealism, or impatient utopianism, must also be rejected, since it leads to hubris, arrogance, aggression, domination, elitism, overly prescriptive ideology, fanatical ideology, messianic delusions of grandeur, and authoritarianism.
These are incomplete lists, clearly, but a good rough outline.
Note that private property “rights” are not mentioned here. I did not reject them, nor did I endorse them. They are a primitive and temporary, barbaric custom, and a recent aberration in human history - primitive, as in relatively modern; temporary, as in, they will one day be abandoned; recent, as in, spanning a mere few thousand years, out of the two and a half million years our ancestors have lived on this planet. Nevertheless, the principle of non-aggression supercedes and comes before the principle of voluntary mutual aid - or the sharing and cooperation that all good Christians, and all spiritual or moral people everywhere, are supposed to practice, and which principles and good habits, we were all supposed to learn in kindergarten. That means, while miserliness, hoarding, selfishness, avarice and greed are vulgar and vile traits; forcing people to share or to cooperate, by way of coercion, is an act of aggression, and even more to be despised. The principles remain clear. When our culture becomes enlightened enough to practice them, realizing they are a matter of enlightened self-interest, mutual benefit and mutual upliftment, as well as virtue, remains to be seen. First, let us increase freedom, and diminish tyranny, violence and aggression. Then we can work on our moral character, when the gun is no longer at our heads, so to speak.
That being said, there are reasonable limits to our patience and to our tolerance. When the richest eight individuals have more wealth than the poorest half of humanity, and the richest three men in the US have more wealth than the poorest half of Americans, any reasonable sense of justice, or preservation of freedom and democracy, which are direly threatened by such empires of private wealth and power that eclipse the powers of the democratic government, demand that the richest 1% be taxed more reasonably. Keep your private property, but when your private empires begin to swallow up constitutional democracy, national sovereignty, the people and the planet, then clearly a line has long since been crossed, and some measure of redistribution of wealth, and more importantly, of power, is urgently in need, and in order.
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; Emma Goldman, for her sense of revolutionary acts as life-affirming acts of joy; 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 (and closer yet to my heart) at least in terms of immediate priorities, are Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Henry David Thoreau. And I would add, as further major figures of inspiration, Zapata, Sandino, Nelson Mandella, Lech Walesa, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bruce Cockburn, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.. Obviously, not all of them are anarchists, but all of them, despite whatever faults they may have had, and we all have faults, were most decidedly liberators and revolutionaries.
(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, thinkers and philosophers, we could say that his views are, at least, decidedly left-libertarian, which makes him a close kin to the anarchists, if not a definite member of the family.)
There is an important stipulation here, if we truly reject authoritarianism, which is, 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. He also abhorred tyranny and domination, and therefore most certainly would have rejected any authoritarian impulse to impose any sort of political order or ideology on others; hence the statement, “when men are ready for it”. He also recognized, as did Thomas Paine and William Godwin, that the state and the government are at best expedients, and will be at their best and finest forms when the people are finally ready to live without them and their encumbrance, which, as they all asserted, they also generally are. 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."
In other words, let us seek a better government, with greater freedom, and secured civil liberties and human rights for all, as a first, critical step. Then, we can move further toward higher ideals, if and when the people are ready for it. What we don’t want to do is to slide backwards, or be driven back to a darker time. A defence of what freedom and rights we have gained, over centuries of struggle, is now imperative, and the primary task of the hour.
What we cannot afford to do, however, is to lose the extremely important foundations which we already have, in terms of constitutional democracy, freedom and human rights. This is absolutely critical for us to understand. 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 our constitutional democracy and human rights, which would mean we would 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 currently reigning 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, and 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 and totalist revolution which the more naïve 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, solidarity 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 them both, in that Devil's bargain.
The immediate question facing us at this moment in our history, is whether you prefer constitutional democracy, or you prefer fascism. You might wish for something better or more ideal than liberal constitutional democracy, and so do I - but that is not the question that confronts us now, and which we must face, in all urgency. Whether you are a liberal, conservative, anarchist, libertarian, social democrat or green, you need to think hard about whether you want to live under a fascist regime, or under constitutional democracy, with fundamental human rights and freedom for all. There is no squirming out of it. This is the question of the hour. And if you defer, if you vacillate or hesitate, then your choice is confirmed, and you will have chosen fascism by default. Think hard and long on this, if the answer is not immediately clear. Liberal constitutional democracy may be a terribly flawed system, and it is, but it is infinitely better than any form of totalitarianism, which is what we are rapidly being herded into, right now.
No to authoritarianism - under any pretext, or for any supposed justification. That is the most essential point, now or at any other time.
(And more freedom later - when the people are ready for it.)
First things first: defend the foundations of freedom, constitutional law, and human rights, while we can - or else lose them, and suffer the consequences, and the deep, deep regret, for potentially decades to come.
Stand up. Speak out. And now.
J. Todd Ring,
December 1, 2021
See my own books and essays, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, WordPress, Blogspot and Substack:
The People vs The Elite
And coming soon,
All Hell Breaks Loose: Global Geopolitics 1945-2045
And the essays:
The Failure of Propaganda
Sinking All Ships
Importing From China
Why I Am Not A Marxist
My recent essay on Rojava
And another important essay on libertarian and anarchist political philosophy:
A Short Rebuttal of Hobbes
I have offered extensive bibliographies elsewhere. Here I would only add, as further resources, the playlists I have created on Spotify and YouTube, on Anarchism, Libertarianism & Republicanism.
But… I can’t help but list, at least a few more, important books, among the many that have been written, along with a few other resources:
MUST-LISTEN. Two of the greatest grassroots leaders of our time explain the current state of the world. This talk should be viewed as Political-Economy & Sociology 101.
One of my greatest heroes: an anarchist, left-libertarian, decentralist, anti-imperialist, lover of Thoreau, and practitioner of civil disobedience, who shows us the way now, today, in spirit and in strategy. The man who broke the back of the British Empire. Mahatma Gandhi:
Here is a brief look at the two leading thinkers of the libertarian left - as told by a prominent spokesperson from the libertarian right. Note that he views the left libertarians as allies, not as mortal enemies! Stop bickering. Unite to defeat fascism!
Mutual Aid: The Anarchism of Peter Kropotkin, from The Libertarian Tradition:
Iron Heel - Jack London
We - Yevgeny Zamyatin
Brave New World, and Brave New World Revisited - Aldous Huxley
1984 - George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
The Dispossessed - Ursula Le Guin
A Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
Escape From Freedom - Erich Fromm
The Ecology Of Freedom - Murray Bookchin
The Chalice and The Blade - Rianne Eisler
Ecofeminism - Vandana Shiva
Roads To Freedom - Bertrand Russell
Mutual Aid - Peter Kropotkin
The Power Elite - C. Wright Mills
Giants: The Global Power Elite - Peter Phillips
The New Rulers of the World - John Pilger
A Game As Old As Empire - John Perkins
The New Confessions Of An Economic Hitman - John Perkins
The Shock Doctrine - Naomi Klein
The End of America - Naomi Wolf
Necessary Illusions - Noam Chomsky
Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky
Class Warfare - Noam Chomsky
Requiem for the American Dream - Noam Chomsky
Their Libertarianism & Ours - Ellen Willis
Small Is Beautiful - E.F. Schumacher
The Anarchist Reader - George Woodcock
Walden, and, On Civil Disobedience - Henry David Thoreau
The Discourse On Voluntary Servitude - Etienne de La Boite