Anti-authoritarianism as praxis and lived philosophy
This is an excerpt from a longer essay, titled, Why The Left Libertarians Are Right. I will share it here, as a separate, shorter piece, because most people now have tragically and disastrously short attention spans; and because I feel it presents some valuable ideas for reflection and for action going forward.
As I wrote in the longer essay, I would call myself a left-libertarian republican democrat (a close kin of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Zapata, Gandhi and MLK) - and a federalist and decentralist - not an anarchist; because the former description is simply more accurate, and also, simply because the terms anarchy, anarchism and anarchist are so deeply misunderstood in most people’s minds, that to use them creates only confusion and barriers to communication and reflective thought. But, with fascism and authoritarianism taking over the world; and with the liberals and the “Left” either silently condoning it or cheering for it; with Communism resurgent; and with socialism, anarchism and libertarianism, and the search for alternatives, also resurgent; it is time to clear the air and to clarify the terms and ideas of political philosophy and political discourse. This short article is one small step in that direction, of hopefully dispelling illusions and increasing our general clarity of mind.
It is time to bring anarchism back into the cultural and political arena, as one of the major schools of thought in political philosophy, dating back to Lao Tzu. In fact, it could be said that anarchism was the original political philosophy. It was the common sense of humanity, before the aberration of the past, brief, 5,000 years, came into temporary and fleeting existence; and it will one day be the common sense of humanity, once again, when the age of empires is defeated, the prophecy of Daniel is fulfilled, the clay feet are shattered, and freedom reigns once more.
But anarchism is not romantic nostalgia for the past, nor rosy-eyed primitivism, regressivism or anachronism. It is a vision and a valuing of freedom, as the best, and most intelligent, way to live - in any age, and in any chosen or found state of technological or civilizational complexity or urban/rural distribution. In short, anarchism is applicable everywhere, always. It is a spirit of freedom which is infinitely adaptable. And that is exactly what we need today.
March 22, 2022
Normally I would not even use the term anarchism, or anarchist, and again, simply because the vast majority of people presume they know what these terms mean, when in reality, all they really “know”, all their heads are full of, is indoctrination and propaganda; meaning, they are deeply misinformed, but they presume they already know, so they are not willing to be open to engaging in any serious thought, or any rational thought at all.
There is a famous Zen story that goes like this, and it reveals a great deal about human nature, and about how to overcome the weaknesses of our nature, so that our better nature, our deeper, more authentic nature, can shine through. It goes like this.
A scholar comes to a Zen master, and he asks the Zen master to give him teachings in the philosophy of Zen. The Zen master invites the scholar to sit down for a cup of tea, of course, and the Zen master begins pouring tea into the scholar’s cup - and he pours, and pours, and pours, until the cup is overflowing, all over the table. The scholar then exclaims, “Stop! My cup is already full!” To which the Zen master replies, “Precisely. Your cup is already full. First, you must empty your cup. Only then can you truly receive.”
And that is the parable on our global pandemic, of idolatry of ideology, which has plagued the world for a very long time, especially in the West. Empty yourself of your preconceptions, and then only, can true wisdom, or even basic sanity, clarity of mind or common sense, begin to arise.
But, if pressed, I would say that I am indeed an anarchist - and echoing heartily the statement of Canada’s leading constitutional lawyer, Rocco Galati (whom everyone needs to listen to immediately, and with utter presence of mind, and great, thoughtful receptivity), I would say that I am a proud anarchist. But I would also say that I am a practical anarchist - which, in the short term, and the immediate present, means that I am more of a left-libertarian republican democrat, than an impatient and purist, dogmatic anarchist. (Yes, dogmatic anarchists exist, and in fact are the norm among that tribal sect. Chew on that, my fellow anarchists and libertarians.)
I am not a “pragmatist”, or a “realist”, because both of these terms are part of the lexicon of nihilism, and stem from and reinforce nihilism, which is a disease of the mind; and because both terms have been so abused, that they can be, and repeatedly have been, used to rationalize any kind of atrocity, abuse of power, or crimes against humanity. But I am practically-minded.
There is a vital difference between these terms, not only because the former are routinely used to rationalize great crimes and atrocities and abuses of power, but because they are rooted in nihilism, in my view. Being a “pragmatist”, or a “realist”, means you can justify and rationalize anything. It means, in practice, that you believe the ends justify the means; which means, in practice, you can rationalize even the greatest of crimes and atrocities. It means, in general, that you have no values, other than that of power and expediency. It means, you are a nihilist, in reality. I reject nihilism and utilitarianism, advocating basic principles of justice, compassion, freedom, ecology and peace. That makes me practical - not pragmatic, and decidedly not, a “realist”.
I would say, therefore, that I am a practical anarchist - meaning, I simply recognize the undeniable reality of our present situation: that the great majority of the people are not yet ready to live without the idiocies and the evils of the state. That means, the only way to abolish the state in the short term, would be through violence, and through aggression, coercion, domination, and through a fundamentally authoritarian imposition of one’s own ideology on the masses of people. If one is a consistent anti-authoritarian, as I certainly try to be, then you have to reject violence, except in circumstances of immediate self-defence; and you must also reject aggression, coercion, domination, and any form of imposing one’s views on others, or trying to control others’ lives. If the people are not yet ready to live without the idiocies and evils of the state, then we must accept that. We have no right to ram down their throats our ideology, philosophy, or vision for society, much less impose it through force upon the people. That would be to make everything that we stand for, turned into a lie.
So, for the time being, we must accept that, other than in small pockets, scattered about the Earth, the great majority of the people are certainly not ready to abandon the state, which they imagine to be their benevolent protector, nanny, solace, soother, pacifier and guide. They insist on living with its evils and its inanity, a little longer. We cannot force them to choose otherwise, without sacrificing and subverting our most basic and fundamental principles: the principles of freedom, anti-authoritarianism, non-coercion, non-domination, and non-aggression.
That means, for the time being, we must live a little longer with the evils and inanities of the state. It does not mean, however, that we must endure its worst excesses, or its worst abuses of power. These, we can and must resist, naturally.
So, where does that leave us? It leaves us with Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, and, On Civil Disobedience. And it leaves us with Thoreau’s most eminently sensible response: “I do not want, at once, no government; but at once, a better government.”
Now, surely all of us can agree, whatever our longer term goals for society may be, that a better government, is something that is desirable - and also attainable. That means, whatever your political or philosophical views may be, we do, in fact share a common ground. Not only are we far more alike, as human beings, than we are different, and we share a common ground through our shared humanity; but also, we all want a better government. Some of us want no government, but as I have argued, that is not attainable in the short term, at least, not without mass violence and coercion; therefore, the point is to create, in the short term, and right now, a better government, until such a time as the great majority are mature enough, and confident enough in themselves, to live with no government at all.
- J. Todd Ring