Anarchy

I’m taking a course in contemporary applied Sociology over summer to ‘fill the time’ and for some extra credit.  The course is titled Graffiti, Kitsch and Trash: Crime of Style and is proving quite interesting.  One of the central themes of the course is the concept of anarchy.  I have a lot of sympathy for social systems and theory inspired by anarchy and I’m hoping that we could have a little discussion in the comments below about our perspectives of anarchy.  I’ll start off with a short quotation.

Anarchism…is the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government-harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups…

Interpersonal disputes…must be faced directly and collectively by restoring these “problems” of human bonding and survival to a direct face to face level. This means that instead of denying or passing off responsibility to committee or bureaucracy, each and all must share responsibility. This means that community will have to be restored…

(From Tifft 1979, p. 397)

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15 Responses to “Anarchy”


  1. 1 Nathan January 5, 2009 at 11:39 am

    i’ve been thinking about anarchism as a social system for a little while now, which i happen to think is one of the most interesting political forms of thought, so i’m glad you’ve brought the topic up.

    from the quote you have provided, some questions emerge. (i) if ‘free agreements’ are to be concluded between various groups, is this not a proto-typical arrangement for some form of governance? (ii) on the back of my first question, could some forms of social-contract theory, if we are basing social contracts on an arrangement of governance, be regarded as anarchical?

    the last passage (This means that instead of denying or passing off responsibility to committee or bureaucracy, each and all must share responsibility. This means that community will have to be restored…) is akin to the telos of my own ideal for a political and social system.

    there is an interesting debate between žižek and critchley that has been going on for a while now that is really centered around the violence, though nevertheless pertains to two socio-political systems: communism and anarchism. you can read an article by critchley here

  2. 2 Simon January 5, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks for the reply Nath.

    In reply to (i), I don’t think that anarchy has governance as a necessary condition, although it is perhaps sufficient. A ‘free agreement’ within an anarchistic system could, I suppose, be to agree not to agree.

    I had a concern that stemmed from this line of thought too. I’ve not read overly widely on anarchy (although I have read a lot) but I’m concerned that anarchy cannot escape praxis, a union of ideology and action. I’m not so sure that we as individuals, nor systems such as anarchy, can escape the hegemonic influence of ideology. If ideology is a system of control, and anarchy seeks to be free from control, then can anarchy be free from ideology?

    I know this is a pretty naive question, and one that’s not articulated overly well, but I think it conveys my line of thought. Where does control begin and end?

    Thanks for the link for the paper too Nath.

  3. 3 Nathan January 5, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    i think you’ve hit it, simon. i think it is very difficult for any socio-political theory to escape ideology. you could see anarchism as a form of ideology if we understand ideology as the illusory form of thought void of objective clarity.

    My question now is, in what context can anarchy be applied and how does the use violence (violent anarchism/non-violent anarchism) complicate the application of anarchy? i think the question of violence is the perennial question when we are concerned with anarchism

  4. 4 Simon January 5, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    …in what context can anarchy be applied?

    I don’t think that it’s profitable to speak of anarchy as political system, in fact I think that it’s oxymoronical to do so. Anarchy, I think, is best applied as a reaction to political systems, and even, in some cases, as a reaction to itself. Anarchy as more of a process rather than a system.

    …how does the use violence (violent anarchism/non-violent anarchism) complicate the application of anarchy?

    What do you mean here Nath? That violence limits the application and/or validity of anarchy? I think that the presence of violence signifies anarchy, and that violence may even be necessary for anarchy too.

  5. 5 Nathan January 6, 2009 at 10:11 am

    first, i just want to address the last comments you made, then i’d like to try and form some coherency with what i think we are trying to do here.

    i have to disagree with you regarding the non-profitability of speaking of anarchy as a political system. this will appear as linguistically idealist, though, i like my etymology. if we look at the term or word anarchy, we know it has its roots in ancient greek: anarchía αναρχία, meaning “without ruler”. if we were to stick with this definition, all we are determining is state without a ruler; without the implication of disorder. even in modern bastardised versions of anarchy, this definition is still at the root understanding of anarchy. In this regard, anarchy is a politcal system; and even in a modern context, if you don’t have a system of politics, you can’t, i don’ think, have a counter. anarchy still functions as a system of thought within political thought. this is to say that anarchy is, by the definition i have outlined, an organized set of interrelated ideas or principles. this also happens to be the definition for a system. to speak of anarchy as a process, designates anarchy to a series of operations, actions or changes that will bring about a result. these operations may be anarchistic in a bastardised methodology of physical and psychological violence, though not outright anarchy as such.

    in speaking of a process of anarchy with which to bring about a result, one invariably thinks of violence. within the mainstream, violence definitely limits the validity of anarchy; though this is not to say that the mainstream are necessarily right. my immediate thought on violence is that it is unnecessary for anarchism. especially the way i have defined it above.

    at this point, i would actually propose a reading of walter benjamin’s critique of violence which can be found here. i think benjamin’s paper would be very instructional for the topic of anarchy and violence. what do you say?

  6. 6 Brad January 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Hi Simon and Nathan,

    This is an interesting discussion you have started here. I haven’t read that recommended reading from you yet Nathan, but I’ll throw my hat into the ring with a few personal interpretations.

    To your question Nathan – “if ‘free agreements’ are to be concluded between various groups, is this not a proto-typical arrangement for some form of governance?”

    It is a prototype for a society in which various kinds of government can co-exist together at the behest of the individuals and groups within that society. So a communist party, for example, can govern any individual or group who chooses to be governed by that party (assuming that the communist party in question can accept that others might choose a different form of government).

    To your next question – “could some forms of social-contract theory, if we are basing social contracts on an arrangement of governance, be regarded as anarchical?”
    ,
    Any social contract theory that gives absolute freedom of governance to the individual is potentially anarchical. To see why that is the case, I think we need to go back to Simon’s definition.

    Then to your definition of Anarchism Simon – “Anarchism…is the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government-harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups…”

    So this definition assumes that government is inherently restrictive of freedom. Maybe the definition should read “under which society is conceived without a majority government”. In other words, I may choose my government. or I may choose none at all. So may you. If this seems threatening and chaotic it is because we don’t trust each other to govern ourselves. We feel the need to constrain, possibly by violence, in order to guarantee safety.

    This violence bears very little direct relationship to anarchism. Violence is an independent human reaction to fear. Two clear examples: the fear between Middle East and West; the fear between Palestine and Israel. The violence here does not exist due to any preexisting state, principle or theory of anarchy. The violence exists in a state of chaos engendered by fear (and fear engendered by chaos).

    Anarchy, when realised as a state, is a state of harmony where harmony is defined as ‘living and letting live’.

    Hope that is a useful contribution. Cheers.

  7. 7 Simon January 15, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Sorry for leaving it so late to reply, I’ve been busy elsewhere.

    Just a couple of points on Brad’s reply.

    Brad said: “So this definition assumes that government is inherently restrictive of freedom.”

    I think the definition is that current systems of government are inherently restrictive of freedom. I’m not so sure that we could say (although I’m sure most anarchists would) that any possible form of government is inherently restrictive of freedom.

    In difference to Nath, I don’t see Anarchy as a political system (even with your erudite arguments Nath). Anarchy is more of a discourse of rebellion, an assertion of the will, an attraction to dynamic reaction rather than static replication. Anarchy is the devil’s advocate.

    “Violence is an independent human reaction to fear.”

    This is something that I can’t agree with in full either, although I think it fits as a reply to Nath’s comment above. Violence is not just a reaction to fear but it’s also a valid and legitimate response to control. Sometimes violence isn’t simply the only option, but the best and most praiseworthy option.

  8. 8 belljangler February 6, 2009 at 3:02 am

    German Anarchists need help from United Anarchists urgently!

    Dear Sisters and Brothers of United Anarchists!

    We have reached a breaking point in Germany and we can break a wall. But we need any support by the whole Community of United Anarchists for that!

    So I have opened a site just for that, You can get there by the main-page of freegermany.de:

    http://www.freegermany.de

    It isn´t a German affair only: Germany is the starting point only, and it is absolutely necessary that the whole world will see what is the power of United Anarchists!

    The German SS-Satanists are writing again and again in Internet: “There are no Anarchists who are fighting for the positions which Sobottka does declare! He is standing just alone and he is crazy only!”

    Dear Sisters and Brothers, please use all Your means to spread my call for help, and please give Your own best: Only in true Community we are able to fight down the Devil and to open holy Gates on Earth for mankind, but in true Community we will get that both!

    I love You!

    Your

    Winfried Sobottka, a speaker of German Anarchists in FRG and Austria and a member of United Anarchists.

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