Monday, July 25, 2011

Anarchist and Not Ashamed

Do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. (Rom 14:16)

"Don't tell me you're an anarchist." "So you ARE an anarchist after all, not just a Libertarian."1

Two good friends—and I mean good friends, both because they are people who seek to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with [their] God" and because they have been especially forebearing with me—have taken me to task for my anarchist views.

My first response is that any word ending with ist or ism is dangerous until it is specifically defined, and this is especially true of anarchist.

The first self-proclaimed anarchists—[firstname] Kropotkin, [firstname] Bakunin, and their later apologists like Murray Bookchin—rejected the idea of private property, envisioning a sort of participatory democracy in which everyone owned everything, a model I find both indistinguishable from the communist ideal and subject to the same inevitable devolution into oligarchy. Note that this definition has to do with the result they pursue.

My definition of anarchist has to do with the process by which the ends are pursued: an anarchist society is one in which there are no archons, people with privileges and rights denied others. In the resulting society some people will wield more influence than others, and sometimes those who live lawfully will have to use force, even lethal force, against miscreants, but the sine qua non of my definition of anarchism is that no one, "from Pharaoh who sits on the throne to the servant girl grinding grain," has the right to violate the bodies or property of innocent people for any reason.

Let me also hasten to add that the kingdom of God is Jesus Christ, not any ism, certainly not either anarchism or "American exceptionalism." But we need a term to describe the way basically decent human beings, Christians and otherwise, treat their neighbors, and anarchism as I define it fills that bill.

That said, what's so shameful about anarchism? Why do my Christian friends use the term as an insult?

The usual answer is that without an archon, society would devolve into chaos: "Look at the book of Judges! 'There was no king over Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes'!"

Let's say for the sake of discussion that Israel did meet my definition of anarchy: Was that anarchy the root cause of the chaos of those days? Did anarchy exacerbate the chaos? Or was it simply one of its symptoms?

Until one of my vast readership commissions me to write a book-length response to those questions, I'll have to make do with repeating my argument from the biblical evidence: Anarchy is simply the term for what happens when people love their neighbors as themselves and treat others as they would have those others treat them. There was no privileged class: the whole community was the agent of even the execution of murderers, the first activity I can think of that would call for the creation of a privileged elite.

The chaos, on the other hand, was the result of the rejection of the Lord and his rule. When Israel tried to end the chaos by establishing archy (the monarchy), the Lord himself stated that that action was evidence of rebellion, not godliness. And in the end, the monarchy was able only to postpone, not prevent, the demise of Israelite society.

I should also point out that the chaos of those days was widespread, but it was not total: the society was still cohesive enough that it could establish the monarchy and did not cease to exist until Shalmaneser and Nebuchadnezzar—archons par excellence—destroyed it.

So while it is true that the one anarchic society the world has ever seen devolved into chaos, it does not necessarily follow that the only possible outcome to anarchy is chaos: the cause of Israel's demise was archism, not anarchism.2

Nor is anarchism the only known source of chaos. I have mentioned Nebuchadnezzar and Shalmaneser. Need I remind any Christian of Jewish extraction that those who abducted Abraham's wife in Egypt and Gerar, enslaved their ancestors and treated them cruelly in Egypt, destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, conducted murderous pogroms against them in Russia, ratified the Treaty of Versailles that set the stage for the Holocaust, conducted the Holocaust, and prohibited those fleeing the Holocaust from entering "the land of the free," this "nation of immigrants," were archons, not anarchists?

Even those of us from the uncircumcision should note that the worst persecution of Christians is in archistic societies like North Korea and China and (other) third-world oligarchies, to say nothing of Muslim nations that make no secret of their archistic belief that non-Muslims are at best second-class citizens (as are Muslims who wish to change their religion).

Both of my friends would accuse anarchism of denying the truth of Romans 13:1-7, and I don't blame them; this is a serious charge, and I can't claim innocence. However, I would suggest that the reason they so ardently fly Uncle Sam's flag is that in the history of the world only one government has come anywhere close to matching the description of archy given in Romans 13, and that was the government of the United States, the philosophical basis of which was the anarchist tenet that "all men are created equal" and therefore have "unalienable rights" to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness [which, if not property, is what?]."3

"But people are depraved, and we need overwhelming force to deal with human depravity."

Are all people depraved, or only those who don't become archons? Do depraved people never become archons? If you fear a depraved person who doesn't have overwhelming force—that is, when you would have to band together with others in order to defend yourself against them—how can it be that you are better off if that same depraved person becomes an archon with overwhelming force over you? How do you go about making sure no depraved person becomes an archon?4

What has become Uncle Sam's flag has flown over the murder and enslavement of weaker, innocent people, from African abductees to the first inhabitants of this continent. The major political parties today stands for endless imperial wars, the transfer of unheard-of amounts of wealth from the weak to the politically connected, and the eradication of privacy, all violations of the first tenets of basic human decency responsible parents teach their children. Yet Christians proudly wear flag lapel pins, identify themselves with the major parties, and vebally spit at anarchists.

Dear Jesus, where have I gone wrong?


1The capitalized L is in the original. While I am a past member of the Libertarian Party, I have allowed my membership to lapse because "the party of priniciple" has abandoned too many libertarian principles. So I am a small-l libertarian in the tradition of Murray Rothbard, not a capital-L Libertarian Party member.

2I'm inviting theologically astute friends to shoot down my assertions in these two paragraphs.

3I would say this was close to true for whites and free blacks and perhaps even most "Indians" from 1783 until 1861. My friends would likely be more generous.

4I would welcome discussion on this topic as well.

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