Since “Anarchy” is one of the most maligned and misunderstood words in the English language, we are going to use a very simple definition that gets straight to the point for the purposes of this conversation. Simply put, Anarchy is a social arrangement in which there are no “rulers.” A ruler is defined as a person who claims unwanted authority over another life. Sadly, there cannot be a master without a slave, and by the nature of the relationship, the slave is physically and morally obligated to obey the commands of the master. Many people believe this relationship is the stitch that holds the fabric of civilized society together, while in reality, nothing has caused more pain and suffering in this world than corrupt authority and the concept of rulers and slaves.
These social relationships are the manifestations of the internal struggles that exist within us. The relationships between rulers and slaves, kings and subjects and even presidents and citizens do not exist in reality. They are mental constructs, which allow some people to harm and take advantage of others in the open while maintaining moral superiority. This is far more dangerous than the relationship of a common criminal to his victims. When someone attacks from a position of authority, with moral justification, his crimes will go unpunished, and his power will be amplified as a result. This is why police brutality and government corruption have been a problem since before ancient Rome. The relationship of authority breeds and encourages corruption.
That being said, to achieve anarchy, or the abolition of masters and slaves, the solution is far more complicated than simply having a revolution and taking on the current establishment in physical combat, though some argue that this will be a part of the process. This has been attempted many times before and each time power has shifted hands, but the cycle of violence and slavery has continued.
This cycle has been in constant repetition throughout the generations. While power has shifted hands over time, very little has actually changed about how our species views the world, how we view one another, or how we view ourselves as individuals. This is not by mistake. Mountains of propaganda have been released over the centuries to reinforce the old ways and to keep people from thinking outside of the box.
Thankfully, there were a number of brave philosophers who recognized this dynamic and worked to construct a philosophy of antiauthoritarianism, which came to be known as “anarchism”. Later we will explore the anarchist themed writings of Lao-Tzu, from back in the 6th century. There are those who believe Christ was the first Anarchist. William Godwin, a writer in France during the 1790’s, is said to have been the first philosophical anarchist with his book Political Justice. The first person to publicly proclaim himself an Anarchist was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, with the publication of his seminal work What is Property? in 1840.
Around that time in America, anarchism was taking roots in the abolition movement. Many abolitionists recognized that slavery and government were essentially the same thing and that slavery will exist in one form or another as long as government exists. One of the main pioneers in American anarchist thought was outspoken entrepreneur and abolitionist, Lysander Spooner. Unlike many other anarchist philosophers in Europe, Spooner’s breed of anarchism was strictly individualistic, with a strong emphasis on markets and property rights. Spooner was also very critical of collectivist ideas like democracy and constitutionalism, so his work was heavily focused on deconstructing these concepts and showing them as deceptive forms of oppression.
Spooner thought of a way to put his philosophy into action by creating his own businesses that would directly compete with government services. One of his most groundbreaking entrepreneurial achievements was forming the “American Letter Company”, a letter and package delivery business that competed with the US Postal Service and proved that we don’t need the government to deliver mail. Hundreds of years later this strategy was identified by Samuel Edward Konkin III as “Agorism,” a philosophy of non-compliance that uses underground markets as a means of making the state obsolete. We will be exploring the potential of Agorism throughout this book.
As with many other popular schools of thought, anarchism has evolved and even splintered off over the years in various directions, creating a number of sub-sects within the philosophy. In the 1870’s, Europe saw a great divide between anarcho-communists and anarcho-collectivists.
Around the same time, American anarchists were debating the pros and cons of individualist and communist-anarchist thought. As a result, anarchist philosophers in Europe and America began calling for “anarchism without adjectives”, which was essentially an acceptance of all those who believe in self-governance and a lack of coercion regardless of their particular economic solution.
More recently, libertarian activist and writer Karl Hess discussed the need for what he called “Anarchism Without Hyphens.” Hess was well-known for working in and out of political circles, with Anarchists on the left and the right. In 1980 he outlined his argument for Anarchy Without Hyphens
“There is only one kind of anarchist. Not two. Just one. An anarchist, the only kind, as defined by the long tradition and literature of the position itself, is a person in opposition to authority imposed through the hierarchical power of the state. The only expansion of this that seems to me to be reasonable is to say that an anarchist stands in opposition to any imposed authority.
An anarchist is a voluntarist.
Now, beyond that, anarchists also are people and, as such, contain the billion-faceted varieties of human reference. Some are anarchists who march, voluntarily, to the Cross of Christ. Some are anarchists who flock, voluntarily, to the communities of beloved, inspirational father figures. Some are anarchists who seek to establish the syndics of voluntary industrial production. Some are anarchists who voluntarily seek to establish the rural production of the kibbutzim. Some are anarchists who, voluntarily, seek to disestablish everything including their own association with other people, the hermits. Some are anarchists who deal, voluntarily, only in gold, will never co-operate, and swirl their capes. Some are anarchists who, voluntarily, worship the sun and its energy, build domes, eat only vegetables, and play the dulcimer. Some are anarchists who worship the power of algorithms, play strange games, and infiltrate strange temples. Some are anarchists who only see the stars. Some are anarchists who only see the mud.
They spring from a single seed, no matter the flowering of their ideas. The seed is liberty. And that is all it is. It is not a socialist seed. It is not a capitalist seed. It is not a mystical seed. It is not a determinist seed. It is simply a statement. We can be free. After that it’s all choice and chance.
Anarchism, liberty, does not tell you a thing about how free people will behave or what arrangements they will make. It simply says that people have the capacity to make arrangements.
Anarchism is not normative. It does not say how to be free. It says only that freedom, liberty, can exist.”
We understand that because of its anti-capitalist roots, many Anarchist thinkers on the left might say that Anarchism without Adjectives or Hyphens remains anti-capitalist and thus schools of thought like anarchocapitalism should be excluded. On the other hand, there are many market anarchists and anarcho-capitalists that point to the coercion that is inherent in democracy and socialism, showing that these ideas are essentially nothing more than government. In short, there is a great deal of debate about who is a “real anarchist” and who isn’t among anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-communists.
There is truth to both of these viewpoints. Although market activity is peaceful and voluntary, the social system that has traditionally been called “capitalism” is far from a free and voluntary market. Capitalism has used state power as its primary mechanism of operation, so it is not fair to associate this term with a free and open market. Likewise, most traditional democratic and socialist societies have been ruled by a very few rich people, despite the notion that these philosophies are exercised for and by the common people. Even the more egalitarian democratic societies sometimes fall victim to the tyranny of the majority and citizens are forced to live at the whim of their neighbors and change their lives because a vote was held somewhere.
Capitalism, communism and socialism are all loaded terms that have so many different definitions to different people that they are nearly impossible to communicate about. There is no hope in “saving” or “reclaiming” any of these words. They have been tainted by state influence for generations, searing their assumed definitions into the minds of billions of people.
In advocating for an entirely new and different way of life, using the names of old social systems and old ways of doing things seems counterproductive. Of course, there is value in bringing the old terms into the conversation for the sake of comparison, but social philosophies by the names of capitalism and socialism have been around for centuries, and have been government-based economic systems.
For us, the definition given by Kevin Carson, author of The Iron Fist of the Invisible Hand Corporate Capitalism as a State Guaranteed System of Privilege, best defines the rise of Capitalism over the centuries
“…industrial capitalism, to the same extent as manorialism or slavery, was founded on force. Like its predecessors, (crony) capitalism could not have survived at any point in its history without state intervention. Coercive state measures at every step have denied workers access to capital, forced them to sell their labor in a buyer’s market, and protected the centers of economic power from the dangers of the free market. To quote Benjamin Tucker again, landlords and capitalists cannot extract surplus value from labor without help of the state. The modern worker, like the slave or the serf, is the victim of ongoing robbery; he works in an enterprise built from past stolen labor.”
In that sense we are against crony-capitalism, or the subsidizing and protection of business interactions by the state. This is, of course, because states require force and theft to maintain control. On the other hand we are also against involuntary democracy and forced socialism, where people are forced into associations with others because they happen to share the same geography.
Many pioneers of the Anarcho-Capitalist philosophy have made strong arguments for the importance and morality of markets, property and trade, bringing a new perspective to the growing culture of Anarchism. Economist Murray Rothbard coined the term “Anarcho-Capitalism” in 1949 or 1950.
Rothbard’s writing on banking, property rights and the history of war was groundbreaking and highly academic, but he did not have the same knack for public relations and marketing as he did for economics and history.
Rothbard had some incredible ideas, but he took the two most hated words in the English language and put them together, which sometimes makes a philosophy a hard sell. Rothbard also made several strategic mistakes throughout his career, namely teaming up with politicians and Washington lobbyists in hopes of changing the system from the inside.
Rothbard’s work was built primarily upon the work of Ludwig Von Mises, the founder of what came to be known as the Austrian School of Economics. Mises was not explicitly an anarchist and he too had no problem forming alliances with aristocrats and politicians. However, the work he did throughout his life explained exactly how market activity could make the state obsolete. Rothbard later applied these ideas to his anarchist philosophy.
Today, there are anarcho-capitalist economists of all varieties devoting years of research towards developing stateless solutions and voluntary ways to provide goods, services and charity. Meanwhile, there are many mutualists and anarcho-syndicalists who are working to tackle some of the pre-existing state influences that create widespread inequality in our world and finding ways to run worker owned cooperatives.
The subject of property is one of the most contentious topics among anarchists of different varieties. We feel that there is something to learn when considering each side of this debate.
Anarchists who oppose the concept of owning property often point to the government enforcement of property titles and the huge disparity of land ownership in the world and argue that property is a tool of oppression.
They make valid points about how there is a need to reconsider how to deal with property in a free society, but they do not adequately make the case for ruling out property as a concept altogether.
In today’s economic atmosphere, property rights have a somewhat negative stigma, due to the offensive amount of government-protected land and resources that have been acquired through force, theft, fraud and coercion. This is an understandable objection, but since the property was illegitimately acquired, it should legally be considered stolen property. The insane amount of land that is unjustly owned by the royal families and governments of the world creates the illusion of scarcity of land, where there is actually abundance. It is virtually impossible for such small groups of people to control and maintain such large areas of land unless they have a legal monopoly on the use of force.
The problems in wealth disparity that we see today do not indicate a problem with property rights. They indicate that property rights have been systematically abused. The fact that the aristocracy unjustly controls this land today shows that mass reparations and restitution are in order. This is no case for the abolishment of property rights, but it is often used as such. Just because the government has monopolized the currency and centralized the trading structure does not mean that economics is a construct of government. Quite the opposite is true– the economy functions very much in spite of government. We would be able to create a world of abundance if it weren’t for governments intervening to prop up affiliated businesses and stomp out competition.
The concept of homesteading is the one area of common ground between anarchists who disagree on the subject of property. According to direct homesteading, property belongs to whoever is living in, or making use of a particular piece of land or property. If homesteading had been applied to slave plantations in colonial America, the slaves would technically be considered part owners of the plantation, or each would own an individual piece of the plantation, because they were the ones physically living and working on the land.
Claiming large areas of land by planting flags or drawing lines on a map is not a legitimate way to homestead property. This is a very important concept because it keeps illegitimate landlords from using property as a tool of oppression.
Despite the many differences between the various anarchist philosophies, there is actually a lot of common ground to explore, if each side would only engage in polite conversations on the issues at hand. For example, a great opportunity exists in studying the similarities between the philosophies of Agorism and Mutualism.
Mutualism is the school of thought that seeks to give individuals, rather than the state, control over a piece of the means of production. In The Practicability of Mutualism, Clarence Lee Swartz writes,
“Mutualism is a social system based on reciprocal and non-invasive relations among free individuals. The Mutualist standards are:
Individual: Equal Freedom for each – without invasion of others
Economic: Untrammeled reciprocity, freedom of exchange and contract – without monopoly or privilege
Social: Complete freedom of voluntary associations – without coercive organization”
Mutualist economies might manifest as mutual-credit banks, or worker owned cooperative farms.
Agorism is the philosophy of creating alternative institutions to directly compete with the state. Samuel Konkin III called for participation in Counter-Economics, or economic activity that is typically seen as illegal or unregulated by the state. This includes competing currencies, community gardening schemes, tax resistance and operating a business without licenses. Agorism also extends to the creation of alternative education programs, Free Schools or SkillShares, and independent media ventures. Also essential to Agorism is support of entrepreneurs who actively do business outside of the state’s license and regulations.
The Agorist-Mutualist alliance represents an opportunity for Anarchists of all stripes to focus on common ground and build institutions that can help us live free now. Both philosophies reject non-defensive violence, politics and monopolies. Both philosophies do not wish to use the force of the state or some “dictatorship of the proletariat” to meet their goals. Both philosophies support the experimentation of a variety of communities, working outside the state to create institutions which give our brothers and sisters who remain in the state’s grasp another option, outside the corporate-state monopoly.
It is important to note that the idea of creating alternative institutions does not end at the economy. We would do well to support alternative forms of food production, community defense, education, governance, media and open-source technologies as well, all of which give the people a choice that extends outside of the state and weakens its power over time.
There is value in all anti-authoritarian literature and philosophy, though each side of the argument also has plenty of blind spots. That being said, we believe in Panarchy, or acceptance of all individual’s sovereignty and their possible economic solutions as long as they are absent of force. This would allow for all individuals who claim their right to self-governance and seek the absence of coercion to break free from the state with other free humans with similar goals. We choose to find common ground with other Anarchists to move past the state and then allow for free experimentation of all communities and all economies.
Furthermore, it is important to encourage everyone to accept the idea that people do not need to be forced into associations and relationships with one another because they happen to live in the same area. In some circumstances it may be necessary to migrate to the same area to create a commune or a type of protected community.
However, as long as it is logistically possible for people to arrange themselves peacefully in the same geographical region, they should still be able to subscribe to different views on economics, spirituality or any other controversial topic that divides people politically. The only common thread that need tie communities together is the mutual belief that they have no right to force their beliefs on anyone else.
Voluntaryism is the idea of mutual non-aggression. You may notice us refer to this term throughout the book. On the surface, voluntaryism is just another word for anarchism. However, it denotes some very specific philosophical principles that take the definition of anarchism a step further. A voluntaryist not only believes in a world without rulers and slaves, but also advocates for a society built on a culture of peace, nonaggression and a general “live and let live” atmosphere.
The Voluntaryist Newsletter has defined the philosophy in the following way:
“Voluntaryists are advocates of non-political, non-violent strategies to achieve a free society. We reject electoral politics, in theory and in practice, as incompatible with libertarian principles. Governments must cloak their actions in an aura of moral legitimacy in order to sustain their power, and political methods invariably strengthen that legitimacy. Voluntaryists seek instead to delegitimize the State through education, and we advocate withdrawal of the cooperation and tacit consent on which State power ultimately depends.”
When exposed to this philosophy for the first time, people often ask for “proof” of its validity. We are conditioned to having our worldview crafted by sacred tomes written by long-dead authority or hero figures. This is not how freedom works. Waiting to be told what to do by a selfinterested authority will never lead to a peaceful society.
As we have briefly discussed in this chapter, the philosophy of freedom is a giant web of dissenting viewpoints that has constantly evolved over generations. There is no ultimate authority on what freedom should or will look like. It is important to remember that these are merely a collection of ideas spread by brave individuals who dared to think differently and stand against the slavery of their times.
However, just because there is no “proof” and no official doctrine, the principles of voluntaryism are self-evident in human behavior, human desire, human history, and possibly in the animal kingdom. The vast majority of human beings desire peace. Even the nasty people in the world desire peace for themselves, if not for others. The vast majority of people who want peace and freedom from harm are obligated to allow the same for others. In other words, by placing the expectation of peacefulness on others, you are automatically accepting the obligation not to harm them. Furthermore, if you harm or threaten another person, you are breaking your end of the bargain and forfeiting your own right for peace, allowing them the moral right to use defensive force against your attacks.
These expectations and obligations will of course be broken from time to time, even in a free society. However, the random violence in a free society is manageable on a case-by-case basis, while the systematic violence in today’s world, operating under the color of law and false moral superiority, is far more dangerous because it goes unquestioned. Also, when these obligations are broken, the injured or threatened party is morally justified to defend themselves with force if necessary. Various researchers and economists have studied how things are handled when these rules are broken and a number of possible solutions have been suggested. However, these are just predicted solutions, the real solutions will come when millions of minds start working together on these issues and solving problems that stand in their paths. It is through this process of spontaneous order that brilliant solutions will be pulled from the human consciousness.
While the term voluntaryism is only a recent development in the language of freedom, the philosophy that it embodies is age old. As we will explore in later chapters, many of the world’s ancient teachings hold this philosophy as their key value.
The Buddha is quoted as saying,
“The wise harm no one. They are masters of their bodies and they go to the boundless country — beyond sorrow.”
In the early teachings of Christianity these ideas came in the form of the golden rule, or “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” In Islam there is “La ikrah fi deen,” or no compulsion in religion. This philosophy runs deeply through many of the world’s ancient teachings.
In a region of voluntaryism, Anarcho-Communists, Anarcho-Capitalists, Muslims, Christians and free people of all varieties would live among one another, or within a very close geographical distance, with very few issues. Neither side would imagine they have the moral right to use force or threats against people who did them no harm. In the event that no one could stand each other, they would not hurt one another as long as they still lived according to voluntaryist principles, but would instead freely disassociate and keep to themselves. This possibility is mentioned because a free society would not be a utopia, although it may appear to be when compared to what we see today, because there would be no such thing as morally justified violence except in defense one’s own liberty.
The root of the many traumas, pain and suffering that the human family has both inflicted and endured is almost always morally justified violence. Human sacrifice, genocide, torture, arranged marriages and all forms of slavery are examples of morally justified violence, violence that someone in authority either allowed or enforced. If we want to affect long lasting change as freedom seekers, we must challenge the very nature of morally justified violence, instead of analyzing the person on the throne and the policies they make.