Dreams of Anarchism

There is a debate between Larken Rose and Mark Skousen. It is amusing, if not enlightening. It is an argument between two radical right-wingers.

Larken Rose is an anarchist and not the pacifist live-and-let-live kind. He seems to be a hardcore anarcho-capitalist, where capitalists instead of government rules the world. He also argues for shooting cops when one feels their rights infringed, a rather subjective standard. This is the kind of guy who fantasizes about violent revolution and overthrow of all authority.

Mark Skousen is related to the even more infamous W. Cleon Skousen. That other Skousen is his uncle, a crazy right-wing Mormon who is a favorite of Glenn Beck. Theoretically, Mark Skousen is a libertarian, but I suspect of the authoritarian variety—i.e., a pseudo-libertarian. Maybe he is an aspiring theocrat like his uncle. Whatever he is, he doesn’t exude the principled dogmatism and righteous outrage seen with Rose. But both believe in violence in resolving conflict—see Skousen’s honor culture attitude.

I don’t normally bother with such things. But I do get curious in exploring worldviews outside of the mainstream. What got me thinking was something said by Rose in the debate:

The best attempt ever in the history of the world at creating a country based on ‘limited government’ created the largest authoritarian empire in the history of the world, with the largest war machine in the history of the world, and the most intrusive extortion racket in the history of the world.

Invariably minarchists, at this point, pull a page out of the communist handbook and say “Well the theory works, if just wasn’t done right!”

I have a tip for you, if every SINGLE time your theory is applied to the real world it FAILS COMPLETELY, maybe your theory SUCKS.

At this point, this could be said pretty much of every political theory. Maybe political theory is not the answer. I’ve always thought the least anarchist thing one could ever do is to turn anarchism into an ideology to worship and bow down to. But I have some fondness for what might be called epistemological anarchism, a whole other creature. The kind of anarchist I prefer is Robert Anton Wilson, the complete opposite of a dogmatic ideologue.

I find it amusing when anarchists like this complain that others are disconnected from reality. The only reason they can make their arguments is that they are offering utopian visions. No one can point to the failure of anarchism because there is no great example of anarchism ever having been attempted.

When anarchists try to bring up real world examples, they come off as entirely unconvincing. They are so lost in abstractions and imaginings that they can’t look at the evidence for what it is. This kind of right-wing ideological certainty fascinates and frustrates me. I’ve been down this road before (see herehere, here, here, here, and here). I know all the arguments made. I know the mindset.

There is a careless thinking in much of this. There are left-wing examples that are similar. But in the US the right-wing examples are more prevalent and in your face. It’s harder to ignore them. Unlike left-wing fantasies, right-wing fantasies hold immense power in our society. Confronting these fantasies is important. This requires engaging them, not just dismissing them.

Ancaps have a few favorite things they like to cite. History doesn’t offer them much in the way of evidence, and so they have to cling to what meager evidence they can find. They’ll bring up such things as ancient Ireland. But they end up cherrypicking the facts to fit their ideology and then molding them into a vague resemblance of what their advocating.

Consider the interpretation of the historical and archaeological evidence. It demonstrates the problem when you try to make anarchism into an ideology and then try to apply that ideology to complex social reality. Ancient Ireland wasn’t anarchist in the normal sense of the word—certainly not anarcho-capitalist.

Not only laissez-faire capitalism wouldn’t have existed, but neither would individualism, land ownership, etc. These were highly communalistic societies with strict hierarchies and powerful authority figures. If you disobeyed tradition and broke taboos, you’d quickly find that you weren’t free to do whatever you wanted. The modern idea of individual civil rights was simply nonexistent.

Yes, they were small-scale, local, and decentralized. But that isn’t the same thing as anarchism. Many confuse anti-statism with anarchism. What anarchism means is no rulers. These ancient Irish societies didn’t lack rulers, even if they operated differently than in statist societies. They also didn’t lack violence and oppression. The ancient Irish regularly fought one another—including wars of aggression, not just wars of defense. They didn’t simply respect each other’s liberty and freedom.

We need to speak more clearly and not filter reality through our ideas and ideals.

At a Youtube video, one person left this comment:

Er… There was no individual property ownership in Medieval Ireland. Land was controlled by the nobility as heads of collectives known as “túaths”. These collectives were based on kinship and regional proximity. The vast majority of the people were peasants, or “Churls”, who worked the land for the nobility. Yes, the membership of the túaths was fluid, but this system was based on fealty (oath and allegiance), to break an allegiance was not a simple matter.

These societies had rulers. An anarchist society would lack rulers. By definition, these ancient Irish societies weren’t anarchist. Plus, the cost of leaving one of these societies would be extremely high, including the clear possibility that one wouldn’t survive for long. These were extremely authoritarian societies. There was nothing libertarian about them.

From the same video, someone else wrote:

Under that definition, every economic arrangement imaginable is capitalism. Socialism is capitalism, merchantilism is capitalism, feudalism is capitalism etc. It’s fallacious.

People traded. But trade alone is not capitalism. There wasn’t much if any notion of individual ownership. One community might trade with another, but it was typically a collective action as decided by the king and nobility.

Plus, most daily activity would have included more along the lines of social exchanges, not necessarily even barter as we think of it, but more likely a gift society. See David Graeber’s writings.

As all this demonstrates, anarchists are going to have to take their own arguments more seriously. It’s not a matter of convincing others. The best way for them to convince others would be to create an anarchist society somewhere. They could buy an island and start their own non-statist society. No one is stopping them, at least in a legal and economic sense.

Of course, they would argue that the statists are stopping them or making it difficult. Sure, statists have no reason to make it easy. That isn’t the responsibility of statists. If your anarchism can’t withstand the power of statism, then that is proof of why your beliefs have never succeeded in reality. State governments aren’t going to roll over and die. An actual functioning anarchist society will have to be able to fight and win a war against the militaries of nation-states…. or otherwise somehow defend and prevent such attacks.

The problem here isn’t ideologicaly. It isn’t about finding the right principles and being unswerving in one’s conviction. What anarchists face is a whole world of people, a global population growing ever larger on a planet that is staying the same size. Telling most people that they are wrong doesn’t really achieve anything, however satisfying it might feel to express one’s righteous outrage.

If anarchists hope to find real world applications for their utopian ideals, they will have to confront human nature and not just in theory. That goes for anyone with an ideological agenda, even those who claim to have none. As for utopian ideals, I have my own that I favor and that is the reason I spend so much time thinking about human nature. I want to understand what might lead a mere potential to become manifest. This is the tough questioning and self-questioning that I rarely see anarchists willing to take on.

Despite my criticisms, I support anyone with utopian aspirations. Go right ahead. Dream those crazy beautiful dreams. Think big. You are right to not confuse what is and what ought to be. We need more people with daring imaginations and the courage of their convictions. The next step is to experiment, find out with an open mind whether what you believe is a possibility. Prove all your detractors wrong, if you can. I’ll cheer you on in your bold quest for humanity’s future.

Just don’t full yourself that analyzing a problem is the same thing as offering a solution.

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