Anarchy: A Definition


I previously posted “Towards a definition of Anarchy” in an attempt to begin a conversation. Nearly a year later, I feel sufficiently equipped to push that conversation further.

In that previous post, I argued that anarchy is the rejection of institutions predicated on the crimes of coercion, theft, or murder. I explored the cultural and etymological roots of the term “anarchy” as well as the underlying philosophy, and presented a starting place for achieving a working definition of anarchy. That definition has served me fairly well in discussions on social media, in person, and on this blog. Over time, though, I have found it necessary to modify aspects of that definition and explore the necessary conclusions of that definition.

After a year of perpetual discussion about presumed first principles and their results, I believe I must explore the term from two angles: that of its linguistic uses and that of its philosophical importance. I, unfortunately, must explore its linguistic function first, as it will help clarify the philosophical definition.

Anarchy, as a word, can be used to describe a state of affairs. Typically, it is used as a pejorative when it is used in this manner, courtesy of your local propagandists. The state of affairs it references is one in which there is an absence of “archons”: individuals who claim the right to coerce or otherwise harm non-aggressors. The free -I’m sorry- “black” market is a prime example of one such circumstance, such as open-air markets in rural parts of Empire and developing nations. In some rare cases of the pejorative use, it may be accurate; but more often it is a distinct lack of anarchy that is misidentified as such on the news and popular media.

Anarchy can also refer to the philosophy of anarchism or that of anarchists. This is nothing new, of course; I often refer to anarchy as “a philosophy of personal responsibility”. Many assert that anarchism is predicated on the non-aggression principle (the NAP) as its first and only principle. However, as I hope to explore soon, the NAP presents many challenges when taken on its own. In “New Logo” and “Is Property Theft”, I briefly explored the issue of voluntarism as a positive assertion from the NAP, primarily because the NAP is a negative moral claim and, even if the claim is true, the positive inverse statement of that claim is not necessarily true.

Most of the issues arising from using the NAP as a solitary first principle is that its conclusions are either voluntarism or some other conclusion informed by the anarchist’s other philosophical commitments, many of which result in impoverished or absurd worldviews. The fact that the NAP is a negative claim is what causes its dependance on other principles. This dependence is not an issue in itself, it is the theory-ladenness of the NAP’s terminology in every iteration. A prime example of this issue is when “libertarian” feminists start discussing male “micro-aggressions” and criminalizing the act of having a Y chromosome. As I’ve discussed before, if the NAP is to obtain, one’s response to aggression must allow for self-defense, up to and including the execution of lethal force. So, if “libertarian” feminists are to be consistent, they must embrace the perennial feminist slogan of “kill all men”. Somehow, this does not sound like a philosophy predicated on the non-instantiation of force (another way to say NAP).

If anarchy is to be predicated on negative claims, it must either be predicated on claims that are less-susceptible to mixing with bad philosophies than the NAP, or be predicated on a mixture of negative and positive claims such so as to form a complete worldview on its own. Let’s begin with the negative first principles which may be more reliable than the NAP, possibly even axiomatically grounding the NAP itself.

I previously argued that anarchy is the rejection of institutions predicated on crime. That particular claim would be an ethical one. While anarchism may be a moral philosophy, I have found that all moral philosophies must be predicated on some other basis for moral or ethical claims. In “An Economics of Ethics”, I implied that ethical claims are best rooted in ontology and physics while morality must be rooted in ontological claims.

Anarchism is best served, then, in basing itself not in the rejection of particular institutions but, instead, some ontological claim which results in such an ethical proscription. One such commitment would be disallowing collectives from one’s ontology. There is a series of fairly compelling arguments for the non-existence of collectives, but such cases will have to be made elsewhere, as this post is concerned with defining anarchy. For now, I will assert that anarchism is a philosophy which denies the existence of collectives, instead focusing on individuals and individual actions.

This focus on individual action can be informed by one of two suppositions: the existence of objective moral facts or nihilism. In the case of nihilism I must inquire as to why one who finds no meaning or purpose in anything would be motivated to embrace anything more than nihilism; I do not expect a satisfying answer. Even so, the case of a nihilist anarchism does not preclude ethics (as defined in “Morality and Ethics”), as most nihilists that don’t just kill themselves tend more towards epicurean hedonism out of an interest in maximizing one’s own pleasure. In which case, anarchism’s minimum ethical framework may even seem a bit narrow to a nihilist. “Don’t shit where you eat”, the nihilist ethical maxim, requires a degree of virtue and future-mindedness, whereas the NAP is merely a prohibition against a narrow list of actions which could be reasonably be considered crimes.

More reasonably, one could allow for the existence of objective moral facts. In another post, or perhaps, in a book I hope to self publish at the end of this year, I will make an introductory argument for the the existence of objective moral facts. Today, though, If we allow moral facts ontology, we can quickly come to see that objective moral facts can only be proscriptive: categorically disallowing certain behaviors for rationally self-interested individuals while not prescribing any particular actions. I’ve explored this discussion before in “The Dark Side”. As time goes on, I will expand that discussion into an argument in its own right.

I still refer to the NAP as shorthand for my own proscription against crime (coercion, theft, and murder) which could, technically, be considered an ethical proscription which obtains universally. This is due to an anarchist definition of “rights”: namely, a right rooted in the rejection of collectives’ existence and a focus on individual action. Such a definition could be “a delineation of behaviors which one could justifiably defend oneself with any necessary degree of force.” It would, then, be reasonable to assert that provoking one’s right to self defense is inadvisable under all circumstances.

What I am trying to express here is that the NAP (in whatever form) is a result of anarchist first principles, not a first principle in itself. It is certainly a useful rhetorical tool to appeal to the NAP straightaway, as “I think people shouldn’t murder each other” is usually common ground for people. However, if that is the extent of one’s education in anarchism, one will be prone to the mistakes explored earlier. Much like a man that becomes a Christian because “Jesus forgives you,” and leaves it at that, one will be prone to doing stupid things and giving the philosophy to which one claims to adhere a bad name.

Ultimately, anarchism is a moral philosophy. Predicated on certain ontological claims and on an informed understanding of the way the world operates. Anarchism is the conclusion that individuals ought to behave in a manner consistent with personal responsibility and not attempt to place that responsibility on the shoulders of others without their permission. This is primarily a practical consideration, but it is fully complimented by some forms of deontological frameworks, so long as they do not violate the ontological or ethical claims of anarchism. This consideration, I think secures anarchism from mixing with bad philosophies without requiring positive ontological claims.

I propose that a sufficient definition of anarchism (or anarchy, for simplicity) would be as follows: a philosophy predicated on the claim that collectives do not exist, only individuals; the claim that one is responsible for one’s actions, and will face the inevitable consequences of those actions, which results in the claim that one cannot justifiably commit crimes (coercion, theft, or murder) under any circumstances; and the claim that one can and should defend themselves from crimes as well. At first glance, this definition may not seem too similar to the popular conceptions of anarchy, but one can quickly conclude from these claims that governments do not exist, only people do, and those that engage in government activities, such as taxation (theft), enforcement (coercion), and war (murder), are criminals and ought to be dealt with as such. In other words, anarchy dictates that one interact with ISIS, Ted Bundy, and one’s local government bureaucrats and enforcers in a consistent manner.

TL;DR: My original suggested definition of anarchy was a good start, but it certainly needs work. The 2015 model of “Mad Philosopher’s flavor of anarchism” is ultimately little more than an ontological commitment which, if consistently and logically applied, can (and frequently does) result in the rest of the assertions and arguments I have made on this blog over the course of the last year or so. Anarchy is a philosophy predicated on the claim that collectives do not exist, only individuals; the claim that one is responsible for one’s actions, and will face the inevitable consequences of those actions, which results in the claim that one cannot justifiably commit crimes (coercion, theft, or murder) under any circumstances; and the claim that one can and should defend themselves from crimes as well. In other words, one can do whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea.


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