In my two previous notes I made reference to the Voluntaryist movement. Those mentions were part of a message to those participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement who identify themselves as seeking small, constitutionally-limited government (libertarian) and seeking little-to-(essentially) no government authority in society (the aforementioned Voluntaryists).
While the idea for this essay has been rolling-around in my head for a while, it has been the recurring discussion of the presence of anarchists at OWS protests which has motivated me to finally tackle authoring my examination of anarchy in today’s society.
In many instances – when addressed during media coverage and public discourse – the term “anarchy” is assigned an unfairly negative connotation. Not all such harsh assessments are unwarranted, of course. However, due to the overuse of the term it has become an inaccurate blanket-description for many who not only disapprove of governmental use of force but become actively involved in decrying it.
The overly broad use of anarchy as a descriptor is unfair due to the fact there are primarily two distinct camps in it. Although the notion of government and politics being defined in terms of left versus right was debunked decades ago by the late-great David Nolan, the two main groupings of anarchists is best illustrated using a left-right dichotomy.
Among the key components of modern anarchism is the prevailing anti-elites sentiment. On the right hand of the scale there are those who fit the description of Voluntaryists and Anarcho-capitalists. To the left, there are those who seek a redistributive form of society sans the existence of a ruling government (research the term “neo-anarchist” dubbed by Keith Preston).
Voluntaryists and anarcho-capitalists believe the free market and unrestrained free choice will derive the necessary economic freedoms that impel prosperity while determining or maintaining social norms will be up to parents and broader family structures in bringing-up their children – as well as religious institutions.
Left-wing anarchists do not share the above economic outlook.
Property rights at the core
In all honesty, given the fact anarchy involves the anti-elites approach, the left-wing camp operates under an umbrella of irony. While the outlook on social norms is – on the surface – the same, this division of anarchism spurns the concept of fundamental property rights.
Where this approach to anarchism differs from its left-wing counterpart of totalitarian statism is simple: redistribution is achieved through mob rule as opposed to the force of governmental authority.
Herein lies the irony: given that anarchism is rooted in the rejection of the authority of elites, in order for redistribution of people’s assets to take place via mob rule someone must be in a position to direct the mob’s focus toward a perceived injustice.
Someone (obviously meaning multiple individuals) must enjoy or retain enough of a degree of credibility which enables them to stir the pot so as to set the majority’s mob-rule agenda.
In essence, these pot-stirrers become de facto elites.
Furthermore, when a vocal and determined minority in such a society identifies what they view as an injustice requiring immediate confiscation and redistribution but the majority disagrees, what is likelihood the agitated minority will concede the point in those instances and let the issue be?
Now, you have a situation where the majority must act in some regard as a force of authority to deter the disgruntled pot-stirrers – creating a scenario where leaders among the majority will inevitably need to emerge and potentially create a competing class of elites.
Conversely, respect for and defense of property rights stand at the heart of Voluntaryism. The forced redistribution of one’s earnings or tangible property is the complete antithesis of Voluntaryist aims for society.
On the right-wing end of the spectrum, the individual’s right to keep what he or she either earns through employment or builds through personal industrious efforts is unalienable: so is the right to share any of it strictly of their own volition for the benefit of others, as well as dealing with the consequences for one’s choices is the responsibility of each individual.
Voluntaryists believe that a society where its citizens are allowed to live within such constructs will steadily align itself toward prosperity and generosity – based on the principle that virtue can only exist when there is free choice.
What becomes of social norms?
Social norms stand a vastly better chance of lining-up with virtuousness under Voluntaryism and Anarcho-capitalism because they are approaches which center on respect for the individual and place emphasis on respect for property rights.
In the left-wing version of anarchism, the notion of social norms becomes much more fluid. This is due to the fact those who do enjoy the prerogative to influence and steer the sentiments of the majority will at some point play to the base desires of humans for the purpose of using such motivations as incentives for pursuing their agenda: as opposed to encouraging individuals to determine their own independent agendas and examining the potential effects on others – especially society at large.
The left-wing cycle of disregard for property rights can only lead from anarchy back to the Progressive ascent of the pot-stirring elite toward statist control of the masses.
Undoubtedly, the left-wing vision of anarchy is every bit the nightmare it is so often portrayed. When the denial of property rights collides with the individual’s unalienable right to defend their property, the resulting clash can only leave a bloody trail of carnage in its wake.
That is not to say there is a complete absence of genuinely well-meaning participants in that movement. Among the goals of these advocates is to create a society that operates while free of what they consider the burden of money. But, embracing this concept requires overlooking a vital truth that money is the medium by which people deal with one another on civilized terms. Without that medium – which represents the value of the product of labor and resources – we will be left with a society where individuals would eventually need to deal with one another via the barrel of a gun. (See pp. 380-385, “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand)
At the same time, honesty in assessing Voluntaryism is a must. Make no mistake: it is a genuinely noble ideal that is worth pursuing. However, the likelihood of it being realized in my lifetime or that of anyone who reads this is nil.
Much of that is due to the fact it will take generations for the necessary education of the masses regarding the simple principles of self-reliance and individual responsibility. In the interim, a dramatic society-wide change in perception of government’s role in our lives must sweep over the American population while dismantling takes effect of the various entitlements and unconstitutional safety nets.
In essence, we must grow into a society where dedication to self-governance prevails.
If it were as easy to do it as it is to express the notion, by now we would be nearly on the verge of achieving it. Reality does not smile upon the Voluntaryist idealist in today’s world.
That is not to say Voluntaryism’s full-time proponents should abandon their efforts. I stand side-by-side with anyone whose two-fold goal is to vastly reduce the size and scope of government while preserving the rights of the individual.
Some amount of government, though, is necessary: to provide for the defense of the country; to pursue justice once crimes have been committed; to settle disputes involving legally binding contracts; and to safeguard the rights of citizens in the event of their violation by any of the states.
My ultimate hope is that we can return to that system of governance through participation in the democratic process and the manner in which we do commerce: via the mechanism enjoyed by our forefathers in the United States – as opposed to the alternative.