by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
They called it anarchy when the Iraqi government collapsed and looters plundered goods from government office, palaces, hospitals, and the museum of antiquities. This was chaos, but was it really an example of anarchism?
"Anarchy" has two different meanings. The original meaning was "an absence of government." Then because some who called themselves "anarchists" indulged in violent means to eliminate government officials, anarchy came to also mean the violent chaos of mobs in the street and wild looting. But chaos and violence are not what philosophical anarchists have in mind when they advocate an absence of government.
The political philosophy of anarchism proposes that society can function peacefully in a spontaneous order without being directed by a central governing authority. The absence of government does not imply an absence of governance, administration, and order. Without a central government, folks would organize themselves in consensual communities. Contractual communities and mutual aid societies would provide for the collective goods desired by the members, including the protection of property rights. Also, individuals could hire protective agencies, just as businesses today hire guards and security services.
There is law and order in peaceful anarchism. Anarchist law derives from two sources. First, contracts establish rules and enforcement among the parties of a contract, including a community contract, as is the case today with condominiums and apartments. The landlord-tenant lease is an example of private law.
Secondly, law evolves as cases are brought before judges, who interpret previous law and apply concepts of justice to establish precedents that create new law. The legal system we have today includes common law that evolved in England and the countries where the English settled. Common law was not designed by anybody, but evolved as various legal cases were decided.
In an anarchist world, law and order would be established over a large territory by the association of communities with one another. They would form leagues and federations for mutual aid and wide-area services. There could be individuals and communities who do not wish to affiliate with the network, and they would co-exist so long as they were peaceful.
So why did peaceful anarchism not pop up in Iraq? Because orderly anarchy can only come about via a social evolution. There were in the past many peacefully anarchist societies, including many primal peoples in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Iceland was an anarchist society during the Middle Ages. But now, the solid surface of the earth has been claimed by states. There is nowhere to go other than the ocean to establish a new anarchist society, and an anarchist ship would be vulnerable to being sunk by an enemy torpedo.
An anarchist society today would be established in one of two ways. First, it would be possible for an organized anarchist movement to overthrow a government and then establish an anarchist social contract that would govern the territory voluntarily. Those who did not wish to affiliate would be free to be independent, but the contractual governance would be armed and ready to defend itself against aggression. The danger of this method is that, as happened with the Soviet revolution, the revolutionaries could instead establish a new tyranny.
Second, and far better, there could be a movement to devolve the central government. Authority would first shift to local government. Public finance would shift from the central government to provinces, counties, and cities. Communities as well as individuals would then be free to secede from the governmental authority. If most folks remained within the greater association, it would provide a rather uniform rule of law and provide protection within the association as well as defense against external aggression.
Neither of these two methods happened in Iraq. Instead of surrendering and transferring power in an orderly fashion, the governing officials fled and hid. The power vacuum was quickly filled by individuals each exerting power. This was not a true anarchy in the sense of absence from government but rather thousands of individuals initiating force. Each looter acted like a petty tyrant. It was a spontaneous disorder, the tyranny of mass kleptocracy, not the peaceful spontaneous order dreamed of by philosophical anarchists.
The association of chaos with "anarchy" has now become ingrained in the social psyche. True anarchists need not give up the word, but we can popularize alternative expressions such as the "spontaneous order" and "governance by individual consent" to let people know that a peaceful and orderly alternative to statism exists.
The natural human order is and will always be, as Henry George put it, "equality in association." That implies that each individual is individually sovereign, with no imposed authority over him that makes him an unequal slave. That implies the orderly anarchism of governance by individual consent.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2003 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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