A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Friday, August 27, 2004

On Anarchism

Reader Troy – who is also an old college buddy of mine – stated in the comments that he “figured anarchists would be pro-war”. It got me to thinking about anarchy a little, particularly after the recent PW “hacker anarchist” episode. Anarchists are in fact almost never pro-war, and the reason why is fairly straightforward: Governments go to war, and anarchists believe that governments shouldn’t exist. While there are almost certainly a few anarchists who also oppose war because it’s bloody and horrible, their objection to war as a group is not ethical but philosophical. All functions of government – from state universities to court systems to space programs – are all equally evil to an anarchist, and national defense is no exception.

Now, I’m not going to go deep into anarchist philosophy here. Suffice it to say that I utterly disagree with the idea that all government is evil and unnecessary – and I myself am an avowed minarchist. The simple, obvious truth of history is that too little government leads to chaos and mob rule, just as too much government leads to rampant totalitarianism. The cure for either is just enough government, a government that will " ... establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty ..." but do no more. The entire idea behind The United States of America is to create a society of just enough government, and that’s why our Constitution is, for me, as close as anything gets to holy writ. It’s not perfect, but it’s built and maintained a working society of just enough government for well over 200 years, and that’s something worth fighting for, killing for, and, if necessary, dying for. There are flaws – sometimes deeply disturbing ones – but compare America to the historical norm for our species and no honest man can deny that what we’ve built here is nothing short of miraculous.

So when I look at these anarchists in Seattle throwing rocks and bottles at policemen, smashing store windows, and flipping over cars in the streets I’m forced to wonder about the point they’re trying to make. When a “hacker anarchist” breaks into a computer system to vandalize web pages and steal private information, I ponder what it is he thinks he’s accomplishing. Because while it might feel good to express one’s rage and frustration in acts of destruction, the message these anarchists send is precisely the opposite of the one they purport to believe.

Anarchists say there should be no police, no courts, and no soldiers. But by going out and pummeling people with rocks, vandalizing businesses, and randomly destroying personal property they show that we do need police and courts and soldiers – if for no other reason than to protect us from unhappy anarchists! They also apparently believe there should be no internet security (that “information should be free”). Then they go hack into web sites and wreak havoc ... again proving that we do need the things they say we don’t. Ultimately, anarchists are walking, talking refutations of their own philosophy, which is kind of cool; if they’re going to hold such a ridiculous position the least they can do is save us the trouble of having to assault it ourselves.

It’s probably worth noting as I close that not all anarchists are the same. Many are the violent and destructive assclowns we saw in Seattle, but others simply want government to leave them alone. Anarcho-capitalism is an interesting (even if highly flawed) concept, and I can understand why people think that system (or, rather, lack of a system) has merit even if I don’t agree with them. Anarcho-capitalists also tend not to throw rocks or set fires when trying to make a point, which, unsurprisingly, makes people more willing to listen to them. In the end I suspect that there is not so much philosophy in the destructive variety of anarchist after all, but rather a seething hatred of order, peace, and wealth which is rooted in psychology rather than politics.