Good anarchy, bad anarchy, red anarchy, blue anarchy
Have you ever read the book or seen the movie Lord of the Flies? Lord of the Flies is about a group of schoolchildren marooned on a desert island. At first, they are somewhat disorganised but they soon learn to cooperate to solve collective tasks and divide labour. They have certain simple rules they have learned in school for conducting themselves, though they might not understand the logic behind them. But the situation deteriorates. “Might makes right” prevails as most of the boys follow an alpha leader. Without grownups to keep order and feed them and take care of their every need, the boys revert to a state of what we typically imagine as savage. Within what seems a matter of weeks, they kill one of the boys. The island has become a zone of no mercy.
I believe this story is accurate. Children, or anyone, in a “state of nature” might create mayhem in a way that the state keeps in check. So why would anyone want that?
Anarchy has come to be synonymous with chaos. It is understandable. The boys on the island resorted to savages in a state of anarchy, which means the absence of rulers. Anarchy as chaos is “bad” anarchy; at least, I don’t personally know any anarchist or any other adult who wants chaos. I wonder, though, what would have become of the island society. Even young boys do not stay cruel and savage forever until there is no one left. The book Anarchy in Action describes the case of August Aichhorn, who ran a home for maladjusted children in Vienna. One especially aggressive group went around smashing all the furniture, the windows and the doors. Kids hurt each other, of course. Yet, Aichhorn and his colleagues believed that, out of anarchy arises order. As Proudhon once said, “Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order.” They did not waver in their beliefs and restrained themselves. Self-governing order took time to arise, but it did nonetheless. The children settled down. They developed strong attachments with others and learned how to cooperate. Aichhorn could now proceed to work with the students to get an education free of the limitations of the real world.
All this is based on spontaneous order. Anarchy based on spontaneous order, or self organisation, can be “good” anarchy.
As I have written elsewhere, spontaneous order describes how all manner of processes, from the development of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth to language, the internet, the market economy and the Egyptian revolution. Spontaneous order, leaving people alone to live their lives, among adult humans has driven the industrial and scientific revolutions and given us most of what some people call progress. Jeffrey Tucker says, “Anarchy is all around us. Without it, our world would fall apart. All progress is due to it. All order extends from it. All blessed things that rise above the state of nature are owed to it…. [W]e need ever more absence of control to make the world a more beautiful place.”
Anarchists have all kinds of different beliefs and ways they would like to live. Some want an economy free of all government intervention, vastly equalising opportunity, creating vast prosperity for most or all people, and creating new markets for security, education, health and so on. Others want to live free of both government and corporate influence, where pollution is minimal, nature abundant, and technology is for helping, not hurting, people. These things are all possible in the absence of coercion by a higher power.
They don’t mind moving away and starting communities, or living off the grid. Part of the problem is that, even when they consume no state resources, the state usually tries to reincorporate them by force. The other option is secession, whether as an individual living in towns and cities or as a community, based in any given sized territory. Anarchists would not force others to do the same, but they do want everyone to have the option.
Good, bad or whatever, anarchists want the freedom to live in the form of system—including none—they like, and would not want to take the same option away from you.