"The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do." ~ Eric Hoffer
Exclusive to STR
February 18, 2008
Youngsters dressed in black wearing facial masks setting another McDonald's restaurant on fire. Some of them trying to make the full body of protesters attack the police and innocent passers-by. Others are throwing rocks at whatever is close enough to hit. Still others, with spray cans "borrowed" from daddy's garage, making sure the riot leaves marks on walls and windows for a long time.
On the news, reporters stand against the violent flames consuming another building talking about yet another "anarchist riot." Tens of "anarchists" were apprehended by the police, but most of them escaped and left people in fear and their belongings in ruins. One of the hooded teenagers is interviewed on TV and tells us about his deep hatred for the police, society, order--and prosperity.
This is anarchy, if you ask most people. It is the devastation of human creations and uprooting of human organization, it is the destruction of order. People are brought to believe that anarchism is about threatening, burning, destroying, assaulting, and killing.
Unable to categorize these young people so filled with hatred--so "anti" everything that is and has been--reporters talk of "anarchism" in lack of a better word for violent nihilist chaos. They are no doubt ignorant of the anarchist philosophical/political tradition, and go with what they believe they know: "anarchy is chaos."
But it isn't as simple as reporters being ignorant.
Let's have another look at the crowd of youngsters destroying anything in their path. What is the message they leave? The walls bear the mark of rioting in burning red, the circled A for anarchy. And in the midst of the black mass of people terrorizing the neighborhood: a black flag. They call themselves "anarchists" because they hate and want to destroy; they are "anti."
If you ask them about their philosophy, they might talk of "war on the rich" and spit the name of Proudhon at you. But they won't be able to tell you anything he wrote, and even if they did read a page or two, they couldn't have understood it. After all, Proudhon's statement of "anarchy the mother not the daughter of order," the subheading of Tucker's Liberty , seems quite the opposite to what this kind of rioting is about.
It is obvious that reporters and average Joes blame anarchism in ignorance; they know no better. But it is as obvious that the rioting punks try to free-ride on a thoroughly misunderstood and propagandized label. They don't riot and destroy because they have read and understood anarchism as described by the great anarchist thinkers; they riot under the name of anarchism because they understand it the way it is used by statists trying to make people fear level organization and non-hierarchy. In using anarchism as a reason for destruction, they are playing the statists' game and reinforcing the myth of freedom as a threat rather than a promise.
Proudhon, just as any other great anarchist thinker, was clear on anarchism being order. But it is an order based on equality, freedom, and mutual individual respect; in this sense it is, indeed, the opposite of the current state of society. In anarchy, no individual can be sacrificed for a greater good and no individual is persecuted for his beliefs or choices. No individual's right is greater than any other individual's; the very foundation of anarchy is every individual's equal right to life and liberty.
Destruction is therefore not a means for anarchism or anarchists. It cannot be, since destruction and violence require the perpetrator to take the power to destroy and thereby elevate himself above others. Anarchism is non-power, anti-power. The reason anarchists are against the state is because it is based on the destruction of natural equality and the right to liberty--it creates hierarchies and elevates some above others through privilege. It keeps people enslaved in a force-based structure of exploitation and terror.
Destruction is a statist measure; it is fundamental to government.
So what are the black-clad youngsters so filled with hatred and so prone to destroy? They call themselves anarchists, but they are the embodiment of the statist principle: "do as I say--or else." The masked hordes rioting the streets calling for anarchy want power; they want the power to do as they please, and they want the power to separate action from responsibility. They want the freedom to act--without consequence. They demand respect from others in the sense of fear, obedience and subjection rather than appreciation and admiration; they want to be the state and control its powers.
They are indeed the opposite of any conceivable part of the anarchist tradition, but use the label to place responsibility of their deeds on others. They blame anarchism for their actions, while demanding the powers of the state to mold society into their view of utopia. The riots are not a call for freedom; it is a call for another kind of government.
Anarchism, on the other hand, is the absence of government. The anarchists of old would identify statism in any form and under any label--even if it carries the label of "anarchism." We should too.