Many people have a much distorted view of what anarchism is. Most people wrongly associate anarchy with lawlessness, disorder, and chaos. Surprisingly, many who claim to favor anarchism seem to have little concept of its basic principles. This article will give a basic overview of anarchism, what it is and what it is not, and how the free market is a vital mechanism to any implementation of anarchy.
Anarchism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, is: 'a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups.' Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia, has an excellent section on anarchism, and all its derivative flavors. From Wikipedia we find: 'Anarchism is a generic term describing various political philosophies and social movements that advocate the elimination of the state. These philosophies use anarchy to mean a society based on voluntary cooperation of free individuals.' It is interesting to note that both definitions stress that anarchism is a society based on voluntary cooperation of individuals.
Anarchism basically states that people should be free to make their own decisions on how to live. Anarchism does NOT tell one how to use their freedom, what is the best method to live by--just that people should be free to decide. Anarchism does not tell one to be a socialist, or a capitalist, or believe in religion, or be an atheist, or how to live. An excellent short article that really explains this idea is 'Anarchism Without Hyphens.' Here is a quote from that article that really explains this idea: 'Anarchism, liberty, does not tell you a thing about how free people will behave or what arrangements they will make. It simply says the people have the capacity to make the arrangements. Anarchism is not normative. It does not say how to be free. It says only that freedom, liberty, can exist.'
Why are there so many types of anarchism?
In reality, there isn't. Any individual or group that operates purely on the voluntary cooperation of individuals, no matter what form it takes, is operating under the principle of anarchism. Any individual or group that forces compliance of individuals, no matter what form it takes, is not operating under the principles of anarchism, but of the state. The confusion in types of anarchism arises because anarchists are humans, and people tend to believe that they know the best way for all other people to live, whether they are anarchists or not.
Very broadly speaking, there are two basic anarchist camps of thought on how people should use their freedom to live. One embraces socialism (often denoted by anarcho-socialism or ansoc) and the other capitalism (often denoted as anarcho-capitalism or ancap). For anarcho-socialists, egalitarianism--the equality of results, is a primary concern. Anarcho-capitalists have no use for egalitarianism, and instead focus on property rights. Because of these disparate philosophical differences on how people should use their freedom to live their lives, these two groups often end up at each others' throats, and often denounce one another as a greater threat to liberty and anarchism than the state.
Another group that deserves mention, but is usually totally overlooked, is the one promoting individualist anarchism. To quote from Wikipedia: 'In politics, individualist anarchism is a variety of anarchism that emphasizes the importance of the individual. Several classical anarchist thinkers, such as Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Max Stirner, Dora Marsden and Albert Jay Nock, are known as individualist anarchists. Their works argue for the sovereignty of each individual within their own life. Other such writers include Henry David Thoreau and John Henry Mackay.' Individualist anarchism, with its emphasis on the individual and individual sovereignty, appears much more in agreement with the definition of anarchism as the voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals.
What do anarchists agree on?
Most anarchists agree that exploitation and oppression are wrong and need to be eliminated from society. Where anarchists differ is why exploitation and oppression occur. The anarcho-socialists usually blame capitalism for all the ills of mankind, hence their opposition to capitalism in any form. The anarcho-capitalists take the opposite approach, and blame socialism for all the world's problems, and oppose socialism in any form. What both sides ignore is that exploitation and oppression is a human problem, independent of any economic system. The state is the greatest exploiter and oppressor of mankind, and anarchists of all stripes would do well to concentrate on eliminating the state.
At least that is one area that anarchists can agree on, that the state is a completely unnecessary evil that needs to be totally scrapped. The state always enforces its edicts by force and coercion, never by voluntary cooperation. The state always portrays itself as the defender of individuals, but is the oppressor that engages in mass murder and thievery. As Samuel Edward Konkin III states in The New Libertarian Manifesto: 'Such an institution of coercion, centralizing immorality, directing theft and murder, and coordinating oppression on a scale inconceivable by random criminality exists. It is the Mob of mobs, Gang of gangs, Conspiracy of conspiracies. It has murdered more people in a few recent years than all the deaths in history before that time; it has stolen in a few recent years more than all the wealth produced in history to that time; it has deluded--for its survival--more minds in a few recent years than all the irrationality of history to that time. Our Enemy, The State.'
One of the worse effects of the state is that it enforces a completely unnatural order in human relations. You have nation-states subjecting regional-states that in turn subject local states. Besides being wrong in using force to obtain their ends, they also regard the individual and individual family unit, the most important and valuable contributors to society, as mere cogs in the service of the state. Most anarchists would agree that the individual, followed by individual family units, followed by local communities and associations are the natural order of human relations.
What is the role of the free market in anarchism?
All modern, industrialized societies rely on markets for the exchange of ideas, goods, and services. The free market, with its voluntary exchange of ideas, goods, and services, is the only one that fits the anarchist model of a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups. While the free market is often associated with free market capitalism, it does not really endorse any economic system. The free market really is about the voluntary exchange of products, by whatever means the individuals agree on. For those still unconvinced about the value of a free market in implementing anarchism, the other option is an involuntary or forced exchange of ideas, goods, and services, which is the method of the state.
In free market anarchism, all competing ideas on how people should live would be put into play. This could include socialism, capitalism, combinations and/or variations of both. Individuals, through the mechanism of the free market, would determine which type of society best suited their interests. This could also lead to the best practices of each society being recognized and adopted, as each society competes for members in the free market.
Another benefit of the free market is that it operates as a feedback mechanism. It would not totally eliminate crime, or corruption and oppression, but would ameliorate their effects. Any free market anarchist society that did not effectively deal with the problems of its society would soon find itself losing members to other societies that took care of their members' problems and concerns. While the free market is not a perfect solution, because of human imperfection, it is the best solution.
What does it all mean?
Anarchism doesn't tell one how to live, just that people should be free to make their own decisions. Anarchism will not deliver a utopia or paradise. Humans will still be humans, with all the faults of humans, under anarchism. To think that a certain type of anarchist society will eliminate all the problems of humanity is unrealistic. Whatever type of anarchist society people choose, it must be able to effectively deal with the problems of rogue elements who try to operate outside the bounds of society.
There is wide disagreement among anarchists, especially about how an individual should use his freedom to choose a method to live by. This is not unusual, undesirable, or bad, but indicative of how humans can arrive at different solutions to similar problems. The one thing that all anarchists can agree on is that the state is the enemy of anarchism and freedom, and needs to be eliminated for anarchism and freedom to flourish.
The free market is the best method for determining who is right. It will provide the best solutions for the widest variety of interests. The free market is the best vehicle for determining what people want and how they want to live.