Saturday, 15 February 2014

Anarchy: Dreams & Nightmares

From Washington to Warsaw, I have spoken with many political activists who want to improve government institutions by strengthening their democratic responsiveness. We all share a vision of citizens being empowered to shape public policies to enhance the common good. But any chance of realising that vision is seriously undermined by the proliferation of Pro-Anarchy Proponents (or PAP for short).

PAP come in many forms. And they all have their own reasons for advocating practices that are premised on the virtual extinction of government. Anarchist protestors distrust any collective system that can make binding decisions on everyone, and insist that there should be no rule except for what one has personally signed up to. Free market deregulators never tire of arguing that the ideal world is where businesses and individuals are left to make their own choices without any government intervention whatsoever. Anti-government militia maintain that they have an inalienable right to do what they want, and no government should get in their way. And survivalists believe that people should prepare for life without any form of government, as all such public institutions will inevitably be wiped away.

All these groups are driven by very different motives, but the societal changes they push for have a common destination. Every PAP road leads to a state of anarchy. In place of a pluralist constitution, which combines the basic protection of all individuals from neglect and abuse, with a transparent system of decision-making that is binding on all, what would prevail instead is what each individual manages to secure for oneself.

Dreamers amongst PAP will imagine everyone coming to an amicable understanding without having to invoke the rule of law to settle disputes. For them, life without a government – however democratically responsive it might have been – will be far better when it is down to individuals to sort out their own problems. The nightmare of a reality will be more of a free-for-all contest where might is inevitably right. Some will wield vast economic power; some will have stockpiles of weapons; and some will be bolstered by their ability to stir up crowds through their words and media outlets. Not all those with superior power may seek to advance their own interests regardless – there may indeed be real philanthropists amongst them; but only the most na├»ve can possibly think that there would not be those who try to impose their will on others.

Without any democratic form of government to redress the balance, the freeriders, the exploiters, and the aggressors will decline to accept or respect any rule that hinders them. They will find ways to eliminate opposition to them, and in time establish their ‘rule’ as absolute. Anarchy is the backdoor to authoritarianism.

Across the world, there is widespread recognition that governments need to be improved, to be made more accountable and democratically inclusive. But PAP talk is not only a distraction, it is ultimately a recipe for surrendering to the most abject arbitrary rule.


Harry Wallington said...

I agree. Although ideally we might hope for a gradual decrease in the role of government, that is - SHOULD people become more empowered to run their own lives, and instinctively cause less problems to others - this has to be evidence driven.

My own perspective is that everyone is driven by psychological pain to some extent. If we can start to REDUCE that on a large enough scale...then this idealistic scenario is certainly feasible - but to try to achieve this without doing almost certain to result in the need for greater repression.

This is why so many political revolutions have failed to live up to their initial promising expectations. It is not that human nature is fundamentally perverse, as religious groups tend to suggest, but that it will take a psycho-social revolution to precede any larger political one.

Henry Benedict Tam said...

Depending on circumstances, the role of govt should decrease in some areas (surveillance, petty enforcement), but increase in others (tackling causes of climate change, protection of the vulnerable). In parallel, empowerment of individuals and communities should be supported too.