Peace Requires Anarchy

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How to Start a Revolution (2011)

Gene Sharp

The 2011 documentary How to Start a Revolution introduced me to Dr. Gene Sharp, one of the world’s leading thinkers on strategic nonviolent action, also known as nonviolent resistance or nonviolent struggle.

Sharp’s ideas have been implemented in many anti-government uprisings around the world in the past few decades. His book-length essay From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation has been “circulated worldwide and cited repeatedly as influencing movements such as the Arab Spring of 2010–2012.[3][4][5][6].”

A few of the leading activists who recently successfully overthrew (or rather, undermined) dictators in the Middle East and elsewhere were interviewed in the documentary explaining the influence that Sharp’s work had on their actions.

One of these activists visited Gene Sharp in Boston for the documentary. One of the first things Sharp said in the documentary after they greeted each other was:

There’s one thing that’s been ‘learned’ maybe from Tunisia and Egypt that I think is a mistake, a major mistake. And that is that the existing ruler has to resign. He doesn’t have to resign. You take all the supports out from under him; he falls. No matter what he wants to do. This is the distinction in the analyses between nonviolent coercion in which he has to resign, but he’s forced into it, and disintegration when the regime simply falls apart. There’s nobody left with enough power to resign. [1:14:51 of full film; 46:18 of the 52-minute abbreviated version of the film]

Jamila Raqib

Today 84-year-old Gene Sharp works as Senior Scholar at the Albert Einstein Institution in Boston with his one colleague Executive Director Jamila Raqib. Both Sharp and Raqib were interviewed extensively in the documentary about the work they are doing to advance the study and use of nonviolent action in conflicts around the world.

I had never heard of Gene Sharp until Ademo Freeman recommended the documentary on Facebook. The first time I mentioned Sharp to someone else (online) was in a comment on one of Wendy McElroy’s articles. While McElroy did not know about the documentary, she was very familiar with Sharp’s writings. She recommended Sharp’s three-volume work The Politics of Nonviolent Action in one of her comments, mentioned that she met him before in another comment, and in a third comment said, “Gene Sharp is pivotal. If you have a choice between reading him and reading me…I want him to win out.” Other people in the comment section had at least heard of him too. Apparently he is more well-known than I thought.

Gene Sharp’s “From Dictatorship to Democracy”

Of course Gene Sharp deserves to be even more well-known than he is now. At one point in the documentary Jamila Raqib says that she believes that one day Gene Sharp will be a household name. I would say the reason is because his writings have had a great effect on several uprisings, revolutions, and nonviolent undermines of dictators, yes, but also because his ideas can be applied to effectively undermine all unjust governments. All of us who passionately want to achieve a free society ought to read and understand his work so that we can know how to most effectively reach our goal.

A list of 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action is published on the Albert Einstein Institution’s website.

UPDATE 03/27/2013: I have finally finished reading Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy. I will write a post on it in the next few days. In the mean time, I have posted one of my favorite parts of the essay: The “Monkey Master” Fable. Check it out.

UPDATE 08/04/2013: I never got around to writing a post on “From Dictatorship to Democracy.” My interests have lead me elsewhere. I just remembered this blog post today when I saw that the last chapter of Michael Huemer’s book “The Problem of Political Authority” which I bought today is called “From Democracy to Anarchy.” That sounds exciting.


Gerard Casey | Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State

I’ve been a libertarian anarchist for over a year and a half now, but it wasn’t until last week that I actually read a complete book on the subject. The book was David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom. Then Tuesday I read Gary Chartier’s book The Conscience of an Anarchist and yesterday I finished reading Gerard Casey’s Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State.

“Why the sudden interest?” you might ask. Well, in reality I’ve been interested the whole time. I just chose to read articles and essays rather than books. Of course, articles and essays usually don’t get too deep into a subject so I decided to read a few books for a change to see if I could learn more. I did.

The three books were very different. Friedman primarily makes economic and consequentialist arguments against the state, while Casey mainly argues that the state is unjust. Chartier uses a combination of justice and consequentialist arguments, but writes from a leftist perspective. It’s hard to say which book I liked the best or the least. They each have their strengths and drawbacks.

Tom Woods is quoted on the back cover of Casey’s book as saying:

Gerard Casey has written a truly astonishing book, one that relentlessly dismantles some of the most deeply embedded presumptions in political philosophy. From now on, this will be the first book I use to persuade someone who insists on the vast benefits the state provides. A lasting and vastly significant addition to the literature.

I am hesitant to agree that Casey’s book is as absolutely wonderful as Woods makes it sound. Don’t get me wrong; the book was very good. It’s just that I came up with several criticisms of it as I read. Of course, it’s likely that I’ll have several criticisms for every book on political philosophy that I read so maybe I should wait until I’ve read a few classics, such as Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty and Morris and Linda Tannehill’s The Market for Liberty, before saying that Casey’s book was not brilliant. In the mean time I’ll just point out one criticism I had.

In the middle of Chapter 3: Liberty and Libertarianism, Casey randomly changes the subject from political philosophy to metaphysics for a few pages (48-51) to express his support of metaphysical libertarianism. Note that I’m not a metaphysical libertarian and I think Casey’s argument against determinism is simply false. However, even if I did agree with him, I see no reason why he should have inserted a discussion of the subject into the middle of a chapter on political philosophy. I don’t want to take up this blog post quoting him at length and explaining why his argument fails, so I’ll skip that discussion and instead quote Casey’s bold introduction:

The criminal state

States are criminal organizations. All states, not just the obviously totalitarian or repressive ones. The only possible exceptions to this sweeping claim are those mini-states that are, in effect, swollen bits of private property, such as the Vatican. I intend this statement to be understood literally and not as some form of rhetorical exaggeration. The argument is simple. Theft, robbery, kidnapping and murder are all crimes. Those who engage in such activities, whether on their own behalf or on behalf of others are, by definition, criminals. In taxing the people of a country, the state engages in an activity that is morally equivalent to theft or robbery; in putting some people in prison, especially those who are convicted of so-called victimless crimes or when it drafts people into the armed services, the state is guilty of kidnapping or false imprisonment; in engaging in wars that are other than purely defensive or, even if defensive, when the means of defence employed are disproportionate and indiscriminate, the state is guilty of manslaughter or murder.

Read the full introduction online here. Purchase Gerard Casey’s Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State so you can read it all.

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The Conscience of an Anarchist | Gary Chartier

“Today’s the big day; make sure you vote,” said my professor in class today.

“I voted today,” said a sticker with an American flag on it that one of my other professors was wearing on his shirt pocket.

When I got back from class I was delighted to learn that Gary Chartier’s book The Conscience of an Anarchist had arrived in the mail. The book is only 120 pages long so I was able to read it all this afternoon. It was very good.

Interestingly, Gary Chartier choose to avoid using practically every controversial word except “anarchy.” He avoids terms such as “libertarian,” “free market,” “capitalism,” and “socialism.” He often calls peoples’ “property” their “possessions,” presumably because many leftists have negative preconceptions about “property rights.”

Chartier is a self-identified leftist and it is clear from his book that he is a leftist. I don’t consider myself to be left wing (nor right wing) yet I agreed with almost all of the leftist views that he expressed. Something I noticed as I read his book is that there appear to be a lot of issues that leftists and rightists actually agree on, but appear to have different views on simply because they stress different aspects of the issues.

For example, on the subject of tariffs Gary Chartier writes:

I remember arguing about tariffs with dad when I was a high school student. I didn’t understand basic economics then. But I knew there was something wrong with treating goods and services differently because they came from other countries. It was chauvinistic, nationalistic, discriminatory.

Now I realize too how much tariffs disadvantage ordinary people in the territory of a state that imposes them–while benefiting elites. Tariffs are, effectively, subsidies by the state to favored industries and firms. A state’s tariffs may not actually exclude goods or services from outside its borders. But tariffs can make these goods and services a lot less attractive to purchasers inside its borders. In so doing, it props up wealthy, well-connected businesses that don’t want to be undersold by foreign producers. The foreign producers become victims of nationalistic bigotry–but so do the state’s own subjects, who cannot obtain goods and services as inexpensively as they otherwise could and who are forced to subsidize privileged businesses. A particularly stark example: agricultural subsidies, which prop up inefficient agribusinesses at the expense of foreign agricultural producers, and which therefore constitute significant, ongoing sources of poverty around the world. [page 33]

It definitely appears that a leftist wrote this, not a rightist, but do right libertarians or anarcho-capitalists actually disagree with it? I don’t think they do. How then can we even tell that a leftist wrote it?

I think the answer lies in the fact that Chartier stressed that the consequence of the tariffs is that they are effective subsidies that prop up domestic “elite” businesses by protecting them from competition.

I don’t think right wing people would deny that this is an effect of tariffs, yet at the same time I don’t think that the right wing people would necessarily stress this effect. Rather, I think the right wing people would focus on the small part of Chartier’s above quote that says, “The foreign producers become victims of nationalistic bigotry.”

The rightists would stress that tariffs are unjust because the state violates peoples’ rights–it makes them victims–when it threatens to forcefully prevent them from selling goods unless they submit to the state’s demands by giving a certain portion of the money they get for each good to the state.

The rightist may leave his explanation of why tariffs are unjust at that and thus possibly appear to leftists as if he doesn’t care about the ordinary people who now have to work for and shop from firms that manage to be artificially large, bureaucratic, “fat and lazy [page 27],” thanks to the protection from competition provided to them by the tariff.

But the rightist definitely might actually care about these effects on people. And if the rightest does care, does that make him a leftist? What if he cares, but does not always mention that he does? Does this make him a leftist that looks like a rightist?

Arguing over semantics is pointless. However, I just wanted to mention that I think many of the alleged differences in views between anarcho-capitalists and left libertarian “freed market anti-capitalist” anarchists do not truly exist. Their views just appear to be different because they stress different things. Of course, this is not to say that anarcho-capitalists and left anarchists don’t hold any different views. Some of their views definitely are different. I just think that they agree on more issues than it may seem.

It’s important to point this out because doing so makes it easier for all anarchists to work together for the same cause of achieving a free society. In a free society anarcho-capitalists and left market anarchists like Chartier may live very differently, but so long as we share the same goal of living peacefully and interacting with one another voluntarily I see no reason why we can’t work together. As Chartier said:

Anarchy as a Discovery Process

I’ve got fairly strong convictions about how I’d like to see things work without the state. Some of my convictions are moral–I think some things would be unjust and exploitative and subordinate and exclusive. Some of them are practical, empirical–I think authoritarian bureaucracies aren’t very adept at managing the production and distribution of goods and services. I wouldn’t hold those convictions if I didn’t think they were plausible. But I recognize that I might be dead wrong about any number of them.

Indeed, that’s one reason I find anarchism so appealing. Without a little cognitive humility, it’s easy to assume that I’ve got a model, a plan, that’s just right for everyone, that all I need is the right sort of benevolent philosopher-queen to implement it. But of course it’s that kind of naïve idealism about the capacities of states and the motivations of state actors that’s gotten us into the mess we’re in now, the mess in which the state tyranizzes [sic] us–supposedly for our own good.

Embracing cognitive humility, recognizing that I might well be dead wrong, is a crucial reason not to support some kind of cookie-cutter standard to be imposed across the board on communities in a stateless society. Anarchy will give people the freedom to experiment, to figure out what works, to test ideas and ideologies and figure out what happens when they’re actually put into practice. Some options will work well–people will improve on and refine them. Others will likely be disastrous–people will abandon them with relief. And others will likely prove stable enough that people who are attached to them will preserve them, and muddle through. The point is that, only by trying them out will people really discover effectively just how much merit they really have. (One advantageous feature of this kind of experimentation is that, if it goes badly wrong, the results won’t, can’t, be as catastrophic as they would be if a massive, powerful state apparatus messed things up dramatically. A large-scale, coercive state can do far more harm than a voluntary, small-scale, virtual or geographic community.) [page 91]

UPDATE 12/9/2012: Jacob Huebert’s Introduction to Chartier’s Conscience of an Anarchist is very good.