Peace Requires Anarchy

The Conscience of an Anarchist | Gary Chartier

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“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.


Author: PeaceRequiresAnarchy

“A consistent peace activist must be an anarchist.” – Roderick T. Long

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