• Demo Cat posted an update 3 months, 3 weeks ago

    Since the idea that one individual or group and their property needed to be protected from another, by means of an overall authority, we have been subjected to some form or other of state. Max Weber, describing the state as an institution which has ‘the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.’ might not appear to give cause for concern at first glance. In fact he may seem to offer reassurance to some who feel they and their property need protection. However, when considered more thoroughly there are unsettling aspects about it, both in terms of what it might imply, and the situation we encounter should the implication be valid. This essay will try to articulate why his statement should concern us, and will also explore the requirement for change.

    In order to expand on what is meant by the term ‘state’, one or two further definitions should be explored.

    The state is described as ‘the specific form of government which emerged in post-Renaissance Europe’, and its main characteristics are said to be as follows: The state is a sovereign body, claiming total authority to create and endorse the rights of its citizens. It is a compulsory body. All within its confines must recognise its authority or leave. It is a monopolistic body. As in Weber’s definition, the state claims a monopoly of force within its territory. It is also a distinct body. State and society are two different things.

    The state has the political authority to decide what is and is not within the law, what is and is not punishable, and what means of punishment is both appropriate and necessary. Political authority is described by John Locke (1632 – 1704) in his Second Treatise as ‘the right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties.’

    Sebastian Faure describes Anarchy, by contrast, as ‘a cluster of general principles, fundamental conceptions and practical applications regarding which a consensus has been established between individuals whose thought is inimical to Authority and who struggle, collectively or in isolation, against all disciplines and constraints, whether political, economic, intellectual or moral.’

    Faure also draws the distinction between Anarchists and the rest of humankind with the uniting point that ‘the negation of the principle of Authority in social organizations and the hatred of all constraints that originate in institutions founded on this principle. Thus whoever denies Authority and fights against it is an Anarchist.’

    The term Anarchist did – for many – conjure up images in Victorian times of a dark shadowy figure, lurking behind a cape, clutching a round, smoking object of an alarming nature. Recent portrayals of Anarchy might depict a flying picket at a miners strike, an IRA terrorist, or someone marching against the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

    The state has been argued for by many, mainly using imagined scenarios of what life without state would be like, as the motivating factor for the necessity of its existence. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), reasons that in a state of nature – or anarchy, there would be a scarcity of goods. Because man’s character means that he is constantly searching for goods, objects of desire – “felicity” – there would be competition for ownership of the same things. Hobbes assumes we are all equal in strength, and, in our constant quest, power would be sought through ‘riches, reputations and friends’. We would use our equal strength to attack each other for what we desire. ‘From this equality of ability, ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of their own Ends. And therefore if any two men desire the same thing . . . they become enemies; and . . . endeavour to destroy, or subdue one another.’ He suggests that in a state of nature there would be ‘continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.’ Hobbes’ view is that ‘in the state of nature, there is no justice or injustice, no right or wrong. Moral notions have no application. This is what Hobbes calls the ‘Natural Right of Liberty.’’

    Hobbes’ answer is the formation of a Leviathan – a state ruled over by a sovereign who has the absolute right and authority to rule and enforce all its laws.

    Locke, writing sometime later, agrees with Hobbes’ conclusion that life without a state would be unpleasant and eventually unsustainable. But there are differences between the two theories. Hobbes believes morality would not exist. Locke believes it would. Importantly, whilst Locke believes that the Law of Nature is in fact God’s Law and sees man as moral creatures with moral duties, he does not suggest man would necessarily obey the moral law.

    Locke’s theologically inclined argument sees an initial abundance of resources as opposed to Hobbes scarcity. Problems arise for Locke with the invention of money, and it is from this, and the ensuing hoarding of goods and riches, that scarcity becomes an issue, and many are left penniless and without.

    Locke does go further than Hobbes in the justification of punishment. Where Hobbes draws the line at self defence, Locke sees that ‘every man hath a right to punish the offender, and be executioner of the law of nature’ Locke holds that if we possess rights, they must be enforceable otherwise they become worthless. Unlike Hobbes’ law giving license for whatever action might be necessary for self preservation, Locke’s law restricted what can and cannot be done by the individual. It is at this stage Locke sees the requirement for a body (state) to act as law enforcer.

    The strength in both arguments lies in the fear of the state of nature they are both successful in generating. It is perhaps worth noting here that Hobbes’ Leviathan was written against the backdrop of the English Civil War. These circumstances appear to have provided good enough reason for Hobbes to suggest that any state would be better than no state.

    The weakness in Hobbes’ argument lies in his descriptive theory of human nature. The humans he describes in his theory are suspicious, afraid, and inclined only to obey the Laws of Nature when they see others doing so. Driven by desire they attack where they see they can gain safety and/or goods. Would these characters live peaceably under a state regime? Would the ‘have nots’ be deterred from taking from the ‘haves’ any more effectively if the state was meting out the punishment rather than those they were taking from?

    There are difficulties raised with Locke’s theory being so firmly based around his theological beliefs (many anarchists are atheists and have problems with organised religion), but if we set these difficulties to one side, we immediately see again the same problem with his argument as with Hobbes’ – if Locke doubts the moral obedience of his ‘State of Nature’ man, whilst introducing scarcity via the introduction of money, what reason would moral, yet disobedient people have for living in peace within a state? Punishment is punishment, no matter who the deliverer.

    The reason for this fundamental flaw in their theories is pointed out by Jean-Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778). The Hobbesian and Lockean accounts of human nature were based on that which had already been shaped and corrupted by the state, rather than looking at an accurate description of pre-state man, thus transferring ‘to the state of nature ideas which were acquired in society; so that, in speaking of the savage, they described the social man.’

    The main (and quite possibly only) reason most states work is because of something Rousseau picked up on – that as well as humans possessing the desire for self preservation as a motivator, they also possess compassion. The ratio between law enforcers and society members of any state will surely serve to reflect this fact, and that of man’s general tendency towards compliance. Rousseau also recognises the fact that whilst there exists a state telling its citizens what is right and wrong, they will stop thinking morally for themselves. The only need for any consideration around our doings is to decide what we can get away with without being caught and punished.

    If the necessity for state is mainly down to the protection of its citizens, and the enforcement of their rights, why should there be any reason to see the state as anything other than benevolent, or to see Weber’s statement as being anything other than reassuring? Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) identifies four main problems with the state, which can be outlined as follows: Firstly, it is coercive – a reduction of personal freedom way below the limit needed for social co-existance, passing restrictive laws for the states own preservation rather than for the well being of its citizens. Secondly, it is punitive – cruel and excessive punishment is dispensed by the state for disobedience – regardless of the validity or justness of its laws. Thirdly, it is exploitative – using powers of taxation and economic regulations to transfer wealth and advantage from producers and workers, to its own treasury or its elite supporters, and fourthly it is destructive, enlisting its citizens to fight in wars for reasons of its own furtherance – either gaining more resources or to enlarge its own territory.

    Just by recalling place names of various recent world events where ordinary members of state societies tried to bring world attention to unjust laws passed and enforced by their respective states completely endorses Proudhon’s concerns. Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China 1989 – student demonstrations for democratic reform. Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1969 – demonstrations by Catholic citizens of Northern Ireland calling for repeal of the laws prohibiting them from having the vote in elections. Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 1963 – Negro US citizens demonstrated against laws of segregation. ‘Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negros in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal and unbelievable facts.’

    Whilst some are intent on wrongdoing, regardless of any physical (state) or metaphorical (moral) restraints, we cannot suggest that we would be any safer in a state or out of it, therefore we cannot accept the argument for the state on the grounds of protection. This levelling of the playing field in terms of where we might find protection means we can then shift the argument somewhat, and look again at what the main arguments around state vs anarchy should actually be.

    Historically, Anarchy has been painted in a sinister light, yet if we look a little closer, philosophical anarchists are anything but dangerous – except perhaps, to the credence of the idea of state itself. Human nature has to be the main reason for any system – anarchic or otherwise – to work. As Rousseau suggests, the main traits possessed by humans are positive and caring towards their fellow humans. The anarchist would agree with him on the positive nature of the human psyche. ‘ . . . anarchism is surely the most attractive of the great political “-isms” through the generosity of its various conceptions of human nature and its optimism concerning the possibility of human goodness.’

    Anarchists are not all of a single mind, and as with purporters of state, there are also different strengths of anarchy within the whole anarchic spectrum. Most anarchists will agree on the necessity of institutions – but not at any price, and certainly not bearing any of the coercive, exploitative, punitive, destructive hallmarks of Proudhon’s state. Anarchists mostly agree on the necessity for ‘protection of the person against invasion by others, and co-ordination of the productive work of society.’ Anarchists see the need for these institutions to be set up specifically for separate functions, but unable to exert power beyond that specific function. These organisations should be voluntary rather than compulsory. No institution should be above any other in any case of dispute between such organisations.

    Anarchy would also see the return of individuals’ moral responsibility within society. Without the punitive legal state system, we would use our moral consciousness to decide what is right and what is wrong in our intended actions. We, as rational human beings, do not require the state to tell us the difference between right and wrong.

    The idea of anarchy is still greeted with deep suspicion and derision in many quarters, but so was the idea of women being actual persons in Canada (in accordance with the British North America Act) – preventing them from being appointed to the senate until this Act was repealed in 1929.

    The state which currently enjoys the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within the territory known as the United Kingdom has its roots in a legal charter drawn up in 1215. This largely unchanged document is what we are ruled by in 2010, and whose laws we – by default of being born within its territory – consent to.

    There are several problems with anarchy – what anarchists might do with people continuing to behave anti-socially despite the use of non-punitive sanctions, for example. But, like the problems of the state, we will probably only be able to understand and resolve these whilst working our way through an existing anarchistic system.

    When faced with such a complete unknown, most of us will prefer ‘the devil we know’ to anarchy, but after considering Weber’s statement, can we really say that this is the right thing for us to settle for? Perhaps, rather than pinning our hopes on the flawed arguments proposed by Hobbes and Locke for the state as provider of protection, we might instead prefer to consider what could be gained from the freedom anarchy offers.

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