Is Anarchism The Only Morally Defensible Political

Philosophy? Essay, Research Paper “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; `Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, `The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere `The ceremony of innocence is drowned;” `W.B.Yeats, “The Second Coming.” `The answer to this question will revolve around the definitions of anarchism and morality.

Philosophy? Essay, Research Paper

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; `Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, `The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere `The ceremony of innocence is drowned;” `W.B.Yeats, “The Second Coming.” `The answer to this question will revolve around the definitions of anarchism and morality. It will be shown that, within the criteria laid down, anarchism is the most, if not the only, morally defensible ‘political’ philosophy. `Anarchism as a word is derived from the Greek “anarkhia”, meaning “absence of rule”, or “without government.” As a political movement it advocates the abolition of the state, and the replacement of all forms of governmental authority by free association and voluntary co-operation of groups and individuals. Unfortunately for the academic, anarchism is a philosophy split by faction. Broadly we can distinguish between anarchists who assert the primacy of the individual, and those who favour a stance of collective solidarity. The individual anarchists can take their principles to the logical extreme of egoism, and raise convincing objections that their communo-anarchist counterparts tend towards socialism or communism; yet they are open to attack themselves on the grounds that they advocate a corrupting free market and private possessions. There is also vast disagreement about future objectives and ways of achieving them. Some insist on creating viable political alternatives to the electoral orthodoxy; others dismiss the whole concept of political activity as pointless, and even corrupting in itself. Note, however, that all anarchists are hostile to the state, and all insist that we need obey no authority without our consent. `Miller (1984) notes that the prevalent image of an anarchist is of a destructive individual using violence to disrupt social order, with few constructive aims or alternatives. In fact, asserts Miller, the aim of the true anarchist is to re-build society – a society free from the chaos of war and injustice. If we note that many reject violence unless it is absolutely necessary, we can tentatively postulate that anarchism is a morally defensible political philosophy. `We must put morality into this general perspective. Woodcock (1945) notes that conventional definitions of morality are rejected by anarchists, as being restrictive to human freedom and happiness. He defines morality as an action involving social intercourse with other human agents. It is nonsense to ascribe moral weight to the actions of a human towards a stone, or indeed to a human divorced entirely from other human contact. One can only act in a moral way towards other human agents – only by attempting to promote their freedom and happiness, are one’s actions morally defensible in anarchist terms. Regrettably, morality is often viewed in terms of rules of conduct laid down by an ‘abstract’ entity – abstract in the sense that it moves the emphasis away from humans. To Christians this would be God – but this applies to all other political philosophies advocating the primacy of the state and its ethical recommendations. This restricts freedom and happiness, and maintains a system of authority. True morality is not, therefore, an obligatory code imposed by a coercive state, but an attitude towards promoting the freedom and happiness of others. `This relies on the psychology of the individual for its validity. It has been argued, notably by Hobbes (1909), that humans are essentially destructive, and thus need to form a coercive body to protect themselves from each other and guarantee some security. This will enable society to make meaningful progress on economic and technological levels. He warned against the ’state of nature’ that would arise if anarchy came about, where social stability would break down and humans would live in a state of “continual fear and danger of violent death”. It is in the interests of the individual to live according to such a ’social contract’ and maintain the existing government. `Carter (1971) drew interesting parallels between Hobbes and Godwin. For Godwin also stressed a social contract – one that was not fixed by an abstract entity, but constantly renewing between specific individuals. Hobbes’ reliance upon the psychology of the individual can, claims Carter, be turned to radical anarchic purposes by asserting assert that, in fact, humans are intrinsically constructive if untouched by the corruptions of an authoritarian system. Kropotkin (1972) argued precisely this by appealing to the rarely cited Darwinian notion of ‘mutual aid’. It is easy to highlight examples of mutual aid in the animal kingdom – animals that hunt in packs, such as wolves, or penguins huddling together in the cold. One can then draw a correlation between these and human beings, who still retain this intrinsic nature, despite the corrupting influences of state coercion and participation. Thus we can see that our general behaviour to one another, especially to strangers, is morally acceptable. Hobbes would say that this is because the threat of state-enforced punishment is present, to which Kropotkin has a lucid answer. `Since humans have highly developed rational powers, Kropotkin advocated a ‘Golden Rule’ of action, based upon mutual sympathy and imagination. I can imagine what it feels like to be hurt by others, can sympathise when this happens to my neighbour, and thus can take steps to prevent myself from performing such actions. Woodcock similarly said that we need other humans in order to attain the true Epicurean fulfilment of freedom and happiness. `It is plain, however, that there exist individuals who are not intrinsically peaceable – who are of a fundamentally destructive nature. It seems, given the anarchist conception of the individual, that these people are in some way lacking our concept of happiness and freedom. For we are discussing the notion from Wolff – that “every man who possesses both free will and reason” is responsible for his actions. It is easy, as Wolff said, to assert that the authority of this state over its citizens, is irreconcilable to their primary rational motive, which is to act freely and take moral responsibility for their actions. Obviously if one has been coerced into an act, one should not take responsibility for it, and the state is not legitimate for anarchists here. But is it at all? Paterson (1992) points out that where some humans are demonstrably less rational and free, some states do indeed have the right to enforce obedience over a number of their citizens. We could include children and those with mental disabilities, as being unable either to rationally make moral decisions for themselves, or lacking the autonomy to do so. This is a tricky area, but in many cases we can cite a human agent as a danger to himself or others, or simply not qualifying for the anarchist idea of moral responsibility. By anarchist definition it is permissible for the state to assume control here, since by definition these very agents have no autonomy or code of morality to be infringed. `Bearing this in mind, anarchism can still be seen to be a highly moral philosophy. What of Woodcock’s notion, though, that “anarchism brings no code of conduct?” Is this a major weakness in that it appears to slip into irresolvable relativism? With no standard code, surely individuals could legitimately act according to any destructive desire, and throw society into moral chaos? In fact, since anarchism has already established the intrinsically good and peaceable nature of human beings, this would not occur. Moreover, the onus on the individual brings with it a very special kind of responsibility and freedom – entirely lacking from conventional moral systems, which rely on the state to define and uphold a moral code. `For example, under ‘conventional’ codes of morality, if I am the owner of the only grocery store for miles around, I am able to charge extortionate prices and clearly exploit my fellow humans – for the state has no moral sanction against this. It may be that I feel a little guilty, but I can use the fact that the state has no moral sanction against this behaviour in order to justify my actions. `But anarchism would not permit me to feel true, rational guilt and yet still freely continue to perform these actions – for it is my moral code that is being violated, and, by my own standards, I am acting immorally. The crucial point is that a conventional code of conduct satisfies those seeking visible rules on which to base their life, but that these rules also provide protection against one’s own inner guilt. There is no such ‘passing of the buck’ in anarchism, and consequently can be difficult for many to accept. `Interestingly, Woodcock identifies two types of ‘moral’ action. One is the above general principle of co-operating harmoniously with your fellow humans, The other is in one’s relationship to the state. Although the state is too abstract to be ascribed moral status, it still promotes a great deal of human suffering and severely limits freedom and happiness. In this sense, it actually robs us of our morality, because it robs us of the freedom that is a necessary condition of it. An anarchist is thus dedicated to opposing the state. This is debatable – Thoreu thought that one could believe this without necessarily being politically active. If that is the case, anarchism is not a ‘political’ philosophy in that sense, and one could shun politics as being both a sham, and as a process of the system itself, ie, that actually participating in the system is immoral. Others believe we should use the political system, from the inside as it were, to bring about its downfall. `Woodcock argues that, whereas we should not, say, lie to our fellow humans, this situation changes if we are encountered by a servant of the state, like a policeman, in which case we both can and should lie. Then, although it contravenes ordinary conceptions of morality, it serves the higher purpose of resisting the state. There is a blurring of the boundaries, because we live in a capitalist, oppressive state, and can rarely avoid participating in it. But it is reasonable to say that some actions are acceptable, whilst others – using the system for one’s own ends, or serving the state directly, are not. `Miller argued that anarchism is against authority per se. Some types of authority may be legitimate ways of co-ordinating daily life, such as obeying traffic regulations, or following the authority of a doctor so that you may recover your health. But this must be voluntary, not coerced. (so we have the option of not travelling by car, or not taking the doctor’s advice.) Paterson notes that the notion of autonomy is tricky – perhaps a state can respect the autonomy of its citizens, whilst acting against those who wish to harm or interfere with the autonomy of their fellows. `It is not easy to separate ‘the state’ from ‘authority’. What is certain is that anarchists object to the authority and legitimacy of any institution to do what is both morally right and wrong. per se. Paterson says that no institution possesses the right to act wrongly for the wrong reasons; nor to demand compliance from rational beings. This would have to include all other political philosophies that render the rational individual morally subservient to an embracing, organising body, and thus covers Socialism as well as traditional Capitalism. As Carter and Paterson note, there can be no compromise into laissez-faire liberalism, even on the grounds of utility – because this would still involve some restriction of the autonomy of rational individuals. The state cannot reserve the right to intervene in some of our moral decisions and not others – for that wrongly limits the scope of our morality. The exception is of those beings with poor rational capacities, and less freedom – who can legitimately be controlled by those with higher rationality (including states), as long as there are good reasons for this. `Given this general anarchist stance, this essay clearly demonstrates that anarchism is far removed from its negative, chaotic image. Anarchism has good reason to reject existing notions of morality, and its own persuasive definition renders it the only morally defensible philosophy. It is ‘political’ in the obvious sense that it deals with political institutions and goals, although many anarchists entirely shun the ‘political’ arena on the grounds that politics itself is immoral. That is a matter of debate. What is clear is that its ideals and commitment to true freedom and well-being of the individual could not be bettered by any other political philosophy. approx 2,000 words` `BIBLIOGRAPHY` ` ` `A.Carter – The Political Theory of Anarchism (1971), London.`T.Hobbes – Leviathan (1909), Oxford.`P.A.Kropotkin – Mutual aid: A factor of Evolution (1972), London.`D,Miller – Anarchism (1984), London.`R.W.K.Paterson – “Authority, Autonomy, and the Legitimate State” in Journal of Applied Philosophy, vol.9, no.1, 1992. `R.P.Wolff – In Defense of Anarchism., London. `G.Woodcock – Anarchism and Morality (1945), Freedom Press. `W.B.Yeats – “The Second Coming” in The Collected Poems (2nd ed) (1950), London.