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Redeeming Anarchism

The individualist-anarchist is against all forms of coercion and seeks an environment in which each individual can reach his or her full potential, in freedom.

Individualist vs Collectivist

This article concerns the framing of things....

The Left / Right political divide is slowly being accepted for what it is, a false dichotomy, and is being replaced by the Individualist / Collectivist distinction in the minds of men and women.

However, it is an equally false dichotomy, for two primary reasons:

  • the Right has been traditionally concerned with the attributes of the Individual
  • the Left has been traditionally concerned with a Collectivist approach

In other words, the Left / Right model is being continued using different terms, with some small changes. For the most part, a distinction without a difference.

Individualism

In the spectrum of Individualism there lies towards the left, a form of individualism that might be called "Interdependent or Collectivist Individualism". This suggests that "No Man is an Island", per John Donne. The first stanza of his poem draws this out....

No man is an island,
Entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent, 
A part of the main.

At the extreme right of the spectrum we find what we might call "Toxic Individualism". This is usually portrayed as the individualism promoted by Ayn Rand and her followers but is equally seen in the behaviour of the Transgender Activists, "You will use my pronouns or I will not acknowledge you". 

Common is the complete disregard of the thoughts, feelings and actions of anyone else. This hyper-individualism is completely self-centred, "Self Love" or Narcissistic behaviour. The Toxic Individual is at the centre of his / her universe and all other people are simply orbiting planets.

Paradoxically, at this end of the spectrum we see strong elements from both conservatism and progressive ideals. In terms of individual toxicity there is no difference between the supporters of Rand and Transgender Activists.

Both hope to bend the world, and others, to their will. Rand herself declared that altruism, the act of helping others with no intent of return, was the bane of society. It is quite a bleak picture.

If you expand this hyper-individualistic picture to include many, many individuals, we finish with the War of All-Against-All, per Hobbes in his "Leviathan" in which he called for the moderating forces of the State. The State, though, is now the problem...

The two ends of the spectrum, the collectivist-individual and the toxic individual can be found on the spectrum of the "right", reinforcing the notion that what is "new" is actually a distinction without a difference.

Collectivism

There are two principle forms of collectivism: top-down and bottom-up. The "Individualistic Right" traditionally muddies the waters so as to dismiss all forms equally.

Top-down collectivism is a fair description of Socialism and bottom-up, the earlier mentioned collective individualism.

Conservatives, in their fear of Socialism, associate all forms of collectivism with top-down, centrally-planned collectives conveniently forgetting that they are each and every one part of a collective of their choosing.

They may live in a gated community, they may belong to a men's or a women's group of some form, they may sit on a Body Corporate or a Company Board, or they may simply attend church. Or be a member of an online community - that suits their particular perspective. Each of these are voluntary acceptance of rules that modify the behaviour of individuals in the interests of the group. No man is an island....

Again, these types: top-down and bottom-up, can be found on the spectrum of leftist politics with socialism at one end and anarchism at the other. 

It would be easy enough to finish this essay at this point, acknowledging that there are forces from both left and right that indulge in toxic individuality and that equally there forces from both left and right that indulge in top-down collectivism. But where does that leave us? Pretty much where we are now, just with different words to describe the status quo.

Buckminster Fuller said of systems,

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

The existing reality of top-down governance is based on varying forms of authoritarianism. And we need to understand them in order to know what we are trying to replace.

Authoritarianism

Authoritarianism has traditionally been used to describe a top-down approach to government, management or any hierarchy. It is characterised by:

  • little tolerance for dissent,
  • strongly enforced censorship, and
  • a general lack of joy in life and trust of anyone.

A police state, in other words.

This tendency can be found on both sides of the political spectrum.

Paradoxically, it feeds the fires of toxic individualism because, if the political environment promotes distrust, the only person you can trust is yourself, and if the only person you can trust is yourself, you become the centre of your own universe.

The other, less often spoken about, element of authoritarianism is that of the authoritarian personality. This is not the personality of the leader, rather it is the personality of the follower who seeks a strong, authoritarian leader to bring some order to the chaos.

We have seen this in Europe, in the US, in Australia and New Zealand. After a period of political chaos, during which rules were relaxed or not enforced (usually deliberately induced and led) the populace call for order and invite in an authoritarian leader, someone who will deal with the anti-social elements of society. When faced with too much chaos, people naturally want order and, in an hierarchical environment, that means calling for a "strong leader".

Paradoxically, again, these same people calling for a strong leader are often those who decry collectivism. For in calling for order they are, in fact, calling for someone to put the greater good above the innate rights of individuals.

Sometimes, the chaos is so bad that law-abiding citizens are willing to have those bringing order ignore the law of the land: imprisonment without charge, no access to a lawyer, mandates of various flavours, curfews by another name; all breaches of normal civil society.

What they forget in their desire (desperation?) for peace is that, once enacted, these new laws and practices are never rescinded. For, as we know, while these restrictions are initially aimed at law-breakers, the new, onerous rules affect only the self-same law-abiding citizens who called for this order to be introduced.

The Role of the State

Both left and right leaning people believe in the power of the state, they just disagree who should be wielding that power and to what extent. In this sense both are Marxists.

Marx believed not that the bourgeois state had to be overthrown, rather that it needed to be be replaced by a state apparatus peopled by the workers. Then, and only then, could it be slowly replaced.

Bakunin, a Russian anarchist, who was ejected from the First International after disagreeing with Marx and Engels, saw the fallacy of this thinking declaring that,

Ultimately, from whatever point of view we look at this question, we come always to the same sad conclusion, the rule of the great masses of the people by a privileged minority. The Marxists say that this minority will consist of workers. Yes, possibly of former workers, who, as soon as they become the rulers of the representatives of the people, will cease to be workers and will look down at the plain working masses from the governing heights of the State; they will no longer represent the people, but only themselves and their claims to rulership over the people. Those who doubt this know very little about human nature.

Technical Rationality

As we have seen in recent times, the role of elected state officials has been usurped by a technocratic bureaucracy. Authoritarianism of the top-down variety has taken a technocratic form based on what is termed "technical rationality". It is a form of hyper-rationality allowing no room for heart forces, only the forces of the head. AI is its natural consequence.

It was first identified by Herbert Marcuse of the Frankfurt School (a hotbed of socialists) who warned of its socially debilitating effects. He wrote:

...that technological progress has the potential to free humanity from its requirement to labor for survival. Freedom from labor is true freedom for humanity, and this freedom from labor can be achieved from technological rationality.
But instead of embracing this freedom, humanity has been subsumed by a new system of reason rooted in technological innovation. This new rationality, technological rationality, encompasses all elements of life.
Under this new system, technology and industry control the structure of the economy, intellectual pursuits, and leisure activities. False needs, which are defined by Marcuse as needs created by technological rationality, become inseparable from true needs, which are needs that are life sustaining.
Reason in its pre-technological form collapses as opposition to the norms of technological society is denied under the new system of rationality. Complacency within the status quo replaces reason as people grow content with the better life offered by technology.
This contentment and the subsequent loss of opposition makes humanity one-dimensional, which in turn makes humanity less free than before the onset of technological rationality. In this way technological rationality becomes totalitarian.

- sourced from Wikipedia which extracts from Marcuse's book, "One Dimensional Man".

This "technical rationality" was later picked up by Guy Adams in his book, "Unmasking Administrative Evil". He described it thus:

a way of thinking and living, (that is, a culture) that emphasises the scientific-analytical mindset and the belief in technological progress.

It is hard to deny that this describes the world in which we live.

Anti-authoritarianism

To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Identifying and describing authoritarianism leads naturally to a discussion on anti-authoritarianism; traditionally associated with both anarchic violence (the Propaganda of the Deed) and the extreme left.

Context is important.

Both these tendencies originated when the "Right" held power and can be seen as attempts to have the voice of the people heard. After all, the "Right" has only recently lost power and the eternal struggle was between the people, represented by all the institutions of the "Left" and those in power.

We are now in a situation where the worst of both "left" and "right" have combined with technological rationality and those opposing them are finding that they have, perhaps, unexpected bed-fellows. The original gay movement, for example, dating back to the 1800s, sought only to keep the state out of the bedroom, one reason why many in the anti-authoritarian movements were homosexual. 

Times have changed, however, and power is now largely wielded by the progressive left, making the anti-authoritarians those who value individualism, small enterprises, low taxes and the family unit. A more stark reversal could not be envisioned.

Many on the conservative right have difficulty accepting that the shoulders upon which they must now stand are those pioneers of the left: the anarchists, the suffragettes, the trade unions, the community organisers, the feminists; all those (now largely corrupted) institutions that said, essentially, a human being is only whole when he or she has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

The whole point of an anti-authoritarian, or anarchist, outlook is individual freedom. The freedom to develop into a full-fledged human being, growing and developing all our capacities and capabilities all the while leaving others to do so, also in freedom. 

This is double-edged sword. It requires the individual to first recognise the individuality of others and not clump them together as an amorphous mass based on sex, gender, race, religion or any other collective characteristic. And then expect them, quite rightly, to act out of freedom - but leave them free to do so...

Many individuals who claim the right to be left alone are quite happy to tell others how they should live their lives.

What does it mean to be an individualist anarchist?

Chomsky put it well

The anarchist asks those in power to prove their claims to authority - and argues that if their systems can't be justified then they ought to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just.

A century or so earlier, a letter from John Henry Mackay (whose morality you may question) to Rudolf Steiner (arguably the most subtle anarchist, and therefore the most potent, in recent history) illustrates this well.

https://philosophyoffreedom.com/individualist-anarchism/

This next article, while long and requiring a good deal of concentration, is a fine example of why Steiner's "Philosophy of Freedom" might be considered "The Anarchist's Bible".

https://philosophyoffreedom.com/anarchists-bible/

We either consider that each of us has the potential to become a free spirit, just as each rosebud has the potential to become a rose.
Or we don't.
There is no fence-sitting in this regard.

And so we come to the crux of the matter.

  • The dichotomy of "left/ right" is false.
  • So, too is that of "individualist / collectivist" because it is just the "left / right" divide continued under different labels.
  • Both left and right favour the state, a top-down institution, they just disagree with who should wield power.

No, the real conflict is between the individualist-anarchist, who seeks to reach his or her full potential, unhindered by coercion of any type, and the authoritarian personality, who seeks a strong leader to set things right, bringing order to the chaos.

The one is demanding the conditions in which he or she can take responsibility for his or her own life, a form of chaos, in fact.

The other wants rules to prevent chaos but the order must suit his or her purposes.

Both left and right leaning people with an authoritarian personality believe in the power of the state, they just disagree who should be wielding that power. Crucially, the authoritarian personality is interested in freedom only for themselves, not the others....

In this sense, the authoritarian personality is a form of the toxic individualist mentioned above.

The individualist-anarchist is against any form of coercion, force or authority. S/he is anathema to the followers of both the left and right.

The divide is now in the population; one group for a ruling hierarchy, the other against it.

Interdependent (Collectivist) Individualism

Like him or not, Marx was a keen observer of the economic life, illustrated by his "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs". He saw this as the summit of communism.

Scholars have also attributed the words to various socialist utopians and even to the Acts of the Apostles. Others ascribe it to the Roman legal concept of "obligation in solidum". It is not a new concept. Marx went further than just observing, however, and wanted to plan its implementation which just lends itself to corruption.

In today's terms, "From each according to his ability" can be seen as an end to under-employment, arguably a more debilitating condition than unemployment. We are all under-employed and all systems, from both left and right, aim to keep people in that state, a state of intellectual drowsiness, to be delivering to less than their ability.

The individualist anarchist seeks to overturn this situation, finding a way to develop him or herself fully while allowing others the freedom to do the same.

Collective, or interdependent, individualism is based on a group of fully-fledged human beings all striving to reach their potential and leaving others free to do so. A community of free individuals.

It is all on us now. We have no need for leaders to achieve this, just the will to do so.

No man is an island.

The bell tolls for thee....