Most people don’t have any idea what anarchists are — and that includes some of the people who use the word to describe themselves. If you listen to what some of these people believe, you realize they’re not anarchists. They’re just punks who like to dress in black and break other people’s property.
I’ve written before about the need for a more effective label to describe those of us who oppose the coercive state and believe there are better ways to organize society voluntarily. I sometimes tell people that I’m an anarchist who hangs out in the libertarian camp. Other times, I’ve used the anarcho-capitalist label. I’ve tried voluntaryist, but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue well, either.
To be an anarchist, one must oppose the coercive state. Beyond that, there are different flavors of anarchism, many of which directly contradict one another. Since the very definition of anarchy is a negative — the absence of a coercive state — it doesn’t tell us what a person favors. It’s what you favor in place of the state that ultimately matters most.
The five men who were arrested in Ohio Tuesday for plotting to blow up a bridge call themselves anarchists, but it seems that their real complaints are with private companies rather than with the state. Based on the sketchy information I’ve been able to read about them so far, they sound like most everybody else on the progressive left. They’ve certainly been a part of the Occupy movement, which isn’t surprising since their leftist politics sounds a lot like what I hear from most of the Occupy supporters.
When you talk to a lot of the leftists who call themselves anarchists, they want to tear down successful private enterprise. Why? They seem to see successful people and companies as being part of a class system that keeps them down. They don’t seem to understand that the only thing keeping them down is their own decisions and actions. The leftists who use the anarchist label talk about wanting higher minimum wages, reduced income for “the rich” and various forms of social welfare to benefit the people they see as oppressed.
If you want a minimum wage and various other goodies, who do you suppose is going to enforce those rules? It’s a state, of course. It’s a government with the power to enforce its will. And if you support a coercive state, you can’t be an anarchist — by definition.
Various people can be anarchists and disagree about the societal structure they want to replace what we have now. Different anarchists can even disagree about how to oppose the coercive state. But you can’t be an anarchist and favor a new coercive state to take the place of the current one, in order to enforce your rules. You’re just a garden variety revolutionary who wants to seize power if that’s the case.
I typically avoid the word anarchist because people don’t understand what it means and what it doesn’t mean. Because of the idiots such as the Ohio bombers — and the misguided rioters of the Occupy movement — people have come to see an anarchist as one who wants to destroy the free market and create some kind of socialist utopia.
There are many of us who oppose the coercive state, but want something peaceful and voluntary to take its place. Many of us have different ideas about how society should be structured, but those of us who want a voluntary system believe that different groups should have the right to organize as they please on their own property, just as long as they don’t force their rules on others.
If some folks want to start a socialist city — and they own the land and don’t coerce anyone into joining — that’s their business. If other people want to start a theocracy of one sort or another, I have no problem with that. If others want to live in an area without any real rules, they should have that right. And if others of us want to live in very safe, structured cities or communities that are organized around voluntary arrangements, that’s our business. We all have the right to our own rules — as long as we don’t try to force other groups to obey our rules.
Those who want to tear down the existing coercive state in order to replace it with one more to their own liking are just modern-day Bolsheviks. They’re not anarchists and I don’t believe they have a clear idea of what they want. I’m just certain that what they stand for is diametrically opposed to what I want.
It seems to me that the guys arrested in Ohio Tuesday are just angry men who want to force the world to reshape itself to suit them. They’re not real anarchists. They just want to destroy things and make people obey new rules. That’s just a different brand of thuggery.