The encyclopaedia Britannica of 1910 gives a clear definition of anarchy. It states that the anarchist ideal is ‘a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.’1 From this definition questions arise as to its plausibility and effectiveness in any society given the realities of human nature. Therefore crucial to the anarchist argument is one’s definition of human nature, for in viewing human beings as inherently bad only with potential for good (as is the Conservative observation) would lead us to believe that anarchist thought is somewhat aloof and detached from the realities of society, making it an unrealistic ideal.
So one’s view of human nature necessarily defines whether anarchism in itself can ever be successful.With so few examples of anarchism ever coming to fruition in any country, a lot of the debate as to whether anarchism is a plausible ideology rests on general hypothetical debate and small examples closer to home. From the anarchist point of view the May Day riots of 2001 were in many ways an unhelpful insight for the general public into anarchistic culture. The violence and chaos, which resulted, would have led many people to the conclusion that anarchism is far from being orderly, and thus wholly undesirable.Although anarchists may come back with the old socialist adage ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs’, there does seem to be a deep-rooted fear of disorganisation and general chaos and a general distrust towards the anarchists that makes it an unpopular ideology in Britain. For the general public in Britain and indeed in many countries across the globe there arises the question, can anarchy ever be orderly? Proudhon once remarked that ‘although I am a strong supporter of order, I am in the fullest sense of the term, an anarchist.’2 To him the two need not be polarised or opposing forces working against each other, rather he believed that the two went hand-in-hand rather more than some people gave it credit for.
He believed that anarchy was ‘the absence of a ruler or a sovereign’3 and not the ‘absence of principles [and] laws’4 as he explained how through this misconception it had ‘become synonymous with disorder’. 5 Proudhon goes on to claim that ‘because of the deep-rooted habit of taking one man as representing order and of taking his will as law, people regard us as the very summit of disorder and the embodiment of chaos.’6 By this he means that it is through an entrenched belief in an old system and the inability to see the good in any other ideology that forces people to adopt a negative view of anarchy. He counters this ill-founded view by discussing the virtues of anarchy and hinting at the way in which the system could create social control. ‘The notion of anarchy in politics is just as rational and positive as any other. It means that once industrial functions have taken over from political functions, then business transactions and exchange alone produce the social order.
‘7 It is clear from this that Proudhon vehemently opposes any talk of anarchy being disorderly or chaotic, and he responds in such a way that (at first at least) gives credence to his anarchic utopia. However it is perhaps not paying enough attention to the fact of human nature and the over-reliance on society being amicable, trusting and cooperative that sees it’s downfall. It may be a sad reflection of society, but it would appear that Proudhon’s argument falls down in the face of selfishness and greed, arguably a truer reflection of human nature.Anarchist thought can be traced back to Zeno in ancient Greece (342 – 270 BC), who opposed Plato’s state utopia with his idea of a free community without government. ‘He repudiated the omnipotence of the state… and proclaimed the sovereignty of the moral law of the individual.
‘8 Zeno remarked that although man by nature and through the search for self-preservation tended to be egotistic, he had another quality to counter this in sociability. He believed therefore that there was no need for police or courts and no use of money, essentially there would be no need for a state.These ideas were courted by Rabelais and Fenelon in their utopias in the (18th, and there is also evidence of such thought in the writings of Rousseau. Such writing would have been restricted at this time however, due to the censorship of the Roman Catholic Church. Godwin was arguably the first to canvass the economic and political notions of anarchism although at the time it was not termed so. Through his work we can see that he believed that laws and the justice system created far worse an iniquity than the one it apparently tires to correct.’The remedy they offer is worse than the evils they pretend to cure. If and only if all laws and courts were abolished, and the decisions in the arising contests were left to reasonable men chosen for that purpose, real justice would gradually be evolved.
‘9 In all the writings from Zeno, through to Rabelais and Fenelon and indeed Rousseau and up to Proudhon, we can see that there is a distinction between the abolition of the state and the need to retain order.It is the anarchist belief that order will be maintained through social checks and balances that are far more favourable than the present system, which promotes rather more selfishness and greed. So in what sense can anarchy ever realistically be orderly? Again it all comes back to the view one takes of human nature. In talking about socialism and the perception of human nature that socialists have, Proudhon has the following to say: ‘Man is good, they say, but in order to make him abstain from evil he must see no advantage in it.
’10 This, he says, cuts the other way as man ‘must see some advantage in goodness if he is to practice it.’11 Therefore whether man is to be led away from evil and exercise integrity and honesty depends on how society leads him and whether society has ‘guided him by means of his passions. ’12 Kropotkin states quite clearly that ‘man did not create society; society existed before man’.
13 By this he means that man necessarily adapts to society, and arguably the best way to adapt is to be gregarious and sociable, enabling the society to progress. If one’s view of human nature suggests that man is inherently bad, then gregarious or extrovert behaviour would be limited as the individual becomes inward looking and introvert.Therefore it has been argued that the logical conclusion of this is that the best way for any society to succeed has to be under a system where the state plays a very limited role and individuals cooperate more as units or communes, where sociability extends from the desire to trade fairly and honestly. The result: a society where both anarchy and order prevails. To Kropotkin this is essential as ‘human beings were at their most natural when they were in co-operation with one another. ’14 He sees this as being reflected in the animal world, where ‘the eagle devours the sparrow, the wolf devours the marmot.
But the eagles and the wolves respectively aid each other in hunting. ’15 Therefore success and survival are only sustainable when co-operation is accepted. To most people, the words ‘order’ and ‘anarchy’ appear to be antonymous. They are without doubt seen as the archetypal chalk and cheese, far from the carrots and peas that anarchist thinkers would like them to appear to be. However in looking more closely at the merits and arguments surrounding the anarchy and order debate, we can see that, even though it may be idealistic, Proudhon does have a point when he says that anarchical government is only a contradiction in terms in language.In essence, the notion of self-government is wholly plausible. With no one wishing harm upon themselves, why should they want this for any one else? This is where the argument hinges largely on an interpretation of human nature. The answer comes in stark fashion: anarchy is orderly only where human nature is viewed as good and sociable, otherwise a vision of order in an anarchic society where it is inherent in man to be selfish, unsociable and deviant is folly, and as a result entirely unrealistic.
Bibliography The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910, Anarchism at: http://flag.blackened. net/daver/anarchism/kropotkin/defanarchy.
html Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph, ed. Stewart Edwards, Selected Writings of P-J Proudhon, (Macmillan, 1969) Kropotkin, Peter, The State: Its Historic Role, (Transcribed from the Freedom Press edition, 1897) at http://flag. blackened. net/daver/anarchism/kropotkin/tsihr1. html Osofsky, Stephen, Peter Kropotkin, (Twayne Publishers, 1979) Kropotkin, Peter Alexeevich, Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution, ed. , M. A. Miller, (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1970)1 The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910, Anarchism at: http://flag.
blackened. net/daver/anarchism/kropotkin/defanarchy. html 2 Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph, ed.
Stewart Edwards, Selected Writings of P-J Proudhon, (Macmillan, 1969), 88 3 Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph, ed. Stewart Edwards, Selected Writings of P-J Proudhon, (Macmillan, 1969), 89 4 Ibid. , 89 5 Ibid. , 89 6 Ibid. , 89 7 Ibid. , 91 8 ‘Anarchism’ from The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910 at: http://flag. blackened.
net/daver/anarchism/kropotkin/defanarchy. html 9 ‘Anarchism’ from The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910 at: http://flag.blackened. net/daver/anarchism/kropotkin/defanarchy. html.
10 Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph, ed. Stewart Edwards, Selected Writings of P-J Proudhon, (Macmillan, 1969), 240 11 Ibid. , 240 12 Ibid. , 240 13 Kropotkin, Peter, The State: Its Historic Role, (Transcribed from the Freedom Press edition, 1897) at http://flag. blackened.
net/daver/anarchism/kropotkin/tsihr1. html 14 Stephen Osofsky, Peter Kropotkin, (Twayne Publishers, 1979), 87 15 Kropotkin, Peter Alexeevich, Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution, ed. , M. A.
Miller, (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1970).