Where does an anarchist find order?

We have spent only a little time on this blog discussing the virtues of anarchy and the ways that it would play out in real life. In a previous post, I mentioned that anarchists, far from advocating chaos, promote a system of order that does not make use of the State or of the government.

It would seem prudent, before this conversation goes too far, to distinguish between order and planning. It is truly fitting that “plan” is a four-letter word. Central Planning has become second nature to most people. Barack Obama and John McCain talk about their plans to make America better–as if it is they rather than the hard working citizens who make America what it is. Indeed, to many, “order” cannot exist without a central plan, without someone to boss around and steal from the various entities in a given society.

Order, however, need not–and in many ways cannot–come from above, but rather comes from within. As an analogy, I recall Charles Rosen’s insight that the symmetrical form of Classical era music (Mozart and Haydn in particular) was not imposed from without, like a mold, but rather grew organically from within, as each little detail, each contingency, built upon the work. So it is with, for instance, the free market: the mutual exchange of goods and ideas contributes greatly to a harmonious order in society. What might seem chaotic on the microscopic level turns out to be well-crafted on the macroscopic level. The disorganization is only apparent.

There is more, however. Surely one must grant that a society without a grand discourse will fall into shambles. Grand discourses are not exactly in vogue in these the days of rampant horizontalism. Many, perceiving the ensuing chaos from this, call for more government, or even a theocratic monarchy (Those who don’t know the mistakes of history are destined to repeat them), and few of them ever give serious thought to the idea that maybe the best form of government is none at all. Why, that would be chaos!

I find all this to be strange, not to mention self-contradictory. If government were able to prevent societal collapse, then the cities and towns of the 21st century would be in much better shape than they are. What is missing is the metaphysical. Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not in any way calling for some kind of Christianist State, such as Mike Huckabee might. I’m only saying that a society that is stuck in the sensible world is doomed. Really, the metaphysical is what is needed to maintain society, not governments. An appreciation for the metaphysical, however, comes from private initiative, not from legislative fiat.

F.A. Hayek in his book The Road to Serfdom remarked that the more intrusive a government becomes, the less virtuous the citizenry becomes. Similarly, Richard Weaver warned in Ideas Have Consequences of the encroachments of the State on men who have failed to exhibit virtue. If these two insights are synthesized, the remedy becomes apparent: men must become more virtuous, so that the futility (not to mention the evil) of the State becomes more obvious.

All of this, of course, is up to us. It has nothing to do with electing the right congressman or president, or with gaining a tenuous 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court. Rather, it has everything to do with how we view life (Do we even start from the ancient philosophical idea that life is to be loved and cherished?), how we live, and how we interact with each other.

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3 Responses

  1. you are right to focus on the issue of “what then shall we do?” This is the issue that everyone wants to avoid. And the answer you give is two fold: banish the state and improve the culture, with each trend contributing to the advancement of the other. The question that becomes critical is whether there are any conditions under which the state can do anything, even in the absence of a metaphysics supportive or order, to improve society — ever. That is the issue that divides many anarchists from others. I don’t believe that no matter how bad society is, how awful things become, that there is anything the state can do to improve society, ever. Reluctant conclusion but there it is.

  2. So isn’t the root problem here the corruption of man and not the necessarily the state (please don’t imply that I am defending the current monstrosity we live in)? It seems reasonable to propose that a moral people functioning in an established framework (for example, a limited constitutional government) will be able to maximize individual liberties while maintaining the underlying law and order that are prerequisites for a flourishing free market. Isn’t a government (ideally) just an efficient way for people to pool their resources to provide basic law and order?

  3. I enjoyed reading this, but I admit I really didnt understand the part about the metaphysical. I think that the people relate the most to leaders, parties, controllers and governments right when metaphysics and governments intertwine – leaders that claim to having been chosen by God, or the Communist parties that claimed to bring “the end of history” through their actions. So, I’m really for limiting very much the presence of metaphysics in decisions of such gravity, both from the state and from the people themselves. I guess I’m a pragmatist.

    As for Jim, if I can reply to him, I do think that, ideally, governments work great as what you describe. Still, the State has an authority that is way too huge for what would basically be the police, and two or three laws. If we add the fact that order doesnt need national unity to be maintained – such a small government as you describe could be basically made in every city, giving more possibility to the people to influence the laws – I think we would agree that national unity, and the state, would fall apart quickly, if they just took that role. And a government who doesnt make laws, and just maintains order through a small police force, hardly is a government anymore.
    I would all be in favor of self ruling cities, through direct democratic means.

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