Thursday 2 September 2010

Of anarchists and a**holes, and knowing the difference

Great fun from George Will:
To this day, the word “anarchist” conjures up a hirsute and disheveled outsider, throwing a bomb at some dignitary. In fact, to find such an anarchist, you’d probably have to meet 10,000. Anarchists tend to sit at their desks or (these days) in computer cafes reading or writing, trying to figure out how to diminish social or state authority they regard as undesirable and unnecessary. Sometimes they debate each other in pubs, lecture halls or on park benches. That’s all. Living next door to an anarchist would probably decrease rather than increase your chance of being harmed by a neighbour.

At the time of the Rome conference, anarchists would have been overwhelmingly anarcho-communists. Today, most would be anarcho-libertarians, somewhere between neo-con and Tea Party-types. It’s a welcome ideological reversal, but the point is, even back then, only a tiny percentage of anarchists advocated or practiced violence. Today, if an anarchist throws anything, it’s likely to be breadcrumbs to pigeons.

Is public perception wrong?

Well, no, public perception isn’t wrong. It can’t be: It’s a perception. It is what it is. Anarchism’s bad reputation comes from letting envious, exhibitionistic sub-clinical psychos conclude that if authority is wrong, then stabbing, shooting or blowing up anyone associated with authority must be right. Lucheni didn’t kill Elisabeth of Austria as an anarchist but as an asshole. “I have to murder someone important enough for the papers to write about it,” his diary reads, demonstrating how publicity hounds bring anarchism into disrepute.

What public perception demonstrates, in turn, is the centrality of borderlines. The fringes make the lead news, while the mainstream is often relegated to the back pages. Not only is the mainstream not news; it may not even become history. History remembers fringes long after central narratives have been reduced to footnotes. One of my high school teachers wrote on the blackboard once that the Church of England is a footnote to the history of Henry VIII’s mating habits. I thought he was joking at the time; today I’m not so sure.
My neighbor's insurance premiums ought drop as consequence of my residence. But only three days of the week. The other four, I don't think anarchy would work.


  1. OK, I'll bite. Why are you an anarchist only 3 days of the week?

  2. Because the other 4 I worry anarchy would devolve back to government or would turn to a mafia-style anarchy; I also worry that the potential for private law to overcome some of the problems in democracy is overstated. Hit the anarchy tab, above....

  3. @Michael: I'd have to read up more on them. At the margin, I'm more than happy to move towards private law in more areas.