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A Dialogue between Archos and Philanarchos: Dialog One. By Jonathan V

August 24, 2010

Philarnarchos: Good day, Archos. It looks like you’re reading the Business Section of The Wall Street Journal (points to the unfolded newspaper Archos is holding).

Arhcos:. Yes, I was reading an article about the violent protests in Athens, Greece over the past few months in response to the government’s debt crisis and subsequent contractionary economic policies put in place.

Phil. That’s unfortunate. What were your initial impressions after reading that article?

Arc. Oh, those senseless anarchists who do not believe in anything but violence and destruction!

Phil. Hold, Archos. You have just made quite a bold assertion about anarchism. Are you prepared to examine it further?

Arc. Of course, Philanarchos.

Phil. Well, first we should note that the word anarchism derives from the ancient Greek word, archon, which means power. The letter a, simply negates the subsequently placed word, does it not?

Arc. It does.

Phil. Hence what we mean by anarchism is a set of beliefs that maintain that the exercise of power by some upon others illegitimate

Arc. That’s correct.

Phil. Then if the above definition is correct, must anarchism refer to things beyond mere violence and destruction?

Arc. Right.

Phil. Some anarchists hold that the ideal social method of organization is the abandonment of modern society free of bureaucracies, courts, corporations and militaries.

Arc. Okay, that’s all well and good, but before you convince me that anarchism can refer to things beyond violence and destruction, you need to show that anarchism is a theory capable of critical discussion in academia.

Phil. No problem. Volumes of anarchists theory exist in philosophy, history, anthropology and economics. See, for instance, David Graeber’s illustrious work, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology; Peter Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid, Tolstoi’s The Kingdom of God is Within; Murray Bookchin’s Post-Scarcity Society; Michail Bakunin’s God and the State; Noam Chomsky’s Notes on Anarchism; and Michael Albert’s Participatory Economics; and Helmut Ruediger’s unpublished manuscripts.

II.

Arc. Well, it seems that anarchism does not only signify violence and destruction after all. And it seems that the only reasonable thing for me to do is to take anarchist theory seriously. But doesn’t anarchism categorically endorse violence to help actualize its goals.

Phil. Violence is a sensitive subject among anarchists. Some anarchists reject its use in all circumstances, while others reject its use in a limited number of circumstances.

III.

Arc. Ok, I agree with you so far, but have not the anarchists failed to learn form history which clearly indicates the victory of capitalism over anarchism.

Phil. To be sure, the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War stand out as failures of anarchist-based societies to endure. So, it might be reasonable to say that anarchism has previously failed.

Arc. Anarchism is, then, dead?

Phil. Not so. Anarchism currently underlies the alternative approaches to business models such as the worker co-operative. Such co-operatives are sprouting up around the world and are shaping up to be a viable alternative to their capitalist counterparts. Electronic magazine, such as Z Magazine, have successfully adopted this anarchist approach. Local community groups organize themselves according to anarchist principles, such as the group Students for a Beloved Community SABC and Food not Bombs.

Arc. Well, it now seems wise for me to alter my prior judgment that capitalism has ultimately replaced anarchist organizations.

IV.

Arc. But wait a minutes, Philanarchos, anarchism cannot be a viable alternative to capitalism—because it is in conflict with human nature.

Phil. What do you mean when you say human nature?

Arc. I mean the basic motivations of mankind independent of time and space: freedom, justice and social harmony.

Phil. If you believe that anarchism contradicts human nature, then, you must also believe that a society that rejects as illegitimate the exercise of power by some upon others to impede upon freedom, to create injustice and to bring about disharmony. Isn’t that so?

Arc. It is.

Phil. And that a society that promotes the exercise of power by some upon others promotes freedom, creates justice and ensures harmony. Isn’t that so as well?

Arc. It is, as well.

Phil. Now, if an employer were to exercise power over the employee by forcing him to perform unpaid overtime work, would the employer be impending upon the employee’s freedom?

Arc. Clearly.

Phil. Then the employee is less free?

Arc. Correct.

Phil. May we assume for argument’s sake that the employee mentioned above would be free but for the employer’s exercise of power upon him?

Arc. Fair enough.

Phil. Therefore, you must agree that but for the employer’s actions, the employee’s freedom would not be impeded upon. Doesn’t that follow?

Arc. It does.

Phil. The anarchist society, then, seems to promote freedom and the non-anarchist society represses freedom. This should become clearer as we proceed with this examination.

Arc. Okay, Philanarchos, but what about justice?

Phil. Consider the tax collector who commands one citizen to pay twice as much as everyone else for past unpaid taxes that he could not reasonably have been expected to pay. Would this be fair to the tax payer?

Arc. Definitely not.

Phil. Has the tax payer, then, suffered an injustice?

Arc. Certainly.

Phil. And may we stipulate that but for the tax collector’s demand, he would not have suffered an injustice?

Arc. Fine.

Phil. So it is only the anarchist society that promotes justice and not the non-anarchist society, which represses justice.

Arc. But surely not the third motivation of mankind is met: harmony.

Phil. Consider two neighbors who plant gardens along adjacent fences. Now, suppose one neighbor asks the court to enjoin the other neighbor from growing plants along that neighbor’s side of the shared fence. And further suppose that the court allowed the litigious neighbor to grow a garden that was objectively hideous. Would the neighbor’s use of the court create harmony with his neighbor?

Arc. Not at all.

Phil. And would the litigious neighbor’s use of the court greatly increase disharmony between the two neighbors?

Arc. Of course.

Phil. And may we again agree that but for the lawsuit, there would not be a great increase in disharmony between the two neighbors—(is interrupted)

Arc. Okay, Okay, Philanarchos, you need not say more—after closer examination, I’ve come to realize that the anarchist society is better suited to human nature than a capitalist one. I must accordingly retract my former belief that anarchism contradicts human nature. I now wish to retire and shall reflect upon today’s dialogue. It would be an honor to meet with you again tomorrow for a follow-up discussion.

Phil. I will take a similar respite and look forward to our next discussion.

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