One idea that I find intriguing is the notion that peace can be obtained through anarchy, which Webster’s defines as “a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government.” One of the original proponents of this concept was Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy believed that all violence was wrong, including personal self-defense against imminent attack. Furthermore, as Peter Kropotkin wrote: “Robbers, [Tolstoy] says, are far less dangerous than a well-organized government.”
These convictions continue to inspire pacifists today. Colman McCarthy, the Director of American University’s Center for Teaching Peace, bemoans the fact that, in the minds of his students, the word “anarchy” invariably means “chaos.” His reply? “Instead of fantasizing about the pending calamites that might happen, think about the calamities that are happening now; war, poverty, and the degradations of violence sanctioned by political power and laws.”
McCarthy worries that youth that “dress in all black and mass-migrate to protests at the World Bank” have given anarchists a bad name by engaging in “verbal violence.” But these are not the people I would worry about if the government was disbanded.
Instead, my mind turns to the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when a heavily armed private militia patrolled the streets of predominantly-white Algiers Point and shot African-Americans at will.
I think about Glenn Beck’s 2014 civil war scenario called “The Bubba Effect,” where angry Americans hole up in armed camps in the South and West and shoot anyone who comes near their land.
I think of Chris Broughton bringing an AR-15 assault rifle to a health care reform rally in Phoenix and declaring, “We will forcefully resist people imposing their will on us through the strength of the majority with a vote.”
These are some of the people who we’d be counting on to live peacefully among their fellow human beings in an anarchy? And we’d expect them to embrace an egalitarian—and possibly collectivized—society?
There are more than 250 million privately held firearms in the United States. That’s no recipe for a peaceful society even with the rule of law intact.
During my ten years in the gun control movement, I’ve been struck by how often gun rights activists argue for anarchy. Time and time again, they will say that gun control is a bad idea because “criminals don’t obey laws.” The inference is that laws only punish law-abiding citizens and, therefore, there is no use for them. Simultaneously, the gun lobby advocates for “Shoot First” laws in state legislatures across the country. These laws remove the common law duty to retreat, allow individuals to use lethal force if they subjectively believe they are under fear of great bodily harm, and exempt shooters from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits. Finally, the National Rifle Association preaches that the Second Amendment provides individuals with the right to stockpile firearms against our government and overthrow it violently should it become “tyrannical” (Google “tyranny” and see how many hits you get about the Obama administration).
What would anarchy look like in the United States? Think The Turner Diaries, Neo-Nazi William Luther Pierce’s ultra-violent novel about the overthrow of the federal government by a small far right-wing network. The network’s revolution is predicated on brutality and eventually leads to global nuclear war and the extermination of all Jews and non-Whites. The book’s narrator has the following to say:
Liberalism is an essentially feminine, submissive world view. Perhaps a better adjective then feminine is infantile. It is the world view of men who do not have the moral toughness, the spiritual strength to stand up and do single combat with life, who cannot adjust to the reality that the world is not a huge, pink-and-blue, padded nursery in which the lions lie down with the lambs and everyone lives happily ever after. Nor should spiritually healthy men of our race even want to be like that, if it could be so.
The Turner Diaries was Timothy McVeigh’s “Bible.” And it can be found at any gun show you walk into in America today.
A democratic form of government inevitably produces some of the state-sanctioned violence that pacifists so abhor. But it also provides citizens with an elaborate set of mechanisms to influence policy and seek redress for injury. There are no such guarantees in a condition of anarchy.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best in a speech in which he called for federal intervention to protect the lives of African Americans from mob violence: “It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.” Amen.
The vision of anarcho-pacifists is noble and something we should aspire to—when civilization is finally ready to accommodate it. A famous admirer of Tolstoy’s once put it thusly: “Representatives will become unnecessary if the national life becomes so perfect as to be self-controlled. It will then be a state of enlightened anarchy in which each person will become his own ruler. He will conduct himself in such a way that his behavior will not hamper the well being of his neighbors. In an ideal State there will be no political institution and therefore no political power.”
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