Friday, April 21, 2006

Religion - the prime enemy of anarchy

The worst enemy of market anarchy - or any kind of anarchy for that matter - is religion.

This is both a historical fact and a logical fact. The most famous anarchy in history, Iceland, lasted three centuries but was destroyed by a religious conflict (between the local religion and Christianity) introduced by the Norwegian monarchy (for an account of this, see "The Decline and Fall of Private Law in Iceland", by Roderick T. Long).

Why should we expect religion to be the worst enemy of free markets ? Because religion is a form of discrimination that is beyond rhyme or reason. Usually, in a free market, discrimination is not profitable. If I banned, say, blonde-haired people from buying my products, then I would inevitably lose money. Unless I faced extensive boycotts, I would be self-interested in lifting the ban.

But religion does not brook competition, because it is not based on self-interest but rather on dogma. No evidential argument can possibly convince a believer that his form of discrimination is wrong, because it is nothing more than a question of dogma. The Icelanders could not make religion a question of individual decision like they did everything else, and that is why their system failed - not for lack of government, but because their anarchy did not extend far enough !

If we look at the issue from the wider historical perspective, we observe one constant. Government and religion form, most of the time, a powerful symbiosis. This is perfectly natural, after all, since both affirm that man is depraved and must submit himself to a collectivist will. To legitimize his power, a king needed to be imbued with religious prestige. As I discussed in "The evolution of politics", democratic governments need religion less than monarchies did, because their legitimacy problem is solved for the most part. No one questions the exploitative nature of political power any more (except us market anarchists, who are of course called crackpots).

The only times where this symbiosis turns sour is when an extreme case of government or religion is present. Extreme government - nazism, communism, dictatorships - sees organized religion as an ideological thorn in its side, and extreme religion - Islam and fundamentalist Christianity - desires to claim the state's power for its own brand of moral corruption.

In the normal symbiosis scenario, government busies itself with controlling bodies, and religion busies itself with controlling minds. Together they form a perfect system of social control, and catalyze each other. Nowadays, religion is a free rider on government power, keeping its grip on the people through religion-friendly laws and support from the state. In exchange, religion promotes social stability (which, while a nuisance to the individual, is very desirable for the government) and anti-individualist beliefs.

It seems clear that, if one of the two recedes, there is an opportunity for the other to expand beyond its normal size. We observe this in secular Europe, where religion recedes and statist beliefs take its place as meaning-giver. On the other hand, the case of receding statism in the former USSR is not instructive, since religion was banned to begin with, and thus gives no indication of actual religiosity. And the degree of statist belief is not measured with the same eagerness as religiosity.

As an atheist, I am quite concerned by the fact that religion is not the only parasitic and destructive force in society. As a market anarchist, I am also quite concerned by the fact that government is not the only parasitic and destructive force in society. These labels taken alone, therefore, fail to encompass the full dimension of social evils. There is only one label which, I think, does the job, and that is the label of individualism. It is the fulfillment of personal values, the rebellion against ruling class values, that government and religion are banded against. It is therefore individualism which really matters, and atheism and anarchy which are its corollaries.


Bryan Alaspa said...

Thank you for this blog and for your comments. It's nice not to b alone on the web these days!

Mícheál said...

You are over looking the fact that it was not untill the forcing of orginized religon that icelands system fell not religon in general and to say that if you a anarchist you cant beleve in a higher power at the same time is a little extrem. Now that said i do beleve that most if not all orginized religon is the enemy of the anarchist.

Anonymous said...

I don't get your argument. Surely you don't advocate banning religion as a way towards a stateless society? That sounds like a contradiction. Surely you don't advocate banning people to freely come together with other believers in their church? If you don't believe in God hey that's your personal disbelief just as it is other's personal beliefs to believe in God. If neither two are initiating force against others then what's the big deal. The only way to try to abolish religion would be to actively use force against those who do believe to get them to stop believing and this is obviously authoritarian and contrary to working towards a voluntary society. Neither atheism nor religion is a prerequisite for a stateless society, it is up to the individual to decide what they will believe and disbelieve. In a stateless voluntary society there will be people who do believe in God and suggesting that atheism is a necessary corollary towards a stateless society does nothing but alienate believers in God who actively want and work towards a stateless society.

Jimi Chris said...

Believers in God working towards a stateless society would not only attack the religious institutions which support the State but the religious teachings which endorse the use of powers to support the corrupt state. NO GODS NO MASTERS.