Saturday, April 8, 2006

Why should we have to justify anarchy ?

In all political discussions and debates, it is naturally assumed that anarchists have the burden of proof. After all, anarchy is alien to modern societies and opposed to the overwhelming belief in government, so why shouldn't anarchists have the burden of explaining how their system would work and how it would effect every single thing that governments already do ?

So it becomes an easy thing to throw every single point of detail in the way of an anarchist, hoping to find a question he can't answer. Shotgunning is a lazy way of debating, with no substance and no originality.

However, who really does have the burden of proof ? Well, the basic rule of thumb is that whoever affirms a positive fact about reality (i.e. the existence of something specific) has the initial burden of proof. If the truth of that claim is established, then the negative claim is the one that bears a burden.

Here's an example. Suppose you say that there is a teacup on the dark side of the Moon. This is not an extraordinary claim (the existence of such a teacup would not, for instance, break any laws of physics), but there is no immediate empirical evidence to support it. It is, therefore, an imaginary claim, and should be rejected for lack of evidence. The burden of proof rests on the person who affirms the existence of such a teacup.

Suppose that this teacup was left by previous astronauts, that we have evidence of this prank, and that its presence is empirically demonstrated by another space mission. Now the burden of proof would rest on those who deny the existence of said teacup. The people who made the positive claim can now say that the burden of proof has been fulfilled.

Likewise, anarchy and statism form opposite claims. Statists believe that government is desirable or even necessary, and anarchists reject such a claim. So the question arises - has statism fulfilled its burden of proof ? There are two related means by which a position can be demonstrated. The first is by singular observations, and the second by principles (which subsume a set observations). Statism fails miserably on both fronts.

If statism was desirable, then we should observe in history that nation-states and statist systems in general should be more conductive to life and value-expression than anarchies and anarchic systems. This is not what we observe at all. We see that statist cities, countries and empires have typically been warlike and oppressive, while the few anarchies that have existed and exist today are comparatively less warlike and more progressive.

And if statism was desirable, then we should also observe that the dynamics of statism provide better incentive for social peace and progress than possible anarchic dynamics. Once again, this is not the case. Monarchies, democracies and dictatorships alike all serve the value system of a privileged ruling class and its supporters, not the value systems of the masses. And unlike anarchy, the monopoly of force prevents social and political progress, as any monopoly naturally does.

The premises of statism are immoral and simply not viable. More extreme versions of statism assert that the natural selfishness of man must be suppressed in the name of a non-existent "common good" (which in practice means : the good of the ruling class). Milder forms of statism assert that belief that government is necessary to fulfill functions that private individuals could not fulfill.

Both the extreme and the mild forms of statism are based on the notion of transcendence - that government has a special ontological status that lies above and beyond individual action. Yet this is patent nonsense. There is no "government" that lies above and beyond the actions of the individuals that compose it and their political extension. Once we drop the Special Pleading and look at the reality of government, we can only conclude that it is the most evil and parasitic form of organization ever devised.

As long as the validity of belief in government is not demonstrated, anarchy must be considered the default. It is the statists who need to justify themselves. Statists must be made to account for all the evils that governments are promoting at this very moment. It will simply not do, for example, for statists to fret about the possibility of intestine warfare in anarchy when it is government which made large-scale war possible in the first place.

Every single argument of the statists can be turned against them. And that is the fatal flaw of any attempt at justifying transcendence. However, it does make arguing against government rather easier.


James R Ament said...

"... while the few anarchies that have existed and exist today are comparatively less warlike and more progressive."

Okay, a legitimate question: Can you give examples of "less warlike and more progressive" anarchies, with appropriate explanation? While I have no love for government, I can't think of any!

Francois Tremblay said...

"Okay, a legitimate question: Can you give examples of "less warlike and more progressive" anarchies, with appropriate explanation? While I have no love for government, I can't think of any!"

It's on my site . Go in the pro-anarchy section.

Disenchanted Dave said...

The burden of proof is always on whoever is proposing the change. The reason? Most ideas are really really bad. This has been stated a thousand different ways by both libertarians and nonlibertarians, but my favorite formulation is Sturgeon's Law, most commonly quoted as "98% of everything is crap." Another variant of it is called the precautionary principle--don't make major changes unless you can change it back, because chances are the new version will be worse. It's also known as "presumption in favor of the status quo." You can think about it in terms of thermodynamics, if you prefer: it takes tremendous amounts of energy to make things less chaotic in a given system. In general, anything you do will make things more chaotic, which, in a human society usually means "worse."

Think about it: how many different ways of there of organizing a society? It's virtually infinite, and almost every single possibility would result in human extinction. We could have a society where people put arsenic in their food before every meal, a society where sex is entirely forbidden and pregnancy is punishable by death, a society in which people ritually blind themselves at age six...

Some suggestions would be improvements. Most would not be. We know that the average idea would make things worse than they are now. So come up with a reason your alternative is better and we can listen to it. Until then, we'll stick with what we have.

Incidentally, your argument that statism is bad so anarchy must be good reminds me of the "argument" that evolution has problems so the biblical creation story must be true.

Gaialing said...

while your argument is sophisticated, its also self congratulatory. "Anything we ever change may be dangerous so lets not just in case" seems to be the jist of it.

As an anarchist in Palestine, i am used to people from rich and prosperous countries making such excuses for maintaining the status quo and trying to market it as high thinking. The truth of the matter is that the majority of the people who really push for change are that large majority of human beings who can barely imagine it ever getting worse.

Meanwhile, those in the top 5% of wealthy societies are free to masturbate scholastically about what a bad idea revolution is "i'll take another beer and bag of chips with my philosophical defeatism please waitress!"