“Checkmate Anarchists: Humans Will Always Create Structures and Laws”
by Alex Aragona
One objection the anarchist will often hear is that a general set of anarchist principles is appealing in theory, but in practice human affairs seem to always lead to organized decision-making, the establishment of rules and laws and, consequently, the creation of hierarchy and institutional power. In other words, getting to a state of maximum individual freedom is not for this world — and, even if it did happen in one society or another, it would be a short-lived experiment. In response to this, some anarchists try to explain why that would not be the case. I will submit here that the critic putting forward this objection is actually correct — but it is not much of an objection to anarchist thought at all.
The only way a critic would view this as an objection to anarchist thought — or a proponent would view this as a trap they need to get out of — is if they are incorrectly defining anarchy as a tight blueprint of ideal arrangements and structures in a society, rather than a set of principles and fundamentals that could produce many different structures. So, there is nothing incompatible with the assertions presented above and anarchist values.
To some degree, all discussions of social organization are about rules and the kind of order one wishes to live under. In this sense any society is a tendency toward some form of a restriction on behaviors and actions. Put another way, there is no way to live among other human beings (or animals, if you want to be decent) while exercising an absolutist, total sense of freedom. Consider voluntarily moving into a community with, for example, restrictions on noise after 11PM. That is literally a restriction of your freedom to do one thing or another with your favorite noisemaking activities, but it is a restriction one might agree to implicitly or explicitly. If the anarchist end-game was absolute freedom for any individual to do whatever one pleased regardless of impact on others or the community, anarchists would view this community rule as unacceptable in principle, and punching each other in the face and stealing each other’s possessions as perfectly acceptable.
So, how would an anarchist society move beyond the most rudimentary form of interpersonal relations, production, and trade, and handle non-market interactions or community issues? It would be hard to think of reasons why various forms of social organization, team structures, voting mechanisms, or whatever else would not have some role in the delegation (and/or rotation) of certain duties and roles through democratic means in a non-centralized fashion. Although these structures and hierarchies of knowledge would be entered into voluntarily (and they may not claim the monopoly on force or the exclusive right to throw you in jail), there is no reason to think that there would be no semblance of binding social duties that require one to act, or refrain from certain acts in accordance with customs or other community decisions — similar to market-oriented agreements and arrangements.
The key is in how groups and communities come to the decisions that regulate or guide behavior, the use of certain resources, and so on. One can imagine a world without states as we know it today and a community within it where important decisions that affect said community are made by the will and whims of the patriarch of the oldest family in it — because it had always been done that way. This would be “anarchist” in nothing but one way. Alternatively, one can also imagine a community where the crucial, non-market decisions are made through means of first gathering community input, then encouraging a forum for debate or discussion on the issue, and then finally, perhaps, putting it to a vote where a two-thirds majority is required for any action. That action could be the creation or adjustment of a rule, the call for members of the community to participate in additional discussion, or it could even be the agreement for a sub-committee to be created or a delegation of responsibility to a smaller group. Democratic does not mean casting a ballot or raising your hand on every single item that affects your life — it’s about having a form of input and control over those items in some way. Non-centralized does not mean everyone is responsible for every action item — it’s about where decision making power lies.
Of course, how exactly different social structures, hierarchies, rules, codes of conduct, and so on would look is not something the anarchist can (or should) attempt to flesh out in detail — though they can think on tendencies or currents. The point is that it is crucial to understand that an anarchist society is one that will tend to some form of organized decision-making, will lead to the creation of certain institutions, and will lead to some form of establishment and adherence to sets of rules and laws.
For the anarchist, the challenge is not to refute this claim, but rather to focus on: what kind of frameworks enable voluntary, organized decision-making by groups; what kind of social or community institutions can be justified (and what autonomy they could justifiably have); and what rules and law may look like. Reconciling an understanding of the human tendency toward interaction, cooperation, organization, cooperation, structure creation, delegation of decision-making, and so on with anarchist fundamentals is where the intellectual action is.