The following is one of three introductions for the upcoming C4SS anthology TOTAL ABOLITION: Police, Prisons, Borders, Empire and is being published here as a teaser for the book.
Thomas Malthus, in his infamous work An Essay on the Principle of Population, takes a section to attack arguably the first modern anarchist thinker William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. Malthus writes,
The great error under which [Mr.] Godwin labours throughout his whole work is the attributing almost all the vices and misery that are seen in civil society to human institutions. Political regulations and the established administration of property are with him the fruitful sources of all evil, the hotbeds of all the crimes that degrade mankind. Were this really a true state of the case, it would not seem a hopeless task to remove evil completely from the world, and reason seems to be the proper and adequate instrument for effecting so great a purpose .
There is much to be said about Malthus’s misunderstanding and, in my opinion, ultimately failed critique of Godwin’s work, but in some sense, he manages to elucidate a grain of truth in his accusations. That is: if anarchism—not even just that philosophical anarchism of Godwin—is guilty of a tendency to blame institutions for the wrongdoings of humanity, it is because statist and capitalist institutions—being as they are fundamentally violent—are ‘corrupting’ society.
Consider the horrifying social-psychological insights that have emerged from analyses of Nazi Germany. For example, Hannah Arendt’s controversial book Eichmann in Jerusalem uses the trial of Adolf Eichmann—an Obersturmbannführer in Nazi Germany and one of the pivotal actors in the enactment of the “Final Solution”—as demonstrative that those who participated in the administrative mechanisms that brought about the Holocaust “were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal” and that this represents the “banality of evil” (a phrase she uses in the subtitle of her book), whereby law-abiding people self-describing as normal or good and ultimately not feeling significant personal hatred or, after the matter, guilt will participate in horrific acts when acting obediently and unquestioningly within institutions . Or as Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal puts it, “We know that one doesn’t need to be fanatical, sadistic, or mentally ill to murder millions; that it is enough to be a loyal follower eager to do one’s duty” . One need only think of the Nuremberg defense of ‘I was just following orders’—demonstrated through the German phrase Befel ist Befehl (‘an order is an order’)—made infamous by Nazi war criminals but still used today by the American empire’s police officers, ICE agents, and soldiers alike to justify horrific acts of murder and suppression.
Philip Zimbardo, the man behind the scandalous Stanford prison experiment, gives a name to this social-psychological phenomenon: the “Lucifer Effect” (the title of his 2008 book on the subject). According to Zimbardo, violent institutions like prisons and militaries “typically become crucibles, in which authority, power, and dominance are blended and, when covered over by secrecy, suspend our humanity, and rob us of the qualities we humans value most: caring, kindness, cooperation, and love” . The logic is that it is especially contexts and systems—established and perpetuated by an institution or network of institutions—that are major determinants of whether someone will commit acts that are harmful or even outrightly cruel—even if they do not have a significant pre-existing disposition toward such actions before they entered such an environment. Essentially, as Zimbardo puts it in response to a question posed about photographs from Abu Ghraib in an interview for The New York Times, “If you put good apples into a bad situation, you’ll get bad apples” . And nowhere is this more evident than in the aforementioned Stanford prison experiment itself—a major experimental basis from which he draws out his theory of the Lucifer Effect—which showed just how quickly institutionalized power turns ‘normal’ people into torturers and perpetrators of suffering.
A full inquiry into the nature versus nurture debate regarding evil and the definition of evil itself would be incredibly tangential, but I would like to clarify that the points made so far are not to strip individuals of autonomy in their choice of whether to or not to perform acts of cruelty and harm. Nor is this to say that by eliminating institutions based around violence the world will instantly become a violence-free utopia—as Malthus seems to accuse Godwin of—because human beings are ‘good’ in a philosophically essentialist sense and are only made otherwise by institutional influences . This is a central critique with which William Gillis charges the left, that we are “repeatedly marred by the mistake of assuming that individual monsters are purely a product of social structures” . Rather, the point is that anarchists do emphasize the influence of violent and unjust institutions/structures—borders, militaries, prisons, police, etc.—and the necessity of their abolition because of a keen insight that they are not just themselves violent and unjust but that they breed violence and injustice; and, taking into account Gillis’s insight using the specific example of law enforcement, “[t]he police are rotten because policing attracts rot” . As Pyotr Kropotkin succinctly puts it,
When we ask for the abolition of the State and its organs we are always told that we dream of a society composed of men better than they are in reality. But no; a thousand times, no. All we ask is that men should not be made worse than they are, by such institutions !
Or, following up with Gillis again,
A core anarchist realization is that we cannot guard against bad people by creating institutions of power because the same bad people will inevitably seize and wield those institutions. The only long term answer is to remove all positions of power, to make it, in a million ways, impossible for anyone to seize or maintain control over other people .
And so, this abolitionist struggle is central to the very essence of anarchism.
George Woodcock, in his history of anarchism, is sympathetic but still somewhat critical of this emphasis on institutional abolitionism. He admits,
[T]here is the tendency to identify anarchism with nihilism, and to regard it as a negative philosophy, a philosophy of destruction simply. The anarchists themselves are partly responsible for the misunderstanding, since many of them have tended to stress the destructive aspects of their doctrine. The very idea of abolishing authority implies a clean sweep of most of the prominent institutions of a typical modern society, and the strong point in anarchist writings has always been their incisive criticism of such institutions; in comparison their plans of reconstruction have been oversimplified and unconvincing.
But Woodcock defends anarchism as never having been an ideology of pure destruction, but rather one that “may accept destruction, but only as part of the same eternal process that brings death and renewed life to the world of nature, and . . . has faith in the power of free men to build again and build better in the rubble of the destroyed past” . And anarchists tend to be purposefully ‘open’ or ‘not-fully-mappable’ with their visions of the future. As David Graeber (Rest In Power) writes, “I am less interested in deciding what sort of economic system we should have in a free society than in creating the means by which people can make such decisions for themselves” . But this emphasis on critique, abolition, and a non-deterministic and spontaneous future is not, as a proper interpretation of Graeber’s quote should make obvious, just a dualistic preference for praxis over theory or the present over the future. Rather it is demonstrative that in reference to the anarchist approach to abolition it is possible to say that the abolition of the violent institutions of present society is a dialectically united process with the formation of a new and freer social order.
Consider, for example, the quote by Mikhail Bakunin, representing well his negative dialectical philosophy, that “[t]he passion for destruction is a creative passion, too” or, earlier (and less aggressive), Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s proclamation that “it is . . . liberty that is the MOTHER, not the daughter, of order  .” This type of thinking, that the absence of a governing institution or other power structure is conducive of creation and order, can even be found in anarchistic interpretations of the Lao Tze—who numerous historians of libertarian thought such as Woodcock have traced as a progenitor of anarchism—and his spiritual and philosophical tradition of Taoism . As the writer known only as Josh elaborates in their piece “Anarchism and Taoism,” a central aspect of…
Taoist teaching is the concept of wu-wei. It is often translated as merely non-action. In fact there are striking philological similarities between ‘anarchism’ and ‘wu-wei’. Just as ‘an-archos’ in Greek means absence of a ruler, wu-wei means lack of wei, where wei refers to ‘artificial, contrived activity that interferes with natural and spontaneous development’. From a political point of view, wei refers to the imposition of authority. To do something in accordance with wu-wei is therefore considered natural; it leads to natural and spontaneous order. It has nothing to do with all forms of imposed authority .
In this way, anarchist—as well as proto-anarchist—thought sees the abolition of existing institutions itself as the process by which the new social order emerges in a spontaneous manner.
Similar sentiments are present in non-anarchist abolitionism too. As famed Marxist feminist thinker and prison abolitionist Angela Davis explains, “Abolition is not primarily a negative strategy. It’s not primarily about dismantling, getting rid of. It’s about reenvisioning. It’s about building anew” . And a social media infographic by Forgive Everyone Collective states that “abolition is creative” because it…
is not simply a process of tearing down; rather it is a process of building new. One of our key goals as abolitionists is to build strong communities that are healthy and whole and whose material needs are met. [Abolitionists] fight to create a world where cages and cop cars are rendered obsolete, and are replaced by flourishing and vibrant communities .
To me, these powerful statements and others like them—or perhaps, more specifically, their use as popular slogans or talking points—do not deny the insights of the anarchist perspective on abolition but rather render them somewhat implicit. For anarchists, the creative and affirmative power of abolition is explicitly not just about how the creation of new institutions or the shifting of public funding to noncarceral social programs must be done in tandem with abolition, but that the abolition of institutions of violence/force creates structural vacuums in the existing social order that can be filled by a spontaneous multiplicity of orders through voluntary human exchanges and intimate social obligations not requiring hegemonic mechanisms of enforcement. Ericco Malatesta puts it in a very straightforward manner, writing that “if no one has the possibility of obliging others to act against their will then, always assuming that it is not possible or considered convenient to adopt more than one solution, one must arrive by mutual concessions at an agreement which best suits everyone and least offends individual interests, tastes and wishes” . But in a more complex sense, violence as an organizing principle hinders and even sometimes destroys the possibility of creating and maintaining communicative and understanding relationships and interactions .
In The Utopia of Rules, Graeber writes,
It strikes me that what is really important about violence is that it is perhaps the only form of human action that holds out even the possibility of having social effects without being communicative. To be more precise: violence may well be the only way it is possible for one human being to do something which will have relatively predictable effects on the actions of a person about whom they understand nothing. In pretty much any other way in which you might try to influence another’s actions, you must at least have some idea about who you think they are, who they think you are, what they might want out of the situation, their aversions and proclivities, and so forth. Hit them over the head hard enough, and all of this becomes irrelevant.
And therefore violence has a distinct “capacity to allow arbitrary decisions, and thus avoid the kind of debate, clarification, and renegotiation typical of more egalitarian social relations” . And further, Chris Matthew Sciabarra—through his dialectical interpretation of Ayn Rand (who is certainly not an anarchist but a fervent antistatist nonetheless)—assesses somewhat more abstractly that…
[f]orce is irrational; it subverts the very capacity to be rational. It seeks legitimation in mystic creeds and collective ideologies. It fragments the requirements of human life, and is a crucial foundation for the proliferation of social dualism  .
The central conclusion to be drawn from these observations is that violence/force ultimately fragments social relationships, precludes rational discussion and exchange, and renders impotent our ability for communicative understanding and dialectical interconnection with each other. So, by removing institutions created by, maintained by, and/or enacting violence, we broaden our ability to communicate and rationally interact in expression of needs and desires and feel uncoerced connection with one another. And under these conditions, certain strategies and practices become more viable. For example, there are the extensive and widely varied anticarceral practices and philosophies that fall under the umbrella terms restorative and transformative justice. Crimethinc. describes these “in the loosest sense” as sometimes being simply…
a few friends sticking up for someone who’s been hurt: asking them what they need, and trying to negotiate for those needs with the person who hurt them and among the community they share. Some processes involve a group that mediates between an individual and the person calling them out, or separate groups supporting each person and facilitating communication between them. These processes usually involve setting out conditions or “demands” for the person who’s been called out as a means of restoring safety or trust and preventing the harm from happening again, and some method for following up to ensure that these demands are met. All of these different approaches share an intention to address the harm done directly without relying on the state .
This is very obviously fundamentally centered on communication as opposed to violence as a means to address both individual and community harm.
Another example of a strategy that becomes much more viable with an increased ability for voluntary interaction and communication—and can be expanded upon more broadly—is the effective implementation of Ostrom’s principles for managing common pool resources (CPRs)—aka the ‘commons.’ These include:
- Clearly defined boundaries
- Individuals or households who have rights to withdraw resource units from the CPR must be clearly defined, as must the boundaries of the CPR itself.
- Congruence between appropriation and provision rules and local conditions.
- Appropriation rules restricting time, place, technology, and/or quantity of resource units are related to local conditions and to provision rules requiring labour, material, and/or money.
- Collective-choice arrangements
- Most individuals affected by the operational rules can participate in modifying the operational rules.
- Monitors, who actively audit CPR conditions and appropriator behaviour, are accountable to the appropriations or are the appropriators.
- Graduated sanctions
- Appropriators who violate operational rules are likely to be assessed graduated sanctions (depending on the seriousness and context of the offence) by other appropriators, by officials accountable to these appropriators, or by both.
- Conflict-resolution mechanisms
- Appropriators and their officials have rapid access to low-cost local arenas to resolve conflicts among appropriators or between appropriators and officials.
- Minimal recognition of rights to organize
- The rights of appropriators to devise their own institutions are not challenged by external governmental authorities.
For CPRs that are part of larger systems:
- Nested enterprises
- Appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises .
From “[c]ollective-choice arrangements” to “[c]onflict-resolution mechanisms” to “[m]inimal recognition of rights to organize,” these principles clearly demonstrate an important role, if not necessity, for communication and understanding. And Kevin Carson, in his essay “Governance, Agency, and Autonomy,” takes a specifically anarchist approach to Ostrom’s CPR management that further elucidates this. He writes that “many commons governance systems have failed as a result of outside interference . . . by states and landed elites.” For example, two major CPR-based projects initiated forcibly by states—the Imperial Russian agrarian reforms of Pyotr Stolypin and the Soviet collectivization of Joseph Stalin—both denied the ability for “internal rights of self-governance,” and Stolypin’s reforms in particular violated Ostrom’s first principle as it allowed “households to withdraw aliquot shares of land from the village’s common fields (in English terms) without the consent” of the body of appropriators. This demonstrates how “No. 3, the right of those affected by the rules to have a say in devising them, is—normative theories of participatory democracy aside—a prerequisite for an efficiently functioning [CPR] institution” . This clearly requires a deeply ingrained practice of internal communication, but Carson goes further to point out how “the focus of [Ostrom’s] work is almost entirely on the factors that foster horizontal legibility in forming trust networks” and “[c]ommunication is central to Ostrom’s model for formulating viable [CPR] governance systems” .
The point is: really anything based on voluntary interaction and underpinned by self-aware and mutual understanding through communication is strengthened by the abolition of violent institutions. And furthermore, the expanded networks of understanding and interdependence that ultimately emerge from abolition create those strong and interdependent communities themselves most conducive to the ultimate abolition of the state and capitalism and all the forms of oppression with which they intersect and align. Each abolition itself creates a greater capacity for abolition.
The breakdown of this desired effect can be demonstrated by Graeber’s analysis, from Debt: The First 5,000 Years, of the incursion of violence into townships and certain city neighborhoods in 16th and 17th century England. He describes the economic situation in these places during this period with great detail, explaining that in these areas during this time period, sometimes businessmen, artisans, and even widows would produce their own money that could just be agreed upon for use. Other times those living in the same communities, frequenting the same “local butcher, baker or shoemaker” would simply use a tab system. He further outlines how…
[s]ince everyone was involved in selling something . . . just about everyone was both a creditor and a debtor; most family income took the form of promises from other families; everyone knew and kept count of what their neighbors owed one another; and every six months or year or so, communities would hold a general “reckoning,” canceling debts out against each other in a great circle, with only those differences then remaining when all was done being settled by use of coin or good .
And this relationship of mutual indebtedness was made possible in large part due to the fact that “English villagers in Elizabethan or Stuart times did not like to appeal to the justice system, even when the law was in their favor—partly on the principle that neighbors should work things out with one another, but mainly because the law was so extraordinarily harsh.” But as Graeber accounts, the origins of capitalism “is not the story of the gradual destruction of traditional communities by the impersonal power of the market. It is, rather, the story of how an economy of credit was converted into an economy of interest; of the gradual transformation of moral networks by the intrusion of the impersonal—and often vindictive—power of the state.” Specifically, this took the form of the “criminalization of debt” which was in essence “the criminalization of the very basis of society” as “[t]he sudden accessibility of violence really did threaten to transform what had been the essence of sociality into a war of all against all” . The beauty of abolitionism therefore is that it offers this sort of process in the opposite direction—the creation of order through voluntary exchange, social obligation, and rational communication by and through the abolition of an institution based around violence. For a final, more contemporary and positive hinting at this phenomena, consider Peter Gelderloos’s observations that the 2004 Ferguson riots “were not only important in an instrumental way, forcing all of society to consider the problem; they also suggested the beginnings of a solution as neighbors came together in solidarity, building new relations amongst themselves, and forcefully ejecting police from the neighborhoods they patrol” .
And therefore, it is for the love of this creative and communicative power of abolition that I am proud to introduce—alongside several other authors—this anthology of works on the abolition of police, prisons, borders, and empire as well as some classic texts by individualist and anarchist thinkers on the abolition of American slavery. I hope that this volume can serve as a guide and a weapon in the fight for a truly free society. And to those who continue to say—as Malthus once essentially did—that our vision of an abolitionist society based on reciprocity, free exchange, and communication is a pipe-dream or a fairytale, I quote Neil Gaiman’s (likely purposeful) misquotation of G.K. Chesterson: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten” . Now, read on! We have dragons to slay!
- Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers., electronic ed., Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project 1998 (London, UK: J. Johnson, 1798), 56, accessed December 22, 2020, http://www.esp.org/books/malthus/population/malthus.pdf.
- Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, revised and enlarged ed. (New York, NY: The Viking Press, 1964), 279, accessed December 22, 2020, https://platypus1917.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/arendt_eichmanninjerusalem.pdf.
- Alan Levy, Nazi Hunter: The Wiesenthal File, revised 2002 ed. (London, UK: Constable & Robinson, 1993), 157-58.
- Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, illustrated ed. (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2008), 444.
- Claudia Dreifus and Philip Zimbardo, “Finding Hope in Knowing the Universal Capacity for Evil,” The New York Times, last modified April 3, 2007, accessed December 22, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/03/science/03conv.html.
- Todd May, in his book The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), argues that classical anarchism does suffer from a humanist notion that “the human essence is a good essence, which relations of power suppress and deny” and that it lacks a positive theory of power (p. 62). But Allan Antliff counters May’s view in his piece “Anarchy, Power, and Poststructuralism” <http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/allan-antliff-anarchy-power-and-poststructuralism.pdf>, wherein—through consideration of the thought of classical anarchists like Emma Goldman and Pyotr Kropotkin and particularly of the Moscow Federation of Anarchist Groups’s Stirnerite influences and activity during the Russian Revolution—he argues that classical anarchism does have such a theory, and “[n]ot only that, it offers an alternative ground for theorizing the social conditions of freedom and a critical understanding of power and liberation as perpetually co-mingling with and inscribed by a process of self-interrogation and self-overcoming that is pluralistic, individualist, materialist, and social” (p. 10). Regardless of who is correct in this particular debate, the consensus of both seems to be that anarchism—whether it traditionally has one already or not—requires a positive theory of power.
- William Gillis, “Bad People: Irredeemable Individuals & Structural Incentives,” Center for a Stateless Society, last modified August 14, 2020, accessed January 5, 2021, https://c4ss.org/content/53289.
- Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings (North Chelmsford, MA: Courier Corporation, 2012), 134.
- Gillis, “Bad People,” Center for a Stateless Society.
- George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History Of Libertarian Ideas And Movements (Cleveland, OH: Meridian Books, 1962), 12-13, accessed December 22, 2020, https://libcom.org/files/Woodcock,%20George%20-%20Anarchism,%20A%20History%20Of%20Libertarian%20Ideas%20And%20Movements.PDF.
- David Graeber, The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (Random House, 2013), 193.
- Michail Bakunin, “The Reaction in Germany: A Fragment of a Frenchman” (1842), The Anarchist Library, last modified July 15, 2020, accessed December 30, 2020, https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/mikhail-bakunin-the-reaction-in-germany.
- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, “Solution of the Social Problem,” trans. Nathalie Colibert and Ian Harvey, 1848, in Property Is Theft!: A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology, ed. Iain McKay (AK Press, 2011), 280.
- George Woodcock, Anarchy or Chaos (London, UK: Freedom Press, 1944), 20-21.
- Josh, “Anarchism and Taoism,” The Anarchist Library, last modified January 1, 2005, accessed December 23, 2020, https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/josh-anarchism-and-taoism. Though the socio-political applications of Taoism are not identical to anarchism and therefore do not need to be overly discussed in this piece, it should be acknowledged that there is a danger in the appeal to a ‘natural’ order. As speculative realist Levi Bryant writes, “It seems to me that throughout the history of philosophy, one way of distinguishing the revolutionary from the reactionary is that the latter always argues that there is 1) a necessary order . . . to the social world and that therefore 2) the social world can be organized in no other way. In other words, the reactionary always argues that the social world is either naturally or divinely decreed. By contrast, the revolutionary always argues that the social world is contingent or that things are capable of being otherwise, that our identities, classes, modes of production are, as you put it, ‘historical’” <https://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/onticology-and-politics/>. Though perhaps in this case, considering the specificities of Taoist thought, an appeal can be made to Terry Eagleton’s contrary argument, from his book On Evil (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), that “[n]ot all permanence is an offence against the political left. Continuity is at least as significant a factor in history as change, and many continuities are to be cherished” (pp. 36-37).
- “Uprising & Abolition: Angela Davis on Movement Building, ‘Defund the Police’ & Where We Go from Here,” video, 13:12, YouTube, posted by Democracy Now!, June 12, 2020, accessed December 31, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL4yxg3vI_o.
- Forgive Everyone Collective (forgiveeveryoneco), “Abolition is a process of building new. It is a creative process, not simply a destructive process. It is something that we do every day in our own communities…” Instagram, November 1, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CHDnFVhAdKx/.
- Errico Malatesta, “Mutual Aid: An Essay” (1909), The Anarchist Library, last modified March 3, 2009, accessed December 31, 2020, https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/errico-malatesta-mutual-aid-an-essay.
- To be clear, ‘violence’ considered here is that of a dominant organizing principle as opposed to a highly-debated strategy of resistance and social change. The purpose of this inquiry is not about the ethics and parameters of nonviolence and not-nonviolence. However to give insight into the complexities of this debate, Vicky Osterweil’s In Defense of Looting (New York, NY: Bold Type Press, 2020), explains the latter term as such: “I use the rather clunky phrase not-nonviolent purposely. For some nonviolence ideologues, breaking windows, lighting trash on fire, or even building barricades in the street is ‘violent.’ I once witnessed a group of Black teens chanting ‘Fuck the Police’ get shouted at for ‘being violent’ by a white protester. Though there are more forms of violence than just literal physical blows to a human body, I don’t believe a conception of ‘violence’ that encompasses both throwing trash in the street and the murder of Michael Brown is remotely helpful. Calling breaking a window ‘violent’ reproduces this useless definition and places the whole argument within the rhetorical structure of nonviolence ideology. Not-nonviolent, then, becomes the more useful term. I first encountered the term in the work of Lorenzo Raymond” (p. 29). But this piece is rather about what can happen when fundamentally, genuinely violent institutions (as opposed to not-nonviolent resistance strategies) such as prisons or police are abolished. And in further regard to that strategic debate, I will simply point to Walter Rodney’s quote from The Groundings With My Brothers (Chicago, IL: Frontline Distribution International, 2001)—which I believe holds true even if one is wholly opposed to violence as with anarcho-pacifists like Bart de Ligt or Geoffrey Ostergaard—that “[v]iolence aimed at the recovery of human dignity and at equality cannot be judged by the same yardstick as violence aimed at maintenance of discrimination and oppression” (pp. 15-16).
- David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2015), 76-78.
- Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, 2nd ed. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013), 255. The terms ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ are highly controversial terms in the realm of philosophy, both in view of their virtues and their basic definitions. To clarify the quote: Sciabarra admits that it appears as if Rand is asymmetrically favorable toward a rationality opposed to notions like instinct, subconscious, emotion, and other “constituent factors of consciousness” as the most fundamental of virtues, but he argues that her understanding of rationality is actually an “essentially expanded” dialectical concept—with “some parallels between Rand and [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich] Hegel concerning the relationship between reason and freedom”—whose interpretation as a virtue “does not mean that one rationalizes one’s actions, values, goals, and desires. Rather it entails the conscious awareness and articulation of rationally derived goals, the articulation—and long term, therapeutic alteration, if necessary—of one’s emotions and desires” (pp. 254, 228-29).
- I see no substantial reason to wholly oppose either mysticism or collectivism when existing in a genuinely voluntary fashion and without establishing and/or maintaining an exploitative, abusive, or hierarchical power structure (or even certain revolutionary or reformist collectivist movements with an eye to their internal characteristics—e.g. degree of decentralization—and general context—e.g. role in the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles of the Global South. Rand would hate me). I therefore choose to interpret and utilize Sciabarra’s understanding of Rand not as a total condemnation of mysticism or collectivism but rather of the binary between their authoritarian forms in the ideologies of, for example, Nazism, ISIS, and Stalinism and the undialectical atomism and faux individualism of actually-existing, non-reified capitalism. This is certainly subversive to a traditional reading of Rand, but I see it as sympathetic to Sciabarra’s dialectical interpretation—as he writes, Rand “aimed to transcend to the polarities between . . . atomistic individualism and organic collectivism” (I choose to forgo discussion here about the quote’s content regarding the transcending the polarity of “anarchism and statism”) (p. 248). This is akin to Benjamin Tucker’s identification of his individualist anarchism as critical but not entirely opposed to experimentation in voluntary communism and his consequential statement that: “We do not believe that any one can ‘stand alone.’ We do wish ‘social ties and guarantees.’ We wish all there are. We believe in human solidarity. We believe that the members of society are interdependent. We would preserve these interdependencies untrammelled and inviolate.” <https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/benjamin-tucker-liberty-vol-i-no-3#toc5>.
- CrimethInc., “Accounting for Ourselves: Breaking the Impasse Around Assault and Abuse in Anarchist Scenes,” CrimethInc., last modified April 4, 2017, accessed December 25, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20190802071258/https://crimethinc.com/2013/04/17/accounting-for-ourselves-breaking-the-impasse-around-assault-and-abuse-in-anarchist-scenes.
- Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 90.
- Kevin Carson, “Governance, Agency and Autonomy: Anarchist Themes in the Work of Elinor Ostrom,” 2014, in The Anatomy of Escape: A Defense of the Commons, ed. James Tuttle (Center for a Stateless Society & Kindle Direct Publishing, 2019), 133-34.
- Ibid., 145-46.
- David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, revised ed. (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2014), 327.
- Ibid., 333-35.
- Peter Gelderloos, “Learning From Ferguson,” CounterPunch, last modified December 19, 2014, accessed December 26, 2020, https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/12/19/learning-from-ferguson/.
- Neil Gaiman, Coraline, illustrated ed., illus. Dave McKean (HarperCollins, 2012), 6.