Monday, March 30, 2009

Guido and Anarchy

Great Guido comments on my anarchy post, 'Anarchists like spontaneous order. Not state enforced order.' I sympathise, as with farmers' markets we all long for the real thing, the local thing. But I'm not such a romantic idealist as Guido, not least because, as, again, with farmers' markets, ideals rapidly become corrupted. It shouldn't be forgotten that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century anarchists were Al Qaeda, rather more effective, in fact, in that they managed to kill quite a few prominent politicians. The 9/11 of that time was the Haymarket Square bombing in Chicago in 1886, which inspired both new adherents to the cause and intense paranoia among the Euro-American political classes.
The primary illusion of anarchists lies behind that phrase 'spontaneous order'. It implies that there is some natural human condition that is polluted by 'state enforced order'. This is very bad metaphysics. Communism and fascism sprang from human nature, as did the divine right of kings. If there is no god, no intelligent external force, then savage state oppression is as much part of human nature as a self-governing village of organic farmers. We may prefer the idea of the latter but to act on that preference is to descend into political unreality.


  1. In TH White's Arthurian oddity The Once and Future King, Merlin's tutoring of the young Arthur contains a profound meditation on three of these human possibilities: monarchy, anarchy (the wild geese) and absolute statism (the ant colony, where Everything That is Not Forbidden Is Compulsory).

    Arthur is made to learn about all of them for his development as a human being and therefore as a Good King. I forget if there was a conclusion, probably not - it was too good a book for conclusions.

  2. People want order in their lives so they can have the freedom to pursue them free of coercion from whatever source it might come. Order - for example in the form of the rule of law - keeps the strong off the weak and the rich off the poor and is recognised by most people as desirable.
    But when order becomes control it constitutes an invasion (to a greater or lesser degree) of a part of each of us - a most private part - that order was meant to protect from invasion. It becomes similar to slavery or torture or child abuse.
    You have to define 'state enforced order', but communism and fascism were 'enforced' and took no account of human goodness or badness and were therefore illegitimate. But the English rule of law through the common law was exactly that - a law common to all people which arose from their common consent. (Which is now in the process of being destroyed by the EC).
    "Communism and fascism sprang from human nature" - of course they did, as does everything in this world - but that does not make them right. So, if you are implying Bryan, that without belief in an external source of ultimate goodness there can be no legitimate order in human society, then you must be right and I agree.

  3. "Communism and fascism sprang from human nature" ?

    Is it not the case that they sprang from a man made distortion of Darwinism, i.e nature being in a process of incremental improvement, which we now know is wrong.

    To the wider point, I think you will find in the Koran its very explicit, only God can set prices, which I suppose is pretty close to Hayeks Spontaneous order.

  4. Darwin was a man and the distorters were humans. That's the point. If things get corrupted then there is nothing non-human that's corrupting them.

  5. Wow, four very helpful posts. The Great Guido doesn't have it all his own way, even in the local blogscape. Quality over quantity or better signal-to-noise ratio as we used to say in wiki early days.

    I'm struck that the wild goose was the symbol of the Holy Spirit chosen - and revered - by the Celtic church. Put that together with Philip's "external source of ultimate goodness" and we've really got some concepts to play with. As those Celtic saints loved to do, apparently, with the thought-forms of their day.

    The crushing of Celtic Christianity by Rome was a bad move for these islands, the way I read it. Too much "external source" but not I think the real thing. I'd read our later centralised control problems back into that, no question. But stuff like common law keeps the old dynamism going, at least in echo?

    James Billington makes a similar daring analogy in comparing Marx and Proudhon to Aquinas and St Francis, centralising system-builder versus charismatic inspirer.

    But it was Bakunin's spat with Marx that defined what we got in the 20th century in the end. Pleasant, wasn't it?

    I'm still unsure how much al-Qaeda is modern, in the sense of being in a direct line from all that - plus the latest technology, obviously:

    If the machine symbolized the German revolutionary movement, the bomb symbolized the Russian. The explosive implement was no less a product of the new industrial technology than the implosive machine, but the bomb was more radically democratic (everyone could make and have access to one) and more directly terrifying.
    -- Fire in the Minds of Men p 387

    But there is also something more ancient in the DNA of the Islamists. Sean's right to mention the Koran. Nothing being as simple as it seems.

  6. ha ha we will descend into political unreality that is a good one when and if we ever ascend into political reality i shall nominate you to the cabinet because you are so much more orderly than random

    auntie thocial lithp

  7. i was in Fopp (a record store) the other day, very crowded, and noted how easily, almost unconsciously, shelf-browsers manoeuvred around each other. So i'm going left to ring, a chap to my right is going right to left, we naturally ease around each other. That's the kind of order which arises out of common sense: 'tis surely only a matter of time before Nu Labour create a law for browsing through shops, in case anyone should otherwise be killed or injured.

    When i was in Italy in 2003 i noted Italian drivers almost totally ignore traffic lights - they'll go through red if it seems clear, motorbikes will mount the pavement to get through traffic, etc. Yet i didn't see a single accident or near accident - i guess that when people rely on their own sense rather than laws, they become much more alert and aware, so (i'm told) there are proportionately very few accident in Formula 1, because the drivers are extremely aware.

    Roger Scruton somewhere talks of the difference between rational arrangements (i.e. arrived at through ratiocination) and reasonable arrangements (i.e. arrived at through a more fluid sense of what seems reasonable). Until recently, i gather, English law was more of the latter sort and was the better for it. Of course i don't know anything about politics but that's the impression i get.

  8. You mean Fopp Lives? The depression is officially over. Capitalism and the Free Market are saved, Ill dig the credit card out of the bottom of the bin, let the spending begin.

  9. Fopp in Manchester is fine - packed on a Saturday. i bought the last Go! Team album for £3 - the most i could commit to, now i'm unemployed. A good purchase.