I was talking to my husband about political philosophy the other day (as we often do…don’t judge!), and I recognized something in myself that troubled me a little: I felt certain that I was defending a truth, and was therefore drawing a hard line in the sand and unwilling to compromise my position. I don’t even recall which particular issue we were discussing, but the point remains the same: I was utterly convinced of the truth of what I was saying, and that allowed me to defend it radically and passionately. This realization of what I was doing was troubling to me because I almost felt like a fanatic, and it’s very important to me that I remain humble and always seek further knowledge and growth. So, to recognize this happening in real-time was pretty eye-opening for me…I likened it to evangelical Christianity, and that was a surprising parallel…since we were talking anarchy and stuff.
Here’s why that attitude could be a problem (aside from just making you a jackass): When you’re positive that you’re right, limits on behavior, options, and courses of action may drastically change. What I mean is this: there is a veritable Pandora’s box that opens when someone absolutely believes in the correctness of their position, belief, worldview, etc. Do you truly believe that ‘the West’ is waging war on your holy land and religion? You might strongly consider becoming a suicide bomber or otherwise contributing to jihad. Do you truly believe that homosexuality is an abomination worse than murder? You might support legislation that locks up or otherwise isolates your gay and lesbian peers and colleagues for consensual behavior. Do you truly believe “my country, right or wrong?” You might support the Nationalist Socialist German Workers’ Party, or the blockade against Gaza, or making the world “safe for democracy” by engaging in endless war, etc, etc…you get the point.
Do you notice something in common with all of these examples? All of these actions impact others, often negatively. When you’re absolutely sure that your position is right, this might invite a willingness to oppress or aggress against others…for their “own good” or for “absolute” good. This is why being so sure of your convictions can be a slippery slope. (As a side note, check out this wonderful Ted Talk by Lesley Hazleton called “Is Doubt Essential to Faith?” Her talk is incredibly relevant, especially for those with a curiosity in religion.)
Here is why it can be incredibly valuable to stand firmly for your convictions: On the other hand, there is the popular phrase that “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” While the phrase itself is a little bit trite, the sentiment is accurate. History is full of men and women (most of whom we’ve probably never heard of) who have stood on the strength of their convictions at great personal cost. Some of those known to the world for firmly adhering to a principle are Gandhi, Joan of Arc, and Martin Luther King. Lesser-known examples: Henry David Thoreau (who went to jail based on his refusal to pay taxes to support the American-Mexican war & a slave nation), Private Eddie Slovik (executed for desertion during World War II), and Irwin Schiff (an American tax protestor who refuses to pay income tax on grounds that it is illegal and immoral).
Whether you’ve heard of these people or not, and regardless of whether you agree with their firmly-held principles, one thing is clear: each has made a powerful, impactful stand that has undoubtedly influenced others…simply by setting an example in the way they live their lives. There is a wonderful quote that I love: “there is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” By the same token, there is nothing so powerful as witnessing someone follow their conscience, even when it costs much.
And finally, here is why I think that my position on anarchy is still a good one: So, we’ve discussed some of the dangers of being absolutely sure of your position, and some of the positive aspects of being absolutely sure of your position, and I’m still 99% sure that my worldview is correct…which allows me to be a evangelist for what I believe to be true! I suppose I had better make a good argument for why I feel ok drawing a hard line. Here goes:
The foundation of my worldview is these two points: that each person owns himself (the concept of self-sovereignty), and that the only justified use of force is in defense (read about the non-aggression principle here).
Everything I think about the world is framed through this lens. These two precepts are applicable to any human, anywhere in the world, at any time in history. Any person can follow these two principles, and neither principle compels a person to action. Recognizing self-ownership simply means understanding that each person has complete authority over their body, life, and labor. Non-aggression simply requires that a person refrain from certain actions – namely, those that infringe on the person or justly-acquired property of another. I’ve yet to find a better philosophy to govern human interaction.
Anarchism (by which I mean the Merriam-Webster definition: a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups) fits perfectly with the concepts of self-sovereignty and non-aggression. The State as we know it is not a voluntary cooperation (forget to pay your taxes?…that will cause some trouble), and forced association is everywhere you look (rather than free association).
Basically, the crux of the argument for a Stateless society, where any authority and government are voluntarily funded entities, boils down to this meme:The point is this: when you discover a truth, you feel compelled to live it, breathe it, share it, etc. Thus far, I believe I’ve found some truths in those two foundational principles, and therefore I’m a shameless evangelical anarchist. I forget who said it, but in the pursuit of justice or freedom, moderation is no virtue. So, yes, I may be ‘radical’ in my beliefs, and I may relentlessly cling to the concepts of self-ownership and non-aggression, but they are good ideas…and good ideas don’t require force. I aim simply to persuade.