Can anarchy ever be orderly?

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R. Jefferys

November 2002

Can anarchy ever be orderly?

  The encyclopaedia Britannica of 1910 gives a clear definition of anarchy.  It states that the anarchist ideal is ‘a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government - harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.’  From this definition questions arise as to its plausibility and effectiveness in any society given the realities of human nature.  Therefore crucial to the anarchist argument is one’s definition of human nature, for in viewing human beings as inherently bad only with potential for good (as is the Conservative observation) would lead us to believe that anarchist thought is somewhat aloof and detached from the realities of society, making it an unrealistic ideal.  So one’s view of human nature necessarily defines whether anarchism in itself can ever be successful.  With so few examples of anarchism ever coming to fruition in any country, a lot of the debate as to whether anarchism is a plausible ideology rests on general hypothetical debate and small examples closer to home.  From the anarchist point of view the May Day riots of 2001 were in many ways an unhelpful insight for the general public into anarchistic culture.  The violence and chaos, which resulted, would have led many people to the conclusion that anarchism is far from being orderly, and thus wholly undesirable.  Although anarchists may come back with the old socialist adage ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs’, there does seem to be a deep-rooted fear of disorganisation and general chaos and a general distrust towards the anarchists that makes it an unpopular ideology in Britain.  For the general public in Britain and indeed in many countries across the globe there arises the question, can anarchy ever be orderly?

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  Proudhon once remarked that ‘although I am a strong supporter of order, I am in the fullest sense of the term, an anarchist.’  To him the two need not be polarised or opposing forces working against each other, rather he believed that the two went hand-in-hand rather more than some people gave it credit for.  He believed that anarchy was ‘the absence of a ruler or a sovereign’ and not the ‘absence of principles [and] laws’ as he explained how through this misconception it had ‘become synonymous with disorder’.  Proudhon goes on to claim that ‘because of the deep-rooted habit ...

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