Study Notes

Anarchism and Order

A Level
AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 26 May 2019

Although anarchism is popularly associated with ‘chaos’ and ‘disorder’, in reality nearly all anarchists want to establish an ordered society or anticipate its natural emergence since order encourages the growth of freedom and security.

The anarchist conception of order rejects social contract theory which argues that only the existence of the state and formal legal systems can guarantee social order by reining in the selfish, competitive and aggressive features of human nature.

Instead, anarchists contend that, since humans are basically rational beings, they are naturally inclined to lead peaceful and harmonious lives. Indeed, anarchists believe that order can only develop naturally, based on the positive features of human nature and ‘natural’ social arrangements. It cannot be created artificially by establishing governments or states. Thus, for anarchists, it is the coercive and corrupting impact of the state with its imposed ‘unnatural’ laws that creates disorder by generating inequality and injustice. The modern capitalist state, for example, will always encourage disorder because those oppressed by the ruling class will attempt to overthrow the system.

Anarchist views on an ordered society stress that social order occurs naturally and spontaneously, due to the potential contained within human nature (e.g. rationality, cooperation and solidarity) and the creation of social institutions (e.g. self-governing communities) that foster mutual respect, collaboration and peaceful coexistence.

An anarchist society, therefore, would not possess a centralised controlling body, any official hierarchical authority or coercive agencies to enforce laws. Rather, such a society would be based on some type of decentralised association of independent self-governing districts, where free and equal individuals would co-operate voluntarily and participate directly in decision-making. Under these arrangements, order would materialise naturally in a peaceful, stable and stateless society. This type of social order is possible because in circumstances where hierarchical authority is removed (thereby eradicating competitive, anti-social and selfish behaviour), human nature is rational, social and cooperative and this leads to the natural emergence of orderly existence. Nevertheless, critics maintain that, given humanity’s capacity for selfishness, greed and aggression, anarchist arguments in favour of stateless ‘natural order’ societies are wholly unrealistic.

As with liberty, anarchist views on order differ, according to their position on the individualist-collectivist spectrum.

According to anarcho-communists such as Kropotkin, the divisive and unequal nature of the capitalist system undermines human solidarity and selflessness. They therefore call for common ownership and mutualism to promote the cooperative altruistic behaviour that maintains natural order.

Anarcho-capitalists, including Murray Rothbard (1926-95) and David Friedman (1945-), argue that, in the absence of state regulation, the free market will establish natural order by enabling competitive, rational, self-interested and independent individuals to make decisions in their own best interests. In essence, unrestricted capitalist competition will bring about genuine social equilibrium based on the consumer-provider relationship.

Finally, anarcho-individualists such as Stirner contend that people should act as they see fit, free from all legal, political, social, moral or religious constraints. Liberated by the stateless society, the human qualities of rationalism, autonomy and self-interest will guarantee social order and reject external authority.

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