A PHILOSOPHICAL LEXICON FOR CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS, #5: “Anarchism” (A Philosophical and Sociopolitical Tribute to David Graeber).

By Robert Hanna

“Young Woman With a Book [Reading Philosophy],” by Alexander Deineka (1934)
“A Philosopher Reading” (Wellcome Collection)

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APP Editor’s Note:

But since it is a work-in-progress, this does not preclude ongoing elaborations or revisions of the working draft, that appear only in the online installments.

After the series is finished, then a complete revised-and-updated version of the basic working draft will be made available for universal sharing.

Here are four preliminary remarks about the lexicon.

First, all terms in boldface have a definition or explication somewhere on the list.

Second, all of these definitions are, to some extent, controversial, precisely because they imply a certain philosophical point of view, or set of presuppositions, that not all philosophers share.

Third, entries marked with an asterisk* indicate a particularly controversial definition, and also include a brief description of the controversy, in italics.

Fourth, some entries also include a philosopher’s name in parenthesis, if that definition is closely historically associated with a formulation that was original to that philosopher.

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PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS IN THIS SERIES:

#3: “Acts.”

#2: “Abstract.”

#1: Introduction, & Other Preliminaries.

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PRELIMINARY NOTE:

Graeber will be greatly missed; so the ELABORATION portion of this installment is a tribute to him.

I write not as someone who knew Graeber personally–for personal remembrances, you can read “David Graeber, 1961–2020,” in The NYR Daily (5 September 2020)–but only as a philosopher whose own work in social and political theory has been positively and substantively influenced by Graeber’s work, especially Debt and Bullshit Jobs.

Anarchism*: the political doctrine according to which

(i) the state is rationally unjustified (see justification) and immoral because it uses coercion, including violence, to compel people (see person) to obey its laws, even if those laws are morally wrong, and

(ii) all people (see person) should freely associate with one another for their mutual aid and individual or relational self-realization.

Controversy: This definition is a “broad” one that is neutral as between

(i) “bomb-throwing” or violent anarchism, according to which coercion is instrumentally justified for the purposes of destroying the state, and

(ii) broadly Kantian dignitarian anarchism, which is consistently non-coercive and non-violent, because it holds that all coercion is morally impermissible because it involves a violation of sufficient respect for the dignity of human persons by treating people as either mere means or mere things, but also holds that minimal sufficiently effective, last resort, defensive, protective, and preventive moral force is morally permissible, by which it means that such force is permissible only as a last resort, by either using the smallest sufficiently effective level of force or threat of force, or deploying the smallest sufficiently effective threat of appreciable, salient harm, whether this actually involves force or not, in order to defend against, protect against, or prevent, oneself or someone else being primarily or secondarily coerced (see coercion), or having their rational human dignity directly violated.

ELABORATION

But the term “anarchism” wasn’t used in that radical philosophical and political sense until Pierre-Joseph Proudhon coined it in 1840.[iii]

This is in sharp contrast to the term “anarchy,” standing for violent social-political chaos and moral nihilism, which had been in use since at least the middle of the 18th century.[iv]

Political demagogues, fascists, and 21st century neoliberal demagogue-neofascists like Donald Trump pretend that “anarchist” means “lover and proponent of anarchy,” in order to “justify” more brutal coercive authoritarian displays of government power: but this pseudo-synonymy really and truly is FAKE NEWS.

For the purposes of this discussion, and in the spirit of David Graeber’s work, I want to focus on anarcho-socialism.

Aside from the 18th and 19th century proto-anarcho-socialists I mentioned above, and of course Graeber, other central figures in this tradition include Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Bertrand Russell after World War I, Murray Bookchin, and Noam Chomsky.

As its name clearly suggests, anarcho-socialism is to be sharply contrasted with individualist forms of anarchism, and significantly overlaps with socialism, especially democratic socialism.

But more precisely, what is anarcho-socialism, and how can it be rationally justified?

The State and other State-like social institutions are correctly characterized, as Max Weber pointed out, by their being social institutions that possess a territorial monopoly on the (putatively) legitimate means and use of coercion[v] — but that’s only a somewhat superficial gloss that doesn’t really get at the essence of the State.

The essence of the State is that it’s a form of social organization, with territorial boundaries, that’s both authoritarian and also coercive with respect to its government, i.e., its ruling class.

The State is coercive insofar as it claims the right to compel the people living within its boundaries to heed and obey the commands and laws of the government, in order to realize the instrumental ends of the State, whether or not those commands and laws are rationally justified or morally right on independently ethical grounds.

In turn, the State is authoritarian insofar as it claims that the commands and laws issued by its government are right JUST BECAUSE the government says that they’re right and possesses the power to coerce, NOT because those commands or laws are rationally justified and morally right on independent ethical grounds.

Here we can easily see the the fundamental parallel between what I’ve called “Statist Command Ethics” and what’s classically called “Divine Command Ethics,” which says that the commands and laws issues by God are right JUST BECAUSE God says that they’re right and possesses the power to create and destroy the world, punish with eternal damnation, and more generally cause people to do whatever God wants them to do, NOT because those commands or laws are are rationally justified and morally right on independent ethical grounds.

Therefore, the basic objection to Statist Command Ethics is essentially the same as the basic objection to Divine Command Ethics, which is that the State’s (or God’s) commands and laws are INHERENTLY ARBITRARY, and fully open to the possibility they’re rationally unjustified, morally wrong, and even profoundly evil.

Now let’s cover the same philosophical and sociopolitical ground again, only more carefully this time.

By political authority I mean:

the existence of a special group of people (aka government), with the power to coerce, and the right to command other people and to force them to obey those commands as a duty, no matter what the content of these commands might be, and in particular, even if these commands and/or the forcing are morally impermissible.

And by coercion I mean:

either (i) using violence (for example, injuring, torturing, or killing) or the threat of violence, in order to manipulate people according to certain purposes of the coercer (primary coercion),

or (ii) inflicting appreciable, salient harm (for example, imprisonment, termination of employment, large monetary penalties) or deploying the threat of appreciable, salient harm, even if these are not in themselves violent, in order to manipulate people according to certain purposes of the coercer (secondary coercion).

Therefore, as I am understanding it, the general problem of political authority is this:

Is there an adequate rational justification for the existence of any special group of people (aka government) with the power to coerce, and the right to command other people and to force them to obey those commands as a duty, no matter what the content of these commands might be, and in particular, even if these commands and/or the forcing are morally impermissible?

And by the State or any other State-like institution, as an essential characterization, I mean:

any social organization that not only claims political authority, but also actually possesses the power to coerce, in order to secure and sustain this authority.

Of course, this is only the essence of a State or any other State-like social institution.

It does certainly does not exhaust the very idea of a State in an anthropological, historical, or sociopolitical sense.

For example, as per Weber, States normally also control geographical areas, or territory, over which they monopolize the application of coercive force to the people (and other animals) who inhabit that territory.

Moreover, as James C. Scott points out:

[T]he standard [Kantian and] Weberian criterion of a territorial unit that monopolizes the application of coercive force[vi] [is not] entirely adequate, for it takes so many other features of states for granted. [I] think of states as institutions that have strata of officials specialized in the assessment and collections of taxes — whether in grain, labor, or specie — and who are responsible to a ruler or rulers. [I] think of states as exercising executive power in a fairly complex, stratified, hierarchical society with an appreciable division of labor…. Some would apply more stringent criteria: a state should have an army, defensive walls, a monumental ritual center or palace, and perhaps a king or queen.[vii]

Therefore, also granting Scott’s more fully specified and somewhat open-ended conception of a State as backdrop to the essential characterization I am using, by the specific problem of political authority I mean:

Is there an adequate rational justification for the existence of the State or any other State-like institution?

Correspondingly, the thesis of philosophical anarcho-socialism says that there is no adequate rational justification for political authority, States, or any other State-like institutions.

And the thesis of political anarcho-socalism says that we should reject and exit all such States and State-like institutions, in order to create, belong to, and sustain a real-world, absolutely universal, cosmopolitan ethical community, in a world in which there are no States or other State-like institutions, but instead only a world-wide network of constructive, principled-authenticity-enabling, radically enlightened, post-advanced-capitalist, post-State, post-State-like institutions.

On the one hand, it is rationally coherent and permissible to defend philosophical anarcho-socialism without also defending political anarcho-socialism.

But on the other hand, it is hard to see how one could rationally justify political anarcho-socialism anarchism except by way of philosophical anarcho-socialism.

So philosophical anarcho-social anarchism is the rational key to anarcho-socialism more generally, although political anarcho-socialism is ultimately where all the real-world action is.

Here is a ten-step argument I’ll call the Kantian argument for philosophical and political anarcho-socialism.

(1) Let us adopt, as basic moral principles, by means of which we can judge the permissibility or impermissibility of any human choice, action, practical policy, or other practical principle, the set of basic Kantian moral principles.[viii]

(2) Precisely insofar as it is morally impermissible for individual real persons or groups of real persons to command other people and coerce them to obey those commands as a duty, then by the same token, it must also be morally impermissible for special groups of people inside States or any other State-like institutions, aka governments, to command other people and coerce them to obey those commands as a duty.

(3) Therefore, precisely insofar as it is morally impermissible for individual real persons or groups of real persons to command other people and coerce them to obey those commands as a duty, even if governments have the power to command other people and coerce them to obey those commands, nevertheless governments do not have the right to command other people and coerce them to obey those commands as a duty.

(4) But all governments claim political authority in precisely this sense.

(5) Therefore, there is no adequate rational justification for political authority, States, or other State-like institutions–i.e., philosophical anarcho-socialism is true. QED

Or in other and even fewer words, and one long sentence:

Because there is no adequate rational justification, according to the set of basic existential Kantian moral principles, for any individual real person, or any group of real persons, immorally to command other people and coerce them to obey those immoral commands as a duty, yet the very idea of political authority entails that special groups of people within States or State-like institutions, namely governments, have not only the power to coerce, but also the right to command other people and to coerce them to obey those commands as a duty, even when the commands and/or coercion are immoral, then it follows that there is no adequate rational justification for political authority, States, or any other State-like institutions — therefore, philosophical anarcho-socialism is true. QED

Or in still other and even fewer words, and one medium-sized sentence:

Human governments have no moral right to do to other people what real human persons have no moral right to do to other people, according to the set of basic Kantian moral principles, yet all human governments falsely claim this supposed moral right, hence philosophical anarcho-socialism is true. QED

(6) All human persons, aka people, are

(6.i) absolutely non-denumerably infinitely, intrinsically, objectively valuable, beyond all possible economics, which means they have dignity,

(6.ii) autonomous rational animals, which means they can act freely for good reasons, and above all they are

(6.iii) morally obligated to respect each other and to be actively concerned for each other’s well-being and happiness, aka kindness, as well as their own well-being and happiness.

(7) Therefore it is rationally unjustified and immoral to undermine or violate people’s dignity, under any circumstances.

(8) Since the time of the Mesopotamian potentates, Egyptian pharaohs, and pre-Socratic tyrants, humanly-created States and other State-like institutions have explicitly claimed to possess political authority, and then have proceeded to use the power to coerce, especially the power of primary coercion, frequently of the most awful, cruel, and monstrous kinds, thereby repressing, detaining, imprisoning, enslaving, torturing, starving, maiming, or killing literally billions of people, in order to secure their acceptance of these authoritarian claims. Even allowing for all the other moral and natural evils that afflict humankind, it seems very likely that there has never been a single greater cause of evil, misery, suffering, and death in the history of the world than the coercive authoritarianism of States and other State-like institutions.

(9) Now imagine a world without States or other State-like institutions, in which all the members of humanity freely form various dignity-respecting sub-communities built on kindness, mutual aid, personal enlightenment, and the pursuit of principled authenticity, and then freely link them all together in a worldwide network of partially overlapping sub-communities. Isn’t that self-evidently an infinitely better world than the world of States and any other State-like institutions?

(10) Therefore, we should reject and exit the State and all other State-like institutions, in order to create, belong to, and sustain a real-world, absolutely universal, cosmopolitan ethical community, in a world without any States or State-like institutions, but instead only a world-wide network of constructive, principled-authenticity-enabling, radically enlightened, post-advanced-capitalist, post-State, post-State-like institutions–i.e., political anarcho-socialism is also true. QED

Assuming that argument is sound, then obviously what’s further required is a detailed real-world plan for socially implementing political anarcho-socialism.

For better or worse, I’ve worked out such a plan in Part 3 of my 2018 book Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism, aspirationally entitled “Utopia Now.”[ix]

And Michelle Maiese and I have also worked out a social theory to go along with that plan, in our 2109 book The Mind-Body Politic.[x]

But here and now, somewhere in The Land O’ Liberty, on 15 September 2020, rolling around in the belly of the whale that’s the catastrophic, pandemic-driven harbinger of The New Apocalypse, I’m just mostly fervently hoping that David Graeber’s brilliantly compelling styles of visionary activism and critical anarcho-socialism won’t have died with him.

NOTES

[ii] See, e.g., M. Philp, “William Godwin,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition), ed. E.N. Zalta, available online at URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2013/entries/godwin/>, esp. section 3; W.M. van der Weyde, “Thomas Paine’s Anarchism,” available online at URL = < https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/william-m-van-der-weyde-thomas-paine-s-anarchism>; and C. Bertram, “Jean Jacques Rousseau,”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), E.N. Zalta (ed.), available online at URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/rousseau/>, section 3.1.

[iii] P.J. Proudhon, What is Property?, available online at URL = <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/360/360-h/360-h.htm>.

[iv] See, e.g., Percy Bysshe Shelley’s late 18th century radical poem, The Masque of Anarchy. Shelley’s title — which means that authoritarian regimes disguise their true nature, namely, violent social chaos and moral nihilism, behind a facade of legitimacy — is, from my point of view, unintentionally highly ironic, since Shelley was a passionate follower of William Godwin’s political philosophy, and therefore a fervent anarcho-socialist in almost precisely the sense specified and defended here. So Shelley’s poem is a perfect illustration of the apparent paradox that anarcho-socialists are sworn enemies of “anarchy.” To be sure, anarcho-socialists are radicals. Nevertheless, by virtue of their moral and political commitments, anarcho-socialists are also deeply caring, decent, empathetic, tolerant, morally principled, respectful people: just the kind you would want as your next-door neighbors, provided you are not inclined to be moralistically offended by their non-conformism. Otherwise put, anarcho-socialists are the diametric opposite of terrorists. It’s just that they are unlikely to be conventionally respectable or professionally successful.

Interestingly, Graeber was an exception in the latter regard, teaching for several years at Yale and ultimately holding a professorship at the London School of Economics. But in 2018 he quite explicitly and ironically pointed out that being a professional academic is in actuality a bullshit job in his sense of that term. See D. Graeber, “Are You in a BS Job? In Academe, You’re Hardly Alone,” Chronicle of Higher Education (6 May 2018), available online HERE. So I think that he must have felt some cognitive and emotional dissonance about his professional success–that to some extent, he was leading a double life.

[v] M. Weber, “The Profession and Vocation of Politics,” in P. Lassman and R. Spiers (eds.), Weber: Political Writings (Cambridge, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 309–369 at p. 310.

[vi] See Kant’s liberal Statist political treatise–in my opinion, clearly an “exoteric” philosophical text in Leo Strauss’s sense–The Doctrine of Right, the first part of his Metaphysics of Morals, trans. M. Gregor, in I. Kant, Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), pp. 365–603, at (Ak 6: 231–233 and 311–318); and M. Weber, “The Profession and Vocation of Politics,” in P. Lassman and R. Spiers (eds.), Weber: Political Writings (Cambridge, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 309–369 at p. 310.

[vii] J.C. Scott, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2017), p. 118.

[viii] See, e.g., R. Hanna, Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 3) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), esp. ch. 2, also available online in preview HERE.

[ix] R. Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise (New York: Nova Science, 2018), also available online in preview, HERE.

[x] M. Maiese and R. Hanna,The Mind-Body Politic (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), also available online in preview, HERE.

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 480

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.