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Confessions of a Reluctant Anarchist by Michael Andoscia

I have to admit to a certain squeamishness when asked about my political affiliations. Part of this is due to the fact that my political beliefs are, at least as far as I am concerned, complicated. Another variable is that I’ve never been a joiner. Group dynamics have always made me uncomfortable because, very often, the consciousness that develops within the group conflicts with my individual consciousness to which I always defer. I also don’t like to be pigeonholed. I don’t want assumptions to be made about what I believe and what I support by virtue of my group assignation. I like to make up my own mind based on the available evidence.

“So, you ARE an anarchist!” one of my students exclaimed.

He was telling me that there was a rumour going around the school that I am an anarchist. When I denied this, I explained myself more or less in accordance with the above paragraph.

“I’m not an anarchist. I really don’t hold to any particular labels.”

“That’s what an anarchist would say,” my student admonished.

This conversation was not going at all as planned. Taking the Political Compass test didn’t help my case. There was my dot, in the bottom left hand corner. Right where the anarchists would be.

Then there’s the quotes I like to use, many of them from noted anarchists like Emma Goldman or Mikhail Bakunin. There’s the gleam in my eye when I teach about radical politics. There’s my clear scorn for anything that restricts human freedom and reason, and my clear skepticism of any form of hierarchical authority. After all, I always warn my students that power corrupts, and nobody is immune to the disease of authority... even your history teacher.

Okay, so maybe I am an anarchist, dammit!

But I have to offer caveats to that designation. Maybe I’m a reluctant anarchist. Maybe more of a realistic anarchist. Thing is, anarchist doesn’t quite capture the complexity that exists between my purist, ideological understanding of the world and how I negotiate the reality of the world in which I live.

Whenever I’m asked about my politics I always respond with, “I’m a small ‘d’ democrat.” I want to point out that I believe in democratic principles, by which I mean I believe in principles that empower the Demos at the expense of existing societal elites. The problem is that governments do not empower the Demos. Rational legal authority, as defined by Max Weber, is subject to whomever is in the best position to set the structures and to write the laws; that’s normally not the Demos.

I don’t really want to be associated with a party. After all, a hundred years ago the social theorist Robert Michels observed that even those parties espousing the most democratic ideals tended to structure themselves according to less than democratic oligarchical principles. He referred to this as the Iron Law of Oligarchy, the tendency for democratic movements to lose their democratic nature once organized and structured. Again, the Demos loses.

So, when I say I’m a small ‘d’ democrat, I get smiles and nods and “that’s-nice’s”. I even get some “me-too’s”. But that small ‘d’ carries upon its shoulder an impossible complexity. This complexity is inherent in the contradictions between democratic ideals and the real structural demands required to empower the Demos. An analysis of this small ‘d’ burden can only lead to one possible conclusion. Democracy, as it stands, is inherently nihilistic.

The problem is in the nature of the resources that the Demos have at their disposal with which to confront the elite. The elite can use their wealth and collective value as the owners of capital in exchange for state protection. So, the elite control the wealth resources and the power resources. The Demos, however, control productive labor and have the numbers. To translate these attributes into useable power, however, the Demos must create structures of collective action. In Weber’s terms, they must organize into parties. Unfortunately, these structures, these parties, are invariably rationalized hierarchically, and thus tend to devolve into oligarchy.

So, we end up with a self-destructive cycle. Democratic movements incorporate large numbers of people. To handle the size of the movement, hierarchical structures are created. These hierarchical structures become oligarchic and then serve the ends of those at the top of the hierarchy rather than the founding Demos. Furthermore, this is true of all structures. All structured arrangements of human endeavor, what we sociologists refer to as institutions, become coercive. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it.

Hence the nature of my anarchistic ideals. All social structures are necessarily coercive and must, therefore, be resisted. Government is, of course, the original sin. By constructing a myth of democratic government, we have accepted the validity of an inherent contradiction, that a government can be democratic. Having accepted this contradiction, we then dedicate ourselves to a performance of the legitimizing rituals, we join political parties, we vote, we argue on social media, we sign petitions. Yes, these rituals are premised in democratic ideals, and they have some democratic value, but they ultimately serve to entrench oligarchic norms.

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