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Really basic: why don't anarchists like the state even in democratic societies?

+1 vote
Is it because in reality the state never works as it should due to corruption, nepotism, etc? Or is it the very concept of state that they don't like?

Is it more acceptable in the case of countries with low corruption and higher popular participation, like some nordic european regions, for ex, where a lot of decisions are referended and politicians are more accountable?

Also, has the concept of "corruption" any meaning in an anarchistic context?
asked Jun 19, 2016 by whatever (560 points)

1 Answer

+3 votes
This is a classic divide between say leftists or rightists in general and anarchists by definition. A leftist or a rightist might oppose a specific State or governmental body because they are opposed to what it does or how it works, but an anarchist opposes states and governmental bodies as such. The reasons for unequivocally opposing such bodies varies by particular philosophy, by which I mean anarchism is a conclusion one draws from something else which then itself becomes the premise for a body of practices, but some examples follow, which might be embraced singly or collectively:

- States and governmental bodies are authorities over me and I reserve the absolute authority over me for myself.

- All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so no entity can be trusted with the power of a State, and that includes the People.

- The State and other such bodies are elements of Civilization, which all together must be torn down for humans to flourish.

- Humans best flourish when they direct their own affairs and so entities and organizations which alienate them from their own agency must be torn down.

- Third parties and intermediaries interfere with the free exchange of ideas, peoples, and commerce, in which the States and other governments are all no better than vast mafias which must be dissolved for the total intercourse of humanity to emerge.

There are definitely others, and myriad variations or nuances of each, as well.
answered Jun 19, 2016 by StrawDog (1,770 points)
Some of the classic foundation essays, like Alexander Berkman's What Is Anarchism?, make the case for some of these in great detail with sufficient competency that a more elaborate response to your question would basically consist of me copying and pasting large tracts of the work of others. If comprehensive explanations as to why one might oppose even a hypothetical paragon of utopian democracy, to such works is where I would direct you.

Strawdog - I really appreciate this answer for its broad scope but concise wording. I would also highly suggest that Le Guin's Disposessed is a good fictional exploration of an anarchist critique of the state for folks who might find Bakunin, Berkman, etc. either too dry or too out of date (I personally like both, but I know folks who really struggle with some of the dated language of the canon,)

i too think this is a solid answer.

however, i do take issue with this (just the bold, which i added):

"Third parties and intermediaries interfere with the free exchange of ideas, peoples, and commerce,..."

commerce, to me, implies forms of large-scale economic systems (eg, capitalism), which both depend upon and are dependents of - and strengthen and perpetuate - the state. i would think the anti-civ perspective articulated in the answer would see commerce as another institution of mediated existence that gets in the way of free individuals relating as they choose. but maybe i have misunderstood strawdog's use of the word "commerce".

there may be different definitions, but here is one (from merriam-webster) that corresponds with my own understanding:

 the exchange or buying and selling of commodities on a large scale involving transportation from place to place

since the question posits a democratic government as different in kind somehow from other kinds of governments, and since straw dog's answer caps "the People" in a shorthand that makes sense to me but perhaps not to other people, i will add that some anarchists (i, for example) believe that there is no such thing as "the People." that there are always specific people who have institutional/governmental power, even when they hold it in the name of all-things-excellent (freedom, The People, etc), even when they are changed out over periods of time, and so on. 

"The People" is an excuse, a rationalization, not an actual body that can have power, or can be liberated, or that even exists.

i agree, dot.

"the people" is a massified, generalized abstraction. and it holds a particularly special place for most leftists and liberals that i know. just like when people use terms like "the workers" (or proles), "black people", "indigenous people", etc, it really chaps my ass that entire groups of individuals are completely de-contextualized and turned into some monolithic uni-mind.
for what it's worth FA, i will draw attention to your smooth segue into identity politics, which is not what i was saying. identity is more complicated than you're allowing for in your brief comment, at least as far as i'm concerned.

ie i leave room for there to be some experiences in common with people who group themselves in particular ways, even if/though those ways also have exceptions...

if that's how you want to interpret my words, dot, have at it. i wasn't putting words in your mouth, i was agreeing with what you said, and then adding my own 2c.

of course people that group themselves together have experiences in common. just as people that others group together often have experiences in common. does that mean "the people" is a useful term? not to me.

" identity is more complicated than you're allowing for in your brief comment"

do you really think my comment required a full-on analysis and critique of identity, including the myriad of complexities it entails, in order to say what i said? and anything else is an over-simplification?

to be clear: my previous comment was not referring to "identity politics" per se (which i do have issues with), but the issues i have with massification, and the underlying assumption of unity, single-mindedness, and singular experiences.

i didn't mean to imply, though i guess i did, that you were putting words in my mouth. but i am always scanning (on this site) for how things look to beginners, and i want to be more explicit and careful (when i can stand to be) rather than less.

i feel unequivocal about the point i made. i feel positively towards, but also equivocal about, the point you made.

that is all.
Strawdod (and others that commented), thank you for your thoughts. I infer that state is undisirable for a mixture of reasons, because it is by definition authoritarian in many aspects and because it often fails to do what it was supposed to in others.

Ingrate, thanks for your reading suggestions. I'll check Le Guin's book because I like that kind of fiction. However, in my modest opinion, every claimed anarchist should read basic texts such as those of Bakunin which are surprisingly simple and very interesting (as well as not totally in accordance with the ideas of some anarchist currents).