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Does anarchism have to entail a transhistorical account of what the state is?

+1 vote
I think it's assumed (not wrongly) that a critique of the state is at the center of anarchism. Historically, the anarchist movement didn't show up to oppose emperors, kings, or pharaohs, it appeared in the West when the nation-state had become one of the most visible kinds of power structures in Western societies.

My question is basically this: is it better if that critique understands itself mainly to be a critique of a political form invented pretty recently, in Europe, that is now masquerading as something universal -- or is it better to extend the critique as far as possible by generalization or analogy, so that when you critique the state you're also implicating pharoahs, kings, emperors, etc. etc.?

It seems like in the first case you would end up with a historically bounded critique (If the state were destroyed then the critique would not be needed any more). In the second case you would potentially have a transhistorical idea of the state and a critique that arguably applies to all of history.

I realize that one could define anarchism very generally by saying it's an ethical stance/politics opposed to hierarchy and domination in whatever form. I want to bracket that for the purpose of this question, if possible.
asked Mar 21 by asker (7,900 points)
don't try to pin us down with your clarity! ;)

the way i use it is absolutely as the transhistorical word you rightfully trouble, asker... though my usage probably bleeds at times into both other definitions you raise as well (less towards opposition to hierarchy and domination, since that's too vague and all-encompassing even for me).

if i think about it from a certain perspective i might think that even naming all modern states as being the same might be too universalizing to be helpful tactically... which does bring up the question of what is the definition trying to serve? are we looking to define anarchy as a perspective we live with? or as a word that contains a vision of a future, or of a kind of resistance/activity rejecting corporations and states, or something else that doesn't occur to me off the top of my head...?

i like the idea of definitions as being meaningful within certain trajectories... but i've been known to disappear up my own navel.

edit: you ask if @ "has to," and i think i would say, no, it doesn't have to. but it's more interesting (and perhaps more wrong) when it does.
in my own anarchistic perspective, it does not. but i am relatively uneducated and i have less interest in remote historical context than most @folks i know. my interest is primarily in creating anarchic relations - and avoiding the state and other institutions of domination - in my life.

i definitely understand the desire to contextualize the current "state" of affairs in a broader historical context. i just don't have a huge amount of interest in it myself. i'm a bit too focused on the here and now.

i do sometimes enjoy reading or - much more often - discussing particular events/people/perspectives from the past. i just find many writings in the anarchist historical space to be virtually unreadable due to the obtuseness (to me, of course) of the language and writing styles used.
I guess I might be making a wrong assumption, that if your analysis is focused on one kind of structure then you must think that structure has some central explanatory importance.

Like, you would need it to play a role in a theory of history where the genesis/existence of the state explains many/most things that are wrong, and its removal, you think, would ensure the end of those problems.

after re-reading this question, i think i missed something important the first time.

it seems the question is asking if an anarchistic perspective distinguishes between forms of governance/social control - some which conform to a modern definition of "nation-state", and some of which do not. have i understood correctly?

it is difficult to imagine an anarchistic perspective that stands against formally defined "nation-states" but not against earlier/other forms of governance. i imagine there were folks way back when that were absolutely against the monarchs and pharaohs that ruled at the time. i don't think that just because there are may be no historical accounts of "anarchists" back in pre-national days, that means there were not individuals who rejected the idea that someone else should control their lives.

but to my previous point, i personally don't have much interest in analyzing the various forms of government that have existed throughout human history from an anarchist perspective. whether they are called nation-states or monarchies or kingdoms or fairy godmothers, they all exist to control others, and they all gotta go.

1 Answer

+3 votes
Oho boi it's time to go full wingnut

I have developed a knee-jerk reaction to people using the term 'anarchism', as if the we should be looking for 'The One Program That Will Bring About Anarchy'.  Utopia; one perfect -ism away!!  I think it's rather laughable to try to systematise anarchy. That is not to say I think discussing it is pointless -otherwise I would be playing Pokémon rather than typing insane prose into my phone- but that I think the search for absolutes and essences to be a flawed one.

Ok onto your question proper; I very rarely use the term 'state' anymore, though that is partly because I don't want to attract bitcoin enthusiasts to any discussion im part of.  The other reason is that I'm the sort of contentious asshole to say things like 'I don't believe in the state' or 'the state doesn't exist'.  That's not to say I don't see the concept of the state as a useful one. However, I have never touched, heard, or seen 'the state', and I never will; the state is not a corporeal entity even in the way that you or I are, in the way a rock is, in the way a highway is. The state is not the kind of 'object' that 'exists'.  To my mind the state is a nebulous abstraction and collection of behaviours, and the beliefs that underly those behaviours. Of course, those behaviours can be horrifically corporeal at times.  Nevertheless, I don't think it's possible to discover the essence of the state precisely because I think the categories we apply to devide up the world are modes of interaction derived from culture and  experience rather than objects whose essence can be discovered.  Note; I probably just haven't done the relevant theoretical homework; who has time for non-fiction?

As usual two veterans have been here before me, and made excellent points far more lucidly than I could hope too. Never the less I will be so vain as to post this as /an/ answer; fear is the mind killer.

Along the lines of funkyanarchy's comment, I focus most on anarchy from the point of view of one person living now -me-, but as I'm sure you've noticed I like to bog myself down with theory and philosophy. And Pokémon.

Now onto your point about anarchists not showing up in response to pharoahs and kings.  Whilst this is true in a sense, it is also true that many thousands of people lived beyond these kingdoms and empires -regardless of the many ways these people lived-, and 'wild' spaces filled valleys and rose high on mountainsides. These spaces have all but disappeared, and the people outside have all but been wiped out.  Perhaps the all-encompassing nature of the 'states' in recent history has contribute to the emergence of 'internal' attempts to evade and escape control, such as tendencies towards anarchy and other such behaviours? Besides, overworked, hungry, diseased, overtired minds tend not to be the most adept at critical examination.  If 'anarchists' had shown up in response to pharoahs, they probably would have been either long gone, or quickly dead.

The critique of 'the state' might be at the centre of 'anarchism', I'm not sure. Perhaps the more interesting question is how much 'anarchism' has to do with anarchy.  Is that an answer? Bahahahaha.
answered Mar 22 by shinminmetroskyline (1,580 points)
nice observation on anarchists just getting out instead of sticking around to resist the pharaoh, another reason might be that at the time "policing" was different. it was handled by the army and wasn't quite as pervasive. obviously because of technology but maybe other reasons, like less concrete laws, manpower, and ability to overwhelm the accused. this probably made kind of a pressure release valve situation. like maybe some of those wild places were in these areas just away from the main streets and markets where the soldiers march. I mean we have these kind of places today to an extent, but the cops stil lhave a level of control and more importantly if the conditions are shitty its because of the state and capitalism. maybe these same types of spaces that were overlooked by the authorities were a little more dependent on their own abilities and resources before capitalism.
an excellent point! kinda reminds me of the idea of 'temporary autonomous zones' i think first but forward by everyones favourite paedophile, hakim bey -i have never read his book-.
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