Anarchy is a word that strikes terror into the hearts of many people. I may be one of them, but I’m not sure yet.
I was at a street band concert one evening last year and spotted a group of people who were there who identified themselves as anarchists. To me they looked like a group of college students…maybe graduate level students…who had adopted the grunge style of dress and appearance. But they were dancing to the wild, drum-based music and having fun like the rest of us. I didn’t see any bombs sticking out of their pockets, or rifles stashed under their long coats. My stereotypes had kicked in, and…as when most people depend upon stereotypes…I was proven wrong. I don’t kinow anything about this group of Providence people…all I know is that they espouse anarchy.
Anarchy is a word that (according to my literary mentor, Bryan Garner) means “a state of lawlessness or disorder in society.” Garner goes on to say that anarchism “is a political theory antithetical to any form of government.” To me that means that anarchists believe that government (in any form) is an unnecessary and evil subjection of individuals to a power which is unwelcome. If I play that out in my own unsophisticated understanding, it would mean that everyone was “on (his) own”… capable of doing whatever was pleasing and profitable, and “the hell with the rest of them.”
We hear talk similar to that coming from the far right today, in voices that call for the diminishing or eliminating of government. It is made to sound as if it’s the American thing to do. As if the founders of this nation didn’t believe in government.
It doesn’t take a lot of research to discover that, to the contrary, the founders were very much obsessed with the idea of government, having labored over a Constitution that respected the right of leadership to govern the people, and expressing specific fears about the consequences if government was not present and deeply concerned with controlling the worst obsessions that can befall humans.
Anarchists would lead us to believe that government is evil. It isn’t hard to find instances of abuse and neglect in American government which substantiate that belief. But…at the same time…it is eminently clear that the American government as conceived may well be the purest form of represetative government known to humankind. That there is a need to control and eliminate abuses is obvious. And…given the weakness and dysfunction of the currect government…that need is urgent. But if we listen to the anarchistic voices of those who would do away with regulation and control we would discover that such “idealism” is flawed and dangerous.
Anarchism, whether in formal substance in the anarchist movement, or in the subtle influence it has on the right wing in America today, is dangerous and to be monitored carefully. At the same time it is important that we in America commit ourselves to overcoming the weaknesses in governance which lead people to believe that government is evil. It will take more than a simple election to achieve that goal. But it’s a place to begin.
* Garner’s Modern American Usage, p. 44