It wasn’t until I started talking with friends that I realized that my political beliefs can fall outside of a margin or a political system of thought, or even contemporary politics itself. What I realized because of this, was that anarchy is a legitimate political position to take. Whether or not this aligns with who you would actually vote for is less important than being aware of what you actually believe.
I do not necessarily know much about anarchy outside of philosophy, but I find the concept and philosophy itself to be very useful in helping me orient and balance my beliefs, particularly politically. For a long time, I have been inspired by Michel Foucault, who has helped me see the world in a clearer way with his philosophical systems and critiques. I have recently discovered that Noam Chomsky is also an anarchist, or at the very least, his philosophy is free and open politically. We could even trace something like anarchy all the way back to someone like William Godwin, a point that I think is important.
When I think of anarchy, I think of Karl Marx, in that Karl Marx was critiquing the system of capitalism, and therefore approaching it philosophically and as an outsider. His claim that capitalism is evil and cruel is very telling. While I don’t subscribe to materialism in a broad sense, I see that the purpose of his historical materialism is to show how society focuses on aspects of production over humanity and human lives. To me, demonstrating this an anarchist idea because it goes against the dominant strain of modern thought in politics, which is capitalism itself, and its roots. It takes a lot to challenge an entire economic system, much less in order to promote something different, countercultural, and rebellious.
The way I view Marx is very important, because I see myself as a kind of Marxist, even though I know there are many problems with communism as it is practiced in the world and even how it works in theory. But I describe myself as a Marxist because I agree that economic systems can cause suffering through income inequality and the unlimited power of the wealthy elite. Maybe I would never take this claim as far as Marx did, and perhaps I would even be reluctant to overthrow any economic system: but the fact that I can entertain these ideas, shows that I have an anarchist bent, even if it is more repressed than I would ever like to admit.
What about anarchy itself? What is the appeal to something like anarchy? Well, I think that, like the points brought up about Marx, we must be willing to critique the system from the outside. The problem with the two-party system in America is that it limits many legitimate beliefs, practices, and political approaches, such as socialism, or anarchism. We are not taught that going against the grain is actually a possibility, and this is because we have dichotomized our system and our beliefs, excluding anything that is different from the dominant norm. This is especially true in contemporary politics, where our beliefs are supposed to line up with the systems in place, whether liberal or conservative, and only fit in those boxes.
The new album by A Perfect Circle, Eat the Elephant, is a good example of anarchy at work. It is clear that the album is critiquing and criticizing the Republican Party in America by singing about the excesses of the party, and all of the many things that they do and have done with power. And I would say that the Republican obsession with power is part of the reason why we need anarchists in the first place, while also demonstrating why anarchy itself is difficult to take root in a society hostile to change. Because indeed, when those in power are opposed to any criticism or critique, and can effectively crush those critiques, anarchists cannot be effective politically.
For me, being an anarchist, or at least entertaining anarchist ideas, is open-ended and more of a mode of discourse rather than a way of making immediate actions. My political beliefs have always been aligned with neutrality, in that I am aware of what I believe, but do not immediately act on those beliefs until I have given it much thought. For instance, the reason why I would be hesitant to be an anarchist politically, is because I know that, like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., I would be overwhelmed by the system. I would also be targeted. I certainly do not want this, and at this point, at least, I’m not sure that dying for my political beliefs is the right thing to do. That is an extreme example, of course, but part of political neutrality is being aware of the extremes in order to avoid them. Politics is also about self-preservation. But even while holding that belief, I would still say I’m willing to make difficult decisions politically, especially if I have my reasons for thinking my perspective is correct. I do think it is worth it and important to fight at times, just as there are other times to rest and to contemplate.
That would mean that anarchy as a political belief is very important, and just because I have my limits and my boundaries, it does not mean that people should do what I do politically. I think anarchy is important precisely because it will always critique the system in place, and I think this is important especially because it challenges those with power. The role of the outsider is extremely important, and thinking about what we can accomplish is very important. Politics is often seen as a closed operation, but I think that anarchists around the world and in literature have been able to accomplish many things politically. I know this to be true when thinking about literature and philosophy, and the impact they have had around the world.
When I think about anarchy as a philosophical practice I think of postmodernists like Derrida and Foucault. I think of Derrida, in that he was challenging the system by undermining our theories of language, while Foucault was accomplishing this by developing an entire system of thought.
Foucault is particularly interesting with how he promoted an anarchist system of philosophy. For Foucault, the emphasis was on those who are outside of society, those on the margins, which includes those who suffer with mental illness, sexual deviants, and prisoners. This system is complex; it shows that the only way for those on the margins to understand their place in the world and in society is by realizing that they are at the end. Perhaps Foucault realized this for himself, and that was why he wrote the way that he did and talked about the things that he talked about. He knew that society was wrong, and he sought to show why.
I think anarchy itself is very complicated, and I think it can be difficult to understand, at least insofar as it isn’t immediately apparent or obvious on how it works and functions in practice. For instance, the reason why the two-party system in America would be effective is because it is easier to color inside the lines, rather than outside. This means that an anarchist might be easily displaced by the political system, because they have no representation or authority. Indeed, anarchy is complicated because we don’t always understand the reasons why authority is so powerful. Indeed, like Hobbes and his Leviathan, people will ultimately surrender their will to be able to submit to society and to authority and receive their perceived idea of safety. But this submission is something that I don’t agree with. While I think government is important for helping reduce inequality, flattening things out, and making things equal and more egalitarian, I also think that government itself can be oppressive. I am not experienced enough in politics to make a case about whether government should or shouldn’t exist, but I would say that I do see oppression in institutions all the time due to the power they wield. Foucault is right about this. Power is a real force in the world, and wielded by institutions to keep the status quo. So, I have trouble submitting to authority, simply because, in my experience, I have been controlled and manipulated in many, many ways, and I want to resist that with my politics, life, and philosophy.
I think the difficulty is in realizing for ourselves that we have our own creative will, and we have the desire to express that. But how do we express that, when the impulse of society and those in society is to encourage submission to authority? It is a difficult question, and one that I do not think can be answered easily. But I think it is important to think about, even if we are not sure what the right thing to do is politically or philosophically.
I’ve been reading a book about the philosophy of the television show, Mr. Robot, and it has taught me a little bit about the impulse of anarchy itself. Definitely, the goal is to go against the grain and to critique from the outside. But even more, the book describes how you must be willing to make your philosophy an actual political practice and actual ideology: in other words, you make radical decisions, like taking down the government or the economic system of capitalism. I understand this point very well, even though it is more of an extreme example. There are many things that are worth fighting for, even if they are clichés, such as “liberty” and “justice.”
Sometimes, we do need an ideology if we are going to change the world. But this is why I identify closely with anarchy as it is described in philosophy, because I think change begins by being aware of what we think, and while we must ask the question, we must also be aware of what we believe, and refine our beliefs. This goes for political or philosophical beliefs. We understand our beliefs, as well as the ramifications, and then we act.
So anarchy is certainly important, for the reasons I have listed above, and I think that it is worth thinking through and thinking about. I am an anarchist because I cannot submit to society, and I do think that our social institutions are flawed, as well as our reverence for order and authority. I am not for chaos, but I do think that I cannot let go of the power of the individual or of principles. Anarchy is beautiful precisely for freeing us from the demands of our world, and by allowing us to be free agents who think about our lives and our politics. Society has good aspects, but they do not have all of the answers. For this reason I cannot fully submit to society. But this is not bad. In fact, it is a legitimate belief. It is the belief of the outsider.