Until recently, I'd always regarded anarchism as unworkable "pie in the sky" Polyanna-ism. Nice in theory, but come on ... no laws, no government, no judges, no jails? People would be at each other's throats all the time. Obviously.
Now, after reading a short piece by a good friend of mine, James F. Holwell ... well ... I'm not quite so sure.
My main bone of contention with the entire notion of anarchism, one that inevitably comes up in the course of discussing it's viability as a social model (or even when discussing something far less radical, like democratic socialism), has always been the following:
"From each according to his ability; to each according to his need." In such an ideal society, wouldn't some people "only take and give back nothing?"
Holwell's telling of the true story of his life-changing interaction with Ammon Hennacy (Christian anarchist, Wobbly, and associate editor of The Catholic Worker) on the streets of Manhattan in 1958 has finally provided a satisfactory answer to this question for me.
Here's the story in Holwell's own words:
As a teenager in a Roman Catholic prep school for boys, I learned in some depth about the anti-communist, pro-capitalist culture into which I was born. After prep school I entered a seminary to study for the priesthood in a missionary society. At age 22, having been told I did not have a vocation, I settled into an entry level job at a bank on Wall Street.
It was then that I met Ammon Hennacy.
He came every Tuesday afternoon to the corner outside the bank, selling copies of The Catholic Worker for one cent. I remember sharing with him some of my earliest beliefs; for example, that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg deserved to die in the electric chair because they tried to help those evil Russian Communists. I remember telling him that is is time to bomb Moscow, because peaceful coexistence was a trick, intended to deceive us into nonresistance.
One day I asked Ammon if he and the others with him are "practicing" Catholics; that is, whether they go to Mass and receive Holy Communion. He said Yes, and on a daily basis! With that I judged him guilty of gross desecration of the Sacred Species. I told him he was nothing but a filthy Communist and therefore against God. I grabbed him by the coat collar and was about to punch him out, when he asked me if I would let him put down the papers, so that "After you finish beating me, I'll still be able to sell them."
So what could I do? I let him go. He patiently explained to me that he was far to the left of Communist, because they believe in government and laws. In contrast, he stated that he was an Anarchist, believing that God's laws are "engraved in the hearts of men" [St. Paul] and therefore human laws, and police and soldiers and judges, are all unnecessary and have nothing to do with real justice!
Ammon helped me to see that the traditional churches have supported war as a way to dominate others. The reasons for war are always the same -- to free the money changers to benefit and the weapons makers to amass fortunes based on the blood of others. Ammon saw that the American government and military had turned around from the ideals in the Declaration of Independence. We have become the new King George the 3rd, and people everywhere are asserting their independence from the American Empire.
The corporate leaders, spurred on by their shareholders, put massive profits first, needs of people last. So it is fine that the lives of the working class are destroyed as long as the result is a fatter bottom line.
Regarding the events of 9/11/2001, there is no doubt in my mind that Ammon would have seen through and realized that Muslim hijackers could have been in no way responsible for the demolition of these buildings with about 3000 human beings still trapped inside. It was the usual false-flag tactic that leaders have used for time immemorial to provoke the population into a warlike frenzy.
[Ammon] spoke with reverence about the Sermon on the Mount. He reminded me of the life style of the 1st Century Christians, which he declared to be the only example of true communism that ever existed.
He spoke strongly: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." I asked him whether, in this ideal state, some people would only take and give back nothing. To that he pointed out that it is only when people are not taught to discover their gifts that this can happen. Children would be educated to discover their gifts, not channeled into a packaged curriculum that emphasizes money and de-emphasizes the idea of service. This system compares one with another, rating students according to 'academic excellence.' It is a system whose real aim is ... to turn free spirited children into passive acquiescence and acceptance of the requirements of the corporations and the military establishments.
There is more, and I am ready to be involved with others to look at how these ideals can be practiced in the world of today and tomorrow.
-- James F Holwell
Wouldn't the lazy and greedy take unfair advantage of the freedom inherent in anarchy, rising to positions of dominance and superiority? Doesn't this mean that anarchism is inherently self-destructive and therefore a non-viable pipe dream?
From Holwell's story, above:
... it is only when people are not taught to discover their gifts that this can happen. Children would be educated to discover their gifts, not channeled into a packaged curriculum that emphasizes money and de-emphasizes the idea of service.
"Educated to discover their gifts ..."
We could actually do that. Couldn't we?
If St. Paul is correct that God's laws are engraved in the hearts of men (Romans 2:14-15), then isn't the assertion that "... human laws, and police and soldiers and judges, are all unnecessary and have nothing to do with real justice!" merely the logical extension of that fact, and shouldn't it be possible to actually do that?
Anarchism/pacifism may in fact be the only morally consistent, truly ethical social model. And if that's the case, and if it has any potential at all for viability, shouldn't that then be our goal?
Odd, but true, that if one goes as far left as possible on the political continuum, one gets to the same place as one who goes as far right as possible: no government (decentralized power).
Could it be that the "continuum" of political ideology is non-linear? Circular? Spherical?
In any case, Holwell's story has finally allowed me to view pacifism/anarchism as a potentially viable political alternative, not just a hopelessly naive, delusional, and dangerous exercise in irrational thinking.
Nevertheless, it's hard to picture the pacifism and anarchism advocated by Hennacy and others actually coming to pass in today's world.
But in tomorrow's?
Pass it on.
Click here for an excellent video examining the case for anarchy from anarchists' own mouths.
The Democratic Activist
The Democratic Activist