What is the difference between a liberal and an anarchist?
I choose to put this particular question, and not, say, “what separates liberalism and anarchism?” It is better to ask the former, because we too often talk in abstractions. The issue I wish to raise is, above all, intimately connected with my activist practice of anarchism. So, I wish to argue by using demonstrations, and not by theoretical constructions.
It is also my habit of asking myself: to whom am I addressing this piece? The answer I have for this question today is unhappily: to anyone who will listen, given I have very few avenues for a receptive audience lately.
Anyway, let me begin.
The attitude of a liberal towards authority, in contradistinction to an anarchist, is, ironically, described rather well by A. C. Grayling’s Secular Bible:
- If they submit their opinion to the judgement of those who, alone, have the right of making and repealing laws,
- And meanwhle acts in nowise contrary to that law, they have deserved well of the state, and has behaved as a good citizen should;
- But, if they accuse the authorities of injustice, and stir up the people against them,
- Or seditiously strives to abrogate the law without their consent, they are merely an agitator and a rebel.
The anarchist knows no such requests for permission from authorities. Liberals will go to great lengths to uphold the crimes of authorities, to the point where they propagate lies, political spin, and disguises of great nuance.
This is a fundamental problem of all libertarian and truly militant organising and struggle today. So far, liberals have had the upper hand in all struggle in the early twenty-first century. We have had many movements taken over and dissolved.
It does not matter whether you call yourself an anarchist, a socialist, a libertarian. You are a liberal if you (a) perpetuate hierarchies of any sort, if you are (b) coercive in your organising practices, and (c) you are not an anti-capitalist.
An important point to make is also not to elevate the cause of one struggle above all others. I say this as a criticism of identity politics. I also say this as a criticism of class reductionism. Elevating the concerns of any section of the oppressed above any other is to create a hierarchy: to tell one section of the oppressed they are, in effect, not oppressed.
I will conclude by communicating a recent observation that has made me despair: I feel as if my generation of activists do not fully understand what it means to be anti-capitalist. This is because, perhaps, they cannot even imagine what a world without commerce would look like. Cynical, anti-utopian thinking.
This factors into my first thought. It is precisely cynicism and lack of vision that leads to people opting to dismantle some hierarchies, and not others.