Anarchist right vs anarchist left ideologies
Jul 6, 2012

Anarchist right vs anarchist left ideologies

I don't much care for the ideologies of either the so called anarchist right (libertarianism) or the anarchist left (a hodgepodge of post- and proto-communist, syndicalist, participatory economic, and other ideologies more common in Europe today). More generally, I don't much care for ideologies period, especially those determined by a narrow set of axioms. However, if I had to choose between these I would choose the anarchist left over the anarchist right for the former has more internal consistency to its ideology. The central distinction, in my mind, is over the scope to which one objects to hierarchical structures.

Libertarianism decries the hierarchal structure that is the government and, to its credit, has brought considerable insight and analysis into the failings of that institution. In contrast, many communist and socialist thinkers have decried the hierarchal structures in capitalism and the market and, to its credit, have likewise brought considerable insight into the problems of this institution. However, both seem somewhat blind to the arguments of the other, seeing the market and the state respectfully as a panacea to the problems of hierarchal structures in the other.

It seems to me that if one is going to worry about the problems of hierarchical structures, one ought to apply this wherever such problems occur and to whatever institution is creating hierarchical structures. That is, the market and the state respectively. I even find the differences between these two institutions to be far less than is often implied with the two sharing many of the same failings precisely because they are so similar. Take the relationship, for instance, between a CEO, his board, and his shareholders compared to a Prime Minister, his cabinet, and voters; the parallels between these institutions can run rather deep. As such, our criticism of hierarchical structures ought to be cast on both institutions not just out of a desire to be broad in our gaze, but also because we should expect problems in the one to manifest similarly in the other. 

Modern anarchist movements on the "left" side have managed to more appropriately capture the idea of rejecting all hierarchical structures in society or at least worrying about the problems associated with such structures. They attempt to escape from both the coercion of government fiat - which is direct - as well as the implied coercion that comes from limited economic opportunities in the market- which is less direct, but no less powerful.  While I may question the validity of their criticisms or the efficacy of their proposed alternatives, I certainly will credit the anarchist left movement that emerged from the failures of a heavily state centered version of communism for its willingness to take their central complaint and apply it wherever it occurs. Contrast this with libertarianism which, despite talking endlessly about freedom, fails to recognize the limitations to freedom inherent in the market it trumpets

Hierarchical structures should not be categorically rejected prima facie, which is why I have never found the critiques given by either side to be convincing. A priori, hierarchical structures can be both good and bad and certainly much of our advances in society in almost any metric come from such structures. The surrendering of complete control over all decisions that affect our lives is exchanged for the utilitarian benefit the resulting hierarchical structures give, provided we curb the excesses and only do so when it actually is a net benefit. The goal should not be to eliminate them entirely (or eliminate them entirely in one domain such as the state or the market) but to identify the problems and minimize those while maximizing the benefits. The anarchist left moments don't accomplish that goal because they are too rejectionist towards hierarchal structures but they are nonetheless preferable to libertarianism because at least they allow the scope of criticism to be all of society from Popes to Presidents to CEOs and not merely one aspect of society.

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