Anarchy: Utopian Dream or Dystopian Nightmare?

Sunday, September 3, 2017
First Aired: 
Sunday, January 25, 2015

What Is It

Anarchism says there's no need for a state, that it would be better to have a society without central government. Anarchists dislike the often heavy-handed authority that government brings. Yet the dream of the stateless society is not a simple one. How can we have law and order without government? What's involved in a self-governed society, free from authority? And how could we ever peacefully transition from central governance to anarchy? John and Ken question authority with James Martel from San Francisco State University, editor of How Not To Be Governed: Readings and Interpretations from a Critical Anarchist Left. This program was recorded live at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco.

Listening Notes

Live at the Marsh Theater, John kicks off the show by stating the anarchist position: that all states are inherently coercive, and therefore immoral.  Ken pushes back, arguing that we need a state to protect us from each other.  John reacts by defending anarchism, citing examples of ways in which modern states oppress their people.  Surely, anarchy is preferable to states like we have.  Ken asks what’s to stop him, under anarchy, from simply stealing John’s money.  The two move on to accuse each other, lightheartedly, or loving chaos and tyranny.

The hosts welcome guest James Martel, editor of How Not to be Governed: Readings and Interpretations from a Critical Anarchist Left.  He quickly dispels the myth of anarchy as a chaotic punk-rock situation, arguing that liberal capitalism has cast anarchism in this light to act as if that there is no alternative to the current system.  After a break, Ken asks about the things we’d be missing out on under anarchy, like roads.  James quips that states don’t build roads, people do – communities have been building roads long before nation-states existed.  John questions how things would ever get done without the exchange of capital.  James cites the example of the barter economy that functioned in Barcelona and other parts of Spain in the early twentieth century.

James brings up a key concept of anarchism: no representation.  People can have others speak for them, but not represent them beyond what they consent to.  He talks about assemblies of spokespeople who speak for those with like views.  These assemblies, as they operated in Anarchist Spain, made decisions by consensus, rather than sheer majority vote.  In this way, everyone is able to directly have a say in what gets done.A young audience member asks about what compels people to invent and create things such as iPhones without capitalist motivations.  James replies that communities can still uphold intellectual property without coercion, but Ken and John aren’t satisfied with his answer that people would still invent for the fun of it.  He goes further to say that when workers own their own labor, and do things collectively, they can do the same things they do now but in a way that doesn’t coerce them into oppression.  Such collectivization is how anarchism would function.  

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (seek to 6:40): Shuka Kalantari interviews Greg Horton, an anarchist living in Oakland, California about examples of anarchism in the past, and the influences that led him to his politics.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (seek to 46:12):  Ian Shoales sppeds through the story of Josiah Warren, whom he calls America’s first Anarchist, who founded an Anarchist society on Long Island called Modern Times.


Comments (3)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, November 4, 2017 -- 11:31 AM


Of course anarchists abhor government. Many of them take great pride in their weaponry and their ability to use it. Once upon a time (around the time of Charles Darwin), someone said that evolution favored a survival of the fittest modality. While this was not really what Darwin proposed, it caught fire among the survivalists of the time and, accordingly, is so-favored by such like today. History shows, pretty convincingly, that civilization without laws and law enforcement is not favorably disposed to be, uh, civilized. Holocaust and Apocalypse are proven horsemen of destruction. How much freedom do we need, hmmmm? We ought to be smart enough by now to recognize misdirection when we see it.