The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism

The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism
  • Author: Carl Levy and Matthew S. Adams
    Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
    Genres: Education
    Publish Date: June 23, 2018
    ISBN-10: 3319756192
    Pages: 750
    File Type: PDF
    Language: English

Book Preface

Anarchism is one of the oldest political philosophies in the world. Before authority and government existed, it was simply how humans organised their affairs. In our individualistic contemporary culture, the fourth-century Tao Te Ching is celebrated as a guide to spiritual self-awareness. But in fact Lao Tzu’s ancient text should be read as an eloquent articulation of the full meaning of anarchism, political as well as spiritual. For the more I understand anarchism, the more I realise that anarchism digs deep into us. It is about much more than how to ‘run’ society—an inherently hierarchical formulation; it is about how to live, above all with one another. To eschew all power relationships is not merely to reject government, it is to re-engineer every human relationship into one of equality, respect and cooperation. It is to change oneself as much as it is to change society.

This book is an extraordinarily rich source of anarchist thought and history. There is much to explore and much to learn. Each of us comes to anarchism our own way. Almost no anarchist inherited this philosophy unquestioned from their parents and forbears. Every anarchist, I suspect, starts out as something else and is only changed by the jolt of experience, the eruption of a problem and the urgent quest for an answer. Anarchists are made, not born. Indeed, they make themselves.

My own journey began in painful disillusionment. I had been a career diplomat for the British government, a profession I thought I would enjoy my whole life, culminating perhaps in an ambassadorship in one of Her Majesty’s embassies. But I witnessed first-hand how my government, and colleagues, lied about the Iraq war. I knew the facts—and thus the lies—because I worked on Iraq, in fact directly on the issue of so-called weapons of mass destruction. Eventually, I resigned from the diplomatic service after giving then-secret testimony to an official inquiry into the war. My disillusionment however ran deeper than the war, terrible though it was. In early twenty-first-century New York, where I then lived, fashionably dressed diners enjoyed fresh sushi in downtown restaurants while, a few miles away, children went hungry. Worldwide, the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere
was rising inexorably. The attacks of September 11, 2001, had ushered in what already seemed like permanent war. Politicians shamelessly took money from tycoons and corporations yet everyone still pretended we enjoyed ‘democracy’. These problems were all too obvious and still no one seemed alarmed. Governments, like the one I worked for, had no credible answers and yet no one demanded better. I am a deeply political beast. I could feel that things were not right. The system was not working, but what would? And thus began my exploration.

In a library at Washington Square, I read and read. From Ludwig Wittgenstein, I learned that the things that matter most to humans—solidarity, meaning, love—have no terms. And therefore that these things have no accounting in the allegedly ‘logical’ neo-classical economic theory that dominated contemporary thinking. But how could these most fundamental human needs be elevated? From Marcuse and Benjamin, I learned how to deconstruct the economics and politics that I had learned in university and reveal the deeper power relations hidden within. I began to realise that what matters in any analysis of society is not what theory tells us, but what is: put simply, the facts. Who wins and who loses? Who rules, and who suffers? Suddenly, the haze of confusion dissipates and the facts are simple and stark and the solutions clear. If people are to be treated equally, they must have an equal say in their affairs. The only way to guarantee this inclusion is for people to govern themselves: any hierarchy is intrinsically corruptible. And hierarchy, with its humiliation of both the managed and the manager, is inherently dehumanising. By random chance, I came upon complexity theory which showed me not only a model of the complex system that is the world today, but explained how individuals and small groups can trigger dramatic change across the whole system. The revolution I wanted was suddenly more plausible.

And as I read, I realised that others of course had walked this path before me—Kropotkin, Bakunin, Fanelli, Stirner, Godwin and New York City’s own Emma Goldman in whose very footsteps I trod around the Lower East Side
where I lived. I had loved Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia since childhood, but only now did I begin to understand the anarchist revolution he was describing. I learned from Colin Ward, Murray Bookchin and many of the writers included in this volume who shone their bright lights on the current era, such as Marina Sitrin’s from-the-ground insights into the factory occupations in contemporary Argentina—this was anarchism in action today.

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