Anarchistic Relations

tty0 login: novatorine
login date: 2021-12-19


In giving up the anarcho-capitalist framework for distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate interactions between people, I gave up clarity for greater correctness. This has left my philosophical system, in terms of what I support and do not support, in a state of general flux. This was acceptable, in the sense that being correct is far more important than being simple and comprehensible — there are a million wrong, but quite simple, narratives about the world which everyone rejects on these grounds — but nevertheless establishing some clarity at some point is necessary.

My previous attempt at this, 'Two Principles of Anarchism,' was a good start, but there were a few things wrong with it. To begin with, it analyzed desirable relations from the perspective of the individual, in a roughly first-person way: what any individual would have a reason to respect in another, and what they would not have a reason to respect (the new sense of legitimate and illegitimate in a non-cognitivist moral framework). This is all well and good when it is framed as an ethical treatise, but the new perspective required to re-formulate my views as a political philosophy require a translation from the first person perspective to the third person, and that requires a new philosophical analysis. Additionally, the analysis in 'Two Principles' was purposefully vague, leaving many of the specific implications of what legitimate relations between people would look like up for interpretation on the part of the reader. This, also, was good for the project I was attempting to do, but I nevertheless thing that there are specifics that need filling in even so. Moreover, the beginnings of the theory of 'just price' that I hinted at in that essay require actual elaboration, and I think in doing so, as well as integrating and clarifying my opinions on consent, a third-person picture of legitimate relations might be arrived at.

This essay will be an exploratory attempt at this project, attempting to make clearer the guiding principle that differentiates between legitimate and illegitimate, desirable and undesirable (for me), relations. I will attempt to, incompletely, cover the topic from several different angles, analyze the implications of each angle, and, perhaps, in that dialectic, get closer to a clarification of everything.


The autonomy of individuals exists in a multitude of overlapping spheres. Many exercises of an individual's autonomy do not interfere with that of others, such as purely elective and voluntrary interactions, or exercise of control over one's own person and possessions in a way that doesn't interfere with anyone else's, especially when someone doesn't have need of your possessions. On the other hand, many exercises of autonomy do actually interfere with the autonomy of others: leveraging bargaining power to gain control over people, using violence against them, or exercising control over things that other people are actually using or need to use, in order to gain control over them.

Each individual has interests, and in order to protect their ability to achieve those interests, as well as to protect their independence and many other important values, each individual has an interest in asserting their maximum autonomy. For instance, strictly speaking, it would be in my interest to be able to take whatever I wanted from anyone else, without reprecussions. That means that the fullest extent of any person's autonomy is largely incompatible with any (stable) autonomy at all on the part of anyone else. Of course, each other individual has an incentive to assert their own autonomy to its fullest extent in the same manner and for the same reasons, so it would seem that we are at a permanent impasse, a war of all against all, as Hobbes put it: the state of men [sic] without civil society (which state we may properly call the state of nature) is nothing else but a mere war of all against all; and in that war all men [sic] have equal right unto all things.

The way to resolve this, of course, is through reciprocity, the foundation of society, community, and civilization itself. By agreeing to respect some boundary around the autonomy of others, each individual gives up the ability to push the expression of their autonomy to its fullest extent, but in doing so, gains, through the similar commitment of others, security and freedom of movement within their own boundaries. Thus, safe spheres of action, centered around those non-overlapping parts of each person's autonomy, form. This is something that might be viewed in gift economy terms (much like Wilbur's gift economy of property idea). We each respect the autonomy of others, by not exercising ours in ways that contradicts or contracts theirs, freely and without expectation of direct reward, but in the general expectation that similar consideration, if not precisely equal in magnitude at least equal in recognition, will be granted to us. To quote Proudhon concerning why this kind of reciprocal gift of autonomy must recognize some equality between people:

But I wish that this consent, of which so much is made, had been given, either tacitly or formally. What would have been the result? Evidently, the surrenders would have been reciprocal; no right would have been abandoned without the receipt of an equivalent in exchange. We thus come back to equality again, — the sine qua non of appropriation; so that, after having justified property by universal consent, that is, by equality, we are obliged to justify the inequality of conditions by property. Never shall we extricate ourselves from this dilemma. Indeed, if, in the terms of the social compact, property has equality for its condition, at the moment when equality ceases to exist, the compact is broken and all property becomes usurpation. We gain nothing, then, by this pretended consent of mankind.

This is what characterizes interactions that I, as an anarchist who primarily values individual autonomy, value most: interactions in which there is mutual, reciprocal respect for the autonomy of both parties, through either non-interference, or through the representation of both party's interests in the interactions that take place between them. After all, you only respect someone's autonomy to the degree that you ensure that your interactions with them are also serving their goals, not just yours; to the extent that you, to quote Kant, ""[a]ct in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

Any attempt to extend the use of one's autonomy beyond the borders of another's is a violation of this order, and as such, no one else has any reason besides the threat of violence itself to respect that overstep: if they are to respect your autonomy while you do not respect theirs, they directly lose autonomy twice over. First, the autonomy lost in not exercising theirs where it overlaps yours, and second, in the autonomy lost by respecting your ability to overtake their autonomy where yours overlaps theirs. There is not anything symmetrical to it.

Of course, the sphere of a person's autonomy which does or does not effect others can expand and contract. Each person respects the boundaries of others in order to ensure for themselves boundaries around their autonomy, but sometimes respecting the boundaries of others would leave someone with very little, or no, sphere of autonomy for their own, no boundaries to set, and that means that there is no incentive for them to respect the boundaries of others until such a time as they have boundaries for themselves. Thus, a sort of Lockean proviso comes into play: unless others have enough (and perhaps as good, who knows) to ensure that they, too, have a place to live to call their own, enough to eat, enough to drink, some way to provide for themselves that they have control over, one's own possessions are forfeit, as they have no claim to be respected.

Thus, whenever you see relations where someone who has all the cards, so to speak, dictates to others what they can and can't do, based on the fact that they have nothing apart from the whims of the person who temporarily grants them things, you see violence, because the only reason those people could have to not simply seize what they need is that they are under threat. Otherwise, an attempted invasion of, or prevention of, autonomy, would be met with indifference (being ignored) or resistance.

Indeed, if you see any interaction between people in which their interests are not given equal consideration, then there is some kind of violence, or the threat of it, or indoctrination, in play. Otherwise, each side, recognizing that they are no more inherently lesser than any other, would assert their own interests as strenuously as the others, and the natural balance between equal forces is a point at an equal distance between them. To quote Proudhon (from What Is Property?): "Whoever says commerce, says exchange of equal values; for, if the values are not equal, and the injured party perceives it, he will not consent to the exchange, and there will be no commerce.

Although it is impossible to strictly and absolutely describe the boundaries that the balancing of interests might lead to between people, I think a good start might be some sort of occupany-and-use norm for property. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the primary importance that material things represent for the preservation of the autonomy of individuals is, first, providing them some use in the maintinence of their lives, and, second, affording them some space, separate from others, that they can rely on, in order to protect their individuality. To quote Proudhon again, from Theory of Property this time:

Property is not measured by merit, as it is neither wages, nor reward, nor decoration, nor honorific title; it is not measured by the power of the individual, since labor, production, credit and exchange do not require it at all. It is a free gift, accorded to man, with a view to protecting him against the attacks of poverty and the incursions of his fellows. It is the breastplate of his personality and equality, independent of differences in talent, genius, strength, industry, etc.

A gift from who? From his fellow men, of course, in them freely choosing to respect it, so that they might likewise be granted that gift. And something which can serve to fulfill someone's basic needs (to protect them from poverty) is something that they will actively, fairly regularly be using in some way. Likewise, the sphere of things that actually matter for providing a free sphere of action for an individual, not dependent on the approval or acceptance of others, are the sphere of things that they actually occupy (for homes) or use (for their sustenance, through production). Anything that a person does not use, but instead merely rents or lends out to others, is not important for preserving the core boundaries of their autonomy, because they are already not really using it for anything (use is an extension of autonomy). It is merely a luxury in order to extend autonomy further, and when that overlaps with other people's autonomy (as it does in the case of capital or rental apartments, but might not in the case of rental golf clubs or something), it loses its force except through violence.


Our next task, then, is to understand what this violence is. Herein lies a new problem: in the foregoing discussion, I said that whenever you have an interaction in which there is not mutual consideration of the interests of others, there is some kind of violence behind it. However, in a sense, there is some kind of violence behind even the mutual consideration of autonomy or possession that I described. After all, the reason each side in the relation of reciprocal recognition recognizes the other is that they wish to encourage the other side to respect their autonomy, i.e., to not use violence against them to prevent them from doing things, at least within a certain sphere. Thus there is, in a sense, a sort of symmetrical structure to both interactions: person A does what person B wants, without equal consideration for their own interests, because if they do not, person B will not consider their interests at all; person A does what person B wants, with equal consideration for their own interests, because if they do not, person B will not consider their interests at all. This presents an analytical problem: there is a clear difference between the situations, but there is not (yet) a clear cause that leads to that distinction. In other words, this distinction is not problematic to identify ex post, because one person's interests are subordinated to the other and there is not a mutually equitable consideration of them, but ex ante the analysis is more difficult.

This is where the origin of the term 'anarchism' comes into play. For me, there are two sides to the word, as I use it to describe myself. There is the positive side, where each party to an interaction is treated equally, their interests on a level playing field instead of subordinated one to the other, and their autonomy respected in as expansive terms as possible without overwhelming anyone else's; but there is also the negative side. The negative side is encapsulated in my opposition to ἀρχός — rulers, leaders, or princes. No masters, no priests, and no kings. Thus, in order to completely understand my anarchism, one must understand what rulers are, because just as the positive side of anarchism defines the ex post distinction between desirable and undesirable relations, the negative side of the word defines the ex ante preconditions for those undesirable relations.

The core of what makes rulers is subordination. Subordination is exactly what it sounds like: the placing of one person's interests on a lower level than someone else's, treating their interests as secondary, or even irrelevant, in the face of the interests of others. Subordination is not a binary thing: there can be more or less subordination according to the specifics of the relations between individuals. The point is that, if one individual's interests matter more in a relationship than another's, some amount of subordination is taking place. Subordination is made possible by differences in bargaining power. If one side is stronger than another side, to that degree they can enforce their will unilaterally on the other side. Likewise, if one side's autonomy is restricted through desperation or overriding need, or lack of options, that, too, can lead to a difference in bargaining power that can lead to subordination. Let me examine these two origins for subordination in turn.

The first origin of subordination is, comparatively at least, pretty simple. Violence simpliciter is the use of physical force on a person, or threats thereof. There are two kinds of violence: initiatory and retaliatory violence, although the distinction between those two is itself complex and multifaceted. I will attempt to sketch out the some of the differences between the two that are clearest to me, but please be aware, again, that that description is incomplete, and also that reality is complex, and every principle admits of an exception.

Initiatory violence is violence that is an attempt to cow or beat someone into subordination, to remove their ability to assert their interests from the equation as something you need to care about. It is about a unilateral restriction of someone's autonomy that has no care or concern for them or their welfare. In a sense, then, it is the most direct institution of subordination. This can be done through murder, for instance, taking a person out of the question completely, or the threat of murder. It can also be done through theft, robbery, and other things of the sort. Crucially, initiatory violence is used not in response to a restriction of autonomy that was not agreed to prior, but simply at the whim of the person who engages in it. 'Initiatory' is perhaps the wrong word for this, though, because initiatory violence doesn't have to be used first to be what it is, it just needs to be threatened first.

Existing as a counterpoint to this, 'retaliatory' violence is violence that is about asserting one's interests in the face of existing subordination, generated by existing violence. Thus, if someone is restricting my autonomy, and it was not me that restricted theirs first, the violence I use in response, to assert my interests and prevent them from unilaterally tramping right over me, is retaliatory violence. Retaliatory violence is the violence used by those who are already disadvantaged, in response to oppression, to gain the attention of, and hopefully the fear of, the oppressors, in an attempt to make sure their interests are less subordinated, or not subordinated at all. In a sense, "if you are not going to respect my autonomy, why should I respect yours?

It seems, then, like the key difference between these two kinds of violence is contained in the fact that, in one case, it is violence that is used to project one person's autonomy into the sphere where it overlaps with, and suppresses, the autonomy of another person. This can be in the simplest kind of overlap, where the exercise of the autonomy that is being restricted would otherwise have no influence at all on the person who is projecting their power through initiatory violence, or a more complex kind, where the exercise of the suppressed autonomy would actually have suppressed, to some degree, the autonomy of the person suppressing it, but would have simply balanced the interests of the two parties.

It all comes back to the balance of interests in the end.

Hierarchy is an exercise of subordination that is ongoing, and is especially present when the subordination in question involves one person controlling the actions of another, not just unilaterally curtailing their autonomy and treating their interests as lesser in general. Thus, for instance, it is subordination when I take what I want from someone else that I don't need to safeguard my autonomy, and it is hierarchy when I force people to do what I want.

Authority is the social legitimization of hierarchy. One person controls the actions of another, subordinating their plans, desires, and choices to their own, and this is backed up by socio-cultural beliefs that depict this relation as good, or inescapable, or some combination of the two. Usually, this involves not just the two parties (subordinate and subordinator) but third parties as well, which legitimize the relation by not interfering with it or even joining in reinforcing it. Anarchists recognize all authority as illegitimate and based on lies because no philosophical argument has yet been found for the justice of forcing one person to submit to another, of any submission of one person to another in any other way that fluid, voluntary, and at-will, in fact. Nor do I think such a justification can be found.


To summarize, then, proper relations between individuals are those in which their interests are represented roughly equally, their autonomous decisions equally respected and their interests and desires all benefiting equally from the exchange. If, in a relation or interaction, one side gets to assert their interests and autonomy without consideration for the other, with no guarantee for the other of their side, then there is subordination in play. Thus the assertions of absentee property of the rich in the face of hunger and homelessness are illegitimate, as they make these assertions with concern only for their own interests, and the response of the people in taking away resources from the rich through direct action is allowable, because it is a balancing of the interests in the relation, an assertion of the value of their autonomy. On the other hand, if someone who already has a home, and food, and tools with which to produce, and so on, steals from one who likewise has those things and not significantly more, in the previous relation both had their autonomy and interests represented, whereas now, the interests of one neighbor are being put over the interests of another, and resistance to this, to ensure that interests are once again asserted on both sides, might be in order.

In a sense, then, only conditions of pure equality can be totally anarchistic and purely reciprocal, as then the interests of all are represented on a totally level playing field, and what I grant to you (the exclusive use of your possessions) is granted completely equally in quantity as well as quality back to me. Nevertheless, equity in quality (that qualitative relation between person and object being the principle of possession, as that is the most direct expression of autonomy) is the most important starting point, and as true equality, enforced by neighbors, would require violating autonomy significantly in an unequal way, I don't see absolute equality as necessary or particularly desirable. As long as everyone has something to provide for the basic requirements of their independence and their basic needs, and any differences in possessions are a result of an exercise in autonomy that does not restrict that of others, each relation between people recognizes their autonomy as of equal importance.

In truly anarchistic relations, therefore, I hypothesize that there will be equality in autonomy in this sense: that everyone will have the possessions they require to exercise all the crucial facets of individual autonomy and independence, whether or not they can all exercise them to the same degree, and that in order to determine whether something is required for the expression of someone's individual autonomy, it will be crucially (but not solely) determined by actual occupancy or use. Each person will be willing to grant the greater autonomy of others, as long as they have autonomy in all the important facets themselves, so that granting others greater autonomy in all those facets protects their own sphere; but no one would be willing to protect the autonomy of someone in all the basic facets and more, if they do not have their basic needs met yet.