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Does Anarchy Exist In (Libertarian) Society?
December 2, 2003
by Pat Taylor

Much has been written over the years about anarchy vs limited government by libertarians of all persuasions. While the universally-accepted premise among them is that anarchy is not chaos, nothing much has been said about what anarchy IS. But if it is an operative word, it must be defined in terms of its own conduct.

Every faction of libertarians has claimed the word, from free market anarchists on one end to anarcho-communists on the other, and all points in between, and each faction operates on the first and most obvious definition of anarchy which is "without governmental restraints". But my dictionary (Merriam-Webster's Deluxe Dictionary, Tenth Collegiate Edition) says that anarchy is also "2a: 'absence or denial of any authority or established order; b: absence of order".

Yet every libertarian society -- in theory or in fiction -- has assumed a degree of order, a spoken or unspoken if not written set of rules by which each individual must conduct him/herself in that community. That is not an anarchic society in my view: it has order, it has purpose, it has goals and a means of achieving them. While it may exist without a government (formal, authoritarian, one or more heads telling others what to do), it would not exist as a community without rules of governing (the moral conduction of one's actions and relationship to others).

Our own U.S. Government represents both definitions: America, which was founded on the Constitution, is now in chaos, i.e. war with its own citizens (I equate 'chaos' as 'war', whether on local, national or international level) -- because it no longer relies on the Constitution or the rule of law which originated it. Even the Bill of Rights alone could have carried America into the 21st Century if chaos -- the desire to war with its own citizens -- had not infected our 'leaders' in varying degrees over the past 200 years.

So what am I getting at? There is no such thing as an anarchic society! Once a Society is put in place, whether by formal government or not, by rule of law or rule of men, Rules -- and Order -- have been established. Even informal communes have unwritten laws of conduct and relationships.

Several times in the past few months I've read that the American Indian tribes were anarchists. Some tribes were freer than others, some were more authoritarian, some patriarchal, quite a number were matriarchal -- but none of them were without order, without some degree of laws of conduct guiding their actions and even their beliefs. By definition (2a: above) they were not anarchists.

What difference does it make if we call ourselves "anarchist" or not? It is precisely because anarchy = chaos in people's minds that we should know what words we use. If we must use "anarchy", let us understand it under one definition.

Government is chaotic and uncontrolled. If that is what anarchy means, then government is the anarchist, and libertarians should drop the word. Both cannot operate under the same definition at the same time.

A libertarian society would more than likely be orderly, based on respect of the individual. If anarchy means without established order (see 2a: above), then we should again drop the word, because it does not define us as a libertarian society.

If anarchy ONLY means 'without government interference', then we may continue using the word -- but be prepared to continue being misunderstood, by our enemies and/or governments for sure, even by friends and family, but more importantly by the very citizens we would hope to reach. They are the ones who need to be educated in what anarchy is before they can be converted. They will not accept 'free market anarchist' any more than 'anarcho-communist'.

And we libertarians need to be on the same page, if we are to do more than preach to the choir!

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