Anarchists are creative people. Their imagination, in particular, is quite a powerful engine of fantasy. Anarchists are also intelligent, though clearly not versed in history and geopolitics, or at least they have allowed their ideology to get in the way of the pragmatic reality surrounding their preferred method of societal structure.
What particularly shocks me is the number of anarchists who claim to be atheists.
At a cursory glance, the two seem to go together. Atheism may be seen as the rejection of religious authority, and anarchy is the rejection of governmental authority. But that isn’t what atheism is to me. To me, atheism is the lack of evidence for any gods. In my eyes, this lack of the divine strips the very real human religious figures of any authority they may attempt to wield.
To me, religious figures are nothing but charlatans who derive their power from the ignorance of fools.
Government has no shortage of charlatans, especially throughout history. In fact, government and religion were usually indistinguishable in the past. From the god-kings of Pharaoh, Alexander, and the Caesars to the theocrats who ran Europe during the Dark Ages, it would have seemed impossible to most people in the past to imagine anything different.
But a funny thing happens, from time to time. In the modern age, we call it “secularism:” the idea that religion ought to play no part in governance. It’s a relatively rare idea, one which only gained a foothold a few times, and it has always stumbled along the way. Despite the perils of its arduous journey, secularism limps on against the might of religious authority.
As an atheist who studies history and sees our past not as a time far removed, but as events that occurred due to the actions of people who are very much the same today, I am troubled by the attitude of anarchists towards the secular state.
I always expect the usual conservative onslaught, the constant attempts to ram whatever dogma is en vogue this week down the throats and up the asses of every citizen… and yet secularism finds a strange enemy in certain corners of American thought, corners that are particularly ripe with the cynicism all democracies require in order to function. Democracy loses a valuable, criticial thinking ally in the anarchist.
There has never been, nor will there probably ever be, a group of people who did not have religion. Many people exist who lack what we would call a “government,” but religion is ubiquitous. Among people without a government, religion is the ultimate authority. This is not how I want it to be, but it is reality.
Somalia is a classic example of anarchy gone wrong, but why not look elsewhere? There are other pockets of the world where bureaucracy doesn’t exist, where “constitution” is nothing more than your ability to stomach the untreated water in your small village.
In the mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, anarchy has “worked” for generations. Small tribal groups, many of them nomadic, dot the harsh landscape. If you asked them, most of these people wouldn’t know what “country” they live in.
On a good day in these regions, girls can’t go to school (if there even is a school available for boys) and women are stoned to death for being raped. On a bad day, outsiders bombard them with weaponry that is centuries ahead of their own, killing thousands.
This is anarchy. This is what happens when power is deferred away from a governing body that is bound by restrictions while being simultaneously empowered by the collective accomplishments of its protected citizenry. When the secular state crumbles, charismatic demagogues no longer have to worry about those pesky limits on what they can do with their authority.
Authority never disappears, it only changes form.
The secular, democratic state cannot eliminate religion, nor can it prevent corruption when it is tacitly winked at by voters. However, corruption and abuse of authority are not functions of the state, but are instead elements in human society that exist independent of any governing body.
Perhaps most troubling is that the rejection of a democratic, secular state is little more than a manifestation a people’s lack of faith in themselves.
One final note. Perhaps the most empty “fact” touted by anarchists is that “the state” is responsible for more deaths than anything else in the world. This emotionally loaded claim is strangely parroted by atheo-anarchists who will gleefully try to pronounce (in another debate, of course) that religion is the cause of most of the suffering now and throughout history.
It can’t be both, and since there is no statistic going back to the beginning of time (for either governments or religion), perhaps it might be best to take a look at what is actually killing people today.
Statistically, war is not the leading cause of death, nor is capital punishment or police abuse. Cars are much more dangerous than “the state,” and even those two combined cannot hold a candle to disease. Heart and lung problems caused by our own lifestyles blow all other causes of death out of the water. Even in this time of war, a person is more likely to be killed by a friend or relative than by “the state.”
And those are facts you can actually look up.