Can Practical Anarchy Substitute Inefficient Governance?

Usually the word Anarchy has a negative connotation. However, there can be times and situations, where there may be a role even for anarchy, or perhaps, such situations can be considered as fit for extending a role to anarchy as an inherent part of the process of social evolution. The same applies to the case of practical anarchy, where society begins to take care of its public functions itself with less and less role of authoritarian government. The question, however, is can it really work?
Can Practical Anarchy substitute Inefficient Governance?
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Anarchy may not mean exactly the same thing to every person making use of the term. Literally, it means "absence of authority", but this meaning can have two opposing connotations. Similar is the concept of practical anarchy, where society runs itself without any authoritarian government.

Anarchy : Negative Vs. Positive Connotations

In common use the term 'anarchy' is used to denote a state of lawlessness - a negative connotation, referring to a situation where the people wish to have order imposed by an authority, but due to some reason the order has broken down and things have gone haywire.

Contrary to the negative

connotations of anarchy, the word Anarchism refers to a political philosophy that proposes the absence of any authority - ruler or government - as a means of improving the welfare of people. Here, the word Anarchy has a positive connotation. Unlike its negative usage, here anarchy is a system of choice, chosen by people, because it is better than any system that is run by government.

Anarchism as an Ideology

The ideology of anarchism grew out of negative experiences resulting from the abuse of authority by the rulers. In a nation state, the government, whether a monarchy or a democratically elected one, is possessed with such a huge amount of power over its subjects, the people or the citizen, that it is impossible to keep the rulers away from mischief and abuse of power. This, in essence, is the rationality behind the concept of anarchism.

First propounded by philosophers like William Godwin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the concept of anarchism has had many supporters, organised in numerous schools of thought, with significant differences among them regarding how much of any authority or order could be acceptable and in what form. Thus we have schools like Mutualism (which advocates mutual understanding as an alternative to government), Individual Anarchism (which advocates unhindered individualism without any authority or collectivism), Collectivist Anarchism (which advocates collective understanding to bring order) and other deviations like Anarchist Communism, Anarcho-Syndicalism and Anarcho-Capitalism.

Practical Anarchy

While in theory, anarchism refers to complete absence of government and order, in practice that has never been experienced in modern history. Yet, it is also true that since its advent around 150,000 years ago on this planet, the human beings have lived all through these millennia in anarchy. Given that, humans have a far greater experience of living in anarchy than being under authority and order. Unfortunately, that experience pertains to a pre-civilisation era, which we may not wish to adopt today.

There has been a gap between development of civilisation and the growth of a modern nation state, where government has an omnipresent potential of interfering in lives of the people. Till recently, governments were largely confined to collecting taxes, raising armies and defending the country or the kingdom from foreign invaders. Villages mostly used to be on their own. This, though not a case of anarchy in the true sense of the word, is not far from it either.

In recent times, the experience of people in Somalia after the collapse of Somali government in 1991 and the time Islamic Court Union took control in 1999 can be considered a period of Anarchy. Though it was a state of lawlessness, not opted purposely, and hence having a negative connotation, yet, some research works have claimed that during this period, the living standards of people actually improved compared to the times when there was a government.

A Model Of Practical Anarchy In Today's World

There have been many different versions of practical anarchy suggested by different schools. However, most of them are reactionist, and appear to be interested in somehow avoiding the negative aspects of government misrule. Very few have attempted to suggest a workable model fit for twenty first century.

Please let me suggest one, and make a case for it.

If the idea is to avoid the ills of allowing power over our lives being concentrated in the hands of too few, then it can also be achieved by changing the role assigned to the government. Today, role of people, even in functioning democracies, is just to cast a vote for electing the government - this can change the person at the helm of affairs, but won't change powers that are concentrated in that person. In simple words, democracy does not become 'rule by the people' just by an exercise of voting.

We need a system where people get involved in the

decision making process, and thereby directly control their life. It can be achieved by a three step modification of government.

(i)   Let citizens decide how much will be the tax & how much government will spend on which item - In today's world of networking, a citizen can express his priorities and wishes for use of tax paid by people, and also choose how much he would be willing to pay for each item. If that can be made binding on the government, the government will actually become an agent of the people. This may sound strange, but believe me, it is very much possible.

(ii)   Let the government be run like a corporate, with all citizens as shareholders - If every citizen is considered an equal shareholder of the country's assets, which can be defined as land, water, minerals, air-space, frequencies and other natural resources, then every citizen will have a share in the return on those assets too. In such a case, government, like a corporate management, should strive to maximise its profits, and every citizen would have a part of these profits. The public goods and services like national defence, law and order will be financed from such national income that includes profits from assets and tax as its sources.

(iii)  Promote other power centres - Throughout human civilisation, loyalty on the basis of family has been a common feature that persists even in today's age of individualism. Such centres need to be promoted as centres of decision making, in order to decentralise power. Family is small enough to survive as a unit and large enough to bind the society in a network. Apart from family, other power centres can be Voluntary associations and professional guilds, as they use to be in history.

If all these three changes can be introduced, the role of government gets changed so drastically that it seizes to be a government in the way it is understood today. Directors of a company are nowhere like rulers, and even if they have control, they cannot govern the shareholders. Once the citizens take control of finances, discretion of individuals in power will largely disappear, and as other centres of power rise, government will not have the authority that is a license to abuse of power. In that way, one would have reached a state of 'practical anarchy'.

Why Practical Anarchy ?

Practical anarchy offers a median solution to opposing problems of total disorder and absolute repressive authoritarianism. It is also an option that stands somewhere midway between capitalism and communism. Total disorder can let genocides and destruction prevail, while repressive authoritarianism of dictatorship can be even worse than anarchy. Practical Anarchy, on the model suggested, will prevent both the destruction that can happen without authority, and yet it would contain the authority from crossing its mandate.

Communism vies for 'dictatorship of the proletariat' as a means to bring power to people. Unfortunately, more often than not, this power gets concentrated in the hands of the few and is vulnerable to abuse. In practical Anarchy, people own the major assets and have a share in returns - thus people get enriched if assets are used properly. In a way it would achieve what the communism failed to do - to distribute power and ownership to people.

Capitalism attempts to bring efficiency in economic process, but it fails in sharing the return with the worse-off and so creates disparity and inequity - the reasons why it is despised by socialists and communists. In practical Anarchy, not only the free-market will prevail, but the problem of 'externality' and 'public goods' will also be taken care of, as governments will aim at profits on 'public assets', and the returns will be shared by all equally, thereby bringing down inequity and economic disparity.

After all, there seems to be a very strong case for practical Anarchy.



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