I love making notes. For someone who regularly writes essays, this is hardly surprising. But through my fervent note-writing, I often end up with a lot of loose thoughts that don’t easily accumulate into an essay. One solution I make frequent use of is to apply my themes and thoughts to a relevant work of fiction, such as the connection I made between the “Purge” franchise and the potential breakdown of US society. With some topics however, particularly my more abstract philosophical musings, such fictional applications are hard to find. This leads me to the current piece, the first part of a short-essay series I have dubbed ‘Borrowed Thoughts’. Here I will finally seek to compile my own broken-bits philosophy into more ordered observations. How appropriate then, that our main subject concerns the very existence of order itself, as well as its relation to anarchy.
If popular stereotypes are any indication, we should consider the relation between anarchy and order to be most antithetical. Whenever anarchists are portrayed in mass media, the spectrum of depictions ranges from aggressive, brick-throwing protestors (like the famed ‘antifa supersoldier’) to the kind of nihilistic terrorist that would show up in a Chris Nolan Batman movie. I would hardly be the first to point out that these portrayals are part of a deliberate process of cultural misrepresentation. Whether the relevant creator knows it or not, they’re reproducing propagandistic tropes, and very old ones at that. As far as actual anarchists are concerned, anarchy IS order. But how does that work?
Philosophically speaking, the idea of anarchy as order is perhaps best understood by referring to some foundational thinkers on the ‘state of nature’. Back in the early modern era, political philosophers like Hobbes and Rousseau would present thought experiments about an abstract pre-political sphere, a state where individuals had yet to form societies, and states more specifically. The main reason for coming up with this scenario was that it served to justify rulership in some way or another. By imagining the state of nature to be a permanent war of man on man, or a primitive but unsatisfying experience more generally, philosophers could use their visions as an argument for the necessity of states and rulers. Without those, they claimed, we just wouldn’t be able to live up to our ‘civilized’ potential.
Of course, it is this selfsame thought experiment that became greatly useful when more anarchist philosophers came around. They saw these dire depictions of the state of nature as mere self-deception, the product of an indoctrinated imagination. Even during Hobbes’ lifetime, English radicals would hold to utopian visions of natural community, where the universal adherence to love and reason would naturally preserve peace and prosperity. Thus, the relation between state and anarchy was turned upside down, with a radical faith in our natural condition providing the philosophical means for rejecting external rulership.
This utopian spirit is just one of the ways in which anarchy can come to mean order. Beyond these abstractions, anarchists can also point to more concrete forms of stateless order. One way they do so is through leading by example: the very fact that anarchists are able to organize themselves without enforced laws or rulers proves that there is order in anarchy. Other evidence can be found in the humanities and social sciences. Many historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists have documented the existence of past and present stateless societies, of such variety and complexity that calling them ‘primitive’ would be plain wrong. Taken together, it appears that society can indeed flourish without so much as a hint of external authority. Anarchy is order, and that’s the end of it.
The preceding section has mostly served to establish the basic connection between anarchy and order. Now we can delve into the more specific conception of anarchic order that motivated me to write this essay. In other words, it’s time to talk about natural order.
We are entering some dangerous territory now for sure. Within socio-political discourse , the term ‘natural order’ is often used by reactionaries to uphold the sanctity of bigoted hierarchies. Whenever racists, misogynists, and capitalists are at the end of their rhetorical rope, a final tactic they resort to (besides violence) is claiming that something is simply ‘unnatural’, which pretty much signifies the absence of further arguments. To be clear, my own understanding of natural order does not accord with this line of reasoning one bit.
As I see it, any appeal to the ‘natural’ breaks down into roughly three different meanings. First, to call something natural is to say it exists within nature, and thus outside the realm of human artifice. Secondly, to be natural is at least implicitly a good thing, something to be appreciated over the unnatural. So far, these are quite regular expressions, if a little troublesome at times. It is the third meaning that will attract most of our attention in the coming sections. Here I refer to the way in which the natural order imbues a given fact or being with a sense of inevitability or destiny. The natural is not just that which is, or which ought to be; it is also that which ultimately will be.
With these three aspects of the natural, we can immediately identify the fundamental flaws in the reactionary argument I mentioned earlier. For example, the opinion that homosexuality is unnatural would consist of saying that it doesn’t exist within nature, that it is wrong, and that it will ultimately be overcome. Any sensible person knows these suggestions to be false. Yet this is also where a paradox becomes apparent. If reactionaries actually believe that the unnatural will perish, then why do they worry and argue so much about its momentary existence? Their argument is an appeal to authority, yet that authority does not seem in need of enforcement. Instead, it appears more like a sanctimonious excuse for violence. Once more, my conception of natural order is deliberately divorced from this logic. The natural order must not be policed.
We now know that by its very nature, natural order cannot be used as an excuse for coercion. However, this hints at another question: is the natural order itself coercive? It is important that we ask this, because it might once again put natural order on the side of forceful Reaction, this time in an even more insidious way. Just imagine a world where hierarchies really are natural, and you are beaten down by reality every time you try to escape this fact. That would surely be terrible. Though for a few simple reasons, it would also be impossible.
Up until now, we’ve mostly spoken of natural order as an external force, as something that might plausibly force you to be a certain way. But this belies a more autonomous interpretation of the third aspect, the ‘will be’ part of the natural. When we speak of the natural state of things, we are not just talking about their ultimate destiny (how we have used it so far), but also their original tendency, the way they are absent any interference. In most metaphysical schemes, these two modes are identical; unless you live in a universe where a fascist vigilance coerces constantly, everything will return to the state it originally meant to be in. In other words, natural order will always seek to bring you back to your original state, which is (by definition) one of freedom and authenticity. The apparent force of nature is only used as a counter-measure, breaking down those many momentary oppressions that are currently keeping you down. It’s all about breaking the chains, not fastening them.
The closer I get to the heart of my intuitions, the likelier they are to confuse us both, dear reader. This is why I will try to provide just one more insight about natural order; were I to consider this any deeper, words would likely escape me.
We now come to the final difference between natural order and coercion, one that can hopefully dispel any confusion between them. Here we are called to answer a final question: could coercion itself be part of one’s nature? If we allow for this, then the natural order could be reminiscent of Hobbes’ state of nature, with a war of all against all. Instead, let us consider for a moment that coercion is based in the elevation of a particular will above all others. From this we gather that the coercive thing holds itself to be more special than others, an idea which is necessarily founded in some degree of selfish ignorance. One part of this ignorance concerns the other: you do not know them like you know yourself, and so you prioritize. But it also concerns the self: you consider your will to be sovereign, because you do not think about the many things that conditioned it. With this observation, we can finally break apart nature and coercion. The reason that coerciveness isn’t natural, is because the selfish will is not the original or ultimate state of anything. It is conditioned by the world, maintained in ignorance, and overcome through awareness. In short, the only natural thing about coercion is its momentariness. Natural order will be the death of it.
So what does all talk about this natural order have to do with anarchy? Well, I have generally found that my more spiritual or metaphysical views are informed by my political positions, and vice-versa. In this case specifically, I have tried to lay out a vision of natural order that can be brought into union with the principle of anarchy. This implicit union goes right back to the original Daoist and Buddhist philosophies that inspired my current conception of natural order. Like these forerunners, I believe the connection between social and spiritual justice to be both fruitful and profound; we should not deny ourselves such philosophies out of unreflective anti-religious sentiment.
If we allow for the possibility of natural order, one way it would benefit our anarchism is through the concept of faith. Simply put, a belief in natural order grants us the confidence that all hierarchies will eventually perish before the great equalizer that is our cosmos. To my own admission, such faith can partly serve as an ‘opiate of the people’, something that stills the turmoil of our suffering. It is never a complete sedative however, for it also calls on us to be our own medicine. The natural order may be immensely powerful, but we are all its constituents, and it wouldn’t get anywhere without our active participation. Thus, while we may take some comfort in the cosmic struggle, we can and should not put its course outside ourselves. We are the universe, and our anarchy is its expression.
Another benefit of anarchist faith is the negative phrasing of its primary aim. What we seek as anarchists is ‘merely’ the elimination of rulership: beyond that lies the void of emptied politics. Yet this openness is a deliberate blessing. Unlike a more determined doctrine, we find much room for experimentation within anarchy and the order that underlies it. And as someone who believes in the creative power of nothingness, I am quite certain that natural anarchy would be the freest and most generative experience ever to grace mankind.
As a final note on faith in anarchy, allow me to contrast it one more time with the reactionary perspective. We’ve seen before that natural order can be the bigot’s excuse for violence. We might suppose that the anarchist is in a similar position: if anarchy is the only righteous position, then all force is licensed. But this betrays a lack of both faith and understanding. It is because anarchy is supremely natural, that we can realize it only through noncoerciveness. Unnatural acts beget an unnatural response, delaying our satisfaction at best. Mind you, this is not a strict call for nonviolence, not as it is commonly understood. We may of course defend our anarchy from whatever threats it faces, and abolish the involuntary submission of others; it’s just that its expansion among non-anarchists is not something we can or should force. Instead, we are both tempered and empowered by our pursuit of noncoerciveness. When properly understood, this can be our release from suffering, and our return to natural order.
None of what I’ve said above should be taken as conclusive proof for the existence or necessity of a metaphysical anarchy. But hopefully it has salvaged the concept of natural order from its reactionary connotations. And if this work also allows us to deepen our faith in anarchy, I will consider it a success.
Ever since I first came across the politics of anarchism, along with the religious philosophies that connected it to ancient times, its ideas have enriched my intellectual and spiritual life. I hope some of that inspirational force has made its way into these paragraphs. Regardless of whether one finds it to be the reflection of something greater, the wisdom of anarchy is a gift worth sharing.