Lessons from anarchist thinking

This post only expresses the opinion of the author

I have recently read a very interesting article called “From democracy to freedom” in which the anonymous author or authors make a intelligent critique of the institution of government. They are, obviously, anarchist.

Although I do not believe in the feasibility of anarchism, I find the text quite inspiring, in the sense that it makes a very good case against the sort of monolithic all powerful governments which we have to deal with nowadays. However, because these governments are elected using by means of formal democracy methods, the article refers to democracy as exactly this type of mechanisms: “This is where democracy comes in: another election, another government, another cycle of optimism and disappointment.” Quite rightfully, the author asks herself “can we imagine 219 million eligible voters directly conducting the activities of the US government?” and just because she cannot imagine what a truly grassroots democracy could look like, she reverts to the idea of removing the state from the picture.

What I find interesting is that most of the objections to democracy as a way of government made from this text, are only valid for the formal democracy we are used to, i.e. for the type of top heavy governmental structures that the traditional powers have managed to coerce into existence in order to control the population by means of democracy look alike states. However they sate a number of issues that must be addressed or taken into account.

In a truly participatory democracy, in a state where people constantly decide their future, many of the issues are resolved locally, because no one can solve the problem better than the people who have to live with it. This means there must be multiple layers and geographical areas of competence and high degrees of autonomy. This sort of structure is already in place. Central governments take some decisions, regional governments take other decision, town halls take other decisions. As we shift power from a central all-powerful state towards the citizens, we do not only change the way in which citizens participate on the top level national issues with their voice or vote, but we necessarily need to shift power from the central government to the regional and local governments. For certain issues national or union governments should have no jurisdiction whatsoever. In the defence of constitutional individual rights and freedom, for instance, all institutions should be involved.

As rightly pointed out in the text, voluntary participation is the best way to ensure the commitment of the individual to a cause, and hence we should allow and encourage the emergence of a whole new range of self articulated organizations which should be empowered to take decisions about what affects their members. I am no talking about active discussion groups. I am talking about ad-hoc institutions with the power to decide over specific issues as presented by the anarchist rationale. The democratic twist is that the vigilant eye from justice will be alerted when this self determination starts affecting others in ways that may lead to conflict. However, unless the fundamental rights of other people are affected they should perform their self chosen function. Ad hoc democratic institutions should be an integral part of society, and should be empowered to act. Freedom is a part of true democracy, and I would argue that a truly democratic state is much more likely to grant freedom and protection to its members that a state of anarchy, which, by definition cannot guarantee anything.

We must stop thinking democracy as a rigid system and start thinking about it as the slipping answer to the eternal question. “How do can we live together with the minimum possible amount of conflict?” Is is really a time to be brave, to dare to think up new ways to answer this question, ways that can be tried out, which do not need a revolution, which do not need magnanimous leaders. It is time to believe that democracy has hope, because it is the only hope we have.

Salud, Paz y Democracia


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