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20 October 2011

Anarchism, The State, and Corporate Power

I am an anarchist.  Meaning "without rulers" (from the Greek, an = Without, archos = ruler, leader), not "without rules" as most people seem to think.  What that means in the most basic sense is that I want power to be as limited and dispersed as possible.  There will never be a society without power; the important thing is the relative equilibrium of power in a society.

Does that mean that I am anti-State?  In the broadest sense, it does.  To the extent that the State is a center of power, I am opposed to the presence of a strong state.  However, there are many other possible centers of power - now, most perniciously, the center of power has shifted to the economic sector and corporations in particular.  The major fallacy of economic libertarianism, anarcho-capitalism, and just the general right-wing philosophy is that it sees the economy as a space of freedom where individuals compete freely.  However, this view is clearly false - the creation of corporations, and the possibility of hoarding wealth means that power can easily be concentrated in a few hands.  Ultimately, these approaches will default to plutocracy, which is merely a dictatorship of the wealthy, and never to true democracy.

The founding fathers saw that the best way to limit power in a complex society is to set different powers competing with one another.  This is why we have the separation of powers in the US, and the separation of Church and State.  That was effective to a point, but with the emergence of massive corporations, massive wealth disparities, and the global economy, economic powers have dominated and subsumed both the State power and the power of the Church (the Christian Right, at least, the Church on the whole has declined in power with the prevalence of secularism).

How can this be remedied?  From a truly anarchist perspective, the solution is not to abandon the State, but rather to bolster it and set it in direct opposition to economic power.  That requires us to be constantly on our guard to prevent corporate powers from taking over State power.  This is what Occupy Wall Street is about.

Ultimately and ideally, the State would not be necessary, and economic power would be more difficult to amass.  However, I see no contradiction from an anarchist point of view, between supporting state regulation of business and desiring an ultimate end to the State and the equal distribution of all forms of power.  The latter is an idealistic end towards which we can aim, the former a pragmatic approach to dealing with contemporary reality.

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