Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 12

Anarchists do not only reject governments because of their centralization of power and the prevention of citizens from being able to directly participate in matters that affect them, but also because of what is seen as an inherently violent nature. Anthony Giddens (not an anarchist so far as I know), in The Nation-State and Violence, defines the state as a territorially-arranged entity that is able to successfully mobilize the use of violence to maintain its territory and identity. All governments use violence, whether it is in waging war, police actions against citizens, repression either through policing, prisons, or propaganda, or in other ways. Governments force people to fit into the mold they provide for society, reducing human beings to part of a system that is imposed upon them. Now, it is of course true that different governments do this in different ways – a dictatorship may use the bludgeon while a so-called democracy uses the manufacture of consent through manipulation of the media – but fundamentally the nature of a government is violent. For an excellent in-depth introduction to the history of elitism in American so-called democracy as well as an exposition of how the ruling powers control thought patterns and minimize dissent in the media, read Noam Chomsky’s Necessary Illusions as well Manufacturing Consent, by Chomsky and Ed Herman.

One of the “rubber-meets-the-road” sorts of questions I often hear is the eminently reasonable (though, I think, somewhat misguided in a sense) question of… does anarchism work? That is to say, is it viable as a way for people to cooperatively govern themselves in the absence of the machinations of state? While I might be tempted to say what’s really important are the principle of justice and mutual freedom on which anarchism is based, and as a Christian I am more concerned not with building some kind of anarchist “utopia”, but rather on following Jesus and examining the relationship between political ways of thinking and the Bible, it is still a valid question.

There are a few prominent examples of anarchistic societies based on mutual aid have been established. Perhaps the most well-known was in Spain in 1936-1939 where anarchist peasants and workers collectivized land and factories in a widespread movement before the uprising was crushed by a strange alliance of Stalinists, fascists, and US-supported business interests. Also, in the Mexican state of Chiapas the Zapatista movement is currently largely in force in the upper part of the state (since January 1, 1994), mostly populated by indigenous Mexicans descended from the Mayans. The Zapatista society is largely anarchic, influenced greatly by indigenous traditions in resistance to the machinations of the Mexican government and large farm owners who have historically oppressed the region’s peasants. If anyone is so interested, you can actually buy coffee from Zapatista cooperatives and support them.

This basically wraps up my discussion of the basics of anarchism. This has been a very basic introduction - there are a lot of nuances and different positions taken up by various anarchist schools of thought, so I encourage you to check out many of the fine resources available at the Jesus Radicals anarchism section and the amazing collection of primary resources at the Anarchy Archives. From here we will move on to a discussion of the relationship between Christianity and anarchism.

:: Written by Jason ::

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