Chartier’s “Conscience”: A Vision of Better Tomorrows

Gary Chartier has raised the bar in his new book The Conscience of An Anarchist: Why It’s Time to Say Good-Bye to the State and Build a Free Society. Chartier begins by asking the (non-anarchist) reader to “open your mind to anarchy” writing, “As an idea, anarchism is the conviction that people can and should interact on the basis of peaceful voluntary cooperation… without the state.” Chartier’s introduction continues as he explains why he’s an anarchist, with each reason listed he gives a brief synopsis of the chapter dealing with the listed reason(s). Chartier writes (and most – if not all – anarchs agree) there is: no natural right to rule, the state lacks legitimacy, the state is unnecessary, the state tips the scales in favor of privileged elites and against ordinary people, the state tends to be destructive, the state restricts personal freedom, and a stateless society would provide opportunities for people to explore diverse ways of living fulfilled, flourishing lives.

Chartier begins by looking at the “official” political theory of these United States as laid out in the Declaration of Independence with the central phrase being that “governments acquire ‘their just powers from the consent of the governed’.” Chartier explains, since no one has a natural right to rule and governments supposedly acquire and retain power through consent of the governed, it should rest on the rulers to prove they have consent to rule. However, they instead use force to coerce consent. Some argue that voting and/or remaining in a given location are ways of “giving consent” – this is certainly not true. Neither is it true that you should consent to the state because everyone else has and it’s “only fair” that you do as well, even if you accept some supposed benefit provided by the state by force. If there is no real way of showing consent and no real way of not consenting, Chartier writes, “it looks as if the state… isn’t legitimate.”

“Even if it’s not legitimate, some statists will say, the state is useful,” he writes, “we need it, according to the argument, because the threat of state violence is necessary to prevent us from each other’s violence.” Chartier skillfully dismantles this argument as well as the argument that states need a monopoly on the threat of force, even showing how some who support the state will acknowledge “that a single, absolutely powerful agency isn’t needed to keep the peace.” Chartier also dismantles the claim that we need the state to manage the economy and explains the practicality of anarchy by giving real world examples (both past and present) of anarchy in action.

“The state creates and reinforces privilege,” writes Chartier, “special rules for special people, maintained by the threat or use of force.” He shows how states not only create a class of elites, but also protects them with various regulations – patent and copyright protection, immigrations restrictions, licenses and banking, credit & money – and subsidies – tariffs, transportation, eminent domain, research & development, bailouts, tax deductions ans even military force. Chartier further explain how the state makes hierarchies and creates poverty, “there’s good reason to think that a stateless society would be freer, more efficient, less hierarchical, less impoverished than a society overseen by a state.”

Chartier next examines something that would most likely not exist (despite statist arguments to the contrary) in a stateless society: war. Absent the state, standing armies would not exist, only militia comprised of ordinary men (and women) willing and able to organize to defend themselves and their families from attack. Since these men would need to provide for their families, it isn’t feasible that this kind of militia would go out looking to fight long costly wars. “Anarchy doesn’t offer utopia. But it does offer more peace and safety than the state.”

A stateless society would be a society without “crime.” That’s not to say there wouldn’t be theft, rape and robbery (which all occur even with a state); those after all are offenses against people, “crime” in the true meaning of the word is “an offense against the king (or the equivalent).” Chartier examines many “crimes” and the violence used by the state to deal with these situations in which the “suspect” had harmed no one and in many cases the “suspect” was “executed” by the state. “Whether your issue is free speech, privacy, sex, the drug war, or police violence, the state is the enemy of personal freedom… As long as there is a state, personal freedom will be in serious danger.”

Chartier ends by sharing a vision; a vision of a stateless society with different kinds of communities, a society where anarchy is about discovering what works and what doesn’t (and it should be obvious the state doesn’t work) and a society abundant with stateless goodness. How do we get there from here? It starts with you! There are many roads that lead to a stateless society and Chartier does a fine job of explaining many of these roads to statelessness which ends with “a better world, a world more free, more peaceful, more humane than the one we live in now.” It is this vision of a better tomorrow that inspires me (and hopefully you, as well) to continue down the road towards a stateless society.