As we were tying ourselves into knots yesterday over how to finish the series on standards, we got a question about anarchy. Not the bomb-throwing kind, or the type that the teachers’ unions claim predominates among home schoolers, excuse us, hum skooolors, but the presumably ethical kind espoused by, e.g., Dorothy Day. As our correspondent opined,
“I’m a little bit confused as to why Lew Rockwell dot com would be so concerned about Dorothy Day being an anarchist. I’ve often thought Lew Rockwell tended towards anarchy although I suppose not so much in word as in deed.
Our Response (Anything to get out of writing two things in one day)
|Anarchism (Capitalist View)|
It’s not hard to be confused, especially these days. Our impression (and it’s only that, we’re too lazy to do the research right now) is that there is a problem with definition. Depending on who’s talking, anarchism is either the same as libertarianism, or its opposite. Sometimes it’s just the word; we have seen neo-distributists rave (in a good way) over anarchism because Day called herself an anarchist, and then spew vitriol against libertarians . . . all the while using effectively the same definition for both terms.
We think that libertarians who know what they are talking about define libertarianism as individuals having the maximum exercise of rights, but without recognizing more than the individualistic minimum of social duties, e.g., don't steal, murder, etc. They tend to reject the concept of the common good and social virtue, especially social justice.
|Anarchism (Socialist View)|
Day’s anarchy was true anarchy, but not complete or consistent, if that makes sense. Consistent or complete anarchy on Day’s part would have meant no recognition of social justice or the common good, yet she made constant appeals to them, e.g., her declaration that “anarchy is personalist before it is communitarian.”
This, too, is confusing. True anarchy is neither personalist nor communitarian. A “person” is that which has rights, and requires an other or others — society — against whom rights are exercised: a right is defined as the power to do, or not do, some act or acts in relation to others. Did Robinson Caruso have rights? Yes. Did he exercise them? Not until Friday showed up . . . whereupon Caruso’s first exercise of his rights was to deprive Friday of his rights by enslaving him. . . .
|Anarchism (Just Third Way View)|
And then there’s the fact that anarchy is not communitarian, but absence of community. It rejects the invisible structures that define a particular community and necessarily bind those in the community, i.e., laws, customs, traditions, and so on.
In our opinion, we think Day’s rather confused notion of anarchy was a paradoxical collectivist version with contradictory add-ons, in contrast to the usual individualistic version. This agrees with Mortimer Adler's analysis that the liberals and conservatives (or the modernists and the traditionalists, if you prefer) are both making the same basic mistake, but taking it in different directions.
That’s why, in our opinion, a casual observer might not tend to see any significant difference between, e.g., Dorothy Day, anarchist, and Lew Rockwell, libertarian. There are differences, but they’re not what either side thinks they are, and neither of the sides realizes where they are in fundamental agreement.