"The disposition of all power is to abuses, nor does it at all mend the matter that its possessors are a majority. Unrestrained political authority, though it be confided to masses, cannot be trusted without positive limitations, men in bodies being but an aggregation of the passions, weaknesses and interests of men as individuals." ~ James Fenimore Cooper
"[G] overnment never furthered
any enterprise, save by the alacrity with which it got out of its way."
-Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience"
I am an anarchist. By this I do not mean what was, at the turn of the century, and which is now coming to be again, taken to be the connotation of this term, that is, someone who desires the destruction of government to be replaced by the rule of chaos, a lasher-out at authority for no other reason than it is there. Indeed, I agree with Thoreau, who said of the dearth of government: ". . . [W]hen men are prepared for it, that is the kind of government they will have."
My objection is to the demonization of anarchists by the combined forces of government and media, who take any crazy they find with some slight wherewithal to injure the populace, and label him "anarchist." These people are not true anarchists, but nihilists of the worst stripe. Anarchists believe that people are capable of governing themselves, and do not require the shepherding hand of government to help them along through life. True anarchists would take no action to tear down any establishment, except under the circumstance that any resolute person would, whatever his beliefs, namely, when the excesses of the government in power outweigh the benefit its rule provides. This is not to say that the attempts of government to obtrude themselves into the areas of personal liberty the individual would certainly reserve to himself should not be resisted to the fullest extent possible, short of violence, and any man who does so resist should not be scorned for his presumption, but praised for his resolution not to submit. Samuel Johnson, the English theologian and essayist, said, ". . . I am a friend of subordination, as the most conducive to the happiness of society. There is a reciprocal pleasure in governing and being governed." I fear I must reject the good doctor's premise, in that, while there may certainly be pleasure in the former, anyone who has been ground themselves exceedingly fine under the wheels of the system will say there is little such in the latter. Supporters of limited, objective government make the case that some government is needed, because, even in the most perfect society, men will still have legitimate disputes, which must be resolved by external authority. The scope of government, they say, would be limited to the role it was intended for: providing police, courts, and national defense. I have only one difficulty with this view; namely, that the functions government retains will allow them to usurp the functions they have no business performing, such as social and economic planning.
In orthodox Zen Buddhism, the Buddha nature is said to exist in all creatures and things, from the beginning of their existences, and merely awaits satori, or awakening. The ego is the fount of impurity, and the denial of the self is the path to bhodi, or enlightenment, so-called because the Buddha meditated under a bhodi tree for six days and nights when he received Truth. Zen teaches that the working for the common good in all things is the ultimate expression of the Buddha nature, and that every day should be lived in the cause of helping others. While this is a laudable sentiment, and I would not presume to challenge the wisdom of those who have spent their lives in the pursuit of such a goal, I do debate the wisdom of allowing a civil government to impose these views on a populace, rather than allowing each man to choose for himself the best path to nirvana. Zen says that the mere admission of the pronoun "I" is a dilution of the Buddha nature, and is to be deplored, but does not a man, if he is a part of Life, the great Life Buddha taught of, owe a duty to himself, as well as his fellows? The Buddhists even have a term for this, dharma, literally, the duty to oneself to achieve enlightenment. This duty, in my interpretation, not only includes the obligation to oneself to behave in the ways one would like to be behaved towards, which, I feel, encompasses most of the requirements of moving towards bhodi, but also the duty of self-defense, and self-provision. Even Buddhist sects, notably the Shao-lin, the inventors of gung-fu, recognized the implicit right of every being to defend himself, and is this not the ultimate "I" statement?
To return to the West, in one of the most influential tracts ever written in defense of anarchism, Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, which I quote at the beginning of this essay, the author asks: "Must the citizen, even for a moment, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then?" How we answer these questions is, I think, one of the most important responses we can ever give to any inquiry, for, by our answer, we determine the fate of our own independence of thought and freedom of action.
Why, then, cannot more individuals answer these queries, not only rightly, but also satisfactorily at all, by which I mean, having already given thought to their response? I believe it is because today, persons are not encouraged, politically and otherwise, to listen to their instinct towards independent thought. A philosophy has developed, and been promulgated for many years in not only this, but in many other societies, stating that the tools of the enforcement of the dictates of the oligarchy, such as the police and military, and the publicly supported salvers of life and property, such as fire companies, should be elevated to a status above the unwashed populace, the commonly put-forth reason being that these people perform a "heroic sacrifice" for the community by protecting the general citizenry from itself. While there may certainly be some honor attached to some of the professions in this category, i.e., firefighters and paramedics, where is the honor in the suppression of the native populace, or the imposition of the will of the State on the individual? Soldiers and police, indeed, are extolled far beyond their actual worth to society, and benefit accordingly, while those who actually are of no small aid to the preservation of order within the collective and the transmission of the tradition of government as unimpaired as possible, to paraphrase Thoreau, such as educators, are held "accountable" for the failures of others, and blamed for faults that are not within their purview to correct, but should have been dealt with in a private capacity before the flawed ever saw the inside of the institution. Which of these groups, enforcers or educators, embodies the true value to the collective, and which is praised more highly? The enforcer may give, one day, of his life, it is true, but the educator gives every day of his, and which benefits more materially by it? Here is the inherent foolishness of the State, and statism, revealed. " Vis consili exper mole ruit sua (Brute force bereft of wisdom falls to ruin by its own weight.)," says Horace, and, truly, does not history itself proclaim the doom of those who rule by the fist?
Where, then, does wisdom lie? In what system may I place my faith? Where do my personal good and the good of all intersect? In answer, I can only say, I do not know where wisdom lies, either in myself or anywhere else, but perception of my environment and application consistent with truth may help me approximate it. To the second question, faith should reside in no institution or codification of virtue, but in myself, as the only place my faith may remain under my own observation, and excesses upon it curtailed. As to the last, I can only say, the good of all is looked to in me by my refulgent desire to leave all to themselves, to conduct their lives as they choose, without reference to my wishes, except insofar as I wish to be left alone.