Call Me an Abolitionist, Please

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December 18, 2006

Imagine two groups struggling to win (or, in one case, to retain) public support for their respective, opposing causes. The dominant group has managed to define the other's name to mean 'violent, uncivilized destroyers of property and enemies of functioning society' in the public mind, despite that definition being the polar opposite of the truth.

Still, the slandered group continues using the pejorative name to describe itself. 'We are violent, uncivilized destroyers of property and enemies of functioning society!' proclaim members of the group. 'And we're proud of it! You'd join us if you only understood us better!'

Strangely, the public does not respond in a positive fashion.

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Of course, this is only a 'what if' scenario. No group in the real world would be foolish enough to continue calling itself by a name that meant something so negative in the public mind. It would be like the Republicans or the Greens renaming themselves the 'Child Molester Party.' A more counterproductive tactical or marketing move is difficult to imagine.

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I was just kidding about 'no group in the real world' being so foolish, of course: anarchists continue using a descriptor that actually does mean 'violent, uncivilized destroyers of property and enemies of functioning society' to 99% of the public. We can rail all we want about how wrong and unfair that is, but the fact remains that nearly everyone defines 'anarchist' differently and far more negatively than we do. Thanks to more than a century of media effort (aided and abetted by violent idiots who have called themselves anarchists), 'anarchy' has been relentlessly and successfully defined as, essentially: 'chaos and violence, and destruction of property rights and civil order.' In short: 'anarchy' = 'chaos' or even 'terrorism' in the public mind. This is not a label I want attached to myself, especially during America 's War on Terror.

I see negative and hostile views of 'anarchy' frequently and am certain you do as well. A few examples:

The anarchists: For jihadist, read anarchist

Aug 18th 2005

From The Economist print edition

"Repression did little to stop anarchist violence. But eventually the world moved on and the movement withered ."

THE BUSINESS OF TERROR: Anarchist outrages

By Rick Coolsaet

"TERRORISM is ancient, found in every age, every continent, every religion. So why the current obsession with security, the suspicion that a monstrous hidden enemy is behind every attack in the world? History has had many eras when terrorism and fear were rife in events much like those of today. On 24 June 1894 an Italian anarchist, Sante Jeronimo Caserio, assassinated the French president, Marie-Fran'ois Sadi Carnot, the culmination of a series of anarchist attacks in France and elsewhere. The international community felt threatened by this."

The Coming Anarchy

By Robert D. Kaplan

Atlantic Monthly

February, 1996

"How scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet ."

The Descent into Anarchy

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"One week ago, experts and observers warned that Darfur risked 'sliding into a perpetual state of lawlessness'."

Afghanistan close to anarchy, warns general

"The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan today described the situation in the country as 'close to anarchy' with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption. "

Breakdowns Marked Path From Hurricane to Anarchy


Published: September 11, 2005

"The governor of Louisiana was 'blistering mad.' It was the third night after Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans , and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco needed buses to rescue thousands of people from the fetid Superdome and convention center. But only a fraction of the 500 vehicles promised by federal authorities had arrived."

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What does anarchy really mean? In a practical sense, the term has no meaning; with so many conflicting definitions, the word means whatever someone thinks it means. There is no universally accepted definition for the word. Of course, there are dictionary definitions of anarchy. Here's the entry from my on-disc copy [circa mid-1990s] of The American Heritage Dictionary:

an'ar'chy ('n''r-k') n., pl. an'ar'chies. 1. Absence of any form of political authority. 2. Political disorder and confusion. 3. Absence of any cohesive principle, such as a common standard or purpose. [New Latin anarchia, from Greek anarkhia, from anarkhos, without a ruler : an-, without; see A-1 + arkhos, ruler; see -ARCH.]

Definition #3 is especially disturbing, as it absolutely negates the principled adherence to nonaggression which lies at the heart of 'anarchy' as I understand the term.

Another way to highlight the nearly random usage of the term 'anarchy' is found at the WikiPedia page on Anarchy, which lists these different anarchist schools of thought in a sidebar:

Capitalist – Christian

Collectivist – Communist

Eco – Feminist

Green – Individualist

Mutualist – Primitivist

Social – Syndicalist

The goals, definitions, and methods of these groups vary widely, and not all of them acknowledge the nonaggression principle. I do not see how any person could find themselves in full agreement with even two or three of these, much less with all these versions of 'anarchy' at once. By the way, note that 'libertarian/market anarchist' – Strike The Root's self-description – isn't even listed. Here's STR 's self-description in detail:

'Strike The Root is a daily journal of current events and commentary from a libertarian/market anarchist perspective. The mission of STR is to advance the cause of liberty, primarily by de-mystifying and de-legitimizing the State. STR seeks a world where people are free to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they don't use force or fraud against peaceful people.'

Now, that's a definition I can embrace: the anarchist, as STR sees him or her, 'seeks a world where people are free to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they don't use force or fraud against peaceful people.' To be blunt, anything less would be uncivilized. But again, this is NOT the definition most people find in their mental search engines when they hear the term 'anarchist.'

Mark Davis recently made the point in a column at STR that 'anarchy is simply a free society.' Yet Davis' column, titled Defining Anarchy, is mostly devoted to describing the ways people misunderstand the term anarchy and correcting the misconceptions; as Davis points out, whenever a massive government failure creates chaos, the public (and of course the media) calls the result 'anarchy.' Davis' column is a terrific educational tool, but the very need for such a piece highlights the point of this column: any movement that must expend so much effort correcting inaccurate and prejudicial views of its own position is a movement choosing to fail.

Our opponents have successfully defined 'anarchy' in such a way that to merely say the word is to warn others against us.

We are not merely foolish to allow ourselves to be described by this word; we are not only setting ourselves up for continued and total failure: using the term 'anarchist' to describe ourselves, especially in post-Patriot, Military Tribunal America, puts us at peril.

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So: you're a 'live and let live' person who believes any initiated coercion is wrong. What DO you call yourself?

I have a suggestion. If you want to abolish the use of initiated coercion, why not call yourself, as I do, an abolitionist?

Reasons for using this term include:

Accuracy: the world 'abolitionist' accurately describes a person who wants to abolish something, in this case the evil of initiated coercion.

Positive connotations: The term was widely used by those who wanted to abolish slavery, and slavery is, of course, merely a specific and extreme form of initiated coercion. This use of the term 'abolitionism' is the only one I was familiar with before doing a web search, and I would wager that most Americans have never heard of any other: in a practical sense, 'abolitionism' means the movement to abolish slavery. The movement to abolish all intiated coercion – all forms and degrees of slavery and attempted slavery, large and small – is clearly a continuation of the original. Positive feelings people rightfully have for the movement to abolish slavery are equally well deserved by those who seek to abolish all forms of initiated coercion. Furthermore, abolishing slavery did not tear the world apart or cause chaos or misery (the Civil War did, but in most nations slavery was abolished without resorting to war. Even in America it was the war, not freedom for the slaves, that caused violence and misery – and Americans are clear on that).

Continuation of a righteous cause: As long as initiated coercion exists – from government, from the mob, from organized religion, from home-invasion robbers and rapists, from gangs of ten-year-old bullies at school, or from any other source – the cause of abolitionism should and must continue.

Explicit recognition that how we treat each other matters: Abolishing initiated coercion requires insisting that each person is the owner and proprietor of his or her own body, mind, property, and life generally. The abolitionist insists on the rights of others. Abolitionism holds that using force or threats of force against peaceful human beings is a crime – something any decent person can support. This explicit concern for others puts abolitionism in harmony with the ancient Eastern doctrine of ahimsa, at least where human life is concerned. It puts abolitionism in harmony with the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That means abolitionism is in harmony with every major religion I am aware of, and with plenty of religions most people have never heard of. Abolitionism fits well with Jesus' insistence that we should love one another (John 13:34 – 35), because coercion is the practical opposite of love. Indeed, coercion erodes and destroys love.

Civil society requires nothing less than complete abolition of initiated coercion. If history and current events teach us nothing else, they teach us that initiated coercion is evil, and that when used widely and systematically (as every government does) it becomes, all too often, an evil of epic proportions. All excuses, schemes, and rationalizations for initiating coercion against others only create more coercion. We've tried 'the divine right of kings.' We've tried 'dictatorship of the proletariat.' We've tried 'democracy.' It doesn't matter how you dress it up: initiating force or threats of force against peaceful human beings is a crime, and creates nothing but injustice, violence, and misery. Using the term 'abolitionism' points out that ALL forms of initiated coercion must go; belief that it is necessary or benign to initiate coercion for this or for that reason, or in some special manner, is delusional and dangerous.

So call me an abolitionist, please. I hope you will consider joining me in use of the term.

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Glen Allport's picture
Columns on STR: 111

Glen Allport co-authored The User's Guide to OS/2 from Compute! Books and is the author of The Paradise Paradigm: On Creating a World of Compassion, Freedom, and Prosperity.


Glock27's picture

Cheers Glen,
One person on this site suggested that I referain form posting on this sight until I have undergone a course of study because my posts always miss the mark. Well I started out in defiance of that and had a nice piece going. I slipped off to garner some useable information and when I returned my entire monologue was cleaned off the comment section. Seems like I will never learn to copy and paste from word.

One comment. U used the word Imagine a word someone detests when I relate it to the idea that man imagines more than man he or she uses rational and logic to come to conclusions. Mere observation of the world demonstrates that. In the majority of cases people imagine something to be correct and the more they imagine it the more it becomes truth for them. They don't arrive at it from a long analytical logical process to come to a conclusion. If it feels right then its right. Our recent election demonstrated this. More people imagined that [o]bama was the best choice for the job despite all the evidence of destruction he has managed to do to this Nation, despite all the golf he has played, basketball, date nights, vacations and etc. I would only ask that you take some time and consider "Imagine" over logic and reason as a major, majority tool that people use for arriving at decisions. It is suggested that we make rational decisions in our lives everyday, but I contend that they are autonomic responses over a life time of experiance.

You have to appeal to the peoples emotions to create a change. Reason and logic are loosers in most cases in converting anyone to any new idea because reason and logic do not permit space for the person to imagine what it would be like. Just a thought you might be interested in considering.

Note. This is purely an observation and not a criticism. It is also a question for I have come to consider the ideal of imagine as being the more precise method of arrival at or to solutions than reason and logic, at least in the anecdotal atmosphere of the world that what it appears to be like.

John Hasnas, associate professor at Georgetown University posited this idea in an artical "The Truth about Anarchism" Now he did not perclude the idea that reason and logic were useless, just that people do not use it as much as they imagine something to be so. The more you come to imagine it to be so the more it becomess so.

Glock 27

mhstahl's picture


"In the majority of cases people imagine something to be correct and the more they imagine it the more it becomes truth for them. "

Remarkable, isn't it?


Glock27's picture

Cheers mhsahl,

This is a new concept for me, one I probably would never have come upon. I think I mentioned that john Hasnas posited this idea andmy anecdotal experiances daily in life seems to demonstrate it to (dare I say it) axiomatic. I am still playing around with the concept. I know we are suppose to be rational and logical, but common sense seems to dictate that we cannot use this process in everything we do. I recognize that I don't and I guess that's what seems to make me the crazy nut bag on this site because I don't always see statements like many of the others here do. Am I more open minded than I should be? Or do I even have a mind at all? To some here I am nothing more than a nut bag. What you have replied to is very close to what John Hasnas said. But he did not exclude the fact that there are a very small number whom do apply logical analysis to their problems. I believe logical analysis has a limited role, but a vital one when it comes to prescribing ideas, policies and etc. I can also see that on this site where logical analysis does become a crucial element in the discourse that goes on.

Thank you for your response

Glock 27