Do We Need Them After All?
The best line of the film V for Vendetta is uttered by the Chancellor, who thunders at his subordinates: “I want everyone to remember why they need us!”
That’s what’s so interesting about Gary Chartier’s 2011 book The Conscience of an Anarchist. Chartier has heard it all before: government has an important role to play, but beyond that role it is parasitic, incompetent, prone to corruption, etc. We just need to get back to the Founding Fathers, or the original Constitution, or whatever.
Now no doubt the vision of the Founding Fathers and the original Constitution would be a vast improvement over what we have now, which is why many people of Chartier’s persuasion support any move in that healthy direction. But they wonder if we may in fact be conceding too much.
Chartier believes in private property, so he isn’t of the brand of anarchism that despises the state for protecting private property. Chartier’s point is that the state aggresses against private property.
But he goes much farther than this, paying particular attention to how the state disproportionately benefits the wealthy and powerful, and is often the source of such people’s wealth and power. He catalogues the ways the state harms the average person and keeps him from rising above his modest condition. And he shows how even the most intractable problems can be solved via voluntary human relations.
It’s hard for many of us to think the way Chartier urges us to, in large part because we’re trained from birth to accept existing institutions. Radical challenges to those institutions make us defensive. Why, without the Federal Reserve, or the Department of Education, or — gasp! — the state itself, surely we would suffer from X, Y, or Z. Instead of thinking about how various problems the state is supposed to solve might be tackled in its absence, we are in effect taught to assume ourselves to be helpless dolts, incapable of accomplishing any great thing without the iron fist of a “leader.”