Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Who's an Anarchist?

The comments on this post on Crooked Timber about William Morris' socialist ideas delve into Kropotkinite anarcho-communism. I don't know much about these subjects, to be honest, but I was at a presentation by Stuart White on Colin Ward's anarchism today, in which he set out what was distinctive about Ward's anarchism, while searching for necessary/sufficient conditions for being an anarchist.

I can't go into the details of the whole paper, but for what it's worth without here's my response:

Do you think, for Ward, there could ever be too much anarchism in an actual society? If he is indeed role-playing, then it suggests he's arguing for anarchism, because we're too far the other side. This is like Aristotle's advice that if our nature tends towards one side of a mean - say, we're moreprone to cowardice than recklessness as a deviation from courage - then we should err on the side of caution, that is be too brave to compensate.

If this is his approach, it suggests that were society to change quiteradically in an anarchist direction, then a role-player might have to switchsides to maintain/restore balance. This, I think, open up a distinction between contingent anarchists' - those who argue for anarchism because they think that here and now we need more anarchy - and those whose ideal is total anarchy, and will argue for it no matter what condition we're in (short of realising it) I thought that might be helpful for your 'what is an anarchist?' question.

I also wondered why you thought to phrase that in necessary and sufficient terms. I don't know if you're familiar with Wittgenstein's 'language games', but he suggests not all concepts are analysable in such terms. The things we call 'games', for example - football, Cludeo, snap, Jenga, etc - don't seem to share necessary/sufficient properties. Wittgenstein's answer was that these concepts don't pick out 'natural kinds', rather we impose them on the world. We learn certain examples, and then choose to extend the term 'game' (or whatever) to new cases we think are sufficiently similar in various aspects. He called these similarities 'family resemblances' (think how members of a family may have overlapping similarities - e.g. a family nose, hair colour, etc - without there being a set of necessary/sufficient characteristics common to all family members)

Since 'anarchism' seems to pick out a family of related views, it seems plausible that something like this holds. There's no 'truth' of the matter towhether a view really is anarchist, it's up to us how far we extend the term. Moreover, we can't give a definite necessary/sufficient checklist of what it takes to be an anarchist. We know certain examples from experience, and when we come to a new borderline case we have to make a judgement about whether or not it is similar enough to other anarchist views to share the name.

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