Post-Anarchist Meta-Ethics: Balancing Social and Individual Liberty

Anarchy is about getting along.
Anarchy is about getting along.

Introduction

In light of recent developments in the colloquial description of ‘anarchy’ and the practical demonstrations of ‘anarchist’ activity across the globe (ranging from protests throughout Europe, revolution in the Middle-East, and the recent Occupy movement), the word ‘anarchy’ is in need of a clear and simple definition that captures the general philosophical sense of true anarchy; this before considerations of the implications thereof can be addressed.

Too many myths have arisen about lawlessness and barbarism within the conventional concepts of ‘anarchy’ for a rational discussion to proceed without clarifications on the basic principles of what anarchy actually means. Broadly speaking, anarchy is a system of participatory and voluntary, self-governing society without a formal, heteronymous, moral legislation. Anarchy can refer to many different systems; however, this paper will be fairly all-encompassing with a focus on a discussion of how to approach ethics in a society without a state, and ungoverned by decreed law; this can include anything from an eco-collective to free-market capitalism and libertarianism.

In fact, there is a plethora of anarchist theories that differ widely on views regarding subjects as varied as ecology, economics, religion, and aesthetics—to name just a few. These varying schools of thought sometimes share in their provisional approaches to morality, but more often differ; and there are numerous considerations to be made when focusing on a broader spectrum context of anarchy.

A central issue that arises again and again throughout anarchist theory is the conflict between social and individual anarchy. I will make arguments that show that these two strains of anarchy are not mutually exclusive and I will make a case for an anarchy focused on both autonomous development, and a strong sense of cultural relativism.

This paper will be divided into four sections that discuss, respectively, the import of autonomy and reason; the central ethical dilemmas of anarchy (such as the use of violence and how to co-exist peacefully); the ontological and metaphysical derivations of certain anarchist theory; and, finally, the practical consequences and pragmatic considerations of consequentialism in anarchy. This will provide a comprehensive overview of the basic tenets of anarchist theory without becoming too embroiled in the ethics of any particular type of anarchist society; instead, I will address those ethical issues shared by all anarchist variants (or at least as inclusively as possible). Despite making allusions to the ontological and metaphysical sources of anarchist theory, I will propose a more mitigated form of anarchy wherein real-world consequences are just as, if not more, important as spurs to action than the theoretical basis of the actual philosophy itself. In this argument I will incorporate a sense of social utility, and focus more on socialist libertarianism than purely metaphysically derived libertarianism in order to justify my proposition of initiating a widespread anarchist society based on the correlated autonomous ethos of that society, and the individuals that comprise it.

1.

            Throughout the multiplicity of manifestations of anarchist theory there is a shared importance for the individual components of an anarchist society (people) to develop autonomous values, rather than depend on heteronymous morality. Whether a heteronymous morality is derived from the interests of the state government, or from theology, it is not in the interests of society to stagnate in a historically developed morality. Once morality ceases to be dynamic, it ceases also to reflect the developments of society; what we are left with in this model is an outdated morality that cannot keep up with, or fairly adjudicate, the moral dilemmas that will arise in inevitable conflict with the prevailing moral system. The moral lessons taught to us by history ought to be taken as precedents, not absolute principles…. With changes in society, technology, and population, etc., there is a need for a dynamic sense of morality that considers not only the past and present lessons available to us, but also the possibilities of the future [i]. In order to maintain authenticity towards our good consciences, and ourselves, we must be able to justify our actions not only by historical and conventional moral reasoning, but also along those lines of moral reasoning that may soon be available to us through new innovations in technology, or with new revelations in the fields of social consciousness [ii].

We must, therefore, see morality as an ever changing system that cannot be regulated by conventional wisdom simply because it is that which is most prevalent today; we must also consider what tomorrow may bring and open ourselves to the possibility of developing morality in our lifetimes, and even with our own lives. This stringent caution regarding heteronymous morality is seen nowhere more clearly than in the debate over religion and its place in anarchist society. While many anarchists would contend the possibility of religion in an anarchist society, I feel that there is indeed a place for religion—as long as it is used as a probe towards moral behaviour, which is then screened by the critical analysis of reason. Religion cannot be seen as a coercive force; rather, it should be viewed as a guide to pro-social behavior: religion cannot be taken literally, but should be viewed metaphorically and subjected to the same sorts of critical revision as any other doctrine that implies a universal morality (which, as will be discussed in more detail later on, is [I will argue] impossible to either discover or legislate). This is also in keeping with my stance on tying the ethical considerations of anarchy tightly bound to practical applications thereof. Regardless of the subjective metaphysical, or ontological, derivations of one’s anarchic philosophy, I am most concerned with their objective ‘real-world’ interactions and the propagation of a peaceful and co-dependent society based on an autonomously derived sense of morality.

The ability for an individual to develop autonomously is largely dependent on their societal relations and the free exchange of knowledge and reason between individuals. In essence, society depends on the accumulated wealth of knowledge of its individual members and their ability to revaluate and reassess those values that society holds dear, and which are no longer necessary in light of social advancement. Likewise, the individuals within any society depend on the security provided by that society and the ability of society to propagate knowledge and reason in order to aid in the development of their personal autonomy. Without the alterity of The Other to instigate novel insights and perceptions, we are left with a pitifully limited singular mind with which to navigate this world. By combining our minds and engaging in critical debate with each other we advance our individual concepts and notions beyond the heteronymous mores of both our own inclinations, and those of society. In doing so we escape the traps of both action derived from instinct, and action derived from the heteronymous values of the prevalent attitudes towards morality. We may, by this means, actually progress beyond conventionally held views on morality and approach a more diplomatic and mutually satisfying ethos.

Throughout the canon of anarchist literature there are numerous objections to the argument that autonomous liberty is enough to ground a participatory system of ethics upon; these objections usually take the form of arguing that altruism is not a very powerful motivating force. This is an entirely legitimate objection and one that has been raised against all sorts of philosophies expounding co-dependence and communalism. Indeed, it is all too often assumed that there is a strong vein of altruism in humans (something which I view as more of a personality trait than a moral characteristic that can be developed); and this assumption often proves fatal to whatever utopian society it is that is being established. Assumptions cannot be made about how humans would act in certain circumstances simply because there is not enough empirical evidence to vouch for this; instead, we see again and again that humans are extremely varied in their individual makeups. True, there are many examples of compassion and altruism throughout history; but there are an equal (if not greater) number of examples that show exactly the opposite: our greed and ruthlessness, or (not to be forgotten) our ambivalence towards ethics and our apathy. The alternative to communally derived and autonomously reasoned ethics is to have some sort of authority dictate the moral guidelines of a society. This would typically require some sort of oppressive coercion to ensure a universal standard of behaviour and command moral action. These are evident in historical examples such as the Gestapo, the Inquisition, or the KGB and CIA (to name some famous ones); more recently, the coercion has become subtler—as we can see with advertising in consumerism, or the mass media’s account of the prevalent moralities of our time. How then do we escape this cycle of oppression whilst also motivating the common person to morally sensitive and autonomously reasoned action? The simple answer to this problem is to emphasize autonomous deliberation and social relativism in educational systems from a young age: highlighting the function of society as a group of individuals that rely on communal necessities as opposed to a closed system that depends upon the restrictions of individual liberties. Ideally, once well educated in this manner, the majority of the populace would recognize that herd-morality is a will-negating force, whereas autonomous liberty is a powerfully motivating force that leads to pro-social outcomes. ‘Pro-social’ here meaning communal and peaceful co-dependence and co-operation towards the development of a security network for everyone in society: what Nicholas Vrousalis terms the ‘subsistence shell’ [iii]. Perhaps this is an overly simplified answer, though, to the daunting task of educating and motivating a new generation of moral agents. However, ultimately, in an anarchist system without a legislative body to enact or enforce law, every individual member of society must be a self-legislating agent; and for this to act in accordance with our naturalistic desires (which are inescapable, if not totally irredeemable) there must be some incentive for the individual to act morally which is based in ‘real-world’ gain.

Vrousalis’ response (to the objection that anarchist ethics depends largely on altruism) is that, by providing the basic necessities of life and security to all individuals in society, we eliminate the ability of certain people to coerce—or force by compulsion—actions from others. Once security of life and autonomous self-legislation is guaranteed to all members of society, there is very little left over which we can be coerced—unless, that is, if our security is threatened. As long as this security is not threatened, though, there is very little likelihood of societal discontent: indeed, this is a ruse that has been used from the Roman Empire to the American Empire to quell civil disorder (though never applied in such totality to all members of a population as I am here proposing). This guarantee of security depends upon the concept of economic democracy, wherein each individual in society has a say in how the shared resources of a community are divided and managed; the means of production would be shared through collective ownership and everyone would be allotted the same basic necessities of life. After this initial division of resources, any excess goods are free to be traded through co-operation and co-production; in this system there is room for gain for the motivated individual, yet their gain also benefits the rest of society by increasing the overall supply of wealth…as long as they do not encroach upon the subsistence shell of others [iv]. Any pursuit of excess wealth would be totally voluntary and have little effect on the less motivated members of society (except to marginally increase their personal allotment of resources through shared ownership of the means of production). Ideally, this ‘real-world’ gain would be an incentive to spur individuals into voluntary participation in the economic, technological, and social realms in order to share in newfound wealth. As people are drawn together for mutual gain they are also bound to increase the social and individual autonomy of their fellows, as has already been discussed.

This system likewise depends upon the autonomous ability of the individual members of society to decide, critically, how to divide and propagate their limited resources fairly and in agreement with the other members of society. This system also implies that there is much to lose by not participating in society and not acting upon the motivations of increased gain; this is, of course, alright for some—the lazy and weak-willed—who, nonetheless, are provided with the necessities of life but will fail to achieve any more, yet this system also provides the incentive for certain individuals to grow by appealing to their innate desire for gain, as opposed to their (often presumed) desire to behave altruistically. However, by guaranteeing the necessities of life for all people, there is a diminishment in the ability of voraciously-willed people to coerce those more weak-willed into heteronymous action; also, there is the safeguard that the ultimate power rests in the hands of the majority of the populace to decide upon the essential means of that society’s production: the people always retain the power to curb the greed of individuals. This can be seen as Mill’s ‘tyranny of the majority’, however, anarchist ethics stresses the maximization of the manifestations of human potentiality—indicating that society would be so diversified as not to collapse into such large factions as could coerce other groups, or individuals, into action. Ideally, there would be as many differing views on ethical queries as individual anarchists debating them, hence forcing the realization that—without communal consent and agreement—there will be no social advancement whatsoever.

2.

            This brings us to one of the central dilemmas of anarchist theory: the divide between social anarchy, which focuses on the development of pro-social values subject to constant revision by the individual components of society, and individual anarchy (libertarianism), which stresses the autonomous development of the individual (and their will) to the exclusion of all heteronymous justification and permanence (except for the permanence of change) [v]. This divide reflects in other issues of contention throughout anarchist literature, such as whether or not violence is permissible in the name of change, or how to achieve a level of co-operation and co-dependence between various individuals with differing views and values. This is a divide that must be analyzed and addressed with an attempt to satisfy the needs of both individual liberty, and social anarchy; this is so crucial because an anarchist society would be comprised of anarchist individuals whose individual liberties are bound, eventually, to run into conflict with the individual liberties of other members of society. Paradoxically, the limits of individual liberty must therefore be reasonably determined in order to ensure that the individual liberty of every other member of society is not unreasonably limited by force or coercion. By this approach there can be a measured amount of libertarianism, which actually serves to increase the autonomy of a society, without damaging its social well-being.

Joseph Pilotta proposes a rather extreme (in my rationale) description of anarchist violence. His is a conception derived from ontological principles of impermanence; and it exemplifies my reasoning for wariness in regard to ontologically or metaphysically derived notions of ethics. Pilotta’s anarchist violence is founded on the annihilation of permanence (except for the permanent force, which is change). He differentiates between terrorism, revolutionary violence, and anarchist violence with regards to the level, and character, of the conscience and consciousness present within the perpetrating individual [vi]. ‘Terrorism’ he deems as an act of violence that is inauthentic to our conscience, but which we justify by our need for consciousness; ‘revolutionary violence’ is that in which the ends are exemplified in the means—revolutionaries are authentic to social conscience and the future possibilities of social conscience (so laws can be broken as long as they are changed after power is acquired to reflect the nature in which they were broken); ‘anarchist violence’ is unjustified by both conscience and consciousness, and is pure autonomous will divorced from influence of any heteronymous sort…anarchist violence is focused on destroying permanence. For Pilotta’s view, that which is given by history must be abolished without justification; this is important because any legitimization of violence is simply another constructed story designed to invent its own reality [vii]. In this (rather extreme) conception of anarchist violence, willed self-warranting progress is violence for the sake of violence [viii]; as we can plainly see, though, this leans heavily on the libertarian (individual anarchist) strain of anarchist theory and quickly comes into collision with the willed self-warranting progress of other individuals. This sort of ontologically derived anarchist theory, while elegant in its construction, is simply too idealized for practical application in a realistic scenario. Permanence is required at some level (even if only temporarily, as odd as that sounds) simply for awareness to occur; yet it should be a permanence that supports flux and is maintained by the public through participation, activity, and engagement [ix] as opposed to a permanence only of change. There is no need to disregard the hard learned lessons of history simply because they are historical; as long as a moral valuation stands equally in contemporary society as it did when first realized in history, it is a worthy lesson to hold onto. This does, though, incur problems as society begins to shift its moral valuations at different internal rates: certain individuals are more naturally prone to conservatism, whereas some are more inclined to liberalism. As cultural trends begin to change, so too do the ethics of the society they are reflected in; it is maintaining peaceful co-operation through these times of alteration which is the greatest challenge to an anarchist society dependent on a dynamic and continually developing sense of morality

Essentially, the largest philosophical conundrum in anarchy is how to get every individual in society on the same moral page, and how to achieve peaceful co-existence between different cultures. This is such a particularly difficult problem to address since anarchy depends on the autonomous development of individuals leading to the autonomous development of a society, and it therefore must be voluntary and participatory. How then, without theological or state-mandated moralities, do we formulate a fair and organically balanced system of ethics? What influences may we use in our autonomous self-development so as not to become ensnared by the prevalent heteronymous mores of our societies? This question is especially pertinent because of anarchy’s emphasis on critically revaluating the very influences to our development themselves; we are meant to be in a constant flux of developing, deconstructing, and discarding the sources of our ethical perceptions in order to make way for novel perceptions that more accurately reflect the changing tides of society. Another important insight to make note of is that, after such a prolonged history of heteronymous morality, how are we to enact a system that encourages and supports autonomous growth? Have we not, to a certain extent, become mired in the attitude that we act ‘morally’ in order to satisfy the needs of the state (or whatever other oppressive authority it is from which we derive our moral education)?

Some would say that we are too habituated to a dependence on heteronymous morality, and that many people simply do not possess the faculties of mind to break loose of this heteronymous mode of thought to realize autonomous self-development. My answer to this is a mitigated form of the libertarianism proposed by Pilotta; not all of history’s lessons are to be discarded as purely heteronymous; and, indeed, there have been examples and incidences of anarchist theory for millennia. Many historical sources of insight, though they may not explicitly expound all of the values of anarchist society, do contain tenets of anarchist theory that may be expanded on; these, at their very base, emphasize communalism, co-dependence, and the cultural relativism that leads to autonomy through social relations. Whether they be contained in ancient Taoist texts (or any other philosophy that emphasizes autonomous self-development, such as Kant), the practical wisdom of communally shared resources amongst indigenous peoples, or even the individual examples of historical figures that have contravened the heteronymous mores of their societies and incurred rational deliberation over the shared values of society (hence leading to more ‘pro-social’ outcomes), there are numerous precedents throughout history of anarchist thought, theory, and action.

These precedents, when combined with the previously discussed educational emphasis on autonomous growth, individual liberty, and cultural relativity, would hopefully result in a generation of autonomously minded individuals that, nonetheless, recognize the importance society has as a communal support network. Indeed, the more autonomously minded an individual is, the more likely they are to arrive at this realization themselves as their autonomy itself is derived from the security guaranteed by cohesive participation in a society. This is more along the lines of Vrousalis’ libertarian socialism, rather than a true, metaphysically derived, sense of anarchy (such as that proposed by Pilotta). I propose this instead because, as Vrousalis indicates, neglecting social autonomy in favour of individual autonomy actually often incurs conflicts that destabilize certain victims’ self-ownership; for this reason we must have a mitigated libertarianism wherein we maximize our possible individual autonomies within a social context that must be fair to all involved [x]. There cannot be extremes of either social or individual anarchy in a functioning society; instead, they must each be curbed somewhat so that they may adequately represent the needs of society—to guarantee both security for individuals, and the ability for individuals to develop further under that security without encroaching on the security of others. Balancing altruism and egoism is the goal of rationalist ethics whether in an anarchist society or any other that depends on consensus between individuals for stability [xi]; to this end, we must investigate the ontological and metaphysical derivations of anarchist ethics in order to grasp a better handle on the altruist/egoist divide in anarchist theory. This means contrasting the implications of an ontologically derived ethos with the practical consequences of implementing this ethos; I contend that, no matter the metaphysical and ontological justifications for any sense of morality, if it does not fit with the needs of society then it is simply an exercise in baseless reasoning and does not deserve a place in the ‘real world’ of consequences.

3.

Maurice Adams discusses the ethics of Schopenhauer, how they are replaced with Nietzschean power ethics, and then he details the differences between these two and the ethics of Tolstoy [xii].  Schopenhauer’s ‘will’ is a spontaneous energy that attempts to cease cravings: once intelligence is developed enough, we may recognize the will and its drive for individual satisfaction and begin to address the actual worth of our desires. With this recognition the will eventually turns against itself to find deliverance from struggle and striving and becomes a ‘universal sympathy’; this universal sympathy shows us the universality of will in all individuals, which in turn spurs more sympathy towards the fact that all individuals are selfish, and ethics comes of compassion by those that realize this towards those that do not [xiii]. For Schopenhauer, sympathy is the sole foundation of morality and it is purely ascetic. Schopenhauer attempts to escape the drive to satisfy desires by recognizing the disturbances our actions can have on others. By using sympathy and empathy, we may actually temporarily experience the pain we are causing and use this to rationally justify that our actions are wrong and that selfish action is morally inauthentic. This is contrasted with Nietzsche, who claims that sympathy and empathy are the greatest evils, and that morality derived from these negates life by leading to death and impoverishment [xiv]. This argument can be reasoned through when we think of just how many people are affected by our every action, many of which need to be selfish simply in order to survive and prosper. If we were to experience sympathy and empathy towards every individual that our actions influence, we would become mired in guilt and self-loathing. It is inevitable that some of our actions have negative consequences on others eventually; by trying to make amends for this we would be negating the very gains we made in the first place by our initial actions.

The will to power argument is one that crops up again and again throughout anarchist theory; and, indeed, many modern conceptions of anarchy carry a very Nietzschean tone—especially those that emphasize individual autonomy over social autonomy. Nietzsche’s argument hinges on his determination that there are no universal principles of realism to which we must conform: to this end, he rejects objective realism in favour of subjectivist ethics for three main reasons [xv]: external universal standards would be shaping our destinies rather than permitting us to develop freely; universalism promotes, rather than rejects, hierarchies of power, (this is because objective realism promotes and privileges those whose desires fit the natural order, thus necessitating an institution to police those whose desires do not fit the natural order, and thereby avoiding causes of conflict); and there is no epistemic basis for universal dictums—instead, they are conceived of oppressive authoritarian figures. Benjamin Franks proposes three sources of moral universalism, all of which Nietzsche’s philosophy denies: these are [xvi] naturalism (where standards of right conduct are independent of the observer and discoverable through empirical means); rationalism (where certain a priori essential moral principles serve as the basis upon which a critically reasoned morality is founded and built on); and, finally, intuitionism (wherein we may determine the principles of right conduct through our innate intuition). All of these, for Nietzsche, fall short of a justification of universal morality. Nietzsche’s subjective and dynamic ethics then focuses on the individual will to power of each member of society; Pilotta suggests, in accordance with this view, that we are in a constant metaphysics of will that violates both the formal and material worlds of objective realism—and he further proposes that the absolute being (one of pure autonomous will) can actually will into effect different formal systems: showing that our heteronymous morality is not a priori but a construct of the ever-changing subject [xvii]. This subjective account of morality, though, also leans too heavily on individual anarchy and the metaphysical and ontological implications thereof (for my liking); as was stated earlier, I am more concerned with consequentialist anarchy than a focus on either individual or social anarchy alone. Franks cites three important implications stemming from a purely subjectivist ethos that are concerning when seen in light of an anarchist society. These are, respectively, [xviii] subjective morality supports solipsism and denies discourse and moral evaluation; subjectivism recreates the very social hierarchies that are rejected by anarchism; and, in a meta-ethical account, subjectivism is epistemologically unsound as it ignores our social construction as relativistic beings. All of these arguments against objectivism and subjectivism must be considered on a practical basis, though, before any implementation ought to occur in an actual society. To repeat myself, I am concerned mostly with the practical application of anarchist ethics—not their varied sources of theoretical origination.

Adams contrasts Nietzsche’s ethics with those of Tolstoy, who also denies universal principles but stresses communalism and co-dependence over libertarianism in accordance with his philosophy of love. For Tolstoy, man reflects on his meaning because of a felt contradiction between his innate animalism and his developed spiritualism; as we age we transform more and more towards the spiritual side, yet always feel the pull of our animal instincts [xix]. In Tolstoy’s conception, sin, or wrong-doing, is that which contravenes the sympathetic love we should feel towards all beings (in a Schopenhauerian sense); to act selfishly is wrong. We nonetheless require the tension between our animal instincts and our rational spiritualism in order to call ourselves moral because we must always be developing towards greater autonomy [xx]. Therefore, without this tension and the change it provokes, we are tied to a heteronymously derived morality (which originates either from instinct itself, or the lack of critical analysis in revising our instincts into moral action). Where Tolstoy suppresses instinct, Nietzsche revels in it. However, both deny the presence of a rational order in the world and both therefore deny universal objective principles, which is one of the base principles of individual anarchy. This individual subjectivism, nonetheless, can be damaging to an anarchist society when individuals differ wildly in their subjective approaches to ethics: this is why I will discuss in more detail (in the next section) the practical application of anarchy that permits us to observe and assess values, but not dictate or legislate moral maxims.

Pilotta suggests, in place of Nietzsche’s radical will to power argument, a ‘strength of logos’ argument [xxi]. In this conception of power dynamics, Pilotta recognizes the rises and falls of certain types of power throughout history and concludes that, while power may come and go, ‘strength of logos’ is ever present as a force which stretches and yields, but cannot be broken [xxii]. I view this argument as a sort of ‘smart will to power’, to use a colloquialism; where Nietzsche’s conception has us motivated to action through a drive to power (even overcoming our drive for life) the ‘strength of logos’ argument admits that, in order to achieve a maximization of individual power, we must often forego our inclinations to achieve immediate power for longer term gain. By recognizing that one sort of power is dwindling and another fledgling source of power is gaining, we may avoid the trappings of the rise and fall of power and, so to speak, ride the crest of social advancements to our individual gain. This recognition can, I contend, incur phenomenally pro-social results as far as co-dependence when individuals realize that they are as dependent on others as others are on them; this is the practical morality proposed by Benjamin Franks, which will be discussed later.

When we recognize the power inherent to co-operation, the ‘strength of logos’ conception begins to make much more sense than a direct Nietzschean approach, which serves only to divide society into those with power, and those without. Instead, as was previously mentioned, autonomy is developed through inter-relations with other rational beings and the different perceptions and insights that they elicit in us; it is therefore in society’s best interests to support and aid in the development of the autonomous rationale of other individuals in society. For these reasons do I suggest that the canon of anarchist literature, which details the ontological and metaphysical derivations and implications of anarchy, be taken with the same grain of salt as any other philosophy which claims a metaphysical basis. Plainly speaking, perfection is impossible to attain for imperfect beings; however, this also leaves room for continual development towards perfection. As such, we cannot ever claim any absolute truth, only that temporary truth which can be falsified by empirical observation and reason. As anarchists themselves warn, historical influences are to be subjected to the same standards of critique as any other heteronymous derivation of morality…this includes the anarchist literature itself, which is also subject to the same impermanence as all theoretical knowledge.

4.

This brings us, finally, to the practical considerations of an anarchist society that must be made before any sort of implementation of either social or individual anarchy can occur. As has been carefully detailed above, there must be a balance between the strains of individual and social anarchy for a cohesive and organic sense of morality to develop. The liberties of the individual cannot be a source of coercion to either other individuals, or to society at large. Likewise, the values and needs of society should never encroach upon the liberties of the individual for fear that the very fabric of an autonomous society would collapse when individuals are no longer autonomously deciding their own values. This is why Vrousalis’ ‘subsistence shell’ is so very important, it guarantees the safety and security of the individual to autonomously develop in peace, but not isolation. By sharing in the means of communal production, the individual is motivated, never coerced, into democratic and diplomatic, voluntary participation in deciding the direction in which a society will progress. Furthermore, the individual is also motivated, by the incentives of profit, to participate in the development and trade of the excess resources shared in equally by society. By doing so, the motivated individuals benefit not only themselves, but also society in general by increasing the overall wealth of their community, which all share equally in the means of production. In this system there is also the built-in defence against the greed of the individual by means of the economic democracy; the ultimate power rests in the hands of the people to curb the means of production, in essence stemming the ability of certain individuals to achieve exponential growth whilst others reap only marginal benefits.

There is, of course, a very simple objection to this hypothetical system of shared resources…what happens when the population grows to such an extent that the ‘subsistence shell’ is no longer guaranteed to all individuals? This objection is becoming more and more pertinent as the world population balloons out of control and we discover more and more that our singular planet has nowhere near enough resources to support all of us. At this point it seems as though a decision must be made: whether to pursue individual liberty wholeheartedly in a Nietzschean, egoistic sense, or to depend on the altruistic tendencies inherent to social anarchy. Can we truly depend on certain cultures (such as Europe, Australia and North America) to curb their resource exploitation? And, likewise, can we depend upon developing nations to maintain a minimalistic approach to resource management as their societal and individual liberties begin to catch up to our own in the developed world? It is simply unrealistic to assume that humanity’s innate tendency towards altruism will prevail over egoism; perhaps this is true in a few, rare cases; but, as history tells us, we are much more likely to satisfy our own needs and desires before those of others, especially in a volatile environment such as may arise in the future. Indeed, as Pilotta stresses, we are bound to consider not only the past and present consequences of our actions, but also the possible future outcomes and how our current actions will reflect upon us later down the line [xxiii].

As Franks proposes, we must escape the subjective/objective duality divide and progress towards a system of ethics in which the practical consequences of our actions are just as morally praiseworthy as our individual motivations to action. This is because, according to Franks’ post-anarchist meta-ethics, there is a stress on the immanent values of practical action over the accrued consequentialist values that are the eventual outcomes of action [xxiv]. The two previous sentences may seem contradictory at first, but upon closer inspection we may realize that with every moral action there is a moral consequence; as long as there is a sense of autonomous morality within the moral agent during their actions, the source of that autonomous morality is irrelevant as long as the act itself is moral. For Franks’ conception of anarchist virtue ethics, the means must be in accordance with the ends, and we must exemplify the ends in the means [xxv].

Moral actions often have immoral outcomes simply because of the different logical schemes present within the minds of acting and evaluating agents. Imagine the man who, by trying to help his neighbour with something, actually hinders his neighbour’s progress simply by not having an equivalent access to the knowledge of his neighbour’s needs…perhaps he cuts down the wrong tree in his neighbour’s yard, or feeds his neighbour’s lactose intolerant child a grilled cheese; this is not out of any sense of maliciousness, rather, it is simply an ignorance of the knowledge held by his neighbour and the logical conclusions that his neighbour is permitted to arrive at because of this knowledge. There are also overlapping, and often very different, logical schemas at play within the minds of separate individuals [xxvi]; depending on a wide variety of influences, the same basis of epistemic knowledge may provoke different individuals to very different conclusions. All of this is of critical import when making valuations about the moral worth of actions and the individuals that perpetrate them. Ultimately, it is the spirit of morality present in the act itself, with hoped for positive outcomes (if not actually attained), which is the arbiter of moral worth. Eventually, with enough exchange of knowledge and rationale amongst the individual members of a society, these miscommunications and faux-pas would diminish in number as people gain a fuller understanding of the minds of others. As was discussed earlier, in this system virtue is observable and assessable but in no way universal; thus, while virtue can be recognized, appreciated and repeated in kind, it cannot be legislated or enforced (as it is subject to constant revision and improvement).

It now becomes even clearer that individual autonomy is dependent upon the free exchange of knowledge and reason, which in turn promotes the social wellbeing and the autonomy of the entire group. So, how then do we bring very different people from all walks of life, and parts of the world, together so as to be able to freely exchange their autonomously derived and autonomy perpetuating insights and perceptions about the world? Well, we can already see it beginning and accelerating at a rapid pace through the advent of new technologies that are able to bring people together. From the very advent of language itself, down through the ages there have been new innovations to increase the speed and accuracy with which individuals may access the wisdom and knowledge of society in order to influence and propagate their own discoveries. In keeping with Pilotta’s warning to consider future developments in society before acting today, I look to the future of technology and its ability to alter not only our thoughts by influence, but even the way we think by opening up new possibilities of communication.

The internet has, in just the past two decades (the duration of my lifetime), completely revolutionized both how we communicate, and how we think about communication. Our sources of information are both faster and more varied than ever before, and ever growing as well, in both number and their ability to accurately replicate, within the mind of the individual, the original and exact characteristics intended by their originators. This technology is progressing as well towards escaping the need for language completely, and directly linking the thoughts of separate individuals. Once we may come closer to fully understanding the mind and radical alterity of The Other we are also more inclined to a Schopenhauerian sense of sympathy, leading (eventually) to altruism. Taking this even further, if we may begin to consider, through the technological/biological fusion of human consciousness, we begin to recognize (after an admittedly mystical and metaphysical sense) that human consciousness is actually just another form of resource that we share in communal societies. We co-develop our consciousnesses and consciences and they are inter-dependent in the formulation of a homogenous ethos by which to co-exist; this indicates that, by realizing our communal necessity to depend on each other, we are more inclined to act altruistically. This is a foundational principle of my proposal for a post subjectivist/objectivist ethics of practical morality in a technologically developing world. This concept depends upon bio-/techno- logical interfaces and the continued exploration of human consciousness in the fields of both psychiatry and philosophy. This radical conception of the future of technology is not so distant as we might think. Indeed, as proponents of trans-humanism (such as Ray Kurzweil and his impending ‘Singularity’) would contend, the pace at which technology has, is, and is projected to accelerate at, places the possibility of inter-connected minds well within our foreseeable future. Even if a complete fusion of human consciousness is a long way off, we can see nonetheless that with every small step we take in approaching it we increase the resources by which both social and individual autonomy may grow. It is the hope that, with the considerations of a growing population on a static planet at hand, these novel sways towards altruism and sympathy could incite a recognition in all cultures of the globe to reduce wasteful resource depletion and make do with the more basic necessities of life: as opposed to the trappings of a selfish and materialistic morality.

Conclusion

In this essay I have attempted to make clarifications in some of the prevailing myths concerning rampant lawlessness and irrationality in anarchist theory. I have highlighted the imperative need for both individual and social autonomous self-development in an anarchist society, and I have cautioned against assuming the heteronymous morality of ages past. Furthermore, I have attempted to fairly and adequately settle the inevitable clash between the separate strains of individual liberty and social liberty, and described the pathways by which we may reasonably solve and prevent the disputes that arise as a result of this clash. The emphasis has been made upon the need for an anarchist society to be a collection of autonomous and voluntarily participating members who, together, decide upon and consistently revaluate not only the ethics of their society, but also their economic, technological, and ecological values and practices. The central ethical dilemmas of implementing an anarchist society have been raised and addressed by a renewed insistence that society should be envisaged as a network of support, rather than as a restrictive and closed system of hierarchy. With the realization, by all members of society, that we are each dependent upon the others for not only security and resources, but also our autonomous agency, comes the realization that we must repay society in kind. Several ontological and metaphysical pathways by which various philosophies have arrived at various manifestations of anarchy have been detailed; and my own insights on practical ethics in anarchy have been emphasized. Finally, I have attempted to clearly detail certain routes by which anarchism may pragmatically be applied in an actual society without it eventually devolving into a nightmare, as do so many other –isms when attempts have been made to re-create theory in practice. Central to my proposal is that civilization ought to promote a multiplicity of manifestations of human ideals, subject to constant change, and supported and influenced by voluntary public participation, whilst always considering the wisdom of the past, and the possibilities of the future.

 

 

 

Works Cited

            Adams, Maurice. “The Ethics of Tolstoy & Nietzsche.” International Journal of Ethics; vol. 11, No. 1 (October 1900): 82-105.

Franks, Benjamin. “Postanarchism & Meta-Ethics.” Anarchist Studies; vol. 16(2), (Autumn-Winter 2008): 135-155.

Pilotta, Joseph; Mickunas, Algis. “Anarchies in Collision.” Journal of Power and Ethics; vol.2(4), (October 2001): 297-322.

Vrousalis, Nicholas. “Libertarian Socialism: A Better Reconciliation Between Equality & Self-Ownership.” Social Theory & Practice; vol.37, No.2, (April 2011): 211-227.

 

 

 

References

[i] Joseph Pilotta, Algis Mickunas, “Anarchies in Collision,” Journal of Power and Ethics, vol.2(4) (2001): 300.

[ii] Joseph Pilotta, Algis Mickunas, “Anarchies in Collision,” Journal of Power and Ethics, vol.2(4) (2001):299.

[iii] Nicholas Vrousalis, “Libertarian Socialism: A Better Reconciliation Between Equality and Self-Ownership,” Social Theory & Practice, vol.37, No.2 (2011): 216.

[iv] Nicholas Vrousalis, “Libertarian Socialism: A Better Reconciliation Between Equality and Self-Ownership,” Social Theory & Practice, vol.37, No.2 (2011): 218.

[v] Joseph Pilotta, Algis Mickunas, “Anarchies in Collision,” Journal of Power and Ethics, vol.2(4) (2001):316.

[vi] Joseph Pilotta, Algis Mickunas, “Anarchies in Collision,” Journal of Power and Ethics, vol.2(4) (2001):299.

[vii] Joseph Pilotta, Algis Mickunas, “Anarchies in Collision,” Journal of Power and Ethics, vol.2(4) (2001):300.

[viii] Joseph Pilotta, Algis Mickunas, “Anarchies in Collision,” Journal of Power and Ethics, vol.2(4) (2001):316.

[ix] Joseph Pilotta, Algis Mickunas, “Anarchies in Collision,” Journal of Power and Ethics, vol.2(4) (2001):320.

[x] Nicholas Vrousalis, “Libertarian Socialism: A Better Reconciliation Between Equality and Self-Ownership,” Social Theory & Practice, vol.37, No.2 (2011):218.

[xi] Maurice Adams, “The Ethics of Tolstoy & Nietzsche,” International Journal of Ethics, vol.11, No.1 (1900): 105.

[xii] Maurice Adams, “The Ethics of Tolstoy & Nietzsche,” International Journal of Ethics, vol.11, No.1 (1900):83.

[xiii] Maurice Adams, “The Ethics of Tolstoy & Nietzsche,” International Journal of Ethics, vol.11, No.1 (1900):83.

[xiv] Maurice Adams, “The Ethics of Tolstoy & Nietzsche,” International Journal of Ethics, vol.11, No.1 (1900):92.

[xv] Benjamin Franks, “Postanarchism & Meta-Ethics,” Anarchist Studies, vol.16(2) (2008): 141.

[xvi] Benjamin Franks, “Postanarchism & Meta-Ethics,” Anarchist Studies, vol.16(2) (2008):138-139.

[xvii] Joseph Pilotta, Algis Mickunas, “Anarchies in Collision,” Journal of Power and Ethics, vol.2(4) (2001):320.

[xviii] Benjamin Franks, “Postanarchism & Meta-Ethics,” Anarchist Studies, vol.16(2) (2008):144.

[xix] Maurice Adams, “The Ethics of Tolstoy & Nietzsche,” International Journal of Ethics, vol.11, No.1 (1900):86.

[xx] Maurice Adams, “The Ethics of Tolstoy & Nietzsche,” International Journal of Ethics, vol.11, No.1 (1900):87.

[xxi] Joseph Pilotta, Algis Mickunas, “Anarchies in Collision,” Journal of Power and Ethics, vol.2(4) (2001):304.

[xxii] Joseph Pilotta, Algis Mickunas, “Anarchies in Collision,” Journal of Power and Ethics, vol.2(4) (2001):304.

[xxiii] Joseph Pilotta, Algis Mickunas, “Anarchies in Collision,” Journal of Power and Ethics, vol.2(4) (2001):300.

[xxiv] Benjamin Franks, “Postanarchism & Meta-Ethics,” Anarchist Studies, vol.16(2) (2008):148.

[xxv] Benjamin Franks, “Postanarchism & Meta-Ethics,” Anarchist Studies, vol.16(2) (2008):137.

[xxvi] Benjamin Franks, “Postanarchism & Meta-Ethics,” Anarchist Studies, vol.16(2) (2008):139.

Advertisement

4 thoughts on “Post-Anarchist Meta-Ethics: Balancing Social and Individual Liberty

  1. Thanks! I fear this piece is beyond the attention span or mindset of the masses that need to hear that anarchism is not anarchy/chaos. The ethical landscape is quite diverse. Religions occupy a small part of it, and similarly, I don’t know that we will find peace in this landscape. Nonetheless, I do hope it happens, though I’m not sure it will without using an anarcho-lens and vehicle. I found your page because I was searching for a normative ethics based on liberty. I did find Lawrence Crocker’s essay on Positive Liberty, but I was thinking something between the “ethics of care” and “ethical egoism,” where liberty is the engine, and care is driver. I suppose I have some work to do to add litter to the landscape. Anyway, I’m glad to have stumbled upon your site as it’s nice to feel less alone running across random fellow post anarcho-travelers/musicians/artists/writers that also find a (mis)fortune cookie leaf fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha. I’m thankful to have reached at least one person who can appreciate this sort of thing–it’s all I could ask for, and all I really needed to. This particular piece is probably a bit out of date by now; it was my undergraduate thesis and I wrote it about four years ago: so, some things have probably changed–and, I’m a bit behind on the anarcho-academic developments of the past little while, anyways. (Just haven’t had time to keep up since school… Also, I now work in finance while I’m studying for the LSATs; so, my anarchist values are being trial-tested in the ‘real-world’, which isn’t a good time for them to be unsure of their basic intentions… :p )

      Like

Speak your mind...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s