Anarchy as Order

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* Book: Anarchy as Order: The History and Future of Civic Humanity. Mohammed A. Bamyeh. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (May 16, 2010)



"This original and impressively researched book explores the concept of anarchy__unimposed order__as the most humane and stable form of order in a chaotic world. Mohammed A. Bamyeh traces the historical foundations of anarchy and convincingly presents it as an alternative to both tyranny and democracy. He shows how anarchy is the best manifestation of civic order, of a healthy civil society, and of humanity's noblest attributes. A cogent and compelling critique of the modern state, this provocative book clarifies how anarchy may be both a guide for rational social order and a science of humanity."


An argument on behalf of anarchy today responds to the need to humanize global processes, but in ways that are realistic and based on a rereading of the histories of civil society in a variety of world traditions. Covering a broad range of cases, the book identifies basic principles governing state’s relation to civil society. It shows how anarchist ideas and practices emerge naturally in civil society in response to different forms of state power. The book seeks to demonstrate how a proper appraisal of modern anarchy is enriched by a deeper understanding the history of voluntary associational life in different world contexts. Just as well, it shows how such appraisal requires alternatives to common assumptions about human psychology, assumptions propagated by modern social science.

Table of Contents

* Part I: The Idea

Chapter 1: Anarchy as a Science of Humanity

Chapter 2: What Is Anarchy? Anarchy and Humanity; Anarchy and the Critique of the State; Times of Anarchy

* Part II: Around the Idea

Chapter 3: Civil Society and the State: State Reason; The State as Civil Society?; The Responses of Civil Society; The Tax State and the Politics of Alliance; Civil Society, Effectiveness, and Humanity; Informed Publics

Chapter 4: Trust and the Politics of Alliance: Suspicion; Conflict; Alliance

Chapter 5: Freedom and Commitment: Types of Will; Three-dimensional Man; Anarchy and Personality; Freedom as a Historical Experience; Alienation as Choice and Error; Common Good; The Common Good and Governmental Rationality; The Common Good and the Common Person

Chapter 6: Anarchy as a Destination: Living Philosophy and Living History; Persuasion and Uncertainty; Ethics on the Way to Anarchy; Transitions: Administration, Markets, and Spaces of Anarchy


David Baronov:

"Anarchy as Order is the third in a series of related books by Mohammed Bamyeh. Framed most broadly, Anarchy as Order explores that myriad of issues and contestations associated with moving from a society based on “an imposed order” to a society premised on “an unimposed order.” Substantively, this is an elaboration of the theoretical scaffolding Bamyeh began building in these earlier works (


From Chapter 1: Anarchy as a Science of Humanity

“The idea of anarchy emerges of course out of longing for a less coerced, more voluntary, and negotiated social existence. But anarchy is not about reliving some ideal past or returning to a state of nature. Rather it is about adding something to humanity that is actually not yet evidently in it, even though we perceive it because certain dimensions of the human experience show a clear quest after it. And that is the quest to expand the meaning of one’s existence, rather than to rediscover an old, repressed, or forgotten nature ...

“An example of this quest is the idea of the soul, an allusion to what we think we ought to have: that life deserves a level of nobility beyond what we can observe of it, beyond its mere physical existence and physical appetites, its daily worries and mundane transactions—indeed, beyond its termination. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that the idea of the soul describes our aspiration to be human, that is to say, to be more of what we seem to be, to be more than what the world seems to allow. The soul thus is an idea, and we are largely interested in it precisely in this form. We do not usually try to prove the existence of the soul or lack thereof, since we know, deep down, that the least interesting aspect of the idea of the soul concerns whether it could be verified. The idea appeals for other reasons: that it gives us the faint sense that given reality, the prison of “objective determining circumstances,” is not all there is to life. It is for this same reason that we live in ”hope,” meaning that we ponder, even in the face of appearances, “evidence,” and experience, that the world at large, and not just I and thou, must include in its nature a yearning to leave this orchestrated theater of illusions presented as hard, confined reality. Thus the world at large has that which does not appear to be in it, yet gives it nobility and higher purpose. It is in this sense that anarchy is the soul of this world.

“And it is also in this sense that we desire change and progress, even when we do not see precisely what kind of change and progress may be most desirable, or how to arrive there. The progressive impulse seems implanted in us by virtue of the difference between imagination and reality. At the personal or social level, we can always imagine a better reality than one we observe or live. Therein resides the progressive impulse: in the difference between imagination and reality. The most fundamental fact of specifically human existence is that imagination is always superior to reality. As a motor of progress, therefore, anarchist thought begins by observing the dynamic nature of humanity, a humanity that seeks to expand its meaning, over and above what appears as an objective reality holding us in its thralls and demanding absolute resignation to its presumably immutable laws of motion or motionlessness.”

From Chapter 3: Civil Society and the State

“.. civil society is not, contrary to some well-established dogmas, a specific product of bourgeois, European modernity. Civil society is a basic, ancient, transhistorical and universal mode of collaborative human life, defined by voluntarism and the propensity to substitute collaborative action in the world for state action—and not simply to help in democratizing the state or support its functioning in society….

“By recentering the story of human progress around civil society, anarchy may also offer an alternative to the modern developmental state—namely, the state that brings about modernity and progress through grand projects of social engineering. Here anarchy rejoins much of what development literature has shown, namely that such a developmental state develops first and foremost itself and in the process enhances the arbitrary power of its elites. Anarchist history in this respect consists in part of rediscovering elements of this ancient and universal process, and accordingly identifying when or how civil society becomes the primary theater of action in the world…

“state reason is not about promoting philosophy, religion, science, or culture for their own sake. It is about promoting and constantly defending the state itself.

The basic points of departure of state reason could be sketched as follows:

1.State reason begins with alienation. A certain hierarchy, accepted because it is felt to be organic, freely negotiated, or useful as practical authority, seeks to entrench itself in state form and to become thereby more stable. Being more stable here means also that it becomes less organic, less transient, less negotiable—in other words, alienated from the ordinary flux, transience, or flexibility of associational life over which it rules.

2.Civil society may ignore for a while, or not take notice of, the alienation of state reason, even as the state begins to use a new kind of political language. Civil society may not apprehend the nature of such alienation, as it builds or preserves institutional worlds of its own that are parallel to the state.

3.Developing outside of civil society, state reason becomes underlined by a science that is all its own, oriented to identifying and pursuing sovereign and distinct rules that have little to do with the cultural habits or sensibilities of any population. To be so, state reason must develop at a distance from culture—popular, national, local, and so on, even if the very legitimacy of the state, and sometimes its very genesis, is traced to roots in the culture of the populace. Culture in this sense may be used in the service of state reason, but it is not state reason. As they develop, states learn the arts of rule more from each other or from illustrious, selected histories, less so from the prosaic, complex, and varied cultures of the populace over whom they rule.

4.Developed state reason is the antithesis of civil society. State reason, to the extent that it begins to operate as a science sovereign unto itself, offers then free license for the state’s perpetual expansion into all of society. The science that informs state reason in this expansionist project involves experimentation with the twin trajectories of coercion and cooptation. As such state reason aims at ultimately consuming civil society and thereby ending the alienation of state reason from all that which resides outside of it. The resolution of this alienation is conceived, in accordance with state reason, in its own manner, and not in the manner of a synthesis.

5.State reason attaches itself to and gains sustenance from moral ideas. The weight of the state can in effect be measured by the weight of its prohibitions, which may always be added to so as to justify more power. In the final analysis, state reason relies here on its discovery of the old principle that the poison is the same as the cure: the only difference is degree and measure. A social problem, for example, may require a certain amount of coercion in order for it to be cured. But there is a short distance from that ordinary wisdom to the unverifiable proposition that if a little coercion helps solve a problem, then more of it will solve the problem even better, or solve other problems that are yet to be recognized as problems.

6.State reason observes the organizational instinct of hierarchical self-preservation. Doubtless civil society itself involves hierarchical propensities, but we do not expect associational life, especially a voluntary one, to be everlasting in the same way that states see themselves (or are seen) to be.

7.All techniques of power are interchangeable from the point of view of state reason—the only question from the point of view of state reason concerns which technique is most effective given certain conditions. The techniques themselves are not the ends, but rather the means of state reason. Thus bureaucratic constancy and conspiratorial episodes could be different techniques of state reason, even in the same state and over a short span of time. Techniques of power are not ends in themselves.

8.State reason must be attentive to loss of resources and diminution of authority as outcomes to guard against, natural or unavoidable as they may be.”

From Chapter 5: Freedom and Commitment

“An anarchist conception of taxation would be … that the individual that is appropriate for anarchy is one whose calculations are not determined by the self-seeking behavior encouraged by the workings of the current concepts of taxation. Rather he is one whose calculations are motivated by the cause-seeking attitude that accompanies the expectation that he should, or at least could, determine the common good directly…

“The ideas of a single trusted source of action and planning symbolized by a universally elected president says little about the possibility of catastrophic accident. Namely, what if the electorate made the wrong choice—an outcome so possible in an age when the presented information about candidates could be irrelevant, incomplete, or infinitely manipulable by opportunistic proponents or adversaries who are well-financed or possess privileged access to the airwaves or journalists? Or, alternatively, what if the elected president is elected without much enthusiasm or participation? Should she have exactly the same power as one elected with a great deal of genuine support and a larger rate of participation? How about someone elected by a plurality versus someone elected by an absolute majority? Should they all be equally trusted to exercise the same amount of power?...

“The original dictum regarding the inferior reason of the mob seems at first glance well-justified by the trials and tribulations of modern mass democracy, and also by the vulnerability of many well-intentioned mass movements to outbursts of irrationality, loss of repose, and self-composure. Only educated, civilized, and detached individuals are thought to possess sufficient rational antibodies to protect against such lapses, as conservative theorists of crowd behavior point out constantly. Stated as such, this standpoint is hard to disagree with. However, there is a larger sociological issue here: a good analysis of irrationality must observe not simply what people do. It must also observe the context in which they operate. It is then that we may learn that apparently irrational impulses that characterize mass movements stem precisely from the fact that those moments are the only opportunities for participants to act on a wide range of grievances…

“As the improvement of a muscle requires its exercise, so the improvement of individual rationality requires opportunities for constant practice. Anarchy means that such opportunities exist in which individual rationalities constantly re-form, express themselves, and interweave in a common social arena made and remade by this energy and flux that comes directly from a living, practical, and felt civic tradition that is made close to earth and not represented. Living in this way, among kindred spirits rather than below a government, no longer isolated or powerless, one becomes less prone to the erratic and even hysterical mode one observes in many modern mass movements.”