“They’re A Bunch of Anarchists?” Be More Specific, Please!

7 10 2017


Lately on both Old and New Media, I’ve seen the epithet “anarchist” being thrown around somewhat indiscriminately, apparently as a synonym for “bad person.”  This is understandable: most people are taught as children that “anarchy” is another word for chaos, and therefore it makes sense that “anarchist” would be a suitable label for a dangerous person who appears to want to destroy the order of life.

But there are some misconceptions here.

First, “anarchy” does not mean “chaos.”  To quote Wikipedia: “The word anarchy comes from the ancient Greek ἀναρχία (anarchia), which combines ἀ (a), ‘not, without’ and ἀρχή (arkhi), ‘ruler, leader, authority.’  Thus, the term refers to a person or society ‘without rulers’ or ‘without leaders.'”  Anarchists are people who oppose rulers, not order or law, and who believe an ordered society is possible without rulers.

How could such a thing happen?  That is the subject of a fascinating course of study, and one which I heartily encourage, but one that is far beyond the scope of this blog post.  The point I wish to make here is that an anarchist is not someone who wishes to create chaos (except see below), but someone who seeks societal order down a path that most people in the general population have never considered.

Nobody (well, I suppose I must qualify that: almost nobody, to acknowledge the existence of a few crazy people) opposes the concept of law.  Even criminals, who make their living by breaking laws, want to be protected by the law.  Anarchists just believe you can have law without having to have rulers along with it.

All this is not to argue that anarchists are not dangerous, or that they have respectable political perspectives, or that they’re nice people.  That all depends not only on the nature of the individual himself, but also on the kind of anarchist you’re talking about.

Oh yes.  There are different kinds of anarchists.  Absolutely.  As a matter of fact, there may be more different kinds of anarchists than there are anarchists!  As you might imagine, persuading anarchists to categorize themselves into a small number of groups is not easy.

So I’m going to do it for them.

According to me, based on my own study of anarchism since November of 1998, there are three branches of anarchism.  Well, okay, two branches and a stub.  If you aren’t interested in studying anarchism for yourself, these three categories should serve well enough to allow you to classify a given anarchist, to understand his or her gross motivations, and decide how concerned you should be about his or her intentions.



The branch I called a stub is the nihilists.  If they had a bumper-sticker slogan, it would be “Burn it down!”  They’re in it simply for the thrill of destroying things and beating people up.  I call them a stub because they don’t really have an ideology, and for the most part are anti-intellectual or pseudo-intellectual.  They carry signs with slogans coined by other people, which they may not even understand; but the important features of the signs are not the slogans, but the heavy poles they’re nailed to, and the sharp ends of the nails that stick out the other side.  They have no long-range objective to throw society into chaos simply because they have no long-range objective at all; they just like blood and fire and screams and broken glass.  However, the government is among the things they want to destroy, so technically they do qualify as anarchists.


The next branch is the socialist anarchists, or anarcho-socialists, or ansocs.  These people have done much more thinking and scholarly writing than the nihilists, and have a number of things to say that are worth listening to.  Their bumper-sticker slogan is, “Property is theft!”  According to my classification, the thing that qualifies an anarchist as an ansoc is his subscription to the concept of usufruct.  The term itself may be unfamiliar to many ansocs, but they are all familiar with its meaning.

Usufruct is essentially a fancy word for community property.  Everything belongs not to individuals, but to the community as a whole.  Treating something as your private property, then, for your exclusive use, is equivalent to stealing it from the community, which is where the “Property is theft!” slogan comes from.  You’re free to use anything you want, as long as nobody else is using it at the time, and so is everyone else.

When you come out in the morning to go to work, you look up and down the street, find a random parked car, get in, and drive it to work.  When you’re done with work, that car will probably have been taken by someone else, so you locate another car and drive back home–whereupon, in logically-consistent interpretations, you may find somebody else living in your house, because you weren’t using it.

In real life, though, ansocs draw a distinction between private property, which is criminal, and personal property, which is okay.  Your house, your toothbrush, your clothes–these are all personal property and are safe from the vagaries of usufruct.  Private property is things like businesses, rental apartments, and big bank accounts.

The dream of ansocs is to live in a world where it has been generations since anyone has been under the impression that he owned anything, where everyone lives together in peace because all decisions are made communally, no one has authority over anyone else, and everyone contributes freely to society whatever he enjoys doing most.


The third branch is the capitalist anarchists, or anarcho-capitalists, or ancaps.  These people have also done some very worthwhile thinking and writing that will introduce you to concepts you’ve never considered before.  (If you think about it, it makes sense that government-run schools would not be intensely motivated to teach anarchist philosophy.)  Their bumper-sticker slogan is, “Taxation is theft!”  According to my classification, the thing that qualifies an anarchist as an ancap is his subscription to a radical understanding of private property, in three essentials.

First, the entity that owns a piece of property, in the ancap understanding, is the sole determiner of its disposition.  This is where the “Taxation is theft!” slogan comes from: if the wages are yours, then they’re yours and nobody else’s, and it constitutes theft (more specifically, extortion) for the government to take some of them from you without your consent under threat of force.

Second, every adult human owns him- or herself.  (The argument over exactly who owns children, and to what extent, is fascinating, worth reading, and–again–beyond the scope of this screed.)

Third, every square inch of the earth, and every object thereon, is or should be the private property of some articulable entity–by which I mean an entity more definite than “the people.”  An individual owner is fine; a board of directors is fine; a committee is fine.  An ancap would say that claiming that something is owned by “the people” is code for saying that it’s owned by the government.

(Note for ancaps: I realize ancaps claim to be united by the NAP; however, I believe one can prove the NAP from private property, but not the other way around. Hence, for me private property is more fundamental.)

The dream of ancaps is to discover a way to subject the government to free-market competition with private companies and watch it be driven peacefully out of business.

Interoperability: What Do Anarchists Think Of Each Other?


The nihilists, for the most part, don’t think about ansocs or ancaps–or, apparently, about really much of anything at all except vandalism and assault.  As I said: a stub.


Ansocs in general have contempt for nihilists, but tend not to be explicit about it in public because they find the nihilists useful: nihilists destroy the private property that ansocs oppose.  In general, ansocs (and ancaps, for that matter) tend to be more on the intellectual side than the physical side, so having others do the dirty work and take the risks is attractive.

Ansocs have a much more finely-cultivated antipathy for ancaps, for two reasons.

First, of course, ancaps revere the private property that ansocs find criminal.

But also, ansocs will say that ancaps aren’t even real anarchists, because ancaps are willing to countenance hierarchies of authority, such as an employer who tells his employees what to do (“wage slavery”).  Ansocs find this indistinguishable from government: so ancaps don’t really want to eliminate government, they just want to call it something different.


Ancaps, obviously, will strenuously oppose nihilists, because nihilists are the enemy of the private property ancaps hold so dear.

Just as ansocs accuse ancaps of not being real anarchists, ancaps accuse ansocs of the same thing, but for different reasons.

First, ancaps point out that whether or not ansocs are right about usufruct, the fact is for each of the vast majority of things in the world, there is an unreconstructed person somewhere who believes that it is his private property.  Since anarcho-socialism can’t realistically exist without access to most if not all of these things, before the ansocs can get to where they want to be, all those things will need to be confiscated, and all those people who believe that they are private-property owners will need to be reeducated, indoctrinated, or exterminated.  And since human ingenuity has never produced any organization even approaching the aptitude at theft, deceit, kidnapping, and murder that is possessed by any government, ancaps figure that ansocs intend to use the government to accomplish their aims.  And, they argue, an anarchist who wants control of the government isn’t really an anarchist at all.

Second, ancaps accuse ansocs of being ignorant of human nature.  Ansocs, they say, expect that once their government has destroyed all their enemies and confiscated all their stuff, and is therefore at a pinnacle of as much or more absolute power than any government in the history of humankind has ever had, it will choose that moment to voluntarily disband itself, and their worker’s paradise will be complete.  Ancaps argue that in general governments don’t tend to act that way.


So: if you’re just a normal everyday person, a run-of-the-mill Democrat or Republican, should you be concerned about anarchists?

Well, nihilists are certainly dangerous when they’re out in the street in numbers swinging their stout wooden sign-poles with the nails sticking out.  You should probably stay away from them, but they’re mainly nuisances, not long-term problems.  They don’t have the intellectual horsepower to be a chronic issue.

On the other hand, both ansocs and ancaps, in general, would rather sit at their computers and argue futilely on the Internet than march the streets waving black flags or sneak around in masks and blow things up.

If you believe you own private property, though, it would be a very bad idea to let an ansoc, or a collection of them, get control of any kind of government–local, state, or national.  That could ruin your day.

Ancaps, however, don’t seem to be dangerous at all to the average person.  They respect your private property, they are forbidden by their Non-Aggression Principle from harming you or defrauding you, and they have no interest whatever in running for any kind of political office.

Ancaps do, however, tend in unusual proportion to be not only firearm owners, but firearm enthusiasts as well, and their Non-Aggression Principle does not preclude retaliatory violence against physical attackers; so it wouldn’t be a good idea to march into their den and mess with them.

So you see, identifying someone merely as an “anarchist” (presuming, of course, that he really is an anarchist, and not just a “bad person”) doesn’t really tell you much that you need to know.  Next time you hear the term in the media, you’ll most likely be able to classify the subject of the term into one of these three categories and understand whether and about what you should be concerned.




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