Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Archon Mentality In Europe

In some regards, Europe is much more anti-statist than the US. There's not as much flag-waving and nationalism, not as much military and police worship, not as much upheaval when it comes to elections. You will also find a left-wing culture that has some anarchistic extensions, but these are going into a completely different direction than the free market-type ideas which are stemming from many US anarchists.

To understand this, we need to look at history. In the late 18th century, the popular philosophy of the day was liberalism. It wasn't the ruling idea, but many of those who had been under a monarch's thumbs for centuries believed that with freedom, their lot would improve. In America, people believed in this so strongly that they successfully overthrew the ruling monarchy and an aristocratic republic with a liberal bent was established. US citizens, as long as they were not black, females, Indians or dirt poor, were now able to make use of the benefits of an emergent society based on private property - the liberal ideal. This was sufficient to make the US a steady haven for laissez-faire ideas, although the atrocities towards native Americans, slavery and a not-so-limited federal government, among other things, showed that these ideas were not necessarily implemented politically.

In France, people were so impressed by the American revolution and so appalled by what was going on at home that they, too, successfully overthrew the ruling monarchy and a brutal tyranny was established. Notwithstanding the fact that Robespierre's tyranny and Napoleon's ensuing empire had nothing to do with liberalism, continental monarchs and their sympathizers were so terrified by the example of France that they did everything necessary to prevent the spread of liberalism. After a while, though, they realized that without at least some economic liberalism they would soon be at the mercy of countries like Great Britain which had acquired considerable wealth by allowing their populations to self-organize the production of goods and services. The result was authoritarian capitalism: by trying to beat down any revolutionary sentiment or emergent order among the lower classes while at the same time letting production organize itself along private capital lines, European monarchs created the bleak, elitist, poverty-ridden societies which we today know from textbooks to be the result of "laissez-faire capitalism".

This discredited liberalism in Europe and gave rise to Marxism, a philosophy that correctly attributed the century-long misery of the working classes to the alliance between "property owners" (who were, in fact, state-sanctioned slave drivers) and the state which Marx considered to be a mere fictional superstructure created by burgeois society. According to Marx, the final goal of history would be the stateless society wherein everyone would be treated along the lines of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need". "Stateless" meant, of course, that every idea associated with Marx' understanding of the state would vanish as well, including concepts such as property, religion or hierarchy. Since liberals continuously lost touch with the underprivileged classes, their arguments for property or merit-based hierarchies remained unheard. Marx' definition of anti-statism gained a firm grip among the working class of Europe.

Around the same time, Lysander Spooner espoused another form of anarchy in the United States, one that was founded on what he called "natural law" - the non-aggression principle. Spooner, being an American, understood that there was nothing inherently oppressive with private property. In fact, he argued that in a stateless society, nearly everyone would want to become a capitalist to receive their full return on productivity. In that sense, Spooner and Marx were pretty close in that they both rejected the idea of "wage slavery", however, Spooner, being an American businessman, argued with laws of human action whereas Marx, being a European philosopher, argued with supposed laws of history.

Consequentially, whereas "the state" had been the main enemy archon for American anti-statists early on, European anarchists considered it just a byproduct of other archons such as religion or property. That's why resistance against "the state" seems to be rather weak in Europe - free thinkers are busy fighting all kinds of archons and tend to see the state as a comparatively small danger, maybe even something to work with. This, plus those who firmly believe in the goodness of the state, make Europe look so in love with the state archon - though most differences to the American tradition boil down to "human nature" vs "nature of history".

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