I've listened to some very interesting podcasts lately. They are interesting because they ask tough questions and demand logical answers. They're also interesting because self-styled anarchists create them. I've been very surprised at what questions they ask, what their backgrounds are, and what answers they come up with. I've learned that anarchists are not black hoody wearing kids demonstrating in the street. They are, instead, a wide-ranging community of pretty intelligent people. You may not agree with everything they believe in, but I think it's safe to say that anarchists are not exactly who you might think they are.
To begin, anarchism is a political philosophy which argues that the state is undesirable. It opposes hierarchies, and advocates liberty and voluntary association between people. It is a very broad concept that allows for a very wide variety of anarchists, from anarcho-capitalists to anarcho-communists. There is obviously a lot of room for conflicting values among those who call themselves anarchists.
Many anarcho-capitalists oppose both authority and the use of aggression. They generally describe the state as an immoral concept that monopolizes violence, confiscates property and restricts liberty. It is a fact based argument: the state taxes the individual, the taxes are not voluntary, the state uses coercion or the threat of coercion, consent of the taxpayer is not required, and the state compels the individual to generate some sort of value for the state. Each of these statements is true. Not everyone has a problem with them, and some people are more than happy to pay taxes to live in the society that the taxes fund. Anarcho-capitalists, of course, disagree.
One thing that is clear is that while anarchism is often considered a left-wing ideology, anarcho-capitalists are not left-wing at all. They tend to love the market, hate aggression, love liberty and hate the state. They refer to people who like the state as "statists", and argue quite persuasively that statists oppose liberty and promote theft. Anarcho-capitalists regard both activities as fundamentally immoral.
While anarcho-capitalists oppose societal or government control of individuals, other anarchists believe that the individual requires help from society to achieve his potential. Anarcho-communists believe that the state should be abolished, along with money, property and capitalism in general. They favor public ownership of property and oppose private ownership.
All anarchists recognize a fundamental conflict between the individual and society. Society usually has different goals than individuals. There are many individuals, and so many individual goals. Many individual goals conflict with each other. There is only one society, and it chooses between conflicting goals. This creates conflict between society and the individual. For example, an individual may not want to commit aggression against another individual, but society may decide that a freeway through someone's backyard is more important than practicing non-aggression, and so the state expropriates the property by using force against the owner. An individualist-anarchist resolves this conflict by doing away with the state completely. A social-anarchist resolves this by abolishing the state but also by abolishing private property (which arguably creates more conflict between the individual and society).
Why Should You Care?
You should care what anarchists are because of increasing dissatisfaction with government. Voter turn out is dropping in many areas. Government is growing larger, and costing more, while accomplishing less. This discontent has manifested itself in things as diverse as the Occupy and Tea Party movements. It's very likely that we will see more of this discontent in the near future as the developed world seeks to re-organize its financial affairs and the developing world seeks to catch up with its richer neighbors. The discontent will touch every one of us. Anarchist propose solutions and ask questions. The solutions might strike you as unrealistic, but the questions they ask are extremely important, and many of the answers are extremely well grounded. As we address the collective challenges that face us we would all be well advised to lend an ear to some homegrown anarchists. If nothing else, we can all benefit from expanding our minds.