An Argument for the Unifying Qualities of Anarcho-Pacifism

Anarcho-pacifism in my view consists of two principles:

Strife against hierarchies, towards peace.

I contend that anarcho-pacifism defined this way can incorporate not only all anarchists, but also all pacifists and even all socialists and liberals and a bunch of other people. Anarcho-pacifism is a tendency within anarchism caused by several people who were both anarchists and pacifists and it is perhaps not an ideology in its own right, yet. In my opinion, anarcho-pacifism in its combined state goes beyond the promotion of peace and the rejection of the state. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The point of departure for my thought-process is India 1,800 years ago. Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna writes: “Whatever is dependently arisen, we call that ’emptiness.’ This indicator, once comprehended, is in fact itself the ‘middle-way.'” This quote contains four notions that need explication. Dependently arisen means a thing that is part of a chain of cause-and-effect and therefore has no absolute beginning or end and therefore no independent existence and is therefore “empty” of existence. However, this is just an indicator of the truth, it does not mean that the universe is necessarily empty. The reason we must rely on indicators is related to dependency; to grasp the objective truth one has to think outside of all categories. But, Nagarjuna concludes that since even this view is dependently arisen, it cannot reach higher than the status of compromise, the “middle-way”.

Compromise as a doctrine or guiding star is itself a compromise. One accepts that ideals are unattainable, whether it’s a moral ideal or the ideal of objective knowledge, and instead strives towards that ideal, knowing one can only reach a compromise. It’s worth noting how Nagarjuna’s “practical truth”, deconstructivist epistemology and relativism indicate an eternal and dynamic strife towards the unattainable ideal of objective truth. This actually even reminds me of a deity completely lacking attributes. Anyway, in my opinion, compromise, striving towards compromise, or the compromise of compromise, is a necessary component of a strife towards peace, which is how I defined pacifism within the frame of anarcho-pacifism. This is probably obvious to everyone – pacifism means compromise. Similarly, compromise is a necessary component of striving against hierarchies within the frame of anarcho-pacifism. This is less obvious, but it’s because suffering and power are inherent to sentient beings and it is not possible to achieve the ideals of abolishing pain or removing all differences in relationships. Consequently it must be inherent to anarcho-pacifism to strive towards these ideals under the guiding star of compromise rather than dogmatically trying to realize them.

So, by means of the principle of compromise I have made a case for the principle: “Strife against hierarchies, towards peace.” Let’s see how many we can recruit under this banner, starting with non-anarchist pacifists.

Compromise is the death of conflict, but conflicts are born every day and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. We don’t need to prevent conflicts, just prevent negative effects of conflicts and eventually resolve them in a way that is not bad, or at least as good as possible. Furthermore, as anarcho-pacifists have pointed out before, it is not enough to justify means by their end, the means are ends in themselves and must be considered part of the total outcome. This equation holds true for utilitarianism as well. The implication is that it is unknown what leads to the most peace in the end; sometimes a war is necessary to achieve peace. This is a compromise idealistic pacifists might not accept. Obviously, historically, “war for peace” has been a popular argument for war and as far as I know the result of war has never justified the cost of war. However, this is not about the practice of history but about the philosophy of the future. I would in any case advocate the idiom “err on the side of caution.”

How about non-anarchist socialists or people “on the left” then? Well, the anarcho-pacifist struggle against hierarchies is a struggle towards equality. Socialists believe this equality is achieved by subjecting everyone to one single regiment, under which everyone is equal. This is similar to being muslim, a word meaning to subject oneself, except that the omnipresent equalizer is here replaced by the omnipresent God. If the strife towards peace can replace the unifying, equalizing principle of the government and God, i.e. everyone deserves the same amount of peace, then we can combine our efforts in fighting other hierarchies. There are plenty of people who believe God is love, such a belief is compatible with pacifism. I’ve also always viewed protestantism and atheism as part of the struggle against hierarchies. The book Pelle the Conquerer by Danish socialist/communist writer Martin Andersen Nexø, also identifies Jesus with the worker fighting against hierarchies. Leo Tolstoy was also a Christian and an anarchist.

Other anarchists then? Anarcho-capitalist/Voluntaryist Stefan Molyneux argues for the non-aggression principle, which roughly states that one mustn’t instigate violence either directly or indirectly, except in the case of self-defense. This principle is in line with pacifism as I have defined it. The strife against hierarchies does have issues with capitalism, but these can be resolved through compromise and Molyneux would never force capitalism on anyone else, so there is no inherent conflict here (I might be wrong about that since capitalism implicitly sets up the laws of property as universal principles regardless of any dissenters). Anarcho-primitivists want to reverse the technological advances in favour of nature and animals. It would be necessary to allow them their space, but that is another compromise and there is no other inherent conflict. Peace encompasses all sentient beings, not just humans and if our society causes pain or suffering to animals (which it absolutely does today) then a compromise is necessary to the anarcho-pacifist as well. Green anarchists could join under the same conditions, although trees are not sentient so environmentalism does not include saving trees for the sake of the trees. Of course, many animals would suffer without trees. Anarcho-feminists also fight against hierarchies. Anarcho-syndicalists only differ in emphasizing that anarchism is achieved through workers joining together and ousting the bourgeoisie from within, but that is not a problem to an anarcho-pacifist either.

How about liberals and libertarians? Well, libertarians want a small government, minarchism; to me, this is just one, logical step short of anarchism. Direct democrats want a flatter hierarchy, removing the political elite in favour of the general public. The Pirate Parties want to keep governments from monitoring individuals. The Occupy movement is very much against hierarchies. The Anonymous movement is very heterogenous, but individual freedom is at least a part of it. My position is that equality is necessary for freedom. This might seem counter-intuitive and given that there is no ghost in the machine, freedom is always a difficult subject. I would argue that competition imposes conditions on viable choices no matter if one is the fittest or the loser and therefore limits freedom of choice. In trying to unite socialism and liberalism, I see the same compromise between all and self. Equality limits freedom differently and only within the reach of compromise. Let’s say a person doesn’t want to be stabbed. Another person wants to stab the first person. Under the compromise paradigm neither has the right to their choice, but must negotiate. I don’t know how to justify pacifism unconditionally, but if accepted it would result in limited freedom for the stabber. Having the right to live is also obviously a prerequisite for having freedom to act.

Equality means the most possible freedom for the most possible people, but would put specific limits on specific freedoms. Veil of ignorance-arguments would support this notion and also fit a utilitarian schema. However, I’m not sure how to address übermensch-arguments. Either way, freedom, once established, is the prerequisite for happiness; or the pursuit of happiness as Thomas Jefferson put it. My personal view is that emotions make our choices, neurochemically determining our actions, they are the closest thing to a free will a materialist can get to. Jesse Prinz has argued for the existentialist and moral values of emotion using the term emotionism. Antonio Damasio makes a similar point. I think happiness is not the best word for the goal or meaning of life; in many cases being content might be a more fitting description.

In my view, this entire discourse fits under the umbrella of anarcho-pacifism. This might not be the best term and even the choice of the words hierarchies and peace are debatable, but the arguments stand alone regardless and I have seen no better terminology. Perhaps equality is better than anarchism. Perhaps peace can be replaced by personal freedom, liberalism or right to live/be/act. I don’t know if compromisism already belongs to a different school of thought, but it lacks the duality of the internal reasoning, including the duality of the notion of strife itself. Mutualism might be a better term, it seems to yield the same result, although my compromise has a better foundation than the Golden rule in my opinion. Voluntaryism lacks the internal conflicts of the strife and the duality, or dynamic rather. I havn’t mentioned humanism and I’ve got nothing to say about it, just wanted to mention it. I was thinking of making a graph connecting every -ism, but I feel it is sufficient to say that compromise can be a foundational principle to and part of the two principles of anarcho-pacifism, which then leads to equality, which leads to freedom, which leads to happiness and that this line of reasoning results in an enveloping, at least partially, of most political ideologies.

Lastly, the black-and-white flag of anarcho-pacifism is reminiscent of the yin-yang symbol and the ideas are even philosophically connected. The spectrum between black and white is the entire rainbow and in a way embody the ideals at the poles and the (beautiful) reality in the middle. White also contains all colours, meaning all anarchist schools are already represented within the anarcho-pacifist flag, again a token of its unifying qualities.


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