Practical Anarchy

18d3twocheers Practical Anarchy

Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, And
Meaningful Work and Play, by James Scott, Princeton University
Press, 141 pages, $24.95
Anarchy is already here, and it works great. Or so the Yale
anthropologist and political scientist James C. Scott suggests in
Two Cheers for Anarchism, a slight but engaging book that
mostly relays life lessons on how choice and freedom make the world
better in just about every sphere you can imagine. But before Scott
gets down to describing the practical effects of a little anarchy
on schools, roads, speeches, playgrounds, and politics, he has to
disappoint the purists.
Scott, the author of
Seeing Like a State and
The Art of Not Being Governed, doesn’t want to burn
the mother down and raise the black flag. He likes the idea of
“cooperation without hierarchy or state rule,” and he writes that
in the 5,000-odd years that governments have existed, “only in the
last two centuries or so has even the possibility arisen
that states might occasionally enlarge the realm of human freedom.”
But he believes the actual elimination of the state would be
impossible, impractical, and perhaps even unwanted. Economic
inequality and the exploitation of the powerless by the powerful
make “a cruel sham” of the notion of an entirely stateless freedom,
Scott writes, so “we are unfortunately stuck with Leviathan.” He
points to the 101st Airborne’s role in integrating Little Rock
schools to refute the notion that a state can never be
used to protect individuals.
In most of his discussions of the modern world, though, Scott
sounds like an anarchist again. He detests public schooling, for
example: not just in this post–No Child Left Behind, standardized
test–heavy era (and not just in Jim Crow Little Rock), but in
general. Public schools, he writes, were developed to create good,
hard-working citizens “whose loyalty to the nation will trump
regional and local identities of language, ethnicity, and
religion.” Furthermore, “it starts out fundamentally on the wrong
foot as a compulsory institution, with all the alienation that this
duress implies, especially as children grow older.” Scott isn’t
interested in telling that alienated student to work hard and
embrace the social contract. And he certainly isn’t advocating more
government spending. He seems simply to object to the institution
Scott suggests a little anarchy would be good for the roads, as
well. He cites experiments in removing red lights, which started in
the Netherlands in 1999 and have spread throughout Europe since
then. Under the system we’re used to, he points out, people depend
on signs or traffic lights, not their own judgment, for guidance on
when it is safe to turn or stop. With a spare, signless, somewhat
intimidating roundabout, on the other hand, people pay more
attention to what they’re doing and the number of accidents comes
Scott’s thoughts on economics are
hampered by the fact that he isn’t entirely clear on what
libertarians believe. (He thinks the logical end of a purely free
market is that a parent can sell a child because it’s “a personal
choice.”) And yet he displays frequent libertarian sympathies,
particularly in his opposition to various arrogant institutions,
interlopers, and do-gooders. Jane Jacobs, a biting critic of urban
planning, is mentioned with high praise, as is her seminal book

The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Scott
might not use the phrases “spontaneous order” or “central
planning,” but his book is filled with tributes to the former and
critiques of the latter. Again and again he argues that in what
appears to be chaos—be it an unplanned city or a garden that
follows its own botanical logic—there is a vernacular order that
outside forces rarely understand.
This dichotomy between the vernacular and the imposed also
infuses Scott’s thoughts on the meanings of monuments. Consider his
comparison between the bombastic, patriotic Iwo Jima flag-raising
memorial and the solemn, reflective (literally and figuratively)
memorial to the Vietnam War. The former tells the story for you,
and it exalts the war in question. The latter is a chronological
list of the dead, one that neither praises nor denounces their
sacrifice but demonstrates the vastness of the loss. Of course,
Scott notes, “A truly cosmopolitan monument to the war would list
all Vietnamese civilian and military war dead, together with
Americans in the order in which they had fallen.” Indeed, to
memorialize the war dead at all, even so quietly, is to make a
statement of some kind.
Unfortunately, whenever Scott discusses the actual political
process, he sounds less radical. He makes excellent critiques of
the lack of real choice between two nearly identical political
parties. But his chapter “In Defense of Politics” portrays politics
itself as another good that should be accessed by the masses, as
opposed to seeing it as the trigger for a fundamentally coercive
state. Scott waves away worries that a pure democracy could be
oppressive, suffering from that familiar radical left hope—seen in
Occupy Wall Street camps and other protest movements long before
that—that simply “having a public dialogue” in “the public sphere”
about, say, education will somehow resolve the myriad issues it
brings up (money, politics, religion, etc.) to everyone’s
All the same, what Scott presents in Two Cheers for
Anarchism may be of far more use than any Free Stater
manifesto. He may not be a soldier for pro-market libertarianism,
but Scott’s eye for spontaneous order in action demonstrates that
anarchy is all around us: that it’s no abstract philosophy but an
essential part of all our lives.

Original article – 

Practical Anarchy

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