American Anarchist


Matthew Robare in The American Conservative:

The main currents of anarchist thought were derived from classical liberal ideas that emerged in the Enlightenment and the Romantic era. The central idea, Chomsky said, was that “institutions that constrain human development are illegitimate unless they can justify themselves.” Anarchists seek to challenge those institutions and dismantle the ones that cannot be justified, while creating new institutions from the ground up based on cooperation and benefits for the community. This tradition of libertarian socialism or anarcho-syndicalism was still alive, Chomsky claimed, despite challenges and suppression.

Paraphrasing the German-American anarchist Rudolf Rocker, Chomsky said that anarchism seeks to free labor from economic exploitation and society from ecclesiastical guardianship. This meant that workers struggle for their well-being and dignity—“for bread and roses,” as he put it—while rejecting the convention of working for others in exchange for money, which he described as a kind of slavery. The other opposition, to ecclesiastical guardianship, he explained as not necessarily an opposition to organized religion—he praised Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement and the Christian anarchism of the Basque Country. Rather, Chomsky articulated an opposition to the idea that society should be regulated by an elite group, whether they are liberal technocrats, religious clerics, or corporate executives.

Chomsky also addressed some of the issues confronting anarchist activism, noting that while anarchists stand against the state, they often advocate for state coercion in order to protect people from “the savage beasts” of the capitalists, as he put it. Yet he saw this as not a contradiction, but a streak of pragmatism. “People live and suffer in this world, not one we imagine,” Chomsky explained. “It’s worth remembering that anarchists condemn really existing states instead of idealistic visions of governments ‘of, by and for the people.’”

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