Okay, so it should now be clear and out in the open that my preferred society would not have a politically organized coercive state government of any kind. It should be equally clear that this is not because I don’t care about the least well off in society, but precisely because I do. And because I believe, in a creed consistent with that of some of the great thinkers of the “individualist left” of the past two centuries, that the state actually makes things worse for the people whom, nowadays at least, it (and therefore most of those active in the political “scene”) claims it most wants to help. This alone should be enough to want to find an alternative solution to the questions of “social order” than the coercive state, setting aside all the questions about whether the mechanisms the state uses in its failure to achieve it stated aims are themselves just, and let alone the possibility that there are powers the state takes for itself that are almost inevitably unjust, such as waging war.
So, how can an avowedly anti-state campaigner work with those who not only accept and promote the need for a state but who also seek power for themselves or their associates within that state? Chris Mounsey, communication director of the Libertarian Party of the UK (LPUK) and blogger “Devil’s Kitchen”, said in his talk to the Libertarian Alliance Conference last weekend that LPUK would say that they seek power to get into the position of being able to abolish themselves and the structures they fight against. The same cannot be said of parties who, as one Lib Dem put it the other day, “see a positive role for an activist state”. That is, after all a point of fundamental difference. They want a state: they are statists. I am a non-statist: I do not want a state. They believe a state can be inherently a force for good; I believe a state is inherently evil but at stages on the journey to eradicating it, it may appear to be a necessary one.
Well, here my own journey to my current anti-state position might be illustrative. My Mutualism did not spring fully formed in a political vacuum. I was a Liberal Democrat first, a Georgist second and lately an Individualist Anarchist. Indeed, it is worse: I was an active politician. A city councillor, no less. And rose to the dizzy heights of Deputy Satrap for Housing and Economic Destruction, as I put it last week. Hell, I even used to believe that if only, as a city council, we did things better, more efficiently and more business like, we could even make profits to use on other desirable projects instead of continually tapping up the tax payer for them. I could hardly have been more “statist” in some ways!
And yet, I know as I write that that does not tell the whole story. I had always been a civil libertarian (there is something about growing up gay in the 1980s I think that made me realize very personally the effects of the state interfering in private lives and people’s emotions). And I was a vocal advocate of co-operatives and social enterprise, even for delivering what had been “state” provided goods. So I was the first to try and propose establishing a social enterprise to take over the city’s underfunded leisure services. And I attempted to build a case for co-operative housing being included in the options available to local councils for housing stock transfer. I was the city council’s rep on both the Oxford Credit Union and the Oxfordshire Social Enterprise Forum.
Two things happened when the good people of Risinghurst decided they no longer wanted my services as a city councillor. First, I was asked to go along to the first meeting after the elections of the scrutiny committee I had chaired in case there were odds and ends to pass on to the new committee. And, for the first time viewing a city council meeting from outside their little bubble around the big table, I had this overpowering sense that it was all one big talking shop. And often a talking shop with the least appropriate inexpert lay people on it. Second, a number of messages of commiseration from city officers said that my ideas would be missed, and I thought “well, if my ideas are really that good and so obviously beneficial why should the people of Oxford be deprived them by the political whim of a few hundred voters in one corner of the city?” Why should I not try and carry on to do them anyway. And so, by a variety of routes comes my involvement with Community Land Trusts, local financial initiatives, promoting social enterprise and so on.
Becoming, if you will, a businessman, albeit a “social entrepreneur” (I hope that’s not stretching the term too far to fit what I am, which is hardly, thus far, terribly successful in that respect) has further entrenched my growing realization of how state interference can disrupt even the most socially necessary projects for which there is virtually unanimous community consent. And in getting to understand the property development business, its costs and practices and so on, has created a very powerful and practical understanding of how state protection of interests causes more problems that it then needs to try and solve – tight planning and housing regulation for example meaning that we end up subsidizing landowners even more to provide “affordable” housing whilst landing those who can lobby the best extraordinary profits for being the one site allowed for housing or whatever the case may be.
Couple all of that with a decade in which the role of the state in generating international hatred against us has been debated endlessly as a result of wars and foreign policy; in which spin has outshone substance at home, in which despite massive investment in public services changes for the better seem to have been few and far between whether you judge that by health outcomes, education outcomes, homelessness, social mobility, personal indebtedness, wealth imbalances or whatever; in which civil liberties have been eroded and our lives catalogued and pried into more than ever; and now, at the end of which it seems like few if any in public positions could see what some of us said was staring us in the face – the financial tsunami, and even now don’t acknowledge their own part in the creation of it is it any wonder one might turn more than a little cynical about the ability of government actually to do anything about all of this?
So, all else aside, I rather hope that this “testimony” of my political journey might prompt a few people to think about their own expectations of the state and how it might have fulfilled them or not or whether the supposed benefits of the state are worth the “collateral damage” state action often leaves in its wake (as the decade’s most repugnant euphemism for state perpetrated destruction would put it). And I want them to ask themselves whether, if they ever had a good policy idea for some much needed commodity or service, they really feel that the probability of them seeing that idea to fruition would be enhanced by being done by government and so called democratic decision-making or diminished through red tape and the best intentions of “planners.”
But even if it leaves you unmoved, you can yet play an important part in the “Mutualist revolution”. For this is where I feel that working within our local political networks can achieve change faster than trying to influence an entire party’s policy all at once. When we have a good idea, and especially when it is up and running, we need to be publicising such things through those networks, hoping that they in turn will spread the message “upwards” to others in their parties and “outwards” to their colleagues elsewhere. Regularly the single most common question when one proposes something new to councillors seems to be “where has it been done previously? They may want to innovate but appear scared to do so. Also, spreading the news upward can reach policy makers quite quickly. For example in the Lib Dems it always seems like there is a bit of a scramble for good, worthwhile policy motions to go to regional conferences. All these get reported up to Federal Policy Committee, and so a small successful local initiative could soon get the attention of people in a position to make policy nationwide.
Perhaps we could call it “viral-anarchism”.