Okay, inaugural post and topic. Over the weekend, in the U.S. the big news was that there was an assassination attempt on a Representative (Giffords) of Arizona that left her and 12 others wounded, with six killed – including a federal judge and a young girl.
In the discussion of this event, it’s has been common – especially among the mainstream left – to suggest either implicitly or explicitly a causal link between the alleged shooter’s “anti-government political views” and his subsequent violent attack. The linked article is a common example, and actually trends on the much more innocuous side compared to a lot of writing that’s out there in the liberal blogosphere right now.
To listen to the news media, blogosphere and commenter class, it would seem to be practically impossible for anyone who holds anti-government views to be opposed to and horrified by these shootings. Of course, everyone I know who holds “anti-government political views” was horrified at what had happened. The reality is that the national dialog (on the left, at least) on this issue is getting it wrong on at least two points.
Point the first: There’s a lot of talk about Tea Party folks like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck being “anti-government” and inspiring a toxic discourse that helped lead to these shootings. Leaving aside for the moment whether or not political discourse will incite people to violence like a lot of folks seem to be suggesting, I’d like to refute the idea that these national figures are actually “anti-government” in any meaningful way. Most, if not all, of the commentariat and officials being criticized right now are – in fact – ardent statists. Whether it’s their extreme, almost religious, devotion to Constitutionalism or their support for highly restrictive immigration laws or their support for the expansive American global military project and so on and so forth. Calling these positions “anti-government” would require an extraordinarily selective reading of Tea Party positions and a fairly idiosyncratic definition of what constitutes “anti-government political views” which I define as being… opposed to the existence of government (duh). Now, granted, the Tea Party comprises a lot of people and isn’t simply “whatever Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck says,” but there’s no real reason to characterize the Tea Party, as a movement, of being particularly “anti-government” more than it would make sense to characterize any other popular contemporary political movement as same.
On that note, it’s worth pointing out that from the evidence provided on the alleged shooter’s YouTube page, he himself was a Constitutionalist of some kind rather than a true “anti-government” anarchist. So, to call him truly “anti-government” seems misleading.
Point the second: Even if we accept that the alleged shooter’s views are “anti-government” it doesn’t really follow that being violent is a necessary condition of being “anti-government.” Indeed, the reality is that anarchism enjoys a long history with pacifism. One of the earliest anarchists to articulate the melding of anarchism with pacifism is none other than Leo Tolstoy:
The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order, and in the assertion that, without Authority, there could not be worse violence than that of Authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that Anarchy can be instituted by a revolution. But it will be instituted only by there being more and more people who do not require the protection of governmental power … There can be only one permanent revolution—a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man.
Bart de Ligt puts it thus:
[T]he violence and warfare which are characteristic conditions of the capitalist world do not go with the liberation of the individual, which is the historic mission of the exploited classes. The greater the violence, the weaker the revolution, even where violence has deliberately been put at the service of the revolution.
This isn’t to say that all those who adopt anti-government positions believe in the pacifism of Tolstoy or De Ligt. Most, including myself, recognize the right to use violence in some formulation of self-defense (which is an extremely uncontroversial position, as most people in this country and around the world aren’t absolute pacifists). And, yes, there are anarchists who agitate for violent revolution. But, most anarchists are attracted to their anti-government ideology precisely because they abhor political violence and want nothing to do with that institution which is guilty, by far, of most political violence we encounter: the state.
As anarchists, we view as horrible the shootings in Tucson. But we also view as horrible deaths that result of government-waged drug wars or military adventures around the world. The consistent person condemns all of it.
Finally, the reality is that most people who adhere to “anti-government political views” are less interested in agitating violent revolution than they are in engaging in direct, community-oriented positive mutual action, with the goal of creating a society which will make the state irrelevant. We aren’t about “second amendment remedies” so much as about helping our neighbors in a cooperative manner, y’all.
Some additional reading:*
-Infoshop’s Anarchist FAQ, A.3.4 Is Anarchism Pacifistic?
I have plenty of issues with Infoshop and the FAQ, but their discussion of anarchism and pacifism is mostly reasonable. I pulled the de Ligt quote from them since I didn’t have a digital copy of de Ligt on hand.
-Carl Watner’s Voluntaryist Resistance
-Roderick Long’s Cognitive Dissonance in Tucson
-Glenn Greenwald’s The Reflexive Call for Fewer Liberties
Greenwald isn’t an anarchist, but he is an ardent civil libertarian and his takes on these issues are almost always worth reading. Here he examines the danger of the quickly emerging attempts to further limit civil liberties in this country, particularly among the already marginalized.
-David Frum’s Did Pot Trigger Gifford Shooting?
For the most bizarre and wrongheaded take I’ve seen put out there yet, Frum’s article wins fairly easily. His suggestion that pot smoking is responsible for the Tucson shootings will make you laugh and weep simultaneously.
*Disclaimer: I make no guarantees about the agreeableness of anything I link to.