Alice Turtle’s Guide to Anarchy: Introduction

Alice Turtle hopes to fill a gap in Aristotle’s Politics by extending it to cover the anarchist polis. Today she explains what she means to accomplish by this.

Alice Turtle

Lots of anarchist philosophy concerns what is just, and why a coercive state and other such institutions are not. It justifies why anarchism is correct, and why various justifications for a coercive state are flawed.

I’m going to leave all that aside and take it as a given that you hope to live in a healthy anarchist polis and are more interested in the how — how to make that happen if it isn’t so already, or how to defend an anarchy from the various potent and often successful threats to its success.

As Aristotle pointed out, good political systems are constantly under threat of political instability and decay. They don’t just take care of themselves, but must be tended and nurtured. Anarchy is no different.

I’m not going to wade into the debates about which kind of anarchism is best, how property is established and what sort of ownership is just, and so forth. I will be largely agnostic about the many debates that have roiled anarchist political philosophy over the years and the various hyphenated-anarchist tendencies. I will even go so far as to say that while it’s indeed important that your anarchist community come to define property (for example) in a way that is just, it is perhaps more important that everyone is on the same page about how property is to be defined. Harmony > Justice may turn out to be a good general rule of thumb here, as much as it may stick in the craw of a good anarchist philosopher.

The constitution of an anarchy (not to be confused with a written document like “The Constitution”) includes an understanding of the meaning of things like property, as well as a set of processes for handling collective action problems of many sorts, problems of authority, defense & crime, free riders, how to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, and so forth. These problems don’t go away under anarchy just because their coercive, institutional solutions are out-of-bounds, so we’ll need to consider different sorts of solutions, or maybe, on a more meta-level, consider the ways in which the best such solutions can be arrived at.

But I won’t spend a lot of time mapping out the finer details of the anarchist utopia. For such things you would be better off, I think, leaving the armchair philosophers like me behind and looking instead at the empirical evidence of how existing or historical anarchist cultures have solved such problems (for example, the studies by Elinor Ostrom and of James C. Scott).

Instead I will give a high-level overview of what the citizen of an anarchy ought to be concerned with in order to promote the health, thriving, and security of her or his polis and those within it. The reader may find that this feels as fragmentary and incomplete as Aristotle’s Politics. So be it.

To be continued…

Index to Aristotle’s Politics