(Also published in The Occupied Times of London)
“In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” – (Jdg 21:25)
The School of Ideas returns to dust, and our tents to ashes or landfill, but the seeds of resistance have been planted in the hearts of the tent-dwellers, who ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Eviction. What will emerge from those seeds, what runners and creepers, climbers and stingers are sending out shoots beyond the square mile, and what flowers will bloom in the coming seasons?
All sorts of philosophies came together on the cathedral steps, including the unabashedly messianic, and each Messiah bore his burden bravely. One hung his head and explained in grave tones how the blocking of his proposal at the GA left him no choice but to unleash a tidal wave against the eastern seaboard of the US.
Then there were the more deeply deluded, revolutionary communists and sellers of retro-sounding journals. Indeed comrades, the world has never seen a genuine communist state, but neither has it seen a genuine Father Christmas, and I still don’t want your dirty red fingers poking around in my stockings.
“From each according to his means, to each according to his needs” is the decent way to behave amongst associates, but bring-a-bottle cannot be imposed by jails and standing armies, not in my book anyway, and my book is very old. I also argued with figures closer to my own persuasions. Baying Christians were never in short supply, insisting this or that. Go in peace, my brother, forthwith, Godspeed, and quick as you can. Another man of God, who I had not seen during the entire occupation, came down to pray earnestly, on his knees with Bible in hand, to be peeled off the steps by the police.
I was accused of being an anarchist by a Christian, and a Christian by an anarchist. The latter let fly a stream of venom heated by the word “Reverend” on the spine of a book. I denied believing in flying zombies and any missionary intentions, but he was enraged into a kind of religious ecstasy. In an effort to find some common ground, I asked what he was into. After a long pause to think (if thinking it may be called), he leant in and growled “drink” and two other pastimes, one involving the constabulary, both too indecent to print.
Anarchy, being the free association of autonomous individuals, is nothing without decency. Associations forged in craving and hatred are not free, and if you define yourself by what you hate, you are not autonomous of it but dependent upon it.
The first western philosopher to argue that we would be better off without a government was William Godwin, and his rejection of authority stretched beyond politics to the heavens. He described his…
“…utmost repugnance of understanding for the idea of an intelligent Creator and Governor of the universe, which strikes my mind as the most irrational and ridiculous anthropomorphism. My theism, if such I may be permitted to call it, consists in a reverent and soothing contemplation of all that is beautiful, grand, or mysterious in the system of the universe.”
This echoes the sentiments of some sects two thousand years ago, before the Roman church was established. Some Gnostics considered the Lord of the Old Testament as jealous, ignorant, or downright evil. Law and the law-giver are certainly complex:
“Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the Lord.” (Eze 20:25)
Gnostics (‘those who know’) rejected bishops, or “dry canals” as they were called, coming together under the direction of something described as invisible but instantly recognisable. The resurrection in spirit was through intuitions, dreams and visions. Resurrection in the flesh (the flying-zombie) is a different doctrine.
It is almost impossible to control a group of enthusiasts who take instructions directly from characters in their dreams or their wild and wicked imaginations. Gnostic sentiments, like “Do not lay down any rules beyond what I appointed you, and do not give a law like the lawgiver lest you be constrained by it”were not conducive to the ambitions of empire. Like anarchists of the French, Mexican, Russian, and nearly every revolution in history, they were persecuted as the cement dried on the new order. Gnostic sects were wiped out, Gnostic gospels struck from the canon and burned, only to be rediscovered in a cave in the decade of the space rocket, the computer, the mobile phone, the final solution, the nuclear chain reaction, and LSD.Pious and celibate fathers pressed dogmas like resurrection “in the flesh”, on pain of eternal pain. Rules which had fallen away were replaced, women who had gained various freedoms were put back in their place, as befits “the devil’s gateway”.The Holy Spirit was bound and gagged, and the faithful fell in line behind their pastors as flocks of sheep, and occasionally battering rams.Later sects with a Gnostic approach, such as Ranters, Quakers, Levellers, Diggers and Anabaptists, embodied the full spectrum of anarchist direct action, refusing to join armies or use titles, ignoring property rights, guerrilla gardening, protesting naked in the streets, and sometimes torching buildings. None but the quietest survived very long. Go in disguise to do your actions, subvert and slip away, but “give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you”.The fact that a genuine anarchist state is not forthcoming is not a lament but a point of pride. As Gustav Landauer put it:
“The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but it is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting different relationships, by behaving differently.”
Law ‘n’ order need not be joined at the contraction. Order is intrinsic to nature, arising spontaneously in the waves of the sea, in the rhythms of nature. Fibonacci numbers map out snail shells and galaxies, harmonic fractions hum between planets and octaves, chaos maths governs coastlines and crystals, birdsong and city size, rivers, roots, and the rhythms of the heart. None of this requires coercion.
Farmers plant in spring and harvest in autumn, heedless of the law. When the Kremlin enforced a common agricultural policy, millions of the proletariat had to choose between starving to death or cannibalism. There is no evidence that jail reduces crime, that prohibition reduces drug abuse. As Godwin put it, “laws which are made to restrain our vices, irritate and multiply them”. Law fractures order. When imposed, it is an imposition, laid down by an impostor. Godwin’s daughter, the author of Frankenstein, put the conundrum succinctly in the mouth of the man-made monster who damaged whatever he touched: “You are my creator, but I am your master. Obey!”
According to the father of anarchism, the ideal man has “a certain confidence in the unseen hand that sustains the whole. He is glad that there is something greater than himself, in the presence of which he feels his soul penetrated with a sacred awe”. That hand organises without compulsion, creates what can sustain itself, and lets crumble that which is obsolete. It governs gently and disciplines locally, but to feel it you need to pay attention. As the father of anarchism wrote, in one of his most gnostic moments: “truth can scarcely be acquired in crowded halls and amidst noisy debates… Truth dwells in contemplation.”