Preliminary Comments on “Community, Anarchy, and Liberty”

I’ve just finished reading “Community, Anarchy, and Liberty“, by Michael Taylor, which argues that:

  1. The maintenance of social order, which is usually assigned to the state, will be a significant problem in any imaginable society, and the optimism anarchists sometimes display that this will go away, given appropriate socialisation and conditions, is unwarranted;
  2. Anarchic social order cannot be maintained by a marketplace of competing ‘security firms’, as envisaged by anarcho-capitalists;
  3. Anarchic social order can be maintained by what he calls ‘community’, and has been in all known anarchic human societies;
  4. Moreover, this is the only way that social order can be maintained without a state.

The definition of ‘community’ is important here, and Taylor defines it in terms of three things: having at least some beliefs and values in common, having relations which are direct (not mediated by an institution, rule, or ideology) and many-sided (not restricted to one facet of life), and displaying reciprocity, helping each other in the vague expectation of receiving help in the future.

With the notion of community set up, and argued to be necessary for anarchy to be viable, Taylor defends several further theses about community:

    • That community both requires, and is able to maintain, a rough economic equality between its members;
    • That community neither guarantees individual liberty, nor guarantees the lack of it;
    • That communities can only be small groups with low turnover of members;
    • That there’s no apparent solution to how multiple communities are to relate to one another, although there’s also no apparent solution to how multiple states are to relate to one another.

      Some of Taylor’s claims, I would agree with, such as 1, 2, and his key claim 3, that communities are capable of maintaining social order without a state. But I found his support for 4, the claim that only communities can maintain anarchic order, less convincincing. I didn’t finish the book persuaded of the impossibility of institutionalised but non-statelike ways of maintaining order. I’ll try to post tomorrow on why he holds 4, and why I disagree.

      For now I’ll just say that in this area, my problem with Taylor is similar to the problem I had with Wright’s threefold division of forms of power (economic, state, and social). Like Wright’s three types of power, Taylor has three ways of maintaining order: market, state, and community. In both cases, the ‘third option’, community or social power, is endorsed as the thing for libertarian socialists, suspicious of both state and market, to focus on.

      But my feeling is that there are more than just three options. Some sorts of community, or social power, are as much to be feared as state oppression or economic exploitation – as Taylor demonstrates in his account of the elaborate mutilations and tortures some tribes impose upon their younger members. Other things which are neither state nor market are nevertheless not properly called ‘community’. But I’ll say more on this tomorrow.

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      One Response to Preliminary Comments on “Community, Anarchy, and Liberty”

      1. Pingback: Can Anarchic Societies Keep Order? | Majestic Equality

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