Anarchism is a way of thinking in which “a state without being controlled” is ideal
In recent years, books on anarchism have been published one after another. Interviews by media and requests for lectures are increasing for me, who is studying anarchism. I feel like more people are becoming curious about or interested in anarchism.
Then, what is anarchism? “government-free” of “government-free principle” is a translation for “anarchy.” The etymology of “anarchy” lies in the Greek word “anarchos,” meaning “without control.” Therefore, it is closer to the original meaning if we translate anarchism as “control-free principle,” in other words, “a way of thinking whereby it is ideal to be free from control.”
Control is not limited to something political. In our daily life, we are controlled by various people, organizations, ideas, or customs. Therefore, we cannot fully express what the original anarchism means, just by one definition which says “anarchism is the idea of getting rid of governments and states.”
For example, Audrey Tang, who is known as the “IT minister” of Taiwan, calls himself an anarchist, although he is a member of the cabinet. In fact, when we look at his remarks and works, we can tell that he values diversity and tries to make relations with others on an equal footing wherever possible. From this we can tell that Tang is trying to create “a state without control” here and now while being situated in the center of government.
The so-called top-down chain of command or hierarchy can be found not only in governments but also in companies and elsewhere. Hierarchical relations exist between family members and men and women.
Some people think that such control brings order and affluence without societal confusion, or human beings are rather happy when they are constrained, and therefore, such control is perhaps a necessary evil. Some have opinions that it is inevitable for control to be generated because every person has the desire to become a controller.
However, because of such control or hierarchy, oppression and discrimination are generated, mutual mistrust between people is increased, and as a result, society is divided, conflicts and disputes are generated, and moreover, wars can even occur between countries. From here, we start to question whether control really generates people’s happiness, affluence and order.
To answer such a question, anarchists would think as follows. The more liberated human beings are from control, the more cooperative they would be with various people and bring order to society.
This idea is based on a level cooperative relationship between people, under which we usually behave. If someone asks you to pass the soy sauce on the same table, you will give it to them. On the train we give seats to others, at work we proceed with our work, borrowing and lending information and tools between colleagues. If someone in front of us fell from the train platform, we would try to save that person.
Such daily actions are not controlled or ordered. We cooperate with each other every day on an equal footing without expecting any reward from others. Anarchists think that this kind of cooperation is the origin of our social wealth and daily anarchism, which is a foundation to make people happy.
If that is the case, anarchism exists in everyone’s mind. People sometimes tell me, “anarchism sounds difficult.” However, after telling this kind of story to them, they would often say, “Ah, is that so? Then it is easy.”
If such everyday relationships, which are familiar to everyone, were spread throughout society, couldn’t we create a free and equal state without mutual mistrust, conflict, and stress? This way of thinking is an important element of anarchism.
Of course, such an idea is sometimes criticized as an idealistic theory. On the other hand, there have always been people who tried to practice this idea from the past to present.
Anarchism activities which German youngsters started
In Germany, activities are increasing in which anarchists in their 20s to 30s buy old buildings, make them into shared housing, and manage and operate them. Such buildings are found on 100 or more sites already.
Anarchists decide rules by exchanging the opinions of all the people living there. Even if the opinions conflict, they discuss thoroughly until they find a solution that everyone can agree on.
Even after a rule is decided, if someone finds the rule problematic after implementing it, they will discuss it again. In fact, it is an autonomy by direct democracy.
Autonomy is an act of making one’s own decision on matters. But for anarchists, it is a devise to be free from interference by non-residents or an administration, or in fact, to be free from being controlled.
Perhaps this leads to a comfortable atmosphere. When I visited such a place for research, residents and elderly people in the neighborhood would come and visit them when events like parties were held.
These anarchists would not refuse, or rather, would not mind such people joining them. Everyone will enjoy their time in their own way. You can feel that versatile people are connected on an equal footing.
Moreover, they are engaged in activities to offer free meals to foreigners who came to Germany and applied for asylum and wait for permission.
Why do they offer free meals to strangers? They say that as a same human being, they cannot allow those people to be in the position of refugees and to ignore such a situation.
Live together with versatile people, deal with matters together. We can understand that that is their freedom, and such a way of life is anarchism.
What should be changed here and now, starting from anarchism
How is it in Japan? We, who live in a so-called developed country, were able to possess and consume abundant goods and money by controlling and destroying the nature. But we now realize that such actions destroy the earth that we live on.
Everyone must have an anarchistic way of thinking to some extent. However, for the desire to gain abundance, we might have chosen to be controlled by goods and money.
In order to resolve such problems generated by capitalism, socialist countries were built in the 20th century. But people were controlled and suppressed there. Such countries disappeared by the 1990s, but now, capitalist countries have also started to enhance their control such as top down and centralization, and moreover, people have started to say that there is no other alternative.
This sense of stagnation without an exit started to be expressed as “suffocating” by people. Perhaps that serves as the background to the increased interest in anarchism.
However, there have been people who lived together with nature, without introducing strong control over society both in Japan and the rest of the world.
For example, there are so-called indigenous people in the world, including Ainu in Japan. They did not construct a social system based on control.
That is not only the case between residents, but also between human beings and nature. By living in harmony with nature, they secured sustainability leading to 7 generations or 10 generations ahead.
In the first place, anarchism is something which appears all of a sudden in people’s thoughts and actions.
For example, when coastal areas were destroyed by the Great East Japan Earthquake, people who immediately reached out to people who were in a difficult situation were people who were similarly in difficult situations.
Systems were shut down by a major disaster. This means that people lost a framework called a system, and at the same time, they were liberated from the system. In such a situation, people perhaps made their own decision about what one can do, and took actions. That is anarchism exactly.
Emma Goldman, a feminist who called for female liberation, and an anarchist, said that anarchism is not about describing the future ideal, but “a living force” which constantly creating new conditions in our lives. In other words, in line with the ideal of “a state without control,” “here and now,” to create by ourselves a new situation for oneself and ourselves is anarchism.
In that sense, the activities of young German anarchists consist of such a step. I think we can also change ourselves from inside, by becoming aware of recovering humane freedom through our inherent anarchism. That is, in our daily lives, to be free from being controlled, to be free from controlling, to help each other, to deal with our own matters by ourselves, and not leave them to others.
I hope that you students sometimes will remember that there is an anarchistic way of thinking and living, whatever you learn in whichever faculty, in your four years of university life. For that, you need to learn from various ways of living and thinking, without being restricted in the conventional way of thinking and living. Through that, without noticing, you will be able to obtain a value of thinking that it is good to have freedom in learning and living.
In the real world, there are various controls. That is not something which will change overnight. However, even in such a society, if you know that there are different ways of thinking and living, that may rescue you, who might suffer from stress of controls, and may trigger you to change the “here and now.”
I hope that those of you who are members of society will also remember that such a value exists. Because anarchism is found in every individual.
* The information contained herein is current as of January 2022.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.
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