What Anarchist Philosophies Can Learn From The Statist Systems of Government Pt. 2 of 3
This is part 2 of 3 in a series of essays meant to be read in order. In order to get the full jist of my argument, please read part 1 here.
I’m going to propose something in this article that might make more than one of you cringe a little – Believe it or not, there is one thing the collective models – monarchies, democracies, republics, communism, etc… - get right that Anarchy doesn’t.
Ever hear of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Of course you have. You’re anarchists. You’re smart peeps. But just to be sure, let me give a basic explanation. So the hierarchy of needs is broken up into, originally, 5 levels, with the bottom level being the most basic, and on up to the top, with that being less of a physiological need, and more of an individual need. Those original 5, starting from the bottom and moving up, are – Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem, and finally, Self-Actualization. (This form of self-actualization is different than the self-actualization that I speak about in my essay critiquing Marx, found here). In this series of needs, what one should notice is that only the first and last are truly individualistic, with the 3 middle ones coming from a sense of community. And the first one – physiological – while it is individual in nature (think of it like you can’t feed others until you yourself are fed, for example), we are talking about physical needs, not individual psychological or philosophical needs. Nowadays, the hierarchy has been amended to include 3 new needs, but those deal primarily with individual psychological/philosophical needs, and they too are all at the top. In other words, the prime point I’m going to be making holds true, regardless of the 3 additional needs.
So what is the connection between the various forms of statism and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Well, interestingly enough, all of these political models deal within the first 4 levels of needs – Physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem. How so, and why is it important?
The history of governments and collective civilization is based on a very basic premise, I’ve observed – That is, “there is strength in numbers.” And as people have realized that, they’ve banded together – whether to be better hunters, or to better their chances of survival if they come across an enemy tribe. And as those numbers grew, and – people being as they are – they realized that all individuals are different, with different wants, needs, likes, and dislikes etc…So they decided it might be best to develop some rules of conduct in public life. This is the basis for the first civilizations and their governments, and this has always been the case. This has never changed. We can see right away how these origins of governments of any size and variety are proving Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Understanding the world to be a rather dangerous place, people sought for ways to increase the chances that their physiological needs were met, and increase their safety as well.
It should also come as no surprise then that having these needs met, we see the beginnings of the world’s oldest profession – prostitution – enter the historical record. People are looking for love, companionship, in ways that meant more than just “whose got the genes that I don’t, that would be good to pass one with the good genes I do have?” As our civilizations grew, we become pickier about who we chose to love and procreate with. It wasn’t just about survivability anymore, but aesthetics. We noticed beauty for the first time, and had the ability to do something about it, and influence it.
Later, once we got to the point where we could farm, build stable homes that weren’t meant to be taken down every few weeks, and find love, we began to scheme. In other words, we tried to find ways that would best sustain what we had achieved. We looked for esteem, we built friendships with other powerful families and clans, sought higher positions in society, a better life for our children than we had, and so on.
Has any of this changed?
Don’t we still operate on much the same premises, even in 2017? We need food, water, shelter, belonging and love. And once we have those things, we want to protect it. And we protect it by attempting to become the biggest dog in the pound. Whether through raises and promotions, finding the smartest or toughest guy in the room and befriending him, or seeking political office, we look for that sense of esteem that would, ideally, guarantee a sense of legacy for ourselves and our family. We don’t want to just find safety; we seek ways to keep these needs met in perpetuity.
Why is this so important? What is the connection?
The principles of Anarchy, I argue, are reserved for those in the last realm of the hierarchy – self-actualization. Anarchy is reserved for high philosophers who have succeeded and gone through the previous 4 needs on the hierarchical list. These other forms of government? They exist – thrive – on the first 4 levels. Or at least, they claim to. From Monarchies, to Communism, and Socialism to Democracy, one thing all these non-anarchistic models teach that Anarchy doesn’t? They operate according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – People need food and shelter, or stability, first. While these systems have shown time and again that they are either insufficient for the task, or they downright make the problem worse, they hit the ear nicer for most people because they go after certain needs first, and in so doing, they appear the more humane philosophy. Of course, we know that ultimately they aren’t, but before you can operate a business that will pay for your private security force and ample weapons cache? You need food, and a roof over your head. And while these other systems may not be very good at it, they are starting in the right place first. Why doesn’t Anarchy? Can we shift from the world’s various governments directly to Anarchy?
Not until Anarchy addresses the more existential concerns that, up until this time, only the statist philosophies seem to have addressed, albeit poorly. Not until then will anarchy attract more people as a viable alternative.
Now in arguing that Anarchy should address the hierarchy of needs, some anarchists may be saying “you’re not putting out true anarchy! Anarchy is about the principle!” That’s correct – Anarchy is about the principle, but can’t it be about more, too? Unfortunate as it is, principle doesn’t put food in your belly. Principle doesn’t keep you alive, at least not explicitly. The hierarchy of needs is just the recognition of basic human psychology, and there is no further proof of this than the fact that for the last 5,000 years of human civilization, the majority of humanity has preferred the “safety and consistency” of statism to what they see as “uncertainty” or “chaos” of Anarchy. For those of us who understand anarchy, we know this isn’t true, but the perception has persisted for a very long time, and most people will fight to protect their chains. This isn’t being a fake anarchist. Again, this is basic human psychology. The irony, of course, is that that people looking for power within the statist context are actually just trying to raise their own esteem, and secure a legacy! Go figure!
In my last article, I addressed something that necessarily comes up in debating with statists that relates directly to this – existential threats. Threats to safety. And while we know that the state ends up creating as many threats as it defends against, the fact remains that the image has successfully infiltrated the minds of the average human. Governments, for all their ills, keep people safe, relatively speaking. At least, that is the statist argument. And while it is wildly untrue, it is not untrue that the statist philosophies are keen to address the bottom 4 levels of the hierarchy of needs. The fact that Anarchy as a philosophy exists seems to be only because we live in a world where for many of us, those first 4 needs have already been met. It may be difficult to admit, but it may also be true. We may disdain statism in any form, but it may have been a political and historical epoch that humanity has necessarily had to go through in order to get where we are now. Sad, but true.
I’m not asking that we be “grateful” for nation-states, per ce’, but I think it’s important we recognize their historical significance in seeing humanity to a point where we can even have this discussion at all. And the irony that the very DNA of the state comes with the seeds of its own destruction built into it is of immense satisfaction to me. In other words, states have existed to get us to where we are today – the point of achieving self-actualization. That self-actualization is the outgrowing of the state itself. Poetic, no?
In the end, as much as it pains me to say it, the one thing that the statist philosophies have done a much better job at is appealing to human psychology. Not intentionally, necessarily. But, the statist philosophies appear more humane because they address our existential needs, our physiological needs, and our need for companionship and human interaction. Whether it is communism, or constitutional republics, the state has acted as a point of reference for the evolution of human culture. It has addressed, though inefficiently and often times irrationally, the first 4 of Maslow’s 5 hierarchy of needs. For anarchy to grow, and shed its image of utopianism, it needs to figure out how it too can address these needs. As it stands, the philosophy of Anarchy is itself reactionary, on the historical stage. It was only after we became safer, had some food in our belly, and had families and friends with which to discuss these things with that we recognized that there might be a better way. This is where self-actualization comes in, and Anarchy is found on that level of the hierarchy of needs. Necessarily then, for Anarchy to become a real possibility, it needs to find a way to replace the statist systems in addressing those first 4 existential needs. Until it can do that, the majority of the population will remain chained and content to the state, and anarchy an unattainable principle worthy of academic papers, but little else to the common person.