Introduction to Anarchism – Part 2 – Equality & Solidarity

In my previous video I outlined the anarchist position on authority, hierarchy and liberty. In this video I shall outline the anarchist position on equality and solidarity.

Anarchists value equality but in order to explain why they do so I must first explain what equality is. Equality is broadly understood as two or more distinct entities being equal with one another. This definition immediately raises the question ‘equality of what?’, that is to say what entities are equal with one another and what is it that is equal. The entities that anarchists are concerned with are people within society, therefore when discussing equality between every single member of society we are discussing a different notion of equality than that found in discussions about equally sized sticks or equally long words.

Opponents of equality often state that advocates of equality believe either the claim that everybody is identical with one another or the claim that everybody ought to be identical with one another.

Anarchists reject both of these claims. They reject the first claim because obviously some people are taller than others are or some people are superior at painting than others and so forth.

They reject the second claim for the following reasons. The first reason is that variations in appearance, personality and skills do not necessarily limit the freedom of others. For example, the fact that one person is good at basketball does not make a person who is bad at basketball un-free since the latter person is not having their autonomy limited by either physical coercion or the inability to develop their individuality merely by the fact that others are better at sports than them. The second reason is that since humans are social animals who gain pleasure from the company of others, differences between people makes social life worthwhile and enjoyable. If everybody was identical, there would be no reason to interact with other people and human life would be joyless, isolated and boring.

Opponents of equality usually then proceed to define equality as strict equality of outcome, according to which people are equal in so far as they have the same material level of goods and services. For instance, everyone is equal if and only if everyone has the same amount and type of clothing, the same size and style of house, the same number of hours at work and so forth.

Anarchists are strongly opposed to strict equality of outcome. An initial reason for this is that equality of material goods and services results in an inequality of satisfaction. This is due to the fact that different people desire different things and consequently if everybody received the same things it would follow that a number of people would not have their desires satisfied. For example, imagine that it was decided that in order to be equal everyone had to own six films and no more. The end result would be a situation in which those who loved films were not allowed to satisfy their desire for film by owning more films, while those with no interest in film would own films which they shall never watch or show any interest in and so waste. One can say the same about almost any item one can conceive of and thus it is reasonable to conclude that in such a society almost everybody would own items they do not desire and not own enough of what they do in fact desire for no good reason. Such a society would therefore waste resources and not satisfy human needs.

More importantly in such a society the only mechanism by which to enforce strict equality of outcome would be through the use of physical force. Thus were a person to satisfy their desire to own twenty films they would be violating equality and society would have the right to seize and redistribute their film collection against their will. Anarchists are clearly against such redistribution since it is both a form of theft and a significant infringement upon the freedom and thus autonomy of the individual.

What then do anarchists mean by social equality? Anarchists mean primarily equality of liberty. Equality of liberty refers to the state of affairs in which all people are free, that is to say autonomous. Therefore, from an anarchist perspective freedom and equality are entangled. This is because if one person makes another person un-free he is not only in a position of authority over them but in so doing ensures that said person is unequal to them. Therefore, for anarchists all violations of liberty also violate equality. This is why anarchists do not seek to enforce equality through coercion, since were they do so they would be advocating the enforcement of equality via the violation of equality.

How then do anarchists believe that equality of liberty can be achieved? The anarchist answer is that equality of liberty does not spring from any form of social organisation one could care to imagine but emerges from a society based on principles that enable freedom to flourish and grow. Anarchists thus believe that for a society to be free it must be organised around a given set of rules, principles and values that maximise equality of liberty.

Anarchists advocate broadly speaking two means by which to achieve equality of liberty. The first means is the organisation of society via free association. Free association is understood as horizontal voluntary association. An association is horizontal if and only if it contains no superiors in positions of command and no subordinates in positions of obedience. These positions can be fixed and explicit within an organisation, such as the hierarchy between manager and worker. However, they can also be temporary and implicit, such as the subtle hierarchy between those who talk endlessly at a meeting and those who as a result say almost nothing and thus lack control over the organisation that they are a part of. Horizontal organisation is necessary for the growth of freedom because if individuals are placed or place themselves in a position of power over other individuals an inequality of power has been established, that will result in those at the top of the hierarchy dominating those below them. For domination to end individuals must associate with one another as equals.

The second means by which to achieve equality of liberty is to establish equality of opportunity voluntarily. Equality of opportunity in anarchist theory is the position that all individuals ought to have equal access to the means with which to satisfy their most basic human needs, such as food, water, housing and clothing and with which to develop their individuality, such as creative and engaging work or active participation in the organising of society. Equality of opportunity is necessary for a free society because people cannot be free if they lack the means by which to attain their freedom. For example, a person cannot freely inquire and create, and so develop their individuality, while they are malnourished, uneducated and overworked. If everyone ought to be free it follows that society must ensure that each individual has the means with which to be free.

In summary, anarchists do not seek the equality of coerced hierarchical uniformity but that of free horizontal diversity.

Interconnected with the anarchist advocacy of liberty and equality is solidarity. Solidarity refers to co-operation between humans. Co-operation occurs when a group of individuals unite and act together for their mutual benefit. For anarchists co-operation is the basis for just human social relations. This is because humans are a social animal whose existence depends upon the continued relations between human beings. These relations can be based on either affinity, love and mutual support or upon hostility, hatred and struggle. If liberty and equality are to be achieved then clearly one must prefer affinity, love and mutual support since hostility, hatred and struggle will result only in the victor, the vanquished, the oppressor, and the oppressed. At both a societal and a group level, it results in instability, disorder, conflict and above all tyranny as each individual attempts to become the most dominant at the cost of those around him or her. Thus if we seek liberty and equality we must seek co-operation since liberty and equality cannot be maximised in any other environment.

Solidarity should not be seen as resting on an idealistic depiction of human nature. Anarchists are not saying that people must co-operate with others solely for altruistic reasons. Rather anarchists argue that we ought to organise society in such a manner that as far as is possible when people seek to benefit themselves they benefit all those around them and when they seek to benefit those around them, they benefit themselves.

In the next video I shall apply the anarchist principles that I have outlined to the state and draw the conclusion that the state is inherently unjust.


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