Nathan Schneider is author of the just-released book Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. He was the first reporter to cover the planning meetings that led to Occupy Wall Street and wrote about it for Harper’s Magazine, The Nation, and The New York Times. Here is a quote from his new essay “The Government Shutdown — an Anarchist Dream?”
In his complaints against the wing of the Republican Party that engineered the present government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid derided his opponents as “Tea Party anarchists.” It’s hard to decide who should be more annoyed — the Tea Party or the anarchists. In any case, Reid’s remark is revealing of how the long tradition of anarchist philosophy has been thrown under the bus of U.S. political discourse, then rolled over, then dragged along in mangled form so as to be pointed at when doing so seems expedient.
Many may be surprised, for example, that actual anarchists aren’t necessarily rejoicing over the U.S. government’s latest form of self-annihilation. What they see taking place is a transfer of power from one kind of oppression, by a government that at least pretends to be democratic, to another that has no such pretensions. They point out that the shutdown won’t stop the NSA from spying on us, or police from enforcing laws in discriminatory ways, or migrant workers and nonviolent drug users from being imprisoned at staggering rates. The parts of government that the shutdown strips away are among those that bring us closer to being a truly free, egalitarian society: food assistance to ensure that everyone can eat, health care that more people can afford, and even public parks, where some of our greatest natural treasures are held in common. Meanwhile, ever more power is being handed over to corporations that are responsible only to their wealthiest shareholders.
Historically, the so-called libertarians of the Tea Party and anarchists have common roots. The origins of both can be traced to certain freedom-seeking strands of the Enlightenment — including thinkers like Edmund Burke and Thomas Jefferson, as well as ones not normally taught in U.S. classrooms like William Godwin and Peter Kropotkin. It’s an oddity that in the U.S., the main current of libertarian thought has been twisted and inverted into a kind of monstrous stepchild. Rather than seeking an end to all forms of oppression, our libertarians want to do away with only the government kind, leaving the rest of us vulnerable to the forces of corporate greed, racial discrimination, and environmental destruction. The legacy of one firebrand Russian émigré, Emma Goldman, has been traded for that of another, Ayn Rand. The result is that, in this country, what was once the mainstream of libertarian thought — socialist, democratic anarchism — has become so forgotten that the word “anarchist” can be mishandled for the sake of a congressional jab.
This quote is courtesy of the Institute for Public Accuracy, www.accuracy.org