The Philosophy of Anarchism versus the Philosophy of Democratic World Government

Glen T. Martin

14 May 2004

During my college years at the University of Buffalo in the late 1960s, I studied the philosophy of anarchism and thought of myself as an anarchist.  The background for my interest included the tumultuous events of that era – riots in the urban ghettos, mass protests against the Vietnam War, police repression of dissidents, and my understanding of the corruption of democracy and government within the U.S.

I studied the classical anarchist writings of William Godwin, Prince Peter Kropotkin, Michael Bakunin, and Pierre Joseph Prudhon and did an independent study in my senior year in which I attempted to systematically compare the philosophies of Anarchism and Marxism.  Anarchism spoke to my socialist and communitarian sympathies and to my insight into the need for rebellion against the repressive and authoritarian nation-state.   

I understood that the state in the United States was a class-based state, not a true democracy, with a government that protected vast accumulations of private wealth.  It was a system that repressed the people and human freedom in the name of the legal right of corporations to exploit people and nature to steal ever greater wealth for themselves.

I adopted the main principle of Anarchism – the belief that the seemingly “corrupt” human nature that we see all around us is due to the authoritarian and illegitimate coercive structures of government.  I embraced the basic anarchist view that the removal of these structures would result in our innate goodness and communitarian human nature emerging.             

Without the coercive apparatus of government and its protection of unjust property relations, I assumed that people would begin living on the Earth in peace with one another, in voluntary communities, controlling their own productive facilities and reaping the full benefit of their own labor.   There would no longer be war, racial or religious hatred, greed, or the desire of some people to interfere with the liberty of others.

Over many subsequent years I continued to study socialist theory, democratic theory, theories of government, theories of imperialism (such as those of Vladimir Lenin and Immanuel Wallerstein),  psychoanalytic social theories (such as those of Herbert Marcuse and Eric Fromm), and philosophies of liberation (such as those of Che Guevara and Enrique Dussel).  I also began to travel widely outside of the U.S. and experience different cultures, religions, ethnic groupings, and governmental systems.   From this process emerged several conclusions incompatible with anarchism.

1)   My most basic conclusion from these years of study and experience is that there is no such thing as an “innate human nature” waiting to emerge if all forms of governmental organization are eliminated.  Neither is human nature “innately bad” as advocates of strong, coercive government assume.  

Human nature is extremely malleable – we become one kind of creature in one social-cultural-governmental setting and another in another setting.  Eliminating government will leave people victim to the chaos of social prejudices, bigotries, fears, angers, stupidities, and unjust cultural practices (like female circumcision) that sweep through any social community.  How do we promote human freedom, democracy, intelligence, mutual tolerance, and understanding?    Both attempts to eliminate government, and structures of coercive government, tend to destroy these qualities.

2)   I reflected long on hard on the concept of human “equality” and “freedom.”  Regarding the concept of equality, it is patently obvious that people are all individuals – with different physical and mental strengths and weaknesses and unique characteristics that defy any concept of general equality.   Even though there are theoretical perspectives that posit equality (we are all “children of God”; we are all of the same “species-being”), these have very little force in actual human interactions where the strong (mentally or physically) will nearly always take advantage of the weak if they are not constrained from doing so.  

I began to realize that human equality and freedom are political concepts that must be legislated.   We are all free and equal if we have an enforceable bill of rights that ensures equal protection before the law.  We are all free and equal if we have real, functioning democracy that enforces freedom, equal treatment before the law, equal due process, and equal rights for all citizens.  The U.N. Declaration of human rights, which is unenforceable, is practically meaningless in today’s world where rights are violated with impunity by any group with unaccountable power over others.   There can be no universal human equality without universal, enforceable law legislating and mandating that equality.

 For example, if men and women are to be equal, they must be equal before the law and because of the law.   Universal suffrage that women struggled so hard to obtain would not exist today if it were left up to the “innate goodness” of men.  Women, like everyone else, are made equal by law.  Human freedom and equality are the goals.  And these will come about as the result of high quality, well written enforceable laws – laws that will create a framework of freedom and equality within which our uniqueness and individuality can flourish – laws that still need to be written.

In the thought of Karl Marx, the legislating of political equality in the newly formed political democracies of the 18th century was a “great advance” in human freedom and equality.  But it did not achieve real freedom and equality because it left the system of economic domination and exploitation in place.   Human freedom and real equality can only be created through legislation that protects a basic economic freedom and equality in addition to political freedom and equality.   Good democratically formed laws, in which people have really participated in the making and enforcing of these laws, are the only effective basis of human freedom and equality.

In the U.S. today, we do not have true freedom, nor equality, because the U.S. is not a democracy.   It is an oligarchy of the rich (mostly Caucasian males), a propaganda system run by the rich, and a system of injustice and coercion enforced against the poor at home and abroad.  However, we are morally obligated to demand and live by principles of freedom and equality as the great 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant argued.   For these are the fundamental principles of all morality.  

Hence, in the U.S. today, we are in a condition of what I call “structural immorality.”  We are morally obligated to live under free, truly democratic government, for that is the only possible basis for actual, functioning freedom and equality.   To live without good government, is to live in what Kant called a “state of nature” which is really a state of defacto war.   For without good government the stronger can always attack, dominate, exploit, or coerce the weaker.  We must oppose both the destruction of all governmental authority (anarchism) and the imposition of unequal unjust coercive government (our present system in the U.S.).  Freedom and equality must be legislated by truly democratic, participatory government.   There is no other way to achieve these goals, goals that are inherent our human moral and spiritual lives.

3)   Third, I began to understand the hundreds of everyday functions of government from which we all benefit that have little to do the highly visible repressive features of the undemocratic aspects of government.   When I go to the doctor or dentist, I am very happy that the government certifies their competencies.  Imagine people “free” to set themselves up as doctors or dentists without government regulation?    When I buy drugs or foods, I benefit from enforceable standards of drug and food quality.   Imagine what corporations would do to us if there were no such standards?    When someone is hired for a job on the basis of their college education, imagine what it would be like, if no such awarded certificates were coordinated or sanctioned by law?

When I draw water from the tap, I benefit from uniform, enforceable standards of water quality.  The same is true with air quality, automobile safety, and every other aspect of life.  Fire codes and building codes evolved from very real experiences of gigantic fire tragedies or building disasters during a period when government left people “free” from standards with respect to these things.    The very real failures with regard to good doctors, food, fire or building disasters of which we are all aware are due to lack of good, democratic government.  They are not the result of government itself, but of bad government as the rich or unscrupulous distort good government for their own purposes.   What we need is good, citizen run, democracy that serves the interests of everyone by promoting true freedom and equality.  

Government is a designed social institution that can be substantially improved through building in checks and balances, citizen oversight, true freedom of information, and democratic participation.   It must be “federated” in a series of levels from the smallest community units, to the largest planetary units in order to preserve citizens’ control over their local affairs.  The point is not to get rid of government but to create good government.

 For the last 40 years, the propaganda coming from the big corporations has been anti-government (anarchist) propaganda.   They tell us that the source of our problems is “big government” that takes our taxes and inhibits business enterprise, creativity, etc.   But the truth of the matter is that good government is the only thing that can prevent the domination, exploitation, and injustice flowing out of corporate greed and all other forms of unaccountable power.

4) But why are there so many “bad” governments in the world?  Why is it so difficult to create good government?   A fundamental reason for this difficulty emerges if we study the world system that developed from the Renaissance of 16th and 17th century Europe and soon became the dominant world system.   The governments of the world system, which have always been largely controlled by the wealthy classes of their respective countries, understood that control of the wealth-producing process internationally was essential to the power and wealth of nations.  

Spain, Portugal, Britain, Holland, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, China, Japan, the United States, and other nations began the race for domination of the wealth and resources worldwide with the horrid history (continuing to this day) of wars, conquests, colonialism, slavery, mercantilism, and other forms of exploitation of the world’s cheap labor and resources by the imperial centers of capital.   Thus emerged the modern system of territorial nation-states – all in competition with one another for wealth, military power, and spheres of hegemony.

Under this system, authentic democracy is impossible.   Under this system, nations are impelled to militarize, to operate through a secret foreign policy, using “intelligence” gathering, diplomatic deception, treaty alliances, and economic, political, or military coercion to secure their control over the wealth-producing process and their spheres of trade, domination, and exploitation.  Democracy cannot flourish within this system, since governmental secrecy, militarism, and lack of civilian oversight are entirely incompatible with democracy.

Similarly, the modern world system has generated vast concentrations of private, corporate wealth that operates in secret from the public (since corporations are considered to have the same “right to privacy” as persons) in an undemocratic and unaccountable fashion.  Corporations under this system operate not out of a concern for the environment, democracy, or the public good but to maximize profits for investors regardless of the consequences.   They also operate in cooperation with imperial nation-states to dominate and control cheap labor, resources, and the wealth-producing process worldwide.

Study of this world system shows that two fundamental presuppositions of bad government are monopoly capitalism and the sovereign nation-state.   These are the two anti-democratic pillars of the world system since the Renaissance.   Therefore, we can only create true democracy and true good government on the planetary level.

Democratic world government under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth demilitarizes the world entirely (and the world government itself by law has no military).   Hence, it makes possible for the first time the elimination of governmental secrecy and true citizen oversight of all government functions (the necessary basis for any functioning democracy).   Only complete government transparency can give authentic democracy.   Without military or international competition for unjust wealth both national governments and the world government will be completely transparent for the first time.  Citizen privacy must be respected but there is no legitimate reason for government or its officials to claim the need for secrecy.   Hence, only a demilitarized world under world government can give us real democracy.

Secondly, democratic world government under the Constitution gives the people of Earth through the World Parliament the power and duty to make corporations accountable to the common good (of freedom, equality, and environmental integrity).   Just as democracy cannot function while there is governmental secrecy, so corporations must be publicly accountable and not be allowed to exploit, price fix, bean count, buy political favors, bust unions, suppress unfavorable research, funnel funds into off-shore accounts, manipulate the market, etc., etc., in secrecy.          Under today’s world system, where corporations dominate nations in their own interest and some corporations have more assets (and more power) than many nations, democracy cannot flourish.  Only the authority of world government can control multi-national corporations, since these are beyond the legal reach of any particular national government.   Here also, democratic world government makes possible real democracy on Earth for the first time, from the local to the planetary level.

5) Finally, the global crises that our planet faces today can only be dealt with by democratic world government.   Anarchism, like theories of political democracy focusing on nation-states (such has those of Jeanne Jacques Rousseau or John Locke), arose in the 17th and 18th centuries when people did not dream that there could be such a thing as “global crises.”    With the dawn of awareness (beginning in the 20th century) of our planetary crises that are beyond the scope of any nation-state to deal with, some have realized that we need to have a new political philosophy, and an entirely new understanding of our human situation, if we are to survive much longer on this planet.   To put it bluntly, we must unite under non-military, democratic world government or we will not survive the 21st century.

The global population explosion is threatening our existence on this planet.  Eighty million new persons are added to the population of the Earth each year.   Some scientists predict nine to eleven billion people by the year 2025.  In 1900, the Earth had only one billion people, today: over six billion.  Every person alive impacts the world’s resources and environment.  Sustainable economists such as Herman E. Daly assert that the Earth can only sustainably support two to three billion people.   The impending consequences of overpopulation, already beginning today, will be massive migrations, starvations, wars, refugees, environmental damage, and economic chaos.

The global environmental crisisis also happening here and now and includes multiple forms of destruction leading to a possible collapse of the planetary ecosystem that supports life through global warming, ozone layer depletion, or other massive disruptions.   Globally, soil erosion is devastating the farming lands of the planet which are disappearing at an astonishing rate.  Fresh water aquifers are disappearing as is the total supply of fresh water from the Earth.   Global deforestation occurs on the scale of an area half the size of California each year.   Grazing lands are rapidly disappearing on which much of the planet’s population raise animals for food.   Ocean fisheries, which supply a large portion of the Earth’s food, are collapsing everywhere.   These are all well documented facts for anyone who cares to find out for themselves.

Global militarism and wars continue unabated.  These are extremely destructive of the environment, of human rights, cause massive refugee problems, and cause the destruction of cultures, livelihoods, and civilized living for hundreds of millions.  Nearly one trillion U.S. dollars per year and immense human resources are wasted world wide. Less than half this amount could supply clean water and sanitation for every person on Earth. Who is to stop this madness?   The imperial nations themselves lead with world wide sales of “conventional weapons” on the scale of many billions of dollars per year – breeding conflicts, terrorism, dictatorships, genocides, and wars.

Global poverty and misery continue to increase.  Current U.N. figures estimate 1.5 billion persons or 20% of the Earth’s population are living in “absolute poverty,” with hunger, malnutrition, and no hope.   Three fifths or 60% of the Earth’s population live in a condition of relative poverty that gives them little hope for education, freedom from disease, or a fulfilled life.  There is massive international debt of the poor countries to first world lending institutions and hence massive undemocratic control over their destinies.  The result is dictatorships, as well as social and economic chaos in “third world” countries that give them little hope under the current world system of ever seeing anything resembling freedom, equality, or democracy.

Worldwide, there is little or no global regulation or planning regarding the future.  Instead, there is global competition between nations and huge corporations for resources, military advantage, cheap labor, and avoiding environmental regulation.   The United Nations, premised on the present world economic system, on the system of territorial nation-states, and on the war system, is totally helpless to address these crises as its record of failure on all these issues demonstrates.   The U.N. is based on the failed assumptions of the modern world system: the sovereign nation-state and monopoly capitalism.  Our only option, if we are to have a future at all, is non-military, democratic world government.

All of these global crises destroy democracy, and the possibility of democracy, within the nations and localities of the world.   They all portend the destruction of a future for humanity unless we unite as human beings, politically, economically, and democratically.  The Constitution for the Federation of Earth, written with these global crises in mind, is directed explicitly to their solution.   It is designed to rapidly control the world population explosion through non-coercive incentives, to restore and protect the global environment, to demilitarize the world and prevent remilitarization, and to eliminate global poverty rapidly and sustainably.  It is designed to ensure global democracy from the local to the planetary levels, and I have argued that real democracy even at the local level is impossible unless we also have it at the planetary level.   There is no other force on Earth that can accomplish these immense and immediately necessary tasks.

That is why anarchism as well as political liberalism under the system of sovereign nation-states are outmoded political and economic philosophies.   At the beginning of the 21st century, we must develop a planetary economic and political philosophy involving non-military democratic world government or we will have failed our children and future generations – who will perish from the Earth.