In my pushing through Demanding the Impossible, I came across an interesting quote from George Orwell regarding book IV of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift…and Swift’s anarchist tendencies:
When human beings are governed by “thou shalt not,” the individual can practice a certain amount of eccentricity: when they are supposedly governed by “love” or “reason” he is under continuous pressure to make himself behave and think in the same way as everyone else.
Marshall refutes this by claiming Orwell has misunderstood anarchist philosophy by failing to point out that Swift’s picture of anarchist society in his writing does NOT include the persecution of dissenters and those who think differently. While I do understand that Orwell’s thinking isn’t perfect, this particular quote really strikes a chord with me.
When I was in Philadelphia last year for a conference, my friend and I stopped by an anarchist bookstore and poked around. As I often do in bookstores, I sought out the religion section and quickly found it. What I found, however, was a series of writings from atheist authors talking about the foolishness and danger of religious thought. There wasn’t even a book on Buddhist or Taoist thought, two of the major forerunners for anarchist thought.
I don’t know how the volunteers there felt about religion, but I felt slightly unwanted without even having spoken to the people there. I felt that, because I wasn’t sold on atheism (or anarchism, for that matter), that I was pretty much unwanted as part of their community. Others I’ve spoken to have shared similar experiences with other anarchist communities; there’s an ironic twist in their attitudes, like their thought process is, “If you don’t conform to what we think anarchism is, then you’re not an anarchist.”
To be fair, there’s plenty of places around (such as The Seed in Lancaster, PA) that exist as true safe spaces where different thought is welcomed warmly, but this isn’t always the case, and it’s quite ridiculous. Though Orwell used his thought to demonstrate the irrationality of anarchism and pacifism, he did use an existing truth to demonstrate how anarchists weren’t living up to their own expectations of free thought and free society. If everyone has to think like you, are you really free?
Now, not all anarchists are like that; many are incredibly loving and accepting, but that doesn’t make anarchist states places where anything goes. As I mentioned before, anarchists aren’t against having rules, but what you THINK isn’t (and shouldn’t be if it is) one of them. Though Orwell may have caught some anarchists with their pants down, this isn’t reason to throw out anarchism altogether. There’s going to be different thought in all aspects of anarchism; it’s one of the most diverse political schools of thought in existence. However, making people think like you isn’t anarchism; it’s totalitarian, and your community will quickly collapse if you run it this way.