Totalitarian Herd Mentality in Anarchist States: Mockery Which Should Be a Word of Caution

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.

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3 thoughts on “Totalitarian Herd Mentality in Anarchist States: Mockery Which Should Be a Word of Caution

  1. I have a question about the quote: Was the author suggesting that living according to reason and love meant doing what everyone else was doing…in other words, conformity to the world?

    • Not exactly. In Orwell’s mind, anarchists, in their attempt to set up a free-thinking utopia, actually wind up doing the opposite by setting up a herd mentality, where the tyranny of the majority isn’t set up by a voting system, but more by custom. There’s no room for being different even in a place where being different is encouraged; you’re being different in the same way everyone else is.

      • Orwell just clicked for me…with a little bit of help from google to confirm. 1984! That is adding even more interest now that that finally dawned on me. In essence, neither communism or anarchy are the solution because they both become uncreative, oppressive, and nihilistic. They are both one-dimensional theories–flat. People live in more than one-dimension (depth, height, and all that other stuff) that anything less is too limited for human beings. Anarchy suppresses because in an effort to get along people will jump over a cliff if everyone else is doing the same. Interesting…

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