How Empathy Leads to Anarchy

Let me clarify: I’m not saying non-anarchists lack empathy, nor am I saying anarchists have a special capacity for empathy. But it’s interesting to note that many of the values I’ve set out for proper ethical thought (avoidance of theory, mistrust of ethical systems, refusal to generalise) are also basic principles of anarchist thought. Okay, you might wonder at the ‘avoidance of theory’ part in the face of the impenetrable mountains of anarchist political theory, but forget about that for a moment. Perhaps the central anarchist criticism of the State, law and democracy is that it necessarily lumps all people together into one homogenous political, well, lump. In short, the “justice” (as an anarchist I am contractually obliged to use inverted commas) system of the State is inherently unethical.

What I am saying here is that any judgement handed down by the State, any policy decision or directive will always be alienating. Whether government is inherently good or bad – it’s amoral, by the way – it can by its nature never treat people as people. The huge system of categories necessary to run, say, a welfare state or a taxation system will only ever approximate reality; there will always be places where it fails, and when it fails people will suffer. You cannot create laws on the basis of virtue ethics – laws are all utilitarian or deontological in nature.

This by itself is obviously not a reason to smash the State. The obvious response here is also the most hackneyed: that unbearable cliche “well, it’s the best system we have!” It might be, for all I know. But the important thing here is not to begin with an attitude of trust. We should at base be suspicious of all vast totalizing systems, whether political or medical or scientific. At best, the data-gathering and categorizing involved is a necessary evil; it is never something to be celebrated.

This mistrust of categorization is one pillar of anarchy. Without the other two – power accumulates power and power breeds amorality – nobody’s going to be raising any black flags. But it’s a good start.


One thought on “How Empathy Leads to Anarchy

  1. Vamair

    Does a (hedonic) utilitarian law works as “only imprison people if that increases the total amount of happiness in the world” or is it some mix of utilitarian “look at the consequences to see if an action was bad”, virtue ethics “someone who does bad actions is therefore bad and guilty” and deontological “guilty should be punished”? I’d say there are some virtue ethics in the law. Premeditated murder vs. state of affect vs. manslaughter, also releasing people earlier for good behavior. It can be justified by utilitarianism, but works more like virtue ethics.


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