Anarchism Takes Some Territory

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Many libertarians are, or have been, anarchists. Murray Rothbard, an early contributor to this journal, was at one time America’s leading anarchist. So there’s some relevance to the fact that the only territorial gain that anarchy has made in America, or, I think, anywhere in the world since the Spanish Civil War, has been the “autonomous zone” now in existence in Capitol Hill, a bohemian area of Seattle.

I don’t live in Seattle, and it’s hard to find out what’s going on in the Zone. Journals of the Right decry it; journals of the Left, which is mostly what America has, play it down. Washington’s governor was asked about it at a press conference on June 10 and acted as if were news to him. Meanwhile, Capitol Hill had been fenced off, with masked and armed guards standing at the gates demanding to see identification before letting residents in or out. As I write, giddy Zone fans are urging skeptics to come and “listen to [the] speakers” and “check out the art.” I can well imagine what the “art” is like — spray paint is an easy medium. And I have the worst imagination of what it’s like for hapless citizens to try to live in an environment in which speeches and music are blaring night and day. I doubt that the music is Mozart.

A tweet purporting to come from within the Zone claims that because “the homeless people we invited took away all the food,” donations were needed of basic supplies: “vegan meat substitutes, fruits, oats, soy products, etc.” If this is authentic, it is, in its way, a work of art.

The only territorial gain that anarchy has made in America, or, I think, anywhere in the world since the Spanish Civil War, has been the “autonomous zone” now in existence in Seattle.

I’m sure that Murray Rothbard, who had very conservative tastes, would not approve of these events. But what would he say? And what would Thoreau, who was nearly an anarchist, have to say?

They would say, of course, that this is not what they had in mind. They would point out that no one asked the consent of the residents of Capitol Hill before initiating this experiment in anarchy. Since Rothbard and Thoreau were intelligent people, and good observers of the human race, they would note that the Zone was started and continued with the permission of city officials who didn’t want to use violence to combat violent demonstrations in that area. (Years before they had not scrupled to use massive violence against demonstrators, teargassing many innocent residents in the process.) So this anarchy is not a natural growth but the fruit of force.

The question is, could it ever not be so? I don’t know the answer to that question. Perhaps a large condo complex is, in effect, an anarchy, where people choose to live and make their own rules. But if there’s violence in the complex, the police are always called. And it’s very observable that “anarchist” movements, whether in Spain in the 1930s or in America in the 1890s or in the pages of Conrad’s The Secret Agent, have usually been communist movements. Their leaders didn’t like the other kinds of communism, but they had no compunction about taking over and running things to suit themselves, with their own, very definite kind of policing.

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