Arthur Ranc, “Anarchy” (1869)

ANARCHY. — D’Alembert, after having defined anarchy as “a disorder in the State, which consists of no one having enough authority to commander and make the laws respected, as a consequence of which the people behave as they wish, without subordination and without police,” concludes thus: “We can be sure that all government in general tends to despotism or to anarchy.”

That thought which seems at first glance to place political society between two equally depressing alternatives, is at bottom, if we look closely, only a careless conception of the theory formulated in this way by Proudhon: “the first term of the governmental series being Absolutism, the final, fatal, term is Anarchy.”

The obvious error of d’Alembert comes from thinking of Authority as a principle of order, while in modern societies, order can only follow from the successive, reasoned elimination of Authority. “Anarchy, or the absence of a master, of a sovereign,” said Proudhon, such is the form of government to which we are approaching every day, and that a deep-rooted habit of mind leads us to regard as the height of disorder and the expression of chaos.”

Proudhon expressed himself thus in his First Memoir on Property. Later, pursuing his thought and formulating it with his accustomed rigor, he declared that the aim of the Revolution was the very suppression of Authority, that is to say of government.

Anarchy is therefore understood in two senses, not only different, but absolutely contradictory. For some, it is the absence of government authority, principle, rule, and consequently it is disorder in minds and acts. For others, it is the elimination of authority in its political, social and religious aspects, the dissolution of government in the natural organism; it is contract in the place of sovereignty, arbitration in the place of the judiciary power; it is labor not organized by an outside force, but organizing itself; it is religious worship disappearing as a social function and becoming adequate to the individual manifestations of free conscience; it is the citizens contracting freely, not with the government, but with each other; in the end, it is liberty and order.

Proudhon also said: “Liberty adequate and identical to order, that is all that is real in power and politics.”—The problem is not to know how we will be governed best, but how we will be most free.

We can now recognize that the theory d’Alembert is perfectly just. Yes, all government must necessarily lead to despotism or anarchy, understood in its vulgar sense or according to its philosophical meaning.

Between absolutism and liberty this is no conciliation possible, no middle term: such is the conclusion to which we are inevitably led, by theory and practice, philosophy and history. Disorder is the work of the rulers; the trouble in society, the turmoil in the State come from the unjust resistance of power, in both its spiritual and temporal forms, aided and sustained by the privileged, to the legitimate demands of the citizens, free-thinkers, and proletarians.

For the idle and the exploiters, for the privileged and the hedonists, any idea of justice is an idea of disorder, any action against privilege is a anarchic event. To think only of escaping exploitation is a guilty thought. The idle and privileged want to enjoy in peace. The best government is the one which insures the most security for their enjoyments. Speculators, gilded youth, dandies, friends of order, deal-makers: that is the accursed race, which, for almost forty-eight years, has given itself to despotism, a race of prostitutes in need of pimps. The ideal Paris, for them, is a city of pleasures, an immense Corinth, with some very expensive girls, since they have lots of money, and well-behaved police. They are the ones who, after 9 Thermidor, whipped the women and crushed the patriots—ten against one—on the public square. They are the ones who, in June, after the battle, shot down the vanquished in the uprooted streets. These are the true anarchists, if anarchists means makers of disorder. It is they who, to satisfy in peace their base passions, to wallow at their ease in the orgy of the sated, terrifying the interests, setting the bourgeois aflame with fear, organize the panic and finally, dragging the unthinking masses along with them, prostrate themselves before absolute power.

Now, despotism is itself powerless to insure the security of the interests. What did you see during the first Empire? A few months of prosperity, for which we paid dearly, then silent tyranny, crafty despotism, the police absolute masters of the life and liberty of the citizen, the holdovers of the revolutionary idea pursued by an implacable hatred, the old order reestablished, France handed over to the clergy, the aristocracy reconstituted, patriotic customs destroyed in the army, the republican cohorts sent to Saint-Domingue to die, the lettres de cachet reestablished, the State prisons filled, three million men transformed into fodder for the cannons, commerce destroyed, agriculture ruined, the countryside giving up its last man, and, at the end of all that, the crowning of the edifice, the invasion!

Yes, if we mean by anarchy disorder pushed to its highest pitch, despotism and anarchy are two identical terms, for despotism makes up the greater part of human nature, stopping social development, sacrificing everything to the material order, creates antagonism among the interests and keeps society in a state of latent war.

Isn’t there disorder and anarchy, for example, in a country where the civil servants are placed outside the law and cannot be brought to trial, where the principle of equality before the law is neglected, where the judiciary and executive power are confused? Isn’t there anarchy when the legislative power, reduced to the state of a consulting body, does not have the ability to introduce laws and can only amend those that are drawn up by a council whose members are nominated by the executive? When the Constitution can only be modified with the consent of the executive, who alone has the right to appeal to the nation, while the nation has no legal and constitutional means of making its will known spontaneously and without being asked by the executive? When the principle of responsibility of the executive has no sanction, and no procedure exists by which an action for damages can be constitutionally introduced?

Isn’t there anarchy, trouble and disorder when the electoral body organized so that the urban groups are divided into sections, each of which is joined with a larger group of voters from the country, when by this system their votes are canceled out, and the cities and the country are place in a state of violent antagonism?

Thus, absolutism is the synonym of disorder, and also the synonym of anarchy, understood in the common sense of the word. Just the same, liberty and order are two correlative terms which are resolved in a third, more general term, anarchy, as Proudhon has defined it, in the radical elimination of the principle of authority in all its forms.

Arthur Ranc.

Source: Encyclopédie générale. 1869. Tome 2. 142-144.

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