“The problem with the state isn’t a bad politician here or there,” writes Gary Chartier in his epic book Conscience of an Anarchist. “It’s not just the Republicans. It’s not just the Democrats. (It’s not limited to any party in any country.) The problem is the state. It creates opportunities for plunder and abuse that are enormously attractive to anyone with the potential capacity to use it to exploit others.”
Gary Chartier has written a calm, well-reasoned, relentlessly sensible guidebook to understanding points about the world that are otherwise overlooked. He draws on these points to demonstrate how life without the state would be better than the best of life now but without the astonishing personal and social costs that are imposed by politics and the state.
Even if you think you know the literature of liberty well, regard such talk as hopelessly utopian, you will find this book to be a revelation. Barry Goldwater wrote his Conscience book, and Paul Krugman wrote his. Lovers of liberty needed one, and Professor Chartier has written it.
It is a beautiful book that takes on every important theoretical point — economics, foreign policy, criminal justice, civil liberties, courts, personal life — but also deals with the practical question of how to get from here to there. This book may well be destined to become a classic.
Chartier himself has an interesting intellectual odyssey. He was a conservative Republican growing up who became a libertarian. But then in college he found himself drawn toward left-wing social democracy as the solution to the world’s injustices. Finally he returned to a richer perspective rooted in his libertarian past but extending it in new ways.
Chartier’s outlook is not only distinct. The method he uses to defend his position is as well. He offers no blueprint; in fact, the absence of a blueprint is part of the point. “Without a little cognitive humility,” he says, “it’s easy to assume that I’ve got a model, a plan, that’s just right for everyone, that all I need is the right sort of benevolent philosopher-queen to implement it. But of course it’s that kind of naïve idealism about the capacities of states and the motivations of state actors that’s gotten us into the mess we’re in now, the mess in which the state tyrannizes us — supposedly for our own good.”
He marches through the claims and amasses evidence and argument to support them. The state’s claim to justified authority is implausible. It is neither necessary nor inevitable. It consolidates power of the wealthy and enables them to exploit others. It leads to killing and conquering. It suppresses personal freedom. It prevents the emergence of a social order that is free, prosperous, creative, and developing.
To be sure, this book is principled, but it is never grating or unreasonable. Its arguments are patient and do not ask the reader to take wild philosophical leaps. To be persuaded by them, you do not need to adopt some alternate Hegelian-style view of history or a new philosophical or ethical system. He nowhere posits some fundamental change in human nature or the workings of the world we all know. Instead, his arguments extend from what might be called common sense: what all of us have learned just from making a life for ourselves in our times.
In this way, Chartier’s treatment of anarchism is more of a tour of everyday life than a far-flung manifesto attempting to raise a political army. Despite the incredibly radical thesis and conclusion, then, nothing in these pages has the feel of something written to beat you over the head. The arguments have a rare penetrating power because they connect with the real way we live our lives.
The book ends with a series of practical alternatives. He considers the merits and merits of politics and running for office, protests and boycotts, underground economic activity, economic independence, entrepreneurship, survivalism, technology, and self-education. On this last point, he is particularly compelling. And to address this point, he provides an outstanding bibliography of resources.
This is a book that can teach a generation, and inspire serious change in the future.