State authority - Thinking about Anarchism


Mary Harney has banned the sale of magic mushrooms!! In a decision taken in record-quick time, Harney and her government colleagues decided that they couldn’t have us all going around sampling mind-altering fungi and maybe even enjoying them. More importantly the decision was made that we couldn’t be trusted to decide for ourselves what was safe/unsafe for each of us to try. We need such decisions to be made for us because apparently we are incapable of deciding for ourselves.

And those that rule us would have it no other way. After all if they didn’t manage to sell us the idea that we need their laws to keep us safe, their role as rulers would effectively be gone. Over 150 years ago, the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote “To be governed is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded…To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorised, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished…” 1

‘Someone else’

What is quite amazing is the extent to which we have all submitted to this idea of needing ‘someone else’ to make decisions for us. If anyone has listened to recent media discussions about the increase in deaths on our roads, for example, it is impossible not to be struck by the fact that it seems the only solutions that either politicians or supposed experts can come up with are more gardai, increased penalty points etc. How about a truly radical idea?? People taking responsibility for their own actions - I won’t drive my car after a couple of pints, I won’t drive over the speed limits because I might kill someone else or myself.

Instead of this the constant refrain is – we need more cops, we need stronger laws. Yet, if any of these commentators were asked directly, they would of course claim that they themselves are perfectly responsible. But there’s always ‘someone else’ who needs to be controlled.

It’s not surprising really that this is the case. After all from the time we are knee-high we are indoctrinated with the idea of the need for regulation and rules. We are led to believe that that amorphous body referred to as ‘the State’ is necessary for both our protection and our social development. But perhaps we should look at things from a different perspective – have you ever considered the fact that far from creating social order, the State is in fact one of the principal causes of social disorder and disharmony?


The State as we know it is based on a fundamental contradiction. On the one hand it is supposedly democratic, it appears to welcome and encourage popular participation. After all we get a chance at election time to have our say in how the state is run, we get to decide in favour of or against a particular set of policies which will be implemented over the coming period. Ironically, however, it is through this very process of giving us ‘our say’ that we actually sign away our right to have any real influence over what happens. What happens is that we abrogate our ability to directly participate in decision-making and we buy into the notion that ‘someone else’ – the State, our rulers … - knows best. And once we buy into this decision we abdicate the idea of taking responsibility for our own actions. Thus the reason why people don’t drink and drive is the fear of getting caught rather than an awareness of the dangers involved. We apparently need a version of ‘Big Brother’ to keep us in check!!

Politicians always sell us the idea of course that they operate in the ‘national interest’ and in the ‘common good’. But the fact is that governments always – no matter what their political make-up – protect the status quo. There is no ‘national interest’. The State is there to protect the interests of those with money, power and privilege.

New Social Order

But of course it doesn’t have to be so. Anarchism looks to get rid of the division between rulers and ruled, to establish a new social order in which the State will have no role and no power because we will live in a society of equals where each of us takes responsibility for our own actions. In the words of Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin

“Either the State for ever, crushing individual and local life, taking over in all fields of human activity, bringing with it its wars and its domestic struggles for power, its palace revolutions which only replace one tyrant by another, and inevitably at the end of this development there is …death!

Or the destruction of States, and new life starting again in thousands of centres on the principle of the lively initiative of the individual and groups and that of free agreement.

The choice lies with you!”2

1. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: General Idea of the Revolution, p. 294
2. Quoted in Marshall, Peter ‘Demanding The Impossible: A History of Anarchism’ P. 623

From Workers Solidarity 91, March/April 2006
PDF file online at