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What do you think about my idea of a constitutional system of anarchy?

–9 votes
First let me say that I am NOT arguing for minarchism in the least, and that is not what I mean by "constitutional anarchy." Let me also say that the term "constitutional anarchy" is one I made up, and so you should probably read the following explanation before answering. Sorry if it's a lot to read, but reading is necessary to understand my point.

What I mean by "constitutional anarchy" is the idea that an anarchist community, in its formation, should draw up a list of (edit:) specific aspects of community and personal life (end edit) that should be respected by everyone in the community, regardless of the circumstance. Kind of like the Bill of Rights, but agreed upon by everyone, not just rich white guys. Noncompliance would be punished by ostracization or some other kind of negative social sanction (for more information, check out the various questions on this site about anarchists dealing with crime).  Participation in the community, and thus agreement to follow the outline of the constitution, would be completely voluntary, and different communities wouldn't be in any way obligated to have the same constitutions. People could very easily "shop" for a community with a constitution that they preferred, or if they wanted to change the constitution, they could take it up with the community.

These constitutions would not in any way restrict personal freedoms, except as they relate to the well-being of other members of a community. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you don't hurt other people. This is a well-established anarchist credo, and a constitution would simply clarify that statement in relation to the community.

I know that many people will make the argument that by its nature, an anarchist society will never have atrocity or inequality and there is no reason to create a list of "rights" because every right that a person could possibly have would already be respected, but I don't believe that's true. For example, the issue of sex atrocities and the people who commit them comes up often, and there has never been a really good answer given, answers are usually vague and noncommital. (The "just let the family deal with it as they see fit approach" does NOT work. Often it results in feuding clans, which results in the creation of authority and institutionalized violence). A community with a concern for the sexual well-being of its young children could draw up a constitution that states that children incapable of explicitly stating consent and giving a clearly reasoned explanation of their consent (which would eliminate most kids under 13) have the right not to be pressured to have sex, and a girl who is not old enough to safely have a child without a serious risk to her wellbeing has the right to not be pressured with sex (eliminates most girls under 16). If a person violates that, they would become subject to punishment by the community. If a person doesn't like that, and I'm sure some anarchists wouldn't like the idea of that kind of restriction, they could simply find another community without that kind of constitution, or without any constitution at all (though I imagine most families with young kids, especially girls, would choose to live in communities with more protective constitutions).

Also, as an irrelevant side note I want to mention the fact that this American obsession with ridiculously young girls is probably a side-effect of a pedophile culture that doesn't value or respect womanhood. Women in most traditional cultures don't generally have their first child until they are in their twenties.

If a community felt it appropriate, it could even be helpful to outline methods of "justice"(another loaded term, but basically I mean the way of dealing the appropriate consequences for individual actions, not the consequences themselves. Those would need to be decided individually, per case) in the constitution. For example, as I mentioned, family vengeance quickly leads to clan warfare, which creates a violent, authoritarian culture. Instead, I might propose a method of "trial by open, voluntary jury," in which the entire community is allowed to weigh in on the issue before a punishment is dealt, helping to make sure that just one group of people, like an angry family, isn't exercising sole authority over that person's fate.

Oh, and finally, this constitution is not concrete. There is no centralized state enforcing it, there is no authority inherently belonging to it, it is simply a list of suggestions that the members of the community request that each other follow on the potential penalty of social punishment. If a community happened to become divided on an issue about the constitution, it could easily divide itself into two halves, with people simply joining the half that they preferred. Communities are not concrete either.

I know that this idea of a "constitutional anarchy" will probably be rejected by purists, but it might have some promise. Let me know what you think. Even if it has some issues that I'm not seeing, it's a flexible system. Oh, and yes, I'm most sympathetic to the anarcho-communist school of thought, so you can probably see where I'm coming from in that context (and now all the post-leftists can make fun of anarcho-communism in retaliation).

edited to fix tags
asked Oct 9, 2014 by Lantz (-10 points)
edited Apr 21, 2015 by dot
Stopped reading at "rights"; please take a look at these:

http://anarchy101.org/453/why-according-some-anarchists-is-the-concept-rights-mistake
http://anarchy101.org/3434/actually-against-fairness-establishing-conditions-equality
http://anarchy101.org/7201/how-do-anarchists-view-rights
http://anarchy101.org/5400/theft-and-property-rights

Please try not to think of "a community" as a discrete being with a singular will.
Please stop using the morally loaded term "purist" as well, thanks.
So you essentially read nothing I wrote past the first few sentences, in favor of jumping on a superficial term that I already stated was loaded. How very helpful.

However, since I've been dragged into this discussion, I will say that I reject the rejection of the idea of rights. I disagree with those anarchists (not ALL anarchists, by a long shot), because I believe that humans do deserve to be treated with respect and concern for different aspects of their well-being. I also don't agree that the state creates the idea of rights, most rights were strongly resisted by the state and were only put into place as a result of public outcry. Finally, I will add an exception to that because a person only has rights to his/her self, property rights are a joke designed to protect the rich and to push the poor off of what was previously communal property.

Also, if you'd read all of what I wrote, you'd know that I didn't refer to community in that way at all.

And as for your criticism of the word purist.... well that's just silly semantics.
I appreciate the effort, but I don't like it.
Why? I'm looking for critical responses here, so that I can refine the idea.
i started to list my problems with this idea, but then i read that you want to refine it, and i stopped, because i'm not interested in you refining it.

but you might be interested to read bolo'bolo.
Lantz, I'd like to, but there are so many things in there I don't agree with that it makes it hard to know where to start.
I just downloaded the pdf. I'll get around to reading it eventually, dot. But seriously, just give me the most fundamental, most structural flaw that you perceive in this theory.
The idea of "rights" is either an appeal to higher authority (legal, moral, or divine) or a term you're outright misusing through vague application. The assertion that it's desirable and beneficial for people to have autonomy, or direct control over the content of their daily lives, has nothing to do with a "right" to do so. If you think that this is what anarchists against the concept of rights are arguing against, I think you are (unintentionally or otherwise) misunderstanding.

And I second the recommendation to check out bolo'bolo.
One thing is that I don't believe in the concept of punishment (which seems to be the main objective of the idea).
As opposed to serious semantics? Sheesh.
You need to learn how to make a case for something that doesn't use your idiosyncratic meaning(s) -- or at least explain how you're defining loaded terms. Then you need to be able to make a coherent argument when people challenge your ideas and the way(s) you express them.
Just because you wrote something that makes sense to you doesn't mean it makes (the same kind of) sense to someone else, even if you use a lot of the same vocabulary. And just because you write something doesn't mean that it's coherent, or coherent enough for a critic to dissect and analyze all the ways it doesn't make sense.
Make sense?
By "rights" in this context (I've removed the word "rights" from the original post, by the way), I mean a community agreement on the way people should be treated in regard to certain aspects of life. I'm appealing to the authority of the people to have some control over how they and the other members of their community are treated.

For example, mentally retarded or otherwise disabled people in some communities are left to die. However, another community could write up a constitution that states that those people have a right to life, and thus deserve to be helped by the community, even though they often aren't capable of demanding that right themselves. In this way, a community is creating its own ethical system (which some people see as morality, which makes the post-leftists immediately reject the idea).

However, if this whole semantical ridiculousness about the nature of "rights" is the only obstacle to my idea, I'm not even seeing a need to refine it so far.
Lantz, what you seem to often dismiss as semantics (silly, ridiculous, etc), appears to me to actually be a fundamentally different way of looking at things between you and other people. I think that's an important distinction if you're trying to have an understanding of someone's point of view - and I hope that's of some use to you.
The idea of rights is not even close to being universally rejected by other anarchists, that is primarily a post-leftist concept, and the post-leftists really don't have a convincing philosophical or scientific framework to support that idea, other than choosing to arbitrarily associate rights with higher authority, despite historical evidence that suggests that rights act far more often as protection against the government; that rather than being products of the system, they are forced into the political system only through the hard work and protest of the oppressed.

Finally, after a bit of research, I realized that I basically reinvented the idea of consensus-based social contracts, which are already a big part of anarchist thought. I don't think my idea of a social "constitution" is as rigid or carries as much obligation as the idea of a social contract, but overall, I guess this idea wasn't as novel as I thought.
I'm sure everyone would like to see you elaborate on the "deep historical evidence" that points to rights somehow naturally existing without either the authority of a constitutional state or an appeal to some intangible authority like morality.

I believe you're also blindly ignoring the fact that rights do less to inhibit governments (who often use reforms as a gentle pressure valve for social unrest) and more to convince people that they can only act within the narrow scope of their supposed rights - for example, using the right to free speech is fine, but there's no such right to sabotage your workplace, steal things, fight police officers, etc etc...

Who gets to define what rights you have if not a government or some other authority? If you get to define them personally, what makes them rights as opposed to just a strong feeling you have about your own autonomy? Who gets to say which rights are valid or invalid? Try answering some of those questions before you start going off about "semantical ridiculousness".
this ... proposal? seems like magical thinking. you're both appealing to a body of people to formally agree to a set of principles ("body of people", "formally", and "set of principles" are ALL problematic here), and acting like it will all be free and easy and totally possible to ignore the things that come into being with those three concepts.

rights are an issue of course, but they're just the easiest target in your idea (as written).

tl/dr - read rice boy's last paragraph again.
lantz: " Oh, and yes, I'm most sympathetic to the anarcho-communist school of thought, "

Actually, lantz, your 'constitutional anarchy' actually sounds a great deal like what the 'anarcho-'capitalists are pushing, with private property just a hair-breadth away.

Maybe you'll ponder why I'm making this assertion prior to your banging out a wall-o-text reply?
AF, I just have to say that the term "wall-o-text" gives me a much needed laugh. Thanks. :)
Dot, that's why I emphasize the idea of participation and non-participation. I'm not saying that members of a previously set community have to agree. If one group wants one type of document, while another group wants another type of document, I say that they should simply split into two groups, with people joining the group that they agree with.

Rice Boy, I can see your point about the rights, I really can. But I'm not talking about rules here. If the US government took its own Bill of Rights seriously, they would pay attention to the 9th amendment that clearly states: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Which means that even though certain rights aren't specifically listed in the Bill of Rights, does not mean that the government has the right to increase its power over those aspects of life. Let's not forget that the founding fathers, ignorant and bigoted though they were, were also revolutionaries, and they thought very carefully about how to restrict the government they were creating. Those other actions you list, stealing, fighting, etc, are seperate laws based on the defense of property and the police state.

As for your point about my version of rights essentially being just a strong feeling you have about (specific aspects of) your own autonomy, that basically is what I'm saying, but those "rights" are defined and determined to be valid or invalid by you and your constitutional agreement with your community.
lantz: " If the US government took its own Bill of Rights seriously, they would pay attention to the 9th amendment...does not mean that the government has the right to increase its power over those aspects of life."

So, let me get this straight: the gov't doesn't have 'the right to increase its power' only on condition that it takes its own ambiguously worded laws 'seriously?'
lantz: "Those other actions you list, stealing, fighting, etc, are seperate laws based on the defense of property and the police state."

Now you're getting warmer as to why your contractualism is just about to enter into the realm of private property.

Edited.
Rights aren't "laws", at least not in my scenario. They are guidelines. The Bill of Rights was intended to be the same way. I figured the US government example was gonna cause some issues, because it's not a perfect example, and the US government has skirted its own bill of rights in as many ways as possible (because it is operating on its own authority, not on the authority of the community.) But the US government is centralized. A community that has itself agreed on a constitution would have absolutely no reason or motivation to undermine that constitution whenever possible.
"A community that has itself agreed on a constitution would have absolutely no reason or motivation to undermine that constitution whenever possible."

codifying any agreement into a "constitution" goes against the grain of any anarchy i am interested in. anarchists act and associate as they wish, and those underlying needs and desires change frequently (at least for some of us). to claim that because some group agrees about some things *at some particular point in time* is a reason for declaring that agreement a "constitution" is absurd, at least from this anarchist's perspective. as soon as any individual no longer agrees, they will no longer abide by the agreement. for anyone else to attempt to force them to would be authoritarian, and for them to go against their own needs/desires in order to maintain some abstract social cohesion is to subsume their individuality to the collective, making the collective an authority above them. this anarchist desires and recognizes NO authority above myself. can you see how this differs from your perspective (at least as i am reading it)?

many anarchists who have made a conscious choice to distance themselves from the way of "the left", have done so after much analysis and for very well thought out reasons. it does seem that many more self-identified anarchists remain entrenched in leftist modes of thinking and acting. i don't dismiss you all as non-anarchists; i simply recognize that we do not have very much in common, other than some vague (maybe even abstract) desire for freedom - a term no 2 anarchists will probably even agree on.

when you say this:

"If one group wants one type of document, while another group wants another type of document, I say that they should simply split into two groups, with people joining the group that they agree with."

i would say that, aside from the apparent need to codify one's desires/behaviors/etc into a document (which i find absurd, since documents get ignored, changed, dismissed, etc, all the time), this general idea makes sense, as long as it is carried to its logical conclusion:  every individual should choose what "guidelines/principles/agreements" they care to incorporate into their life at any given time. so not 2 groups, but as many groups as (potentially) their are individuals. in my anarchist world, any grouping likely occurs dynamically, temporarily, for some explicit and shared purpose.

tl/dr: free association and mutual aid are two concepts core to an anarchist perspective; and they make codified constitutions (rules, laws, rights, and the like) completely unnecessary.
ps: free association and mutual aid are also major ways in which the "disabled" are able to thrive in an anarchist world. if one has no trusted relationships with other individuals, they will likely be hindered in some ways; that is as true of the most able-bodied as it is of the most severely disabled. though of course context will vary your mileage.

[sorry, this was supposed to be a comment]
These posts are helpful, funky, and I'll try to respond to them as soon as I have time (probably after this weekend, because I'm going on a trip today).
"if this whole semantical ridiculousness about the nature of "rights" is the only obstacle to my idea..."
But the nature of rights is *the central issue* to your bizarre quasi-statist idea. If you can't be bothered to separate the rights discourse from its immersion in statist language -- not to mention practice! -- then it's always going to be difficult for people who have dispensed with that discourse as a way of trying to convince anyone of anything to take you seriously. If you were to use moralism as the basis of your arguments, you'd get similar responses.

tl;dr: rights and morality are for saps.
lantz: "Rights aren't "laws", at least not in my scenario. They are guidelines."

OK. No harm done since your constitutionalism amounts to nothing more than, "Aw jeez, come on fellas, can't we just play this way?"

I just can't understand why it took so much heavy breathing and keyboard pounding to get there.
While I usually find the knee jerk reaction to talking about "rights" to be intellectually lazy, your proposal illustrates the dangers quite well. Certainly all groups need ways of maintaining and negotiating values and behavior, but your proposal seems very legalistic. In fact, I'm having a hard time distinguishing between your examples and actual laws, despite the clever phrasing. You might as well say things like "You have the right to not smoke marijuana", and pretend that's not a law. I've found written rules to be useful sometimes, but I think it's extremely dangerous to consider them as a basis for organization. They are specific tools to solve specific problems. Why not concentrate on integrating other modes of interaction into your life? Ritual, celebration, mandatory drinking sessions, all the tools you can think of.
I was gonna make a long reply to these comments, but you know, you guys are actually right. A society based on the harm principle, and mutual aid, and free association, doesn't need a list because rights are already built into those principles. However, I still think that communities should try to reach an agreement on behavior that will not be tolerated, and advertise those agreements to potential members. I might believe in equality, but I still have no interest in ever living in a community that tolerates pedophilia or anything like that, because those are the kind of topics that the harm principle can get a little fuzzy about.
Lantzed again!

2 Answers

+2 votes
[since nobody chose to actually log an answer, allow me.]

the phrase "constitutional system of anarchy" is one of the most bizarre i have heard in quite some time. kind of like "anarcho-capitalist". it just doesn't work, in my mind.
answered Nov 2, 2014 by funkyanarchy (12,270 points)
i realize this answer speaks only to the phrase itself, but i figure all the comments above do sufficiently for actual concept. or else i'm just being lazy. :-)
I wouldn't call it lazy at all. Succinct is how I'd categorize your answer.

It's often easy to get lost (at least for me) in pages of concepts, theories, explanations, and interpretations. But like you, that phrase sounds strange to me...it's a contradiction within itself. I can't visualize it, feel it, or understand it, and pages of words doesn't help me.

So, I appreciate your answer. A "constitutional system" is not of interest to me, except to wish for its demise.
Your idea is great, don’t let these dogmatic folk get you down.

A contract is the reification of an agreement. It provides proof and is a reminder of what was agreed upon.

Nothing wrong with writing down and communicating things that have been agreed upon.

If we didn’t need to write things down then we’d already be in an anarchist utopia. We do not operate in a system of intuitive synchronicity. We actually need to work somE things out and communicate them.

So called rights, improperly posited as they are, are not simply a legitimate, they are likely necessary; otherwise you will have tyrannies of power (populist, economic, etc.).

I am obviously bias and only came to your 2014 post because I am thinking about this concept.
whilst you might look at reification, the act of making some abstract concept into an object, as providing permanence, i tend to look on this as obscuring and alienating.  i like to try to live my life moment to moment, immediately and without mediation, my desires and wishes changing as i change.  not that its going particularly well ill admit, but im hanging in.  to try and view our acts as permanent and timeless, our wishes as timeless, i think we are only going to lead ourselves rather quickly down a hole of disappointment.  -sounds like my ex, hayo!- *airhorn*  on that note, i would like to know if people who like the idea of 'constitutional anarchy' sign relationship constitutions To Remind Themselves.  as i was writing that last sentence i realised that thats literally what a marriage is, its a relationship agreement hahahaha  im too high who let me on the internet

i also like that you imply that the only thing between us and an 'anarchist utopia' is paperwork.  can we skip to the end, miss out the form filling?  shall we call it 'bureaucratic anarchism'?  communication /= a constitution, unless you mean that its constitutional that bill clinton 'did not have sexual relations with that woman'.

umm i do not think that it is the lack of legal writs that lets people act genocidy, or rapey, or manipulative.  unless those legal writs are backed up by policing system.  very much doubt that a 'constitution' is going to do me much good in an argument, a fight, or even a conversation.  but then again, i dont want a constitution, so that might have something to do with it.

edit; in short, no.  to me anarchy and constitutions go together as well as chalk and cheese.

"... regardless of the circumstance"  is a huge red flag for me. it  avoids/ignores the role of context in individual relations. which makes it completely uninteresting to me.

"If we didn’t need to write things down then we’d already be in an anarchist utopia"

ROFL!!!!!   seriously?

working things out and communicating are necessary in life. writing down rules by which that should happen is the opposite of any anarchy i am interested in.
You act as though we did not have some 298,000.00 uears* to work things out in.

What has been done up to this point has been insufficient. Look around you. Is it working out? Far from perfect, better than in the past but very far from perfect.

How do you think communication happens? How do you think language and learning are tranmitted? How do you settle on what anarchism is and how it operates?

If it is “everyone doing their own thing” then I guess the capitalists and imperialists should do as they please.

Come on, stop rolfing and be real with yourself, actually put your head into how this may work.

Roght now Eric Posner is doing more for anarchism than you are (Radica Markets).

avc:How do you think communication happens?"

in many different ways....and i consider many means of communicating much more effective than writing (even though i enjoy it a lot)....

"Eric Posner is doing more for anarchism than you are"

i sure hope so!

cause i ain't doin shit for "anarchism". while there are plenty of useful, fun and informative ways to use writing, codifying ideology is not one i have any interest in find useful.

AVC, I don't understand how some lolbertarian is doing anything for anarchism? Sarcasm or ancappism? btw since you seem to possibly be a lolbertarian, the concept of rights give whichever group that's in power, more power. The creation of the US constitution would be an excellent example of that. Bad lolbertarian, bad!  I don't understand why you're repeating the dogma that rights help prevent tyranny or do anything for an individual. Irony.
–2 votes
comrade, kindly forgive grammatical mistakes in my answer.

comrade, anarchy in politics refers to stateless ness or abolition of existing state. that is it requires development of people or liberation of people from false consciousness. it can't be done without waging struggle against capitalist regimes, authoritarian facist and religious heads who form head or ruling class of state. remember that state is a body and it  requires a head to monitor the activities of the entire body. it decides action, inaction,ability and inability. However state is non living entity which lives because of people. if people are stateless then we can say that people are free. people are like soul to the state. this soul is caged inside the state.liberation is breaking out of this cage and becoming free.Marx hence proposed a regime of proletariat,dictatorship of proletariat(oppressed class or working class). According to the communists this dictatorship of proletariat will eventually wipe out all bourgeoise elements of society and transform into new world with new man. that is eventually the concept of state is destroyed and people will live without artificial agents like money borders, gender rules, religious authority and will have freedom to choose their way of life. however people may form their own laws to punish criminals or negative elements of society. but we should always remember that crime may happen because of many reasons. the stateless movement which is a constant evolving process will ensure that there will be no crime due to poverty or inequality(it is not possible in a true anarchist society where different life styles are tolerated and people respect the lives of other individuals.).Marx proposed a way, communists developed different documents which are all commentaries on theories and philosophy of Marx. And we all know the state of communist movements around the world. None of them were successful. Thus this shows that anarchism is not an ideology which is based on certain beliefs and which cannot be achieved by writing certain documents.. Anarchism needs global awareness, development of consciousness. Anarchists need to reach out to people. Anarchists need to struggle. Anarchists should inspire people with actions. That is. we cannot force people to become anarchists. thus we should support any struggle against existing authorise. we should support liberation movement in Kurdistan. we should support dalit movements in India. we should support blacks ,homosexuals, poor and homeless , environment and animal right activists in usa. we should support liberal moslems. we should support Shia in sunni countries ,sunnis in Shia countries. we should support Russians against brutal Russian regime. we should support unity of europeans and freedom struggle of europeans. we should support anarchists in Greece. we should support oppressed and poor of South Americans and africans. we should support children in refugee camps . we should support Chinese,tibetians and many opressed people in brutal neo capitalist socialist china.we should support aboriginals of all countries. we should support Palestinians . we should therefore support every oppressed and repressed person irrespective of gender,color,race,sex,identity,nation,clan,tribe etc. we should stand against all sorts of facism and authoritarianism. we should support every liberation movement. we should support justice. we should intensify anarchist movement against all kinds of racism and authorities. we should not stop rebelling against authorities. we should not tolerate authoritarianism which is against anarchism. anarchism is not an ideology. it is nature and it is natural. nothing is perfect in nature. shapes are irregular. nature is irregular and unpredictable. chaos is its nature. we should become natural.we should encourage people to become natural and be part of nature. anarchism is truth. anarchism is the solution because it is truth . anarchism is solution to every question.
answered Jun 28, 2018 by anrchaos123 (80 points)
Could you edit your answer into paragraphs? That huge paragraph is really hard to read.

"anarchism is truth. anarchism is the solution because it is truth . anarchism is solution to every question."

Honestly, that sounds like something religious fundies say when out recruiting or going door to door. What is "anarchism is truth and the answer to everything" supposed to mean? That's fine and dandy if you believe that, but it makes as much sense if I were to claim Zubazism is truth and the answer to everything. You write somewhere above anarchism isn't an ideology, but present it as an ideology by writing stuff like "anarchism is truth and the solution to everything" and all these other roles and stuff that you say its adherents need to abide by and do.
i agree, zubaz. well said. that whole "anarchism is truth and the answer to everything" thing is such a religious sounding turn-off i could barely get through it.
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