Anarchy and the Burden of Proof

There are a number of perspectives one can entertain when thinking about anarchy, anarchism, etc. There is one in particular that I think is generally useful to consider even if it may fly in the face of the history of anarchist thought (some of it). I intend to outline some of the features of this perspective although I doubt that in the space of this text I will sufficiently build upon the basics of it. Though it is a simple perspective, it does lead to some problems that perhaps account for some other perspectives. I think I will be able to at least reach that point of this topic.

I suppose a decent way to begin elaborating on this perspective is to demonstrate its main features. The first of which is to doubt the legitimacy of authority, dominance, hierarchy, etc. In short, to suppose that the burden of proof is on those who wish to dominate or position themselves as an authority: that they must prove there is a legitimacy to their power. What this entails does not necessarily need to be formally reasoned, just a simple doubt. It is to cast doubt on the claims of a right to power by clergy, landlord, statesman, gods, bosses, and other authorities. It is a demand from them to prove that there is a reason why in ones maturity, they ought to submit to the control of such figures (or systems). The second feature of this perspective is the critique. That since those in power as a general rule attempt to prove the legitimacy of their power, it becomes necessary to disagree with their attempts at proof… to critique their logic.

I believe that it is not this initial doubt which becomes problematic, but the proceeding critique. It is common for people of all types to doubt the notion that some other person is competent to determine their situation for them. This goes back far beyond capitalism and the State to so called biblical times. The Jewish holiday Passover, for instance, encourages the reading of a particular story of three children… one of which is heretical and doubts the authority of God. Of course the story is meant to demonstrate that it is foolish to doubt the authority of God, it also demonstrates that the burden of proof is not on human beings but on God: to show through might or right that His authority is legitimate. Similar rituals exist under the rule of any authority, even if its a mere display of force that is used to persuade the ruled of authorities legitimacy.

But doubt isn’t good enough! I can doubt the legitimacy of my boss all I want to but until I can critique the boss, their power still holds sway. This isn’t true because critique is a necessary prerequisite for dismissing power, but because the power between me and the boss is not equivalent. If it were just me and this other person, and they were to insist that I subject myself to their control… doubt would be adequate for me to refuse their control. Even down to the power of force, doubt is sufficient for me to refuse the orders of someone stronger than me, better armed than me, more powerful than me. But, power doesn’t rely on the persuasion of me personally, it relies on the persuasion of as many others as possible. And it is here, at this point of the capacity for others to be duped by power that critique demonstrates its necessity.

To further this perspective though, I feel compelled to question the nature of critique itself. If my doubt isn’t sufficient because my power isn’t sufficient to effectively disable so many institutional powers that wish to determine the course of my life… I am in the position of needing to posit this doubt formally and to infect others with it so as to disempower institutionalized authority. Perhaps the nature of an anarchist critique is to articulate this doubt. But we know that anarchists take things further: they posit alternatives, they organize, and they attempt to demonstrate the superiority of anarchy to domination!

Perhaps this absurd?

But it isn’t…

Our doubt is rejected and we are further moved to investigate the reasons why any human being would support their own domination. The critique expands to an analysis of power, authority, and the particular sophistry employed to convince the others that their position is a legitimate position. This is extremely problematic. Suddenly, the burden of proof is on the anarchist to demonstrate that systems of domination are inferior to social life without them. The doubt becomes wanting of an affirmation, but the affirmation is so plain, common, and visceral that it is almost ridicules to¬† entertain the need to prove that we (or myself personally) are better off without being dominated. And that is the ultimate catch…

No one affirms the legitimacy of those that dominate them until those that dominate them also dominate others whom they believe require domination. The individual accepts their own subjugation because they fear the absence of the general system of subjugation: they accept the legitimacy of authority over others. This is the crucial aspect of anarchist theory… not to prove that our own doubts and critiques are adequate; but, to prove that the liberty of those others is legitimate as well. Magically, we no longer face proving our own competence to decide for ourselves… but face proving that others are competent to decide for themselves. This is how power shifts the burden of proof onto us, the doubters.

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