I recently got into a discussion with someone about the Batman villain Anarky, particularly in the video game Batman: Arkham Origins. In the game, Anarky sets bombs around Gotham City with the intention of using them as a method of coercion, to force the mayor, police department, and some other place to do what he wants them to do. My contention is that Anarky is clearly not an anarchist, and that anyone who would use force, violence, and coercion to achieve their ends is not an anarchist. They may be trying to spread chaos and disaster, but “chaos” is not synonymous with “anarchy.”
Anarchy is the absence of a state. It is not the condition where several states are fighting for dominance and supremacy over a given territory. Let’s take the nation of Boogaloo for example. There are five warlords in Boogaloo, and the nation is in chaos, with these five warlords constantly fighting battles across the land. Many people would say that such a condition is an anarchy, but it quite obviously isn’t. Given enough time, one of these warlords will defeat the others and will come out dominant and supreme, and will promptly rule uncontested over the nation of Boogaloo. The only thing that will have changed is that the supreme warlord will suddenly be without competition in his/her control over the land.
It is not anarchy when this warlord reigns supreme over the others, regardless of the warlord’s methods. Seeing as this person is a warlord, we can expect them to rule with an iron fist, barbarically and tyrannically, blatantly using force, violence, and coercion to rule the people of Boogaloo. This was also the case when this warlord controlled one-fifth of the land of Boogaloo. Prior to his conquest, in effect, Boogaloo was split into five nations, each ruled by a warlord, and these five were at war and trying to unite the five nations into one larger one. They ruled their territories with brutality and violence, and it’s irrelevant whether they ruled a land that consisted of a fifth of Boogaloo or all of Boogaloo. It was not an anarchy before one warlord defeated the others, and it is not an anarchy after.
Instead, what we had were five states fighting for supremacy and dominance over the entire land. It is irrelevant to our discussion whether Warlord Jim was elected by the people of his small territory, and whether he ruled with compassion and justice, but we can easily allow for this possibility. Perhaps the people of that one-fifth of Boogaloo called the Arid Region elected Jim to defend their land from the aggression of Warlord Michael. Doing this quite obviously means that Boogaloo is not an anarchy, yet the only thing that has changed is the internal structure of one of the five states.
Even if we assert that all five of the Warlords live up to their name and were not elected to rule, but merely took power because they had an army and weapons, it does not fundamentally change what is happening. It is still not anarchy, because there are still states. To assert that Boogaloo is an anarchy because it is split into five mini-nations, each with their own leader and army, is to assert that Planet Earth is an anarchy, yet this is clearly not the case.
We can even allow that only two of the territories of Boogaloo are at war with one another, and that the others vary between friends, allies, and simple trade partners. We can go even further and allow that every two years, the Warlords come together and try to work out agreements to the betterment of the whole of Boogaloo. Or we can put all five warlords again at each others’ throats, at war, and fighting viciously to reign supreme over Boogaloo. In none of these examples is it anarchy. The relationships between existent states does not determine whether something is or isn’t an anarchy. The methods by which territories select their rulers is not the determining factor on whether something is or isn’t an anarchy.
It is readily apparent that there is no metric by which we can distinguish these Warlords of Boogaloo from what we’d commonly call “the gangs of Mad Max.” Did the manner in which Warlord Jim was given power affect whether or not his nation is a state fighting with and competing with the other Warlords? Certainly not. Even if the people of the Arid Region have a Charter that Jim and his lieutenants are not permitted to violate, it hardly changes the nature of what is happening: Jim is the leader of a gang, and that gang is fighting other gangs.
Now, what if Warlord Jim is going around and planting bombs everywhere, in an attempt to use them as a terrorist would, threatening to detonate them if the other Warlords do not comply with his demands? “Withdraw your forces from the Arid Region,” he might say. “Exile those within your forces who are corrupt,” he could also say. He could even say, “Adopt a Charter of your own that prohibits you from violating the liberty of your citizens.” The substance of his demands are irrelevant.
What if Warlord Jim did not control the Arid Region? What if he controlled… no territory? What if Warlord Jim was just Random Guy Jim, and he had planted the bombs and made those demands? Well, let’s evaluate that question a bit, because the situation I just posited… is a contradiction in terms.
If Jim has planted bombs and is demanding that people comply with his demands then Jim is, quite obviously, attempting to rule over the people of whom he is making demands. Whether they bow to his demands or reject his presumed authority, Jim is attempting to conquer the people and force them to comply with his wishes. In effect, Jim is an authoritarian attempting to take control of others. So quite the opposite, in fact: rather than controlling no territory, Jim is actively engaged in the process of attempting to conquer territory, and he is using force, violence, and coercion to do it. “Bow to my demands–accept my rule over you–or I will inflict violence upon you.”
Jim is clearly not attempting to create anarchy. Jim is attempting to set himself up as the dictator of a state.
Jim’s methods have prevented him from being an anarchist, as his methods have been an attempt to create a state and set himself up as its head, dictating to his subjects what they can and cannot do, what they must and must not do. Just as it’s obvious that Mussolini’s Italy was not anarchy, so is it obvious that Jim’s imposed brutality onto others as he sets himself up–however temporarily–as a dictator is not anarchy.
Any attempt to use force, violence, and coercion is automatically an attempt to set oneself up as an authoritarian state ruling over others and making them comply. This is incompatible with anarchy, because anarchy is the absence of a state. It follows, then, that no one who uses force, violence, and coercion to achieve their ends can be an anarchist. At best, they simply dislike the old state and are trying to set up a new state.