Autonomous Anarchies

Communities for All and None*

            The most urgent question of the next generation is, how to be happy in this hell? How to create autonomous spaces of happy survival in this hell? The next question is, how can we save and transmit the message of equality and friendship, while the worst tempest in history unfurls? 

                                                   --Franco "Biffo" Berardi

Anarchy is not the lack of order. It is the lack of any ruler.

That is the original, which is to say the archaic, sense of the term anarchy, from the ancient Greek prefix an-, "without," plus arkhon, "ruler." The word archaic itself comes from the same Greek root, but here in the form archë, meaning "origin, beginning, wellspring." 

We need to reclaim that archaic sense of anarchy: to bring it back to the original, fecundating well of meaning from which the word itself first sprang. Drawn back into that wellspring, the word in turn can birth other words, and the thoughts that let them sing. 

Such verbal reclamation would serve all of us. It would serve us all both distributively and compositely, as itself befits anarchy.

It would serve us "all" distributively by serving each and every one of us as a unique, non-interchangeable, irreplaceable singularity. It would thus serve equally well for each of us in all of our own unlimitedly diverse humanity. It would serve each one of us by letting each one fulfill that one's own uniquely defining human purpose--and thus to become who we are--as each one of us is given to see and fulfill that purpose at any given time.

At the same time, reclaiming the archaic--the original and originating--meaning of anarchy would serve us "all" compositely, which is to say as "placed or put" (from Latin positus) "together" (Latin com-)." That means it would serve us all together as one whole made up of those potentially infinite diverse parts that constitute that whole.

The reclamation of the original sense of the word anarchy would itself serve us all anarchically: It would serve us all together as a community, while at the same time serving each and every one of us in that community as a separate, singular, unique, irreplaceable individual. It would sacrifice none of us to any ruler as idol. 

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An absence of rulers does not mean an absence of leaders.

For example, the Jesus of Christian Gospels ruled nothing, but led many. What is more, he taught those he led that the way to lead was to serve. Unlike rulers, who make demands and issues commandments, leaders administer, in the etymologically literally sense of ""render service unto." To put it symbolically if not as actual practice--as it was with Jesus and his followers, if the Biblical account is to be believed--genuine leaders wash their followers feet, rather than ordering followers to wash their leaders' feet. 

The true leaders among us make no claim to superiority over any of the rest of us. Instead of seeking a seat among the high and mighty, they are content to be seated with the least of us.

In an anarchy of the proper, archaic sort, there may well be at any given time one among us who emerges as our greatest leader, as Christian scriptures tell us Jesus emerged among his people. That one, however, ceases to be a leader the moment he claims any right to rule. The Jesus of the Christian Gospels was such a leader, and was therefore no ruler. In the same way, Gandhi led his nation to liberation from imperialist Britain, but exercised no rule over his nation. Martin Luther King was a leader, not a ruler. So, today, is Abdullah Öcalan for his own Kurdish people, though he must exercise that leadership from the jail cell in which Turkish rulers have kept him imprisoned for more than two decades now. 

All four--Jesus, Gandhi, King, and Öcalan--are models of leadership.  

Such models make clear to us, if we but have the eyes to see it, that if you rule, you do not serve. You may curry the favor of those who can help elevate you to, or maintain you in, a position of rule--curry their favor by pretending to serve them.  In fact, however, by so doing you are merely serving yourself and your own ambition. Similarly but in reverse, if you lead, you do not rule. If you lapse into issuing commands and demanding compliance with your will as all rulers do--in truth if not in pretense--then you have ceased to serve, and therefore to lead. You have become no more than a pompous posturer, whatever protestations you may pontificate to the contrary.

If you would lead, you cannot rule; if rule, you cannot lead. You cannot have both. You must choose.

Only a weakling would choose to be a ruler rather than a leader.







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Two--For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority--a loving God as He may express himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern                                               

Four--Each group should be autonomous, except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.

Nine--AA as such ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.


Those are three of the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, which provides a good example of a well-ordered anarchy.

There is no designated authority in AA. There is no individual, committee, bureau, or office that can tell any AA group at all anything that the group "must" do. No edicts can be issued from on high to all or any AA groups, because there is no supposed "authority" empowered to announce such edicts. Each and every AA group is its own "ultimate authority," as said above in the Second Tradition; there are no "higher authorities" than what the Second Tradition, cited above, calls the "group conscience." 

To be sure, in that Second Tradition itself--as throughout the book Alcoholics Anonymous as well as from the mouths of countless individual AA members in AA meetings around the world--the word God is repeatedly used interchangeably with the phrase Higher Power, such that some might want to argue that there really still is a final "ruler" of AA, namely, "God" as such. But any such argument would badly misunderstand how the whole notion of "God" as a "Higher Power" functions in the actual life of AA, where, unlike such hierarchically organized bodies as most Christian Churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church, there is no one set apart or "ordained" to convey or interpret to or for any AA groups or individual members the will or the word of "God," that "Higher Power." There are no priests or deacons in AA, and no one has any more authority than anyone else to proclaim what is to count as "God's will." In AA there are no such "authorized authorities," as we might well call them. There is only the group functioning as a whole in accordance with its own "group conscience," which it to say, in practice, as the group itself decides case by case in open discussion among all its members, with everyone granted an equal voice and no one allowed to dominate.   

By the Fourth Tradition above, each and every AA group is autonomous, that is, makes its own "law" (from Greek auto, "self," plus nomos, "law"). The same Tradition recommends that each group be mindful of the wellbeing of other groups in its area, and of the wellbeing of AA as a whole. But just as there are no ordained interpreters of "the will of God" in AA, so are there no AA police or other organs of law enforcement to compel any given group to do or refrain from doing anything on the grounds that it would not be good for "other groups or AA as a whole." Here too it is solely each group, acting in accordance with its own "group conscience," that makes decisions about how to conduct itself. As is common to all twelve of the AA Traditions, this one has only the status of a recommendation, never of a commandment.

In sum, then, the worldwide "fellowship" of AA is itself an anarchy. It is, in fact, a worldwide anarchy consisting of all the local autonomous anarchies that are all the AA groups everywhere.

Let that be the model we all try to follow in all of our life with one another, with no exceptions or exclusions. Led by that model, may all the world become an anarchy of autonomous anarchies.

To adapt a famous line:

"Rulers? Rulers? We don't need no stinking rulers!"

*So subtitled in honor of the memory of Nietzsche, one of modernity's greatest leaders of thought, who gave to his seminal book Thus Spoke Zarathustra the subtitle A Book for All and None