“If Men were Angels…”

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
James Madison

I’ve been having a short reply and response on twitter recently re. free market capitalism & anarchy. They both agree on the elimination of the state (an = ‘without’, archon = ‘ruler’) which I find really interesting*.  Madison’s quote above summarizes the basic and inherent limitation of both systems.  We aren’t angels.

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement

I lived in a couple of Catholic Worker Housesin Toronto in my twenties, first with Chuck Angus (now Canadian NDP MP), and then in one run by Dan Hunt, Jim Loney, and William Payne, three really marvelous men.  The Catholic Worker Movement could be described as a movement of Christian anarchists, and I do think it’s fair to say that we treated it as such.  For a time we did everything possible to maintain a fundamental and total egalitarianism in the household.  It was a pretty perfect experiment in that, as a ‘house of hospitality’, we welcomed pretty much anyone who needed a place to stay.  These folks included homeless youth, ex-cons and the mentally ill, along with others looking to do roughly what we were doing.  So it was a marvelous and unpredictable mixture of humanity.

But soon enough, given our populace, situations began to occur which, if the home was to remain even remotely sane and healthy, had to be stopped.  For example, it is extremely difficult to maintain a healthy household when drunken alcoholics are returning to a house inhabited by folks with mental illness.  The anarchic situation really met its final comeuppance when we took in a very young indigenous mum and her two little boys.  There were safety concerns at that point, and furthermore there began to be privacy concerns.  Turns out that one of the ex-cons was a pedophile and had to be asked to leave.  His criminal history was known by only a couple of folks and he had a right to privacy, and so his being asked to leave was very confusing to some folks.

Soon enough we had rules around alcohol in the house, and a core group of ‘decision-makers’ who basically had more information than everyone else, and had more influence in household decision-making.  There was a lot of turmoil, and ideological hand-wringing, and misunderstanding.

Point is, to get back to Madison’s quote, basic anarchic principles can take a real beating when faced with people who are not only ‘not angels’, but are actually compulsively predatory.




* I just discovered a whole school of thought, ‘Free Market Anarchism‘.Free Market Anarchy