Melbourne Anarchist Archives Index

State, Society and Individual (1966)

'Governments, religions, fatherlands, morals, in their own interests not only do not recognise individual aspirations, but violate and sacrifice them.'
Virgilia D'Andrea (1890-1932)

There are three basic types of political theory: those in which the ruler is presumed to have the "right" to rule; those in which the rulers, although independent of the people, are presumed to act in their (national) interests; and those in which the rulers are presumed to be in some sense of the people and to reflect their interests. These theories are respectively tyrannical (monarchic), corporativist (fascistic) and democratic. Since the former two have been extensively criticised by democrats I will here consider the relationship of state to individual under democracy.

Aware that on the face of it any state institution is coercive political theorists developed notions such as the "social contract", "free consent of the governed" and "general will" - later vulgarised to "majority will" - to conceal this fact. Obviously though the effect of the latter vulgarisation is the coercion of minorities and that of the first concept is the state's enforced claim to sovereignty over a given area or people. Together they imply that the people are all-powerful ;and the individual impotent. However as Michels has pointed out representative democracies are in fact oligarchies - if not always plutocratic ones. Imagine the situation of an intelligent independent standing for election in Kooyong. He would canvass the electorate pointing out that he was intelligent, Cooper a fool and Peacock a bastard. How would he answer a voter who said 'Why should I vote for you; my vote won't make any difference because you need so many and even if you were elected you would be one in many and without a voting bloc'? How would the voter answer if our candidate simply said 'Why vote then?' Only by the possession of a faction can an individual have power to influence the state, mere membership is insufficient as the oligarchic tendencies operate in factions too - ask any frustrated party member. Since every sphere of life, social and individual, is either now or becoming a province of the state through the latter's alarming proliferation of agencies, departments and regulations it follows that there is virtually no way for the average individual to affect the state and almost unlimited ways for it to affect him.

The freedom of an individual is the amount of control he has over his environment physical or social; his liberties are the limits between which he is constrained. To this extent the savage, the slave and the tyrant are all in chains. In any position in which the individual plays a "role" he is unfree, his position is defined by the rules of that role and to that extent he must deny his personality, values and inclinations. I propose to call any organisation where role-playing positions predominate a 'rigid' organisation. A rigid organisation is necessarily one in which institutional factors predominate and has a formal structure which is both hierarchical and repressive. At the top the leadership is constrained by the modes of functioning and usages sanctified by tradition or expected by their subordinates for, as many a power-hungry radical has discovered, high office in itself is a conservatising influence since one must compromise both to achieve it and to maintain it. On the rungs below the leadership the position quickly becomes purely automatic: orders arrive from, above and information from below; a standardised set of rules is applied and the orders or communications dispatched to the next level. Since the individual is here not only reduced to the implementation of directives but must also watch his relations with his superiors and sub-ordinates as well as following traditional and approved forms of behaviour his personality is stunted and denied.

Thus we meet teachers who are always paternalists and pedants and police who are always authoritarian. Indeed rigid organisations attract and select those with incomplete or warped personalities as was pointed out by Comfort in Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State.

In dealing with its subjects a rigid or bureaucratic organisation will be cruelly inefficient since within it control predominates over communication - thus lessening both the incentive for and possibility of informal informative contacts - and between the organisation and its subjects there is only formal communication. Because the more human needs are not considered by the organisation (because they are individual and hence not "relevant"), and since there is a lack of essential informal contact between the organisation and its subjects and within the organisation itself, the organisation will function on inadequate information and without a "feeling" for the problem thus leading to a complete disregard of its individual aspects as well as to a delayed and inadequate solution. Finally the administrative, or bureaucratic, approach of the rigid organisation relies on and encourages that frame of mind that considers fellow human beings as ciphers and as objects of manipulation.

It is obvious that the state and its supporting structures are rigid organisations and that throughout them the bureaucratic approach with its denial of individual needs prevails. However a position of power is an ever present temptation to act not only in an authoritative - bureaucratic manner but also in an authoritarian moralist manner. Guardians of public morals, promoters of the national interest, the self-styled defenders of orthodoxy and tradition; all swarm about the existing power groups or develop their own to promote and impose their particular interests and opinions. The humanist and the Christian both appeal to abstract right in order to impose their personal or institutional preferences. Representatives of arms manufacturers call for extra defence spending in the "national" interest. Investor in foreign markets argue that stability, democracy and self-determination require foreign capital, foreign bases and "stable" government.

In a representative democracy every narrow, sectarian and petty interest must be dressed up as a moral or national imperative. Parties which during election time deliberately appeal to specific interests, and even claim to represent particular class interests, on coming to power claim that they represent the nation - even though their majority may depend entirely on electoral boundaries and not even represent the largest vote. It is seriously argued - and to a large extent practised - that democratic assemblies can legislate on matters of morals; this shift from 'I would' to 'you should' to 'he must' is characteristic of representative democracy where every question tends to be debated at the highest level and the result of the deliberations of the members of the loosely interlocking oligarchies determines the matter for all people for all time. Leadership works its will through legislation rather by example. Similarly from the "justice" of a war is derived the "morality" of conscription for it. In previous states it was at least assumed that the leaders had a prior right to do what they wanted; today we have specious arguments to prove that the leaders are doing what we want (or need).

Since the bureaucratic approach ignores individuality and the moralist attacks it in the service of his own group interests it follows that the state, which selects these types for its oligarchs, must be the absolute enemy of human freedom and individuality, indeed of social life and humanity.

The reference to social life is important for, to paraphrase Buber, the state principle and the social principle are inversely related. Social life is wholly (or should be wholly) relations between free individuals, i.e. informal contact and voluntary association. However society is a somewhat general concept since it includes relationships between groups and networks of individuals which are both purposive and necessary, e.g. industry. Here though we must distinguish between the imposition of a formal pattern of behaviour through a natural necessity as in the case of our relations with nature through technology and the imposition of a formal pattern of behaviour by social, religious or political means. There are rigid social organisations in the latter sense which are distinct from state organisations as ordinarily conceived but if one slightly extends the concept of state or political organisations from that of purely government ones to cover all rigid organisations in a society Buber's principle is true subject only to the rider above on the natural limits of social freedom.

Reverting to the ordinary sense of state it is worthwhile pointing out that the existence of relatively complex stateless societies shows that 'society' need not imply 'state'. However the status of the individual in such societies will still depend on whether they are dominated by authoritarian relations, strong clan systems, tradition, superstition or religion, i.e. on whether they have a political structure in the wider sense.

An alternative to rigid organisations exists that I will call 'fluid' organisations. In contradistinction to rigid organisations which are self-perpetuating and self-interested this form is completely task-centred. It utilises functional leadership instead of having privileged permanent leadership in order to prevent the growth of oligarchic elites. It emphasises voluntary as opposed to compulsory participation to lessen the possibilities of power and corruption. It emphasises the importance of making decisions at their own level by those immediately concerned. It amounts to the de-institutionalisation, decentralisation and democratisation of all social structures and their control by interlocking networks of natural interest groups instead of the centralisation of power by self-interested elites in powerful and mutually opposed structures. It stresses the possibility of communication's being more effective than political control in an egalitarian society where all have approximately the same interests.

The case for the desirability of stateless fluid organisations is both social and technical. On the one hand the increased opportunities for participation are a factor in developing individual potentialities and the common group interest and necessity of co-operation tend to promote sociability. On the other hand by being task-centred and free of traditional forms, by having a leadership changing according to need and an enthusiastic co-operative membership the fluid organisation has a greater information capacity (i.e. greater power to discriminate between cases) and a faster feedback or reaction time than the traditional rigid organisation and is hence necessarily more efficient.

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