Friday, January 1, 2016

A Note on the Definition of Anarchy

I want to add here a short note on the exchange between Dr. Walter Block and Tim at the post, Walter Block on the Definition of Anarchy

Dr. Block can certainly consider the word anarchy to mean "unjustified rule." However, I do not believe we can take the roots of words and necessarily derive what "the" current correct meaning of a word is.

For example, the word football is considered to mean soccer in many parts of the world. If we just take the roots of words, this would appear to be a more "correct" meaning for football since the foot is used almost exclusively in soccer to advance the ball, whereas it has only limited application in American football.

The bigger point is that words evolve overtime and can have very different meanings from their roots. This should be recognized.

In fact, just looking at roots can get us into all kinds of trouble. The root word for orchid comes from the Greek orchis, which literally translates as “testicle.” Even plain vanilla words can get us into trouble, and I do me vanilla. Vanilla is derived from the Latin word vagina. The word pencil is derived from the Latin word penis. I could go on but I don't want to conduct a seminar on etymology. But, speaking of seminars, the word seminar comes from the Latin semen, so does that mean only males should deliver seminars and only females should be the recipient students?

That said, anarchy is primarily considered by the general public to mean chaos and disorder, not unjustified rule (which btw I think is a distortion of the root word archy, which means rule, not "unjustified rule"). I believe anarcho-capitalists are building themselves an unnecessarily hurdle in advancing their views by referring to their desire for anarchy. It confuses most people and, quite frankly, makes the advocate sound nuts, since most will think he means he is in favor of chaos and disorder.

 If libertarians are attempting to get their views across to the masses, it makes sense to use terms in the way they are generally understood, rather than use a word in a manner that creates immediate knee-jerk negative reaction for no good reason.

Indeed, that is why in the essay I wrote which is linked to  in the bibliography Professor Block  provides as part of his answer to Tim, I advance the term, Private Property Society, rather than anarchy. To me PPS conveys exactly the type of society I would like to see, without creating the possibility that someone will misinterpret me and think I am in favor of chaos and disorder.



  1. Bill Buppert uses the term "abolitionist," because he is opposed to all forms of human slavery. Others use the term "voluntarism." I believe in free markets, so I don't object the term anarcho-capitalist. That said, I would not object to individuals voluntarily agreeing to come under some form of rule or rulers. Spooner made a distinction between "government" and "state." It is the State which rules us. It is the State that is the source of the vast majority of misery, plunder murder and death in the world.

  2. "But, speaking of seminars, the word seminar comes from the Latin semen, so does that mean only males should deliver seminars and only females should be the recipient students?"

    I feel a micro-aggression against my self-identification; of course, tomorrow I might self-identify differently, so this may not be a problem.

  3. RW, I have used as many definitions as needed depending on the persons or situations that have come up in conversation. I like Private Property Society, Private Law Society, Voluntaryist, all of them. Depending on who I am talking to. I've used the term classical liberal, because one guy I talked to could grasp that, Anarcho-Capitolist to some, and to a lot of people just plain, "I am an Anarchist". After their initial horror, and over some time, many now call themselves Anarchist. Once when I gave my business card to a customer, when he looked at it he said," oh your an Anarchist"? Just from seeing the Alaska state on my card that is colored in yellow and black. Most people simply ask why the state is colored so, and I tell them," it stands for free market capitalism without state interference." Conversation really starts then.
    So I think we should be flexible to who our audience is in our words. Or at least I should be.

  4. I always thought anarchy meant no law or rule

  5. When John Q. Public viscerally reacts to "anarchy" or "anarcho-capitalism", those of us who can imagine a stateless society are reminded - often harshly - of the uphill battle we face to change minds. Such was the case I found myself in last week when discussing philosophy with my parents' neighbors late one night. No less than ten seconds after I brought up anarcho-capitalism, John Q.'s first reaction was to remove himself from the room, I imagine to physically separate himself from the quackery that he just heard. His first question upon returning is "what about private property in a society without government?".
    I was able to reassure him of the central role that private property would have in a stateless society, but this point and other arguments more than likely weren't heard as clearly as they could have been due to my introduction of that one word. The night wasn't a total loss, as he admitted at the end of the night that he could be at least libertarian-leaning. Framing anarchism as the "Private Property Society" would've had merit in this instance. I'll certainly adopt this phrase.
    What are other's thoughts on how best to structure your argument after introducing the "Private Property Society"?

  6. Dear Bob: I half agree with you. The part I agree with is that most people view anarchy as "chaos." Therefore it is counterproductive, as you say, to use this word. It just turns people off. However, on the other hand, I think it is important that we hold on to words, and not let them be taken away from us. For example, we have lost the description "liberal." People like Noam Chomsky (and thick "libertarians" too), are trying to steal the word "libertarian" from us. Consider Bernie Sanders' attempt to keep the word "socialist." He could have jettisoned this, but, doesn't want to lose this word for his side of the ideological divide. I'm a Sandersite on this question. Best regards, Walter

  7. Cool topic.

    If marketing impact is to be the criteria, I vote voluntarist/voluntaryist. Sounds appealing, even to liberals. Who rushes to object to voluntary things? Evokes curiosity and questions. Feels aspirational and noble. Puts the peace and love foot forward leaving private property and self-defense as the under-the-hood plumbing details.

    Private Property Society sounds dull and dry. The phrase evokes nothing in the imagination. It means nothing to the layman ("Don't we already have that?").