I was born in a hippie commune, and I have a deep suspicion of people who promise freedom from society’s rules.
“In Heaven’s name, Hollingsworth,” cried I, getting angry, and glad to be angry, because so only was it possible to oppose his tremendous concentrativeness and indomitable will, “cannot you conceive that a man may wish well to the world, and struggle for its good, on some other plan than precisely that which you have laid down? And will you cast off a friend, for no unworthiness, but merely because he stands upon his right, as an individual being, and looks at matters through his own optics, instead of yours?”
“Be with me,” said Hollingsworth, “or be against me! There is no third choice for you.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (1852)
I was born in a hippie commune. What’s more, as a scholar, I have, for years now, studied utopian communities that have flirted with anarchism. And I can tell you that they all more or less suck. Why? Because they all, sooner or later, default to charismatic authority. This is a problem, I hasten to add, faced not only by utopian communes. Jo Freeman and others have demonstrated that many radical feminist organizations that tried to get rid of hierarchy and structure altogether eventually came under the sway of one person (a bully who was especially charismatic and/or machiavellian). Ironically, it’s the liberal (and more moderate) women’s groups that, on average, had more widespread member participation. Why? Because:
- the structure actually made it MORE (not less) likely that introverted and/or shy people would participate; and
- leadership and authority are, in these more moderate organizations, to some extent forced to be transparent and accountable.
Of course none of this would surprise the great sociologist Max Weber. He saw charismatic authority as a kind of human default. When traditional forms of authority breakdown (think: Lord of the Flies), we default to another form of authority: charismatic authority (which is, trust me, I know from personal experience, rarely a good thing). Whatever, to my mind, it all comes down to this: we are intensely social creatures, and, as such, we’re going to organize ourselves according to rules somehow. So the question isn’t Rules vs. No Rules; it’s These Rules vs. Those Rules.
The dream of a world without rules is as adolescent as it is implausible. Besides, look at the people on Facebook who most loudly proclaim anarchism: the vast majority of these anarchist activists are (quite obviously to everyone but themselves) wannabe tyrants. These people want to rule! And they want you to shut the fuck up and obey. If you doubt me, look at how these people behave as soon as they get even a little bit of power in any organization and you’ll see. Do they look for broad consensus? Nope. Do they listen to people who disagree with them? Nope. All to the contrary.
I have a deep suspicion of people who promise freedom from society’s rules. They all more or less remind me of my father.
—John Faithful Hamer, Butterflies not Crocodiles (2016)
Originally published at Committing Sociology. Reprinted with permission.