Angry People: On the Road to Anarchy?

Thomas Hobbs (1588-1679) identifies three reasons conflicts appear – competition, distrust, and the desire for glory – that throw humankind into a state of war (i.e. chaos), which is for Hobbes the natural condition of human life, the situation that exists whenever natural passions are unrestrained. Hobbes is famous for his early and elaborate development of what has come to be known as “social contract theory”, the method of justifying political principles or arrangements by appeal to the agreement that would be made among suitably situated rational, free, and equal persons. Thomas Hobbes and other early social contract theorists argued that the state emerges in response to natural anarchy in order to protect the people’s interests and keep order. Hobbes believed that the social contract was designed to invest absolute power in a ruler to govern the citizenry. Locke believed that the social contract meant investing some power in the hands of the ruler, whose power would be used to protect his citizens’ human rights.

Around the turn of the 21st century, anarchism grew in popularity and influence as part of the anti-war, anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movements. Anarchists became known for their involvement in protests against the meetings of the WTO, G8 and the World Economic Forum. Anarchism is a political philosophy and movement that is skeptical of all justifications for authority and seeks to abolish the institutions it claims maintain unnecessary coercion and hierarchy, typically including nation-states, and capitalism. In 2020, Trump’s Fourth of July remarks, “We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters and people who in many instances have absolutely no clue what they are doing.” Trump floats pulling federal money from ‘anarchist’ cities, in particular, places that he said are not letting police enforce laws. President Trump wants us to believe anarchists are responsible for America’s sorry state.

The historic anarchist movement is identified with a workers’ movement which flourished from the 1860s down to the close of the 1930s. Anarchism is usually grounded in moral claims about the importance of individual liberty, often conceived as freedom from domination. Anarchists also offer a positive theory of human flourishing, based upon an ideal of equality, community, and non-coercive consensus building. Anarchists disdain the customary use of ‘anarchy’ to mean ‘chaos’ or ‘complete disorder’: for them it signifies the absence of rulers in a self-managed society, more highly organized than the disorganization and chaos of the present. The historic anarchist movement of the late-nineteenth century was therefore distinguished from the rest of the international movement of organised labour by its rejection of state intervention from above in favour of self-organisation from below, as well as by its rejection of constitutional protest in favour of direct action.

The narcissistic anarchist is an off-compass libertarian unity ideology that advocates the individual has the right to focus on himself and improve himself as he wants, such as even use others for his own benefit. Anarchists consider the state as a tool of domination and believe it to be illegitimate regardless of its political tendencies. Instead of people being able to control the aspects of their life, major decisions are taken by a small elite. Noam Chomsky, probably the most prominent American anarchist, believes the philosophy’s appeal comes from the “discontent of people feeling they have no control over the decisions that concern them.” Today, most anarchists say they strive to transform society from within, working toward a day when government will shrivel and disappear. But anarchist views are spreading among young activists, largely because of the anti-globalization movement that undermines local decision making.

Despite his claim to be “the only thing standing between the American Dream and total anarchy”, it is clear that Trump is the real anarchist. He aspires to one man rule ability to sow disarray, certainly within his own party, and gradually throughout the country. Of course, he wants to accrue power, which may be what misled us into thinking he was a potential fascist. Like most strongmen, he wants to do harm to the less powerful – to wit, immigrants and the poor – but it may be no accident that even his attempts at strong-arming turn out to have the opposite effect: chaos. What has happened in America over the past five years is exactly what we should expect to happen when the person in charge has no stated beliefs other than his self-interest, and little agenda other than tearing down the accomplishments of others.

On a more political level, during the pandemic we saw more and more individuals who were shut out of the American dream. They are angry about it and frustrated about it. Anger is a vital emotion. It lets us know where our boundaries are and what we stand for. Without anger, we would be passive and overly accommodating, so it’s really important to listen to the emotion. Ignoring it will not make it go away. Anger is like a spring inside our body. If we push it down and try to squash or suppress it, all that happens is that we become even tenser. Instead, it is important for us to learn ways to recognize and manage our anger so that it can be transformed into something useful. Anxiety and anger are key motivating factors underlying support for populists, although they are of course no strangers to promoting fear and other negative emotions, thus emotions shape politics.

Who are Trump’s supporters? When you look around, Republicans today are really anarchists dedicated to undermining government in the furtherance of an economic state of nature where the rich rule. By undoing government, this anarchism undoes the only protection most Americans have against the depredations of the Trumps of this world and against the often cruel vicissitudes of life, like health crises. Take away government, and you strip away those protections. Also, take away government, and you also enable Trump and his fellow plutocrats to further enrich themselves because there would no mechanism to stop them. This has long been the Republican way: greed disguised as a fear of government overreach. Again, Republicans and their presidential anarchist ally can undo things, as they have done with environmental protection. Anarchy is incorporated in their policy. Fascism, on the other hand, requires a program and unity of purpose. Instead, America is careening toward the first industrialized state of anarchy.

Trump won the nomination as the candidate who lied the most, won the presidency as someone known to lie; has an unshakable base despite ongoing lies. Underlying social issues made this possible. All workplaces, however harmonious they appear, contain a relatively high number of employees who are disillusioned or angry at what they see as real, hurtful and relevant issues of serious dissatisfaction with their lot. Resentment as a cultural response to economic struggle has political consequences. Because of growing disillusionment and anger students and workers voted for leaders outside the mainstream party candidates during the 2016 presidential primary elections – the consequence of being left behind by soaring inequality and the failure of government to deliver. Donald Trump figured out how to harness their disillusionment and growing anger. Trump appeals to resentment that ultimately rests on economic failure: working-class whites have been left behind by soaring inequality (but they mistakenly blame emigrants taking their jobs).

Trump promotes many lies about a so-called stolen election. These just happened to occur in swing states. These false claims included fraudulent totals in Philadelphia, a truckload of ballots being driven from New York to Pennsylvania, false claims about Dominion voting technology (in particular, in Georgia), a false claim about non-citizens voting in Arizona, the false story about election workers in Georgia, a false claim about Dominion machines in Michigan. The Jan. 6 riot was fueled by Trump’s ‘lies’ about 2020, special counsel, Jack Smith, alleges. Remember, Trump promised to blow things up; now he has. That Wednesday in January will be remembered as a day that brought a frightening and predictable culmination to two months of lies by the president. The world media reaction to chaos as a pro-Trump mob storms the Capitol with the common theme: “Anarchy in America”.

Workers have always been exploited, but that rate of exploitation – measured by the productivity wage gap that is today’s reality – is increasing exponentially. Workers today have a good reason to be angry. However, anger is power. It’s red. It’s heat. Anger is movement and sound. Anger is a force for change, a force of strength. Since Reagan years, the social contract has always been broken. Governments have largely failed to uphold their end of the social contract: to guarantee safety, offer protection, uphold rights, fight inequality and act in the best interest of all people. We need to channel anger for positive change. Instead of being a destructive state, anger can be a potent force of nature that can move us forward and fuel optimism, problem-solving, and creative brainstorming. In other words, if we want to make a change, we need the powerful motivational push that anger can provide.

Let us review Hobbes’s picture of human nature: We are needy and vulnerable. We are easily led astray in our attempts to know the world around us. Our capacity to reason is as fragile as our capacity to know; it relies upon language and is prone to error and undue influence. When we act, we may do so selfishly or impulsively or in ignorance, on the basis of faulty reasoning or bad theology or others’ emotive speech. To address this uncertainty and insecurity, we turn to a social contract, basically, freedom is good, but security is better. Thomas Hobbes’ social contract theory, especially the idea of the state of nature, is a cornerstone of Western philosophy. It marks a philosophical shift from the divine right of kings to a social consensus as a legitimizing force behind state powers. His philosophy helps us ask important questions about power, limits, and the potential pitfalls of democracy.1

Rousseau (1712-1778) argued that inequality was not only unnatural, but that – when taken too far – it made decent government impossible. He believed laws should pursue freedom and equality. People need to feel their vote produces something and their voice is worth something. This includes the idea that society exists because of an implicitly agreed-to set of standards that provide moral and political rules of behavior. The system must address three fundamental challenges: familiar elements of the safety net, such as social insurance and pension benefits, need to address a new set of circumstances, such as the need for people to re-skill during much longer working lives. Second, social contracts must be relevant in a world being reshaped by technological revolutions, and the transition to a clean energy economy. Third, a modern social contract must tackle the inequality and exclusion that plague societies in all corners of the world.2



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