Unitarian and Social Anarchist Ideas Could Complement One Another

More and more people are asking why laissez-faire economics does not appear to work, and are questioning the theories that support the free market system. This brings the neoliberal project under scrutiny, including the necessity for less taxes and regulation. This, in turn, makes theories that support laissez-faire capitalism, like objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, suspect. Ayn Rand died in 1980, but her novel, Atlas Shrugged (dubbed the bible of selfishness) sold 140 million copies by 1997. With the market problems of 2008, neoliberal economics has become the main suspect and, as a consequence, objectivism has fallen from its lofty heights. Orlando A. Battista (1917-1995), chemist and writer, noted for both scientific and inspirational themes, claimed, “An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” Having recognized the error of neoliberal economic theories in general and the manipulations of the power elite in particular, it is necessary to introduce a new cultural approach to supporting communities.

 Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) championed anarchism as the most rational and just means of creating order in society. Among other things, he advocated what he called “mutualism,” an economic practice that disincentivized profit – which, according to him, was a destabilizing force – and argued far ahead of his time for banks with free credit and unions to protect labor. He championed the equilibrium of economic forces. He envisioned mutualism as a system of self-employed workers and co-operatives honestly exchanging goods and services in a market without interest, rent, profit, landlords or capitalists. It aimed to change the state (government), not through social revolution, rather by means of reform – a combination of more just and more efficient economic institutions and pressuring the state from the outside to enact appropriate reforms in support of equality of the individual. Proudhon had endeavored, in his first memoir on property, to demonstrate that the pursuit of equality of conditions is the true principle of right and of government.

Mikhail Bakunin’s ideas produced a coherent defense of individual freedom and its basis in a free society. Bakunin believed “every human being should have the material and moral means to develop his humanity.”  He believed that political freedom without economic equality is a pretense – a fraud, a lie. He believed that real freedom was possible only when economic and social equality existed. Freedom is a product of connection, not isolation. Bakunin insisted it is society which creates individual freedom through social interaction. Equality means social equality such as quality of condition, or equal opportunity. Men deprived of freedom to decide their own future, means they lose the sense of purpose in their life. Some – the economic elite – are cushioned by wealth and privilege from feeling the direct impact of this process, though they too are affected in insidious ways, but the poor and marginalized experience the imposition of the minimal state in a very direct way.

When Ayn Rand developed the ideas around what would become objectivism, she turned to Aristotle for ethics. For Aristotle, moral virtue had to do with feeling, choosing and acting well. This included one being all he could be to fulfil his potential, and living in a way that reached his full potential. To achieve this, self-love was necessary. Aristotle described two types of self-love. For him, self-love was a proper emotion, provided it expressed in love of a virtue and was valuable. Being noble and good promoted the good of the community. The second was the dangerous self-love in which the individual assigned material advantage and pleasure. This was the selfishness driven by individualism, where there was no evident benefit for oneself in helping others. What happens when individuals do not follow the good self-love of Aristotle that includes acting with dignity and not acting on impulses? You get a narcissist like Donald Trump who resists accepting suggestions, thinking they will make him appear weak, and believes others have nothing useful to tell him.

Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman believe in a predestination future of those children whose parents cannot afford to enroll them in high quality private schools, preparing them for higher education. “There will always be a situation in which parents are too poor to educate their children, says Rand, “Those children must rely on the charity or self-interest of others.” According to Rand, while the state should not interfere with its citizens’ life, it also has no obligation towards ‘the good education’ – there is a privilege secured by those who can pay for it. Moreover, she explains, the wealthy are free to decide whether it is in their interest to finance education for the poor as charity which would later serve them: “… it is in the interest of the industrialist to have a an educated work force… Companies run specialized schools to train future employees, not for a mawkish altruistic reason: they need skilled employees.”1

It was as if everyone was asleep and not aware of the risks of derivatives and swaps not being regulated. In October 2008, Alan Greenspan, who has a libertarian point of view of the market, spoke in a congressional hearing room: “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.” This was part of the statement that documented that four decades of Ayn Rand’s ideals had let him down. Greenspan had refused regulation of derivatives and swaps in 2002-2004. These instruments were used to insure or cover their trading in subprime mortgages. This inaction allowed the banks to consolidate on one hand and, on the other, run large parts of their business out of the scrutiny of the regulators. Those in the mortgage market were very selfish and their activities were harmful to the community. For many, this meant the dreams of a pleasant retirement and the promise one’s children would have a better life than their parents, have been destroyed.2

The community decides what can be regarded as knowledge, therefore power, and what cannot. Power thus circulates throughout society and both creates and is governed by the accepted local practices and discourses within that particular society. One cannot escape power, Foucault argues, power can only be negotiated and resisted from within a local context, and argues that mechanisms of power would be unable to function unless knowledge apparatuses were created, organized and made to circulate – these knowledge apparatuses are not ideological constructs. Power produces what we believe to be our reality through knowledge, however knowledge is also produced by power, as power cannot exist without the discourses produced within a society; but power also governs the creation of these discourses. Foucault observes elites determine, often based on self-interests, the standards of normality. Once one method has been selected over others, alternatives become deviant. This creates tension between the elites and the masses.

Charles Eddis in his pamphlet What Unitarians Affirm states, “The emphasis on sensible, ethical religion which characterizes Unitarianism goes back to a reform movement of Christians in Italy in the 1530s and 1540s who drew on humanism and enlightened Catholicism of Erasmus as much as on Protestant thought.” The Renaissance called people to look scientifically at the world the way it was, not as they might like to believe that it was, and to develop curiosity and objectivity. Servetus’ book On the Errors of the Trinity, opened up a can of worms that main-line Protestant reformers, Luther, Calvin and Zwingly, had agreed not to open, in other words the Trinity. Main-line Protestantism knew that the Trinity was not in the Bible and had arisen as a theological-philosophical concept, growing out of a political compromise in the year 325 of our Common Era at the Council of Nicaea. However, the Unitarians believe in moral authority but not necessarily the divinity of Jesus; and reject authority and hierarchy. In turn, main-line Protestantism has always tried to push Unitarians out.3

The 1999 battle of Seattle for the most part and the Million Mask March on Guy Fawkes Day were associated with a number of anarchist groups – generally associated with limited outbreaks of violence. There are many different schools of thought within anarchism that are strictly non-violent, and a vast majority of anarchists oppose violence except in extreme circumstances for self-defense. For this discussion we focus on social anarchism. Social anarchist thought emphasizes community and social equality as complementary to autonomy and personal freedom. Most social anarchists recognize the need for education and to create alternatives, but most disagree that this is not enough in itself. The social anarchist school agrees that significant community ownership and management of the economy is required to provide the necessary framework to protect individual liberty in all aspects of life by reducing the influence of the power elite, in whatever form it takes.4

We need to correct the circulating messages and ongoing abuses of the power elite. Social anarchist and Unitarian ideas have the potential to rectify these short comings – relying on a strong focus on being consistent in community values as well as a strong tendency towards critical thinking. A significant part of anarchism is the idea of self-liberation. We must unlearn oppressive axioms instilled on us by the neoliberal project. Just as anarchists wish to create non-hierarchical institutions which satisfy our material needs in place of the oppressive ones, we should be establishing institutions which satisfy our spiritual needs. Unitarianism rejects authority and need for hierarchy, nor the presumption that life be based on competition. Unitarianism rejects predestination while the religious right doctrine of predestination re-enforces laissez-faire which, in turn, supports the legitimacy of neoliberal policies. Anarchist and unitarian ideas would complement one another in their commitment to a better world.5


2 Greg Horsman (2012) Objectivism Lost and an Age of Disillusionment, Chapter 6.

3 Ray Drennan. (2005) Unitarianism: Where Did We Come From? https://cuc.ca/unitarian-universalism/history/unitarianism-where-did-we-come-from/

4 What types of anarchism are there?  https://www.activism.net/government/AnarchistFAQ/secA3.html

5 Clayton Dewey (2004)  Anarchism and Unitarian Universalism https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/clayton-dewey-anarchism-and-unitarian-universalism

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