The Etymology of Anarchy


The Greek prefix "a" literally applies the meaning "not". Contextually this can be taken to mean "no", "without", "against", or "in the absence of". The prefix "an" is derivatives of the prefix "a", with the "n" appended for phonetical reasons, the same as we say "an apple" instead of "a apple", because it rolls off the tongue more easily, sounding less stilted.

The literal translation of "archos" is "chief", which depending on the context can be interpreted as "boss", "ruler", "King", "commander" etc. What it doesn't literally translate to is "state" or "government": the word for that is "cracy".

The word anarchy isn't spelled "anarchos" though, which would literally mean "no chiefs", instead it's derived separately from the root "arch" meaning "structure. This is the same root used in words such as "hierARCHYy", "monARCH", and "oligARCHY". Contextually it means "an-ARCHy": "no command structure". Literally it means "no rulers".

Anarchy represents personal sovereignty and the autonomy of the individual. Anarchism is a political theory of how to eliminate command structures from society... Because that's what individual autonomy really is, the absence of an imposed or coercive authority structure. The absence of arbitrary hierarchy. A society organised horizontally instead of vertically, wherever possible and practical.

The Greeks were familiar with government, and have a separate word, which literally means no-government: "acracy". "Anarchy" clearly doesn't just mean "no government" per se. It's far broader than that. Words carry both literal and contextual meanings, and in this instance context is everything. Words ending in "archy" are abstract nouns for types of rule, social influence, or organisation. The emphasis on "cracy" is on where the power lies, how it is maintained, and on the use of force to establish a system of government. The emphasis on "archy" is on structure and position, as applies in a word like "hierarchy", which cognates like "arch". "Archy" is more structural and describes positional relationships, whereas "cracy" is more descriptive, and describes the dynamics of power. Hierarchy literally translates from the Greek as "rule by priests". This makes sense when you consider that it shares a common root with words such as hierophant. Hopefully we can agree that language subtly changes over time, and as an abstract noun the contextual meaning of hierarchy is now taken to be that of an abstract social structure, rather than anything related to the clergy.

Although both anarchy and hierarchy have ancient meanings dating back to the original Greek, their modern usages both developed around the same time, circa the mid 17th century (we don't know the precise dates for certain). With hierarchy now referring to a social ordering, and anarchy referring to the lack of one... which is why anarchy became synonymous with chaos. Anarchists later began to argue that anarchy wasn't in fact chaotic but that it would give rise to a natural ordering, which was then encapsulated in the famous slogan, "anarchy is order", meaning a stable society which is predominantly ordered horizontally.

This distinction is most evident in the philosophy, praxis, and political theory of syndicalism, which comes in two versions, regular syndicalism where the workers elect their own management, and anarcho-syndicalism where there is no management structure at all. "Anarcho-syndicalism" simply means "non-hierarchal syndicalism", a form of organising worker self-management without any command structure. Likewise anarcho-communism is essentially the non-authoritarian form of communism: communism without a ruling communist party.

For anarcho-capitalism to truly be a form of anarchism, the same should apply to it. Anarcho-capitalism should be horizontally ordered capitalism: "capitalism without bosses", a world where everyone is both worker and capitalist. At first glance that would make it virtually indistinguishable from individualist anarchism (where everyone is self-employed). The disconnect is that a horizontal society necessitates equality of power. Power must arise from personal sovereignty and nothing else. This is what anarchists refer to when they speak of equality, not equality of outcomes, not equality or opportunity, and certainly not 'equalness' or equalisation. The problem with capitalism in its current form is that power arises from private property ownership, not personal sovereignty. This creates scope for imbalances to quickly and easily develop, with regard to private interests, resulting in structural power and authority.

For anarcho-capitalism to be a real thing and not just a quirky misnomer, its proponents would have to ditch their attachment to private property. This has always been the case with individualist anarchism, where a person can own property in the form of the product of their labour... just not in a way that facilitates exploitation of people, or the development of coercive power structures. The key differentiator being that individualist anarchists perceive wage labour as a customer/supplier relationship, as opposed to one of employer/employee. Nobody works 'for' anyone else. People work together, they cooperate. What distinguishes the cooperation in individualist anarchism from that of anarcho-syndicalism, is that everyone owns their own MoP as opposed to sharing it. When an individualist needs help to produce something, he or she essentially contracts other individualists on an equal footing.

The distinction may appear subtle, but it's an absolute game changer. For starters it implies that only small businesses would be possible, which then begs the question as to how large scale industrial activity would be executed? The simple answer is that individualist anarchism peacefully cohabits in anarchy, alongside all the other forms of anarchism, in a mixed economy. Individualist anarchists are the "Mom & Pop shops" of anarchy. Such an existence depends on the parallel existence of social anarchism in order to maintain a technological society, and thereby avoid reenacting a vaguely Quakerish form of period living.

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