ISIS and the Anarchists


Some of our best friends at Liberty are libertarian anarchists; others are libertarian supporters of minimal government. I’m in the second camp. (Long-suffering people can refer to my articles in the July 2013 and December 2013 issues of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.) So I wonder what anarchists think about the ISIS affair.

Here is a private religious organization that raised its own military force, and then devoted it to murdering and torturing all who failed to obey its creed. Such things are not unexampled in Islam; recall the great Mahdist revolt in 19th-century Africa. Some religions waited hundreds of years to take over a state; the original Muslim movement erected a state at once, and that is what ISIS has been doing — transforming itself from a private movement into “the caliphate.”

I imagine that in analyzing this metathesis of private organizations, anarchists will do what they usually do: retell the long story of state aggression, comparing its horrors to the benefits of private organizations that remain private. They will emphasize that ISIS intervened in a situation destabilized by the United States and other governments. They will observe that ISIS acquired its weapons from those left in Iraq by the United States government. So any way you look, it will just be state, state, state.

But that’s my own point. Even if a state is destabilized, other states will take its place, and its resources. Some of them (including once-private organizations, such as, for instance, the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, and the radical Islamists) may be shaped by the worst private emotions — intolerance, sadism, the desire to kill and torture. To a regrettable degree in human history, the gratification of these emotions has taken precedence over the libertarian desire to mind one’s own business, participate in trade, and learn interesting things from one’s neighbors. How do you protect yourself against such vicious but popular passions, except with your own state? Ask the Kurds.

Nevertheless, I’d like to know what anarchists really think about this ISIS thing.

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Luther Jett

I think Thomas Jefferson said it best:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, "

And Mr. Bhandari is right -- so long as there are people who find meaning and gratification in exerting power over others, for whatever reason, some form of government will be necessary to protect the latter from the former.

The State is a symptom, not the cause.


Is anarchism not a form of utopianism, since in a perfect world, with perfect people, no state would be needed?

And why did they infiltrate the libertarian movement (a political movement) shortly after, no, even during its formation? In this respect, are they not nihilists, seeking to destroy the efforts of others, hoping to thereby "prove" their political theory? (I hardly think that anarchists could claim they founded the libertarian movement, nor that it would make sense for them to have done so)

Thank you for sharing Mr. Cox.

Jayant Bhandari

I am an anarchist. But if I were given a capability to flip a switch to end today’s state I would not use it. The reason is that the state is a symptom of the character-flaws and cultural problems within the society.

Ending the state without addressing the underlying problems will only result in upheaval, pain and chaos before the society ends up with a state similar to what existed earlier or more likely a worse state. Saddam should never have been removed.

It is only by working on our culture that we have a hope of creating a free and rational society.

Is the anarchist society possible? I don’t see it happening in my lifetime. But that should not be the reason for me not to attempt to get there or not to use it as a yardstick to evaluate what public policies are appropriate and what are not.


Sir, I always enjoy your articles; you are perhaps my favorite contributor (subject and content wise)!

I could not tell from your writings that you considered yourself an anarchist - evidence of intellectual honesty on your part (it seems you tend to "just report on what you see", sometimes hopefully, other times less so). I therefore have little doubt that as "society" steadily improved, you would see that enough troubled "individuals" remained to need the criminal law (a government). Further, we might both see the need for some kind of continued civil law system. Lastly, and the right of the people to keep arms notwithstanding, we might agree that some kind of unified defense would be needed. On the way there, difficult questions regarding what the state should, and should not, do would test our wisdom.

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