Activism, Anarchism, and Power
On this edition of Conversations with History, UC Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler is joined by linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky to discuss activism, anarchism and the role the United States plays in the world today.
Anarchism and Power.
The term libertarian means the opposite of what it always meant in history. Libertarian throughout modern European history meant socialist anarchist.
It meant the anti-state element of the Workers Movement and the Socialist Movement. It sort of broke into two branches, roughly, one statist, one anti-statist. The statist branch led to Bolshevism and Lenin and Trotsky, and so on.
The anti-statist branch, which included Marxists, Left Marxists – Rosa Luxemburg and others – kind of merged, more or less, into an amalgam with a big strain of anarchism into what was called libertarian socialism.
So libertarian in Europe always meant socialist. Here it means ultra-conservative – Ayn Rand or Cato Institute or something like that. But that’s a special U.S. usage. There are a lot of things quite special about the way the United States developed, and this is part of it.
Thinking about Power.
Studying science is a good way to get into fields like history. The reason is, you learn what an argument means, you learn what evidence is, you learn what makes sense to postulate and when, what’s going to be convincing.
You internalize the modes of rational inquiry, which happen to be much more advanced in the sciences than anywhere else. On the other hand, applying relativity theory to history isn’t going to get you anywhere.
So it’s a mode of thinking. I try, at least – with what success; others have to judge – to apply the mode of thinking that you would use in the sciences to human affairs.
Be honest, critical, accept elementary moral principles. For example, the principle that if something is wrong for others, it’s wrong for us.
Things like that. Understand the importance of the fundamental anarchist principle, namely, prior illegitimacy of power and violence, unless you can justify it, which is not easy.
It’s their burden of proof, not yours. And that’s true whether it’s personal relations in a family, and whether it’s international affairs.
Beyond that, try to join with others who share your interests to learn more and to act responsively to improve the many very serious problems of the world, which can be done.