The standard statist argument is to reply that without authority we must necessarily remain directionless, without order. This is trivially true and trivially false. It is trivially false because we all share basic human values, which have existed in all societies and will exist in all societies. Beyond that ethical foundation, it is trivially true because the Anarchist does not seek to impose a singular direction, for that would be a direct contradiction to the principles of freedom and equality which must animate society. But the idea of a society being directionless, unlike our current homogenous production-at-all-costs societies, does not imply that such a society cannot accomplish anything. People still come together to accomplish specific goals, even if their values differ in the details.
If we are all equal in authority, then it must be the case that we are all equal in rights. This is easily seen in the following deduction: if there are no hierarchies, then aggression of anyone against anyone else’s freedom is necessarily prohibited. It is only because hierarchies exist and are considered legitimate that aggression is permitted in our societies. This is so well understood amongst Anarchists as to be a truism (without the recognition of government, wars, laws and taxes would be crimes, without the recognition of corporations, economic exploitation would be a crime, and so on).
If we are all equal in rights, then there cannot be property, since property implies the existence of a class of individuals- property owners- who can exert a right of usury, and others who have to pay it. As constantly more and more resources are taken away from the commons, it also gives access privileges to those who were born before others.
Now, let’s look at this issue from the moral standpoint. The simplest and most obvious form of equality is this: we are all human beings. While this may seem trivial, we need to unpack what that means. As we are all human beings, we all have innate moral faculties, values, inclinations and desires.
As it is impossible to decouple the individual from his values, and thus all value-judgments are inherently personal, values cannot be evaluated as superior or inferior to anyone else’s except in an entirely personal sense (that is to say, as evaluated by the individual’s own morality). Therefore, every person’s values, choices and beliefs are as worthy of personal and social expression as any other’s. There is moral equality between all individuals.
A statist may reply that there is no moral equality between the murderer and his victim, that we must enforce our values over that of the murderer. But the desire to cooperate against attackers is not equivalent to elevating our values as superior. Rather, it is borne from the fact that attacks nullify the victim’s desire for expression, both expressions cannot co-exist, and therefore one must choose. If we must choose, then we must choose on the side of freedom.
This is one way to put to the lie the supposed tension between freedom and equality. The total freedom to act can only exist if there is moral equality, and moral equality can only exist if there is total freedom to act. If we start from the premise that some people’s values are superior to those of others, then we cannot end anywhere but in a hierarchical system which uses coercion or propaganda in order to repress the desires of others, and ground it on the premise that some human beings are more human than others. This is, of course, the never-never land of statism, where the poor deserve to be poor, brown people deserve to die, and every jailed person “must have done something wrong” by their very existence.
A society without equality cannot have free individuals, and a society without free individuals cannot have equality. In the former case, whoever has access to more power or resources will inevitably use them to exploit others; in the latter case, the people or groups who control others and take away everyone else’s freedom are necessarily superior, not equal, to them.
We have established moral equality. Now consider what a hierarchy is, from the standpoint of value expression. A hierarchy is a structure by which certain people’s wealth, power, legitimacy, is multiplied (sometimes temporarily, sometimes forever) through the leverage of the coercive or propagandist processes used within that structure. But this leverage can only exist as long as the superiors in that hierarchy are in control of the decision-making processes within it. Without this meta-control (control of the means by which control is used within the structure), there would be no hierarchy at all.
Moral equality stands opposite to this principle. If our values are innately equal in worth, then there must be equality in decision-making as well. The latter is merely the practical expression of the former. If we have inequality in decision-making, if we have a hierarchy, then we cannot have moral equality.
One may object that decision-making is a delicate operation which implies the widespread availability of information and the ability to use that information. Advocates of democracy have used this principle to take over the education system, regulate and control the media, and adopt anti-populist stances against the “unwashed masses” (especially those in other “countries”) who “don’t know what’s good for them.” We should not fall into the same trap.
In the kind of decision-making we are talking about, information, when given by parties with vested interests (as all hierarchies are), can in fact be extremely harmful, because it misdirects people from first principles. A racist may cite all sorts of facts about “black people,” their representations in jails, their individual crimes, and so on and so forth, in order to hide the fact that skin colour is not an indication of someone’s morality and that racism itself, racial profiling and social conditions are mostly to blame for this state of affairs. But this piecemeal “exposé” of individual facts in order to draw some far-reaching conclusion has always been the tool of the governments and their media lackeys.