A common objection given by capitalists to Anarchist theories is that Anarchism is utopian because people will always form hierarchies, as much as we’d like them not to do so. In short, hierarchies are part of human nature.
There are two major problems with this assumption. First, if hierarchies were natural, then they would have been adopted by all societies. And yet we know this is not true, as there have been many societies which actively eschewed hierarchical decision-making (see for instance examples in People without Government: An Anthology of Anarchy, by Harold Barclay).
Second, if hierarchies were part of human nature, then everyone should desire them. And yet few people desire to obey others (who likes to have to work, pay taxes, and so on?). We obey for many reasons, but not out of a desire for the hierarchy itself. No other human instinct works in this way. We seek to have sex because we want to have sex, not because we’re forced to. We eat because we’re hungry. People follow some religion or spirituality, and don’t wish ardently that they were skeptics. In short, if hierarchies are natural, then why don’t we actually like them?
I said that we obey others for many reasons. This obviously needs to be explained before the argument takes its full force. There are three main reasons why we obey:
1. Because we have no other viable options (this is not true in some cases, but certainly true in others).
2. Because we can’t imagine things being any other way. This is especially true of hierarchies which have existed for more than a generation. This would apply to people who didn’t have access to education, despite the fact that we are now more educated, we are not taught about the different kinds of societies that existed before ours (as in the book I already referenced), or the alternatives which exist today (see for instance the examples from Anarchy in Action, by Colin Ward).
Our education system is geared towards turning children into good citizens and good workers, not into informed decision-makers or people with any knowledge of society beyond the tyrannical concepts of our capital-democracies. Decision-making is, of course, to be left to the “experts” and “authorities,” leaving the people as a whole with token choices between pre-approved options. And because we are taught that “it’s always been that way,” we can’t imagine it being any other way.
3. We hope to, one day, be the ones who give the orders, either as an individual or as part of a faction. This is the goal of most hierarchical games conditions, including those of capitalism and democracy, and those that don’t have that goal still give an inbuilt sense of superiority (in Christianity, for instance, one cannot become God, but one can feel superior to others by worshipping God the right way and having the correct beliefs).
In fact, it’s interesting to note how little even true believers in this or that faction support the hierarchy that makes their factions possible, in democracy for example. The staunch Democrat or Republican does not believe in democracy, at least most of the time; he or she praises the democratic process only when their chosen faction wins. They want to impose their values on everyone else, not obey the results of the process as such.
The best argument against the “hierarchies are natural” position is the massive amount of indoctrination, threats and cajoling necessary to make people obey, starting from a young age all through one’s life. And yet, the moment their control weakens, widespread public resistance springs up almost by magic. In his famous work The True Believer, Eric Hoffer pointed out that dictatorships need not fear opposition as long as they maintain their iron grip, but that any relaxing of that grip is inevitably followed by public rebellion. If hierarchies were natural, this is the exact opposite of what we would expect.
To recapitulate, the proposition that hierarchies are part of human nature should entail the following:
* All societies in history should have hierarchies. (they don’t)
* We should all desire to obey. (we don’t)
* It should not be necessary to indoctrinate people to obey. (it is)
* People left to their own devices should naturally form hierarchies. (they don’t: see examples from Anarchy in Action chapter 2, notably the Peckham Experiment)
If hierarchies are not natural, then what is natural? As Kropotkin famously argued, mutual aid permeates the animal kingdom, including humans, and is probably a more important evolutionary factor than warfare between species or competition within a species. The faculties which led the human species to unlock the secrets of nature were social adaptations, not tools of war.
This is, of course, not a total vindication of the mutualist stance, but it’s something to consider. Tennyson’s conception of nature as being “red in tooth and claw” has been dominant in our psyches, Kropotkin notwithstanding, and the delusional Hobbesian conception of primitive anarchies as “nasty, brutish and short” has dominated theoretical politics. The position that mutual aid is the most important factor in nature and natural societies provides a strong counter-point to these assumptions.