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How dangerous is repression of minorities by the majority in an anarchistic society?

The Golden Rule in itself does not prevent every form of repression.

The danger: a fundamentalistic majority

Imagine a society where 99% of the population believe in some particular "true" religion and accept, in agreement with the Golden Rule, that everybody who violates the rules of the "true" religion deserved death. This does not violate the Golden Rule – these 99% accept the rules of the "true" religion for themself, and also accept that if they violate them they deserve death.

This society is anarchistic in the sense of our definition. But it is certainly not our ideal of freedom which is realized in this society. We would probably prefer the injustice and repression by the democratic majority of the modern democratic states, at least if we like to violate sometimes some of the rules which this anarchistic society wants to see enforced with death penalty.

But this comparison is not a fair, reasonable one. If one want to compare this repressive anarchistic society with a democratic state, one has to compare it with a democratic state where 99% believe that those who violate the rules of the "true" religion deserve death.

And in this case, the situation is already different. In this case I would prefer the anarchistic version, where I can have, at least, a gun to protect myself. Where there is no police which enforces the law – so that I may survive, for the simple reason that my neighbours, even if most of them think that I deserve death, may not want to risk their life trying to kill me.

What do we have to compare?

Thus, the question is not if an anarchy with a large majority in favour of unjust rules is better or worse than a democratic state with a large majority in favour of just rules. One has to compare above ways to organize a society given the similar prejudices of the majority.

Or one has to justify the difference in opinions of the majority by the different ways to organize the society. Societies are usually stable only if the majority considers the basic ideas of the society as just. So we can assume that in a democratic state a majority considers laws accepted by a government elected by a democratic majority as just, while in an anarchistic society the majority considers the basic ideas of a stateless society as just. But there may also be some other effects. The society may be stable because a majority accepts some moral rules which correct some problems which otherwise could become severe. For example, in a society without a social security system the majority may consider supporting the poor as a moral obligation of the rich, while this may be unnecessary in a society with a tx-based social security system.

But which differences in the moral prejudices of the majority have to be expected in different societies is a complex question. The first question we have to consider is, therefore, a comparison of what happens if the prejudices of the majority are the same.

Which society enforces unjust rules supported by a majority in a more repressive way?

The answer to this particular question is quite obvious. A majority in a democracy can transform its prejudices into laws which are obligatory for everybody. The majority can establish also an arbitrary penalty for violating this law. As a consequence, the police of the state will enforce this law. Even those members of the police who hate this law have to do their job and enforce this law. The police will be paid for doing this job by the government from taxes. Thus, even those who hate this law are forced to support the enforcement of the law with their money.

Then, it doesn't matter how important the rule is for the majority. The question may be, say, quite irrelevant for the majority but extremely important for the minority. It doesn't matter – the majority decides about the law and the penalty. Even worse, if the majority does not like the minority, they may accept rules and enforce them with high penalties not because the rule in itself is in any way important for them, but simply based on their hate. There is no reason at all for the majority to care about acceptance by the minority.

And it also does not matter how large is the majority. A 51% majority is sufficient. Thus, quite weak prejudices of small majorities can already become laws and enforced by high penalties.

Let's see now what is different in anarchy.

Thus, even if there remains a possibility of repression of minorities based on unjust prejudices of a majority, the consequences seem much less serious than a comparable repression in a democratic society.

This happens even if we do not take into account that the majority in an anarchistic society will probably support anarchistic principles in a similar way as all stable societies will be supported by the majority of people who live in this society. And the principles of anarchistic societies are clearly more supportive of the freedom of choice for minorities than the principles of democratic societies.

What would be probable differences in the prejudices of the majority?

Thus, assuming that the prejudices of the majority against some minorities would remain unchanged, anarchy would be preferable for the minority – the power of the majority would be much less dangerous. But may be this effect will be compensated by some shift in the opinion of the majority, such that the result would be even worse for the minority?

One cannot exclude such things. But empty speculation does not make sense. If we have no idea, no argument that makes it probable that the majority opinion changes in a certain direction, all possible shifts are equally plausible, and the most reasonable expectation is that the opinion remains unchanged or that the changes will be in the average irrelevant. In this case, the minority would fare better simply because of the reasons found above.

Thus, the interesting question is if there are reasons to expect that the prejudices of the majority against minorities change in a systematic way.

Opinions supporting an anarchistic society

One argument for a systematic effect is the necessity of some support for anarchistic principles for the very stability of anarchy. Every stable society is stable only because there is a large ideological support for this particular type of society as being just, natural, God-given or whatever else. A society without such support will be unstable and not survive for a long time. Thus, if the current modern states become anarchistic, there has to be some shift in the public opinion away from the current support for a democratic state in favour of anarchistic principles.

But tolerance for minorities, for other opinions, other religions, other ways of life, and respect for the freedom of others is a central point of anarchistic ideology. And even if democratic ideology contains some elements of tolerance, in particular tolerance for different opinions and religions, this is only a very restricted tolerance – there is no tolerance for different ways of life following different laws.

Thus, if the majority opinion embraces anarchistic principles, this is not dangerous for the minorities, but, instead, leads to even more tolerance of minorities.

Prejudices of the anarchistic activists

If a society changes, there will be some group of activists in support of this change. It is quite reasonable to expect that these activists play a more important role in the society after the transformation. And in particular one can expect that their opinions, whatever they are, become more popular.

Of course, the activists of a transformation of a state into an anarchistic society will support anarchistic principles. In this sense, this point is already covered by the previous section, and the resulting shift in the opinion will be in favour of minorities.

But there may be lots of other opinions shared by or widely distributed among the activists, which are not directly connected to anarchistic principles. These other opinions will also become more popular.

Can we find any general characteristics of such opinions? It is reasonable to expect that the activists are themself members of various minorities, not liked by the majority, simply because they are among the losers in a democratic society and therefore have a much stronger motivation to change it. If this happens, this will also not strengthen prejudices of the majority against minorities. Instead, various particular minorities may become more popular than they are in a democratic society.

Anarcho-totalitarian combinations among the supporters

Now, consistency is not among the widely distributed properties of human belief systems. Therefore one has to expect that among the anarchistic activists one will find also various proponents of totalitarian systems – anarcho-communism, anarcho-nationalism, or anarchism combined with some totalitarian religion.

The proponents of totalitarian ideologies are among the repressed minorities today, thus, share with the anarchists the motivation for change. This shared motivation may be a strong enough incentive to ignore the fundamental incompatibilities – anyway, to ignore such incompatibilities is something they have learned in school (democratic ideology is full of such incompatibilities).

One can only hope that the self-contradictory character of the combination of anarchy and totalitarian ideologies has some negative influence on the popularity of such nonsense, but this is not more than a hope.

But there is, of course, another point: The society becomes only anarchistic if it does not become totalitarian. That attempts to create an "anarchistic" society by such totalitarian "anarchists" may end not in a civilized anarchy but, instead, in a totalitarian state is obvious. If this does not happen, there has to be a sufficiently strong anti-totalitarian fraction, and this fraction should be the winner. Therefore, even if proponents of various totalitarian ideas may be among the first supporters of a change, they will not be the winners if the society becomes anarchistic (which is the question considered here). Thus, the effect that the ideology of the winners will become more popular will not lead to increasing sympathies for totalitarian ideas.

Are there ideas dangerous for some "new rulers"?

The history of fascism as well as communism shows that these movements have been supported initially by lots of suppressed minorities. Homosexuals, supporters of sexual freedom, various avantgardists and futurists, atheists and suppressed nationalities (like Jews in Russia) have been over-represented. But this has not helped these minorities. After the new order has been established, the repression of these minorities has become even stronger.

Given these historic precedents, maybe there is something wrong with the idea that the ideas of the initial supporters will become more popular, and that this will help the suppressed minorities?

I don't think so. The effect itself is easily explained by the nature of the totalitarian state which has been established by these revolutions. Total control and repression of all minorities is the basic idea of such a society, thus, an even stronger repression of already repressed minorities is nothing strange, but quite natural. It is the pure accident of who becomes the new Führer, and what are his particular prejudices, which decides about which minorities will be even more repressed and which will be ignored.

Instead, the anarchistic society, as proposed here, works in a completely different way. There simply are no "new rulers" who may enforce their particular prejudices.

Moral rules replacing laws

A new society solves a lot of problems in a different way. Among these different ways to solve human problems there may be improvements, but there may be also some problems which become worse, problems where the state has really done something useful. (This has to be acknowledged as a theoretical possibility, for the sake of the argument.)

There are two problems with this. The first one is that such problems may give support to ideas of reviving the state. This can cause an instability.

The other problem is that some ideology may help to solve the problem. Let's assume, for example, that there was a law which was really useful. Now, in anarchy, there are no longer laws obligatory for everybody. Once the law was, by assumption, useful, people will look for a replacement. One quite obvious replacement is a moral rule. To do what was previously a violation of a law, penalized by a moderate fine, now becomes some evil behaviour, which is morally penalized.

The problem is that to reach the same effect the moral penalty has to be greater than the old penalty. In fact, there is no police to enforce a fine, so a similar ``moral fine'' (as far as moral penalties are comparable) would have less effect. As a consequence, the moral rule can become more radical than the majority opinion in the democracy.

Is this probable? It cannot be excluded. But moral penalties have to be accepted by large majorities to become powerful. So it seems reasonable to guess that this will happen only in exceptional cases.

The theoretical situation we have considered here is indeed exceptional. In fact, democratic societies have no way to establish reasonable, optimal values for their penalties. There is, simply, no correction mechanism. So one can expect, with good reason, that the penalty established by the state is or too large, or too small. In above cases, the argument does not work.

Can aggressive minorities become dangerous for peaceful majorities in anarchy?

But maybe there is another danger – that some aggressive, fanatical minority becomes dangerous not only for other minorities, but even for a peaceful majority? This would be a danger which does not exist in an ideal democracy with a peaceful majority. The majority would be able to make its own peaceful rules the general law and the police, in the worst case even the army, would defend the peace against the aggressive minority.

Of course it is in principle possible that some minority suppresses the majority. This has happened often enough in history. But would this be an anarchistic society in the sense of our definition?

The situation is comparable with the problem discussed before: The suppression of minorities by the majority. The minority in an anarchistic society has less possibilities to suppress the majority than the ruling minorities in states. No army paid by taxes taken from the majority supports them, no laws defined by the minority are obligatory to the majority.