Against The Police

by Jeremy Weiland
Against The Police

They don’t create oppression; they just make it possible

What I’m about to say may surprise you, but I assure you it’s the honest truth: in my personal experience, cops are overwhelmingly decent folks. They almost always conduct themselves “professionally” and have generally treated me with respect. I’m not saying stories of law enforcement abuse haven’t affected me–they absolutely have, and I’ll get into that. I’m not saying my arsenal of privileges haven’t colored my experiences. But as far as my personal dealings, I’ve encountered very few who were anything but by-the-book and courteous.

Because they are so frequently decent, I’m sometimes tempted to reconcile the profession of policing with the kind of free society I dream about. After all, I have several friends and family who are police officers, and I’m loathe to let ideology darken my opinions of them as individuals. I want to believe policing is possible outside the hegemony of a state, and that these people can be meaningful participants in a stateless community.

But I never persist in that belief very long. I cannot think of any acceptable justification for the existence of law enforcement as an institution at all. The entire enterprise is abominable, root and branch. There is no escaping the conclusion that, everywhere they exist, police are mercenary occupiers serving a power hostile to the authentic human flourishing. As I intend to show, so long as our society exhibits privilege and injustice, I cannot pretend law enforcement does not prop it up in some fundamental manner.

It is the transformation of the function of policing into a profession that chiefly offends me. It’s as ridiculous as professionalizing the role of the voter in a democracy. I’m sure contractors or bureuacrats could devise a way to vote more efficiently than any of us flesh-and-blood folks can, but wouldn’t that defeat the point? It’s crucial to a democracy that everybody vote; it’s what makes it a democracy (putting aside whether such formal democratic governance is desirable).

In the same way all eligble members must vote in order for a democracy to be most legitimate and authentic, being a member of a free, self-governing, non-authoritarian community necessarily entails policing on the part of every community member. After all, more is implied by “community” than mere proximity of domiciles. Rather, communities should comprise a population unit bound by shared values, a coherent body brought together and made distinct by the identity emerging from individual lives. When you surrender using coercion as an organizing principle, what other basis is there for collectivity?

These shared values do not ensure there will never be conflict, or even that these communities will always work. They do, however, ensure that the costs, side-effects, and consequences of that community’s values will be legible to the people themselves. If you want racism in your community, well, you’ll have to do the dirty business of pushing around people yourself–no passing laws and hiring cops to do it for you. If you want to enforce unequal distribution of wealth, you can’t hire goons to keep your neighbors fenced off in squalor. Whatever problems face the community, at least the community cannot ignore them.

Professionalizing the policing of communities encourages people to promote values–such as through monopoly law–without fully internalizing the costs of doing so. These costs accrue not just monetarily; they are costs incurred through inconvenience, through mental calcuation, averting one’s eyes, and psychological coping, through the inalienable duties of community membership, through the inability to simply ignore the reality of your fellow man. If you outsource this, you don’t just concentrate power in a class of people with obscene incentives to abuse it. You also outsource your ability to learn whether or not your community actually functions at all. And you will be hostage to the police because you’re afraid to fully accept and participate in the consequences of your way of life. Shouldn’t that tell you something about your community?

I don’t understand why anarchists of all stripes underemphasize the degree to which anarchism is necessarily incompatible with mediating institutions like the police. It seems to me that speaking only of what people can expect to get from a stateless society smacks of typical individualist myopia. Abolishing constituted authority confers the duty to regulate and manage personally, relying on everybody to step up and do their part.

You can’t hold the responsibilities of human freedom without unfiltered, direct information about the conditions under which that freedom exists. To be free in a particular context must entail an awareness of that particular context. Anarchism, sans ideology, is ultimately about being present, directly experiencing the collective reality, noticing the fluid conditions that are equally capable of frustrating and liberating us all. Any political principles following from that approach downright empirical facts.

Anarchism prefigures a world in which people go about human business in all its facets, without mediation or privilege. Self-government doesn’t merely devolve the operations of governance, such as the parliamentary or legal, to the common man. It changes the nature of what we mean by government, transforming it from a formality of institutions running parallel to society into a day-to-day individual duty, a constant creation of and reaction to society, not in spite of the people’s confluence and conviviality but as its logical product.

We find ourselves held hostage by police and their increasing demands for more intrusive, more arresting, more egregious domination because we know our communities cannot work on their own. So we put up with the arrogance, the abuse, the concentration of unaccountable power. In addition to pointing out the evil and error of this situation, anarchists must stress that it is also an abdication to the state of the very essence of our social nature. A police force tangibly represents the abandonment of community, a clue that the collective values of the population do not align with the lived reality.

A community doesn’t require guards wielding lethal force to maintain itself. It doesn’t have to protect those with more privilege, power, or wealth from those with less. The very fact that you have to constantly protect power and privilege in first place, let alone do so by hiring the goon squad, tells you whatever arrangements you wish to protect are artificial, illegitimate, and unsustainable.

If community wealth is imbalanced, of course you will have crime. If you have a subclass of people who are disrespected consistently by the others, of course you will have violence. If you refuse to engage directly with your neighbors, of course you’ll need an armed mediation squad to protect you and yours from them and theirs. And if your reaction to the messy business of human beings is to wall yourself off from them with a professional cleanup crew, mopping up the trail of blood and pain your chosen existence creates, of course it will persist. To solve a problem you must first face it.

The police don’t create injustice, inequality, suffering, poverty, and crime; those things will probably happen anywhere to some degree. All that police do is maintain the status quo that allows these things to continue and intensify, protecting business as usual from them. “Bad people” exist, but I see no evidence that the police has some sort of unique ability to identify them, so prevalent are they in the halls of power (and donut shops).

By sanitizing the problems our laws, practices, and values create for us, they make our collective dysfunction possible. We don’t need to actually respond to the damage we cause; we just pay to have it managed for us, and this default attitude enables many of the intractible, ongoing crises of modern life because the community’s fluid, adaptive nature has been denied. The police allow us to pretend this constant failure of humanity is just the way the world is, instead of what we ask them to institute as an alternative to facing it head on.

It’s like a town living behind a dam that can’t hold; every time it floods, the solution is a bigger, better, more expensive dam, instead of just moving to a place that doesn’t require a dam. Similarly, it’s as if the police manufacture the community’s need for their services, with our all too frequently enthusiastic blessing. While I criticize the individuals who choose the crappy profession of law enforcement for not self-regulating more, I’m sympathetic to their predicament to defend an indefensible and unsustainable order. There’s no way to do it but with brutal violence, ubiquitious threats, and raw, unaccountable power.

Professional police create the illusion that we can be passive consumers of government. Law enforcement is the indispensible institution of the modern state, the fulcrum of authoritarianism in our society. The honest anarchist intuitively recognizes this, but may not realize that any future stateless society with a professional police class will inevitably end up as bad or worse. When it comes to anarchism, you cannot alienate your agency to personally produce the society you wish to participate in.

The only alternative to hierarchy, authority, and privilege is to reclaim our inalienable duty to be the police ourselves, to be members of a horizontal community, to be the exemplars of the values we claim to hold dear, and to face danger and suffering squarely. Anything less is nothing but an amusement park, a simulcrum of community that sells us tickets to a cage. That kind of farce has nothing to do with the anarchist project, which concerns humans and the communities that emerge from their congress.

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9 responses to “Against The Police

  1. “If community wealth is imbalanced, of course you will have crime.”
    Why? Some of my neighbours are possibly wealthier than I am, and some no doubt poorer. Frankly I don’t know and I don’t care. I do know we don’t all go around stealing from each other though.

  2. “They almost always conduct themselves “professionally” and have generally treated me with respect.”

    Not where I live in the midlands. They are petty, corrupt, self-serving and bureaucratic; just like any other institution where there is power without accountability.

  3. Quite so Hugo – and I suspect that “”Jeremy Weiland” (with his view that inequality justifies crime) is more of a threat to liberty than the police are. If one person is a million times richer than another that does not give the other person any right to commit a crime.

    Whether violent robbers call themselves a government, the mafia or (Black Flag) “anarchists” – they are still violent robbers. And “we only rob the rich” is no justification.

    Nor is there any right to “respect” – that is J.S. Mill nonsense. If I choose to turn my back on Mr Mill because I suspect he is engaged in an affair with another man’s wife (to “parade my disapproval” to use Mr Mill’s term) I have not committed a crime.

    Also if someone refuses to do business with me (say serve me in shop) because he does not like bald people, or people who are of part Jewish ancestry, that is his choice.

    There is no “right to respect” – period (as the Americans say).

    If someone will not let you into their hotel – work hard, and build your own hotel (and make it better); Ditto with department stores. or clubs or anything – work, build your own (if people do not like you so much they will not let you into their version).

    Do not go crying to the state for “Civil Rights Law”.

    And those who try and steal what they can not gain by work – end up with only ashes (the riches turn to dust in their hands).

    As for the actual question. Many regimes have enforced tyranny without a police force – by the use of the military.

    As for whether a police force (state or private) are needed – well police forces in England and Wales were not compulsory till 1856 and we were not eating each other (and England and Wales were hardly egalitarian).

    What matters is the ideas (the beliefs – the moral core) of the people – not whether they are rich or poor.

    A population that has no honour (that is filled with Social Justice ideas – i.e. are criminal vermin) are unfit for self government – in a literal sense, they can (or rather choose not to) govern (control) themselves.

    The people who recently looted supermarkets in Argentina (a nation that has had a wildly leftist government for a long time now) are not showing “liberty” they are showing license.

    Such a population makes civil society impossible – and they make tyranny (of one form or another) inevitable.

    It is not poverty that makes such a population unfit for self government – it is their Social Justice beliefs (their criminal principles).

    Although it is normally quite wealthy people who have spread such criminal principles.

  4. This article helps to highlight the personal dilemma for all anarchists. That of how to live a happy life in this world of statist violence and at the same time try to change it so we are free. As argued,

    “you cannot alienate your agency to personally produce the society you wish to participate in.”

    But the difficulty of this task at a personal level has previously been conceded, when the author writes,

    “Because they are so frequently decent, I’m sometimes tempted to reconcile the profession of policing with the kind of free society I dream about. After all, I have several friends and family who are police officers, and I’m loathe to let ideology darken my opinions of them as individuals.”

    The difficulty this person has experienced, as everyone experiences is how to live a moral life when the world is such an immoral place, where our family, friends, and communities we are members of accept, are complicit in and connive with the violence of the state.

    What are anarchists prepared to do in order to live in a stateless society? For the majority of us this is our biggest failing. Perhaps our opposition is left to the dinner party table, maybe a ballot box, or perhaps even petitions and public protests. This is not and never will be enough.

    Our solution is a entire transformation in the societies mores and habits. As the article reads,

    “It changes the nature of what we mean by government, transforming it from a formality of institutions running parallel to society into a day-to-day individual duty, a constant creation of and reaction to society, not in spite of the people’s confluence and conviviality but as its logical product.”

    Therefore in situations such as how we respond to the police, (even when they are friends and family, indeed perhaps even more so), we must respond through actions. That is non-co-operation and deliberate and as far as possible public law breaking, where the laws are unjustified infringements of our liberties.

    Specifically this means that we should ostracize those who are policemen. If family and friends join the police we should tell them that we will have no future contact with them due to the vile actions they are carrying out. Of course we should explain to them the reasons for this, why the state cannot be justified, etc. But we must use our behavior to shape societal norms against forces of oppression such as the police and other state institutions.

    This sounds extreme, uncomfortable even, and it is, but how else do we as anarchists actually expect people to realise the force of our convictions and the justness of our cause. If you think the state is evil, it is not justifiable to break bread with its supporters and its accomplices. We must stop seeing the world in “parallel lines” of personal behavior and public behavior, instead we must realise anarchy through our “day-to-day” individual actions. However nice a slave owner is in person, (even to his slaves) he is still a slave owner. However nice a policeman he is still a policeman.

    “you cannot alienate your agency to personally produce the society you wish to participate in.”
    It’s all personal.

  5. JKJ – what the article actually does is to show that Black Flag “anarchists” are not libertarians.

    Inequality does NOT justify crime.

    And “lack of respect” does NOT justify crime either. Even if Korean shop keepers had shown a “lack of respect” for black people in L.A. that does not black people (or any other people) the right to loot Korean shops – and the shop keepers have every right to shoot dead anyone who tries to loot their shops (indeed they have a moral duty to shoot looters – otherwise the long term survival of civil society is destroyed).

    If large numbers of people in Cordoba (the second city of Argentina) had not looted shops when there was a police strike (or if large numbers of people had turned out to prevent the looting) then the people of Cordoba would have shown themselves fit for self government.

    As things went the other way, the people of Cordoba have shown themselves unfit for self government – they have chosen not to be moral agents (but to be Social Justice vermin instead).

    Should they change their ways (become better people) then one can talk about abolishing the police – but not till they population show themselves to be moral agents (not criminals).

    And, I repeat, this is nothing to do with poverty – a poor person may be honest, and a rich person may be a “Social Justice” criminal.

    What matters is what beliefs people they have – and whether they base their conduct on right principles.

  6. Libertarians debate whether the government police could be replaced by private police – either commercial or unpaid (special constables and so on), and note that many societies (including ones of great differences in income and wealth) had no government police (and were not noted for crime).

    There are towns (even some quite large towns) in the United States even today that have no paid police.

    What sensible people do not do is to suggest that those who risk their lives everyday in the defence of lives and property against savage criminals, should be “ostracised” .

    To treat someone who risks their life in your protection (risks their live every day) with”disrespect” (to take a term from the original post) shows who the real “pigs” are.

    JKJ would you “refuse to have contact with the police” if a friend or relative was raped or murdered? Say the next time an “Occupy” mob (for example “Occupy Oakland”) get tired of waving their Red flags (and their black flags) and decide to have some “fun” (as they so often in the past).

    Of course you would not – as soon as a friend or relative of yours was raped or murdered you would go straight to the police (and so you should).

    So stop writing in such an absurd way.

    In short – GROW UP.

  7. I don’t entirely disagree with your argument, it is as I said the anarchists dilemma. How much discomfort are we prepared to undertake in order to realise the withering of the state.

    The examples you have pointed to in terms of riots, looting, even an physical or sexual attack on myself or friends and family are all well made. These are all violent acts which I would not take part in, seek to prevent and stop from being repeated. They are all examples of the reality of everyday violence which people can suffer.

    The issue however is that by only addressing these instances of violence and forgetting and allowing the Real systemic violence of the state to be carried out, we do not address and sanitize the injustices and violence of the state. Instead we legitimize statist violence, which is supposedly the very cause as libertarians we are attempting to counter.

    There is a difference between Law and Order.

  8. JKJ – you still refuse to see the basic point.

    Which is that a lot of people who call themselves “anarchists” (or whatever) are really collectivists – their real objection to the present society is that large scale private property in the means of production, distribution and exchange is not violated ENOUGH.

    They do not see someone like Jon Huntsman (senior) and say “how much more good could this man do – if only taxes were lower and regulations less”, on the contrary they want to take everything he has (and kill him and his family – and anyone else, no matter how poor, who defends them). The wavers of the Black Flag arte not fundamentally different from the wavers of the Red Flag (that is why they cooperate in everything from the “Occupy” movement to the Teacher Unions).

    Your failure to see the true nature of Kevin Carson and co is quite astonishing – as they do not really make a secret of it.

    • Dear Paul

      I am quite willing to concede that “A lot of people who call themselves anarchists are actually collectivists.” I believe that is almost certainly a correct assessment. But I would go further than that and argue that this phenomenon does not merely cover anarchists like “Kevin Carson and his black flag-red flag company”, but this also extends to statists such as John Huntsman or even those in the Ayn Rand-Peikoff tradition. Both of these “sides” share statist ideologies which go towards supporting the welfare-warfare state.

      Therefore I choose not to make a libidinal investment in what may or may in some cases almost certainly be flawed motivation. The underlying morality I first want to change is that of the statist morality which claims legitimacy for the use of violence against innocents.

      You might concede that in an anarchist society, there would very likely be those who lived collectivist lives, indeed to some extent I believe many people would. Indeed I have read you argue elsewhere on Burke’s little platoons. This is collectivism of a kind, not of the centrally directed variant of the 20th century, but instead a moral idea sovereign individuals making the moral choice to co-operate and live and work together on something more than a cash nexus.

      I don’t doubt many of the ” red flag black flags” may be flawed in their thinking, some may even be completely disingenuous and actually be supportive of a state as long as it was in their making. This is obvious from the “Uk anarchists” who demonstrate for higher taxes, increased unlicensed spending and all manner of statist violence. Others may as you argue be more extreme and wish to enact a Jacobin like terror against those who they consider the enemy. Similarly it is of no doubt that such actions currently take place and are enacted agaisnt the enemies of the current ruling class, using bureacratic and legal methods at home , and the air strike and drones abroad. In both cases it is the statist ideology which must first be defeated.

      How then do we progress? You have written before that you are pretty much resigned to ever continuing growth if the state until some apocalyptic like scenario. For myself I refuse to live that way, as to do so would be to live the rest of my life complicit and a collaborator with my own suffering.

      Therefore I argue that we need to find ways to co-opt anarchist sentiment wherever we can find it. Everyone holds an anarchist excuse to themselves in relation to their own behaviours and actions, we need to develop ways to exploit this. Just in the same way that statists have been able to exploit collectivist sentiments that almost everyone harbours to some extent. Indeed you argue vociferously on the success of cultural Marxism nd the Frankfurt school. At the very least then is it not worth attempting to use similar methods to influence society from a libertarian perspective. Primarily I think this should be an emotional battle based in terms of the non aggression principle, we need to start encouraging people simply to ignore the state in the policy areas where they feel the geatest suffering. And we need to get them to do so not on grounds of reasonable argument of public policy but on the emotional idea that violence against innocent individuals is utterly inexcusable. We need a strategy of realistic actions on the part of individuals which refuse to comply and co-operate with the state. Trying to end the state through rational policy debate and attempts at complete ideological conversion will not be successful for the majority. Instead we must look to exploit human nature in our favor, through symbolic propaganda of our own and through attempting to change bottom-down behaviours and habits.