"I was very heartened by Occupy and by the tea party. It's hard to find people who appreciate both, because most people are looking at everything from a left-right spectrum. But I saw them as having a lot of commonalities. They both kind of petered out, or have been co-opted by more mainstream forms, but I thought they were both heartening."Personally, I like to see the rise of Rand Paul. I'm amazed that man is in the US Senate. It was outstanding that Ron Paul was in Congress all those decades. To elect someone who is pretty much a straight-up libertarian to the US Senate, that's an amazing success for that side of the spectrum. But people are so bewildered by the left-right thing that people who should otherwise be able to regard Rand Paul as important are going to disregard him as a crazy right-wing nut."
"I think the whole left-right way of understanding politics has been incredibly unfortunate. It obscures many similarities and papers over many differences on both ends. The left-right spectrum was more or less invented by the left in the late 19th century, probably. The first use of left-right in the modern sense, in English, was by Thomas Carlyle in 1837. The concept dates from a little earlier than that in France. It was used to account for the different factions in the French Revolution."That way of thinking about politics is also associated with Marxism in the late 19th century as capitalism versus anti-capitalism. That's one way to think about the spectrum, I suppose. But in application to contemporary positions, the left-right spectrum forces everybody into an enthusiasm for one kind of hierarchy or another. It's either a capitalist-corporate hierarchy or a state-oriented political hierarchy. That appears to be your choices. But there have to be spots outside that spectrum where you're skeptical of any and all forms of power and hierarchy. And that's what I'm looking for."
"Well, people try to make it fit. A lot of anarchists I know are uncomfortable with my take on anarchism because a lot of people who identify with anarchism now are anti-capitalist. They tend to be younger folks, Occupy types and anti-globalization people. When they think of anarchism, they think of a far-left anti-capitalism. They are less concerned with this question of state power that, for a lot of traditional anarchists, would be definitional."I regard libertarianism and left-anarchism as potentially compatible positions. They have obvious commonalities. Both are highly skeptical of state power or authority in general. That's one reason I'm looking at these figures that came before the left-right way of conceiving the political spectrum came about. People like Thoreau, let's say. You couldn't call him a progressive because there was no such category in 1850. But he was an abolitionist. He certainly supported feminism. He supported everything that would be considered progressive reform, but he's an individualist."Thoreau combines these elements that are central in the American political tradition but are now obscured. He combined an individualism that we now think of as right-wing with various positions of human liberation that we would tend to think of as left-wing. That, to me, is a perfectly coherent philosophy. There doesn't seem to be any conceptual tension in that."
"Precisely," Sartwell agreed. "This is an advantage of anarchist political theory, in my view. We don't have to design the future. We can try to find out how people want to live and how successful they are."
"Just the skepticism of power that's involved in the basic stance of anarchism is something we need all the time," he said. "I think an anti-authoritarian streak is always worthwhile in the discussion."
"In some ways, I underestimated the positive possibilities of anarchism," Sartwell admits.
"[Reading Graeber and Scott,] you just become aware of the anti-authoritarian or nonauthoritarian ways in which people have actually organized," Sartwell says, "including in our lives now."
"There is this whole anti-authoritarian history. It just hasn't been written," Sartwell said.
"Anarchism is mindful destruction," he writes in his book. "It is precisely its refusal to shape and impose a future that distinguishes anarchism from ideologies."I don't think there should be an anarchist political philosophy that's going to tell you what the future is going to be like once we release you from state power or whatever," Sartwell said.
"My mother's been pounding on me like that since I was 12," Sartwell laughed. "I know all about that!"