The main issue at hand is authority, with a corollary being power. Abstractly, systems of Anarchy claim that structures where no individual person, or node, has authority over any other, should perform better at least on average than structures with a command network, i.e. authority. In Anarchy, power is distributed equally across everyone. In other structures, different nodes have different amounts of power, with the most stable structure being one where there's a clear ordering to the power. That is, one node has the majority of the power, and the rest follow from there with no equivalent nodes of useful size. (In a Monarchy, the peasants may all be more or less equal, but the individual power amounts and the sum total of the power in the group is negligible compared to the absolute authority of the Crown.)
When people dismiss Anarchy, they are arguing that either a) authority-less networks perform worse on average and so aren't useful, or b) such a network is unstable (some say impossible) and authority will manifest itself naturally one way or another (typically through mob violence). a) is purely a technical argument that I won't get into here, though briefly I'd mention that while there may be some cases where having a command system definitely helps, such as running corporations or militaries, I think it could be shown that those do not represent the majority of interesting cases. b) is more interesting.
In order for Anarchy to work, the system has to have deterrents against pockets of significant power pooling up and upsetting the general equality. The issue of violent domination is almost always the first objection people have to Anarchy, because at first glance there does not seem to be anything available to stop it. Libertarians therefore advocate a government whose sole purpose is having a monopoly on force. My memory is fuzzy on Gandhi at the moment, but I can at least speak for myself when I say that I do not believe violence is such a huge thing to worry about, and that under the right conditions a very simplistic Anarchy could work with normal humans living together.
Why do I believe this? I think that human morality, in general, converges. Ignoring sociopaths for a moment, whom I consider to be brain-damaged with respect to morality, we may have our disagreements about whether we should have the death penalty or not, but in general we can agree that dying, and especially killing, isn't a good thing. It's this generality of consensus that I think is part of a universal human morality due to the structure of our brains, created from a much smaller population than we have now in the evolutionary, ancestral environment.
When I look at history, I see trends suggesting a direction for our morality to converge. Is slavery right or wrong? Go back to the Roman Empire, they had slaves of all races and cultures and viewed it as a suitable punishment (both permanent and temporary) for crimes. As time went on, slavery became something done mostly just to the Africans. By the time of the American Revolution, Britain had already ended slavery, and it would likely have ended in the Colonies as well had we not rebelled. As a consequence of our rebellion, the problem of slavery here continued for a while longer. We got rid of it eventually, and in the past hundred years we've gotten rid of most of its after-effects too such as voting discrimination. There are still some areas left to be cleaned up, such as the prison system which is a modern form of slavery, but the trend seems pretty clear to me. We've trended toward seeing every individual human as having some "right" to be "free", that is, there should be no node in the authority network that has the authority to enslave any individual. There was a power transfer down to all individuals for at least this one sense, and people like to call that unit of power a right to be free. The reason African slavery existed so long, I believe, is because the slave owners genuinely perceived them to be less than human, a different species, and they only cared about the power units of freedom being sent to humans.
So when I talk about non-violence, one of the main arguments is that humans naturally don't want to be violent. Our emotions and our moralities are so similar that we can converge on a set of affairs where everyone can settle their disagreements non-violently. I'm pretty sure Gandhi believed this, that Man is naturally non-violent, but where I'm fuzzy is if he applied it to Anarchy. The problem of sociopaths can be dealt with, and the non-violent movements of the past century have shown that even non-sociopathic outbreaks of violence can have non-violent resolutions. In my view, the most frequent cause of non-sociopathic violence is due to economic inequality. When people have their basic needs met and aren't at risk of losing them, violence is very low. Eradicate poverty, you eradicate a huge source for violence.
Yet I don't think this argument about the convergence of human morality, even if it has convinced me, is particularly strong by itself, let alone reassuring. This is one of the interesting differences between those who argue for Anarchy and those who argue for some form of State. There aren't many structural deterrents you can place in an Anarchy system to preserve the Anarchy, and so the arguments for "how do we deal with non-sociopathic violence?" tend to lean on some form of human togetherness, drawing on the spiritual as Gandhi did, or the structure of human brains as I enjoy, or something else. "Non-violent people are non-violent" is the tautology. If most of the Anarchy society is non-violent, violence isn't really a threat to worry about. I've thought about and suggested other systematic forms of controlling violence and general wrong-doing that don't rely on some general human goodness, but they require a significant amount of work on the individual level. Such is the price you pay for accepting no authority over you.
On the other hand, non-anarchy forms of government have structures defined arbitrarily, and so the creators can, if they're sufficiently smart enough, implement effective deterrent systems against violence, chaos, or run-amok power within the authority/power structure itself. Corporations probably have the best model for this, specifically the Joint-Stock Model. This has led to a type of government known as neocameralism, which is the idea that you have thousands of "city-states" that are run as such joint-stock corporations.
This is actually very near my personal flavor of Anarchy, which allows for temporary power relinquishment in cases where a command system works better. I've previously written about how such a system may be completely run dictatorially, or democratically, or meritocraticly, it doesn't really matter so long as it's temporary and doesn't lead to expansion. Though the previously linked external blog goes over some problems with this, since expansion models tend to win out. Furthermore if a corporation model is the best model, perhaps that should be the only one implemented. (For sufficiently small power relinquishments though, such as designating someone a Team Leader in a group of 5, I still don't think it matters so much what structure that particular power arrangement takes.) Another benefit of the corporate model done with an Anarchy society is that it puts the responsibility of temporariness on the shareholders, who presumably desire an Anarchy if they were previously living in such.
Continuing the line of what non-anarchy systems argue, look at the Libertarian view. I think they're naive, but they still tried to put a systematic structure. They're not trying to argue that humans will tend toward non-violence, they try to argue that their limited government will deal with the problem. Namely a constitution-bound government with interchangeable actors holding absolute power over the military to stop complete societal breakdown and solve trivial problems of violence.
Looking at the United States, the Founders saw the dangers of having a flat, single oligarchy or dictator able to control everything, and so they created the three branches to try and distribute the flatness in such a way that it couldn't easily be concentrated. It's this type of structure they argued about, and the powers each branch had, because there was implicit agreement that such a structure would deter government expansion, corruption, and oligarchical rule over the People. It faired pretty well in retrospect but I fear isn't long for this world.
Anarchy arguments tend to be inductive and argue around why raised problems either shouldn't be that troublesome or worrisome or likely and how a solution can be worked toward anyway. They also tend to favor general cases and not specifying detailed possible failure modes in advance, confident enough that the anarchic society will be able to solve specific problems as they come along. When it comes to human nature, anarchists tend to fall on the side saying humans tend to be naturally good. People don't become violent just because they don't have a punisher!
Government arguments tend to be a game of which system can provide the most guarantees or deterrents against the largest set of Possible Bad Things, ordered by the worst things, no matter how unlikely, such as violence within the State and such as threats of war and occupation external to the State. When it comes to human nature, those who posit governmental systems tend to fall on the side saying humans tend to be naturally bad. People become violent when they no longer have a punisher!
Both approaches have their merits, and both 'camps' should use both approaches. My observation, from the admittedly little I've seen of the two approaches towards a better Earth for its humans, is that each 'camp' favors their own particular style. I find that highly interesting.
Posted on 2011-08-27 by Jach