Why do anarchists view the state as inherently evil and oppressive?

Anarchists have viewed the state as evil and oppressive because it inhibits individual freedom, corrupts those in authority, and leads to exploitative, coercive and destructive behaviour.

Anarchists have viewed the state as evil and oppressive because it inhibits individual freedom, corrupts those in authority, and leads to exploitative, coercive and destructive behaviour.

For anarchists, the state is a sovereign entity that exercises supreme authority over all individuals and associations. Anarchists see authority as being an offence against freedom and equality. The alleged right of one person to influence the behaviour of others enslaves, oppresses and limits human life. To be subject to authority means to be diminished, to have one’s essential nature suppressed and thereby succumb to debilitating dependency. Anarchism endorses absolute freedom and unrestrained equality, however, laws restrict public behaviour, limit political activity, regulate economic life and interfere with private morality and thinking. Therefore, the state is evil and oppressive.

The state is also evil because it corrupts those who are in authority. People who would otherwise be cooperative, sympathetic and sociable become nothing less than oppressive tyrants when raised up above others by power, privilege or wealth. To be in authority (even the so called expert authority of doctors and teachers) is to acquire an appetite for prestige, control and eventually domination. Authority gives rise to a ‘psychology of power’ based on a pattern of dominance and submission. Therefore, anyone placed in a position of power will become tyrannical and abusive. As a result, constitutionalism and democracy are simply façades and are incapable of protecting citizens against state oppression. This illustrates anarchism’s belief in human ‘plasticity’, in that humans are shaped by society and the institutions within which they live. Therefore, as the state causes humans to be selfish and greedy, it is considered to be evil and oppressive.

The state is also evil and oppressive because it is exploitative, coercive and destructive. The state is exploitative in that it robs individuals of their property through taxation, backed up by force and the threat of punishment. It is also seen to be exploitative as it acts in alliance with the wealthy and privileged, and therefore serves to oppress the poor and weak. The state is coercive in that laws must be obeyed because they are backed up by the threat of punishment. Emma Goldman summed this up by saying that the government is symbolised by ‘the club, the gun, the handcuff, or the prison’. This can then lead to the state depriving individuals of their property, liberty and ultimately through capital punishment, their lives. Finally, the state is destructive, because as Randolph Bourne said, ‘war is the health of the state’. Individuals are required to fight, kill and die in wars that are invariably precipitated by a quest for territorial expansion, plunder or national glory by one state at the expense of others. Therefore, the state is clearly evil and oppressive because it causes a range of suffering to not just its own people but also to foreigners.

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