Anarchists, Riots, and Democrats

To most Americans, the sight of mass protests, riots, burning of buildings and cars, looting and violence is disturbing. Who would celebrate such social disorder? The answer is found in the ideology of anarchism.

Those who ascribe to this ideology believe that almost everyone is oppressed by some arbitrary and unjust authority (in government, family, schools, community, law, church, and business). Anarchists, moreover, believe that everyone is as angry and unhappy as they are—that everyone is just waiting for some attack on authority to signal the inevitable mass uprising of the population they’ve been waiting for. They think that a day will come when all people of goodwill are going to join them in overthrowing all those institutions of power and control. 

Like one small match thrown on a pile of dry hay, a riot, bombing, assassination, or toppling of a statue will cause a massive revolt and revolution ushering in a new age and liberating a utopia of peace, love, sharing, and freedom unlike any mankind has ever known. The psychology underlying anarchism (along with Rousseau’s “democracy” and Marx’s Communism) is that humans are naturally nice, peaceful, unselfish, generous, and loving. It is only our laws and social structures that make some of us evil. So, if we eliminate those authoritarian social structures, they believe, everyone will be perfect, and society will be harmonious, happy, and heavenly (like a “Summer of Love”). 

Most of Western social thought takes issue with this idealistic view of human nature. Given our distinctive gift of reason, Aristotle places humans between gods and beasts, but without moral education and social regulation we are prone to use that reason in destructive ways and fall below the animals in violence and cruelty. 

The Christian tradition places evil “in the heart of man,” not in social structures (which, if grounded in nature, actually are intended to civilize humans). Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin all emphasized the reality of sin which, undisciplined, unpunished, and uncontrolled, causes terrible destruction and suffering. Machiavelli is the starkest in his assessment of human lust and greed: everyone’s desires are infinite, their means to satisfy them finite, so left to their natural dispositions, without restraint, they are greedy, frustrated, and criminal.

But anarchists do not see the evil in their own hearts—only in those of the privileged and powerful. So to their way of thinking, any means is justified if it tends toward destroying the existing order because only then can peace and light prevail—without law, religion, police, or money.

In the late 19th century, Russian anarchists allied with the Bolsheviks to overthrow the czar. After the October Revolution in Russia, those anarchists planned to disband the state, the military, the police, the church, and any and all of the ruling elite. The Russian Communists, on the other hand, planned to establish an all-powerful totalitarian “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”  Guess who won?  

And so it will be with today’s wide-eyed and naïve young revolutionaries currently serving, like useful idiots, the whims of the Democratic Party that happily aligns with them so long as the destruction is needed. It’s easier, after all, to outsource demolition. But if today’s young anarchists think that the new boss won’t be worse than the old one, they’re in for a rude awakening.

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About Garrett Ward Sheldon

Garrett Ward Sheldon is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and an ordained Christian minister. He taught political theory, American political thought, law, and religion. He has published 10 books, including The History of Political Theory: Ancient Greece to Modern America, Religion and Politics: Major Thinkers on the Relation of Church and State, and The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson. He was in residence at and commissioned by, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, and a visiting scholar at the University of Vienna, Trinity College (Dublin), Moscow University, the University of Istanbul, and Princeton.

Photo: Ruben Cueto