Utopian views in anarchism, and libertarianism in general, need to stop. I’ve seen far too many try to position the idea of anarchy as a perfect ideal that will solve all of our social ills. Even as a self-proclaimed anarchist, I have to completely disagree. While there are general counter arguments that can be laid out against the utopian worldview, I will be focusing on, at first at least, the actual logical fallacies in play for making such claims.
The easiest fallacy to notice is what’s called the “Nirvana Fallacy.” The Nirvana Fallacy occurs when we compare actual things with unrealistic and idealized options as a method of attack against the former. For example, If I were to say that social media is terrible because we can’t simply communicate pure truths via thought, I would be committing this fallacy. Supporters of the utopian worldview commit this fallacy by using their idealized version of anarchy as an example of why we should remove the government. If they used more realistic examples, such as how freer markets perform better (note, not perfectly) or the “Spontaneous Order” arguments then they wouldn’t be guilty of this. There are far better reasons to support anarchy and the end of government than painting a perfect, impossible world as the counter. Plato was guilty of this notion with his “world of forms” which, in my opinion at least, were completely trounced by Aristotle.
A related fallacy that the Nivana Fallacy is often confused with is the “Perfect Solution Fallacy.” This fallacy takes place when we throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. By assuming a perfect solution exists, this discounts and ignores other options because it doesn’t fix absolutely everything. The distinction between these, though they both apply to utopian anarchism, is that with the Nirvana Fallacy we’re attacking a realistic option in place of an unrealistic one, and with the Perfect Solution Fallacy we’re specifically imagining perfection. In essence, the first fallacy falls for a false dilemma, while the second falls for a false dichotomy.
Utopian arguments also fall apart due to a logical error known as a “Self-Refuting Idea.” This logical error takes place when an idea becomes a falsehood simply by attempting to follow it as a truth. In the case of anarchy, we’ll see the argument that everything will be perfect and all, or at least most, social ills will be cured with the establishment of anarchy. The idea of anarchy is that everyone is free to act as they please without interference of a regulatory body with a monopoly on force. So what happens when someone acts with ill intent? The removal of government will not result in the removal of all bad actors who aim or are willing to cause harm for their views. The only way to prevent that would be to establish universal, ethical law applied to everyone, or to get people to act based on a homogeneous set of ethical or moral norms. If it’s truly anarchy, we can neither assume this will happen naturally while bad actors exist today, nor can we assume that we will be in a position to make our norms the standard across all people. To reach a utopia with anarchism would require a level of social interference that makes the anarchy aspect moot.
I mentioned earlier that I am an anarchist, and despite my critiques here that still holds true. We need to start understanding the differences between something being preferential and it being perfect. Anarchy is neither utopian nor perfect, and that’s exactly the point. When we argue for anarchism we ought to be able to do so purely from value statements such as freedom for all. To try and paint it as anything more than that preferential does more harm that good to your cause.
Read more from Killian at Think Liberty here.