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In which Tom almost becomes an anarchist

Colin Ward obituary | Society | The Guardian.

I love Guardian obituaries. Usually, they are fascinating accounts of the reassuringly wasted lives of leftist eccentrics. I derive great pleasure from noting the damage deceased Guardian-reading busybodies entirely failed to do in the course of their pointless lives of bickering and writing pamphlets read by no-one. This one caught my eye though, at first for the wrong reasons. I laughed at the idea of an anarchist working for the Town & Country Planning Association. When I read a little more about him, I realised the laugh was on me.

Apparently, famous anarchist Piotr Kropotkin (what was he doing in the Home Counties?) said of the empty and overgrown landscape of Surrey and Sussex after the Industrial Revolution;
...in every direction I see abandoned cottages and orchards going to ruin, a whole population has disappeared...
In his book Cotters & Squatters, Colin Ward observed;
Precisely a century after this account was written, the fields were empty again. Fifty years of subsidies had made the owners of arable land millionaires through mechanised cultivation and, with a crisis of over-production; the European Community was rewarding them for growing no crops on part of their land. However, opportunities for the homeless poor were fewer than ever in history. The grown-up children of local families can’t get on the housing ladder.
His suggested solutions included community land where people could build their own homes;
...and they should be allowed to do it a bit at a time, starting in a simple way and improving the structure as they go along. The idea that a house should be completed in one go before you can get planning permission and a mortgage is ridiculous.

He was quite right of course. State-enforced housing standards are a 3D equivalent of the minimum wage; at the bottom of the social heap, they spare you the indignity of poor housing by first denying you housing (and then throwing you into "social" housing as a solution to your problem). How did such a good bloke make it past the Guardian's editors, even in death?

I could not agree more with his idea that politics is about "strengthening co-operative relations" (by providing legal frameworks for co-operation, not orders from above) though I am not sure if it could ever really be described as "supporting human ingenuity". In my experience politics only ever develops human ingenuity by functioning as a kind of gym. Some of the most ingenious entrepreneurs I have met developed their skills in the black markets of the former Eastern Bloc, for example. Colin Ward, however (as must have slipped the obituary editor's notice) is no Honecker nostalgist;

Can there be social organisation without authority, without government? The anarchists claim that there can be, and they also claim that it is desirable that there should be. They claim that [my emphasis] at the basis of our social problems is the principle of government. It is, after all, governments which prepare for war and wage war, even though you are obliged to fight in them and pay for them; the bombs you are worried about are not the bombs which cartoonists attribute to the anarchists, but the bombs which governments have perfected, at your expense. 

Allelujah, brother! Don't praise the lords!! Before this blog starts flying the black flag however, let's read a little further;

It is ... governments which make and enforce the laws which enable the 'haves' to retain control over social assets rather than share them with the 'have-nots'. It is, after all, the principle of authority which ensures that people will work for someone else for the greater part of their lives, not because they enjoy it or have any control over their work, but because they see it as their only means of livelihood.

Hmm. There it is. The "Property is theft" sign on the gate at Anarchism's boundaries. Not to mention the give-away use of the word "social" to mean "ours, not yours, though you earned it". Still he clearly raised some interesting questions;

Why do people consent to be governed? It isn't only fear: what have millions of people to fear from a small group of politicians? It is because they subscribe to the same values as their governors. Rulers and ruled alike believe in the principle of authority, of hierarchy, of power.

This is a good, if faintly depressing, answer to the question so often posed in the libertarian blogosphere; "Why do we put up with it?" The principle of authority is one we learned at our mother's and (if we were lucky) our father's knee. Ward's obituary led me to this more encouraging passage (by which Old Holborn is currently trying to live);

'The State’ said the German anarchist Gustav Landauer, ‘is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.

Whatever the overall merits of his ideas, Colin Ward lived outside the grim, grey Guardian norms of thought and for this he must be praised. RIP.

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