Monday, June 6, 2016

Posted for Alan Do

In his op-ed piece, “Anarchism and Nonviolence”, Randall Amster seeks to illustrate the

possible benefits of connecting these two concepts. His thesis is that the ideals of anarchism can

be best engaged by acting under the tenets of nonviolence. Within the piece, Amster appears to

be engaging this discussion in the mode of ethos and logos based on his citing of authority as

well as in defining different aspects of the issue. Based on his approach, it appears that he seeks

to persuade and educate a sympathetic academic audience so that they may better understand the

topics. He begins his piece by portraying how being an “anarchist” carries a negative connotation

in the public mindset. This occurs as they are often cited as the cause for the violence and

destruction that take place after contentious protests such as what occurred in Oakland following

the Oscar Grant verdict. He conveys to the reader the implication of this generalization when he

states “the media fan the flames by blaming a few stray acts of window-breaking… on self

described anarchists”. His premise is that the movement of anarchism has become a scapegoat

whenever chaos occurs in these contexts. This is an issue as it reduces the meaning of protests

and those who participate in them. Amster aims to combat the mischaracterization of this

movement by redefining the ideology as the media and public understand it.

        Amster defines “anarchism as, “autonomy, self-governance, decentralization, self- 

sufficiency, and a federal network of horizontal communities”. This implies an underlying sense

of individuality and rejection of norms. Amster argues that this supposed misunderstanding

stems from the difficulty that is inherent to defining an ideology that is against convention and

“orthodoxy”. Amster discusses how critics easily misconstrue these ideas as “violence and

destruction”. To combat this sentiment he asks the question, “how many people would you

estimate have been killed by anarchists in the last hundred years”. He then asks the reader to

compare that number to the deaths enacted by other people such as conservatives and liberals in

an attempt to convey how a broad philosophical orientation does not imply any significant

propensity for violence or radicalism. He proceeds with the discussion by citing his own

workshops regarding the topics to establish himself as an authoritative figure. In his workshops

he was able to “create a working definition of anarchism, and then one of nonviolence” through

which “many overlapping values emerged”. Amster discusses how both concepts deal with ideas

such as “self governance” and “rejection of domination”. To further reinforce this idea, he

utilizes prominent revolutionary figures such as Ghandi to illustrate how this overlap between

anarchy and nonviolence is important. He uses quotes from the the figures to establish his

interpretation of nonviolence and the efficacy with which they were able to produce anarchistic


        Amster does address to the audience that this is his interpretation of the subject matter

and that other definitions of anarchism exist. He also mentions how there are other examples that

contradict his thesis. Nevertheless, he argues, “we look for ways to support and bolster both

paradigms since they are increasingly coming into contact with one another in the real world of

on-the- ground activism and organism”. This is an effective method of argument as it allows the

reader to disengage from any contradictions and rebuttals. He is able to conclude his argument in

a convincing manner as even if one were to disagree that the two movements were carried

significant overlap, he believes that it would still be beneficial to conflate the movements.

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