Praise the Anarchy in the UK

While some deride the “anarchy” that raged in the UK, it appears that genuinely voluntary, non-state forms of organization did arise to help deal with the UK riots. No, I’m not talking about “looters forming an orderly queue in broad daylight to steal from a sports shop.” I refer to people organizing “vigilante” groups in the streets during and after the riots to defend their own, and other people’s property after it became clear that the police was incapable of stopping the rioters.

“When rioters struck in Stoke Newington, north-east London, on Monday night, a group of Turkish shopkeepers were in no doubt about what was required. Arming themselves with rudimentary weapons – a rubber hose or a piece of metal from a hoover – they were poorly equipped to see off the hundreds of youths who were running amok, smashing windows and setting fire to homes.”

In Dalston, a corner of north-east London with a large Turkish community, men armed with baseball bats and sticks fought running battles with masked youths. Shop owners in Dalston said they felt compelled to arm themselves because it was clear there weren’t enough police to protect the area.”

“What Mills calls her ‘Turkish Army’ — dozens of shopkeepers guarding Kingsland High Street in Dalston — was just one of many groups of vigilantes armed with makeshift weapons determined to protect their areas of London from looting.

…. this gang was working to protect the neighborhood. And far from mugging Mills, the men handed her a free kebab, walked her to her front door and promised to keep her and her terrified neighbors safe as trouble raged in streets nearby.”

“Shopkeepers and local residents in London and other cities are organizing vigilante groups to protect their property. Outside a Sikh temple in west London, residents stood guard outside their place of worship. Another group marched through a neighbourhood in north London, aiming to deter looters.”

“On nearby Shacklewell Lane, the Turkish community was praised with keeping peace across the riot hit area. The Sun has reported that youths setting fire to a single-decker bus were chased away by stick-wielding protesters.”

In what seems to be an example of genuine anarchist order, people are taking to the streets to prevent further riots and to protect their property. It seems that the police are either completely incapable or unwilling to so. The state has failed to provide a service so people, voluntary, uncoerced actors, have picked up the slack.

“’There’s a real sense of community here, especially during Ramadan when people are supposed to look out for each other,’ said Abdul Jalil, the manager of the Deshi Fish grocery store opposite the mosque.”

It is now widely known that the London Metropolitan Police was entirely incompetent in defending the private property of Londoners. There is nothing too surprising about this, at least there shouldn’t be. The police exists to defend the state, not private citizens. It is the armed enforcement wing of government. Remember, they are paid by the state, not by private shop owners and workers. For reasons of incentive, it does not particularly matter to most politicians or policemen whether your shop is robbed, vandalized or burnt to the ground by looters. They are not directly worse off if they fail to do anything about it.

Yes, five day long looting and riots can ruin a police chief’s or prime minister’s reputation, some bureaucratic scapegoat’s head may roll, but the system remains the same. That is, one in which the people who bear the costs of an inefficient police system have no ability to shift resources away from it. Incentives are inverted. Instead, what we are seeing is the complete opposite, as is always the case when a government service utterly failes. Give it more funding and more men.

“One of those involved in the patrol, Nick Davidson, said a lack of action from police prompted their decision: ‘We’ve had enough of the police just standing there … while people are looting and ruining the whole area. Everybody here pays tax and we’ve all had enough of it. We’re sickened by the police doing absolutely nothing. They’re not policing our streets, we have to police them,’ he continued.”

“Many of the vigilantes said they had acted to prevent a fifth night of disorder after seeing police overwhelmed.”

“‘There were no police so we came out to defend ourselves,’ said a shopkeeper who gave only his first name, Mehmet. ‘I don’t know if it’s breaking the law but what can we do?’ he asked.”

“‘Why am I here? Because the police aren’t doing their job and someone has to’, said one of the so-called vigilantes in Enfield. ‘We’re here to stop people smashing up our town.’”

“That the London riots have led to locals feeling the need to take to the streets to protect their communities and property reveals the complete failure of the state to provide even the most basic of securities.”

Remember how, when you propose a stateless society, you often get asked, “But who will provide police protection?!” Well, answer that with a question and an answer. 1) Is the government providing police protection (for anyone except itself) right now? And 2) See for yourself. People organize. They defend themselves, their communities and their property.

All of this is coming about voluntarily too. No rigid top down, bureaucratic hierarchy is being enforced either. Just as with the rioters, social media like Facebook and twitter were used, only in this case, for good, to organize patrols and locate potential troubled areas as well as aid in the cleanup effort. Hundreds of people came together voluntarily to help cleanup London after the riots. A “broom army” of hundreds of volunteers was organized to aid in the cleanup. All without government decree. Fantastic.

More old-fashioned means of organization were used as well. During the riots fliers were posted on people’s homes encouraging them to help defend the neighbourhood and to honk their car horns if they saw any troubling activity.

The police discouraged these efforts and told people to curb vigilantism as much as possible. This is expected. The police don’t want private citizens to realize they can defend themselves. While not explicitly discouraging self defence, the Metropolitan police stated, “If you do experience further disorder, I urge you to contact police and not take steps to try and intervene yourselves, this will put you and others in danger – please allow the police to tackle these crimes.” Sure, just like they did the first time. This from a police department which was completely inept and/or unwilling at stopping the riots in the first place.

Wendy McElroy points out that vigilantism is just an extension of the individual right to self defence. It is “a voluntary association of persons who organize themselves for the purpose of protecting a common interest.” As Satjinder Singh says, “‘…we felt it was essential for us to protect our place of worship. It is not vigilantism, just protection of property.'”

I am not particularly convinced that most people advocating such a policy are concerned about Londoners hurting themselves while trying to protect their stores. I suspect, rather, that the greater (greatest?) fear is people realizing that state is unable to defend them in any meaningful way. At the same time people may realize they have the ability to properly defend themselves. What use is there, then, for an expensive, oppressive, eavesdropping, rights violating police department, that doesn’t even do its job in the first place?

For at least a few days the government of the UK failed to uphold two key monopolies that any successful state has to maintain: a monopoly of violence and a monopoly of law enforcement. Realizing this, people set up their own institutions to protect themselves from violence and stopped, for just a brief period of time, depending on the state to provide law enforcement. They formed voluntary institutions outside of the state apparatus. Hopefully more people will begin to realize that this is an effective way to organize society. Maybe next time it won’t take something as terrible as city wide riots to bring them to this conclusion.

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1 Response to Praise the Anarchy in the UK

  1. Very Interesting read. I will have to keep this in mind next time someone says “But without police who will police?!”

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