Skip to main content

Law Research Seminar Series: Elena Loizidou "Without Law?"

Venue: Birkbeck 43 Gordon Square

Without Law?

'Laws! We know what they are and what they are worth. Gossamer for the mighty and the rich, fetters that no steel could smash for the little people and the poor, fishing nets in the hand of government.'
(Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, p.90)

Anarchism means to be governed without a ruler, or without an authority. Does anarchism want to do away also with the idea of law? While it is evident within every strand of classical anarchism the desire for the withering of the State and the establishment of an autonomous self government, it is not so explicit whether the withering of the law is anticipated. The quote from Proudhon above, for example, presents Proudhon as a strong critic of the legal order. The law is presented as an instrument that protects privilege and is differential towards the unprivileged members of society, an instrument, a 'fishing net' in particular, that governments use to sustain poverty and inequality and expand the needs and desires of the rich. On the contrary, in his influential essay 'Property is Theft', we find Proudhon not being so antagonistic towards the law, as he writes 'I seek the end of privilege, the abolition of slavery, the equality of rights, the rule of law' (Proudhon, 49). We may though say that these two tendencies in Proudhon are not that incompatible. In the first, he presents us with his critique of Statist law, or law in the hands of privilege and in the second with a desired law, a law that will ensure freedom, equality and justice, a law that will come after the revolution. There is, in other words, hope in the potentiality of law in Proudhon. Other anarchists, like Emma Goldman and Peter Krotopkin, as I will talk about, are less hopeful of the institution of law and its rule. Nevertheless, even if we are to understand Proudhon's depiction of law as an ally to the anarchist project, it is still somewhat curious that he does not contemplate the possibility that the legal institution or order could in an anarchist society colonize the way in which anarchist society organizes or governs life to the extent that it can jeopardize its emancipatory imaginary. Put differently, an investment in the rule of role puts law as the vehicle to freedom, invests law with an authority over man/woman. It invests law with god like quality, an act that is contrary to the anarchist principles. The aim in presenting Proudhon's contradictory statements on law is to point to the ambivalent relationship that certain anarchism(s) have with law, and to point out that there has been very little reflection (and specifically in secondary literature) on the relationship between anarchism and law. As a point of clarification here when I refer to law I refer specifically to what is generally recognized as institutional law such as cases, statutes, treaties and, vested with an executive branch to carry out its ordering of life, such as the judiciary, clerks, lawyers, police officers, prison officers, prisons, etc. This presentation will focus on the ambivalent relation between anarchism and law, and its effects.

Elena Loizidou is a Reader in Law and Political Theory at the School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London.

Law Research Seminars are held on Wednesdays at lunchtime. The seminars are free and open to the public, and a light lunch is provided.

Contact name:

Contact phone: 442030738134