It seems pretty clear that even taking a break from the tedium of mid-winter Ottawa, any thrill offered by the wall-to-wall busyness of the streets around Parliament Hill has aged very quickly.
After experiencing a state that many, including at least one Conservative MP, have described as anarchy, there are no doubt many Canadians who are currently mulling over the benefits of a boring old parliamentary democracy, despite its many drawbacks.
“I ask that we clear the streets and stop this occupation controlled by radicals and anarchist groups,” tweeted Conservative Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus, frustrated.
Anarchism, like socialism and liberalism, means different things to different people – and appears on both sides of the political spectrum.
The form we see now, whether urban or during border blockades, comes at an economic cost.
I spent the week undergoing the siege of Ottawa. If the motivation of truckers could be understood, the current situation is quite different. I ask that we clear the streets and stop this occupation controlled by radicals and anarchist groups. #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/OU0DwyviWY
Borders blocked, shops closed
As truck blockades spread around the world and many people become furious with governments that are unable or unwilling to address protesters’ perceived problems, legally elected governments are facing an anarchic response.
“Freedom is constantly at war with those who want to limit it, and it must be defended,” the Wall Street Journal quoted approvingly of the Freedom Convoy’s manifesto.
Certainly businesses in downtown Ottawa, and to a lesser extent other cities facing lockdowns, are suffering. The Retail Council of Canada estimates that downtown Rideau Centre, the city’s busiest mall, lost nearly $20 million in the first week alone.
While some businesses such as fast food outlets have benefited from the Ottawa protests, the cost of border blockages, including auto plant closures and rotting produce in trucks, will clearly overshadow any small gain.
An estimate of the economic impact of lawless border blockades puts it at $1 billion a day. Export Development Canada estimates are lower, at about US$600 million a day in trade delays at three blocked crossings.
The Holy Grail of Anarchy
According to the Oxford dictionary, the word “anarchy” comes from ancient Greek, literally “leaderless”, but is defined in its simplest form as “a state of political or social disorder resulting from the absence or contempt of the government or rule”. of the law.”
As with other “-isms”, anarchism has competing contenders for their own definitions. That of the left of the political spectrum, celebrated in the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grailis the better known of the two.
“We have no lord”, filthy peasants say to King Arthur. “I told you, we are an anarcho-syndicalist commune.”
According to Sarah Fessenden, who lectures and writes on contemporary anarchism at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, British Columbia, the modern anarchist ideal is less about breaking up the state and more about finding economic alternatives to capitalism. on a smaller scale. Traditional markets are being replaced by things like mutual aid and different forms of sharing.
“Most of the anarchists I’ve been involved with, they’re not particularly interested these days, like overthrowing a government,” Fessenden said.
Fewer people may realize that there is another kind of anarchism touted by groups like the Fraser Institute in Canada and the Cato Institute in the United States, two right-wing think tanks, based on the work of Robert Nozick and his 1974 book. Anarchy, State and Utopia.
A manifesto for a small government, Nozick’s type of anarchy is part of a larger libertarian movement in the United States that loves things like cryptocurrency and deregulation, which critics say will only make the rich more powerful by eliminating the equalizing forces of government.
This is the kind of anarchy that has taken hold in recent weeks.
Anarchy works in the playground
Mark Kamstra, a professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto, who among other things studies the human willingness to accept financial risk, took a personal tour of a protest site in downtown Toronto and was not impressed.
“Anarchy works very well in certain environments,” Kamstra said in a phone interview. “As a seven-year-old playing on the playground, you know, Anarchy was fine. We couldn’t do too much damage to each other, and it was fun.”
But the finance professor and economist said that as complexity and danger increase, letting everyone do what they want no longer works. Too much freedom is bad for the economy.
“Anarchy in a situation where you have your savings at stake, or your life, literally, on the edge of a subway platform, those places, anarchy is not a happy situation,” he said. declared.
As someone who studies the markets, removing or simplifying regulation often removes protection for ordinary investors, allowing predation by what Kamstra calls “scammers.”
Deregulation, he said, is often just a process of re-regulation in favor of someone else.
Many protests, but will chaos solve the problem?
Of course, for mainstream anti-capitalist anarchists, being bad for business is a feature, not a bug.
For those who study the kind of European protest politics that developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries in places like Italy and Russia, the current spate of anti-government protests may have only small similarities with what they consider “true” anarchism. .
But Mark Leier, historian and author of a book on Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, sees a common human impulse.
“I think a lot of people have a kind of sense of anarchism, or for anarchism, in the sense that none of us like to be…ordered what to do,” the professor of the Simon Fraser University. Instead, people are pushing back and resisting, and we might think that the current protests represent “an anarchist impulse.”
Leier said the kind of people at the city and border protests — like many who supported Donald Trump and took part in the invasion of Congress last year — have reason to be angry beyond vaccines. But he says significant foreign funding and political support from the American right show that unscrupulous interests can exploit that anger for different political ends.
In current calls for “freedom,” Leier said he doesn’t see the kind of politically conscious grassroots buy-in that he says is essential to traditional anarchist mobilizations, such as the Canadian Wobblies in the labor movement. from the early 1900s.
Rather than leading a revolution against Ottawa, the protesters seem to be pushing back the majority of Canadians, who really don’t like chaos.
Anna Jurkevics, an assistant professor of political science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said in an email conversation that unless things get really bad, people would rather stick with the status quo because that the chaos of revolution is dangerous. Like the systems that allowed kings to pass their title on to their less able children, it was better than having a bloody war every time a monarch died.
She said the mystery of why existing systems of government are so difficult to change even when we can imagine better ones is the subject of the recent popular book The dawn of everything.
“People don’t usually engage in violent revolution unless the situation is extreme because they don’t want to die,” Jurkevics said. “People in power, people with money, don’t give up their advantages without a fight.”
Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis