Riane Eisler and Anarchism
Riane Eisler is not an anarchist, but she is part of an increasingly numerous group of thinkers and activists who do not fit within the old paradigms. Such people as Naomi Klein, Sub Com Marcos, and the 21 st Century Socialists, who cannot be easily pigeon-holed as social democrats, Marxists or anarchists, yet seem to share all of those traits.
She does not fit in the old paradigms, in large measure, because she has invented a new paradigm, that of “dominator society vs partnership society.” The usual anarchist concepts include statism/anti-statism, and authoritarian/anti-authoritarian. I would suggest that her new conception is more encompassing than the older concepts. But not for a moment do I believe that these should be scrapped, but merely used where they apply most directly.
One does not have to think for very long to find areas of life where the concepts of statism and authoritarianism give rise to problems in analyzing certain ideologies and situations. For example, anyone can see that neo-liberals, Stalinists and Fascists are both statist and authoritarian. So too, any group or individual who seeks to further dis-empower the populace, centralize economic and political power and create greater inequality in income. The old concepts fit like a glove.
The problem comes when you encounter people who strive for greater equality, empowerment of the populace, more decentralized and direct democracy, yet at the same claim that such a system has the need for some sort of a state. Calling such people “statist” or “authoritarian” seems like the “one drop concept” of race and politics. (1) When a democratic socialist who desires worker and neighborhood council democracy and workplace self-management gets stuck on the same list as Hitler and Mussolini, you have to wonder about your theory. When it comes to complex, contradictory situations, applying the old paradigms is like trying to crack a nut with a nine pound sledge hammer.
But this isn't the only problem. Many societies that lack a state can be extremely oppressive – especially to women and children. Nor does a weaker state necessarily lead to greater freedom and equality. The state is much smaller in Chile than in Sweden, yet no one in their right mind could claim Chileans are freer and more equal than the Swedes.
These two sets of problems are overcome by using the dominator/partnership concept. A dominator society is one in which there is a high rate of inequality of wealth and power and these inequalities are rationalized through ideology and religion. There will be gender and sexual oppression. War and conquest is celebrated. A partnership society is one in which there is a low rate of inequality of wealth and power and gender and sexual oppression. Ideology and religion will reflect this. There will be no glorification of conquest
It is possible for the state and coercive authority to exist in both systems, but with partnership societies these will be muted. Domination and partnership exist on a continuum and there are no complete dominator or partnership systems. All societies are a mix of both and one or the other tendency may be more general.
Now we have a way of judging societies not with abstractions, but how they actually effect the people who inhabit them.
The paradoxical situation where one party states like Cuba or Tito's Yugoslavia are better for their citizens than many a multiparty “democracy” are also clarified. While authoritarian in many ways, these societies nonetheless have or had many partnership aspects, greater indeed than societies, which on paper at least, were less authoritarian. Nor do we need write off these positive social aspects as so much propaganda (as though the citizens of these countries were too stupid to see if they were conned or not.) That such regimes might have some real benefit for their people exists as a possibility with the dominator-partnership model.
Nor do we anarchists, when confronted by right-wing “libertarians” have to apologize or feel sheepish about preferring social democracy to US-style “liberty.” The US, for all its alleged dislike of government and endless talk of freedom, is compared with say, Norway, far more on the dominator end of the scale. Consider the US and its inability to develop a health care system or other social measures, its militarism and belligerence, its extremist religions.
1. In the Jim Crow Southern USA, having “one drop” of African blood, whether you looked “white” or not, meant you were Black and thus discriminated against. The contemporary political version of this is that any amount of social reform is too much “socialism.”