Christmas with the Anarchists

The movie Christmas with the Kranks is about a middle-aged couple who decide to “skip Christmas” when their only daughter goes on a humanitarian mission overseas during the holidays. They even refuse to decorate their house according to neighborhood custom. What struck me just today about this movie is that it’s an example of voluntary governance. No one in the neighborhood has been granted – or taken upon themselves – the authority to enforce Christmas decorations with threat of violence; and yet, the Kranks feel tremendous pressure to conform to the accepted customs and traditions. Their neighbors can put this societal pressure on them precisely because they are friends and neighbors; and at the end of the movie, all the characters are still friends, despite the conflicts.

This brings to mind one of my points about what anarchy is not: Anarchy does not mean an absence of governance. Societies have many levels of governance – from personal conscience to widely shared laws and norms (murder and theft are wrong, for example) and everything in between. Even without allowing – or worse yet, appointing – some person or group to use threats of violence, laws are still enforced by the emergent order of civilization.

Side note: I think it’s unfortunate that the word “autocracy” has been applied to dictatorship. Etymologically, autocracy (literally “self-rule”) would be a great alternative to anarchy (without rulers).