San Francisco: Anarcho-tyranny in practice
Anarcho-tyranny is, at it’s core, an indirect dictatorship.
One of my favorite Twitter accounts is that of Michelle Tandler, a lifelong resident of San Francisco. Though a liberal, Tandler has been very outspoken concerning the degradation of the city over the years regarding increasing inequality, skyrocketing crime, and general decline in the standard of living, despite being one of the most expensive places to reside in the country.
Something that becomes apparent when following her account is that the breakdown of the rule of law in San Francisco is very much a policy decision that became possible through voting via the city’s predominantly left-wing body politic. She responds to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle which suggests residents ought to respond to the escalating crime and violence by merely accepting it as a new normal and focusing instead of barricading their homes:
San Francisco Chronicle @sfchronicleResidents and city leaders are searching for answers: should they tolerate burglaries as a part of city living, and focus on barricading homes? Should repeat offenders get rehabilitation services, or be incarcerated so they can’t commit more crimes? https://t.co/F0kaALqjU1 https://t.co/QMqOjXJFMl
This is as candid as it gets from someone on the Left. Tandler’s saying what many have been saying for years, but it’s effectively impossible to deny the truth in what she says because she is herself on the Left. This isn’t something that can be dismissed as “right-wing propaganda.”
But it’s this particular tweet that I want to bring attention to:
“Borderline anarchy mixed with a totalitarian streak” is a rather damning characterization of the kind of left-wing politics we see in play in San Francisco. It also sounds a lot like a concept known as “anarcho-tyranny.”
The term was coined by columnist and writer Samuel T. Francis, who passed away in 2005. Though he used the term extensively in his earlier writings, he most fully defined the concept in a 1993 article for Chronicles:
This condition, which in some of my columns I have called "anarcho-tyranny," is essentially a kind of Hegelian synthesis of what appear to be dialectical opposites: the combination of oppressive government power against the innocent and the law-abiding and, simultaneously, a grotesque paralysis of the ability or the will to use that power to carry out basic public duties such as protection or public safety. And, it is characteristic of anarcho-tyranny that it not only fails to punish criminals and enforce legitimate order but also criminalizes the innocent.
16 years after his death, Samuel Francis remains a deeply controversial figure, largely due to his openly White nationalist views. Conventional wisdom suggests there’s nothing of redeemable value offered by such a figure, but this is misguided. Francis may be wrong when it comes to his views on race, but it’s also true that those on the margins of acceptable thought often have insights and observations most others lack by virtue of being within those margins. There’s no need to accept or reject Francis’ racialism to comprehend anarcho-tyranny, which, as you’ll see, goes well beyond the matter of race.
At first glance, it seems like a contradiction in terms. After all, how can a state of anarchy and tyranny exist at the same time? It turns out it can, depending on the government’s willingness to exercise its power in certain arenas and virtually none in others. A government may not be able or willing to do anything about crime, but they might severely constrain your ability to use violence in an act of self-defense, for example. In another instance, a government may allow people to defecate and urinate on private property and scream obscenities and threats incessently, but will gladly ticket you for parking your car an inch further from the curb than the city code permits. In some ways, it’s governance via the “low-hanging fruit.” After all, it’s easier to enforce the law when it comes to those who tend to abide by it.
It’s worth considering - why would a government behave in this fashion? What incentive is there to deliberately create an environment where the rule of law effectively doesn’t exist, while continuing to enforce the law against those who abide by it? There are generally two reasons that often go hand-in-hand. One is that it’s agenda-driven, which I’ll dive deeper into later in this post. The other is that it’s a way to control the citizenry through fear and violence (hence, “tyranny”) in an indirect fashion.
Whereas Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union used the power of the state to directly control the lives of its people and crush all dissent, anarcho-tyranny uses the chaos and disorder created by a lack of rule of law to create an ambient state of fear within the citizenry. Whether this is agenda-driven or not ultimately matters little, because the lack of peace and order supplies the fear necessary to suppress the citizenry and create the relationship of dependency between the people and the state, while the government’s selective, low-hanging-fruit approach to enforcement is the manner in which exerts its authority and perpetuates its own existence. Anarcho-tyranny is, at it’s core, an indirect dictatorship.
More from Francis:
In fact, we criminalize the innocent all the time in the United States today—through asset seizure laws that confiscate your property even before you're convicted of possessing illegal drugs; through mandatory brainwashing programs designed to reconstruct your mind with "sensitivity training," "human relations," and rehabilitation if you display politically incorrect ideas on certain occasions; through prosecuting people like Bernhard Goetz who use guns to defend themselves; and through gun control laws in general. Under anarcho-tyranny, gun control laws do not usually target criminals who use guns to commit their crimes. The usual suspects are noncriminals who own, carry, or use guns against criminals—like the Korean store owners in Los Angeles or like Mr. Goetz, who spent several months in jail after picking off the three hoodlums who were making ready to liberate him from life and limb.
Indeed, the government response to crime is by far the best illustration of anarcho-tyranny. On the one hand, police forces are better equipped, better trained, and more expensive than ever before in history. Police routinely use computers, have access to nationwide information banks, and carry weapons and communication gadgets that most tyrants of the past would drool over. Yet the police seem utterly baffled by the murder rate. None of their high-tech whiz-bang helps much to catch serious criminals after they have struck, to stop them before they strike, or to keep them off the streets after they are caught. But while the police cannot do much about murderers, rapists, and robbers, they are geniuses at nabbing less serious lawbreakers. They can crack down on tax-dodgers and speeders, jaywalkers and pornography patrons, seat belt nonbucklers and epithet-emitters, gun owners and graffiti-scratchers.
This article was published in 1993, a time when the U.S. was still in the midst of a major crime wave that was quickly approaching the 30-year mark. Researchers today consider the wave to have ended in 1995, two years after the article was published. But, at the time, it seemed there was no end in sight. This sentiment seems most relevant today, as the U.S. is clearly gripped in a significant uptick in crime, even if it doesn’t constitute a “wave” by the strictest of definitions.
Few cities in the country appear to have been affected by the crime upsurge the same way San Francisco has. To be sure, this isn’t a post-2020 problem, as San Francisco has dealt with escalating crime and declining living standards for years now. But, as the rest of the country catches up (or catches down, more accurately) to the depths to which San Francisco has fallen, the city has become, as Michelle Tandler puts it, “a canary in the coal mine for progressive and left wing values.”
Getting back to anarcho-tyranny, the San Francisco government has proven most ineffective at blunting the rise in crime. Part of the reason is because of the election of District Attorney Chesa Boudin in 2019. There isn’t much to say about Boudin himself, other than the fact his entire life has been deeply entrenched in far left politics and has been a lifelong crusader of criminal justice reform.
In practice, Boudin’s policies may be reformative, but in a self-destructive fashion. San Francisco residents are apparently experiencing buyer’s remorse, as Boudin is now under the threat of recall. Unlike the recall of California Governor Gavin Newsom, which had very little likelihood of success, there seems to be something more to that of Boudin’s - his own assistants have loudly resigned, proving tremendous discontent over his policies.
Those policies apparently include choosing not to charge for quality-of-life crimes, such as theft. Though this may seem merciful in the minds of the social justice-oriented, predictably, it only begets more crime. After all, why stop doing something you can get away with? Enabling such behavior has made living and running businesses increasingly unbearable in the city, forcing businesses to either cut hours or leave the city entirely, with residents also seeking to do the same.
Recently released data serves as damning evidence of what Boudin has - or has not - been up to since taking office. After only 20 months, the San Francisco DA has tried three cases of robbery, resulting in two convictions.
According to the San Francisco Police Department, there were 272 reported instances of robbery in January 2020 alone and this was months before the pandemic-related lockdown. As noted earlier, San Francisco’s problems didn’t begin with Chesa Boudin and there was plenty of crime in the city before and after he took office. Yet, during his entire time in office, there were only two burglary convictions.
Statistics rarely speak for themselves, but sometimes, they do.
This only scratches the surface of the problem, which also includes the failure to charge or the release of those who have committed serious, violent offenses, many of whom go onto commit other crimes while free. The crime problem may be even worse than reported in official statistics, as many residents find that reporting offenses leads nowhere, a sure sign that authorities are either unable or unwilling to deal with the problem, raising the likelihood the situation will only further spiral out of control.
Meanwhile, San Francisco features among the strictest anti-COVID policies in the country and among the highest taxes in the country. The picture being painted is one where San Francisco is an easy place to be a criminal, but utterly suffocating to be a resident, especially the less affluent. You can expect the government to enforce anti-COVID policies and collect ever last cent of tax revenue, because it’s easy to enforce the law when it comes to those who abide by it.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s suggestion that San Francisco residents ought to tolerate burglaries and barricade their homes can only lead to a logical end where the city comes to resemble countries like Brazil and South Africa. Both see rates of crime an order of magnitude higher than that of the U.S., forcing residents to do exactly that - barricade their homes. It’s impossible to see a nice home in these countries not surrounded by walls and secured by metal gates and the private security industry employs thousands upon thousands in each country. In fact, affluent residents in San Francisco are doing just that, hiring private security as the ambient level of danger in the city rises to unbearable levels.
I’ll be talking about crime and San Francisco more in future entries. For all the talk of civil war in recent times, the rising crime is a clear and present danger for the U.S. and will not only endanger the lives of millions daily, but also degrade the quality of life in the U.S. San Francisco, as stated by Michelle Tandler, is an example of what the “Californication,” of the entire country could ultimately lead to. It’s also proof that anarcho-tyranny isn’t a theoretical concept, but something which is currently in practice in one of the world’s most influential cities.
Edward Chang is a defense, military, and foreign policy writer. Follow him on Twitter at @Edward_Chang_8.
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