Why Steven Pinker gave up on anarchism

August 23, 2010

From The Blank Slate, p. 331:

When law enforcement vanishes, all manner of violence breaks out: looting, settling old scores, ethnic cleansing, and petty warfare among gangs, warlords and mafias. This was obvious in the remnants of Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and parts of Africa in the 1990s, but can also happen in countries with a long tradition of civility. As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin’s anarchism. I laughed off my parents’ argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 A.M. on October 17, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike. By 11:20 A.M. the first bank was robbed. By noon most downtown stores had closed because of looting. Within a few more hours, taxi drivers burned down the garage of a limousine service that had competed with them for airport customers, a rooftop sniper killed a provincial police officer, rioters broke into several hotels and restaurants, and a doctor slew a burglar in his suburban home. By the end of the day, six banks had been robbed, a hundred shops had been looted, twelve fires had been set, forty carloads of storefront glass had been broken, and three million dollars in property damage had been inflicted, before city authorities had to call ni the army and, of course, the Mounties to restore order. This decisive empirical test leeft my politics in tatters (and offered a foretaste of life as a scientist).

Time magazine gives us some context for the strike:

Separatists advocating an independent Quebee have ignited a series of violent demonstrations and bomb explosions. A continuing fiscal crisis…has alienated Montrealers from their political leaders. The city’s police were particularly angry because their Toronto counterparts receive more pay for less dangerous work. [Between June 1968 and October 1969, two police officers were killed and more than 250 were injured.] When the city offered the police an increase that still left them $800 short of Toronto’s basic $9,200-a-year scale, the cops struck. As an Ottawa official put it: “The people who had been kicking them and stoning them and bashing them over the head weren’t paying them enough for it.”

And regarding the taxi drivers:

Early in the evening, a group of taxi drivers added to the confusion. Protesting the fact that they are prohibited from serving Montreal’s airport, they led a crowd of several hundred to storm the garage of the Murray Hill Limousine Service Ltd., which has the lucrative franchise.

According to a citation-less Wikipedia entry, after the Murray Hill riot, the limousine service lost its monopoly.

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3 Responses to “Why Steven Pinker gave up on anarchism”

  1. mike Says:

    It is certainly true that you cannot just remove the State now. There’s nothing to take its place. But remember that the State created the mob to begin with.

  2. JR Minkel Says:

    I agree. Pinker gave up too easily.

  3. lettrist Says:

    yeah what? Some Bakuninist. How can you trust his scholalrly work when his analysis of Bakuninist anarchism is so bad, so bourgeois?

    the insurrection that happened verifies social wars which proliferated when given the chance. The state keeps the lid on them, so of course they explode when the police disappear.

    he is so typical, laughing off his parents and wanting readers to think he was a real rebel. Of course, now he knows better.


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