Accounting and the Virtues of Anarchy
Funnell, Warwick, Australasian Accounting Business & Finance Journal
The ability of accounting to be used for the purposes of economic, social and political oppression is now well recognised in the critical accounting literature. Accounting is far more than an innocuous technology of rational calculation and accountability upon which management and the efficient operation of markets depend. Its contributions to maintaining the hegemony of the state are primarily through its close association with the protection and promotion of property rights. For the anarchist this relationship is the source of entrenched injustice which alienates individuals from their fundamental, moral nature. Elimination of the state allows justice to be reasserted and society to operate on moral principles. When the very existence of the state is questioned, as does anarchism, understanding of the fundamental nature and contributions of accounting need to be renegotiated.
Key Words: anarchism; state; property; entitlement; justice
Much of the attention of critical accounting researchers has been directed towards the relationship between accounting and structures of power and influence in the modern capitalist state. Bryer's (1991) identification of the way in which accounting reports were used to manipulate ownership of early British railways is a particularly good example of how accounting can be used to maintain entrenched power structures. Foucauldian researchers have demonstrated the ability of accounting to be harnessed by powerful elites to discipline and control behaviour in subtle and ultimately unrealised ways (Hoskin and Macve 1986; Loft 1986; Armstrong 1991; Stewart 1992; Miller and O'Leary 1987). While there has been in this research considerable criticism of the modern capitalist state and the social problems which it perpetuates, to question the need for the state to exist has mostly escaped the attention of critical accounting researchers. As an exception, research emerging on First Nations (Preston and Oakes 2001; Neu 2000; Gibson 2000; Chew and Greer 1997) has provided important insights into alternative modes of social organisation which are possible without the centralised institutions of the modern state. Classical anarchists of the 19th century were not intimidated by the apparent naturalness of the state and refused to be constrained by the loneliness of their cause or the likelihood of ridicule. Anarchists sought to free society of the injustices and oppression permitted in the name of the state and to provide the circumstances which would allow the essential moral nature of individuals to be released (Kropotkin 1946, pp.42-3). Anarchism dismisses the relevance and legitimacy of the state, at the same time substituting a new set of exchange relationships and reasserting a long-forgotten morality to govern these relationships.
Through an examination of 19th century anarchism, mainly the mutualist form proposed by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) and Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921), this paper seeks to explore the reflexive relationship that accounting has with social and political structures which perpetuate advantage and privilege and which in turn sustain accounting. By stripping away the superstructure of markets and the capitalist state, as required by most forms of anarchism, the ways in which these institutions are reliant upon accounting and their contributions to accounting's legitimacy are starkly illuminated. In particular, if there are no governments or social institutions to nurture capitalist markets and to offer guarantees that property rights will be respected by others then the value of property is immediately brought into question. In the absence of property rights it is also unlikely that there will be the need for any sophisticated, enduring forms of accounting which provide the means to verify and enforce property claims between individuals as a result of exchanges and bargains.
THE MORALITY OF ANARCHISM
It was not until the convergence of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution in the late 18th century that coherent theories of anarchism were developed to challenge the established order. …