An Anarchist FAQ: Section A - What is Anarchism?
Section A - What is Anarchism?
Modern civilisation faces three potentially catastrophic crises: (1) social breakdown, a shorthandterm for rising rates of poverty, homelessness, crime, violence, alienation, drug and alcoholabuse, social isolation, political apathy, dehumanisation, the deterioration of communitystructures of self-help and mutual aid, etc.; (2) destruction of the planet's delicate ecosystems onwhich all complex forms of life depend; and (3) the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,particularly nuclear weapons.Orthodox opinion, including that of Establishment "experts," mainstream media, and politicians,generally regards these crises as separable, each having its own causes and therefore capable of being dealt with on a piecemeal basis, in isolation from the other two. Obviously, however, this"orthodox" approach isn't working, since the problems in question are getting worse. Unlesssome better approach is taken soon, we are clearly headed for disaster, either from catastrophicwar, ecological Armageddon, or a descent into urban savagery -- or all of the above.Anarchism offers a unified and coherent way of making sense of these crises, by tracing them toa common source. This source is the principle of
, which underlies themajor institutions of all "civilised" societies, whether capitalist or "communist." Anarchistanalysis therefore starts from the fact that all of our major institutions are in the form of hierarchies, i.e. organisations that concentrate power at the top of a pyramidal structure, such ascorporations, government bureaucracies, armies, political parties, religious organisations,universities, etc. It then goes on to show how the authoritarian relations inherent in suchhierarchies negatively affect individuals, their society, and culture. In the first part of this FAQ(
sections A to E
) we will present the anarchist analysis of hierarchical authority and its negativeeffects in greater detail.It should not be thought, however, that anarchism is just a critique of modern civilisation, just"negative" or "destructive." Because it is much more than that. For one thing, it is also a proposalfor a free society. Emma Goldman expressed what might be called the "anarchist question" asfollows:
"The problem that confronts us today . . . is how to be one's self and yet in oneness withothers, to feel deeply with all human beings and still retain one's own characteristic qualities."
Red Emma Speaks
, pp. 158-159] In other words, how can we create a society in which thepotential for each individual is realised but not at the expense of others? In order to achieve this,anarchists envision a society in which, instead of being controlled
"from the top down"
throughhierarchical structures of centralised power, the affairs of humanity will, to quote BenjaminTucker,
"be managed by individuals or voluntary associations."
, p. 149]While later sections of the FAQ (
sections I and J
) will describe anarchism's positive proposalsfor organising society in this way, "from the bottom up," some of the constructive core of anarchism will be seen even in the earlier sections. The positive core of anarchism can even beseen in the anarchist critique of such flawed solutions to the social question as Marxism andright-wing "libertarianism" (
sections F and H
, respectively).As Clifford Harper elegantly puts it,
"[l]ike all great ideas, anarchism is pretty simple when you