You are on page 1of 3

What is Anarchism?

What is Anarchism?
Anarchism is "The theory or doctrine that all forms of government are oppressive and undesirable and
should be abolished." [The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition]
Etymologically, 'anarchism' comes from Greek words translating as "an" (without) + "arch" (rule or ruler).
The definition above is the most general of various definitions put forward by philosophers and political
theorists. Naturally there are variations in formulation among the many diverse branches of anarchist
thought. But a perusal of the literature makes it clear that all branches, from the ancient Chinese Taoists
through the classical socialist anarchists to the modern anarcho-capitalists, agree to this core point that
anarchism is anti-state.
For any political philosophy, there are two fundamental questions to answer:
1. What is the proper purpose of the State.
2. What is the proper extent of the State.
Anarchism answers the first question with 'There is no proper purpose.' and the second question with
'none.' While anarchism is the radical absolutist position on the extent of the state, we can learn much from
those who are close to the same ideology. In particular, there is a large body of literature by people
supporting a strictly limited State. A government restricted to providing police, judicial and defense
services is called a minimal state. Those supporting such a government are minarchists. The term
libertarian is used to denote the general anti-statist end of the ideological spectrum, and should be
understood to include both minarchists and anarchists.

A.1 What is anarchism?


Anarchism is a political theory which aims to create anarchy, "the absence of a master, of a sovereign." [PJ Proudhon, What is Property , p. 264] In other words, anarchism is a political theory which aims to
create a society within which individuals freely co-operate together as equals. As such anarchism opposes
all forms of hierarchical control - be that control by the state or capitalist - as harmful to the individual
Anarchism, therefore, is a political theory that aims to create a society which is
without political, economic or social hierarchies. Anarchists maintain that anarchy,
the absence of rulers, is a viable form of social system and so work for the
maximisation of individual liberty and social equality. They see the goals of liberty
and equality as mutually self-supporting. Or, in Bakunin's famous dictum:

Anarchism refuses to die because of its uncompromising attitude to political activism, and so still finds an
enduring and often strong moral appeal in the young. Found with the emergent anti-capitalism and antiglobalization movements
Core themes: against the state
Two factors blur the ideological character of anarchism: 1.
Firstly anarchism is, arguably, stronger on moral assertion than on analysis and
explanation. In order words, anarchisms energies have been more directed
towards awakening the moral instincts (that humans are moral creatures drawn to freedom and autonomy)
than to actually working out how the system of state oppression is going to be overthrown 2.
Secondly, anarchism is arguably a point of overlap between liberalism and socialism- the point at which
both reach anti-statist conclusions: extreme liberal individualism and extreme socialist collectivism
Core themes are:
Anti-statism
Utopianism
Anti-clericalism
Economic freedom
Anti-statism

Anarchism is against authority as authority is an offence against the principles of freedom and equality.
Anarchism is unique in that it endorses absolute freedom and unrestrained political equality.
Giving one person the power to influence the behaviour of others, enslaves oppresses and limits human life
damaging both those subject to authority and those who are in authority.

The anarchic view of the state has attracted criticism:


1.Concerns about the theory of human nature on which it is based
2.Anarchism is unable to explain how political authority arose in the first place
Utopianism

Since humans are free and autonomous creatures (self-government, able to control
ones own destiny) to be subject to authority means to be diminished, to have ones
essential nature suppressed and thereby succumb to debilitating dependency (loss of self).
To be in authority is to acquire an appetite for prestige, control and eventually domination. Authority
therefore gives rise to the phycology of power, based on a
pattern of dominance and submission
a society where many are ruthless and most
live in fear (Goodman 1911-72)
In practise, most anarchic critiques focus on political authority. Anarchism is defined by its radical
rejection of state power, a stance that set anarchism apart from all other political ideologies (with exception
of Marxism)

Godwin argued that humans are essentially rational creatures, inclined by education and enlightened
judgement to live in accordance with truth and universal moral laws. He therefore saw the state and social
contract (Hobbes & Locke) as unnecessary as they are based on the assumption that humans are essentially
greedy, selfish and potentially aggressive
Instead, he suggests that the corrupting influence of the government and unnatural
laws, rather than original sin, create injustice, greed aggression.
At the heart of anarchism lies an unashamed utopianism- a belief in the natural or potential goodness of
humankind. From this perspective, social order arises naturally and spontaneously; it does not require the
machinery of law and order
Collective anarchists:
stress the human capacity for sociable and cooperative behaviour

Anarchists define the authority of the state as:


1.Compulsory- Anarchists argue that political authority does not arise from a voluntary agreement- or a
social contract- instead we are born into it
2.Coercive body- whose laws must be obeyed because they are backed up by the threat of punishment
3.Exploitative- in that it robs individuals of their property through a system of taxation, once again back up
by the threat of punishment
4.DestructiveWar, as the US anarchist Randolph Bourne (1886
-1918) suggested,
is the health of the State. Individuals
are required to fight, kill and die in war that are invariably precipitated by a quest for territorial expansion,
plunder or national glory by one state at the expense of others
Although Anarchist subscribe to a highly optimistic view of human nature, they are exceedingly
pessimistic of the corrupting influence of political authority and economic
inequality. Human beings can be either good or evil depending on their social
circumstances.
People become tyrants when raised above otherspower tends to c
orrupt, absolute
power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton 1956). The state, as a repository of sovereign,
compulsory and coercive authority, is therefore nothing less than a concentrated form
of evil.

Individualist anarchists
highlight the importance of enlightened human nature
This potential for spontaneous harmony within human nature is linked to the belief that nature itself, and
the universe, are biased in favour of natural order. Anarchists have thus often been drawn towards Taoism
and Buddhism, which emphasize independence and oneness. The most influential modern versions of such
ideas is found in the notion
of ecology, particularly the social ecology of thinkers such as Murray Bookchin (eco
-anarchism)
Anarchism is not simply a belief in human goodness- Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin, all accept that
humans can be selfish and competitive as well.
Anarchists regard human nature as plastic, so are moulded by the political, social and economic
circumstances within which people live.
Social institutions nurture respect, cooperation and spontaneous harmony. Collectivist anarchists thus
endorse common ownership or mutualist institutions, whilst individualist anarchists have supported the
market.
Critics of anarchism argue that if humans are naturally flawed, then natural order is delusional
Utopianism is most pronounced within the collectivist traditional of anarchism, and least pronounced
within the individualist tradition. This has led to anarcho-capitalists rejecting utopianism altogether. Anticlericalism
Anarchists have criticised the church as it is a form of compulsory authority. Religion has often been seen
as the source of authority itself. God himself has unquestionable authority

Proudhon and Bakunin argued that humans could only been regarded as free and independent after the
rejection of Christianity

2.Those who are exploited, but also exploit in equal measure


3.Exploiters and oppressors, pure and simply

Anarchists often argue that religion and politics go hand in hand. Religion often allows those in authority
to legitimize their power; divine right of Kings
Anarchism has often prospered in countries with strong religious traditions, such as Catholic Spain,
France. In these places anarchism has helped to articulate anti-clerical sentiments
Anarchism requires conformity to stands of good and evil, and thus robs the
individual of moral autonomy

19C anarchists identified themselves with the exploited masses, and sought to carry out a revolution in
their name- sweeping away capitalism and state
The economic structure of life most keenly exposes tensions within anarchism between collectivist and
individualist anarchists
1.Collectivist anarchists advocate an economy based on cooperation and collective ownership
2.Individualist anarchists support the market and private property
All anarchists oppose managed capitalism

The anarchist, spiritual concept of human nature can be described as a utopian belief in the virtually
unlimited possibilities of human self-development and in the bonds that unite all living things
Millenarianisma belief in a thousand year period of divine rule; political millenarianism offers the prospect of a sudden
and complete emancipation from misery and oppression
Taoism and Buddhism are attractive to Anarchists as they offer the prospect of personal insight and preach
the values of toleration, respect and natural harmony Economic freedom
In the 19C anarchists usually worked within the working-class movement and subscribed to a broadly
socialist philosophy. Anarchists did understand capitalism in class termsa ruling class exploits and oppresses the masses. But this ruling class was not interpreted
in narrow economic terms.
Instead, Bakunin came up with three social groups;
1.The vast majority who are exploited

1.Collectivist anarchists argue that state intervention merely props up a system of class exploitation and
gives capitalism a human face.
2.Individualist anarchists suggest that intervention distorts the private monopolies
Anarchists have been even more di
sapproving of the soviet style state socialism
1.Individualist anarchists object to the violation of property rights and individual freedom that, they argue,
occurs within a planned economy
2.Collectivist anarchists argue that state socialism is a contradi
ction in terms, and that the stat merely replaces capitalist class as a means of exploitation
Anarchists of all kinds have a preference for an economy in which free individuals manage their own
affairs without the need for state ownership or regulation, which has allowed them to endorse a number of
different economic systems including anarcho-capitalism and anarcho-socialism