On Anarchism

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States have been organized in various ways. Political power is not monolithic. Sovereignty is a complicated matter that includes divisions and distributions of power see Fiala Bakunin was responding primarily to a Marxist and Hegelian view of the state, offering his critique from within the global socialist movement; Casey is writing in the Twenty-First Century in the era of liberalism and globalization, offering his critique from within the movement of contemporary libertarianism.

Some anarchists engage in broad generalizations, aiming for a total critique of political power. Others will present a localized critique of a given political entity. An ongoing challenge for those who would seek to understand anarchism is to realize how historically and ideologically diverse approaches fit under the general anarchist umbrella.

We look at political anarchism in detail below.

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The anarchist critique has been extended toward the rejection of non-political centralization and authority. Bakunin extended his critique to include religion, arguing against both God and the State. There are, however, religious versions of anarchism, which critique political authority from a standpoint that takes religion seriously. Rapp has shown how anarchism can be found in Taoism. We consider anarchism in connection with Gandhi below. But we focus here on Christian anarchism. Christian anarchist theology views the kingdom of God as lying beyond any human principle of structure or order.

Christian anarchists offer an anti-clerical critique of ecclesiastical and political power. Tolstoy provides an influential example. Tolstoy claims that Christians have a duty not to obey political power and to refuse to swear allegiance to political authority see Tolstoy Tolstoy was also a pacifist. Christian anarcho-pacifism views the state as immoral and unsupportable because of its connection with military power see Christoyannopoulos But there are also non-pacifist Christian anarchists.

Berdyaev, for example, builds upon Tolstoy and in his own interpretation of Christian theology. Christian anarchists have gone so far as to found separatist communities where they live apart from the structures of the state. These transcendentalists had an influence on Tolstoy see Perry []. In more recent years, Christian anarchism has been defended by Jacques Ellul who links Christian anarchism to a broad social critique.

When asked whether a Christian anarchist should vote, Ellul says no. Anarchist rejection of authority has application in epistemology and in philosophical and literary theory. One significant usage of the term shows up in American pragmatism.


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James had anarchist sympathies, connected to a general critique of systematic philosophy see Fiala b. Anarchism thus shows up as a general critique of prevailing methods. Feyerabend explains:. Science is an essentially anarchic enterprise: theoretical anarchism is more humanitarian and more likely to encourage progress than its law-and-order alternatives.

Feyerabend [ 9]. His point is that science ought not be constrained by hierarchically imposed principles and strict rule following. Post-structuralism and trends in post-modernism and Continental philosophy can also be anarchistic see May Traditional anarchists were primarily interested in sustained and focused political activism that led toward the abolition of the state.

Welcome to our FAQ on anarchism

The difference between free-flowing post-anarchism and traditional anarchism can be seen in the realm of morality. Anarchism has traditionally been critical of centralized moral authority—but this critique was often based upon fundamental principles and traditional values, such as autonomy or liberty.

But post-structuralism—along with critiques articulated by some feminists, critical race theorists, and critics of Eurocentrism—calls these values and principles into question. The broad critical framework provided by the anarchist critique of authority provides a useful theory or methodology for social critique.

Noam Chomsky on Anarchism, Communism and Revolutions

In more recent iterations, anarchism has been used to critique gender hierarchies, racial hierarchies, and the like—also including a critique of human domination over nature. Thus anarchism also includes, to name a few varieties: anarcha-feminism or feminist anarchism see Kornegger , queer anarchism or anarchist queer theory see Daring et al. In the anarcho-vegan literature we find the following description of a broad and inclusive anarchism:. Anarchism is a socio-political theory which opposes all systems of domination and oppression such as racism, ableism, sexism, anti-LGBTTQIA, ageism, sizeism, government, competition, capitalism, colonialism, imperialism and punitive justice, and promotes direct democracy, collaboration, interdependence, mutual aid, diversity, peace, transformative justice and equity.

Nocella et al. A thorough-going anarchism would thus offer a critique of anything and everything that smacks of hierarchy, domination, centralization, and unjustified authority. In extreme forms this becomes anarcho-primitivism or anti-civilizational anarchism see Zerzan , ; Jensen Alternative anarchist societies have existed in religious communes in post-Reformation Europe and in the early United States, in Nineteenth Century American utopian communities, the hippy communes of the Twentieth Century, anarchist squats, temporary autonomous zones see Bey , and occasional gatherings of like-minded people.

Given this sort of antinomianism and non-conformism it is easy to see that anarchism also often includes a radical critique of traditional ethical norms and principles. Thus radical ethical anarchism can be contrasted with what we might call bourgeois anarchism with radical anarchism seeking to disrupt traditional social norms and bourgeois anarchism seeking freedom from the state that does not seek such disruption. Anarchism in political philosophy maintains that there is no legitimate political or governmental authority.

An Anarchist FAQ

In political philosophy anarchy is an important topic for consideration—even for those who are not anarchists—as the a-political background condition against which various forms of political organization are arrayed, compared, and justified. Anarchy is often viewed by non-anarchists as the unhappy or unstable condition in which there is no legitimate authority. Anarchism as a philosophical idea is not necessarily connected to practical activism. There are political anarchists who take action in order to destroy what they see as illegitimate states.

The popular imagination often views anarchists as bomb-throwing nihilists. But philosophical anarchism is a theoretical standpoint. In order to decide who and whether one should act upon anarchist insight, we require a further theory of political action, obligation, and obedience grounded in further ethical reflection. Some anarchists remain obedient to ruling authorities; others revolt or resist in various ways.

The question of action depends upon a theory of what sort of political obligation follows from our philosophical, moral, political, religious, and aesthetic commitments. There is a long history of political anarchism. In the ancient world, anarchism of a sort can be found in the ideas of the Epicureans and Cynics. Kropotkin makes this point in his encyclopedia article.

Although they did not employ the term anarchism, the Epicureans and Cynics avoided political activity, advising retreat from political life in pursuit of tranquility ataraxia and self-control autarkeai. The Cynics are also known for advocating cosmopolitanism: living without allegiance to any particular state or legal system, while associating with human beings based upon moral principle outside of traditional state structures.

Diogenes the Cynic had little respect for political or religious authority. This meant not only devaluing or destroying monetary currency but also a general rejection of the norms of civilized society see Marshall Diogenes often mocked political authorities and failed to offer signs of respect. While Diogenes actively disrespected established norms, Epicurus counseled retreat. He advised living unnoticed and avoiding political life under the phrase me politeuesthai —which can be understood as an anti-political admonition.

The assumption that anarchy would be unhappy or unstable leads to justifications of political power. Anarchists respond by claiming that the state tends to produce its own sort of unhappiness: as oppressive, violent, corrupt, and inimical to liberty. Discussions about the social contract thus revolve around the question of whether the state is better than anarchy—or whether states and state-like entities naturally and inevitably emerge from out of the original condition of anarchy.

While Nozick and other political philosophers take anarchy seriously as a starting point, anarchists will argue that invisible hand arguments of this sort ignore the historical actuality of states, which develop out of a long history of domination, inequality, and oppression. But anarchists will argue that the idea of the original position does not necessarily lead to the justification of the state—especially given background knowledge about the tendency of states to be oppressive.

Crispin Sartwell concludes:. Even accepting more or less all of the assumptions Rawls packs into the original position, it is not clear that the contractors would not choose anarchy.

On Anarchism

Sartwell An important historical touchstone is William Godwin. Unlike Locke and Hobbes who turned to the social contract to lead us out of the anarchic state of nature, Godwin argued that the resulting governmental power was not necessarily better than anarchy. Locke, of course, allows for revolution when the state becomes despotic.