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Introduction | History of Anarchism | Types of Anarchism
Introduction Back to Top

Anarchism is the political philosophy which rejects (and supports the elimination of) compulsory government or compulsory rule, and holds that society can (and should) be organized without a coercive state. This may, or may not, involve the rejection of any authority at all. Anarchists believe that government is both harmful and unnecessary.

Philosophical Anarchism contends that the State lacks moral legitimacy, that there is no individual obligation or duty to obey the State and, conversely, that the State has no right to command individuals. However, it does not actively advocate revolution to eliminate the State, but calls for a gradual change to free the individual from the oppressive laws and social constraints of the modern state.

The term "anarchy" is derived from the Greek "anarchos" ("without ruler"). Up until the 19th Century, the term was generally used in a positive manner, to describe a coherent political belief, and it was only later that it became used pejoratively (to mean something akin to chaos).

Anarchism is related to Libertarianism (which advocates maximizing individual rights and free will, and minimizing the role of the state) and, in particular, to Libertarian Socialism (which advocates a worker-oriented system that attempts to maximize the liberty of individuals and minimize the concentration of power or authority), with which it is all but synonymous.

There is no single defining position that all Anarchists hold, beyond their rejection of compulsory government or "the State", and proponents may support anything from extreme individualism (the political outlook that stresses human independence and the importance of individual self-reliance and liberty) to complete collectivism (the political outlook that stresses human interdependence and the importance of the collective). Thus, there are any number of diverse schools of thought within Anarchism, some of which are summarized in the Types of Anarchism section below.

History of Anarchism Back to Top

Humans lived for thousands of years in societies without government, according to Anarcho-Primitivists. It was only after the rise of hierarchical societies that anarchist ideas were formulated as a critical response to, and rejection of, coercive political institutions.

The "Tao Te Ching", written around the 6th Century B.C. by Lao Tzu, encouraged many Chinese Taoists to live an anarchistic lifestyle. In ancient Greece, Diogenes of Sinope (a Cynic) and Zeno of Citium (a Stoic) argued (in opposition to Plato) that reason should replace authority in guiding human affairs, and envisaged a free community without government.

There were a variety of anarchistic religious and political movements in Europe during the Middle Ages and later, including the Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit, the Klompdraggers, the Hussites, the Adamites, the early Anabaptists, the Diggers and the Levellers, but none had much widespread influence.

Modern Anarchism arose from the secular thought of the Enlightenment, particularly Jean-Jacques Rousseau's arguments for the moral centrality of freedom.

Even though he did not use the term himself, the English political philosopher William Godwin (1756 - 1836) developed what many consider the first expression of modern anarchist thought and formulated the political and economic conceptions of Anarchism. Godwin opposed revolutionary action and saw a minimal state as a present "necessary evil", which would become increasingly irrelevant and powerless through a gradual process of reform and enlightenment. He also advocated extreme individualism, proposing that all cooperation in labor be eliminated.

Edmund Burke, in his "A Vindication of Natural Society" of 1756, advocated the abolition of government, although he later claimed it was intended as a satirical work. Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826) spoke of his respect for a society with no government, such as he saw in many Native American tribes, and Henry David Thoreau was another influential American with Anarchist sympathies.

The Frenchman Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 - 1865) was the first self-described Anarchist, and has been called the founder of modern anarchist theory (as has Godwin). Proudhon proposed what he called spontaneous order, whereby organization (sufficient to maintain order and guarantee all liberties) emerges without central authority, and the institutions of the police, monarchy, officialdom, organized religion, taxation, etc, disappear or are reduced to a minimum. He published his "What is Property?", in which his famous accusation "Property is theft" appears, in 1840.

Later in the 19th Century (sometimes called Anarchism's classical period), Anarchist Communist theorists, like the Russians Mikhail Bakunin (1814 - 1876) and Peter Kropotkin (1842 - 1921), built on the Marxist critique of Capitalism and synthesized it with their own critique of the state, emphasizing the importance of a communal perspective to maintain individual liberty in a social context.

Around this time, there was also a spate of acts of violence in the name of Anarchism, such as sabotage and assassinations, as well as industrial actions and strikes, intended to further spark revolution, but these actions were regarded by many Anarchists as counter-productive or ineffective.

In the 20th Century, Anarchists were actively involved in the labor and feminist movements, in uprisings and revolutions such as the Russian Revolution of 1917, and later in the fight against Fascism. Working Anarchist communes have been established at Cristiana in Denmark, Catalonia in Spain, and the Free Territory in Ukraine, among others.

Types of Anarchism Back to Top
  • Philosophical Anarchism is the view that the State lacks moral legitimacy, that there is no individual obligation or duty to obey the State and, conversely, that the State has no right to command individuals. However, it does not actively advocate revolution to eliminate the State, but calls for a gradual change to free the individual from the oppressive laws and social constraints of the modern state.
    Philosophical Anarchists may accept the existence of a minimal state as an unfortunate "necessary evil" (usually considered temporary), but argue that citizens do not have a moral obligation to obey the state when its laws conflict with individual autonomy. The English philosopher William Godwin (1756 - 1836) is usually credited with founding Philosophical Anarchism, and is often called the father of modern Anarchism.

  • Individualist Anarchism (or Libertarian Anarchism) holds that individual conscience and the pursuit of self-interest should not be constrained by any collective body or public authority, and that the imposition of democracy leads to oppression of the individual by the majority. It has been argued that Individualist Anarchism tends to emphasize negative liberty (i.e. opposition to state or social control over the individual), whereas Social Anarchism (see below) emphasizes positive liberty (i.e. the achievement of potential and fulfillment of human needs by society). Individualist Anarchism, also unlike Social Anarchism, is supportive of property being held privately, often in a market economy, although some hold that any surplus should be given away.
    William Godwin (1756 - 1836) advocated an extreme form of Individualist Anarchy, proposing that all types of cooperation in labor should be eliminated. One of the earliest and best-known proponents of Individualist Anarchism, Max Stirner (1806 - 1856), proposed an extreme egoist form of it, which supports the individual doing exactly what he pleases, taking no notice of God, state or moral rules.
    The American version of Individualist Anarchism, such as that of Thoreau, Josiah Warren (1798 - 1874) and Benjamin Tucker (1854 - 1939), has a strong emphasis on non-aggression, individual sovereignty and the labor theory of value (that the values of commodities are related to the labor needed to produce them). While all supported private property and free markets (causing some to consider them pro-Capitalism), some, like Tucker, called themselves Socialist, and were vociferously anti-Capitalist.
    Within Individualist Anarchism there are different forms including the following:

    • Mutualism is an anarchist school of thought, largely associated with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 - 1865), that envisioned a society where each person might possess a means of production either individually or collectively, with trade representing equivalent amounts of labor (the labor theory of value). Mutualists support markets and private property in the product of labor only insofar as they ensure the workers right to the full product of their labor. Some commentators suggest that Mutualists are more concerned with association, and so are situated somewhere between Individualist and Social or Collectivist Anarchism.
    • Free-Market Anarchism (or Anarcho-Capitalism) is a more extreme form of Individualist Anarchism that attempts to reconcile Anarchism with Capitalism, and it forms part of the broader movement known as Libertarianism. It advocates the elimination of the state; the provision of law enforcement, courts, national defense, and all other security services by voluntarily-funded competitors in a free market rather than through compulsory taxation; the complete deregulation of non-intrusive personal and economic activities; and a self-regulated market.
      The Belgian-French economist Gustave de Molinari (1819 - 1912) is considered the single most important contributor to the theory, although the American Murray Rothbard (1926 - 1995) is perhaps its most outspoken proponent, and in general its popularity was centered in the United States.
    • Agorism is an extreme form of Anarcho-Capitalism and Libertarianism, developed by Samuel Edward Konkin III (1947 - 2004) and building on the ideas of Murray Rothbard (1926 - 1995), which takes as its ultimate goal a society in which all relations between people are voluntary exchanges, a completely free market in an underground or "counter economy" in which the State is redundant.

  • Social Anarchism is a broad category of Anarchism independent of, and in many ways opposed to, Individualist Anarchism. It emphasizes social equality, community, mutual aid and the communitarian and cooperative aspects of anarchist theory and practice. At its heart is the idea of Libertarian Socialism, which aims to create a society without political, economic or social hierarchies. There are several sub-categories within Social Anarchism:

    • Collectivist Anarchism (or Anarcho-Collectivism) is the revolutionary doctrine, spearheaded by the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814 - 1876), that advocated the complete abolition of the state and private ownership of the means of production, which would instead be owned collectively and controlled and managed by the producers themselves. The revolution was to be initiated by a small cohesive elite group through acts of violence which would inspire the mass of workers to revolt and forcibly collectivize the means of production, and the workers would then be paid based on the amount of time they contributed to production. This wage system, and the idea of collective ownership (as opposed to a complete rejection of ownership) are the major differences between Collectivist Anarchism and Communist Anarchism (see below). Bakunin was vociferous in his opposition to Communism and state Socialism, which he regarded as fundamentally authoritarian.
    • Communist Anarchism (or Anarcho-Communism) proposes a free society composed of a number of self-governing communes, with direct democracy or consensus democracy (as opposed to representational democracy) as the political organizational form, and related to other communes through federation. The means of production would be collectively used (as opposed to collectively owned) so that, rather than receiving payment for work done, there would be free access to the resources and surplus of the commune.
      Anarcho-Communism stresses egalitarianism (that all people should be treated as equals from birth) and the abolition of social hierarchy and class distinctions that arise from unequal wealth distribution, as well as the abolition of Capitalism and money.
      Early Anarchist Communist currents appeared during the English Civil War (1642 - 1651) and the French Revolution (1788 - 1799). Peter Kropotkin (1842 - 1921) and Emma Goldman (1869 - 1940) are perhaps the best-known Anarcho-Communists, although the Frenchman Joseph Déjacque (1821 - 1864) was an earlier example.
    • Anarcho-Syndicalism is an early 20th Century form of Anarchism, heavily focused on the labor movement. It posits radical trade unions as a potential force for revolutionary social change, replacing Capitalism and the State with a new society which would be democratically self-managed by the workers. It seeks to abolish the wage system and private ownership of the means of production, which they believe lead to class divisions. Anarcho-Syndicalists often subscribe to Communist or Collectivist Anarchism (see above), and the movement is more of a workplace organizational structure than an economic system in and of itself.
      The German Rudolf Rocker (1873 - 1958) is considered the leading Anarcho-Syndicalist theorist, and his 1938 pamphlet "Anarchosyndicalism" was particularly influential.

  • There are any number of other, more specific, forms of Anarchism including:

    • Religious Anarchism: a set of anarchist ideologies that are inspired by the teachings of organized religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism and Neopaganism.
    • Anarcho-Pacifism: a form of Anarchism that emphasizes the complete rejection of violence in any form and for any purpose.
    • Anarcha-Feminism: a synthesis of radical Feminism and Anarchism, which specifically opposes patriarchy as a manifestation of a hierarchical society.
    • Green Anarchism: a form of Anarchism that emphasizes the protection of the environment.
    • Anarcho-Primitivism: a form of Green Anarchism that believes civilization and technology inevitably lead to inequality and must be abolished.
    • Eco-Anarchism: another subset of Green Anarchism that argues that society is best organized into small eco-villages of no more than 150 people.
    • Autarchism: a philosophy which holds that each person rules himself, and no other, and rejects compulsory government and supports "private capitalism".
    • Insurrectionary Anarchism: a revolutionary theory within the Anarchist movement, which advocates direct action, violent or otherwise, and informal organization.
    • National Anarchism: a movement which attempts to reconcile Anarchism with nationalism.
    • Analytical Anarchism: a form that uses the methods of Analytical Philosophy to clarify or defend anarchist theory.
    • Epistemological Anarchism: an epistemological theory, advanced by the Austrian philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend (1924 - 1994), which holds that there are no useful and exception-free methodological rules governing the progress of science or the growth of knowledge.
    • Anarchism Without Adjectives: a movement which emphasizes harmony between various anarchist factions and attempts to unite them around their shared anti-authoritarian beliefs.

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