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Anarchism is a political philosophy encompassing theories and attitudes which consider the state, as compulsory government, to be unnecessary, harmful, and/or undesirable, and favors the absence of the state (anarchy).[1][2][3][4][5] Specific anarchists may have additional criteria for what constitutes anarchism, and they often disagree with each other on what these criteria are. According to The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, "there is no single defining position that all anarchists hold, and those considered anarchists at best share a certain family resemblance."[6]


Early history

Most contemporary anthropologists, as well as anarcho-primitivists agree that, for the longest period before recorded history, human society was organized on anarchist principles. According to Harold Barclay, long before anarchism emerged as a distinct perspective, human beings lived for thousands of years in societies without government.[7] 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 and hierarchical social relationships.

Taoism, which developed in Ancient China, has been embraced by some anarchists as a source of anarchistic attitudes.[2] The Taoist sage Lao Zi (Lao Tzu) developed a philosophy of "non-rule" in the Tao Te Ching and many Taoists in response lived an anarchist lifestyle. In 300 CE, Bao Jingyan explicitly argued that there should be neither lords nor subjects.[8] Similarly, in the West, anarchistic tendencies can be traced to the philosophers of Ancient Greece, such as Zeno, the founder of the Stoic philosophy, and Aristippus, who said that the wise should not give up their liberty to the state.[3] Later movements – such as the Free Spirit in the Middle Ages, the Anabaptists, the Diggers and the Levellers — have also expounded ideas that have been interpreted as anarchist.

The usage of the words "anarchia" and "anarchos", both meaning "without ruler", can be traced back to Homer's Iliad[9] and Herodotus's Histories[10]. The first known political usage of the word anarchy appears in the play Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus, dated at 467 BCE. There, Antigone openly refuses to abide by the rulers' decree to leave her brother Polyneices' body unburied, as punishment for his participation in the attack on Thebes, saying that "even if no one else is willing to share in burying him I will bury him alone and risk the peril of burying my own brother. Nor am I ashamed to act in defiant opposition to the rulers of the city (ekhous apiston tênd anarkhian polei)".

Ancient Greece also saw the first Western instance of anarchism as a philosophical ideal. The Cynics Diogenes of Sinope and Crates of Thebes are both supposed to have advocated anarchistic forms of society, although little remains of their writings. Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, who was much influenced by the Cynics, described his vision of a utopian society around 300 BCE.[11] Zeno's Republic advocates a form of anarchism in which there are no need for state structures. Zeno was, according to Peter Kropotkin, "[t]he best exponent of Anarchist philosophy in ancient Greece". As summarized by Kropotkin, Zeno "repudiated the omnipotence of the state, its intervention and regimentation, and proclaimed the sovereignty of the moral law of the individual". Within Greek philosophy, Zeno's vision of a free community without government is opposed to the state-Utopia of Plato's Republic. Zeno argued that although the necessary instinct of self-preservation leads humans to egotism, nature has supplied a corrective to it by providing man with another instinct – sociability. Like many modern anarchists, he believed that if people follow their instincts, they will have no need of law courts or police, no temples and no public worship, and use no money (free gifts taking the place of the exchanges). Zeno's beliefs have only reached us as fragmentary quotations.[4]

In Athens, the year 404 BCE was commonly referred to as “the year of anarchy”. According to the historian Xenophon, this happened even though Athens was at the time in fact under the rule of the oligarchy of "The Thirty", installed by the Spartans following their victory in the second Peloponnesian war, and despite the fact that there was literally an Archon in place, nominated by the oligarchs, in the person of Pythodorus. However, the Athenians refused to apply here their custom of calling the year by that archon's name, since he was elected during the oligarchy, and “preferred to speak of it as the 'year of anarchy'”.

The Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle used the term anarchy negatively, in association with democracy which they mistrusted as inherently vulnerable and prone to deteriorate into tyranny. Plato believed that the political corruption created by democracy loosens the "natural" hierarchy between social classes, genders and age groups, to the extent that “anarchy finds a way into the private houses, and ends by getting among the animals and infecting them”. ('Republic', book eight). Aristotle spoke of it in book six of the Politics when discussing revolutions, saying that the upper classes may be motivated to stage a coup d'état by their contempt for the prevailing “disorder and anarchy (ataxias kai anarkhias) in the affairs of the state. He also connected anarchy with democracy when he saw “democratic” features in tyrannies, namely “license among slaves (anarkhia te doulôn)" as well as among women and children. “A constitution of this sort”, he concludes, “will have a large number of supporters, as disorderly living (zên ataktôs) is pleasanter to the masses than sober living”.

There were a variety of anarchistic religious movements in Europe during the Middle Ages, including the Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit, the Klompdraggers, the Hussites, Adamites and the early Anabaptists.[12] Prior to Leo Tolstoy, Christian anarchism found one of its most articulate exponents in Gerrard Winstanley, who was part of the Diggers movement in England during the English Civil War. Drawing on the Bible, Winstanley argued that "the blessings of the earth" should "be common to all... and none Lord over others."[5]

The Anabaptists of 16th century Europe are sometimes considered to be religious forerunners of modern anarchism. Bertrand Russell, in his History of Western Philosophy, writes that the Anabaptists "repudiated all law, since they held that the good man will be guided at every moment by the Holy Spirit...[f]rom this premiss they arrive at communism...."

In Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-52)), François Rabelais wrote of the Abby of Thelema (Greek word meaning "will" or "wish"), an imaginary utopia whose motto was "Do as Thou Will." Around the same time, the French law student, Etienne de la Boetie wrote his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, in which he argued that tyranny resulted from voluntary submission, and could be abolished by the people refusing to obey the authorities above them.

Gerrard Winstanley, who published a pamphlet calling for communal ownership and social and economic organization in small agrarian communities in the 17th century, is considered one of the forerunners of modern anarchism.

Religious dissenter Roger Williams founded the colony of Providence, Rhode Island after being run out of the theocratic Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. Unlike the Puritans, he scrupulously purchased land from local American Indians for his settlement.[13] While Williams was not explicitly anarchist, another Rhode Islander, Anne Hutchinson, was. Hutchinson and her followers emigrated to Rhode Island in 1638, bought Aquidneck Island from the Native Americans, and founded the town of Pocasset (now Portsmouth.) Another "Rogue Island" libertarian was Samuell Gorton. He and his followers were accused of being anarchists.

The coastal area north of Albemarle Sound in what is now northeastern North Carolina was home to a quasi-anarchistic society in the mid-17th century. Described by Murray Rothbard as "[t]echnically a part of the Virginia colony but in practice virtually independent," Albemarle was a haven for political and religious refugees, such as Quakers and dissident Presbyterians. As Rothbard has said, "This semi-libertarian condition came to an end in 1663, when the English Crown included Albemarle in the mammoth Carolina land grant bestowed on a group of eight feudal proprietors. Little is known of pre-1663 Albemarle, since historians display scant interest in stateless societies."[14]

When William Penn left his Quaker colony in Pennsylvania, the people stopped paying quitrent, and any semblance of formal government evaporated. The Quakers treated the Native Americans with respect, bought land from them voluntarily, and had even representation of natives and European-Americans on juries. According to Voltaire, the Shackamaxon Treaty was "the only treaty between Indians and Christians that was never sworn to and that was never broken." The Quakers refused to provide any assistance to New England's Indian wars. Penn's attempt to impose government by appointing John Blackwell, a non-Quaker military man, as governor, failed miserably.[15]

18th century

In the modern era, the first to use the term "Anarchy" to mean something other than chaos was Louis-Armand, Baron de Lahontan, in his Nouveaux voyages dans l'Amérique septentrionale, (New voyages in northern America) (1703) where he described the indigenous American society, which had no state, laws, prisons, priests or private property, as being in anarchy.[16]

In A Vindication of Natural Society (1756), Edmund Burke advocated the abolition of government, but later claimed the Vindication was intended as a satirical work. William Godwin, in An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, later referred to Burke's Vindication as a treatise "in which the evils of the existing political institutions are displayed with incomparable force of reasoning and lustre of eloquence, while the intention of the author was to show that these evils were to be considered as trivial."

Liberals were often labeled "anarchists" by monarchists, even though they did not call for the abolition of hierarchy. Still, they did promote the idea of human equality, individual rights, and the responsibility of the people to judge their governments, which provided a groundwork for the development of anarchist thought. As political society in the United States developed along the liberal model, anarchist thoughts were expressed in the writings of Henry David Thoreau (Civil Disobedience). Like him, some classic liberals who become radicals are considered part of the libertarian socialist tradition.

Thomas Jefferson spoke of his respect for a society with no government.[17]"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them. I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under the European governments. Among the former, public opinion is in the place of law and restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere. Among the latter, under pretense of governing, they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate. This is a true picture of Europe."

In 1793, William Godwin published An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, in which he presents his vision of a free society alongside a critique of government. This is considered by some to be the first anarchist treatise. These commentators credit him with founding modern philosophical anarchism although Godwin never used the word anarchism. He is also considered a forebear of utilitarianism. Peter Kropotkin wrote that it was Godwin who was the first to formulate the political and economical conceptions of anarchism, even though he did not give that name to the ideas developed in his remarkable work."[18] Godwin advocated the abolition of government through a gradual process of reform and enlightenment and is therefore regarded as one of the founders of "philosophical anarchism." [6]

There were a variety of anarchist currents during the French Revolution, with some revolutionaries using the term "anarchiste" in a positive light as early as September 1793,[19]. The Enragés opposed revolutionary government as a contradiction in terms. Denouncing the Jacobin dictatorship, Jean Varlet wrote in 1794 that "government and revolution are incompatible, unless the people wishes to set its constituted authorities in permanent insurrection against itself."[7] In his "Manifesto of the Equals," Sylvain Maréchal looked forward to the disappearance, once and for all, of "the revolting distinction between rich and poor, of great and small, of masters and valets, of governors and governed."[8]

19th century

In 1825 in the United States, Josiah Warren participated in a communitarian experiment headed by Robert Owen called New Harmony, which failed in a few years amidst much internal conflict. In 1827, as New Harmony disintegrated, he returned to Cincinnati. As Kenneth Rexroth wrote, "almost all critics of New Harmony have said that what it lacked was strong leadership, discipline, and commitment – strong government. Warren came to exactly the opposite conclusion." [20] Warren blamed the community's failure on a lack of individual sovereignty. He proceeded to organise experimental anarchist communities at Utopia and Modern Times.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is regarded as the first self-proclaimed anarchist, a label he adopted in his groundbreaking work What is Property?, published in 1840. It is for this reason that some claim Proudhon as the founder of modern anarchist theory.[21] He developed the theory of spontaneous order in society, where organization emerges without a central coordinator imposing its own idea of order against the wills of individuals acting in their own interests; his famous quote on the matter is, "Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order." In What is Property? Proudhon answers with the famous accusation "Property is theft." In this work, he opposed the institution of decreed "property" (propriété), where owners have complete rights to "use and abuse" their property as they wish.[22] He contrasted this with what he called "possession," or limited ownership of resources and goods only while in more or less continuous use. Later, however, Proudhon added that "Property is Liberty," and argued that it was a bulwark against state power.[23]

His opposition to the state, organized religion, and certain capitalist practices inspired subsequent anarchists, and made him one of the leading social thinkers of his time.

While he opposed communism and favoured remuneration for labour, he also opposed capitalist wage labour (i.e. profiting from someone else's labour).[24] He also opposed rent, interest, and profit. He supported an economic system called mutualism. He urged workers "to form themselves into democratic societies, with equal conditions for all members, on pain of a relapse into feudalism." Under capitalism, he argued, employees are "subordinated, exploited" and their "permanent condition is one of obedience," a "slave."

Proudhon's ideas were influential within French working class movements, and his followers were active in the Revolution of 1848 in France as well as the Paris Commune of 1871. Anarcho-communists, such as Kropotkin, later disagreed with Proudhon for his support of "private property" in the products of labour (i.e. wages, or "remuneration for work done") rather than free distribution of the products of labour.[25]

There were other anarchists active in the 1848 Revolution in France, including Anselme Bellegarrigue, Ernest Coeurderoy and Joseph Déjacque, who was the first person to call himself a "libertarian." Déjacque was also a critic of Proudhon's anti-feminism and mutualism, adopting an anarchist communist position.[9]

Individualists, taking much from the writings of Max Stirner, among others, demanded the utmost respect for the liberty of the individual.

Later in the 19th century, anarchist communist theorists like Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin 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.

Mikhail Bakunin saw a need to defend the working class against oppression and overthrow the ruling class as a means to dissolve the state. Peter Kropotkin's anarchist communism developed from his study of zoology and evolution in which he concluded that co-operation far surpasses competition in its importance to the survival of species. He published these conclusions and his critiques of the then emerging ideas of Social Darwinism in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902).

Some revolutionaries of this time encouraged acts of violence such as sabotage or even assassination of heads of state to further spark a revolution. However, these actions were regarded by many anarchists as counter-productive or ineffective.

In the late 19th century, anarcho-syndicalism developed as the industrialized form of libertarian communism, emphasizing industrial actions, especially the general strike, as the primary strategy to achieve anarchist revolution, and "build the new society in the shell of the old".

20th century

Through the 20th century, anarchists were actively involved in the labour and feminist movements, and later in the fight against fascism. The influence of this on anarchist thought is apparent, as most of the traditional anarchist philosophies emphasize the economic implications of anarchism or arrive at anarchism from economic arguments.

Anarchists played a role in many of the labour movements, uprisings, and revolutions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the Makhnovist movement during the Russian Revolution (1917). In the United States, many new immigrants were anarchists (such as Sacco and Vanzetti); an especially notable group was the large number of Jewish immigrants who had left Russia and Eastern Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These groups were disrupted by the Red Scare of 1919.

Emma Goldman was a very influential anarchist and feminist during this period. She traveled around the world spreading anarchist ideas and attempting to live out an anarchist life.

The anarcho-syndicalist orientation of many early labor unions in the US played a large part in the formation of that country's political spectrum. The United States is the only industrialized country to not have a labor-based political party.

In Europe, in the first quarter of the 20th century, anarchist movements achieved relative, if short-lived, successes and were violently repressed. However, in the 1920s and 1930s, the conflict between anarchism and the state was eclipsed by the one among liberal democracy, fascism and communism, which ended with the defeat of European fascism in World War II. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), which many consider a prelude to World War II, a widely popular anarchist movement supported by militias took control of Catalonia in 1936–1937 and collectivized the land and industry. With time and growing Stalinist control of the Republic, the anarchists were first sidelined then crushed.

At the end of World War II, Europe was mostly divided into a capitalist region under United States influence and a communist region under control of the Soviet Union, and the major political dichotomy became that between capitalism and communism. The philosophical influence of anarchism remained latent until it resurfaced in the 1960s.

A surge of popular interest in anarchism occurred during the 1960s and 1970s. In the UK this was associated with the punk rock movement; the band Crass is celebrated for its anarchist and pacifist ideas. In Denmark, the Freetown Christiania was created in downtown Copenhagen. The housing and employment crisis in most of Western Europe led to the formation of communes and squatter movements like the one still thriving in Barcelona, Spain.

In the 1980s, primitivists like John Zerzan proclaimed that civilization – not just the state – would need to be abolished to foster liberty and a just social order. A rejection of modern Technology is also prominent in the views of many primitivists, such as Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber).

Anarchism today

Since the last third of the 20th century, anarchists have been involved in student protest movements, peace movements, squatter movements, and the anti-globalization movement, among others. Today, traditional anarchist organizations continue to exist across the globe and, in recent years, anarchism as a political philosophy has gained a higher profile as a result of the "anti-globalisation" movement.

Feminism has always been a part of the anarchist movement, in the form of anarcha-feminism. North American anarchism also takes strong influences from the American Civil Rights Movement and the movement against the war in Vietnam. European anarchism has developed out of the labour movement, and both have incorporated animal rights activism. Globally, anarchism has also grown in popularity and influence as part of the anti-war, anti-capitalist, and anti-globalisation movements. Recently, anarchists have been known for their involvement in protests against World Trade Organization and Group of Eight meetings, and the World Economic Forum; protests which are generally portrayed in mainstream media coverage as violent riots. Many anarchists are part of the black blocs at these protests and some engage in rioting, vandalism, and violent confrontations with police. Others peacefully protested, upholding non-violent principles.

Some say that recent technological developments have made the anarchist cause both easier to advance and more conceivable to people, while others argue that these developments have strengthened the hand of governments in many ways, such as the increased ability for intelligence/law-enforcement agencies to perform mass surveillance, and providing new media for disseminating propaganda and disinformation.

Many people use cell phones or the internet to form loose communities which could be said to be organized along anarchist lines. Some of these communities have as their purpose the production of information in a non-commodified or use-value format, a goal made attainable by the availability of personal computing, desktop publishing and digital media. These things have made it possible for individuals to share music files over the Internet, without economic incentive, and even with a certain amount of risk. There are also open source programming communities, who donate their time, and offer their product freely as well. Examples include Usenet, the free software movement (including the GNU/Linux community and the wikiwiki paradigm), and Indymedia. A book analyzing how this new "anarchic" mode of production is possible is Eric S. Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Traditional historical materialist analysis, used by many libertarian socialists, is one means of interpreting the above, and would describe it as a "political economy of non-commodity information production".

See also


  1. ^, "Taoism & Anarchism," April 14, 2002 (accessed June 6, 2005).
  2. ^ Peter Kropotkin, "Anarchism," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910 (accessed June 6, 2005).
  3. ^ Ibid
  4. ^ Mark Philp, "William Godwin," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003 (accessed June 6, 2005).
  5. ^ CIA, "Argentina," The World Factbook (accessed June 6, 2005).
  6. ^ Raúl Zibechi, "Worker-Run Factories: From Survival to Economic Solidarity," Citizen Action in the Americas, no. 12, August 2004 (accessed June 6, 2005).
  7. ^ yozzee, "Wikipedia—Anarchy in Action?," July 12, 2004 (accessed June 6, 2005).


  1. ^ Malatesta, Errico. "Towards Anarchism". MAN! (Los Angeles: International Group of San Francisco). OCLC 3930443.  
  2. ^ Agrell, Siri (2007-05-14). "Working for The Man". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2008-04-14.  
  3. ^ "Anarchism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-29.  
  4. ^ "Anarchism". The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: 14. 2005. "Anarchism is the view that a society without the state, or government, is both possible and desirable.".  
  5. ^ Slevin, Carl. "Anarchism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics. Ed. Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  6. ^ "Anarchism." The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 31.
  7. ^ Harold Barclay, People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchism (London: Kahn & Averill, 1982).
  8. ^ Table Of Contents
  9. ^ Iliad II, 703
  10. ^ Histories IX, 23
  11. ^ Malcolm Schofield, (1991), The Stoic Idea of the City. Cambridge University Press.
  12. ^ Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism (London: Freedom Press, 1996), p.8.
  13. ^ Foster, William E. (1886). "Town government in Rhode Island". [1]. Retrieved 2008-12-23.  
  14. ^ Rothbard, Murray N. (2006). "The Origins of Individualist Anarchism in America". Retrieved 2008-07-02.  
  15. ^ Rothbard, Murray N. (2005). "Pennsylvania's Anarchist Experiment: 1681–1690". Retrieved 2008-07-02.  
  16. ^ Dictionary of the History of Ideas - ANARCHISM
  17. ^ An example of this can be seen in a letter he wrote to Col. Edward Carrington, on Jan. 16, 1787,
  18. ^ Peter Kropotkin, "Anarchism", from The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910
  19. ^ Sheehan, Sean. Anarchism, London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2004. pg. 85
  20. ^ Kenneth Rexroth, "Communalism."
  21. ^ Daniel Guerin, Anarchism: From Theory to Practice (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970).
  22. ^ Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. "Chapter 3. Labour as the efficient cause of the domain of property" from "What is Property?", 1840
  23. ^ Edwards, Stewart. Introduction to Selected Writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1969, p. 33
  24. ^ Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. The General Idea of the Revolution, p. 281
  25. ^ Kropotkin, Peter. Chapter 13 The Collectivist Wages System from The Conquest of Bread, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London, 1906.


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