The doctrine of Philosophical Anarchism presents a theoretical framework for the construction of a society without government. Critics carefully distinguish anarchism from the related concept of anarchy, which simply denotes a society without rule, and from the sensationalistic outpouring of so-called anarchist activities of the late nineteenth century associated with a number of prominent political assassinations. As a social-political theory, anarchism is more broadly defined according to its philosophical justifications for anarchy as a practicable goal, coupled with a view of complete human freedom brought about by mutual aid, and its emphasis on individualism and the moral and rational perfectibility of humankind. Generally, anarchist thought of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is critical of law, private property, and political authority, all of which it considers to be means of oppression. Overall, the anarchists forwarded a radically optimistic view of human nature that suggests that human beings, unrestrained by laws and governments, may form a society based on the principle of cooperation.
Philosophical Anarchism found its expression in the writings of several nineteenth-century European thinkers, particularly the French writer and polemicist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. A significant portion of Proudhon's radical thought can be summed up in his dictum, “property is theft.” In place of private property, Proudhon advocated an egalitarian distribution of wealth and power in his work Du principe fédératif et de la nécessité de reconstituer le parti de la révolution (1863; The Federal Principle). Basing his theory on the concepts of individual freedom and mutual aid, Proudhon championed the eradication of privately-owned property, which, he argued, exploits the labor of workers. Commentators observe, additionally, that despite apparent affinities between Proudhon's anarchism and the communist theories of Karl Marx, the analyses of society provided by both men differ significantly. Proudhon's ideas did, however, prove influential on the Russian theorists Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. Bakunin was largely in agreement with Proudhon's anarchist goals, although he proposed collectivism and violent revolution as necessary means to the development of Proudhon's mutualist society. Kropotkin likewise modified several of Proudhon's views in developing a theory that critics characterize as anarcho-socialism. In such works as La Conquête du pain (1892; The Conquest of Bread) and Vzaimnaia pomoshch, kak faktor evoliutsii (1902; Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution) Kropotkin presented a plan for a communist federation and analyzed the mechanisms of human cooperation that would factor into a free anarchist society.
Anarchist theory in England and North America followed a somewhat different line of development from that associated with continental European anarchism. Considered the principal theoretician of Reformist Anarchism, William Godwin published An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice in 1793, a work that outlines the essentials of classic anarchist thought and finds the source of evil in the subjugation of human free will to the arbitrary dictates of authority. According to Godwin's somewhat utopian vision of an anarchist society, advances in technology would result in a drastic reduction in work—perhaps to as little as one half hour per individual per day—with no loss in material comfort. Unlike Russian anarchists, who frequently proposed a collectivist solution to the problem of realizing an anarchist society, Godwin advocated individualism but criticized democratic practices that could curb individual liberty through the tyranny of majority rule. In the United States, Godwin's theories proved influential on the American anarchist Josiah Warren, whose ideas differ from his English predecessor in their emphasis on the free market system and the acceptability of private property as a means of expanding the material well-being of humanity.
Fédéralisme, Socialisme et Antithéologie[Federalism, Socialism and Anti-theologism] (philosophy) 1895
An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (socio-economics) 1793
La Société mourante et l’anarchie [The Dying Society and Anarchy] (socio-economics) 1893
La Conquête du pain [The Conquest of Bread] (socio-economics) 1892
Vzaimnaia pomoshch, kak faktor evoliutsii [Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution] (socio-economics) 1902
Qu’est-ce que la propriété [What Is Property?] (essay) 1840
Système des contradictions économiques [System of Economic Contradictions] (socio-economics) 1846
Du principe fédératif et de la nécessité de reconstituer le parti de la révolution [The Federal Principle] (socio-economics) 1863
Der Einzige und sein Eigentum [The Ego and His Own] (philosophy) 1845
Equitable Commerce: A New Development of Principles as Substitutes for Laws and Governments, for the Harmonious Adjustment and Regulation of the Pecuniary, Intellectual, and Moral Intercourse of Mankind Proposed as Elements of a New Society...
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: “On the Nature of Anarchy,” in People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy, Kahn & Averill, 1990, pp. 15-33.
[In the following essay, Barclay enumerates the differences between anarchy and anarchism, and goes on to define each in theoretical and practical terms.]
ON ANARCHY AND ANARCHISM
Our first task must be to clarify the meaning of anarchy in relation to a variety of different terms. Let us begin by considering anarchy and anarchism. These must be distinguished from one another, just as one distinguishes ‘primitive communism’ from Marxian communism. The latter is an elaborate sociological system, a philosophy of history and an idea for a future condition of society in which property is held in common. ‘Primitive communism’ refers to a type of economy, presumably found among ‘archaic’ or ‘primitive’ peoples, in which property is held in common. By property is to be understood the crucial resources and means of production of wealth. In fact, what is communally held in such societies is invariably land; tools, livestock, and many other kinds of resources (eg, fishing sites) are individually owned. In any case, Marxist theory does not identify primitive communism with the intended Marxist communism. One might say that implicitly it is held that the historical process involves a grand cycle where humans commence with primitive communism...
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SOURCE: “Three Sources of Anarchism,” in Classical Anarchism: The Political Thought of Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin, Clarendon Press, 1991, pp. 6-38.
[In the following essay, Crowder illuminates three major sources of anarchist thought: the concept of the moral and rational perfectibility of man, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's critique of civilization, and the optimism of Enlightenment science.]
The history of Western political thought contains many anti-authoritarian currents. The vision of a golden age without government is a favourite theme from Ovid to Rousseau, and those writers who have advocated release from the authority of Church and State are too numerous to mention.1 Only in the wake of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, however, does anarchism (along with the other great modern ideologies: liberalism, socialism, conservatism) emerge as a systematic political theory. As David Miller puts it, for inchoate defiance to crystallize into a reasoned challenge to the existing order and a determinate proposal for its replacement, ‘such wholesale reconstruction needed to be thinkable’.2 The practical example of the Revolution and the background beliefs of the intellectual climate from which it sprang made anarchism thinkable. In the new century the anarchist idea evolved into a distinctive, although multifaceted, theoretical and ideological tradition. In...
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Criticism: The French Anarchist Tradition
SOURCE: “Proudhon's Theory of the State from the Standpoint of an Anarchist-Creative,” in The Political Theories of P. J. Proudhon, M. R. Gray, Inc., 1922, pp. 95-121.
[In the following essay, Lu studies the development of Proudhon's anarchist political theory.]
As has already been said, Proudhon was the father of anarchism.1 From 1840 to 1863, he repeatedly declared himself an anarchist.2 In discussing his theory of anarchy, we may, for the sake of clearness, divide the work into three parts: (1) why he preferred anarchy to the other forms of government, (2) how it can be realized, and (3) what are its general characteristics.
I. WHY PROUDHON PREFERRED ANARCHY TO THE OTHER FORMS OF GOVERNMENT.
Society, he declares, is perpetually progressive.3 Anarchy is the condition of existence for adult society. Hierarchy is the condition of existence for primitive society. There is an incessant growth in human society from hierarchy to anarchy.4
There are two chief differences between anarchy and all the other forms of government. First, anarchy is the rule of justice, while all the other governments are that of power. In the family, where authority is close to the heart of man, government is based upon birth; in the savage and barbaric society, upon patriarchy, or force; in a sacerdotal society, upon faith; in...
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SOURCE: “The Life and Historical Role of Blanqui,” in The Revolutionary Theories of Louis Auguste Blanqui, Columbia University Press, 1957, pp. 3-27.
[In the following essay, Spitzer describes the life and evaluates the influence of the martyred anarchist and precursor of modern revolutionary socialism, Louis Auguste Blanqui.]
The fact and idea of revolution have been crucial to French political history ever since 1789. Throughout the nineteenth century an articulate minority advocated the revolutionary solutions of political problems and actively fostered the resolution of ideological conflicts by physical violence. However, the great French theorists of fundamental social change, St. Simon, Fourier, Proudhon, Cabet, and their disciples, contributed a body of “socialist” ideology which repudiated the political revolutionism so eagerly espoused by the radical wing of the contemporary republican movement. The combination of revolutionism and socialist theory was a minority tendency among French radicals before 1870, and one to which few memorable figures were committed. There was, however, one socialist who not only advocated political revolution,1 but whose career virtually embodied the revolutionary aspects of the history of nineteenth-century France. This was Louis Auguste Blanqui.
THE LIFE OF BLANQUI
Blanqui began his active political...
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SOURCE: “Proudhon as a Radical Critic of Established Institutions,” in The Political Thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Princeton University Press, 1969, pp. 94-117.
[In the following essay, Ritter examines Proudhon's critique of hierarchy, government, law, and political rule.]
A critic qualifies as radical by carrying his assault on the status quo beyond its surface defects to their hidden sources. He grabs matters by the root, as Marx said, while others are content to prune their leaves and branches. Proudhon wants to grab by the root what he regards as the present world's most potent instruments of oppression: hierarchy and government.1
THE SOCIAL EVILS: DEFERENCE AND INEQUALITY
Proudhon's critique is usually examined from an economic angle. Most commentators have placed it in that long line of attacks on exploitation known as socialism. Yet this perspective obscures as much as it clarifies. For though Proudhon was indeed a vigorous opponent of exploitation, his strictures against it are an outgrowth of something more basic. He denounced exploitation because he saw in it the same disrespectful features that he condemned in other aspects of modern society. To fully understand the critical side of his theory it is therefore necessary to focus attention on its general premises, rather than on its application to economics.
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SOURCE: “Road to Revolution,” in Jean Grave and the Anarchist Tradition in France, The Caslon Company, 1995, pp. 79-89.
[In the following excerpt, Patsouras investigates the theoretical views of the anarcho-communist Jean Grave.]
The theoretical views of [Jean] Grave and anarchism in certain key areas—criticism of bourgeois society, revolution, and other related topics—are the focus of this section. More developed restatements are needed in order to better understand the anarchist position.
Grave's thought is greatly indebted to Proudhon, Bakunin, contemporary anarcho-communism (Kropotkin's and Elisée Reclus' influence is obvious), and to Marx(ism), especially in its view of the capitalist economic structure and primacy attached to class struggle. In fact, there are many similarities between anarcho-communism and Marxism and from a general theoretical perspective, the two are closely related. With respect to Grave's thought one cannot but be impressed by its rich familiarity with past utopian and socialist thinkers, the Enlightenment philosophes (Diderot was his favorite), the English Classical Economists, and contemporary sociology, economics, literature, and so forth. His erudition is reflected in such major works as La Société au lendemain de la révolution (1893), La Société mourante et l’anarchie (1893); La Société future (1895),...
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Criticism: Anglo-American Anarchism
SOURCE: “The Birth of Individualist Anarchism,” in The Individualist Anarchists: A Critique of Liberalism, University Press of America, 1987, pp. 1-34.
[In the following excerpt, Kline discusses the American brand of individualist anarchism advocated by Josiah Warren and Stephen Pearl Andrews.]
Almost fifty years ago the last distinct vestiges of an entire radical American tradition disappeared with the death of Benjamin Tucker. Since that time the radical tradition which Tucker represented has been virtually lost in American history books. The reasons for this obscurity are manifold but two seem to predominate. The first reason is that American radicals have frequently been either neglected, or treated quite glibly and tendentiously. The second major reason is reflected in the neat, quiet manner in which this tradition was absorbed into the mainstream of traditional American thought. In turn, the reason for such absorption is to be found in the many fundamental assumptions shared by the mainstream and this radical tradition.
Tucker was the last major representative of a collection of thinkers and social activists known today as the Individualist Anarchists. Though in many ways they were a diverse collection, a bond existed between them at the core of their philosophies. They all desired a society without a government, based instead upon...
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Criticism: Anarchism: Incidents And Issues
SOURCE: “The Era of Propaganda by Deed II: 1894-7,” in The International Anarchist Movement in Late Victorian London, Croom Helm, 1983, 99-119.
[In the following essay, Oliver details several prominent anarchist incidents of the 1890s, including the event that inspired Joseph Conrad's novel, The Secret Agent.]
THE GREENWICH PARK EXPLOSION
The sole outrage that occurred in London, a bomb explosion outside the Greenwich Observatory in February 1894, killed the man carrying the bomb. It is probably best known because Conrad based his novel The Secret Agent on it. In his “author's note” to the novel, Conrad said that the subject came to him “in the shape of a few words uttered by a friend in a casual conversation about anarchists or rather anarchist activities”. His friend told him that the man carrying the bomb “was half an idiot” but “these were absolutely the only words that passed between us”. Conrad was sure that if his friend once his life had seen “the back of an anarchist”, that must have been the whole extent of his connection with “the underworld”.1 He admitted about a week later that he had read “the rather summary recollections of an Assistant Commissioner of Police” and also that suggestions for certain passages “came from various sources”.2 Two authorities on Conrad, Professors Norman Sherry (in his...
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SOURCE: “Human Nature and Anarchism,” in For Anarchism: History, Theory, and Practice, edited by David Goodway, Routledge, 1985, pp. 127-49.
[In the following essay, Marshall considers the anarchist theories of William Godwin, Max Stirner, and Peter Kropotkin, and offers his own critique of the concept of human nature.]
Critics of anarchism, indeed of any attempt to expand freedom, have repeatedly fallen back on the tired argument that it is against ‘human nature’. The conventional wisdom amongst historians of political thought is that anarchists have an optimistic view of human beings as being naturally good and that it is only the state that produces evil in people. Abolish the state, they believe anarchists assert, and society will achieve a condition of perfect harmony. Convinced of the need for political authority, they argue that in reality the opposite would occur; without the state, society would collapse into the Hobbesian nightmare of violent disorder and permanent war. To criticize anarchism, it becomes enough to assert that is just a ‘puerile Utopia’.1 ‘Human nature’ is thus depicted as a nasty fellow blocking our path to a free society and any further improvement.
The concept of human nature is undoubtedly a powerful weapon. It is appealed to as if it has its own invincible weight. On the one hand, it is given the force of logic so that like 2+2=4...
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SOURCE: “Kropotkin: Mutual Aid and Anarchy,” in Demanding the Impossible? Human Nature and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Social Anarchism, Cassell, 1997, pp. 125-79.
[In the following excerpt, Morland analyzes Kropotkin's theory of anarchism.]
Of all the classical anarchists it is perhaps Kropotkin who corresponds most closely to informed perceptions of anarchism. Martin Miller, for example, has described him ‘as the world's leading anarchist theoretician.’1 Certainly, when compared to Proudhon and Bakunin, there are fewer doubts associated with the standing or status of Kropotkin as an anarchist. Nevertheless, doubts persist and there are strong grounds for contesting the consistency of Kropotkin's anarchist ideology. Although all three social anarchists under review endorse a conception of human nature that is comprised of both sociability and egoism, the emphasis on egoism in Proudhon and Bakunin, and its associated difficulties, renders it on occasion truly problematical to conceive of either as truly anarchist. Seemingly, Kropotkin's writings constitute a watershed in the development of anarchist ideology. Upon initial inspection, Kropotkin does not seem to suffer from the problems that arise from the emphasis on egoism that permeates the works of Proudhon and Bakunin. And whereas both Proudhon and Bakunin have evinced very telling critiques against the state, Kropotkin develops...
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Adán, José Peréz. Reformist Anarchism 1800-1936: A Study of the Feasibility of Anarchism. Braunton: Merlin Books, Ltd.: 1992, 242 p.
Examines the philosophical theory and political solutions postulated by the Reformist Anarchists—William Godwin, Josiah Warren, Stephen P. Andrews, and others.
Ehrenberg, John. Proudhon and His Age. Atlantic Highlands, N. J.: Humanities Press International, Inc., 1996, 184 p.
Studies Proudhon's thought in regard to capitalism and its effects on the petite bourgeoisie of mid nineteenth-century France.
Guérin, Daniel. “Marxism and Anarchism.” In For Anarchism: History, Theory, and Practice, edited by David Goodway, pp. 109-26. London: Routledge, 1989.
Discusses the ideological conflict between the thought of Marx/Engels and the anarchist theorizing of Proudhon, Bakunin, and others.
Hyams, Edward. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: His Revolutionary Life, Mind and Works. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1979, 304 p.
Critical biography of Proudhon and his relation to socialist thought of the nineteenth century.
Scrivener, Michael Henry. Radical Shelley: The Philosophical Anarchism and Utopian Thought of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1982,...
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