Home Frequently Asked Questions Anarchism

What other anarchist viewpoint are there?

by Bryan Caplan

There is definitely another strand of anarchist thought, although it is far vaguer and less propositional than the views thus far explicated. For some, "anarchist" is just a declaration of rebellion against rules and authority of any kind. There is little attempt made here to explain how society would work without government; and perhaps there is little conviction that it could do so. This sort of anarchism is more of an attitude or emotion — a feeling that the corrupt world of today should go down in flames, without any definite view about what if anything would be preferable and possible. For want of a better term, I would call this "emotivist anarchism," whose most prominent exponent is almost certainly Max Stirner (although to be fair to Stirner he did briefly outline his vision for the replacement of existing society by a "Union of Egoists").

For the emotivist anarchist, opposition to the state is just a special case of his or her opposition to almost everything: The family, traditional art, bourgeois culture, comfortable middle-aged people, the British monarchy, etc. This position, when articulated, is often difficult to understand, for it seems to seek destruction without any suggestion or argument that anything else would be preferable. Closely linked to emotivist anarchism, though sometimes a little more theoretical, is nihilist anarchism. The anarcho-nihilists combine the emotivist's opposition to virtually all forms of order with radical subjectivist moral and epistemological theory.

Related to emotivist anarchism is a second strand of less intellectual, more emotional anarchist thought. It has been called by some "moral anarchism." This view again feels that existing statist society is bad; but rather than lay out any comprehensive plans for its abolition, this sort of anarchist sticks to more immediate reforms. Anarchism of this sort is a kind of ideal dream, which is beautiful and inspiring to contemplate while we pursue more concrete aims.

The emotivist anarchist often focuses on action and disdains theorising. In contrast, another breed of anarchists, known as "philosophical anarchists," see few practical implications of their intellectual position. Best represented by Robert Paul Wolff, philosophical anarchism simply denies that the state's orders as such can confer any legitimacy whatever. Each individual must exercise his moral autonomy to judge right and wrong for himself, irrespective of the state's decrees. However, insofar as the state's decrees accord with one's private conscience, there is no need to change one's behaviour. A position like Wolff's says, in essence, that the rational person cannot and must not offer the blind obedience to authority that governments often seem to demand; but this insight need not spark any political action if one's government's decrees are not unusually immoral.

Yet another faction, strongly influenced by Leo Tolstoy, refer to themselves as "Christian anarchists." (Tolstoy avoided the term "anarchist," probably because of its association with violence and terrorism in the minds of contemporary Russians.) Drawing on the Gospels' themes of nonviolence and the equality of all human beings, these anarchists condemn government as contrary to Christian teaching. Tolstoy particularly emphasised the immorality of war, military service, and patriotism, challenging Christians to live up to the radical implications of their faith by withdrawing their support from all three of these evils. Tolstoy's essay "Patriotism, or Peace?" is particularly notable for its early attack upon nationalism and the bloodshed that usually accompanies it.

Finally, many leftist and progressive movements have an anarchist interpretation and anarchist advocates. For example, a faction of feminists, calling themselves "anarcha-feminists" exists. The Green and environmentalist movements also have strong anarchist wings which blend opposition to the state and defence of the environment. Their primary theoretician is probably Murray Bookchin, who (lately) advocates a society of small and fairly autarchic localities. As Bookchin explains, "the anarchist concepts of a balanced community, a face-to-face democracy, a humanistic technology and a decentralised society — these rich libertarian concepts — are not only desirable, they are also necessary." Institutions such as the town meeting of classical democratic theory point the way to a radical reorganisation of society, in which small environmentally concerned townships regularly meet to discuss and vote upon their communities' production and broader aims. Doubtlessly there are many other fusions between anarchism and progressive causes, and more spring up as new concerns develop.

Political Spectrum Quiz Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions