Definition of anarchism
  1. a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups

  2. the advocacy or practice of anarchistic principles

Definition of anarchist
  1.  a person who rebels against any authority, established order, or ruling power

  2. a person who believes in, advocates, or promotes anarchism or anarchy; especially :  one who uses violent means to overthrow the established order.

Anarchism Revision Notes

Key themes:

Anti-statism Moral basis of anarchism (absolute freedom, political equality, personal autonomy); state as concentrated evil (absolute corruptibility of human nature); all states are evil (rejection of the proletarian state); government power cannot be tamed (constitutionalism and consent (liberal democracy) as tools used by ruling class to render the masses quiescent).

Stateless society Utopian themes in anarchism (absolute freedom can co-exist with social order/harmony; perfectibility of human nature); collectivist basis for spontaneous social harmony (nurture not nature; sociability and cooperation; role of common ownership); individualist basis for social harmony (individual rationality; self-regulating markets); rival views of future stateless society; rival views of future stateless society (collectivist versus individualist models, eg, anarcho-communism versus anarcho-capitalism).

Political practicePolitical failure of anarchism; rejection of conventional means of political activism (winning state power is corrupt and corrupting; opposition to hierarchical organisation (eg, political parties)); spontaneous revolution (popular thirst for freedom/autonomy; viability?); terror/violence (‘propaganda of the deed’; revolutionary justice); direct action; moral example and gradualism.

Individualist anarchism Roots in liberal individualism (parallels with classical liberalism; ‘ultra-liberalism’); egoism (moral autonomy of individual); libertarianism (reconciling individualism with natural order consistent Manchesterism[1]); anarcho-capitalism (laissez-faire economics taken to its extreme; privatising the minimal state) differences between liberalism and anarchism (minimal statism vs statelessness; constitutional government vs anarchy).

Collectivist anarchism Roots in socialist collectivism (human sociability; mutual aid; ‘ultra-socialism’); self-management and decentralisation (direct/participatory democracy);mutualism (possessions as independence from the state; fair and equitable exchange); anarchosyndicalism (revolutionary trade unionism); anarcho-communism (parallels with Marxism; class system and state as interlocking enemies); differences between anarchism and Marxism (over proletarianism, vanguardism; proletarian dictatorship, ‘withering away’, etc).

Themes that will provide the basis for questions will include the following:

  • Anarchist critique of the state
  • Grounds on which anarchists support a stateless society 
  • The link between anarchism and utopianism
  • Anarchism as an extreme form of individualism
  • Anarchism as an extreme form of collectivism
  • Relationship between anarchism and socialism
  • Relationship between anarchism and liberalism
  • Similarities and difference within anarchist ideology 
  • Practical difficulties of achieving anarchism


Anarchism can be defined by its central belief that political authority is evil and unnecessary. This is especially in the case of the state. The goal of anarchists is the creation of a stateless society, through the abolition of law and government. Government is coercive and an offence the principles of freedom and equality. Anarchists do advocate the abolition of law and government, but in the belief that a more natural and spontaneous social order will develop. Proudhon suggested ‘society seeks order in anarchy’. During the nineteenth century, anarchism was a significant component of a broad but growing socialist movement. Anarchism is unusual amongst political ideologies in that it has never succeeded in winning power, at least at the national level. No society or nation has been modelled according to anarchist principles.

The goal of anarchism, the overthrow of the state and dismantling of all forms of political authority, is widely considered to be unrealistic, if not impossible. Most view the notion of a stateless society as A UTOPIAN DREAM. However, anarchism refuses to die. Precisely because of its uncompromising attitude to authority and political activism, it has been an enduring appeal particularly to the young. This can be seen in e.g. the prominence of anarchist ideas, slogans and groups within the emergent anti-capitalist or anti-globalization movement.

 What would an anarchist society look like?

The whole point of an anarchist society is that it would be what its members want. Anarchists generally advance two answers to this question of what society would be without government, and this is what DIVIDES THE PHILOSOPHY INTO ITS INDIVIDUALIST AND COLLECTIVIST FORMS.



Anarchists reject the very concept of the state. the state, as the most potent symbol of authority, is nothing less than a concentrated evil, and an offence against freedom and equality

Authority is based on political inequality and the ostensible ‘right’ of one individual to dictate the behaviour of another. Authority therefore enslaves, oppresses and crushes the true experience of the human condition

Anarchists fundamentally reject the liberal notion of a social contract and the idea that political authority arises from voluntary agreement. Individuals are subject to state authority merely through the accident of birth.

The state is thoroughly destructive. It requires individuals to fight and kill others for no reason other than the individuals being killed happen to have been born in a different state

Since human beings are free and autonomous creatures, to be subject to authority means to be diminished, to have one’s essential nature suppressed and thereby succumb to debilitating dependency

Authority gives rise to a ‘psychology of power’ based upon a pattern of ‘dominance and submission’, a society in which, according to the US anarchist and social critic Paul Goodman, ‘many are ruthless and most live in fear’

Behaviour is determined by the social and political circumstances in which individuals live; people who would otherwise be cooperate, considerate and sociable can become oppressive and destructive if their status is raised above their fellow human by power, privilege and wealth.


The state is not just evil, it is unnecessary – humans are essentially rational creatures, capable of enlightened behaviour through education

William Godwin – people have a natural prosperity to organize their own lives in a harmonious and peaceful fashion.

Authority conditions individuals to behave in a negative or aggressive way towards others. Government is not the solution to social disorder; it is the cause

Anarchists are extremely optimistic about humanity and our capacity for self improvement – MERE UTOPIANISM?

Anarchists defend themselves by pointing at the extraordinary progress of human society which has only been possible either through cooperation or reason, or both.

COLLECTIVIST ANARCHISTS emphasise the human capacity for collaboration, cooperation and sociability whereas INDIVIDUALIST ANARCHISTS stress the potential of enlightened human rationality

HOWEVER Anarchists do accept that individuals can behave negatively towards each other. Although the human ‘core’ may be morally and intellectually enlightened, a capacity for corruption lurks within each and every human being. Human nature is ‘plastic’, in the sense that it is shaped by the social, political and economic circumstances within which people live.


Religion has often been viewed as the ultimate source of authority, the historical basis for social hierarchy.

Anarchism has therefore usually been associated with atheism; Proudhon and Bakunin specifically argued that anarchist philosophy had to be based upon a rejection of Christianity (the dominant religion in Europe) as only then can individuals be truly independent and free from control

Bakunin – “the abolition of the Church and State must be the first and indispensable condition of the true liberation of society”

Religion clearly seeks to establish a set of moral guidelines or principles on the individual, making judgements as to what constitutes acceptable behaviour – robs the individual of the ability to make ethical choices

BUT anarchists can be said to hold an essentially spiritual conception of human nature, a utopian belief in the virtually unlimited possibilities of human self-development and in the bonds that unite humanity, and indeed all living things.


19th century anarchists identified themselves with the poor and oppressed and sought to carry out a social revolution in the name of the ‘exploited masses’, in which both capitalism and the state would be swept away.

However, it is the economic structure of life that most keenly exposes tensions within anarchism

Many anarchists acknowledge a kinship with socialism, based upon a common distaste for property and inequality, others have defended property rights and even revered competitive capitalism

COLLECTIVIST ANARCHISTS advocate an economy based upon cooperation and collective ownership, while INDIVIDUALIST ANARCHISTS support the market and private property

Despite these fundamental differences, anarchists agree about their distaste for the economic systems that dominated much of the 20 th century

COLLECTIVIST ANARCHISTS argue that state intervention merely props up a system of class exploitation and gives capitalism a human face. INDIVIDUALIST ANARCHISTS suggests that intervention distorts the competitive market and creates economies dominated by both public and private monopolies.

All Anarchists have a preference for an economy in which free individuals manage their own affairs without the need for state ownership or

[1] Manchester LiberalismManchester SchoolManchester Capitalism, and Manchesterism are terms for the political, economic, and social movements of the 19th century that originated in Manchester, England. Led by Richard Cobden and John Bright, it won a wide hearing for its argument that free trade would lead to a more equitable society, making essential products available to all. Its most famous activity was the Anti-Corn Law League that called for repeal of the Corn Laws that kept food prices high. It expounded the social and economic implications of free trade and laissez faire. The Manchester School took the theories of economic liberalism advocated by classical economists such as Adam Smith and made them the basis for government policy. The School also promoted pacifism, anti-slavery, freedom of the press and separation of church and state.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s