Ya know, I’ve always thought I knew what an anarchist was, but somehow it wasn’t thoroughly covered when I was in school. I had thought that anarchists were against all forms of government, yet they formed associations (clubs?) so they were not, apparently against all forms of organization. Just what were they for and against?

Can anyone give me an overview of the anarchists’ movement and possibly recommend books about it I’m likely to find in my local library?



It is based on the ideas that all governments use violence in some way or another to control their subjects, and are thus inherently bad. People working together without a central government sounds like utopia, but is also anarchy. No government.

Anarchy is not always a bad thing. If you have a society of kind and enlightened individuals, then it can work for a while.

This would be a good place to start. I don’t know much about organized anarchism, but according to the Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy, Pierre Joseph Proudhon may be responsible in part for the growth of modern anarchism. The first link has quite a bit of Proudhon’s work, as well as the writings of other Anarchists.

Well, Baloo, as I understand it, anarchy, like libertarianism, is an ideal, utopian way of life, where nobody can tell you what you can or cannot do.
Sounds nice, but doesn’t work IRL.
For instance, one should be allowed to use as many commas as one desires, but, I’m sure, someone’s going to, at the very least, comment on the number of times I’ve chosen to thus punctuate my reply to your excellent question.

Nothing personal mangeorge, but it irks the fuck out of me when people say this. How do you know it doesnt work in real life? Have you ever lived in anarchy?

As for the OP, check out the movie SLC Punk, I’ve never seen it explained better.

Well, Cisco, I’m sorry you’re irked the fuck out of.
But true anarchy means no laws, no government, no consequences for one’s negative actions.
I don’t have to live that way to understand that such a society couldn’t possibly survive where some are stronger and meaner than others. What’s to stop me from coming to your house and taking your new Porshe? Although there would be no Porshes in an anarchy. No houses, either.
Once two or more people agree to impose their will on another you have “government”.
All social animals live under some form of government.
And so must we.

Communism sounds good in theory but it’s shitty in practice, anarchy may sound shitty in theory but - oh yeah we’ve never tried it. And society can impose its own taboos without being considered “government”. Stealing…etc would still be wrong but there wouldnt be formal punishments taken against you for it, just see who helps you out when you need it. If you steal my porsche and i kill you*, then i didn’t “govern” anything, it was a personal matter and had nothing to do with the rest of society.
[sub]*ok i would never kill anyone, especially not over a car, so this is probably a shitty example but it was the first thing that came to me[/sub]


Check out “Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism” by Peter Marshall (hardback - HarperCollins: 1992; paperback - Fontana Press: 1993).

I’ve heard a couple of interpretations of anarchists:

  1. Punk: Against all authority. It’s more of an attitude than a political statement. (Not that punks can’t be political, Ref: The Dead Kennedies)

  2. Proudhon: The first self-declared anarchist. Against all government (as opposed to libertarians who believe in a judicial system to protect property rights.) Proudhon also declares that, “Property is theft.” The statement is less self-contradictory than it looks, since to him “Property” can be translated as “the means of production”. Thus, any sort of property that is used to extract value from labor is a theft device.

  3. Later theorists: Anarchy is about having a suspicion of hierarchy in any sort of form, be it governmental or corporate. In place of hierarchies, anarchists like networks.

  4. Anarcho-Syndicalism: Against companies. For worker-owned cooperatives, as a business structure.

Standard response to “Anarchism could never work IRL”: The Spanish Civil War (1930s).

More generally, someone who is said to have anarchist leanings may be identified with the non-authoritarian left.

The following link looks helpful, assuming you can slog your way through it.

[sub]Obligatory Disclaimer: The above are interpretations only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of flowbark.[/sub]

*Originally posted by flowbark *

Not always, though - there are anarcho-capitalists. Check out The Machinery of Freedom by David D. Friedman (1989).

John Hospers (the economic theorist and Libertarian politician) also considered himself an anarchist, and he was very much a capitalist. Likewise, many “libertarians” are anarchists that are leery of being grouped in with the Sex Pistols :). There’s no particular left/right dichotomy there.

In general, the bare definition of anarchism is the belief that non-consensual coercion (e.g., by a “government” claiming to have the “authority” to outlaw, say, anal sex or marijuana use) is the one great evil from which others descend. That’s all. Nothing to do with smashing stuff, though a fair portion of anarchists believe that the goverment would have to be physically destroyed rather than “reformed” out of existence.

Incidentally, the standard objection to anarchist theory is what mangeorge- inevitably, an anarchist society would either come to be dominated internally by the ost thuggish (and organized) elements, or it would be devoured from outside by authoritarian elements who saw it as fair game. This is why I’m a libertarian (small l, not the Big L political party) rather than an anarchist myself.

Ursula K LeGuin’s classic The Dispossessed gives a pretty good picture of what can be considered an anarchist society.


The final clause does not follow from the first two.

There is a difference between “All cows eat grass / We are cows / We eat grass” and “All cows observed thus far eat grass / You are a cow / You must eat grass.”

Aside from which, anarchy does not necessarily mean “no government” (it depends on how you define “government”). It means “no one rules (over others)”.

And we don’t know that it “doesn’t work”. It hasn’t been widely tried in a serious way. Serious thought and research money has not been devoted to it on a large scale. Meanwhile, it has been observed to work in a variety of settings. And, yes, there ARE ways of structuring a handful of billion people without putting some in positions of power over others; anarchy doesn’t HAVE to mean “a public meeting of 10 billion people in the village square”.

Re the responses to Mangeorge’s points and additional comments of Someguy I’m trying to determine where those saying “…well anarchy might work we won’t know until we try it” are really coming from.

I can’t conceive how any educated, grown person past the age of 25 and having lived as a responsible adult in the real world could think that anarchy could be a viable social model. Recognizing that my inabilty to conceive how an anarchic social system might work could possibly reflect my ignorance could Cisco or AHunter3 (or whoever) please give some example of how an anarchic social system would/could work with real people in the real, modern world.

Astro: I don’t feel like reexplaining what I said not so long ago in another thread, so may I link you? –

Explain in detail why democracy cannot exist in a republic

True anarchy does imply a lack of goverment, ergo, a lack of laws; however, there are always consequences for one’s actions, negative or otherwise. Said ramifications may not result from a centralized power, but they will occur.

Strength is irrelevent. Dispostion is relevent. You are correct in believing that anarchy is a utopian concept, but you are neglecting to consider the possibilty of enlightened people making the decision to live in such a fashion.

The anti-theft devices would make it extremely difficult. By the way, it’s “Porsche.”

Why not? That idea is preposterous.

And if they agree not to impose their will on one another, you don’t have government.

Lions, dolphins, wolves, chimpanzees and bonobos are a few examples of social animals. Do they follow an alpha male or leader of some form? Yes, some do. Do they have interpersonal relations which can be confrontational? Yes, some do. Do they require the implementation of a system to govern themselves? No, they do not. You may liken the hierarchy of such social animals to that of certain tribes. Members of the tribe may look to a particular member because he or she is particularly wise or strong, but that does not a necessary condition for government. Are you going to argue that egalitarian, tribal systems can’t work?

No, we must do nothing. Some choose to live in such a fashion. Some begrudgingly live in such a fashion. Some follow without question. Some hope for the opportunity to change.

This is an oligarchy whether you are talking about lions, chimps or humans. Leadership by a few even if they are worthy of leadership and those who follow them follow them for a good reason is an oligarchy not anarchy.

Anarchy means NOBODY leads. Anarchism means the hatred of government. Not the hatred of democracies or the hatred of socialist republics or the hatred of Monarchies or the hatred of “egalitarian, tribal systems”, all of which are forms of government, but the hatred of all of these.

An anarchist sees the organization of humans in any way so that they have a system to deal with each other in a society as an evil.

This is probably the silliest utopian dream of them all. Any behavioral scientist will tell you that if you put a group of humans, from anywhere in the world on an isolated island they will form a government within a week. The form might vary but they will have a system for settling disputes, choosing how to allocate resources, etc. Like it or not that is government.

Anyone who tells you that you can have a society without a government just doesn’t understand one term or the other.

Other points:

Government need not result in centralized power either.

There has never been and will never be a society made up entirely of “enlightened people”. It only takes one who is acting in his own self interest to destroy an anarchist utopia.

Finally there is no good utopian dream. The last 150 have proven that if they prove nothing else. Good government is one that imposes as few restrictions on society and individuals as possible while still making it safe for an individual to be unpopular and making it safe to do business by enforcing contracts.

It should be pointed out that an anarchy would do none of these things.

I haven’t been over there in a while – did David B and Gaudere close Great Debates to new threads while I wasn’t looking?

If not, please try to keep your responses limited to the OP. Recommend a book a website, someone’s biography, etc.

Thank you.


That seems rather insupportable. Certainly isn’t true in my case. Systems are fine and furthermore are necessary if our anarchy is to contain trains that run on time and all that. Systems are only evil if they create (and maintain) a hierarchy of power, of people over other people.

Thanks! I will.

Manhattan, I’m learning from all these responses, but if you think this is shaping into a debate, could you punt it over to GDD then? I’d hate to see it die a premature death, but was unaware there was such a variety of opinions of just what constitutes anarchy.