- An array of philosophical and political positions arguing that human societies function best without government or authority, and which suggest that the natural state of people is one of living together harmoniously and freely, without such intervention. Anarchy is said not to lead to chaos but to ‘spontaneous order’. The philosophy takes many forms and covers the whole political spectrum from extreme right to extreme left, the former seeking to diminish the influence of the state in order that free-market principles might prevail, the latter arguing that the state will wither away under true communism . Proponents of voluntary associations and mutual aid fall somewhere between. Good overviews of the theory of anarchism can be found in texts of that name by David Miller (1984) and Alan Ritter (1980).In modern times, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's romantic claim that we are born free but then everywhere found in chains is one of the first statements of anarchism, whilst the first person to evolve a systematic theory of anarchism was the English rationalist William Godwin. During the nineteenth century, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (influenced in part by Godwin) developed a theory of anarchism that provided much of the basis for French syndicalism , arguing for the ideal of an ordered society of small units, functioning without central government, and organized instead on the federal principle of ‘mutualism’-or equitable exchange between self-governing associations of producers. Proudhon's disciple Mikhail Bakunin, in dispute with Karl Marx, favoured the destruction of state power and advocated violence to achieve this end. He too insists that the reconstruction of society has to be achieved from the bottom upwards by free associations or federations of workers. Like Proudhon, Bakunin maintained that all political parties were ‘varieties of absolutism ’, and so was opposed to organized political action by a revolutionary vanguard on behalf of the proletariat . The extent to which anarchism challenges other political philosophies on the right and left alike is evident in Peter Kropotkin's observation that ‘Throughout the history of our civilisation, two traditions, two opposed tendencies have been in conflict: the Roman tradition and the popular tradition, the imperial tradition and the federalist tradition, the authoritarian and the libertarian tradition’ (Modern Science and Anarchism, 1912). Kropotkin, a Russian aristocrat, was himself an advocate of a ‘communist anarchism’ which was opposed to centralized mass production, and favoured instead an ideal of small communities in which industry and agriculture would be combined, and an education allowing each individual to develop to his or her full potential would be integral to the production process. Like most anarchists he tends to idealize primitive communities in his writings.Anarchist influences are often evident in contemporary discussions of communes and communalism, ‘direct action’, workers' control, decentralization, and federalism. Anarchist philosophy and practice has also played a role (usually a minor one) in the trade-union movement, the Spanish Civil War, the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, the events of May 1968 in France, in Gandhian techniques of non-violent protest, and in much latter-day terrorism.An interesting link with social ecology is made in the writings of the Canadian anarchist Murray Bookchin. After thirty years of political activism, beginning with the Spanish Civil War, Bookchin emerged in the 1960s as a distinctive voice within the radical ecological movement. His theories, usually described as part of the communitarian anarchist tradition, have been developed in twenty or so books, including Post Scarcity Anarchism (1971), Towards an Ecological Society (1980), The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship (1984), The Modern Crisis (2nd edn., 1987) and The Philosophy of Social Ecology (1990). Bookchin has also directed the Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont, and been influential in the world-wide Green movement. His originality lies in his sweeping unification of radical politics with history, philosophy, and ecology.Sociologists have largely ignored or been critical of anarchist philosophy, yet it harbours a whole tradition of social organization, and a systematic theory of how societies work. Although rarely acknowledged as such many of the writings of Michel Foucault , and even the theories of post-structuralism and post-modernism , might be seen as latter-day heir apparent to anarchist thought. Likewise, the work of many symbolic interactionists is largely compatible with the anarchist vision, since it harbours a view of society as spontaneous order.
Dictionary of sociology. 2013.