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II. Classic Thinkers
III. Contemporary Variants
A. Social Ecology
C. Ontological Anarchism
D. Anarchist Feminism
IV. Common Ideas
A. Philosophical Anarchism
B. Anarchist Theory and Practice
Anarchism, like political science, seems to be both a concept and a practice. As concepts, each has been the subject of a nearly endless series of stipulated definitions. Anarchists and political scientists often appear to be more engaged with defining their approach than with actually doing it. When viewed as practices, though, it is evident that both anarchism and political science have long, convoluted histories in which the past never entirely disappears but is simply rediscovered and revived from time to time. Defining anarchism, and describing its varieties and folkways, is the subject of this research paper.
It may seem odd to do so. After all, you will not find anarchist theorists represented in the conventional canon of political philosophers commonly studied in universities. If anarchist thinkers are studied at all, they are addressed largely in courses on political ideologies or occasionally in courses on feminist theory. As carriers of an ideology, either they function as prescient critics of totalitarianism or they appear as unrealistic utopians. At best, anarchism emerges as the solution to an ideological puzzle—one that turns the linear continuum of the left–right spectrum into more of a Möbius strip. At first glance, though, anarchists seem to have little to offer to the academic student of politics. You have to be rather quirky, if not a little defiant, to show any serious interest in their political thought and practice.
This marginalization of anarchists and anarchism in the academy parallels their marginalization and even demonization that has long been present in popular culture. The 19th-century image of the unkempt, bearded, bomb-throwing anarchist is never too far from the popular mind. Anarchists usually preface discussions of their ideas with a caveat that they are not necessarily practitioners of assassination, sabotage, or mindless violence. Even today, whenever shop windows are broken or scuffles with police occur during protest demonstrations, the media are quick to attribute the violence to frightening bands of anarchists such as the Black Bloc.
Little of this is news to any adherent or student of anarchism. Whether as ideological doctrine or revolutionary practice, anarchism has long gone in and out of fashion; its ideas have arisen whenever and wherever revolutionary movements have occurred. Indeed, the classical period of anarchist theory and practice has long been associated with the working-class movements of the 19th century and the antifascist struggles of the Spanish Civil War. In the many decades since, it has been associated with the global student and antiwar movements of the 1960s, with new social movements and indigenous political movements a decade or two later, and more recently, with the antiglobalization movement that came to prominence with the “Battle of Seattle” (Day, 2005). Indications of anarchism’s vicissitudes can be found in any number of essay collections that attempt to capture the range and spirit of a “contemporary” anarchism (Ehrlich, 1996; Purkis & Bowen, 2004b).
At present, anarchism has experienced yet another rebirth, primarily among two constituencies: a younger generation of radical political activists coming of age in the 1990s and a number of academic thinkers steeped in poststructuralist philosophical perspectives. This renewed appreciation for anarchist theory and practice reveals what Daniel Guérin (1970) observed long ago: “Anarchism can be described first and foremost as a visceral revolt” (p. 13). Because that spirit of revolt recurs from time to time, anarchism must be taken seriously by students of political science (Gordon, 2007; Williams, 2007). As a result, the aim of this essay is threefold: (1) to introduce some of the classic thinkers associated with anarchism, (2) to provide a glimpse into the diverse schools of thought represented in today’s anarchist world, and (3) to sketch key features of an anarchist worldview.
II. Classic Thinkers
Although its origins can be traced to Enlightenment thinkers (Jean-Jacques Rousseau and William Godwin, for example) or even to Taoist thought, anarchism has been associated primarily with 19th century political and social movements. In this section, we will summarize the central ideas of some key thinkers in the anarchist pantheon.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865) was the first thinker to proclaim proudly his identity as an anarchist. Famous for declaring (in reference to legal entitlement, not simple possession) that “property is theft,” Proudhon consistently promoted values such as spontaneous organization and free association. The actions of government, any government, violate what he saw as a core principle—the only valid contract is one that has been freely entered into by autonomous individuals. In contrast, Proudhon preferred a society in which people’s interactions were marked by mutuality, cooperation, and reciprocity. As he noted in What Is Property? (1840), “Politics is the science of liberty: man’s government of his fellow-man, no matter the name under which it lurks, is oppression: society’s highest perfection lies in the marriage of order and anarchy” (quoted in Guérin, 2005, p. 54). Such a society, built largely on localist or federalist principles, would emerge spontaneously from the overly regulated one we currently inhabit. The abolition of the state, and the subsequent transformation of law into a vehicle for justice, would come only when human beings freely persuade and convince each other of the need to respect the commands of justice.
Where Proudhon sought to articulate the first principles of social organization, Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876) spent his energies trying to foment a social revolution on behalf of individual freedom. Ever intent on practicing the revolutionary arts, he was often keen on building new cadres, and he frequently quarreled with other radical thinkers and activists. Bakunin’s vision of the ideal society was communal and collectivist, one built on abolishing the state and recognizing the claims of common ownership and social labor. Bakunin’s own revolutionary version of class struggle anarchism put him in opposition to both authoritarian socialism and bourgeois democracy. Critical of political power per se, he denigrated any society divided into exploiter and exploited, ruler and ruled, master and slave. The proletarian class rule envisioned by Karl Marx and others, Bakunin asserted in Statism and Anarchy (1873), would not bring liberation, but would instead reestablish state authority. “Whoever says State necessarily says domination, and, consequently, slavery: a State without slavery, open or concealed, is inconceivable: that is why we are enemies of the State” (quoted in Guérin, 2005, p. 195). Only a thoroughgoing social revolution could wipe away the state and institute a more natural, decentralized, and equal society. Likely to be bloody and violent, as any war would be, the revolution would nevertheless be a spontaneous, mass one—even though it may need some guidance from a cadre of determined professionals.
Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921) was among a group of anarchists who sought to give anarchism a solid intellectual infrastructure and notably contributed an article on it to the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In that piece, he defined anarchism as the “principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government—harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups” (Kropotkin, 1910, para. 1). Kropotkin’s arguments for anarchism were influenced substantially by scientific discoveries in such domains as biological evolution and human anthropology. Drawing on his own research, he asserted that all species exhibit two natural tendencies: one (rooted in the self-assertion or self-preservation of an individual organism) toward competition and survival of the fittest and another (enabling the survival of a species in an environment) toward harmony and mutual aid. The natural tendency toward mutual aid, long neglected by most intellectuals, not only made species survival possible but also was the prerequisite for any sort of social or moral progress. Once the evolutionary role of mutual aid was understood, people would see that it is only by renouncing capitalism, the state, and violence that we could create an egalitarian communist, radically democratic, and pacifist society.
Noted for her tireless advocacy of workers’ and women’s rights, Emma Goldman (1869–1940) remains today an inspirational figure for organizers and feminists alike. Eloquently urging the forces of labor to unite in their struggles against capital, she saw in anarchist communism a philosophy that would put an end to the conflict between the individual and the society. In her famous 1910 essay “Anarchism: What It Really Stands For,” Goldman (1969) showed how anarchism represented the only rational alternative to the pernicious influence of religion, property, and the state. Goldman just as eloquently challenged the many obstacles to women’s emancipation. Linking patriarchy and capitalism, she saw in marriage and other forms of trafficking in women little more than the effects of private property and the state. Finding suffrage to be no more than symbolic politics, she pressed strongly for the authentic liberation of women that would come only with sexual liberty and birth control. One of the first to recognize that the personal is indeed political, Goldman acknowledged the “interdependence of collective social transformation and the inner psychological, mental and spiritual liberation of individuals” (Hewitt, 2002, p. 173).
Max Stirner (1806–1856) was the pseudonym adopted by Johann Kaspar Schmidt, a German philosopher and teacher. In The Ego and His Own (1845), Stirner advocated a consistent egoism and individualism that stressed the importance of pursuing one’s own welfare. To a constrictive society, which relies on the compulsory authority of the state, Stirner opposed a liberatory association that rests on the free activity of individuals. Where the former demands loyalty, and compels it through law, the latter promotes unbounded individual autonomy. Stirner’s emphasis on radical autonomy extended to his concept of action; neither political nor social, action always takes place on the individual’s own terms—one unites, and separates, freely and frequently. Forsaking revolution, the overthrow of the existing order, Stirner instead promoted a spirit of revolt:
The Revolution has new institutions as its objective. Revolt induces us to no longer let ourselves be governed, but rather to shift for ourselves. Revolt does not look to the “institutions” to come for any wonders. It is a fight against what already exists. (quoted in Guérin, 2005, p. 29)
The very essence of life for Stirner was to freely create and re-create one’s individuality and subjectivity. Only when the stultifying nature of power is exposed, and then undermined, can authentic life emerge.
III. Contemporary Variants
Among the theorists and activists writing about anarchy today, one can find any number of strains of thought. To be sure, some strains have undergone greater development or have been given more attention than others. Before addressing the ideas of some tendencies found in contemporary anarchism, though, let us first highlight the ideas of perhaps the most well-known theorist who helped keep the anarchist tradition alive in the United States.
Best known, politically, for his incisive critiques of U.S. foreign policy and the mass media, Noam Chomsky has often been cited as an influential anarchist thinker. Even so, he usually identified himself as little more than a “derivative fellow traveler” (Chomsky, 2005, p. 135). Over time, as anarchist theory and practice revived, Chomsky (2005) gradually warmed to the label—proclaiming that his “personal visions are fairly traditional anarchist ones, with origins in the Enlightenment and classical liberalism” (p. 191). Viewing anarchism as a libertarian form of socialism, opposed to hierarchy and domination, he remained ever focused on the liberatory potential found in advanced industrial and technological societies.
Although many of today’s anarchists regard him highly, Chomsky has often been criticized by fellow anarchists— either for advancing dated notions of workers’ control and self-management or for assuming that the goal is to create a highly industrial, democratic society. Indeed, his work sometimes appears so rationalist and pragmatic that he even suggests that anarchists may need to defend, rather than simply attack, certain state institutions—while nevertheless seeking to democratize them (Chomsky, 2005). In many ways, Chomsky’s political writings focus less on advancing the cause of anarchy than on scrutinizing the presumptions of contemporary political decisions and discourse. He is better at taking arguments apart, showing their contradictions, than he is at discussing questions of value or outlining the features of a new society. Focused as he is on critiquing what governmental leaders do and say, rationalism seems to be at the center of his activity—even when Chomsky states his predilection and preference for anarchism.
A. Social Ecology
Like Chomsky, the late Murray Bookchin (1971, 1995) has been frequently cited as a leading and influential anarchist theorist. Indeed, he was one of the first thinkers to link environmental and political concerns and to show the interconnections between ecology and anarchism. Labeling his approach “social ecology,” Bookchin saw each domain as marked by participatory freedom, everincreasing differentiation, mutuality and complexity, and unity in diversity (Biehl, 1997). To embrace social ecology is to denounce hierarchy in the name of creative freedom and enriching diversity; it is to favor renewable energy and human-scale technology, along with decentralized economic and political structures.
Bookchin’s approach to anarchism emphasizes not only a generalized respect for the environment but also a deliberative, Aristotelian conception of politics. Indeed, his preference for rational discourse and radical democracy brought Bookchin considerable criticism from some anarchists who view the movement not merely as antistate but also as broadly antipolitical. Bob Black (1997) is one who voiced this complaint, finding no better example of leftist anarchy’s sterility than in Bookchin’s preference for local government and direct democracy and his adherence to rationalist ideology and politics as usual. Many young anarchists have thus sought to move anarchism beyond its old leftist affiliations and Bookchin’s abstract theorizing and system-building.
Sharing their concerns with rooting out domination, Bookchin initially declared anarchism to be “a libidinal movement of humanity against coercion in any form, reaching back in time to the very emergence of propertied society, class rule, and the state” (Biehl, 1997, pp. 144–145). However, Bookchin later turned away from such global negativity; rather than give free rein to political libido, for example, he issued a reminder that anarchism must be conceived as an organized movement committed to “four basic tenets: a confederation of decentralized municipalities; an unwavering opposition to statism; a belief in direct democracy; and a vision of a libertarian communist society” (Biehl, 1997, p. 170). Bookchin’s rationalism could also be seen in two other tenets of social ecology: support for locally organized and human-scale technology and a belief that the course of evolution is directed toward greater complexity.
A decade ago, a profile of activists opposed to gentrification in the Pacific Northwest highlighted John Zerzan as “a leading advocate of primitivism, which goes far beyond matters of how the state is or isn’t constructed, considering technology and most of what we consider civilization to be deeply pathological and needing to be eliminated” (Parrish, 1999, para. 6). As ecological and technological issues came to the forefront, it did not take long for anarchism to become nearly identical with primitivism. Primitivists note that the ills we face today— hierarchy, domination, physical and mental illnesses, violence, and ecological destruction—are due not simply to modernity. They are in fact the necessary consequences of civilization itself: “life before domestication/ agriculture was in fact largely one of leisure, intimacy with nature, sensual wisdom, sexual equality, and health. This was our human nature, for a couple of million years, prior to enslavement by priests, kings, and bosses” (Zerzan, 1998, p. 16).
Each of our systems—technology, domestication and agriculture, the division of labor, urbanization, and language—places human beings against nature and embeds us in relations of conformity and obedience. Emerging from the bonds of this “megamachine” requires joining our insights into hunter-gatherer societies with traditional anarchist advocacy of revolution. This approach is not without its limitations, for as Michael Albert (2006) has noted, primitivists err in attributing “the problem they pose not to mutable social structures and institutions which impose the bad features on the technologies and the bad technologies on us, but to the entire category of technology per se.” Regardless of the merits of this position, primitivists have gained influence because they recognized the value of the propaganda of the deed—doing something, anything, to oppose the established order. In their eyes, eschewing violence for either moral or tactical reasons does nothing but further entrench the very ills that anarchists oppose. For Zerzan (n.d.), the only “truly humanitarian and pacific impulse is that which is committed to relentlessly destroying the malignant dynamic known as civilization, including its roots.”
C. Ontological Anarchism
In November 1999 in Seattle, a diverse collection of activists coalesced to protest the World Trade Organization and, without hierarchy or bureaucracy, “organized a wide range of activities, including marches, human blockade chains, banner displays, street props and pavement theatre” (Sheehan, 2003, p. 8). Ever since, such forms of protest have become central to the frame of emancipatory politics. In this context, one of the more intriguing thinkers is Hakim Bey (the pseudonym of Peter Lamborn Wilson), whose ideas about anarchism and culture have encouraged activists to embrace an expressive, artistic form of rebellion—an “ontological anarchism.”
Setting aside the traditions of leftist revolution, the ontological anarchist seeks to liberate the imagination through spontaneous acts of poetic terrorism and art sabotage— acts designed to shock people out of their complacency and alter their consciousness. Following lines of thought initially developed by the Situationist International (Knabb, 2006) and representing anarchism as a sort of lived poetry, ontological anarchists have the goal of using whatever tools are available to disrupt the routines of everyday life. As Bey (2003) suggests, we must “murder the IDEA—blow up the monument inside us” in order to stimulate a shift in the balance of power (p. 33). At the heart of these efforts lies the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) as a compelling, nonauthoritarian approach to social change. The TAZ is conceived as an “uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it” (Bey, 2003, p. 99). The TAZ permits momentary acts of rebellion in aspects of social life that the State has yet to reach; it is less about creating the Revolution and more about fostering the excitement of continual insurrection. For some anarchists, the problem with this approach is that it seems more likely to generate acts of personal resistance and chic rebellion than to develop any useful analysis of society or corresponding institutional change. Bookchin (1999) is one of these critics; he criticizes the TAZ perspective as follows:
The capitalist system cannot be overthrown by the creation of Temporary Autonomous Zones, or by “closing” down a government or commercial center for a few hours or even a day, or by routine tussles with the police, or by having a street festival with black flags draped from lampposts. (p. 241)
Not only does Bey’s notion of the TAZ fail to challenge authority directly; his partiality for nomadic rebellion privileges a vanguard of liberal moral agents who emphasize their autonomy and intermittent social obligations. Partly in response to such criticisms, Bey has since advanced other conceptions of political activity—whether creating vibrant experiences of communion and community (“immediatism”) or promoting political struggles against power and personal struggles for self-control (“jihad”). Whatever form of action he might recommend, Bey always draws on the traditional anarchist spirit of revolt. Ever opposed to the Revolution and the Spectacle, Bey advocates for “psychic nomadism” and aesthetico-political autonomy.
D. Anarchist Feminism
The ties between anarchism and feminism are longstanding ones. As activists on issues related to family, sexuality, and work, the anarchist women of the 19th century did then what many anarchists do today: argue for individual autonomy and economic independence, engage in political action through affinity groups, and develop alternative social and cultural institutions. The most important tie between anarchism and feminism, though, is that both have developed an extensive critique of power relationships. L. Susan Brown (1996) argued that even though many feminists could criticize power, it was still “possible and not inconsistent for a feminist to embrace the use of power and advocate domination without relinquishing the right to be a feminist” (p. 151). In making this claim, Brown was taking issue with Peggy Kornegger’s (1996) view that feminists had long been “unconscious anarchists” and that the “radical feminist perspective is almost pure anarchism” (p. 159). At times, it seemed as though these thinkers were disputing whether feminism or anarchism was the more universal or inclusive radicalism.
Regardless of whether one believes that anarchism encompasses feminism or that feminism subsumes anarchism, both perspectives acknowledge the role played by intersectionality (multiple, interlocking systems— e.g., sexism, racism, capitalism, and heterosexism) in structuring social and political domination. With no privileged perspective available, both feminism and anarchism have come to the conclusion that “the focus of analysis (and of resistance) need not be on any single relationship of domination and subordination . . . , but rather on relations of domination and subordination as such” (Ackelsberg, 1997, p. 164). In the face of a complex institutional and ideological web that maintains domination, the only hope is a long process of resistance struggles, rooted in difference and partiality, in transgressing borders. The path to liberation thus appears as a process of “hollowing out” the system “through the formation of mental and physical (concrete) alternatives to the way things are” (Kornegger, 1996, p. 164).
In developing an antiauthoritarian politics, anarchist thought today has been shaped both by new social movements in advanced industrial countries and by poststructuralist social and political theory. By the late 1990s, the political thought and actions stimulated by these developments had produced a paradigm shift within the anarchist tradition (Black, 1997; Purkis & Bowen, 2004a). One notable facet of this paradigm shift was the emergence of a “postanarchist” tendency that emphasized “a rejection of essentialism, a preference for randomness, fluidity, hybridity and a repudiation of vanguard tactics, which includes a critique of occidental assumptions in the framing of anarchism” (Franks, 2007, p. 128). Postanarchism might best be seen as an updated version or modification of anarchism rather than a wholesale rejection of its traditional concerns, insofar as several of the relatively “new” poststructuralist themes (e.g., ideas concerning the sources of oppression, generative power, and positive freedom) were actually first expressed by any number of “classical” anarchist thinkers.
The critique and unmasking of pervasive instances of power has certainly been common to both poststructuralism and anarchism. Yet the very antiessentialism that makes poststructuralist thought so appealing carries within it a “theoretical impasse: if there is no uncontaminated point of departure from which power can be criticized or condemned, if there is no essential limit to the power one is resisting, then surely there can be no resistance against it” (Newman, 2001, p. 5). One problem for anarchism, whether imbued with poststructuralist insights or not, is to find some means of overcoming that impasse. The challenge is to find a point of leverage that can overthrow existing structures of domination without also reviving those same structures—or worse, creating new and more insidious ones.
In this context, today’s anarchists seem to have little to offer other than “an affinity for affinity, that is, for nonuniversalizing, non-hierarchical, non-coercive relationships based and [sic] mutual aid and shared ethical commitments” (Day, 2005, p. 9). More traditional, programmatic anarchists find such micropolitics hedonistic at worst and unhelpful at best. Because social revolution requires political efforts more serious than a dinner party, more long term than a demonstration, the paradox still remains. Given poststructuralist analyses of productive power (which engenders and occurs within a multiplicity of practices), the rejoinder is that political action can no longer proceed on the basis set forth in old narratives of cataclysmic revolution. Instead, radicals must operate within a micropolitics recognizing the local and contingent nature of political life and calling “for social, personal, and political experimentation, the expansion of situated freedom, the release of subjected discourses and genres, and the limitation and reorientation of the role of the intellectual” (May, 1994, p. 112).
IV. Common Ideas
In the face of such diverse perspectives, the first principles of an ideology such as anarchism appear to be an elusive quarry. Even its defenders regard anarchism as more of an evolving tradition—a set of overlapping and sometimes competing traditions or aspects—than a general theory or a coherent ideology. Because it transforms itself to fit time, place, and circumstance, any effort to set forth a contemporary platform for anarchists seems likely doomed to incompleteness, if not failure. Indeed, sometimes it seems that the only thing that is constant about anarchism is its inconstancy, its ability to transform itself. Nevertheless, despite the absence of any universal anarchist credo, enough family resemblances among the various bodies of anarchist thought exist to make it possible for us to talk about anarchism as a discourse or even an ideology.
A. Philosophical Anarchism
One element of that discourse is philosophical anarchism, which proceeds from a fundamental opposition to the existence of the state and the authority relations that the state codifies, legitimates, or represents. The aim of this sort of anarchism thus seems to focus on providing a foundation for anarchism’s central claims about human nature or the state. For example, its roots can be traced to Robert Paul Wolff (1998), who drew on the Kantian tradition to analyze what he regarded as the deep conflict between authority and autonomy. Because people are radically free, wholly autonomous moral beings, there can be no obligation to obey the state or, indeed, any authority. “Anarchism is the only political doctrine consistent with the virtue of autonomy” (Wolff, 1998, p. 18). Another example can be seen in the work of Alan Carter (2000), who argued that anarchism consisted of a normative preference for political equality and an empirical belief that the state cannot provide that equality. In his view, anarchism developed an understanding of economic and political relations (the state-primacy theory, in which state power selects relations of production in its own interests) that better accounts for the history of the state than does analytical Marxism. More recently, Crispin Sartwell’s (2008) contribution, beginning from the premise that coercion is evil, proceeds to demonstrate that all arguments for the legitimacy of state power (whether contractarian, utilitarian, or justicial) fail to persuade or convince.
Still other philosophers have explored anarchism, not from traditional philosophical roots and concerns, but from poststructuralist ones (May, 1994; Newman, 2001). These philosophical anarchists draw their inspiration and approaches from the antiessentialism and nonfoundational approaches of such thinkers as Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Lacan (see Newman, 2001). Their recognition that power is deeply embodied in networks of discourses and practices very much comports with the following fact:
The bulk of ongoing anarchist praxis and discourse takes place on the micro level of face to face collectives and affinity groups, and the meso level of the local milieu or (mini ) network of anarchists in a particular locale, such as a town or city. (Gordon, 2007, p. 33)
Indeed, what helped make anarchism appealing to poststructuralist thinkers is that it represents “an ethical critique of authority—almost an ethical duty to question and resist domination in all its forms” (Newman, 2001, p. 166). Recognition of that duty encourages Simon Critchley (2007) to conceive of anarchism as a theory and practice of infinite responsibility rather than a philosophy of radical or unlimited freedom. The responsibility is rooted in an ethical demand for political actors to resist injustice. In accepting and meeting that demand, anarchists challenge the state and question authority— whenever and wherever they seek to totalize social relations or dominate political practices. For Critchley (2007), “The great virtue of contemporary anarchist practice is its spectacular, creative and imaginative disturbance of the state” (p. 123). What anarchism brings to politics, in other words, is a pervasive and compelling spirit of revolt.
B. Anarchist Theory and Practice
Anarchism thus appears to be more an evolving tradition of theory and practice than a coherent doctrine of ideological principles. Constituted by an expanding set of overlapping and competing traditions, anarchism exists more as a practical creed than as a formal ideology. Even so, the ideological core of anarchism, “the one thing without which it is not anarchism, is the negation of authority over anyone by anyone” (Walter, 2002, p. 32). The necessary corollary to this bedrock commitment is anarchists’ assertion that humans can be trusted to pursue their own goals, can indeed live in peace and harmony with nature and with other human beings.
Another noteworthy element of anarchism is that it can no longer (if it ever really could) be regarded as a singular, let alone monolithic, movement. Today, especially, anarchism appears as a plural, a movement of movements. Because oppressive coercion comes from multiple, interconnected sources, the theories and practices of liberation must necessarily be multifaceted and open-ended as well. As a result, anarchism has become more of a synthetic ideology than it was in the classical period. By expanding on anarchism’s traditional focus on antiauthoritarianism, contemporary anarchists seek a multifaceted goal:
to highlight not only the state but also gender relations, and not only the economy but also cultural relations and ecology, sexuality, and freedom in every form it can be sought, and each not only through the sole prism of authority relations, but also informed by richer and more diverse concepts. (Grubacic, 2006, para. 19)
Finally, anarchism remains very much a tactical theory— a theory of social and political practice. Propaganda of the deed, as opposed to the development of a “scientific socialism,” was a central preoccupation for classical anarchists; among anarchists in the 21st century, that preoccupation has not dissipated. Having largely adopted (consciously or not) poststructuralist perspectives, anarchists believe that doing what one can, wherever one can, however one can, provides the only prospect of making any headway in the battle against the machine. At present, then, anarchist practice seems to focus on building a set of institutions, resources, skills, and experiences that delegitimize authority and induce a change in perspective, all the while insisting that there is an alternative to the present order. Thus,
Anarchism is not opposed to organization. It is about creating new forms of organization. It is not lacking in ideology. Those new forms of organization are its ideology. It is about creating and enacting horizontal networks instead of top down structures like states, parties or corporations; networks based on principles of decentralized, non hierarchical consensus democracy. (Graeber, 2002, p. 70)
This review of anarchist theory and practice, from its classical period to the present, acknowledges that the anarchist tradition has many facets. It is also a tradition of political thought and action that has undergone many a rise and fall. One motive for including a discussion of anarchism in this work on 21st-century political science is that a new generation of activists and thinkers has produced yet another incarnation of the ideology.
Ultimately, what makes anarchism worthy of serious study is that it represents a sort of limit case for political science. As a political theory, anarchism challenges the premises of the subject of our discipline. It calls into question the very existence of the state and regards conventional political life as a dead end. As a political practice, anarchism represents the seemingly endless search for a means to an end. Its goal is to find some way of undermining people’s willingness to buy into the established order, to find some leverage capable of transforming social life. In both cases, the ideological complexity of anarchism seems to translate into a simple libertarian core—a fundamental opposition to authority and a pervasive spirit of revolt.
To be sure, the prospects for ultimate liberation appear to be dim. There may always be some form of authority to combat, some line of conflict or other to overcome. As soon as one perceived problem or division appears to be resolved, another will take its place. As a result, many concur with Stuart White’s (2007) conclusion that “the practical role of the anarchist is not to build this unattainable dream, but to push the messy complexity of society in a more anarchist direction” (p. 24). For that pursuit, we can always draw on a rich tradition of ideas that can be readily counterposed to any orthodoxy—as the current revival of anarchism demonstrates.
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