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What is Anarchism?

Anarchism comes from the Greek word “anarkhos” meaning “without ruler”. And that’s the way that anarchism has been seen throughout history: the movement which tries to get rid of the state. A more common term used for anarchists is the term Libertarian. This term is mostly used in politics. Anarchists don’t like big bodies of government. They assert too much control, which should be in the hand of the people. The state is the enemy according to the anarchists because the state only protects the interests of the strong.

            There are many different forms of anarchism. Nowadays the most common form is anarchistic communism, based upon the philosophers Marx and Bakunin. Bakunin gave a critique towards Marx that if the state would have too much power it would become corrupt and become a dictatorship. Bakunin predicted what would happen in many of the communist states. So, the anarcho-communists favor communism without the dictatorial body of the state. We could see this as the leftist libertarians.

            But anarchism also exists on the right side of the economic spectrum. Where the left libertarians hate the state because it imposes private property on the people, corrupting them in the process. The right libertarians hate the state because it limits private property. They want to be able to trade however they want. Free individuals should be able to go about their business without the government interfering with their lives. This is a core feature in the neoliberal view on society. Deregulation is the norm here. Libertarianism was in the 20th century mostly an ideology functioning to spread market capitalism.

            The idea of revolution is also highly prominent in anarchism. Here it aligns well with the communist idea of the social revolution. Left libertarians tend to impose the social revolution but instead of giving the power to a body of the state, they would give the power to the people. This would be done is small communes all interconnected with each other. Every commune could do whatever it wants and there is no higher government imposing rules upon them.

They believe in the social contract created by philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes. This theory states that every society creates a contract, a set of rules, which everyone is obliged to follow. It is wise to follow these rules because society will benefit on a whole; Everyone engaging in the contract would be able to be better than they were if they hadn’t made the contract. If you break the contract, the contract doesn’t apply to you anymore. This gives a justification for punishing criminals for example. If the contract doesn’t give you any benefits, then you are allowed to break the contract. This is called civil disobedience and was first penned down by the philosopher Henry David Thoreau. This is where someone peacefully breaks the contract to state a point and to impose social change.

Obviously, anarchism goes against nationalism and fundamentalism. Nowadays with the rise of nationalism, anarchists believe that their philosophy is now more important than ever. Yet, anarchists and nationalists agree on more points than that they disagree. It is just the level of government on which they differ. But the critique of anarchism towards nationalism is this: nationalism tends to lean towards extremism and xenophobia. If the 20th century history has shown us anything, it is that nationalism tends to end in wars between different nationalities. We should therefore stop with this nationalism. But anarchists don’t favor big groupings which would subdue nationalism like the European Union or the United Nations. Instead they opt for an even greater divide of society. Nowadays this could be translated in the multicultural society.

Religion also has to bow down to anarchism. Anarchists are all about the freedom to believe in whatever you want, but that religion should not ever be imposed on other people. Many anarchists tend to be atheists, just like most communists are atheists. Christianity, Islam and other world religions are just a form of big government trying to control a mass of people.

The individual is central in anarchistic thought. But for an individual to be able to flourish it needs a social structure which can grant opportunities. Education is because of this a big point in anarchistic thought. The educational system is seen now as a prison system. The anarchistic thinker Kropotkin famously called ‘prisons the universities of crime’. National education should be abolished because of its link to the national state and because it would impose its own truths on the people. Progressive education should reignite the flame of education. People should be free to choose what to learn and when to learn. A radical view is the one where no one is obligated to go to school and schools are just open every single day and people can just come in and learn what they want to learn. Education is seen as emancipation rather than submissive.

Current anarchistic thought is seen in many progressive movements. Anarchists see the sexual revolution, the women movement, equal rights movement, etc. all as anarchistic movements fueled by anarchistic ideas. Diversity is the way to create a comfortable society. The multicultural society is just the next step forwards. There are many movements like this today. Eco-movements are also seen as anarchistic movements. They see capitalism as being unable to provide an eco-friendly society. They want to return to small-scale decentralized agriculture. Extinction Rebellion is an example of an anarchistic movement using climate change to fuel its ideas.

Anarchism has gotten this bad connotation to it. It is mostly compared with chaos. Anarchists don’t believe their ideas would create chaos. Only if everyone does their part. How I see it, they try to achieve a sort of utopian ideal where everyone gets along and everyone has as much as everyone else and all is well. I think this vision is not obtainable. There will always be conflict in the world and we need a state to protect our civil rights. But anarchism is that movement who will be the first to say stop when the government tries to obtain control. When the government becomes totalitarian, it is useful to have some anarchists who are willing the put the emphasis on the right of freedom. The problem is that whenever “revolutions” espouse anarchistic slogans, they never follow through with them. This is either because the leaders of the “revolution” become corrupt with power and create a new state (which is what happened in the Sovjet Union) or they realize that we need a basic system of government, a state, to make sure everyone follows the social contract. The greatest enemy of anarchism is not the state, it is itself when it gets the ability to become the state.

By elenchusphilosophy

Philosophy student from Ghent, Belgium. I write about what I find interesting which is about nearly anything. Though my guiding question in life is how to be a good person.

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