The broad critical framework provided by the anarchist critique of authority provides a useful theory or methodology for social critique.
In more recent iterations, anarchism has been used to critique gender hierarchies, racial hierarchies, and the like—also including a critique of human domination over nature.
Thus anarchism also includes, to name a few varieties: anarcho-feminism or feminist anarchism , queer anarchism or anarchist queer theory
green anarchism or eco-anarchism also associated with anarchist social ecology
, Black and indigenous anarchism’s and other anarchist critiques of white supremacy and Eurocentrism ; and even anarcho-veganism or “revanchism”
. In the anarcho-vegan literature we find the following description of a broad and inclusive anarchism:
Anarchism is a socio-political theory which opposes all systems of domination and oppression such as racism, ableism, sexism, anti-LGBTTQIA, ageism, sizeism, government, competition, capitalism, colonialism, imperialism,
and punitive justice, and promotes direct democracy, collaboration, interdependence, mutual aid, diversity, peace, transformative justice and equity.
A thorough-going anarchism would thus offer a critique of anything and everything that smacks of hierarchy, domination, centralization, and unjustified authority.
Anarchists who share these various commitments often act upon their critique of authority by engaging in nonconformist practices (free love, nudism, gender disruption, and so on) or by forming intentional communities that live “off the grid” and outside of the norms of mainstream culture.
In extreme forms this becomes anarcho-primitivism or anti-civilizational anarchism
. Alternative anarchist societies have existed in religious communes in post-Reformation Europe and in the early United States
in Nineteenth Century American utopian communities, the hippy communes of the Twentieth Century, anarchist squats, temporary autonomous zones and occasional gatherings of like-minded people.
Given this sort of antinomianism and non-conformism it is easy to see that anarchism also often includes a radical critique of traditional ethical norms and principles.
Thus, radical ethical anarchism can be contrasted with what we might call bourgeois anarchism (with radical anarchism seeking to disrupt traditional social norms and bourgeois anarchism seeking freedom from the state that does not seek such disruption).
And although some argue that anarchists are deeply ethical—committed to liberty and solidarity—others will argue that anarchists are moral nihilists who reject morality entirely or who at least reject the idea that there could be a single source of moral authority
In more recent explorations and applications of anarchist thought, the anarchist critique has been related and connected to a variety of emerging theoretical issues and applied concerns.
Hilary Lazar (2018) for example, explores how anarchism connects to intersectionality and issues related to multiculturalism. And Sky Crouser (2019) explores how anarchism is connected to the emerging technologies including the Internet.
And there are anarchist elements in the development of shared technological and information, as for example in the development of cryptocurrencies, which create economies that outside of traditional state-based economic systems.
A significant issue in Black and indigenous anarchism’s is the effort to decolonize anarchism itself. Many of the key figures in the anarchist tradition are white, male, and European.
The concerns of anarchists such as Kropotkin or Bakunin may be different from the concerns of African Americans or from the concerns of indigenous people in Latin America or elsewhere around the globe.
One solution to this problem is to retrieve forgotten voices from within the tradition. In this regard, we might consider Lucy Parsons (also known as Lucy Gonzalez),
a former slave who espoused anarchism. Parsons explained that she affirmed anarchism because the political status quo produced nothing but misery and starvation for the masses of humanity.
To resolve this an anarchist revolution was needed. Parsons said,
Most anarchists believe the coming change can only come through a revolution, because the possessing class will not allow a peaceful change to take place; still we are willing to work for peace at any price, except at the price of liberty. (Parsons
Anarchists respond by claiming that the state tends to produce its own sort of unhappiness: as oppressive, violent, corrupt, and inimical to liberty.
Discussions about the social contract thus revolve around the question of whether the state is better than anarchy—or whether states and state-like entities naturally and inevitably emerge from out of the original condition of anarchy.
One version of this argument about the inevitable emergence of states (by way of something like an “invisible hand”) is found in Nozick’s influential Anarchy, State, Utopia (1974).
While Nozick and other political philosophers take anarchy seriously as a starting point, anarchists will argue that invisible hand arguments of this sort ignore the historical actuality of states, which develop out of a long history of domination, inequality, and oppression.
Murray Rothbard has argued against Nozick and social contract theory, saying, “no existing state has been immaculately conceived” (Rothbard 1977: 46).
Different versions of the social contract theory, such as we find in John Rawls’s work, view the contract situation as a heuristic device allowing us to consider justice from under “the veil of ignorance”.
But anarchists will argue that the idea of the original position does not necessarily lead to the justification of the state
—especially given background knowledge about the tendency of states to be oppressive. Crispin Hartwell concludes:
Even accepting more or less all of the assumptions Rawls packs into the original position, it is not clear that the contractors would not choose anarchy.
As mentioned above, among the varieties of applied anarchism we find anarchism associated with various liberation movements and critiques of white supremacy, Eurocentrism, and colonialism.
This could be connected with feminist anarchism, women’s liberation movements, and an anarchist critique of patriarchy.
We’ll focus here on the anarchist critique found in Black and indigenous liberation movements. Gandhi’s movement in India could be included here (as discussed below).
One focal point here is a claim about anarchist characteristics thought to be found in the social structures of indigenous peoples. Sometimes this is a romantic projection of anti-civilizational anarchists such aJohnFerzan,
who echoes Rousseau’s naive and ill-informed ideal of the “noble savage.” One must be careful to avoid essentializing claims made about indigenous cultures and political societies.
The Inca and the Aztec empires were obviously not utopian anarchist collectives. Nonetheless, scholars of indigeneity affirm the anarchist critique of dominant hegemonies as part of the effort of liberation that would allow indigenous people a degree of self-determination
Black and indigenous anarchism’s provide a radical critique, which holds that the global history of genocide, slavery, colonization, and exploitation rest upon the assumption of white supremacy.
White supremacy is thus understood, from this point of view, as a presupposition of statism, centralization, hierarchy, and authority.
The anarchist critique of white supremacy is thus linked to a critique of social and political systems that evolved out of the history of slavery and native genocide to include apartheid, inequality, caste/racial hierarchies, and other forms of structural racism.
Some defenders of Black anarchism go so far as to suggest that when “Blackness” is defined in opposition to structures of white supremacy,
there is a kind of anarchism woven into the concept. Anderson and Saudi write,
While bound to the laws of the land, Black America can be understood as an extra-state entity because of Black exclusion from the liberal social contract.
Due to this extra-state location, Blackness is, in so many ways, anarchisti
This implies that the experience of Black people unfolds in a social and political world that its defined by its exclusion from power.
A similar implication holds for indigenous people, who have been subjugated and dominated by colonial power. Liberation movements thus spring from a social experience that is in a sense anarchic
. It is not surprising, then, that some liberatory activists espouse and affirm anarchism. The American activist Lorenzo Kombo Ervin, for example, affirms anarchism in pursuit of Black liberation
. He explains that Black anarchism is different from what he describes as the more authoritarian hierarchy of the Black Panther party.
He also argues against the authoritarian structure of religiously oriented Black liberation movements, such as that led by Martin Luther King, Jr.