Many anarchists are revolutionaries who want change to be created through direct action. But given our preceding discussion of violence,
disobedience, and the potential for success of revolutionary activity, the question arises about opting-out of political life.
The Epicureans and Cynics pointed in this direction. The history of anarchism is replete with efforts to construct anarchist communes that are independent and separated from the rest of state centered political life.
We might pick up the history here with the Christian anarchists and pacifists of the Reformation: the Mennonites, for example,
or the Quakers who refused to doff their hats for political authorities and who sought a refuge in Pennsylvania.
Indeed, there is an anarchist thread to the colonization of North America, as those who were disgruntled with European political and religious hierarchy left for the “new world”
or were forced out by the European authorities. In the Seventeenth Century, Anne Hutchinson was cast out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and forced to find a new community,
when she concluded that the idea of government was flawed. Hutchinson is considered as one of the first anarchists of North America
. Separatist communities were founded by the New England abolitionists and transcendentalists, by Josiah Warren, and by others.
Anarchist communes were formed in Europe during the Nineteenth Century and in Spain during the 1930s.
There have been ongoing movements and organizations of indigenous peoples and others who inhabit the margins of mainstream political life. In the 1960s and 70s, anarchist separatism was reiterated in the Hippy communes
and attempts to live off the grid and get back to nature. Alternative communes, squats, and spontaneous gatherings continue to occur.
Separatist communities have to consider: the degree to which they give up on anarchist direct action against dominant political forces,
the extent to which they have to accommodate themselves to political reality, and the risk that customary hierarchies will be reinstated within the commune.
For the revolutionary anarchist, separatism is a strategy of avoidance that impedes political action. Separatist communes must often obey the rules of the dominant political organization in order to trade and get connected to the rest of the world.
Finally, a complaint made about separatist communes is that they can end up being structured by sexist, classist, and other hierarchical organizing principles.
One might argue that until the dominant culture is revolutionized, separatism will only be a pale reflection of the anarchist ideal. And yet, on the other hand, advocates of separatism will argue that the best way for anarchist ideals to take hold is to demonstrate that they work and to provide an inspiration and experimental proving ground for anarchism.
If revolutionary activity is taken off the table, then anarchists are left with various forms of gradualism and reformism.
One way this might occur is through the creation of “temporary autonomous zones” such as those described by Bey.
Along these lines David Graeber provides a description of the cultural and spiritual work that would be required in order to prepare the way for anarchist revolution.
Graeber says that this would require “liberation in the imaginary”, by which he means that through activism, utopian communities,
and the like there can be a gradual change in the way political power is imagined and understood (Graeber 2004). Revolutionary
anarchists will respond to this by arguing that liberation in the imaginary is simply imaginary liberation: without actual change in the status quo,
oppression and inequality continue to be a problem.
The question of violence leads us to a further issue: the question of obedience, disobedience, resistance, and political obligation.
Much could be said here about the nature of political obligation and obedience: including whether obedience is merely pragmatic and strategic or based upon notions about loyalty
and claims about identification with the nation and its laws. But it is clear that anarchists have no principled reason for political obedience.
If the anarchist views the state as illegitimate, then obedience and participation are merely a matter of choice, preference, and pragmatism—and not a matter of loyalty or duty.
Christian anarchists will look, for example, to the case of Jesus and his idea of rendering unto Caesar what is due to Caesar
). The anarchist interpretation of this passage claims that this is an indication both of Jesus’s disaffection with the state
and with his grudging acquiescence to political authority. Christoyannopoulos argues, “Jesus’ political subversion is carried out through submission rather than revolt”
The crucifixion, on this interpretation, is a subversive event, which “unmasks” political power as “demonic” and illegitimate.
Jesus does not recognize the ultimate moral and religious authority of Caesar or Pilate. But he goes along with the political regime.
Thus some anarchists may simply be compliant and submissive
Let’s conclude by considering some standard objections to anarchism and typical replies.
Objection: This objection holds that anarchism is merely another name for chaos and for a rejection of order. This objection holds that anarchists are violent and destructive and that they are intent on destroying everything, including morality itself.
Reply: This objection does not seem to recognize that anarchists come in many varieties. Many anarchists are also pacifists—and so do not advocate violent revolution.
Many other anarchists are firmly committed to moral principles such as autonomy, liberty, solidarity, and equality.
Some anarchists do take their critique of archer in a nihilistic direction that denies ethical principles.
But one can be committed to anarchism, while advocating for caring communities. Indeed, many of the main authors
in the anarchist tradition believed that the state and the other hierarchical and authoritarian structures of contemporary society prevented human flourishing.
Objection: This objection holds that anarchism is inherently unstable. Hobbes and other early modern social contract theories maintain
that the state emerges as a necessary response to natural anarchy which keeps order and protects our interests.
A different theory comes from Nozick, who argues that the “night-watchman state” would emerge out of anarchy by an invisible hand process: as people will exercise
their liberty and purchase protection from a protection agency, which would eventually evolve into something like a minimal state.
Reply: Anarchists may argue that the state of nature is simply not a state of war and so that Hobbes’s description is false.
Some anarcho-primitivists will argue that things were much better for human beings in the original state of nature in small communities living close to the land. Other anarchists might argue that the disadvantages of state organizations—the creation of hierarchies, monopolies, inequalities, and the like
—simply outweigh the benefits of state structures; and that rational agents would choose to remain in anarchy rather than allow the state to evolve.
Some anarchists may argue that each time a state emerges, it would have to be destroyed. But others will argue
that education and human development (including technological development) would prevent the re-emergence of the state.
Objection: This objection holds that there simply is no way to destroy or deconstruct the state. So exercises in anarchist political theory are fruitless.
It would be better, from this point of view to focus on critiques of hierarchy, inequality, and threats to liberty from within liberal or libertarian political theory
—and to engage in reforms that occur within the status quo and mainstream political organization.
Reply: Ideal theory is always in opposition to non-ideal theory. But utopian speculation can be useful for clarifying values.
Thus philosophical anarchism may be a useful exercise that helps us understand our values and commitment, even though political anarchism has no hope of succeeding.
Furthermore, there are examples of successful anarchist communities on a small local scale (for example, in the separatist communities discussed above).
These concrete examples can be viewed as experiments in anarchist theory and practice.
Anarchist rejection of authority has application in epistemology and in philosophical and literary theory.
One significant usage of the term shows up in American pragmatism. William James described his pragmatist philosophical theory as a kind of anarchism:
“A radical pragmatist is a happy-go-lucky anarchistic sort of creature” (James 1907 . James had anarchist sympathies, connected to a general critique of systematic philosophy
. Pragmatism, like other anti-systematic and post-Hegelian philosophies, gives up on the search for an arch or foundation.
Anarchism thus shows up as a general critique of prevailing methods. An influential example is found in the work of Paul Feyer abend, who’s Against Method provides an example of “theoretical anarchism” in epistemology and philosophy of science 1975
Science is an essentially anarchic enterprise: theoretical anarchism is more humanitarian and more likely to encourage progress than its law-and-order alternatives.
His point is that science ought not be constrained by hierarchically imposed principles and strict rule following.
Post-structuralism and trends in post-modernism and Continental philosophy can also be anarchistic
. So-called “post-anarchism” is a decentred and free-flowing discourse that deconstructs power, questions essentialism, and undermines systems of authority. Following upon the deconstructive and critical work of authors such as Derrida, Deleuze,
Foucault, and others, this critique of the arch goes all the way down. If there is no archer or foundation, then we are left with a proliferation of possibilities.
Emerging trends in globalization, cyber-space, and post-humanism make the anarchist critique of “the state” more complicated, since anarchism’s traditional celebration of liberty and autonomy can be critically scrutinized and deconstructed
Traditional anarchists were primarily interested in sustained and focused political activism that led toward the abolition of the state.
The difference between free-flowing post-anarchism and traditional anarchism can be seen in the realm of morality. Anarchism has traditionally been critical of centralized moral authority
—but this critique was often based upon fundamental principles and traditional values, such as autonomy or liberty. But post-structuralism
—along with critiques articulated by some feminists, critical race theorists, and critics of Eurocentrism—calls these values and principles into question.
it is ethical in the best sense, since it helps society to get rid of its worst foe, the most detrimental factor of social life. Sabotage is mainly concerned with obstructing, by every possible method,
the regular process of production, thereby demonstrating the determination of the workers to give according to what they receive, and no more.
Goldman struggled with the question of violence through the course of her career. Early on she was a more vocal proponent of revolutionary violence.
She began to rethink this later. Nonetheless, like other anarchists of her generation, she attributed violence to the state, which she opposed. She writes:
I believe that Anarchism is the only philosophy of peace, the only theory of the social relationship that values human life above everything else.
I know that some Anarchists have committed acts of violence, but it is the terrible economic inequality and great political injustice that prompt such acts, not Anarchism.
Every institution today rests on violence; our very atmosphere is saturated with it.
Goldman views anarchist violence as merely reactive. In response to state violence, the anarchists often argued that they were merely using violence in self-defence.
Another defender of violence is Malatesta who wrote that the revolution against the violence of the ruling class must be violent. He explained:
I think that a regime which is born of violence and which continues to exist by violence cannot be overthrown except by a corresponding and proportionate violence.
Like Goldman, Malatesta warned against violence becoming an end in itself and giving way to brutality and ferocity for its own sake.
He also described anarchists as preachers of love and advocates of peace. He said,
what distinguishes the anarchists from all others is in fact their horror of violence, their desire and intention to eliminate physical violence from human relations.
But despite this rejection of violence, Malatesta advocates violence as a necessary evil.
Anarchist violence appears as the violence of an individual against the state. It is easy to see why such violence would be characterized as terroristic and criminal.
For an individual to declare war against the state and take action to disrupt the state is criminal. And thus anarchists have also been interested in a critique of crime and criminality—arguing that it is the law and the legal system that creates and produces crime and criminality.
This critique was advanced by Kropotkin as early as the 1870s, when he called prisons “schools for crime”. Similar ideas are found in Foucault and in more recent criticisms of mass incarceration.
Contemporary anarchists will argue that mass incarceration is an example of state power run amok.