Richard T. De George, "Anarchism and Authority" in J. Roland Pennock, & John W. Chapman, eds., Anarchism: Nomos XIX. New York: New York University Press, 1978.



The various theories ranging from divine right to general will to social contract to consent are all attempts to formulate the reasoned ground justifying the acceptance of government and law. Each has its defects; some are still debated; and none forms the reason why ordinary citizens of a state accept or acceed to the laws and government of that state. In default of finding sufficiently solid, rational, and articulated grounds, however, tradition tends to induce acceptance in the ordinary citizen -- though not in the anarchist -- of what has existed and has been accepted for a long time, despite the fact that what is so justified may be radically different from what was accepted and acceptable originally, or just a short while before.1 The anarchist, by contrast, is a skeptic in the political arena. He insists on the complete justification for any political or legal system prior to accepting it.


Anarchism, a theory of society without a ruler, has come to refer to any theory about a society without a government; without a state; and hence without laws, courts, police, armies, politics, or bureaucracy. By extension it is often considered to be a theory about society without any established authority on any level, that is not only without government, but also without established authority in business, industry, commerce, education, religion, and the family.2 Some theories of anarchism are total in their views concerning the absence of established authority, ranging from the smallest units of society to the largest; others are more restrictive and piecemeal. Historically theories of anarchism range from the radical individualism of Max Stirner to the anarchist communism of Kropotkin, with the views of Proudhon, Bakunin, and the anarcho-syndicalists falling in between.3 There is no single statement of anarchism to which all recognized or self-proclaimed anarchists would adhere, and they are more easily identifiable by what they are against than by what they are for. Yet despite their many differences, the skeleton of all these views is similar, though they are fleshed out differently. The basic argument underlying them all can be sketched as follows:

(1) Certain goods of man are absolute in the sense that they should be given up for no other kind of good. The chief of these is freedom. (Some anarchists conceive of freedom as moral autonomy; some also add justice as primary; still others emphasize the importance of maximizing human well-being, though this is not an absolute.)4

(2) Since freedom, justice, and maximized human well-being are incompatible with the state, government, and law, and in general with any form of organized authority, they should be done away with.

Though radically individualistic anarchists such as Max Stirner might stop here, constructive communitarian anarchists from Proudhon to Bakunin and Kropotkin argue that:

(3) Once the existing state and institutions are done away with, a new and better society will be possible and should be constructed.

In the remainder of this paper I shall examine the anarchist position outlined here, not to prove it wrong, though it has its defects, but rather to argue that it is not authority as such that the anarchist attacks, his words to the contrary notwithstanding. Rather he implicitly and rightly attacks authoritarianism, which anarchists have tended to equate with established authority.


The anarchist agrees with the traditional political theorist that if the state, government, and law can be justified, they must be justified in terms of promoting freedom, justice, or human well-being. But whereas the traditional political theorist starts out accepting the state, government, and law and sees his task as articulating their justification, the anarchist sees clearly existing injustices and restraints on freedom and denies that the present social order is the best possible under the circumstances. For he envisages something better, and he feels that the sources of many of the social evils are imbedded in the structure of the state, its laws, and its government, and that merely to tinker with them is insufficient.

The anarchist argues first that no satisfactory external5 justification of the state, law, and government has ever been given (hence they have not been justified), and secondly that they cannot be justified and so are unjustifiable.

The first argument proceeds by challenging those who defend established authority to produce a valid external justification of the state, law, or government. The anarchist examines and shows the deficiencies of such theories as divine right, social contract, and consent, and confidently awaits any other suggested justificatory theory. He of course has a great deal of assistance in this task, and he willingly adopts the utilitarian critique of contract theories and the contract theorists' critique of utilitarianism. That no justification which is generally accepted by philosophers and political and legal theorists has been developed cannot be denied. It does not prove that there can be no such justification. But for the anarchist it does raise the question as to why people, who have no such explicit justification for doing so, submit to demands and commands of governments. Moreover, to the extent that various justifications have in the past been accepted for a time, only to be cast aside later as flawed, the anarchist is reinforced in his belief that all such attempts at justification are deliberate or unconscious ideological rationalizations of the status quo.

Convinced that no adequate justification for them has been given, the anarchist then uses either of two types of argument to show that the state, government, and law are unjustifiable. Each of the arguments depends on his definitions, though he claims that his definitions are appropriate to the facts of the case. In the first type he defines the state as the instrument of oppression of one class by another; he defines law as a tool used by the ruling class to protect itself and its property and to foster its aims; and he defines government, together with its army and police force, as the handmaiden of this ruling class and the means whereby it dominates the ruled and enforces its will.6 Now if the state, law, and government are defined in this way, then it is of course impossible to justify them, since they have injustice built into them. Hence they are unjustifiable. The traditionalist's reply is that these definitions do not accurately capture existing institutions. Laws, he claims, are the means whereby justice is achieved; government is the servant of the people and the means whereby they achieve their joint projects; the state is the unity of a people in a certain territory, and it is through the state that they carry on intercourse with other large groupings of people. But the anarchist's counter, and one with which many nonanarchists would tend to agree, is that this view does not accurately describe the actual conditions in which men live, though it may state some ideal.

The division between the anarchist and the defender of the established order at this point is not one of theory but one of fact. Is more justice achieved by the existing laws than harm done through the protection of the interests of the affluent at the expense of the masses? Is more freedom developed by the existing state and government than would otherwise be the case, or do they in fact unduly restrict freedom? Is there more crime and violence in a society with police than there is or would be in one without? The anarchist here points to governmental abuse, to unjust imprisonment, to war between states, to police brutality, to domination of the poor by the rich, and so on. And he then claims that because of the evil they do, government, law, police, and other oppressive instruments of the state are unjustifiable.7 There is no doubt that some of the facts to which anarchists point, if taken in isolation, would tend to support their claims. But the critics of anarchism assert that the anarchists are selective and do not weigh all the appropriate facts, that no society without law and some formal authority -- for instance the Wild West in the United States -- has had more justice, freedom, or well-being before law arrived than after, and that though claims are made for how a society without authority should or will work, these are only unsubstantiated claims with no data or experience to support them.

In the second type of argument, instead of defining the state as an instrument of oppression and so by its very nature unjust, some anarchists first define freedom (or autonomy) and then define authority in such a way as to make them incompatible. This for instance is the main line of attack used by Robert Paul Wolff8 in his well-known book In Defense of Anarchism.9 It is possible to refuse to accept these definitions as appropriate (because they do not apply to actual societies); but more importantly it is possible to deny the claims made by them. Thus Taylor denies the absolute status Wolff imputes to moral autonomy,10 Perkins claims the two concepts are not only incompatible but that autonomy requires authority;11 Martin argues that Wolff really describes the incompatibility of moral autonomy with moral obligation to obey laws or with the government's right through legislation to decree what is or is not moral.12

At best, therefore, what the anarchist actually proves is not that political and legal arrangements, no matter how described, cannot be justified, but that the state, law, and government as he describes them cannot be justified; and though he may show that moral autonomy and political obligation as he defines them are incompatible, he does not show that alternative defensible definitions are not valid. In fact, the development of his argument requires, as I shall show, that various forms of authority which come fairly close to what other political theorists mean by "state," "law," and "government," are justifiable under certain conditions.

The anarchist moves quickly and without much argument from the claimed unjustifiability of state, government, and law to the assertion that they should be done away with. It is not necessarily the case that whatever cannot be justified should be eliminated. But the anarchist argues that the existing structures are in large part the cause of injustice, restraint of freedom, and exploitation, and that they can be done away with because (he believes) there are viable alternatives. And surely it is not unreasonable to claim that the sources of injustice should be removed, providing this can be done without causing even more harm.

The means by which the state, government, and law should be eliminated and the speed with which this should take place are matters not only of disagreement among anarchists, but they are areas of special theoretical weakness in anarchistic writings. The anarchists usually see the workers as the movers of change in opposition to the established order; but how these masses are to be motivated to do something about their situation is problematic. Education is one method, though a slow process, especially since the schools are controlled by those in the status quo. Anarchist communists fall back on a Marxian type of analysis, though their views are repudiated by Marxists just as they were repudiated by Marx and Engels.13 And those who resort to terror and bombings have not only shown that such actions are usually counterproductive, but they also act in violation of the claimed freedom, autonomy, and valued well-being of others. Hence a more gradual approach, with the workers taking over control of their factories and businesses either through unions or on their own, and working from there to demolish the instruments of the state and government, is the most plausible alternative. In recent times anarchists such as Daniel Guerin emphasize workers' self-management on the Yugoslav model,14 and Paul Goodman called for reform and change in education and in neighborhoods and civic groups which he thought could seize the initiative from government.15


Defending the final step of the skeletal argument by detailing how the new society is to function after the revolution is both a matter of dispute and in general another weakness of the anarchist position. The anarchist can hardly spell out what society after the revolution will be like if he maintains that those who live in the society must enjoy the freedom to do what they wish. The most he can do is rule out the existence of the state, law, and government as previously defined; affirm certain very general conditions which will prevail; and answer certain objections proposed by his critics.16

It is crucial to note that though the anarchist insists on extremely high standards of justification for the state, law, and government, he does not insist on such high standards for all forms of social organization. For he must leave open the possibility of justifying alternative modes of social organization if the third part of his argument is to stand.

The anarchist principle of freedom does not preclude but clearly allows social organizations, freely entered into. Since some of the things a person wishes to achieve cannot be attained on his own, he may join with others to achieve common ends. Individuals, therefore, will be free to establish the groups they need to achieve their goals. Groups will enjoy freedom comparable to that enjoyed by individuals and will suffer comparable restrictions. Just as individuals join groups to attain their ends, so groups may also affiliate or join with other groups to achieve the goals they cannot attain in isolation.

The syndicalists spoke of trade unions and organizations of labor managing the affairs of a people; Bakunin envisaged small groups organizing themselves and carrying on their affairs; the anarchist communists described the stateless society in which each would give according to his ability and receive according to his needs, fully aware that production and distribution would continue in such a society. Such present-day anarchists as Guerin do not seek a return to an earlier, simpler form of agriculture or industry. They seek a form of social communitarianism. But unlike the Marxist-Leninists for whom the withering away of the state is a far-off event, they deny the necessity of centralism in society, of statism, of the dictatorship of the proletariat or of the leadership and domination of a party -- communist or other.17

Since these communitarian anarchists are obviously not opposed to social organization, they must accept the conditions necessary for the existence of any society. These include the moral norms common to all societies as well as the public conditions necessary for people to meet and act together. Furthermore they cannot consistently be opposed to those forms or structures of authority necessary for organization. But if authority is to operate in these groups and organizations, the anarchist insists on the principle of authority from below. This asserts that the only justifiable form of authority comes ultimately from below, not from above. The autonomy of each individual and of each lower group should be respected by each higher group. The higher groups are formed to achieve the will of the lower groups and remain responsible to them and responsive to their will. In general, anything which can be done by the lower groups is to be done by them and not taken over by the higher groups. The function of higher groups is simply to achieve those ends which the lower groups desire but cannot achieve on their own.

Neither the existence of groups or organizations nor the principle of authority from below either justifies or necessitates present forms of state, government, and law. The anarchist correctly maintains they can be eliminated from society. A model of society without them is neither unthinkable nor inconsistent. But just as the overthrow of the state, law, and government does not preclude organizations or associations, neither does it preclude rules or leaders of a certain type. To the extent that these in turn all imply some kind of authority, what the anarchist actually attacks is not authority as such, but a particular form of authority, namely authoritarianism, or the imposition of authority from above.

Authoritarianism starts at the top and directs those below for the benefit of those above. If authority is to be compatible with anarchism it must start from below, be constantly responsive to its source, and be used for the benefit of the people subject to it. The root problem is to provide organization without authoritarianism.

Both the anarchist and many of his critics consider authority as the right to command with the concomitant obligation on the part of those subject to authority to obey.18 But there are various ways of construing this right. Since the essential part of the anarchist's argument involves alternative types of social organization, and since all organizations involve some kind of authority (though it may be called by other names), the anarchist is not faced with the alternative either of accepting all kinds of authority or of eliminating all kinds of authority. Rather he should explain which kinds of authority he finds acceptable, and within what limits they are to be exercised. That he typically fails to do so in no way affects the fact that the internal logic of his position requires it.


In the broadest terms authority is a relation between a bearer (X) and a subject (Y) with respect to some field (Z), when Y reacts in an appropriate manner as a result of X's enunciating some sort of communication (p). The characterization of the appropriate reaction differentiates different kinds of authority. Thus if X is an epistemic authority for Y, Y's appropriate reaction is belief in what X says.19

If X is an executive authority for Y, then Y should do what X says he is to do in p (or commands him to do), simply because X says so (or commands it). Now obviously there are many conditions we would wish to add if authority is to be justifiable; and the anarchist is correct in asserting that at least some uses of authority are unjustifiable, and that some, perhaps many, presently existing institutions are either unjustifiable or have not been satisfactorily justified. Which kinds of authority are justifiable and how are they justified?

We should initially distinguish some kinds of authority especially pertinent for anarchism: epistemic, parental, operative, and political. Each of them may be either de facto or de jure (internally justified), illegitimate or legitimate (according to some external criteria), effective or ineffective; and for each of them we can speak of its extent (number of subjects), intensity (degree of acceptance), scope (range of fields), ground, and source.

Epistemic authority is authority based on knowledge. The justification for Y's believing p is both that he has good reason to believe X when he says p and that it is a way Y gains knowledge. No one knows everything, and we all learn a great deal from other people, from reference books others have written, from maps others have drawn, and so on. If we each had to learn everything first hand mankind would scarcely have moved out of the Stone Age. It would be absurd for an anarchist to deny epistemic authority, or to deny that some people knew things which others could learn from them not by demonstration of the truth of what they said but simply from belief. But the anarchist (such as Bakunin)20 while admitting the legitimacy of epistemic authority rightly emphasizes both that ultimately the reason for accepting p is the belief that what p asserts is the case independently of X's saying so, and that epistemic authority by itself implies no right to command. Y is free to accept or reject what X says, and X has no right to force his assent. Nor, simply by virtue of his knowledge, does X have any right to command Y in any way.

Epistemic authority is related to authority grounded on competence. It would be a mistake to think that an anarchist is forced by consistency to deny that some people are more competent than others, or that when he required brain surgery he would, because of his principles, be as willing to let just anyone operate on him as letting a brain surgeon do the job. There is no reason to think that in a society without government someone would not bring his car to a mechanic to be fixed, and his shoes to a shoemaker to be repaired. Authority based on competence will exist no matter how society is organized. But the anarchist insists that though brain surgery, car repairing, and shoemaking require special skills and knowledge, this is not obviously the case in running a government -- where the talent most necessary has been to get elected or to be born into the right family. Part of what government does is set the ends which a society will pursue; and it is not the case that any special group knows better than the people themselves what the people want. The people should decide for themselves how they will spend their money, how much they want to be taxed, when and if they will go to war.

The authority of competence, therefore, remains in an anarchist society; but it does not extend to the governing of people. In industry as well as in areas of self-government presently presided over by state power there will be need for information, for facts, for knowledge; and so there will be the need for epistemic authorities in a great many areas. But they should not have any special right to decide what should be done; they should simply convey pertinent knowledge.

In ordinary practice the doctor is an example of an epistemic authority who also prescribes and whose prescription based on competence carries authority with it. But when a doctor says "Take two of these pills a day," he is not ordering his patient to do what the patient does not want to do. Presumably the patient goes to the doctor to improve his health. Both the doctor and the patient want the same thing: the health of the patient. The doctor's orders are therefore hypothetical: if you want to get better, then take two of these pills a day.

In both the case of epistemic authority and of authority based on competence, the benefit that the subject hopes to derive supplies the rationale under appropriate conditions for his acknowledgement or acceptance of the bearer of authority as an authority. The case is similar with parental authority. The basis and justification is the good of the child, with consent reasonably assumed. Parental authority arises from the fact that young children are not competent to care for themselves. Parents therefore have the authority to act for their children, and by their guidance to help them achieve a state of maturity. They do not make acts right or wrong, but they may well instruct the child in what is right and wrong by their commanding right actions for the child to do and wrong ones for him to avoid. The command to a young child not to play in the street is a means to keep him from getting run over and a way to teach him that certain actions will endanger him, even if no explanation is given together with the command. But parental authority diminishes as the child grows in competence and becomes able to act and think more and more for himself.

Some governments justify their actions on the model of parental authority. They claim that the ordinary member of the state is not competent to take care of himself or to know what is best for him; he must be constantly taught and cared for. And this is the job of a benevolent, paternalistic government. The anarchist need not deny the justifiability of parental authority with respect to children, but he does deny the validity of the claim that government can be justified in paternalistic terms. Grown men and women may vary in their intelligence, education, strength, and in a great many other ways. But each -- unless he is seriously impaired mentally or physically -- is free, should take responsibility for his actions, and knows his wants and needs better than some supposedly benevolent parent figure.

Operative authority is the type of authority that exists in any kind of freely established organization that claims to achieve the ends of its members. Such organizations range from an informal group or club to a business, or industry, and from the smallest scale to the largest. Organizational rules and the existence of officers in no way violate any of the principles of anarchism, so long as the organization is one in which the members are free to belong or not, the rules are made by the members, and the authority of the officers is given to them by the members in order that they may carry out the will of the members. Those with authority have it delegated to them by those subject to it, who hold them accountable and subject to review and removal. This stands in direct opposition to imposed authority, or authoritarianism, which since it is initiated from above is not revokable by those subject to it.

Operative authority may be substitutional in that the authorities act for those whom they represent; or it may be substantive either in the sense that the members of a group agree that those placed in authority may make decisions for them or in the sense that those in authority have the right to command them in matters relating to their common end. The very nature of an enterprise often demands this, as an orchestra needs a conductor and a ship a captain. But this does not mean that either the conductor or the captain can issue commands arbitrarily or that he is not to be held accountable or that he cannot be summarily removed. Removal need not constitute mutiny.

The claim that anarchism is the negation of all authority is therefore not true. Nor need the operation of a group involve unanimous agreement on what is decided for or by the group. Within the limits circumscribed by justice and morality continued membership in the group merely implies that the member finds that he achieves more of what he wants by belonging than he could otherwise.

There is one kind of operative group, however, which deserves particular mention since it poses particular problems and illustrates another facet of the relation of anarchism and authority. This is the entrepreneurial group. Such a group is established to achieve some end and then hires or otherwise gets others to work toward that end. The organizers of this group aggregate the authority for running their enterprise to themselves, and others who join or belong come into an organization which they did not form, but one with which they affiliate for reasons of their own. We can distinguish within this group the service organization from the production organization. In the first the entrepreneurs organize and specify the conditions and advantages of membership; those who join have no control and no authority to make changes. But the authority the organizer exercises, which is given him by the members through joining, is to act for them; it is not any right to command them, though he may make hypothetical demands on them such as if they wish some a they must do some b (e.g., pay a fee). If the organization is truly a free one, there is no reason why it could not exist in an anarchistic society. But if it is not truly free, if for instance, one could receive electricity, which is a necessity of modern life, only by becoming a member of the electrical association, then different principles (particularly that of justice) apply, and the bearer of authority is not free to set any conditions he chooses.

The production type of entrepreneurial authority involves the bearer of authority in hiring others to help him produce certain goods. He sets the conditions of employment and retains the authority, which he exercises and which does not come from those whom he hires. Moreover, his authority is not representative, but imperative, in that he commands those whom he hires to do certain tasks in return for which he pays them. Now if this type organization were truly free, then the anarchist would have no legitimate complaint. But he argues that in a society in which all work is organized in this way, men become forced laborers even though they are not forced to work at any particular job. The system as a whole is a forced one, and hence the conditions of work cannot be set only by the bearer of authority. Secondly, those who adopt the labor theory of value argue that the entrepreneur makes a profit by paying the worker less than the value he produces through his labor, which is intrinsically immoral. Thirdly, many anarchists argue that private ownership of capital also brings with it an emphasis on property, goods, wealth, and conspicuous consumption and so should be done away with in a good society for reasons other than those having to do with authority and its justifiable limits. Authority is to be circumscribed by justice and morality.

None of this should be taken to preclude the possibility of some people exercising leadership, providing the authority given the leader is justifiable in some of the ways indicated here or in some similar ways.

These form some of the positive features of authority. If we now turn to political authority, it might be argued that this is simply another type of operational authority; but instead of speaking about a club or an industry, we are speaking about a state; and instead of speaking about rules, we are speaking about laws; and instead of speaking about officers we speak about officials or leaders or members of the government. The ploy is a plausible one; and with the proper substitution of terms, if it could be shown to be comparable to the model of operative authority described above, it might even satisfy the anarchist. It might do so if its officials were easily recallable when they failed to perform as the people wanted; if they acted as the representatives of the people and for their good as the latter saw it; if the rules were adopted for their good and achieved their purposes; and if it were possible for the society to be freely joined and freely left.


Conditions of universal direct democracy are not strict requirements for most anarchists. For whenever one joins smaller groups and abides by decisions of the group with which he disagrees, he may well remain a member if he feels that he has more to gain by sometimes being outvoted than by leaving, that is, if he gets what he wants more often than he otherwise could, even though he does not always get what he wants. If he were always outvoted and never achieved any good from his association, then the achievement of his own ends would not be a reason for remaining a member, and he could not be legitimately forced to remain one.

Traditionally, political authority is considered a special type of authority, in part because the state is not a free association; its rules apply to all members of the state, and they cover a very broad field. For the anarchist such authority, since unjustifiable, should be replaced by various kinds of operative authority, which should be justified in terms of the good (freedom, justice, well-being) of its members and the possibility of their achieving their individual, freely chosen aims.

If laws are the instrument by which rulers of a state dominate the others, there will be no law in this sense in an anarchist society. But there will be certain rules of society, publicly stated and considered binding.

For the communitarian anarchist, freedom is not equivalent to license. The principle of freedom which he accepts establishes the right of each person to act as he wishes insofar as this is consistent with the right of every other person to do likewise. An individual's moral autonomy is completely compatible with his being subject to the moral law. The laws which an individual gives himself should be rational and universally applicable. Hence if respect for human life is morally right and murder morally wrong, they cannot be made otherwise by someone deciding to legislate differently for himself. The moral law therefore is the same for all rational creatures. To be subject to the moral law is to be free, and all men to the extent that they are rational beings are free together when subject to it. Autonomy and moral law are in this view not only mutually compatible, but autonomy requires the moral law. Thus, if the rules governing a society are moral rules, they in no way impinge on the freedom of any individual.

The basic rules of society turn out to be the basic moral rules common to almost all societies, which outlaw such things as murder and violence against another member of the society, dishonesty, and injustice, and which promote respect for the freedom of each member of society and respect for him as an end in himself.21 Since freedom and autonomy are to be tempered by justice -- equality of treatment and opportunity -- and concern for the welfare of all individuals, exploitation is precluded.22 What in general is outlawed by both the moral law and present-day criminal law would continue to be outlawed. Those aspects of civil law which specify and facilitate certain kinds of activities will also be continued.23

If the state is an instrument of oppression, there will be no state in this sense in anarchist society. But this does not preclude organizations, administration, or delegated authority. Nation-states will be replaced by a variety of self-governing units. As organizations develop they may eventually approach the scope of present-day national or international levels. Size does not bother the anarchist. What he objects to is the state's claimed right to interfere with the autonomy of individuals or of groups, to impose its will on them, or to usurp their functions. But this does not preclude an internal arrangement among groups in a society such that there are recognized rules specifying the limits of their autonomous actions and governing them in accordance with the principles of justice and in a manner analogous to the regulation of the conduct of responsible, morally autonomous individuals.

There may be a variety of functions which a large territorial group may perform which smaller units cannot. But there is no reason to assume that the same units must carry out all the functions on that level. With the rise of worldwide trade and commerce many regions of the world are increasingly interdependent. Multinational corporations already operate beyond national boundaries and form natural groupings. Without national boundaries the fear of invasion by a foreign nation will no longer be a problem, since there will be no other nations.24 The fear of violence and the need for some sort of security force -- voluntary or other -- may be necessary; but it should be controlled by those below and serve their interests, and not be controlled by any particular group or state.

In the economic realm private ownership would be discarded, and industry would be run on the self-management principle, according to which those involved make the decisions and operate the industry, not for the benefit of stockholders, but jointly for the benefit of themselves and of society. Competition would be allowed where it enhances productivity, and spontaneously discarded where it does not. Since there would be no state, state ownership is precluded, as well as private ownership of capital. The very notion of ownership would be superseded for land as well as for everything beyond personal possessions, and these would be kept within reasonable limits, since prestige would not be based on what one had.

There may of course be conflicts between justice, freedom, and well-being, which will have to be resolved. Some persons will be inclined to disrupt social harmony. But protection from them does not require state apparatus. To insure justice certain recognized unabridgeable and inalienable rights must be recognized and there must be effective procedures to protect the innocent and settle disputes. But minor offenses can well be handled locally by neighborhood groups, which could sit as informal courts and dispense reasonable sanctions which they could enforce -- be it a fine or suspension of privilege for a certain period, or some extra work, or schooling (e.g., for traffic abuses). More serious crimes could be handled differently, though such cases too should be heard quickly and need not involve penal institutions of the sort most states presently have.

The highest social organs that enforce the general rules governing society so as to provide protection of individual rights and the fair adjudication of disputes and breaches of the rules need not be large; their charge should be as narrow as possible, and their members recallable. Society without a state thus means that the various organs necessary for running society will not be centrally controlled and a variety of different groups of varying sizes will operate at any number of levels to replace the monolithic organization of modern states.

Finally, if anarchist principles provide the basis for something like government, it is the basis for a minimal government, closely controlled from below and responsive to those below; it is anti-bureaucratic, and dedicated to lower autonomous units doing as much as possible before any task is taken on by units above.

This broad brush sketch leaves many of the details to be filled in. But it is typical of most anarchists to refrain from filling in all the details as to how society should be organized. It suffices to point out the defects of the present systems and the basis of the future system, and then in the spirit of freedom let people evolve their own kinds of organizations necessary to fulfill their own purposes.

The anarchist has frequently overstated his theses, which have as frequently been dismissed without an adequate hearing. His threshold of acceptance of political authority is exceedingly high; his faith in the rationality and morality of the ordinary person has little in common with what many people experience in their dealings with their fellow men; and his scheme for bringing about his desired anarchist society is distressingly vague. He leaves many practical questions unanswered. Hence he is an idealistic Utopian and not a political realist. Nonetheless his model of the good society is not as absurd or chaotic as frequently imagined. In particular I have argued that a consistent, rational anarchism is perfectly compatible with many forms of authority. In a time when the dangers of unlimited power, the need for rethinking the structure of government, and the necessity of developing new social models have been made perfectly clear, anarchism forces us to reconsider and defend those forms of authority we consider legitimate. It also helps us discover those forms which are illegitimate, and it challenges us to refuse to submit to them. In these respects anarchism is not an outdated nineteenth-century doctrine, but a timely antidote to political and moral complacency.


1. Thus the United States government is vastly larger, more complex, more bureaucratic, possibly more secretive, and more authoritarian than at the time of its inception. To claim that "it was good enough for Washington, so it's good enough for me," fails to take into account how "it" has changed.

Carl J. Friedrich suggests that political authority involves a "capacity for reasoned elaboration" (Tradition and Authority [London: Macmillan, 1972], p. 52). Acceptance of such authority, if he is correct, implies the belief that there is such a capacity. But such belief does not imply that a valid, reasoned elaboration can actually be produced.

2. Whether this is what anarchists actually wish to achieve is questionable. Max Nomad, for instance, in reviewing James Joll's The Anarchists (Saturday Review, 24 April 1966) shrewdly remarks that in fact Proudhon sought to establish a decentralized democracy. Bakunin mentions in an unpublished letter the need for an "invisible dictatorship," and the anarcho-syndicalists wished to give all power to the union leaders or to municipal governments. See also Nomad's The Anarchist Tradition and Other Essays (New York, 1967) (available at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace).

3. There are anarchists of the right such as Murray Rothbard (For a New Liberty [New York: Macmillan, 1973]) who defend private property and free enterprise. Since Professor Rothbard is presenting his own paper in this volume, I shall not attempt to speak for him or for other "anarchists of the right."

4. The list would vary slightly depending on the individual anarchists included. For Max Stirner self-ownership is absolute; for Leo Tolstoy, obedience to divine law; for William Godwin (at least at times), peace. The argument, however, remains substantially the same in all these cases.

5. Broadly speaking, a law may be internally justified (in the sense of being formally valid) by showing that it has been passed by the appropriate bodies, in the specified way, and that it conforms to the constitution of the state. Justifying law in general within a state might be considered internally as similar to justifying rules for a game: they are to some extent constitutive of it. The state, the government, and the law are all internally related in that they form a system and their definitions form a conceptual network. Similarly, political obligation and political freedom make sense only within such a political framework. The anarchist does not deny that such rationales can be given either for law, the state, or government in general or for particular instances of them, or for political obligation or limited political freedom. What he denies is that any justification in a strong sense, that is, any external justification -- for instance, on moral grounds -- can be provided for political systems as such. And without such justification he sees no reason for accepting any political system and claims that he cannot rightfully be forced to belong to one.

6. The definitions, held for instance by Bakunin (Bakunin on Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff [New York: Vintage Books, 1972], passim) and other anarchists, were also held by Marx and his followers.

7. For example, see William Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Benjamin Tucker's Instead of a Book, Max Stirner's The Ego and His Own, and Emma Goldman's Anarchism and Other Essays. Two readily available anthologies containing extracts from the anarchists are Leonard I. Krimerman and Lewis Perry, eds., Patterns of Anarchy (New York: Anchor Books, 1966), and Marshall Shatz, ed., The Essential Works of Anarchism (New York: Bantam, 1971).

8. Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1970).

9. For a reply to this book see Jeffrey H. Reiman, In Defense of Political Philosophy (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1972).

10. Richard Taylor, Freedom, Anarchy and the Law (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973), pp. 46-54.

11. Lisa H. Perkins, "On Reconciling Autonomy and Authority," Ethics, LXXXII (1972), 114-23.

12. Rex Martin, "Wolff's Defense of Philosophical Anarchism," The Philosophical Quarterly, XXIV (1974), pp. 140-49.

13. The relevant texts of Marx, Engels, and Lenin on anarchism have been collected in Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndycalism (New York: International Publishers, 1972).

14. Daniel Guerin, Anarchism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970).

15. For samples of his views see Patterns of Anarchy, pp. 449-72.

16. For instance, in reply to the charge that a society without a government and without an army would be easy prey to the armed forces of another country, the anarchist replies first, that he expects anarchism to spread so that there will be no nation states; and secondly, even if anarchism were to succeed initially in only one country, no foreign power would gain much by the use of its arms with respect to it. For without a centralized government to take over, any invader would find no seat of authority to capture and replace. It would find a multitude of independent overlapping organizations, together with a people who individually would not readily submit to losing their freedom. Under these conditions no army could keep a whole large population in subjugation, nor could any foreign power manipulate such people through the ordinary means of manipulation -- law, police, government -- since these will have been done away with and could not easily be restored.

17. Bakunin's critique of Marxism with respect to the dictatorship of the proletariat has been vindicated by history. The descriptions in Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago go far beyond Bakunin's worse fears.

18. Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism, p. 4; D. D. Raphael, Problems of Political Philosophy (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), p. 67.

19. For a fuller analysis of epistemic authority, see my paper, "The Function and Limits of Epistemic Authority," The Southern Journal of Philosophy, VIII (1970), pp. 199-204.

20. Bakunin on Anarchy, pp. 229-33.

21. The anarchist could adopt much, though not all, of Rawls's theory of justice. He could adopt in any event the "veil of ignorance" in order to argue for some specific principles of justice and freedom.

22. The close relation of freedom and justice is clear, for instance in the "Revolutionary Catechism" partially reprinted in Bakunin on Anarchy, pp. 76-97.

23. The remaining cases, namely, those in which laws do not command what is immoral, do not simply repeat the moral law, and are not indirectly moral, may be troublesome, since it is frequently difficult to determine what their relation to morality is. An example would be tax laws. There is certainly a legal obligation to pay one's taxes. But whether there is also a moral obligation to do so depends on more than legislation: e.g., are the taxes just and justly imposed?

24. It is noteworthy that many of those who defend the state and its sovereignty against anarchists promote anarchy in its negative sense on the international level by refusing to give up any sovereignty.