The Review of Politics, Vol. 20, No. 3. (Jul., 1958), pp. 307-329.

The Place of Anarchism in the History of Political Thought

D. Novak


Anarchism is one of those concepts about which there generally is deep ignorance or profound misunderstanding.* "In the popular mind," says Bertrand Russell, "an Anarchist is a person who throws bombs and commits other outrages, either because he is more or less insane, or because he uses the pretence of extreme political opinions as a cloak for criminal proclivities."1 Yet in the history of political thought, as well as in the history of social movements, anarchism has played a role which cannot be overlooked.

Anarchism is not only a political theory in the narrow meaning of the term, but also a social theory understood in the broad sense. As such a theory, anarchism -- since it is concerned with the problems of power, authority, and coercion, especially as manifested in the machinery of the State, and since it strives to show how the exercise of power of man over man, together with the institutions through which it is carried out, should be eradicated -- necessarily deals with the complex problems of both national and international politics. Anarchism, however, while paying attention to the individual as a citizen of the State, is interested in him also as a human being, as a member of various groups of human beings, and as a member of the human race. Thus in the consideration of the problems of men, whether a given problem be conceived narrowly or broadly, in the relation of man to man, of one citizen to another, of a citizen to the State, or in the relation of State with State, and [308] whether it be conceived in economic, political, social or ethical terms, anarchism as a social philosophy will be found to express a judgment.

Like many other political and social theories, anarchism starts from premises based on the appraisal of human nature, from which it draws its conclusions concerning the right kind of social organization. Unlike other reformist and revolutionary theories, however, anarchism much more readily and determinedly refutes or supplements the accepted tenets of other theories and develops new principles and interpretations, always questioning the very foundations of social institutions, both those existing and those envisaged by other reformers and revolutionaries.

Peter Kropotkin defined anarchism as a "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 authority, but by free agreements concluded between various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being."2 Oscar Jaszi points out that "Anarchism covers so many distinct conceptions and tendencies that it is difficult to reduce them all to a common denominator," and considers anarchism not so much a social theory as "a mass ideology colored by many emotional and religious elements."3 In this approach Jaszi comes close to Zenker, who considers both anarchism and socialism "forms of idolatry" with different idols, "religions and not sciences, dogmas and not speculations," and kinds of "honestly meant social mysticism" which strive for "the establishment of a terrestrial Eden, of a land of the absolute Ideal, whether it be Freedom or Equality."4 Jaszi, by drawing attention to the variety of conceptions and tendencies covered by the term "anarchism," also comes close to Paul Eltzbacher in his judgment of anarchism.5 With these provisions in mind, however, Jaszi thinks that anarchism can [309]

be defined as "an attempt to establish justice (that is, equality and reciprocity) in all human relations by the complete elimination of the state (or by a genuine minimization of its activity) and its replacement by an entirely free and spontaneous co-operation among individuals, groups, regions, and nations."6

According to Zenker, the essence of anarchism, expressing all that is common to various anarchist trends, is contained in the following sentence: "Anarchism means, in its ideal sense, the perfect, unfettered self-government of the individual and, consequently, the absence of any kind of external government."7 Ludwik Kulczycki understands by anarchism "a doctrine whose ideal is a social system realizing complete freedom," and points out that "the elimination of all forms of State, all binding laws and all institutions, which may have arisen on the basis of an agreement but later came to be enforced, leads to this ideal."8 A psychological approach to the meaning of anarchism, reflecting the impact of psychology on political thought, is adopted by Herbert Read: "I would define the anarchist as the man who, in his manhood, dares to resist the authority of his father; who is no longer content to be governed by a blind unconscious identification of the leader and the father and by the inhibited instincts which alone make such an identification possible."9

Paul Eltzbacher in his Anarchism attempted to arrive at an extensive definition of anarchism by studying seven thinkers, Godwin, Proudhon, Stirner. Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tucker, and Tolstoy, as the representatives of all anarchist thought. He selected quotations from the works of each on the purpose of life and human society, law, the State, property, and the "realization," that is, on the means advocated to achieve their ideal. He then divided their teachings into various categories and sub-categories, and found nothing in common in their views on the purpose of life and human society, law, property, and the advocacy of means. The only [310] element that Eltzbacher found to be common to all their teachings was that for the future they rejected the State.10

Eltzbacher's treatment of anarchist theories is too mechanistic, his selectiveness of quotations narrows the breadth and depth of comprehension, and his interpretations can often be shown to be incorrect. Nevertheless, his emphasis on the differences existing between the leading anarchist theorists, particularly in their views on the basis of individual and social life, draws attention to an aspect of anarchism which renders it more difficult to understand and to present systematically than most other social theories. One need not go so far as the anarchist writer who said that "there are as many variations of Anarchism as there are Anarchists,"11 but one cannot fail to realize that the differences between various anarchist theories and theorists, as well as the emphasis laid upon the right to differ, are part of the nature of anarchism. In the sphere of anarchism as a political movement, this attitude is reflected in the looseness of groups, which cannot be considered organizations on the pattern of political parties, and which lack accepted leadership and discipline. It can also be noted in the lack of a general program to which all members have to subscribe, and in the freedom left to individual members to advocate views and measures that may be in conflict with those of the majority.12

In spite of the differences, there are certain underlying features [311] which are common to all anarchist trends. These features stand out in the several definitions of anarchism given above and are contained in most other definitions of anarchism or in treatises on it.13 The rejection of the State, listed by Eltzbacher, is one feature, but it is not the only one common to the various anarchist trends. Even, if looked upon as a basic principle of anarchism, implied in the very word, the rejection of the State can still be looked upon as following from another principle, namely, the acknowledgment and assertion of the independent value of the individual and his right to a free and full development. The essence of anarchist thought is the emphasis on the freedom of the individual, leading to the denial and condemnation of any authority which hinders his free and full development, particularly the State. The rejection of all authority represents the main contribution of anarchism to political thought and distinguishes it from other political and social theories some of which, for example, liberalism, may have other features similar to anarchism, and may even start from the same basis. Bound up with these fundamental ideas are the theories and criticisms of law and government, of property, of the whole social and economic system and patterns of behavior prevalent in it, and of the ways and means suggested or preached as remedies or panaceas for the evils. Underlying all these thoughts and constantly present in them, whether explicitly or implicitly, are views of human nature. It may, then, be suggested that the various anarchist trends have in common a belief in individual freedom and a denial of authority, especially in the form of the State. In the development of these fundamental ideas, however, there are differences among anarchists relating to the questions of government, law, property, social and economic institutions, revolutions, and so on. They also -- and this, at first sight, may seem incongruous -- have varying views on human nature.


Anarchism as a social ideology is really a modern phenomenon. To use an analogy, it may be said that anarchism is like a tree [312] which attained its full development in the nineteenth century, while some of its roots were firmly implanted in the eighteenth, and some of its branches have reached into the twentieth century. Although this is true of anarchism as an ideology, the revolt against the subjugation of the individual by authority and the struggle for the assertion of the individual's rights to unfettered development and self-expression are probably as old as the existence of authoritarian and coercive institutions, and the ideas emphasizing the value of individual freedom and denouncing its restrictions by authority have been voiced by thinkers through the ages. Kropotkin actually sees a libertarian, anti-authoritarian tendency -- the tendency of mutual aid -- as an important evolutionary and historical factor. According to him, this tendency finds expression in the direct action of popular masses when they create organizations in defence of their rights against the encroachments of conquerors and powerful minorities, such as clans, village communities, guilds, and mediaeval cities.14 Although anthropologists and historians would not agree with Kropotkin's thesis in its entirety, owing to its emphasis on selected factors, his analysis nevertheless suggests a trend which every social science must study and which in modern times both individual and social psychology attempt to analyze and explain.

Some writers on anarchism have attempted to trace anarchist ideas in thinkers and movements of the Western world from ancient times.15 One may not accept many claims made by these writers but, particularly in view of the largely critical and negative attitude of anarchism to social arrangements, one must be prepared to encounter anarchist traits in different, and sometimes even contradictory, ideas and systems of thought. Thus, as in the case of liberalism or socialism, it can be seen that views akin to anarchism, and sometimes clearly anarchist, have been formed in the West from [313] the times of the ancient Greeks to the nineteenth century in both the secular and religious spheres.16

Several of the schools of thought in ancient Greece in the sixth, fifth and fourth centuries B.C., in dealing with the problems of man in society, started from premises, or reached conclusions, which show an anarchist tinge.17 Both the Cynics and the Cyrenaics started from the emphasis on the individual as a law unto himself, proclaimed the search for individual happiness to be the goal of life, and advocated withdrawal from political affairs. The Cynics, revolting against the limitations imposed on the individual by social organizations, went so far as to disregard the conventions regarding sexual relations and propagated views similar to those associated with the anarchist concept of free love. On the other hand, the "perfected man of the world" of the Cyrenaics rejected religion and patriotism and developed a cosmopolitan position, reflected especially in the philosophy of Aristippus (about 435-360 B.C.).

The subjectivism and scepticism of the Sophists, embodied in their concept of the relativity of truth and the laws -- and shared by the Sceptics in whom they led to the conclusion that the individual should in many respects abstain from judgment -- are also intellectually akin to the anarchist position. Modern anarchists will fully agree with the Sophist view that social differences result not from nature but from social conventions, that the laws sanction these conventions in the interests of the powerful and the rich, and that justice, as Thrasymachus put it in the famous passage in The Republic,19, is nothing but the interest of the stronger.

The search for individual happiness, proclaimed by the Epicureans as the foundation of life, is also derived from the same intellectual roots from which the anarchists -- as well as the utilitarians and the liberals in general -- draw their concept of the aim of life. This attitude has sometimes given rise to a diffidence in an organization based on authority, be it State or Church, to a greater or lesser withdrawal from political life, or to a definite denial [314] of the right of such an organization to function and a struggle against it.

The Stoic ideals of individualism, rationalism, and equality, of the fraternity of men, world citizenship, and cosmopolitanism, also remind one of the ideals enunciated by anarchism. Some fundamental tenets of the philosophy of the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium (336-264 B.C.), bear such affinity to anarchist communism that he may be called its forerunner. He proclaimed the supremacy of the moral law and opposed to Plato's State communism his own ideal of a free community without government. Together with the self-preservation instinct which leads to egoism there is in man, in Zeno's view, the social instinct which makes him join others and co-operate with them for the common good. If men followed their natural instincts, they would live in peace and harmony with their neighbors and there would be no need of coercive institutions. Law courts, police, armies, temples and priests, and even money, would be unnecessary. Men would reach a stateless society of perfect equality and freedom, in which the original attributes of human nature would attain their full expression, so that universal harmony would extend over the whole world.19

During the Middle Ages and for several decades following the Reformation the enunciation of ideas attracting the attention of a student of anarchism must be perceived in their broader religious context. During uprisings and rebellions, such as that of 1381 in England, some drastic measures undoubtedly were advocated, but one may be easily mistaken in considering them anarchist.20

One of the effects of the Renaissance, and partly also of a reaction to the Reformation in secular matters, was a revival of anti-authoritarian tendencies in the writings of such men as Rabelais, Fenelon and de la Boetie, whose kinship to anarchism has not passed unclaimed.21 The same can be said about the ideas of the [315] eighteenth century rationalists, above all the French Encyclopedists. Their concepts of rationality, natural law, natural rights, and the freedom of the individual, are not only essential tenets of the liberal doctrine, but also elements which the liberals and anarchists share, although with a different emphasis. In their enthusiasm, however, the French rationalists sometimes voiced clearly anarchist sentiments, as did Diderot, for instance, in his famous remark, "La nature n'a fait ni serviteurs ni maitres, je ne veux ni donner ni recevoir des lois" It must not be forgotten, either, that, no matter what else can be said about Rousseau's romanticism, its idealization of the state of nature and its criticism of organized society in the several Discourses suggest its affinity to anarchism.

It should be noted that during the French Revolution, when radical voices were heard from several quarters, the term "anarchist" was actually used, but there is a conflict of opinion as to its meaning. According to Kropotkin, the word "anarchists" was then used by the Girondists to cover those revolutionaries who were not satisfied with the overthrow of the monarchy alone and wanted to introduce a series of economic measures for the benefit of the people.22 This assertion, however, is not substantiated by Brunot, who says that the term "anarchist" had no precise meaning during the French Revolution, and was used predominantly as a term of opprobrium.23

In common with secular anarchism, religious anarchism attacks and rejects authority exercised by men over men, but it differs from secular anarchism in deriving its conclusions from the Scriptures, as understood and interpreted by the individual or a group of like-minded individuals. To most people, religious anarchism is associated with the name of Leo Tolstoy, but more or less pronounced anarchist traits can be detected in the ideas and practices of various Christian sects and groups.24 [316]

One of the first of these groups were probably the followers of Carpocrates of Alexandria in the second century who preached rejection of authority, elimination of the State and private property, and the combination of liberty in actions with communism in goods. The Beghards or Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit in the thirteenth century, also known as the Amalrikites after their founder, Amalrich of Bena, professor of theology in Paris, were another such sect. From their pantheism and from the belief in the divine nature of the soul they concluded that the will of men was only a reflection of the will of God, and that men should be free to follow their desires. They, therefore, rejected authority in the form of State and Church institutions, preached equality, and practiced community of goods. The Czech historian, Palacky, points out that the ideas of the Adamites, a small sect which existed some time during the early period of the Hussite wars in the fifteenth century in Bohemia, are related to those of the Beghards.25 They were also known as Nicolites after a peasant who preached their views, or as the "naked ones," because some of them appeared naked, believing themselves possessed of the innocence of Paradise. They thought that they were directly influenced by the Holy Ghost and, like the Beghards, that their will embodied the will of God. Hence they also resisted secular and ecclesiastical authority, and held property and wives in common.

Several other Christian sects and groups in the Middle Ages and at the beginning of the New Age developed anti-authoritarian views and practices, which they professed with varying determination. Thus the Waldenses and the Albigenses in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, some sections of the Hussites in the early fifteenth century. and the Anabaptists and the early Quakers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, refused to submit to the commands of the secular powers when they believed them to violate Christian principles. They condemned war and capital punishment, and refused [317] to obey some laws or to take the oath. Starting from the affirmation of the equality of men, they proclaimed the individual's right to interpret the Bible for himself, postulating, explicitly or implicitly, the possibility of the individual's attainment of the "inner light," of seeing things for himself, which is also assumed in anarchist individualism. The refusal of some Anabaptists and the early Quakers to uncover their heads in the presence of kings or magistrates, as well as the Quaker habit of addressing others as "thou" and not "you," is another example of this equalitarianism and individualism. So is also the emphasis on the voluntary basis of their group life, again evident among the Anabaptists and the Quakers, expressed in the opposition to the Church (the designation of the Quaker groups as the Society of Friends is significant here), and connected with the custom of election of preachers by the congregation or of having no preachers at all.26

Poverty was sometimes beleived to be the proper condition of man, for instance, by the Waldenses and by the "perfected" ones of the Albigenses, but the ideal of equality often led to the preaching and practice of communism, at least in the goods of consumption. Such communism was known not only among the Beghards, but also among some sections of the Hussites, the Bohemian Brethren, and the Anabaptists.27

Among some of the sects, especially when times were deemed unfavorable, there arose chiliastic views whose vision of the future bears some resemblance to the anarchist picture of a Stateless society. The millennarians, as Troeltsch calls them, "looked for the [318] advent of Christ, and for the setting up of the true Kingdom of the 'Saints', without priest or sacrament, law or oath, king or government, for the kingdom of the complete Christian anarchy of love."28 Chiliasm appeared among the Hussites, some of whom strongly believed in the coming of a millennium without kings or other rulers, without laws, taxes, and other forms of oppression, when God's law would rule supreme,29 as well as among the Anabaptists after the Münster disaster of 1525. It was the core of the beliefs of the Fifth Monarchy Men30 in England in Cromwell's times who, like some anarchist revolutionaries, expected much destruction to take place before mankind could be ushered into the millennium. The Fifth Monarchy Men were naturally targets of much criticism and hostility.31

The most systematic and best developed attack on the State and the Church in the Middle Ages came from the pen of a Czech peasant, Petr Chelcicky, whose tracts were written during and after the Hussite wars. His most mature work, Sit viry,32 has drawn words of praise from Tolstoy.33 This book is a sharp criticism of the contemporary Church and a plea for the return to the simple [319] life of the early Christians. The Christians, claims Chelcicky, united by love, are equal to one another and, guided by Christ's law, can lead a good life without secular powers. The laws of Christ, which should govern the Christians, were created by God, while the laws of the State were created by men. The laws of the State, therefore, pertain to material things and are enforced, whereas the laws of Christ pertain to spiritual matters and are accepted on faith. The Christian has only one king, Christ Himself, and, governed by His law, does good voluntarily, so that he has no need of secular powers and the force which they apply. If the whole world became Christian, there would be no kings, no secular authorities, law would dissolve in love, sin would disappear, and peace would become the rule.

Chelcicky does not, as is sometimes assumed, reject all secular power. No, there are many non-Christians in the world, people who do not know the perfect law of God and do not live by its precepts, and to preserve justice and peace among such people, secular power is necessary. Chelcicky emphasizes, however, that this power belongs to the imperfect, material, pagan world. A Christian, belonging to the world of God, cannot participate in it.

It is clear that modern anarchism has had its intellectual predecessors. It should, however, be pointed out that one may be easily misled into attributing anarchist elements to anti-authoritarian principles which themselves are only parts of a wider philosophy without any deep affinity to anarchism, or which are only fragmentary.34 Sometimes the anti-authoritarian ideas have been held only vaguely, being based on a belief in a past Golden Age when human nature was not corrupted and everybody lived in happiness and plenty -- a belief which was given classic expression by Ovid.35 Among members of some religious sects this attitude was connected with the belief in the original sinlessness of man and his happy existence in Paradise. Occasionally, when projected into [320] the future, it gave rise to a belief in the millennium which was to come and return to man his lost happiness.


With the publication, in 1793, of William Godwin's An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, there began a systematic elaboration and formulation of modern anarchist thought, based upon a comprehensive analysis of the economic, political and social factors, as well as upon scientific, ethical and philosophical thought.36 This elaboration and presentation was effected, after Godwin, chiefly by Proudhon, Bakunin, Stirner, Tucker, Tolstoy, and Kropotkin. Other anarchist writers, for instance, Elisee Reclus, Enrico Malatesta, Jean Grave, Domela Nieuwenhuis, A. Hamon, Max Nettlau, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and others, draw mainly on their work. Apart from Tolstoy's religious anarchism, the theorists of anarchism adhere mostly to anarcho-communism, and some also to anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-individualism.

Since the latter part of the last century anarchism has taken predominantly the anarcho-communistic form advocated by Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921 ),37 whose ideas are in many respects [321] related to those of William Godwin (1756-1836), Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865),38 probably the first man to call himself an anarchist,39 and Michael Bakunin (1814-1876).40 The term "anarchist communism" was coined by Peter Kropotkin who first advocated its use at an international anarchist congress in Switzerland in 1880,41 believing that it conveyed the idea of unity or harmony between individual freedom and a "well-ordered" social life. Anarchist communism views the individual as essentially a social being who can achieve full development only in society, while society can benefit only when its members are free. Individual and social interests are not contradictory but complementary and would attain their natural harmony if authoritarian social institutions, particularly the State, established to create and perpetuate the privileges of some at the expense of others, did not interfere.

Anarcho-syndicalism lays emphasis on the economic as opposed to the political struggle of the working class. It believes that the trade unions, or syndicates, can serve both as leading units in the present-day struggle for the amelioration of the conditions of the workers, and as the bases of a new economic organization of society after a victorious revolution, in which the General Strike is to play the leading part. The anarcho-syndicalists intend to abolish the State and carry on the activities of society through the syndicates, [322] associated by industries and localities. Syndicalism has been an important part of the working class movement in France, especially since the congress in Limoges in 1895, and before the Civil War in Spain in 1936-1939 the anarcho-syndicalist movement was also strong in that country.42 Anarcho-syndicalism has produced no outstanding theoretician of its own, and its principles are sometimes accepted by anarcho-communists in their approach to the economic problems of society.43

The two outstanding representatives of anarchist individualism are Max Stirner (1806-1856) in Germany and Benjamin Tucker (1854-1939) in the United States of America. Stirner developed his views in Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, published in Leipzig in 1845.44 The core of his message was the proclamation of the absolute freedom of the individual. The individual has the right to do whatever he wants, and everything that would curtail his freedom must be fought against. Stirner is not only against the State, the law and private property, but also against many concepts, such as God, country, family, and love, because they claim the individual's allegiance and thus limit his freedom. He did not condemn all ideals as useless, but emphasized that they should be pursued for purely egoistic reasons, for the pleasure and happiness of the individual, and not because they were a duty. He advocated an "association of egoists," which individuals could freely enter to pursue their particular interests, and leave when and as they pleased. Men should undergo an inward change, come to the realization of their own individuality and their own good, and by a violent insurrection overthrow the existing system.

Tucker started with the assumption that every man had the right to oppress other men, provided he had the power to do so. The life of the individual, however, being intimately linked with that of society, it is in the pure self-interest of every individual to grant equal liberty to others. "Mind your own business!" then becomes the moral law of the anarchist. The State interferes with [323] the freedom of the individual and therefore should be abolished, but property in the products of one's own labor is justified. Tucker also admitted the usefulness of a flexible law, which should be applied by jury, particularly in cases of violation of personal liberty and of contract. He advocated peaceful spreading of the anarchist ideas by the printed and spoken word to convince a sufficient number of people of the advantages of anarchism, which would then be gradually established.45

The religious anarchism of Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) follows from his interpretation of the teachings of Christ, which is very similar to Chelcicky's. Tolstoy emphasizes that it is the teaching of love which is the "fundamental essence of the soul." Only by substituting the law of man for the law of God do men justify violence, oppression, inequality. By following the law of God, men will love, help and forgive one another, and live in peace and harmony without having any use for government, man-made laws, courts, police, armies, prisons, and private property. While living in a corrupted world, the Christians should support neither the State nor the Church and offer passive resistance to them. Tolstoy believes that simple agricultural life best suits human nature and urges return to such a life.46

It may be noted that among our contemporaries the members of the Russian sect of the "Christians of the Universal Brotherhood," better known as the Doukhobors, adhere to and follow several principles held by Tolstoy, such as disobedience of governmental authorities in certain matters of conscience, rejection of an official Church, pacifism, agricultural life.47 [324]


The affinity of anarchism with liberalism has already been noted in this essay. Like liberalism, anarchism bases its social philosophy on the considerations of the value of the individual in terms of his freedom, happiness and prosperity. The same belief that, if individuals are left to pursue their natural desires, general benefit will be the result, is present in anarchism as in early liberalism. However, while the liberal doctrine has been qualified by the admission that some social authority is necessary to lead the "invisible hand" and see to it that the "natural" laws are not tampered with, anarchism refuses to accept such an admission. It still insists on applying the liberal idea of freedom in both the economic and political fields and it extends the liberal plea for a minimum of government to a complete negation of government: "When Jefferson clothes the basic concept of Liberalism in the words, 'That government is best which governs least,' then Anarchists say with Thoreau: That government is best which governs not at all.' "48 The anarchists deny the necessity of government because of their belief -- which most non-anarchists will dismiss as Utopian -- that the dictates of reason, or the social instincts of human nature, or both, if unhampered by external coercion, will secure free, harmonious social life. Such a life, moreover, will not display the inequalities which the liberals accept as a matter of fact, but will result in conditions of equality, reflected in socialistic or communistic arrangements.

Some writers on the political theory of anarchism, however, while accepting its kinship to liberalism, deny that anarchism is related to socialism either as a closely allied doctrine or as a branch of the general socialist theory, and indeed put anarchism and socialism as antitheses.49 Such judgment arises out of the conception of anarchism as a doctrine championing the rights of the individual against the rights of society, whereas socialism is conceived as a [325] doctrine emphasizing the rights of society against those of the individual. Although this distinction may seem acceptable at first sight, further considerations upset it. Even the individualist anarchists reach conclusions which bring them close to socialists, and the anarchist communists, as the name implies, by trying to reach a synthesis and harmony of the individual and communal, or social, tendencies of human nature, are again necessarily brought close to socialists.

Socialism aims at a new society based on the common ownership of all, or a considerable proportion of, the means of production and distribution, in order to create a state in which every individual will receive from society all he needs for the development of his capacities, and in return will contribute, according to his powers, to the benefit of other members of society. This is also the aim of anarchism, particularly the anarchist communism which is now practically the only anarchist trend. It is often forgotten that the aim of socialism is to secure for man the greatest happiness and freedom compatible with the equal claims of others. This is also the goal of anarchism, and it was one of Kropotkin's merits that he paid much attention to the problem of reconciling the individualistic and social proclivities in man.

Like socialism in general, anarchism is opposed to private ownership of land and capital. Bertrand Russell actually stresses their relation in this respect and says that both arose "from the perception that private capital is a source of tyranny by certain individuals over others."50 Socialism and anarchism differ in their professed aims. Even in this respect, however, the differences are not such as to violate their basic affinity: in its view of the ultimate "withering away" of the State Marxian socialism is closer to anarchism than to democratic socialism, while in their advocacy of the means for the transformation of society some anarchists, like the Marxists, preach violent revolution, and others, like the democratic socialists, advocate peaceful means. The advocacy and practice of individual terrorism by some anarchists, in particular towards the end of the last century, estranged them from the socialists, but terrorism was not condoned by the anarchist movement as a whole, and as a phenomenon arising out of extreme individualism [326] and oppressive social and political conditions it has not been confined to the anarchists alone.51

In the last century the anarchists considered themselves part of the socialist movement and were members of the International Working Men's Association until their split with the Marxists at the Hague Congress of the International in 1872. According to Kropotkin, they were at first called federalists, anti-authoritarians and anti-statists, but later their antagonists began to call them anarchists, using the word in a derogatory sense to denounce them as people set on causing disorder and chaos without contemplating the consequences of their actions.52 The anarchists themselves came to accept this designation, insisting at first on the word being written "an-archist", as Proudhon did in 1840, to denote that the term did not mean disorder but opposition to power. Gradually the word was accepted in its present form.

A. Hamon, attempting to determine the psychological characteristics of an anarchist by arranging and analyzing the answers given to questions by numbers of anarchists from various countries, came to the conclusion that the basic psychological traits of an anarchist were rebelliousness, love of freedom, self-love or individualism, love of one's neighbors or altruism, sensitiveness, sense of justice, sense of logic, desire for knowledge, and proselytism.53 These characteristics could very well be found to be typical of most socialists and humanitarians. Hamon actually speaks of an "anarchist-socialist," and admits that these psychological traits can be found among other anarchists.54

In this connection it is interesting to note that Le Revolte, the organ of the anarchist Jurasian Federation, which Kropotkin edited in Geneva, had, from its inception on February 22, 1879, until March 2, 1884, been designated as a "socialist organ," then two numbers appeared with the designation "anarchist organ," and only [327] after that was the expression "communist-anarchist organ" used. Similarly, Freedom, started with Kropotkin's help in London in October, 1886, began as a "journal of anarchist socialism," and only in June, 1889, was the expression "anarchist communism" used. In his writings Kropotkin considered anarchism a branch of socialism, referring to it, for example, as one of the schools of socialism,55 or as the left wing of socialism.56 This stand, taken by Kropotkin and reflecting the general attitude of his time, is accepted by most writers on political theories of socialism and anarchism.57

Modern anarchism, in common with all modern social theories, rejects any suggestions of being Utopian. It claims that its conceptions are derived from the analysis of tendencies which are at work in society and that its philosophical and ethical ideas are based on scientific notions, as far as these can be obtained in the study of man.58 Besides its appeal to science, it also points to the anarchist influence in modern art, literature and philosophy, citing as illustrations the names of John Stuart Mill, Spencer, Guyau, Fouille, Lessing, Fichte, Nietzsche, Wagner, Emerson, Whitman, Zola, Ibsen and others. Seen as a whole, modern anarchism represents a socialist trend which lays emphasis on individual liberty and social justice, and questions and revolts against everything that tends to produce and worship authority, regimentation, and uniformity.


The kinship of anarchism with socialism helps to explain both its relative strength in the second half of the last century and its decline in the present. Together with other branches of socialist thought in the last century, anarchism was a protest against the evils of the growing industrial society -- poverty, disease, ignorance, [328] oppression -- and a reaffirmation of the humanitarian principles of freedom, equality and justice. At a time when the State excluded vast numbers of people from the rights of citizenship, it was not difficult for many to accept the anarchist criticisms directed against it. However, as the economic, social and cultural conditions of the people gradually improved, and as the exercise of political power broadened, it became clear that anarchism misjudged the nature of social forces, in particular the nature and potentialities of political power, and inevitably declined.

Having assumed that the State, since it arose as a means of oppression of many by a few, must always be used for the same purpose, the anarchists denied a priori any possibility of changing the nature of the State. This genetic fallacy, as the logicians would call it, led them to argue against other socialists on the question of the State and to minimize or decry improvements gained through political means. Most of those who might otherwise have seen some attraction in the anarchist arguments were led to reject them, and supported the democratic socialists who advocated the necessity of effecting the desired social changes through the machinery of the State. The impact of this situation was reflected even among the West European Marxists who were accepting parliamentary government, rather than revolution, as a means of political struggle.59 Moreover, since the working class was gaining benefits through the State, it tended to look upon the economic struggle as a supplement to, and not the replacement of, the political struggle, as the anarchists urged it to do, and thus even in the syndicates and trade unions the anarchists were losing their influence. Much of what they said appeared unrealistic and utopian. Acts of individual terrorism, committed by some anarchists, especially towards the end of the last century, expressed their impatience and frustration, born of impotence and inability to face and solve social problems, and alienated even those who might otherwise have been sympathetic.

Historical development has proceeded in a direction different from that expected by the anarchists. The great importance today of what we have come to know as the "welfare State" reflects the [329] profound differences between the present concept of the nature and functions of the State and the laissez faire concept. Indeed, it may be suggested that in some significant respects we are adopting again the Aristotelian view of the State, and developing it further. As an uncompromising opponent of the State, and as a champion of small groups and conglomerations -- political, economic, cultural, social -- anarchism was compatible only with a less complex, and therefore more primitive, economic, political and social structure of society. Consequently, its influence in the industrial countries of the West in the present century has declined to infinitesimal proportions. However, as a libertarian philosophy, anarchism cannot be dismissed as unimportant, particularly in the field of social and political ethics.60 It is still of intellectual significance, presenting a challenge to our thought and making us re-examine our views.


* I wish to express my appreciation to Professor A. Brady of the University of Toronto, Professor M. A. Fitzsimons of the University of Notre Dame, and Mr. W. Pickles of the London School of Economics and Political Science for having read the manuscript, at different stages, and having given me the benefit of several valuable suggestions.

1 Bertrand Russell, Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism, and Syndicalism (London, 1918), p. 49.

2 P. Kropotkin, "Anarchism," Encyclopaedia Britannica (1947), I, 873.

3 O. Jaszi, "Anarchism," Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences (1942), II, 46.

4 E. V. Zenker, Anarchism: A Criticism and History of the Anarchist Theory (London, 1898), p. 4.

5 See P. Eltzbacher, Anarchism (New York, London, 1908), especially chaps. X, XI, and the Conclusion. Cf. below, the two paragraphs after the next.

6 Jaszi, loc. cit.

7 Zenker, op. cit., p. 7.

8 Ludwik Kulczycki, Soucasny anarchismus (Contemporary Anarchism), p. 15. This book was originally published in Polish in 1902, and a Russian translation of it appeared in 1907. The above quotation is from the Czech edition, published in Prague in 1910, which the author specially prepared by revising and supplementing some part of the book.

9 Herbert Read, Poetry and Anarchism (London, 1938), p. 78.

10 Eltzbacher, op. cit., pp. 276, 292.

11 John Wakeman, Anarchism and Democracy (London, 1920), p. 10.

12 This laxity of group discipline and regard for the freedom of the individual members were not fully preserved during the First World War when several leading anarchists, including Kropotkin, Grave and Cornelissen, supported the Allies. These anarchists were considered by the rest to have contravened the basic anarchist attitude of opposition to any war, and thus caused a split on what were deemed matters of principle. After the war, however, the breach was gradually healed.

During the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, the anarchist ideas of the freedom of the individual were not always put into practice as one might have expected from anarchists, and the fighting raised many questions which a revolutionist striving to realize an ideal by force must face. On the other hand, the behavior of the anarchists in the Civil War in Spain brought them admiration and praise from people otherwise alien to the anarchist ideas, for example, from George Orwell in his Homage to Catalonia (London, 1938).

In France there is an anarchist group, until recently, centered around Le Libertaire, which has begun to question and reject the idea of complete freedom of the individual member within a group, and to demand a certain degree of organizational responsibility and discipline.

13 See, for instance, A. R. Parsons and others, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis (Chicago, 1887); A. Hamon, Psychologie de l'anarchiste-socialiste (Paris, 1893) ; Les hommes et les theories de l'anarchie (Paris, 1895); E. Goldman, Anarchism and other Essays (New York, 1911); A. Berkman, The ABC of Anarchist Communism (London, 1942); R. Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism (London, 1938); E. Malatesta, Anarchy, 8th ed. (London, 1949).

14 See especially his Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (London, 1902) and Ethics: Origin and Development (New York, 1924).

15 This was done in a very general way by Zenker, op. cit., chap. I, and by E. A. Vizetelly, The Anarchists: Their Faith and their Record (London, 1911), chap. I. Kropotkin went into greater detail in "Anarchism," Ency. Brit. (1947), I, 873-877, and in a series of articles, "L'Anarchie," Les Temps Nouveaux, January 21st to April 29th, 1911. The most comprehensive treatment so far undertaken appears in the first eight chapters (66 pp.) of Max Nettlau's Der Vorfrühling der Anarchie: ihre historische Entwicklung von den Anfangen bis zum Jahre 1864 (Berlin, 1925). Jaszi's "Anarchism," Ency. Soc. Sc. (1942), II, 46-53, relies heavily on this work.

16 My purpose in this section is to give a general outline of these ideas and to supplement the accounts given in the works cited in the previous note both by greater synthesis and by new observations.

17 This aspect of Greek thought, however, does not appear to be discussed in the many books devoted to Greek philosophy.

18 Plato, The Republic, I, 338 ff.

19 On Zeno see A. C. Pearson, The Fragments of Zeno and Cleanthes (London, 1891); E. Wellman, Die Philosophie des Stoikers Zenon (Leipzig, 1874); G. P. Weygold: Die Philosophie der Stoa nach ihren Wesen und ihren Schicksalen (Leipzig, 1883), especially pp. 21-85.

20 Vizetelly, op. cit., pp. 4-6, for instance, claims that anarchist theories were advocated during Wat Tyler's rebellion in 1381, in particular by John Ball, known as the "mad priest of Kent." Charles Oman's definitive work, The Great Revolt of 1381 (Oxford, 1906), however, hardly substantiates these claims.

21 Nettlau, op. cit., chaps. IV-VI.

22 Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution, 1789-1793, trans, from the French by N. F. Dryhurst (London, 1909), chap. XLI and pp. 4, 346-347, 350-351.

23 F. Brunot, Histoire de la langue frangaise des origines a 1900 (Paris, 1927), IX, deuxieme partie, 827-828.

24 For a general treatment of the theory and practice of the various sects and groups discussed in the text, reference should be made to Ernst Troeltsch's classic, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, trans, by Olive Wyon, with an Introd. Note by Charles Gore, 2 vols. (London, New York, 1931). Apart from the many books devoted to the individual sects, one may also consult for a more detailed discussion The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopaedia of Religious Knowledge, 12 vols. (New York and London, 1908-1910) and Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, 12 vols, and Index vol. (Edinburgh, 1908-1926).

25 Frantisek Palacky, Dejiny narodu ceskeho v Cechach a na Morave dle puvodnich pramenu (History of the Czech Nation in Bohemia and Moravia according to the Original Sources), ed. by Karel Kalal (Prague, 1931, 1934), III, 252-254; IV, 237.

26 For detailed and sympathetic accounts of the Anabaptists and the Quakers two books may be mentioned: B. J. Smithson, The Anabaptists: Their Contribution to Our Protestant Heritage, with Foreword by Professor Archibald Main (London, 1935), and Arnold Lloyd, Quaker Social History, 1669-1738, with Introd. by Herbert A. Wood (London, New York, Toronto, 1950), especially chap. VI.

27 The study of communistic elements among religious sects has attracted several socialist writers and forms parts of such books as Karl Kautsky, Die Vorlaufer des Neueren Sozialismus (Stuttgart, 1895); Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation, trans, by J. L. and E. G. Mulliken (London, 1897); Georg Adler, Geschichte des Sozialismus und Kommunismus von Plato bis zur Gegenwart, vol. I: Bis zur Franzosischen Revolution (Leipzig, 1899); Eduard Bernstein, Cromwell and Communism: Socialism and Democracy in the Great English Revolution, trans, by H. J. Stenning (London, 1930). For a brief account by a non-socialist, see B. Jarrett, Mediaeval Socialism (London, 1913). Perhaps a similar study, paying more attention to anarchist elements, will be undertaken before long.

28 Troeltsch, op cit., II, 713.

29 Palacky, op cit., Ill, 245-246, 258-260.

30 See Louise Fargo Brown, The Political Activities of the Baptists and Fifth Monarchy Men in England during the Interregnum (Washington, London, Oxford, 1912), especially pp. 12-13, 23-25, 117.

31 A contemporary tract, The Downfall of the Fifth Monarchy Men. Or, The personal Reign of Christ on Earth, confuted (London, 1657), states that their ideas belong to those "stratagems and devices which the Devil hath to delude people" (p. 2), for "it's the Devils [sic] doctrine to preach down government and governours, it's his work to pull down Ministers and Ministry: yea, it is the Devils [sic] main design to root out of the world both Ministry and Magistracy, and all other Schools of Learning, good education and knowledge ..." (pp. 9-10).

32 Sit viry (The Net of Faith) was probably written between 1440 and 1443, and first printed in 1521. It was reprinted in 1912 by the "Comenium" in Prague under the editorship of Emil Smetanka. The gist of Chelcicky's arguments is in Part I, particularly pp. 69-118, of this edition.

One of the copies preserved from 1521 has a long title page beginning with the words, Sit viry prave (The Net of True Faith), and consequently the book is also known under this title.

33 In The Kingdom of God Is within You, trans, by Constance Garrett, 2 vols. (London, 1894), I, 27 and 29, Tolstoy writes: "It is a marvellous book from every point of view ... it is one of the most remarkable products of thought for its depth of aim, for the astounding beauty of the national language in which it is written, and for its antiquity."

34 Consider, for instance, the claims about anarchist traits in the Digger movement in England (Nettlau, op cit., pp. 52-55), or about the relation of anarchism to the philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach (Jaszi, op. cit., p. 48).

35 Ovid's words in his Metamorphoseon, I, 89-93, readily come to mind:

"Aurea prima sata est aetas, quae vindice nullo,
Sponte sua, sine lege fidem rectumque colebat.
Poena metusque aberant, nee verba minacia fixo,
Aere legebantur, nee supplex turba timebat
Iudicis ora sui, sed erant sine vindice tuti."

36 For an analysis of Godwin's anarchism see Pierre Ramus, William Godwin, der Theoretiker des Kommunistischen Anarchismus (Leipzig, 1907), and Helene Saitzeff, William Godwin und die Anfangen des Anarchismus im XVIII Jahrhundert. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des politischen Individualismus. (Berlin, 1907).

37 See especially his Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles (London, 1891); Anarchist Morality (London, 1892); Les Temps Nouveaux (Paris, 1894); L'Anarchie, sa philosophic, son ideal (Paris, 1896); The State: Its Historic Role (London, 1898); Mutual Aid (London, 1902); The Conquest of Bread (London, 1906); Modern Science and Anarchism (London, 1912); Communisme et anarchie (Paris, 1913); Ethics (New York, 1924).

On the whole, the analysis of Kropotkin's political theories has been neglected, and I am now engaged on such a work. Among Russian sources two deserve special mention: A. Borovoi and N. Lebeder (eds.), Petr Kropotkin. Sbornik statei posvyashchennyi pamyati P. A. Kropotkin (Peter Kropotkin. A. Collection of Articles Dedicated to the Memory of P. A. Kropotkin) (Moscow, 1922), and G. P. Maksimov (ed.), P. A. Kropotkin i ego uchenie (P. A. Kropotkin and His Teachings) (Chicago, 1931). There are two biographical studies: Fernand Planche and Jean Delphy, Kropotkine, Descendant des Grands Princes de Smolensk, Page de l'Empereur, Savant illustre, Revolutionnaire international, Vulgarisateur de la Pensee anarchiste (Paris, 1948), and George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic, The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin (London, 1950).

38 For Proudhon, see his Que'est-ce que la propriete? (Paris, 1840); Systeme des contradictions economiques ou philosophie de la misere (Paris, 1846); La Solution du probleme sociale (Paris, 1848); L'Idee generale de la Revolution au XIXe siecle (Paris, 1851); De la Justice dans la Revolution et dans l'Eglise, 3 vols. (Paris, 1858); Du principe federatif (Paris, 1863).

On Proudhon consult Eduard Dolleans, Proudhon (Paris, 1948); Henri de Lubac, The Un-Marxian Socialist: A Study of Proudhon, trans, by R. E. Scantlebury (London, 1948); George Woodcock, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (London, 1956).

39 Qu'est-ce que la propriete? (Paris, 1873 ed.), 212.

40 On Bakunin consult his Oeuvres, 6 vols. (Paris, 1895-1913); God and State, trans, by Benjamin Tucker, Preface by Carlo Cafiero and Elisee Reclus (Boston, 1893); La Commune de Paris et la notion de l'Etat (Paris, 1899); M. Dragomanov (ed.), Michail Bakunins Socialpolitischer Briefwechsel mit Alexander Iw. Herzen und Ogarjow (Stuttgart, 1895); G. P. Maksimov (ed.), The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism, Preface by Bert F. Hoselitz, Introd. by Rudolf Rocker, Biographical Sketch by Max Nettlau (Glencoe, Ill., 1953); E. Pyziur, The Doctrine of Anarchism of Michael Bakunin (Milwaukee, Wis., 1955); E. H. Carr, Michael Bakunin (London, 1937).

41 This congress was held on October 9th and 10th at Chaux-de-Fonds, and Kropotkin's address was published in Le Revolte, October 17th, 1880.

42 On syndicalism see, for example, R. Rocker, Anarcho-syndicalism (London, 1938); P. Louis, Le Syndicalisme contre 'Etat (Paris, 1910); E. Pataud and E. Pouget, Syndicalism and Co-operative Commonwealth, Foreword by Tom Mann and Preface by Peter Kropotkin (Oxford, 1913).

43 For example, H. Read, op. cit., p. 55; G. Woodcock, What Is Anarchism (London, 1945), p. 11.

44 An English translation, entitled The Ego and His Own, by Steven T. Byington, was published in New York in 1907.

45 Tucker's views appear in a selection of his articles, Instead of a Book, by a Man too Busy to Write One: A Fragmentary Exposition of Philosophical Anarchism (New York, 1893).

46 Out of the many books and pamphlets written by Tolstoy, for the basic statement of his philosophy see The Kingdom of God Is within You, referred to above, n. 33; What I Believe (My Religion) (London, n.d.); L'Eglise et l'Etat, trad, par J. W. Bienstock (Paris, 1905); The Russian Revolution (London, 1907?).

47 See V. D. Bonch-Bruevich (ed.), Materialy k istorii i izucheniu russkago sektanstva i raskola (Materials for the History and Teaching of Russian Sectarianism and Schism), vol. II: Zhivotnaya kniga dukhobortsev (A Fundamental Book of the Doukhobors) (St. Peterburg, 1909); Vladimir Tchertkoff (ed.). Christian Martyrdom in Russia: An Account of the Members of the Universal Brotherhood or Doukhobortsi now Migrating from the Caucasus to Canada, containing a Concluding Chapter and Letter by Leo Tolstoy, Introd. by James Mavor (Toronto, 1899); John Peter Zubek and P. A. Solberg, The Doukhobors at War (Toronto, 1952).

48 Rocker, op. cit., p. 23.

49 E.g., R. Stammler, Die Theorie des Anarchismus (Berlin, 1894); Karl Diehl, Über Sozialismus, Kommunismus und Anarchismus, 2d, enlarged ed. (Jena, 1911), especially p. 97; Zenker, op. cit., p. 3.

50 Russell, op. cit., p. 52.

51 The terroristic acts of the anarchists naturally attracted much attention. See, for example, Vizetelly, op. cit., or Felix Dubois, The Anarchist Peril, trans., ed. and enlarged with a supplementary chapter by Ralph Derecheff (London, 1894). For a more detailed discussion of this problem, see my article, "Anarchism and Individual Terrorism," The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, XX (May, 1954), 176-184.

52 Kropotkin, Paroles d'un revolte (Paris, 1885), p. 99.

53 Hamon, Psychologie de l'anarchiste-socialiste, pp. 271-272.

54 Ibid., 286-287. See also his "Les Anarchistes, sont-ils des socialistes?" Les Temps Nouveaux, May 11th, 1895.

55 The Place of Anarchism in Socialistic Evolution (London, 1887), p. 2.

56 "Anarchism," Ency. Brit., I, 873.

57 Apart from the works already cited, see, for example, Francis W. Coker, Recent Political Thought (New York, London, 1934); A. Gray, The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin (London, New York, Toronto, 1946); G. D. H. Cole, A History of Socialist Thought, vol. II: Marxism and Anarchism, 1850-1890 (London, 1954); B. Russell, op. cit. On p. 52 Russell states that anarchism "has arisen mainly within the Socialist movement as its left wing."

58 See, for example, Kropotkin, Modern Science and Anarchism; Les Temps Nouveaux; L'Anarchie; Anarchist Communism; The Place of Anarchism in Socialistic Evolution.

59 This has been the case since the latter years of the last century in both the French and German Social Democratic Parties. In the latter this trend was typical not only of the quot;revisionist" Bernstein, but also of Kautsky who, especially from the time of his controversy with Lenin and Trotsky until his death, argued from a definite democratic-socialist position.

60 This is particularly true of Kropotkin's Mutual Aid and Ethics. It could be shown that the views developed in them are to a considerable degree of the same nature as those which have provided the ethical background for some social policies of the modern welfare State. Mutual Aid, however, is only little known, and Ethics is practically unknown. A university student may attend several courses in sociology and ethics without ever hearing about them.