William O. Reichert, "Anarchism, Freedom, and Power," Ethics, Vol. 79, No. 2. (Jan., 1969), pp. 139-149.



Bowling Green State University

The central problem in political science today is not the question of methodology, as many people seem to believe, but the problem of constructing limits to the expansion of the Leviathan state. It becomes ever more clear that the "modern democratic state" has evolved more along the lines of the model that Hobbes constructed than the one fashioned by Locke. The idea of socialism has compounded the difficulties of delineating limits to the sphere of state power. As the modern democratic welfare state has increased the scope of its operations, bringing new material comforts to its citizens, the state has become more and more monopolistic in terms of the power it exercises over the individual. It is no exaggeration to say that we stand in awe and fear of Leviathan today, for the creature we have brought into being and nurtured over the past several hundred years now appears to be out of control, threatening our very existence as a free society. It is to this problem, largely ignored by contemporary political scientists, that the philosophy of anarchism is basically directed.

The most distinctive characteristic of anarchist theory, according to its proponents, is that it is the only modern social doctrine that unequivocally rejects the concept of the state with its omnipresent evils of political power and authority. For a time during the early years of the American republic, Jeffersonian democracy also praised the wisdom of setting limits to the power of government. But although Jefferson disagreed with Hamilton as to the proper ends for which state power might legitimately be employed, he never went so far as to advise its total abolition. Anarchists view Jefferson's tendency to compromise with political power as the fatal weakness of democratic theory. Other liberal democrats throughout the history of America have applauded the wisdom of maintaining curbs and safeguards around the exercise of political power, never once realizing that they had undertaken an impossible task. In what now appears to have been one of the last genuine efforts of liberals to keep Leviathan under control, the philosophers of political pluralism stoutly voiced their opposition to the growing power of the state, urging that its ever increasing power over the citizen be shared with the major primary social groupings. But as Professor William Ernest Hocking pointed out at the time, the pluralists declined to take the essential step of divesting the state of its monopoly over the instruments of force and coercion. It was totally unrealistic to assert, as the pluralists did, that political power might be shared by a diversity of associations within society when the state stood above them, armed with the means to make them all subservient to its superior will.1 It is not strange, accordingly, that the proponents of the pluralist idea have dropped completely out of sight, leaving behind nothing more than a claim to be remembered as an interesting historical movement. Nor is it strange that the idea of liberalism itself seems to be in a moribund condition.

Whatever other faults it may possess, the idea of anarchism may not be criticized on the grounds that it accommodates its basic principles to the demands of power. Anarchism is distinguished from other political philosophies, in fact, precisely because of its rejection of power and formal organization. To reject political power, of course, is to reject the state. Anarchism, therefore, is forced to defend the difficult argument that the state ought not to exist, since its total effect is negative rather than positive. This, obviously, is a Herculean task. Yet we can find an impressive number of responsible observers to support this contention. Perhaps the strongest indictment ever made against the state was made by the historian Henry Thomas Buckle when he wrote in the first volume of his History of Civilization in England (Vol. I; New York, 1857) that "no great political improvement, no great reform, either legislative or executive, has ever been originated in any country by its rulers." Modern legislatures, to be sure, have kept themselves busy grinding out legislative enactments. But, Buckle argued, any reforms they have effected were not the creation of something new and positive but the undoing of wrongs which were themselves caused originally by legislative enactments. Political science, moreover, ought not to let the fact that the state has existed for a long, long time influence it into thinking of the state as an absolute necessity for the existence of social life. Those who would reach a clear understanding of the state and its nature must not allow themselves to be overawed by the great power and influence it presently exerts over men in society.2 There is no doubt, of course, that social life as it is now carried on rests heavily upon the control exercised over people by government. But it is erroneous to suppose that the state is a natural and inevitable aspect of social life. The fact is that the state is not something that men create spontaneously by themselves, as Locke suggested. On the contrary, the state does not arise from the "instinct of association" but from the "instinct of domination."3 The state and its power arise outside of social life and are forced upon men by their leaders who would dominate their lives for their own purposes. For as A. Bellegarigue, a follower of Proudhon, has written: "Power must of necessity be exercised for the benefit of those who have it and to the injury of those who have it not; it is not possible to set it in motion without harming on the one hand and injuring on the other."4 Robert Michels, who wrote his Political Parties more than a dozen years later, may have been influenced by Bellegarigue when he proclaimed that oligarchy is implicit in organized power and that a people who delegate their authority actually abdicate their sovereignty. Any political science that is to be worthy of its name must start from a recognition of these conditions.

All too frequently, anarchism has been treated derisively by political scientists. In calling for the abolition of government and the destruction of its monopoly of power, the anarchist appears to be a ridiculous figure in the eyes of those who are knowledgeable in the ways and functions of political power. Political scientists, excluding a small percentage of adamant dissenters, are generally agreed that power is the force which causes the political world to spin about on its axis. How, then, can anarchists expect to be taken seriously when the main thrust of their argument is totally in contradiction to the very foundation upon which the entire structure of modern political science rests? Here we find that anarchists of all schools unequivocally agree that the error is on the part of political scientists and not themselves. The necessity of organizing the social world in terms of political power, they maintain, is not a fact but a supposition. It can be demonstrated empirically, of course, that men do seek and respond to power and that it plays a significant role in human relations as society is constituted today. But anarchists charge that where political scientists err is in their acceptance of this assumption as final and inevitable.

As George Woodcock perceptively notes, anarchism, rather than being a mere doctrine of politics, is essentially concerned with fundamental questions of a moral nature.5 Consequently, when political scientists claim that power is a basic "fact" of the political world, anarchists retort that all facts ar,e relative to the social situation in question. It may well be that men do respond to power, as Hobbes so emphatically proclaimed. But it is also true that their response to power is conditioned by their acceptance of authority as legitimate. Let them once question the right to rule of those who command them, and the structure of power comes tumbling down under its own weight. Today's facts, the anarchist insists, are tomorrow's dead falsehoods.

What is really at issue here is not so much whether there is such a thing as political power as the question of whether the exercise of power by one individual over another can ever be called legitimate. Anarchists recognize full well that power is a definite and necessary characteristic of all social situations. But they draw a careful distinction between social and political power. So long as there are people there will naturally exist subtle forces of social control which make life possible. Anarchists deny, however, that this control must contain an element of coercion, which is what transforms social force into political power. Viewing the world from a position of libertarian concern, anarchists maintain that political power can never be acceptable in their eyes because it crushes out freedom. And where freedom is absent, social life becomes impossible.

The libertarian character of anarchist thought was clearly grasped by Peter Kropotkin, the chief European theorist of nineteenth-century anarchist communism. In discussing the nature of the state, Kropotkin, taking a long view of the history of civilization, pointed out that men from the beginning of time have fallen into one or another of two categories.6 On the one hand are those who hold to the Roman or imperial tradition, in which they place their trust in hierarchy and formal political authority. The adherents of this view maintain that public order is impossible without the state and that men are incapable of governing themselves without the assistance of formal institutions of social control and leadership. Where organized government is absent, the imperialists maintain order and liberty are also non-existent. The centralization of government within the modern democratic state has been forced by the imperialists, for they have been highly successful in convincing the mass of men that social life without the guiding hand of the state is an impossibility. Americans need only look as far as their own Alexander Hamilton for a model of imperialist thought. The other tradition Kropotkin makes mention of is the popular or federalist tradition. If we seek a name which will convey its precise meaning, Kropotkin wrote, we might well call it "the libertarian tradition." The libertarian, unlike the imperialist, distrusts hierarchy, authority, and organized government. Convinced that men are naturally created for a genuine social life, although they may not yet have attained any significant degree of this potential, the libertarian, according to Kropotkin, denies that organized compulsion and force are essential to order and peace. To the contrary, he held, human freedom is only possible where men abandon the state and seek to create social life through the principles of federalism, mutual aid, and self-discipline. For many anarchists, especially in America, the federal principle advanced by Kropotkin is not essential. But Kropotkin's emphasis upon the necessity of renouncing formal social control by government and turning instead to the individual as the central focus of social life is valid in the eyes of all anarchists.

When anarchists speak of liberty as being fundamental to their basic philosophy, they are not engaging in mere rhetoric. "Liberty," as one American anarchist wrote, "is not a declaration, or even an inspiration, it is a science."7 Undoubtedly this is a large claim. But we must understand that the anarchist is perfectly serious when he makes it. Much as Plato created an architectonic political philosophy with justice as its keystone, so the anarchist conceives of political science as being a body of knowledge ultimately devoted to the attainment of human freedom. If we may believe Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the philosophy of anarchism admits of no absolutes, for it recognizes that the social world is in flux and that no truth, therefore, can be taken as final. Yet anarchists insist that the idea of human liberty, while it cannot be made an absolute, must be maintained as the highest of all human values. Freedom, that is to say, is the essential characteristic of a fully developed humanity. It has never yet been completely realized in any human society that we know of. Nevertheless it must not be lost sight of as the guiding star of all social science, for to be human is to be free.

Political scientists influenced by the writings of A. Lawrence Lowell generally accept the view that the political sphere is divided up among radicals, liberals, conservatives, and reactionaries. But the fine distinctions Lowell thought he saw have little substance in the eyes of the anarchist. For the anarchist there are basically two, and only two, political persuasions. Over against libertarianism, he would place authoritarianism. The anarchist, or libertarian, is essentially anti-authoritarian in viewpoint. Where liberals, reactionaries, and even some so-called radicals, such as the state socialists, accept the authority possessed by the state as essential to the maintenance of the social order, anarchists insist that all authority of a political nature be abolished. Here we must note that anarchism defines authority as the "power of coercion of one person over another."8 As one reads deeper into the intricacies of anarchist literature, it becomes evident that the authority of moral values, ideas, and aesthetic inspiration is not regarded with the same disdain as is political and religious authority. Much misunderstanding of anarchist philosophy stems from the circumstance that most people overlook this fine distinction.

In his lecture on Herbert Spencer delivered in the Sheldonian Theater at Oxford on June 7, 1906 (reprinted in For Liberty: An Anthology for Revolt, ed. H. Bool and S. Carlyle [London, n.d.]), Auberon Herbert, the noted English anarchist, pointed out that most of the confusion which is found in the area of political thought is attributable to the fact that those who seek power are unable to remain true to the great principles of humanity. Those who truly value freedom, Herbert suggested, must never allow themselves to be enticed by the idea that political power can be used to establish liberty among men. There is unanimous agreement among anarchists on this point. Max Nomad, himself something of an anarchist, gives expression to this view when he writes that all political organizations desire "to maintain [their] power at any price; a desire which can truly be called the 'original sin' of all politics and all politicians, whether conservative or revolutionary."9 No anarchist worthy of the name, then, can ever allow himself to embrace the theory that political power and organization can be employed to establish liberty within society. It is not merely that men are corrupted by power, as liberals like Acton believe. When one opts for power, he chooses the way of authoritarianism rather than the way of libertarianism. Anarchists steadfastly assert that all social science must remain a hopeless confusion so long as men persist in accommodating social science to the facts of power. Those who continue to view society as resting inevitably upon compulsion must forever remain impotent in any meaningful realization of freedom. They may pile "scientific statement" upon "scientific statement," but they will never reach the promised land of free society. Only the libertarian -- the individual who dares to think in terms of informal social control -- can be taken seriously regarding his desire to see liberty realized upon earth.

Another of the flagrant misconceptions of anarchist theory which have stood in the way of an intelligent understanding of its nature is the notion that anarchists would do away entirely with all forms of social organization. C. Northcote Parkinson gives us a classic example of this in his assertion that "anarchy, if it can be termed a form of rule, means the refusal of a large number to be ruled at all."10 It is this misconception which leads to the often expressed bias that anarchy is synonymous with the breakdown of law and order. But it is emphatically not true that anarchists advocate the abolition of all forms of organization. Some of the more extreme individualists, such as William Godwin, have maintained that any conscious organization of society is to be avoided at all costs. But most collectivists, and a great many of the individualists as well, have recognized the necessity of some form of social machinery to carry on the affairs of day-to-day living. But administration in an anarchist society would be fundamentally different from administration in existing society. Consistent with the anarchist's insistence that liberty be the criterion by which all things are measured, all social organization would of necessity have to be a free organization rising spontaneously from the natural social disposition of men.11 Anarchists do not suppose for a minute that all men would ever live in harmony without the disrupting conflicts which from time to time set one man or group of men against another. They do maintain, however, that the settlement of conflict must arise spontaneously from the individuals involved themselves and not be imposed upon them by an external force such as government.

The anarchist's conception of freedom derives from his conception of man. Refusing to engage in either a theological or "scientific" condemnation of human nature, the anarchist maintains that no science of human society is possible that does not rest upon the assumption that man possesses all unlimited potential for growth and development. Without engaging in any questionable exercises in metaphysics, the anarchist nevertheless argues that a free society is only possible where there is widespread agreement that man is by nature a free being. "Without the idea of a free man, the anarchist idea falls to the ground: because the future society cannot exist, or its beginnings be nurtured, without him."12 When the modern anarchist speaks of freedom, he has in mind the central problem of contemporary life, which is the problem of retaining one's identity in a world in which individuality becomes progressively more difficult to maintain. Proudhon was among the first anarchists to realize that there is a basic conflict between the interests of the individual and the mass. A man is an individual to the extent that he gives basic priority to the demands of his own nature regarding truth and social good. He may and should submerge his own private interests to those of his social group on occasion. But when he does so, he should not abandon his social principles, which are really the substance of his personal identity. When one abandons himself totally to a group, he automatically becomes an integral part of the mass, thereby losing all claim to the distinctions which set him apart from others. And these distinctions invariably have to do with the demands of social life, for the individual is by nature a social being. Let us not troop off in pursuit of the mass, Proudhon urged, for the mass never knows where it is going. The anarchist society can only come about as the consequence of individual action. David Thoreau Wieck sums up the anarchist viewpoint in this regard when he writes: "When we say, people can become free only by will, only by acts of freedom, we are not juggling words. We mean that freedom is not merely the absence of restrictions -- it is responsibility, choice, and the free assumption of social obligations."13

What distinguishes anarchism from other ideologies and gives it prestige in the eyes of its advocates is the claim that only anarchism proposes to organize society without regard to the "crippling destructive principles of power, monopoly-property, and war."14 Most revolutionary ideologies, according to the logic of this argument, have gone astray at the point at which they attempted to save society from destroying itself by giving certain individuals power in order; to organize the "right kind" of institutions. But such thinking, according to the anarchist, is fatal to the revolutionary cause. As soon as leaders arise to lead the people, freedom has been lost. For bureaucracy demands that the will of individuals and spontaneous groups be subordinate to the will of the larger organization. Throughout history, revolution after revolution has demonstrated the failure of all schemes to save society by the introduction of formal organization and power.

This is one of the most widely misunderstood aspects of the entire anarchist frame of reference. Anarchism, as its proponents see it, does not advocate any particular form of organization for society but only an "idea." And this idea is characterized by the conviction that the highest human value is freedom. No social action is legitimate in the eyes of the anarchist that does not aim at the greatest possible liberation of man's creative potential. One becomes an anarchist at the point at which one accepts this idea, and dedicates himself to its realization. Anarchism, therefore, supports no Utopian plans for the future. Nor is it capable of drawing a blueprint of the particular stages of social development which are to take place in the future. It nests its case on the fundamental assumption that a society of free men will spontaneously and invariably create a common life which reflects the anarchist value of freedom. To premeditate or plan the evolution of such a society is impossible. Liberal democracy has also argued that its ultimate goal is the attainment of human freedom. But there is an essential distinction between these two conceptions of freedom. The liberal democrat, convinced that the state is an institution capable of being utilized for the good of mankind, has subscribed to the view that the power of government is a positive factor in the attainment of human freedom. But the anarchist takes exactly the opposite view. For him, formal government and political power are predominantly negative and incapable of being employed for good ends. In the anarchist view of things, the distinction between the democratic and authoritarian forms of the state is unreal. For both of these kinds of states are increasingly called upon to use coercion in one form or another for the realization of their ends. There is, of course, a difference in the degree to which each of them resorts to the use of force in the struggle for survival. But this quantitative difference is largely irrelevant in terms of individual freedom, for democratic states, when hard pressed, inevitably become authoritarian in their methods.

It is undoubtedly a large claim to assert, as George Woodcock does, that "anarchism is the only true doctrine of freedom."15 Yet the assertion cannot be dismissed lightly. For when anarchists such as Woodcock argue that anarchism has a special claim to freedom, they support their argument with impressive evidence drawn from the annals of contemporary social science. Consider, for example, Herbert Read's rejection of both communism and liberal democracy on the grounds that since they both resort to the delegation of authority and the imposition of formal coercive law for the maintenance of social order, they both ultimately lead toward totalitarianism.16 One may argue against this, of course -- that the rule of law is superior to the rule of force as a means of settling differences of interest and opinion among men. But this argument begs the question. It is undoubtedly true that law is superior to force as a social technique. Yet law is not necessarily the best method available to men in the matter of establishing social order. "Law," as Bertrand Russell points out, "is too static, too much on the side of what is decaying, too little on the side of what is growing."17 Law, moreover, ultimately rests upon the principle that those who do not observe it will be coerced into doing so. So long as men voluntarily co-operate with the law, law is effective in maintaining freedom. But in those instances in which men are unable to bring themselves to obey the rules of political society, law quickly changes its nature and becomes sheer coercion and tyranny from the point of view of the individual who is being made to obey. This is why anarchists remain completely disenchanted with the idea of law.

Undoubtedly the primary reason why the anarchist idea has been so seriously distorted over the years is that it is essentially a revolutionary theory and therefore something to be feared by the general public. Like Marxism, it calls for the destruction of the state and an end to the domination of the worker and citizen by the politician and capitalist. Unlike the Bolsheviks, however, anarchists have no illusion that political power can be used for the attainment of revolutionary ends.18 One of the persistent problems faced by all movements of reform is the question of social guidance and direction. After a successful coup, in which power is wrested from the hands of a corrupt elite, the masses invariably turn to their own revolutionary leadership for guidance. Never before having experienced freedom, people do not know how to act when it is suddenly thrust upon them. And the leaders in turn are happy to take direction of the revolutionary fervor and direct it into prearranged channels, for the revolutionary leader, despite all his talk about the beauty and Tightness of liberty, is always secretly fearful that the masses may get out of hand and run amok. Consequently, the history of revolution is the story of one failure after another, so far as freedom is concerned. The answer to this problem, according to the anarchist approach, is to refuse to think of revolution as a political phenomenon. It is not possible to obtain social justice by replacing one kind of tyranny by another, as the Bolsheviks did in their revolution. A true social revolution, according to Proudhon, one of the most authoritative spokesmen for anarchist theory, must never be constructed on a foundation of hierarchy and leadership. "Radicals will have to recognize that only a decentralized society -- both politically and economically -- which has no need for leaders can be classless; that centralization invariably requires leaders, and therefore stratification."19 The task the anarchist has taken upon himself is to begin to lay the foundations of a decentralized, free society within the structure of the existing one. What anarchism urges is a complete rejection of the authoritarian principle which conditions people to look toward leaders for guidance. The natures of modern government and warfare being what they are, it is imperative that the main thrust of resistance to organizational life come from individuals who are capable of directing themselves. In this, anarchism reaches back to Thoreau, Ballou, Tucker, Emerson, Whitman, and a host of other poets and philosophers who have always stressed the importance of individual nonviolent action against Leviathan.

Modern atomic war makes anarchists of us all, the anarchist argues. To a much greater extent than most people realize, anarchism and the peace movement are intricately bound up with each other within the context of American culture and have always influenced each other to new theoretical and tactical developments. It has been argued that the denominator common to all anarchists is that no anarchist can possibly engage himself in warfare or support a government that does so.20 Some of the first Americans to clearly grasp the meaning of the idea of anarchy were members of the American peace movement who came to realize that modern warfare, from the French revolution on, bequeathed to every citizen the "right" to fight and die for the state.21 With the advent of atomic warfare, it became even more evident that the state, despite all the physical goods it may provide the individual citizen in time of peace, is blind to all moral and social values other than those necessary to its own survival when war becomes reality. As Randolph Bourne, one of America's most illustrious anarchists, has written, "War is the health of the state," by which he meant that the only way the state can justify its existence is to involve its citizens in the insanity of war. No anarchist, to the extent that he has remained true to his convictions, has ever admitted the legitimacy of war. Wilfredo Pareto expressed this same conclusion some thirty years earlier when he wrote to Benjamin Tucker, the American anarchist, that "the real opposition of system comes from those who believe that the happiness of a people does not consist in conquest, but in liberty, justice, and economic well-being."22

Man is a social being who can only realize the fruition of his creative potential in association with his fellow beings. But unfortunately, anarchists maintain, modern social developments have led to the atrophy of old "forms of community" in which man's social capacities found free and natural expression. No longer is it possible for the individual to be himself, trusting his fellow man and in turn being trustworthy to those to whom he owes social fidelity. Modern life, reflecting the influences of such unnatural phenomena as nationalism and capitalism, has caused an imbalance to take place in the delicate social mechanism which motivates the individual. It is from this fact that the irony of contemporary social life stems. The world has become insane because the individuals who make it up have been socially and spiritually alienated from one another. The individual is asked to take up arms against his fellow man and destroy him for the sake of establishing peace and brotherhood. Or the citizen is encouraged to join a political party and capture the power of government for the ostensible purpose of establishing social order. In each instance the individual is required to violate his natural social propensities always for the supposed good of all humanity. Having been conditioned by several centuries of this kind of chaotic reasoning, the human being, according to the anarchist, is incapable of solving his problems through the exercise of any conventional social solution such as parliamentary democracy. What modern society requires, according to the anarchist, is the far-reaching solution proposed by anarchism.

This is not to suggest that anarchism proposes an easy formula for the reform of society. To the contrary, anarchism refuses to even concern itself with the practicalities of reform. Many poorly informed observers condemn anarchism as a political theory because it fails to set forth a detailed plan for the implementation of the Utopia it supposedly holds out to us. But anarchists refuse to acknowledge the validity of Utopian thinking, nor will they accept the responsibility for providing society with a detailed scheme for its reformation. Anarchism, to be sure, is oriented toward the future and is wholly in accord with the notion that contemporary life is inadequate and unsatisfactory from the point of view of the individual. Yet anarchism as a social theory is valid in the eyes of the anarchist whether or not it ever produces any practical results. For anarchism directs itself at the individual and not at the mass. It is a "way of life" which makes it possible for the individual to transcend the physical restrictions and limitations he finds himself surrounded by. Anarchism may well be incapable of radically changing social life instantaneously and perfectly. But it does offer a way out for the sensitive individual who finds conventional social and moral standards superficial and unworkable. As every anarchist from William Godwin to Paul Goodman has realized, anarchism can only appeal to the mass of people after it has convinced the individuals of which society is composed, one by one.

Anarchists stand in basic disagreement with political scientists such as David Spitz who argue that one must either seize and wield political power in his own defense or risk being destroyed by it as a consequence of his inaction.23 While it is true that political power will not evaporate overnight, it cannot be maintained that the choice before us is as one-sided as Spitz makes it appear. Why can we not divide power by working toward its decentralization, with the view in mind of making it responsive to the individual human beings who are now controlled by it? Power, anarchists insist, remains political only so long as men persist in solving their social and economic problems through the expedient of coercion in the hands of the state. Where men voluntarily co-operate to solve their own problems by themselves, the nature of power is miraculously transformed.

Fundamental to the anarchist view is the conviction that it is political authority itself -- the very foundation of the contemporary state -- which causes the social damage we must contend with. Men have become so habituated to thinking of the state as essential to their well-being that they find themselves enslaved by it. Erich Fromm gives a succinct statement of this problem when he writes:

The division between the community and the political state has led to the projection of all social feelings into the state, which thus becomes an idol, a power standing over and above man. Man submits to the state as the embodiment of his own social feelings, which he worships as power alienated from himself; in his private life as an individual he suffers from the isolation and aloneness which are the necessary result of this separation. The worship of the state can only disappear if man takes back the social powers into himself, and builds a community in which his social feelings are not something added to his private existence, but in which his private and social existence are one and the same.24

The sentiments Fromm expresses here are in substantial agreement with Mala-testa's assertion that "to abolish authority or government does not mean to destroy the individual or collective forces which are at work in society, or the influence men exert over one another."25 Anarchists conceive of authority as a basically coercive instrument by which those who are successful in acquiring power force the mass of men to do their bidding. "The people," to be sure, are no longer compelled to slave in the erection of pyramids or other monuments to the conceit of their rulers, but they are forced to fight national wars and support economies which are not to their own best interests. And they do this not from free choice but because they have been conditioned to think of their duties to government in absolute terms. The state has maintained a monopoly of political power for so long that men can no longer imagine a situation other than one they are presently in. This conditioning starts in early childhood and continues throughout life, resulting in the totalitarianism we see everywhere about us today. But as both Fromm and Malatesta point out, social life begins at the point at which men, either individually or in groups, determine to go it on their own without the control exercised over them by their governments. To break with authority and assert one's human independence is a thoroughly anarchistic act. It is a declaration that one has confidence that he possesses the power and resources of his basic nature and that social life is possible without the "benevolent" hand of the state. Considered from the point of view of the individual, it is a monumental decision involving a profound psychological transformation. No longer may the individual think of the state as a strong father figure which will lead him to security and ease. To the contrary, he must think of it as basically an obstacle in the path of his social development which must be removed before progress can begin.

There was a time when anarchists tended to visualize the act of revolution as a cataclysmic event which would sweep away the accumulated corruption of the ages and liberate the mass of working people immediately. But anarchists no longer think in such terms. The social revolution, all now generally agree, will not be something sudden and complete in itself but a long evolutionary process arising in the will of individual persons and spreading to others through the techniques of education and example. Basic to the social revolution is the tranformation in attitude which will have to take place in the minds of individuals regarding the phenomenon of power. Where men tend today to think of power in terms of organized force and compulsion, they must come to think of it as an act of voluntary co-operation aimed toward social creativity. The concept of power, as Erich Fromm points out, has a double meaning.26 On the one hand it signifies force and compulsion for the purposes of domination over others. On the other, power may be denned as the "potency" not to dominate others but to carry out socially creative acts through co-operation and accommodation. Power in this second sense is only possible in a society made up of healthy individuals who are capable of living without resort to force and external authority. Very few of us at present, of course, are equipped with the internal fortitude that the anarchist solution demands. But anarchism, since it does not depend upon the seizure of power, as other revolutionary theories do, can logically advocate a program of social rebellion aimed toward the gradual but persistent transformation of the social conditions within society by genuine non-violent means. Denying that political power can ever be employed for human good, yet cognizant that the vast majority of men at any given time will be unable to see the logic of this argument, the anarchist, following Proudhon, puts himself in permanent opposition to injustice and inequality wherever and whenever he meets it. The anarchist, to be sure, is thus forever on the defensive and can hardly expect to win any decisive victories. Yet, unlike the liberal, who is apt to be thoroughly corrupted by the power he naively seeks to wield for good ends, the anarchist is not likely to follow the siren call to his own destruction. This is why anarchism sets no store whatever in utopianism, for it recognizes full well that human perfection is not likely to be ever attained on this earth. As Plato so well demonstrated at the very beginning of political philosophy, man's thirst for power and his subsequent corruption is a perennial problem born anew with each generation of men. It is as futile to hope for Utopia as it is to accept the moral imperfection that presently characterizes mankind as permanent reality. Anarchists propose instead that we mount "a permanent protest against all forms of un-freedom and inequality, regardless of the slogans under which they are hiding their predatory essence."27 Such a course of action, to be sure, is likely to produce a long train of martyrs, and this is indeed the story of the anarchist idea. But it has also produced some of the most perceptive social critics that have graced the modern social scene.

To be an anarchist, then, is not to overturn the state by force and violence but to reject the use of force and violence as a means of maintaining social order. Thus conceived, the philosophy of anarchism becomes a rich and fertile area of imaginative social perception which political science has not yet discovered to any great extent. Those political scientists who dare to take seriously its admonitions concerning freedom and power may well reap a rich reward, saving us from the cul-de-sac in which we now seem to be caught.


1. William Ernest Hocking, Man and the State (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1926), p. 93.

2. Waldo R. Browne, Man or the State (New York: B. W. Huebsch, 1919), p. x.

3. Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), p. 99.

4. A. Bellegarigue, "Anarchy Is Order," Liberty, XIII (December, 1897), 3.

5. George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1962), p. 28.

6. Peter Kropotkin, The State: Its Historic Role (London: Freedom Press, 1946), p. 44.

7. William A. Whittick, Bombs: The Poetry and Philosophy of Anarchy (Philadelphia, 1894), p. 186.

8. Albert Weisbord, The Conquest of Power, I (New York, Covici Friede, Publishers, 1947), 235. For two widely divergent views of the essential nature of power and authority, compare E. V. Walter, "Power Civilization and the Psychology of Conscience," American Political Science Review, LIII (1959), 641-61, and Sebastian DeGrazia, "What Authority Is Not," American Political Science Review, LIII (1959), 321-31.

9. Max Nomad, Apostles of Revolution (New York: Collier Books, 1961), p. 16.

10. C. Northcote Parkinson, The Evolution of Political Thought (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1958), p. 12.

11. For a suggestive view of this problem, see Colin Ward, "Anarchism as a Theory of Organization," Anarchy, LXII (April, 1966), 97-109.

12. David Thoreau Wieck, "From Politics to Social Revolution," Resistance, XII (April, 1954), 3.

13. D. T. Wieck, "Essentials of Anarchism," Resistance, XI (August, 1953), 7.

14. Ibid.

15. George Woodcock, Anarchy or Chaos (London: Freedom Press, 1942), p. 121.

16. Herbert Read, "Neither Communism nor Liberalism," Freedom, VIII (January, 1947), 6.

17. Bertrand Russell, "The State as Organized Power," in Leviathan in Crisis, ed. Waldo R. Browne (New York: Viking Press, 1947), p. 51.

18. George Molnar, "Conflicting Strains in Anarchist Thought," Anarchy, IV (June, 1961), 121.

19. H. R. Cantine, Jr., "State or Revolution," Retort, II (June, 1944), 47.

20. D. T. Wieck, "Anarchism," Resistance, VII (November-December, 1948), 3.

21. The relationship of anarchism to the peace movement is adroitly described by Roy Finch, "The New Peace Movement -- Parts I and II," Dissent, X (Winter and Spring, 1963), 86-95, 138-48.

22. Wilfredo Pareto, "Letters from Italy," Liberty, VI (September, 1888), 6.

23. David Spitz, Democracy and the Challenge of Power (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 102-3.

24. Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1951), p. 141.

25. Errico Malatesta, Anarchy (London: Freedom Press, 1942), p. 37.

26. Fromm, op. cit., p. 162.

27. Nomad, op. cit.y p. 19.