Alan Ritter, Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis (1980)



The ideas of anarchists, when compared with those of socialists or liberals, are often found to be essentially the same. Oscar Jaszi, for instance, sees 'the fundamental element of anarchism' as 'the extension of classical liberalism from the economic to all other fields', while Daniel Guerin, followed by Noam Chomsky, finds that 'the anarchist is primarily a socialist'.1 This chapter shows, by subjecting these claims about the ideological place of anarchism to scrutiny, that neither can be effectively sustained. Anarchism is revealed as occupying its own distinct position in the spectrum of political ideas.

The elements of anarchist theory which will be found to set it apart from its close neighbors are its fundamental value and its view of the workings of the state. What separates anarchism from liberalism is its commitment to the value of community. What separates it from socialism is its ascription to the state's inherent attributes, such as its impersonality, of the most significant effects. Now socialists share the anarchists' commitment to community, while liberals share their ascription of the state's effects to its inherent attributes. Hence it is these two elements of anarchism in combination that mark it as unique. Were it not for the anarchists' commitment to community, they would have to be placed in the liberal camp. Were it not for their belief in the causal efficacy of the state's inherent attributes, they would have to be accounted socialists. But since anarchists are both communitarian in values and emphasizers of what is inherent in the workings of the state, their theory differs fundamentally from both of those with which it is most frequently confused.

The main purpose in comparing anarchism to socialism and liberalism is to clarify its structure as systematic thought. Its arguments stand out more boldly, when distinguished from those of kindred theories. But there is also a practical value to this comparison. So long as anarchism is thought equivalent at root to socialism or liberalism, different at most in being purer, what is at stake in choosing to be an anarchist is misperceived. Since a variant of familiar socialist or liberal beliefs seems all one must accept, the choice of anarchism appears quite trivial. But when anarchism is recognized as a separate theory, making bold, distinctive claims, the decision to be an anarchist stands revealed as daring.


Of writers who think anarchists should be viewed as liberals, William E. Hocking is more elaborate than most in backing his claims with reasons. The main point of agreement between anarchists and liberals for Hocking is on the overriding value of freedom understood as the absence of coercion by the state. For anarchists as for liberals 'liberty. . .is the chief of all political goods'. As for their dispute about whether the state should be abolished, Hocking sees it as stemming from differences in psychology and thus of minor importance when compared to their agreement on first values. Liberals 'think that the self-seeking and deceitful elements in human nature will remain statistically about as they are', while anarchists 'believe in a moral progress such that the social casing of coercion may eventually be discarded'.2 Both take the same position on the most basic issue in political theory -- the nature of intrinsic value -- and it is only differences on secondary, psychological matters that lead to their dramatic, yet superficial disagreement on the wisdom of abolishing the state.

The main trouble with this argument for seeing anarchists as liberals is that it misconstrues the position of both groups on which values are ultimate. Hocking shares the misconception of anarchists as committed above all to freedom from the state, which was dispelled in Chapter 3 and replaced by the view that their chief goal is communal individuality. What must be added here is that freedom is not even the chief goal for all liberals.

Many liberals do, of course, embrace it. Kant, for instance, called freedom 'the one sole and original right that belongs to every human being by virtue of his humanity'. And he means nothing complicated or paradoxical by freedom, in this context, at any rate: it is 'independence from the constraint of another's will'.3 Equally frank expressions of commitment to freedom thus defined can be found in the writings of other leading liberals, such as Benjamin Constant.4

But these statements do not prove that for all liberals such freedom has supreme intrinsic worth. For utilitarian liberals, including Bentham, and perhaps Mill, its value is instrumental.5 These theorists set value on freedom only as a means to happiness and not as an end in itself. Should freedom conflict with happiness, utilitarian liberals are bound logically to oppose it, and if happiness is increased by state coercion they must give such coercion their support.

The claim that anarchists are liberals is thus easily refuted, so far as it presumes that freedom from state coercion is the chief good for both groups. But this refutation is not invincible. Liberals and anarchists do agreed in opposing coercive government. Though the normative basis for this agreement is not the shared commitment to freedom alleged by writers such as Hocking, this does not mean that liberals and anarchists base their opposition on different norms. While not sharing the supreme value usually ascribed to them, they still might share one, which serves for both as the basis for their opposition to the state.

One value used by liberals as a basis for objecting to state coercion is autonomy, understood as acting from no empirical motive, but for the sake of duty. Kant objected to state coercion on this ground when he noted that the incentive to comply with 'juridical legislation,.. .being different from the idea of duty itself, must derive from pathological ground determining the will, that is, from inclinations'.6 Since an action, to be autonomous in the Kantian sense, must be done for duty's sake, and since fear is the motive for acceding to state coercion, such coercion is reprehensible.

It is easy to show that none of the anarchists we are considering use Kantian autonomy as the normative basis for their opposition to state coercion. Godwin, Bakunin and Kropotkin do not, because they are determinists who deny the possibility of choice uncaused by inclinations.7 Though Proudhon seems to admit this possibility, he does not elevate it to the status of supreme good. It need not have even instrumental worth, since he prizes right but empirically determined choices more highly than choices that are wrong but empirically undetermined.

Another value to which liberals appeal in their objections to state coercion is utility. It is on this basis that Bentham writes: 'All punishment is itself an evil', because 'it tends to subtract from. . .happiness'.8 Punishment, the most typical form of state coercion, definitionally causes its victims to suffer pain. Utility mandates the maximization of satisfaction. Hence, if utility is the supreme value, then punishment, and the state that inflicts it, stand at least presumptively condemned.

There is enough ambiguity in the attitude of some anarchists toward the principle of utility to make calling them utilitarians seem plausible. Godwin is especially easy to treat in this way, since he repeatedly praises satisfaction as the supreme good. As for his seemingly contrary words of praise for other goods, particularly community and individuality, these need not be read as ascriptions of supreme value, but may be construed as empirical statements about how the most satisfaction can be achieved. Godwin can then be said to approve of these other goods as means to utility rather than as equal to it in worth.9

It is possible to give a similar interpretation of Kropotkin, whose agreement with the utilitarians is shown clearly by his way of framing the question to be solved by anarchism: ' What forms of social life assure to a given society, and then to mankind generally, the greatest amount of happiness?'10 No doubt, he, like Godwin, approves of goods other than satisfaction. But his approval for these goods may be seen as instrumental, arising from their richness as utility's source.

Calling Kropotkin a subscriber to utilitarianism is indefensible because he goes out of his way to condemn that doctrine as framed by its founders. He faults Bentham for 'the incompleteness of his ethics' and Mill for the absence from his theory of 'the principle of justice'.11 What Kropotkin is here alluding to is the commonplace among critics of utilitarianism that an action which maximizes satisfaction may still be wrong. Since we condemn actions which utility tells us to approve, utility cannot always be of overriding worth.

It is harder to show the error in calling Godwin a utilitarian. His praise for the principle of utility is nowhere counterweighed by criticism, and he takes pains to reconcile this praise empirically with his avowals of support for rival goods. Yet one cannot avoid suspecting that his attempt at reconciliation fails. His claims about the effectiveness of community and individuality as a means to happiness are much exaggerated. Would he ever stop approving them in cases where it seemed likely that their opposites, such as deceit or servile deference, would advance utility more? Though Godwin's utilitarianism is formally consistent, its empirical contestability casts its plausibility into doubt.

But Godwin's utilitarianism, even if authentic, is insufficient evidence that anarchists agree with liberals in using the greatest happiness principle to criticize the state. Though Bakunin is silent on the merit of utilitarianism, Proudhon denounces it even more emphatically than Kropotkin does. 'It cannot be said that everything.. .useful.. .is just; in case of conflict the choice is indisputable, justice is entitled to command.'12 Proudhon is here making Kropotkin's familiar point: utility may sanction wrongful acts. But he goes beyond this commonplace, with his characteristic rigor, when he proclaims: 'Right and interest are two things as radically distinct as debauchery and marriage.'13 A more thoroughgoing renunciation of utilitarian morality is difficult to conceive.

There is one other value to which liberals appeal in their objections to state coercion which seems more promising than autonomy or utility as a mark of normative agreement with anarchism. This value is individuality of the kind prized by J. S. Mill. It is a main part of Mill's case against coercive government that it debilitates the character of rulers and ruled alike, when it silences opinion, prevents self-regarding action, or benevolently interferes by giving too much help. State coercion is for Mill a menace to the individuality, understood as energetic personality, that he prizes as the supreme element in human worth.

Individuality, of course, as we have seen in Chapter 3, also has intrinsic value for the anarchists. When Godwin calls it 'the very essence of human excellence', he sounds like Mill's anticipator.14 When Kropotkin demands its 'most complete development' he sounds like Mill's disciple.15 Texts of Proudhon and Bakunin also could be cited to show that in setting inherent value on individuality and in appealing to it in their arguments against the state, all four anarchists agree with Mill - the quintessential liberal. This agreement would seem to give the basis, which Hocking failed to find, for claiming anarchists as liberals. Though freedom cannot be cited as the value used by both groups to condemn coercive government, individuality can be. And since anarchists and liberals share this basic value, their theories, one might argue, must be regarded as at root the same.

The main trouble with this attempt to save Hocking's thesis is that it overlooks the difference in normative status assigned by the two groups to community. Anarchists do not prize individuality simpliciter: communal individuality is their goal. Their project, we have learned, is to organize society so as to maximize individuality and community seen as equal, interdependent values. Liberals give community a lower status. For some it is an interference with the satisfaction, freedom or individuality they most prize. For others it is normatively irrelevant. Thinking of society as a device to protect intrinsic values, they regard it as an instrument and are indifferent to the reciprocity of awareness among its members called community.16 The value of community, which for anarchists is inherent, is thus for liberals instrumental at most. This disagreement between the two groups in normative starting point is decisive evidence for the conclusion defended here. Anarchists, far from being an especially hardy breed of liberals, are an entirely different race.

The commitment of anarchists to community is significant as more than a mark setting them apart from liberals. It also provides an explanation, more convincing than is usual, for their disagreement with liberals on the wisdom of abolishing the state. The standard explanation for this disagreement, mentioned above, relies on alleged differences between the two groups on the possibilities of human nature. The weakness of this explanation is that they actually agree closely on these possibilities. Thus, their difference in first values is extremely fortunate for explaining why they disagree about whether the state should be abolished. If both groups proceeded from the same first values, their disagreement on this issue would be much harder to explain.

Liberal psychologies all lack two antithetical assumptions about human nature that are often found in political theory. On the one hand, they do not consider any vicious motive such as the desire to oppress or cause suffering to be irremediably and universally dominant. Nor do they concede the possibility that a benevolent motive might achieve this status. Within the limits set by these omissions, liberals adopt a variety of psychologies ranging from Locke's relatively benign one to Bentham's hedonism, and including intermediate positions such as Kant's 'asocial sociability'.17 But here the subject is not differences among liberal psychologies, but similarities. Anarchists agree with liberals in upholding what is common to the liberal outlook, since they too deny both that malevolence is always dominant everywhere and that the universally dominant motive can be benevolence.

Human nature as described by Proudhon lies clearly within the boundaries of liberal psychology. He explicitly rejects the same two hypotheses about motivation as the liberals, while in his own psychology, man, suspended between these extremes, 'may be defined with equal justice as either a pugnacious animal or a sociable one'.18 Bakunin holds a similarly liberal view concerning the motivational weight of kindness as compared with malice. Man, for Bakunin, has 'two opposed instincts, egoism and sociability', neither of which predominates, for 'he is both more ferocious in his egoism than the most ferocious beasts and more sociable than bees and ants'.19

Godwin and Kropotkin are less easily characterized in their psychologies as liberal. The problem, of course, lies not in the pessimism of these theorists about the future of malevolence, but in their optimism about the possibilities of human kindness. It is not hard to show, however, that the reputations of Godwin and Kropotkin as naive believers in benevolence are caricatures.20

As part of his campaign against psychological egoism Godwin does insist on the force of kindly motives. Nor can it be denied that he expects them to become stronger, more impartial and more widespread in the future, as social conditions are improved. But these claims do not amount to the thesis, frequently ascribed to him, that benevolence can become universally predominant. Often, he says the opposite. A late work, Thoughts on Man, calls 'the love of power' a motive which 'never entirely quits us'. It portrays man as 'a creature of mingled substance'. And it warns solemnly against the 'few men in every community that are sons of riot and plunder'.21 Lest these professions of doubt on the prospects of benevolence be thought symptoms of Godwin's old age, it should be noted that they also appear in the earlier and more optimistic Political Justice. Godwin there advances the doctrine of perfectibility, which for him includes progress in benevolence. But he is careful to delineate the limits to perfectibility, of which the most important is intractable human nature. So 'shut in on all sides' is man by the 'limited nature of the human faculties' that it would be pretence for him to 'lay claim to absolute perfection'.22 Since we will never be perfect, benevolence will not always be our strongest motive. Thus, not even in his most optimistic work did Godwin's faith in human kindness surpass the liberals'.

Kropotkin's position on the future of benevolence is much the same. He too stresses the actual force of motives such as love and devotion. He too claims that under anarchy these motives will be stronger and more widespread. But no more than Godwin does he regard them as potentially predominant. In his description of anarchy not everyone is kindly. 'Certain among us' will still be governed by 'anti-social instincts'.23 Kropotkin, like Godwin, sees more potentialities for benevolence than Proudhon or Bakunin. But his confidence in it is slight enough to serve along with Godwin's as conclusive evidence that in their estimates of human nature anarchists and liberals agree.

The agreement between anarchists and liberals in psychology makes the main problem of their politics the same. By denying that malevolence is ineradicable, both rule out autocracy as a mode of organization. For only if viciousness must be widespread and rampant is autocracy needed to safeguard peace. By denying the possibility of universal benevolence, they also rule out as unworkable modes of organization which exert no cohesive force. For only if kindliness is the overriding motive, can an utterly spontaneous society exist. Thus the problem of politics for anarchists and liberals alike is to describe a pattern of social relations that, without being autocratic, provides the required cohesive force.

There are two ways to solve this problem.24 The first, the choice of liberals, is to accept, and limit, the coercive state. Anarchists choose the second solution, familiar from earlier chapters of this book: they reject the state entirely and rely instead on public censure. It is the disagreement between the two groups in normative starting point that explains the difference in how they solve their common problem. Both groups regard the legal form and coercive sanctions, which are inherent in the state, as causing its most important effects. But whereas the anarchists' commitment to community leads them to evaluate these effects so negatively that they reject all states, even the most limited, and turn instead to public censure, liberals are led by their indifference to community to a more positive evaluation, which encourages them to reject censure and to admit the need for a limited state.

Liberals, in their denunciation of the state, often seem as adamant as anarchists. But some of their more vivid criticism is deceptive bluster. Paine, for instance, sounds anarchistically outraged as he berates 'the greedy hand of government, thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping the spoil of the multitude'.25 But his objection here, like many raised by liberals, is to a remediable excess, and thus no sign of categorical hostility. Being directed at avoidable shortcomings, rather than inherent defects, such objections serve not to destroy but to improve the state, by showing how to limit it so that it rules more gently. But besides their numerous contingent criticisms, liberals have at least two which, being aimed at the state's inherent attributes, are basic. The first of these criticisms is Bentham's, already mentioned, that punishment causes pain. This is an objection to an unavoidable defect inherent in all governments, since none can refrain from punishing altogether. The other liberal objection to an inherent attribute of the state is Kant's, also encountered before, that, owing to its unavoidable coercion, the incentive to obey a government may be fear of punishment. Since an autonomous action is done for the sake of duty, obedience to a government often lacks moral worth.

But though liberals object to some consequences of the state's coercion, they are prevented by their indifference to the value of community from assailing it with the anarchists' sort of all-out criticism. State coercion, for the anarchist, is more than painful, more than immoral. It is a poison which, by contaminating social relations with distrust, resentment and remote impersonality, causes community's dissolution. Here then is one way the difference between anarchists and liberals in fundamental values explains their disagreement about abolishing the state. The anarchists' commitment to the value of community gives them an emplacement, unavailable to liberals, from which to attack the effects of state coercion more forcefully.

It is not only because their criticism of state coercion is milder that liberals disagree with anarchists about its abolition. They also disagree because they outweigh their criticism with reverence for another of the state's inherent attributes, the rule of law. So prized by liberals are the consequences of law's familiar traits -its generality, stability and externality - that the bad effects of state coercion are overshadowed in their eyes, when it has these legal merits. The generality of law guards against practices liberals loathe, such as discrimination against eccentrics and exploitation by officials. Law's stability gives it a predictability esteemed by liberals as a source both of independence and satisfaction. And they prize law's externality for the protection it affords against governmental interference with private states of mind.

This outline of the liberal defense of law and thus the state, though sketchy, is sufficient for explaining why anarchists do not use it. For this purpose, the crucial point about this defense is its logical dependence on liberal values. It is the liberals' commitment to freedom, autonomy, individuality and utility that makes them find the effects of law desirable enough to outweigh the harm caused by state coercion. To anarchists, on the other hand, with their commitment to community, veneration of legality seems outrageous. As the comparison worked out early in this book between the anarchists' views of law and censure showed, from their communitarian perspective law, far from redeeming coercion, only makes it more repulsive. Being general, law ignores the individual diversities from which anarchist community draws its strength. Being permanent, it is too rigid as a regulator of communal ties. And being external, it is blind to community's very substance: the knowledge shared by all its members of the others' minds. Their commitment to community thus accounts for the anarchists' disagreement with liberals over the state's abolition by explaining not only why they attack the state more harshly, but also why they reject liberal arguments for state coercion redeemed by legal probity.

There is one other reason why liberals disagree with anarchists about abolishing the state: they oppose using public censure as the state's replacement. The degree to which the liberals oppose censure varies, depending on their attitude toward utilitarianism. Bentham, as a consistent utilitarian, finds no inherent fault in censure, but he finds no inherent merit in it either. Its value lies largely in its effectiveness as a behavioral control, concerning which he has grave doubts. That is why he includes it in his list of sanctions - calling it the moral or popular sanction - but relies on it very little in his proposals for reform.26 Non-utilitarian liberals oppose censure forthrightly, as an unavoidable threat to their first values. Mill, interpreted as assigning individuality intrinsic worth, is the best known example of a liberal who rejects censure categorically. But Constant does so too, when he proclaims: 'we are modern men who want to develop our faculties as we please.. .and who have no use for authority except to obtain from it the general means of instruction it can provide'.27 Since censure unavoidably obstructs self-development, it is as impermissible for Constant as for Mill.

Anarchists, of course, share the concern of liberals for the development of individuality. Yet they take issue with them by espousing censure, despite their recognition that for self-development it is a threat. Here too the explanation for the disagreement between the two groups is the difference in their fundamental values. Liberals reject censure, because the dearth of reciprocal awareness in the legal state means that admonishment by neighbors there can only cramp the self. But the bonds of community in the stateless environment of the anarchists make censure's effect on individuality more benign. Censure under anarchy is remarkable, we have learned, for the extent to which, owing largely to the communal context in which it operates, it nurtures human faculties by controlling behavior with reasons. It is because anarchists affirm the worth of communal understanding that they are able, unlike liberals, to give censure their support. For communal understanding provides them with a safeguard, unavailable to liberals, with which to check censure's destructive tendencies. Thus their difference in normative starting points is as sound as explanation for why anarchists disagree with liberals by praising public censure as for why they disagree with them by condemning coercion and law. The anarchists' communitarian commitment and its rejection by the liberals are the grounds to which all aspects of their disagreement about whether the state should be abolished must finally be traced.

The account advanced here of the deep difference between anarchism and liberalism clarifies what is at stake in choosing between them. It is not uncommon for liberals, who often see their relationship to anarchists in Hocking's terms, to claim an easy sympathy with anarchism as morally appealing but empirically unsound. The allegiance to liberal values they find in anarchism makes it seem congenial. But its unfortunate naivety concerning human nature marks it with an unacceptable extravagance. Thus liberals treat anarchism with both reverence and disdain, as a flawed but noble version of the truth.28 There is a double mistake behind such treatment, we now can see, for the basic values of anarchism and liberalism differ, while their views of human nature are the same. Hence the choice between them turns not on disavowing an outlandish psychology, but on embracing a distinctive norm. This choice cannot be easy, since the norms of liberals and those of anarchists have a powerful but opposite appeal.


The boundary between anarchism and socialism cannot lie on the terrain of values, because communal individuality is the overriding goal for both. Eccentric minor socialists such as Cabet can be cited, for whom community eclipses individuality as a source of worth, but an individualized community is the goal of the main socialist tradition, as exemplified by its profound, influential members, above all Marx.29 Hence though an analysis of values has set anarchists apart from liberals, they must be marked off from socialists on some other ground. The point in their theories that sets anarchists and socialists apart most fundamentally is one on which anarchists and liberals agree: the importance as a source of consequences of the state's inherent attributes.

Having traced the anarchists' abhorrence of law and government to their distinctive normative commitment, we must be startled to find that socialists, though sharing this commitment, nevertheless endorse the state, not only as a means to build the good society, but as one of that society's integral parts. That socialists rely on the state tactically, whether by seizing it with force or claiming it with votes, is a longstanding commonplace.30 That they also incorporate it into their good society is more contestable, especially in light of what Marx and Engels say about its ultimate disappearance. Yet it is easy to show that the Marxist good society, even at its highest stage, includes elements of legal government which are banned from a mature anarchy.

Marx and Engels, in their remarks about the state's future, do not say that it will disappear entirely; rather, they mention certain of its particular attributes, qualified as political, which alone are destined to die out.31 Included among these are its use as a 'government of persons' and as an instrument of 'class rule', or 'special repressive force'.32 What Marx and Engels mean to designate by the last two of these phrases is fairly clear: no force will be used by officials in the ultimate phase of socialism to weaken or eliminate opponents. For in the ultimate phase of socialism, since there will be no more classes, there will be no opponents for officials to repress. As for the disappearance of a 'government of persons', this must be seen in the light of its replacement, 'the administration of things'. Thus considered, it means an end to the legal regulation of behavior, except when needed to protect efficiency. The members of the classless society will be so cooperative that legal government will not have to prevent crime.

Besides enumerating the attributes of the state that will become outmoded, Marx and Engels also mention some that will remain. Elections, for example, though they will 'completely lose their political character', will still occur under socialism. And though the officials chosen at these elections will perform no 'governmental functions', 'general functions' such as supervising the economy will continue to be their task.33 Thus Marx and Engels are at one with the mainstream of the socialist tradition in giving the state permanence. For the regulative institutions which they include in socialist society, despite the withering or transcendence they undergo, retain enough traces of legal authority to qualify as a state.34

The disagreement between anarchists and socialists concerning the abolition of the state is both a ground for suspecting that their theories differ and a source of puzzlement. Anarchists and socialists are both committed to communal individuality. Yet only anarchists use this shared commitment to justify the state's elimination. What is it about socialism that prevents its adherents from drawing out from the normative starting point they share with anarchists the anarchists' extreme anti-state conclusion? An answer to this question will clearly delineate the line that separates their theories.

There is no widespread reverence for legality among socialists which could serve, as it does for liberals, to explain their liking for the state. Some socialists, especially those with revisionist or Fabian sympathies, do show a liberal appreciation for the law's blessings. But neutrality or indifference toward the law as such is socialism's usual stance. For most socialists legal institutions draw their value not from their intrinsic character, but from the society that shapes them and from the interests that they serve. Nor can the liking of socialists for the state be explained by their view of human nature, since their pessimism about the future of benevolence is no greater than the anarchists'. Marx, of course, thought history was 'nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature'.35 The place to look for an explanation of their differences concerning the abolition of the state is their analysis of its significance compared to the economy as a social cause.

All anarchists take note of a point much emphasized by socialists - how economic relations affect our lives for ill or good. Kropotkin, writing in a period that was obsessed by economics, goes further than his predecessors in tracing personal degradation and social mistrust to the baneful effects of a disordered economy, which he sees as causing damage not only directly, but also indirectly, through being a source of legal government. Kropotkin also works out more fully how the future economy will cause communal individuality to grow. But even Godwin's analysis of the economy's causal role includes the gist of Kropotkin's points. 'The spirit of oppression, the spirit of servility, and the spirit of fraud, these are the immediate growth of the established administration of property.' 'The unequal distribution of property' is also 'one of the original sources of government'. And an egalitarian economy would help to create a situation in which 'each man would be united to his neighbor, in love and mutual kindness. . .but each man would think and judge for himself'.36 There is nothing in these affirmations with which a socialist need disagree.

Where anarchists and socialists part company is on the causal role of the state. Much of their disagreement on this subject is no more than a matter of degree or emphasis. Thus, while both groups recognize the effects of government on economic institutions, anarchists insist on them more.37 And while both see that government, despite being affected by the economy, acts somewhat independently from it, anarchists insist more strongly on this independence.38 But there is one question regarding the state as cause on which anarchists and socialists completely disagree: whether the state's inherent nature is a source of its effects. All of the state's effects are seen by socialists as arising from its particular, changeable attributes, mainly, in the Marxist case, its class character. Each government, for the Marxist, gets its most causally significant attributes from the relations of production which it reflects. Anarchists, on the other hand, while they certainly appreciate how the particular effects of each state are shaped by its changeable attributes, also emphasize, in contradistinction to the socialists, how its legality and coerciveness, which are inherent in its nature, constantly cause more serious effects. Thus Godwin implores us never to 'forget, that government is, abstractly taken, an evil, an usurpation upon the private judgment and individual conscience of mankind'. Bakunin maintains that 'despotism lies less in the form of the state or of power than in their very principle''. And Proudhon gives the anarchist analysis of the state as cause practical application in explaining his vote against one of France's most democratic constitutions: 'I voted against the Constitution, because it is a Constitution.'39 For the anarchist, then, it makes no difference, so far as concerns its more important effects, who runs the state, how it is organized, or what it does. It debases and estranges its subjects regardless of these contingencies, just because it is a state.

With this understanding of the basic difference between anarchists and socialists to rely on, new meaning can be given to their well-known tactical disputes. The dramatic clashes between anarchists and socialists, which arose within the First International and have continued wherever anarchists have been politically significant, are conventionally seen as clashes over the bearing of circumstances on the effectiveness of the state as a means for reaching a rnutually accepted goal. This interpretation is inadequate on at least two scores.

For one thing, its claim that the goal of anarchists and socialists is identical can only be accepted with stricter qualifications than are normally imposed. It is often said that the goal shared by socialists and anarchists is a self-regulating, classless society, bereft of government and law. Socialists, to be sure, see this goal as an ultimate end, while for anarchists it is an immediate objective, but its status as their shared goal can hardly be impugned by the fact that they plan to reach it on different schedules. This standard way of claiming that anarchists and socialists share goals fails because it ignores the disagreement between them just analyzed concerning the permanence of the state. Socialists and anarchists cannot possibly have the same goal, understood as a vision of the good society, because socialists give law and government a permanent place even in their good society's final stage. But though the claim that anarchists and socialists share goals is unacceptable in its standard version, properly qualified it holds up. Provided they are regarded not as a vision of a good society, but as values which a good society must express, the goals of anarchists and socialists are certainly identical, since communal individuality is the regulative value for both groups.

The other score on which the usual interpretation of the clash on tactics between anarchists and socialists must be questioned is its contention that the clash is over the issue of how the state's suitability as an instrument is affected by circumstances. When socialists rely on the state tactically, they do so, in this view, out of the belief that circumstances make it a helpful means for achieving victory. Anarchists arrive at their tactical opposition to the state by the same sort of reasoning. But their reading of the circumstances which socialists see as making the state a handy conveyance leads them to see it as a vehicle for reaching nothing but defeat. There is evidence in the writings of both groups to support this way of understanding their clash on tactics.

Socialists, with insignificant exceptions, agree that one way to win control of the state, in the right circumstances, is by taking title to it in an election. Marx, for instance, thinks that if there is universal suffrage, if capitalism is well-developed, if agriculture is industrialized, if there is no strong authoritarian tradition, socialists should contest elections, because a majority of dedicated voters, who will support the desired social transformation, can then be won.40 Anarchists reject this strategy by denying that the circumstances which socialists find auspicious give elections even scanty promise. The mass of voters in present society are so ignorant, so deferential, and so resigned that there is no hope of attracting the support of a majority.41

The other way suggested by socialists for winning control of the state is some sort of forceful seizure. Their projects for this seizure (and hence their views about its needed circumstances) vary, ranging from Blanqui's schemes for conspiracy by a small group to Marx's hints at an open, broadly based insurrection. Circumstances which socialists see as affecting the success of a forceful seizure pertain to such matters as the strength of the established government, the disposition of the underlying population and the capacities of the insurrectionary leadership. It is mainly concerning the last of these that anarchists and socialists part company. Socialists believe that insurrectionary leaders, whether because of their exemplary character, their dependence on their followers, or their loyalty to their class, may have enough resolve selflessly to build .the good society once they have won power. Anarchists deny this on the ground that the temptations of power are too great. Not even the most dedicated revolutionary can be trusted to build the good society, if he occupies a public office.42

It should be clear from this comparison that the usual account of the clash between anarchists and socialists on tactics, which traces it to their different assessments of attendant circumstances, provides a workable explanation of their dispute. But this explanation is superficial, because it makes no reference to the deeper difference between them, brought out earlier in this section, concerning the causal efficacy of the state's inherent attributes. Even if they endorsed the socialists' favorable reading of circumstances, anarchists would not accept their tactical reliance on the state, because, no matter how favorable the circumstances in which it is used, the state for anarchists remain a Moloch. It is only by recognizing the bearing on their familiar tactical disputes of their disagreement concerning the state as cause that the theoretical significance of these disputes can be appreciated. They are then revealed as more than wrangles over the empirical assessment of contingencies, for they are rooted in a difference antecedent to such wrangles about whether contingencies can ever be decisive, in judging the state's effects.

The error of those who claim that anarchists are socialists at heart stems from blindness toward their disagreement about the causal efficacy of the state qua state. A typical version of this claim is advanced by Noam Chomsky. Anarchism is not to be identified with socialism simpliciter, since many socialists rely on legal government. But there are also socialists (Chomsky cites Anton Pannekoek and William Paul) who are at one with anarchists in finding the state antipathetic. It is as part of this 'libertarian wing of socialism' that Chomsky thinks anarchism should be classed.43

If the antipathy to legal government of council communists, syndicalists and similar representatives of socialism's libertarian wing came from alarm about the effects of the state's inherent attributes, Chomsky's claim that anarchism is a type of socialism would be correct. But even the most libertarian of the socialists is alarmed mainly by effects of the state's changeable characteristics, such as its organization or policies. This difference in the causal perspective from which they view the state puts socialists, however libertarian, a great distance away from anarchists. What libertarian socialists find fault with in their criticism of the present state is not its impersonality or coercion, but its use by minorities to subjugate the many. What they fear in the state envisaged by a less libertarian socialism is not the perpetuation of an unredeemable institution, but its continued use as an oppressive instrument by a bureaucracy or a vanguard party. And what they project as a successor to the existing state is not a society freed of legal government, but a society organized, in Chomsky's words, 'on truly democratic lines, with democratic control in the workplace and in the community'.44

The same conclusion emerges from this comparison at every point. Libertarian socialists, mainly because of their oblivion to the state's permanent effects, are not anarchists, but democrats. They want a system built on a pattern like that described by Paul, with industry 'democratically owned and controlled by the workers electing directly from their own ranks industrial administrative committees'.45 Anarchists, to be sure, regard democracy as more progressive than other forms of government; some go so far as to give it a significant place in their strategy. But even a democracy purged of all bourgeois elements - impeccably participatory, thoroughly decentralized, genuinely industrial, proceeding entirely from the bottom up - produces the effects for which the anarchists condemn the state. Hence any theory such as libertarian socialism which, far from excluding democratic institutions from its vision of the good society, regards them as indispensable, cannot possibly be called anarchist.

We must thus conclude that even between anarchists and socialists whose affinities are closest, there is a clear dividing line. For the disagreement about the significance of the state as cause, which underlies their dispute about the future of democracy, overshadows the affinity arising from their shared antipathy to particular states. When libertarian socialists denounce the present state as a tool of capitalism, call for workers' councils, or attack elitism and bureaucracy, they may sound like anarchists, but in its relevant causal presuppositions the theory they depend on for reaching these conclusions is no form of anarchism at all.

If the usual view of the relationship between anarchism and socialism were acceptable, choosing between them would be a matter of empirical judgment. One need only decide which group, in assessing the state's effectiveness in varied circumstances, makes the more reliable predictions. Matters such as the anarchists' tendency to underestimate the educative effects of democracy and the socialists' tendency to underestimate the corrupting effects of power would have to be examined. When all the differences between the two groups which affect the reliability of their predictions had been weighed together, the balance on which the choice between them depended would be struck.

But the view presented here of where anarchism and socialism disagree shows that the choice between them rests on another consideration. The world of politics has a different structure for the two groups, at least so far as it is composed of states. Socialists think that the state's significance as a source of political effects arises from its contingent attributes and from the causal nexus in which these attributes exist. For anarchists, the state's political significance lies elsewhere - in its independent, self-contained, unchangeable existence. Hence the choice between anarchism and socialism depends not on an empirical comparison, but on an ontological inquiry, not on the weighing of probabilities, at which socialists may be shrewder, but on the elucidation of conjectures, at which neither side is obviously better.


The allegiance of the anarchists to both communal individuality and to viewing the state as an inherent cause not only makes their theory singular by distinguishing it from its close neighbors, but also accounts for its most noticeable peculiarities. In studying t the anarchists we have continually found their commitment to communal individuality revealing. Their reliance on public censure, their search for mediation between individuals and groups, their radical social criticism and their fruitless quest for an effective strategy have all been illuminated when seen as shaped by the requirements of their guiding value. Yet since socialists as well as anarchists affirm this value, it cannot by itself account for what is distinctive about anarchism. Communal individuality as affected by anarchism's conception of the state as an inherent cause is what lies at the root of its peculiarities. Conceiving of the state as a malevolent god, drawing its power from its inner resources, anarchists, at all phases of their theorizing, must fight not only for their guiding value, but against their mortal enemy. It is because they strive for a communal individuality devoid of legal government that anarchists reach such peculiar conclusions about tactics and social structure. Less novel options are unavailable, being foreclosed by their conception of the causal efficacy of the state. Hence the singularity of anarchist theory lies not only in its defining attributes, but also in the contours which these attributes shape. The characteristics of anarchism which set it apart from its close neighbors are also poles which inflect the course of its argument with attractive and repellent force. To redeem society on the strength of rational, spontaneous relations, while slaying the leviathan who offers minimal protection - this is the anarchist's daring choice.


1 Oscar Jaszi, 'Anarchism', in The Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2 (New York, 1937), p. 52; Daniel Guerin, Anarchism (New York, 1970), p. 12; cf. Noam Chomsky's introduction, p. xv.

2 William H. Hocking, Man and the State (New Haven, 1926), pp. 97, 91.

3 Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysical Elements of Justice, ed. John Ladd (Indianapolis, 1965), pp. 43-4.

4 Benjamin Constant, OEuvres (Paris, 1957), p. 1232.

5 Mill's case is difficult. For discussion of the normative status of freedom in his theory see Robert Paul Wolff, The Poverty of Liberalism (Boston, 1968), pp. 19-20; Albert W. Levi, 'The Value of Freedom: Mill's "Liberty" (1859-1959)', reprinted in Peter Radcliff (ed.), Limits of Liberty (Belmont, Calif., 1966), pp. 6-18; H. J. McCloskey, 'Mill's Liberalism', reprinted in Isaac Kramnick (ed.), Essays in the History of Political Thought (New York, 1969), p. 373.

6 Kant, Metaphysical Elements of Justice, p. 19.

7 Godwin: 'The man who is acquainted with all the circumstances under which a living or intelligent being is placed upon any given occasion is qualified to predict the conduct he will hold with as much certainty as he can predict any of the phenomena of inanimate nature.' Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (Torpnto, 1946), I, 363. Bakunin: Man 'is irrevocably chained to the natural and social world of which he is a product and in which, like everything that exists, after having been an effect, and continuing to be one, he becomes in turn a relative cause of relatively new products'. OEuvres (Paris, 1895-1913), III, 253. Kropotkin: 'Anarchism is a world-concept based upon a mechanical explanation of all phenomena, embracing die whole of nature - that is, including in it the life of human societies.' Revolutionary Pamphlets (New York, 1968), p. 150.

8 Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (New York, 1948), p. 170.

9 For the argument that Godwin is a utilitarian see D. H. Monro, Godwin's Moral Philosophy (London, 1953), pp. 14-20, and John P. Clark, The Philosophical Anarchism of William Godwin (Princeton, N.J.i 1977), pp. 93-126. J. B. Priestley's case against calling Godwin a utilitarian is unconvincing. See his edition of Political Justice (Toronto, 1946), III, 15-16.

10 Kropotkin, Pamphlets, p. 153.

11 Kropotkin, Ethics (New York, 1924), pp. 239, 241.

12 Proudhon, De la Justice dans la Revolution et dans l'Eglise (Paris, 1930-5). III. 544; cf-1, 310.

13 Ibid., Ill, 444.

14 Godwin, Political Justice, II, 500.

15 Kropotkin, Pamphlets, p. 123.

16 See Wolff, The Poverty of Liberalism, pp. 183-5, and for a more nuanced view, Gerald F. Gaus and John W. Chapman, 'Anarchism and Political Philosophy: An Introduction', in J. Roland Pennock and John W. Chapman (eds.), Anarchism (New York, 1978), p. xxxi. Wolff overstates a good case. There are signs of devotion to community among some liberals, but they are faint and leave little mark on the practices of liberal society. Certainly, liberals do not seek communal individuality above all else. For evidence of Mill's concern for community see On Liberty (Indianapolis, 1956), p. 76.

17 Immanuel Kant, The Philosophy of Kant, ed. Carl J. Friedrich (New York, 1949), p. 120. For some astute remarks on Locke's psychology, see Gordon J. Schochet, 'The Family and the Origins of the State in Locke's Political Philosophy', in John Yolton (ed.), John Locke: Problems and Perspectives (Cambridge, England, 1968), pp. 95-6.

18 Proudhon, Justice, I, 416; cf. La guerre et la paix (Paris, 1927), pp. 118-21.

19 Bakunin, OEuvres, I, 137.

20 As John Clark aptly demonstrates. See 'What is Anarchism?', in Pennock and Chapman (eds.), Anarchism, pp. 15-17.

21 Godwin, Thoughts on Man (New York, 1969), pp. 97, 12, 112.

22 Godwin, Political Justice, I, 94; cf. Political Justice, I, 184; II, 533, and Monro, Godwin's Moral Philosophy, pp. 167, 172-82. Charles Frankel in The Case For Modern Man (Boston, 1959), pp. 102-6, shows the sobriety of Condorcet's doctrine of perfectibility. Much of what is there said of Condorcet also applies to Godwin.

23 Kropotkin, Pamphlets, p. 218; cf. p. 106 where Kropotkin says that even in an anarchy it may be a man's 'bent of character' to deceive his friends.

24 Bertrand de Jouvenel discusses them in Sovereignty (Chicago, 1957), pp. 130-5.

25 Thomas Paine, The Selected Works of Tom Paine and Citizen Tom Paine, ed. Howard Fast (New York, 1943), p. 90.

26 It is true that he relied more heavily on the moral sanction in his pages on indirect legislation, but he never published them and it is unclear how seriously he took them. On this question see Mary P. Mack, Jeremy Bentham: An Odyssey of Ideas (New York, 1963), pp. 170-3.

27 Benjamin Constant, Cours de politique constitutionelle, ed. Edouard Laboulaye (Paris, 1861), II, 554.

28 Cf. James M. Buchanan, 'A Contractarian Perspective on Anarchy', in Pennock and Chapman (eds.), Anarchism, p. 29. 'I have often described myself as a philosophical anarchist. In my conceptualized ideal society individuals with well defined and mutually respected rights coexist and cooperate as they desire without formal political structure. My practical ideal, however, moves one stage down from this and is based on the presumption that individuals could not attain the behavioral standards required for such anarchy to function acceptably. In general recognition of this frailty in human nature, persons would agree to enact laws, and to provide means of enforcement, so as to achieve the closest approximation that is possible to the ideally free society.'

This is the place to acknowledge the existence in America of anarchists, beginning with Josiah Warren, culminating with Benjamin Tucker, and exemplified at present by figures such as David Friedman or Murray Rothbard, who, unlike the anarchists being studied in this book, must be classified as liberals. These anarchists -- often denominated individualists -- differ from the founders in seeing a conflict between individuality and community and in resolving the conflict by giving individuality precedence. The friendly criticism of anarchists advanced by writers like Buchanan, though misguided if seen as aimed at the founders, is on target as applied to these individualists. It is indeed naive to claim that individuality can flourish without the bonds of either community or the state.

29 On Marx as a seeker of communal individuality see above, Introduction.

30 Which doesn't apply to socialism before 1848. Cf. G. D. H. Cole, A History of Socialist Thought, vol. I (London, 1959), pp. 131, 313.

31 Avineri illuminatingly equates Marx's use of 'political' here with 'partial'. Shlomo Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (Cambridge, England, 1968), p. 212.

32 Marx, Engels and Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism (New York, 1972), pp. 168, 150.

33 Ibid., p. 150.

34 Other interpreters of Marxism who agree that a state remains in the highest stage of socialism include Richard Adamiak, 'The Withering Away of the State: A Reconsideration', Journal of Politics, 32 (February 1970), pp. 3-18; Thilo Ramm, 'Die Kiinftige Gesellschaftsordnung nach der Theorie von Marx und Engels', in Iring Fetscher (ed.), Marxismusstudien, vol. II (Tubingen, 1957), pp. 77-119, see especially p. 102; John Plamenatz, Man and Society, 2 vols. (London, 1963), II, 373: 'Marx and Engels. . . made a distinction between government and administration, predicting the disappearance in the classless society of only the first. Though they did not. . . make it clear just what this distinction amounts to, they seem to have included in administration some of the activities usually called governmental.'

35 Misere de la philosophie, ed. Henri Mougin (Paris, 1961), p. 153.

36 Godwin, Political Justice, II, 463, 443, 466.

37 Proudhon, Justice, III, 174; Bakunin, OEuvres, II, 108, IV, 407, V, 312; Kropotkin, Pamphlets, p. 166.

38 Consider this criticism by Bakunin of Marx. Marx 'says that "hardship produces political slavery -- the State", but does not allow for the converse: "Political slavery -- the State -- reproduces and maintains hardship as a condition of its existence"'. Arthur Lehning (ed.), Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings (New York, 1973), p. 256. Though the state, for Marx, has more causal independence than Bakunin allows, it is still far more dependent on the economy than it is for Bakunin, or any anarchist.

39 Godwin, Political Justice, II, 2; Bakunin, OEuvres, II, 327; Proudhon, Confessions d'un revolutionnaire (Paris, 1929), p. 215.

40 Avineri, Social and Political Thought of Marx, pp. 202-20.

41 For instance, 'Universal suffrage, so long as it is exercised in a society where, the people, the working masses, are economically dominated by a minority,. . . can never produce anything but illusory elections, which are anti-democratic and absolutely opposed to the needs, instincts and real will of the population.' (Bakunin, OEuvres, II, 311) Bakunin, being for once more careful than the other anarchists, excepts the people of Britain and the United States from his strictures. In these countries, 'the freedom of the masses and their capacity for political action have reached the highest level of development known to history'. (IV, 449) Yet their enlightenment is for Bakunin no sign that the support of the British or American masses should be sought in an election. 'Their political consciousness, having reached its zenith, and having produced all of its fruits, is obviously tending to become transformed into the anti-political consciousness of the anarchists.' (IV, 451)

42 The conflict between anarchists and socialists on this point is nowhere better exemplified than in one of Marx's marginal notes on Bakunin's Statism and Anarchy. Bakunin had complained that the officials of the state envisioned by the Marxists would not build socialism, for they would be 'ex-workers, who, once they become rulers or ..representatives of the people, cease to be workers'. To this Marx replied, 'No more than a manufacturer today ceases to be a capitalist when he becomes a member of the municipal council'. Henry Mayer (ed.), 'Karl Marx: Marginal Notes on Bakunin's "Statism and Anarchy"', Etudes de Marxologie, x (October 1959), pp. 112-13. A slightly different version is included in Marx, Engels, Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism, pp. 147-52.

43 Noam Chomsky, 'Introduction' to Guerin, Anarchism, p. xii.

44 Ibid., p. xvii. All aspects of this contrast are based on Chomsky's remarks.

45 Ibid., p. xv.