In Defense of Anarchism
Robert Paul Wolff
This essay on the foundations of the authority of the state marks a stage in the development of my concern with problems of political authority and moral autonomy. When I first became deeply interested in the subject, I was quite confident that I could find a satisfactory justification for the traditional democratic doctrine to which I rather unthinkingly gave my allegiance. Indeed, during my first year as a member of the Columbia University Philosophy Department, I taught a course on political philosophy in which I boldly announced that I would formulate and then solve the fundamental problem of political philosophy. I had no trouble formulating the problem- -- roughly speaking, how the moral autonomy of the individual can be made compatible with the legitimate authority of the state. I also had no trouble refuting a number of supposed solutions which had been put forward by various theorists of the democratic state. But midway through the semester, I was forced to go before my class, crestfallen and very embarrassed, to announce that I had failed to discover the grand solution.
At first, as I struggled with this dilemma, I clung to the conviction that a solution lay just around the next con-
ceptual corner. When I read papers on the subject to meetings at various universities, I was forced again and again to represent myself as searching for a theory which I simply could not find. Little by little, I began to shift the emphasis of my exposition. Finally -- whether from philosophical reflection, or simply from chagrin -- I came to the realization that I was really defending the negative rather than looking for the positive. My failure to find any theoretical justification for the authority of the state had convinced me that there was no justification. In short, I had become a philosophical anarchist.
The first chapter of this essay formulates the problem as I originally posed it to myself more than five years ago. The second chapter explores the classical democratic solution to the problem and exposes the inadequacy of the usual majoritarian model of the democratic state. The third chapter sketches, in a rather impressionistic, Hegelian way, the reasons for my lingering hope that a solution can be found; it concludes with some brief, quite Utopian suggestions of ways in which an anarchic society might actually function.
Leaving aside any flaws which may lurk in the arguments actually presented in these pages, this essay suffers from two major inadequacies. On the side of pure theory, I have been forced to assume a number of very important propositions about the nature, sources, and limits of moral obligation. To put it bluntly, I have simply taken for granted an entire ethical theory. On the side of practical application, I have said almost nothing about the material, social, or psychological conditions under which anarchism might be a feasible mode of social organization. I am painfully aware of these defects, and it is my hope to publish a full-scale work in the reasonably near future in which a great deal more will be said on both subjects. If I may steal a title from Kant (and thus perhaps wrap myself in the cloak of his legitimacy), this essay might rather grandly be subtitled Groundwork of the Metaphysics of the State.
New York City, March, 1970