Key Ideas of Anarchism

Rejection of Legitimate Authority

Rejection of The State

Moral autonomy of the individual

Natural Order

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Collectivist Anarchism

Key ideas – Equality, Social Ownership, anti capitalism and has its origins in socialism.

Types within

Social Anarchism





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Individualist Anarchism

Key ideas – Libertarianism, free market capitalism, private property and autonomy has its origins in Liberalism.

Types within



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Anarchist view of human nature


Human beings are capable of perfectibility, achieving self-realisation and living together peacefully without the need for external controls on their behaviour.


People are able to think and make sense of the world around them by themselves, so they don’t need to be told what to think or how to behave by any external source of authority. They also believe in the possibility of progress and the creation of a better type of society


Human beings can be either good or evil depending on the political and social circumstances in which they live. Normally cooperative, sympathetic and sociable human beings can become oppressive tyrants when they have power, privilege and wealth. They don’t just claim that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, but that power in any shape or form will corrupt absolutely.

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Anarchism and Individualism

Individualism is the belief in the primacy of the human individual over any social group or collective body and it is central to anarchist thought. Extreme individualism implies anarchism. This is reflected in the individualist anarchist tradition.

 The Sovereign Individual Power rests with the individual. Taken to its extreme, it implies the idea that absolute and unlimited authority resides within each human being. From this perspective, any constraint on the individual is evil, especially when it imposed by the state, a sovereign, compulsory and coercive body.

Methodological Individualism, the individual is central to political theory or social explanation.

Ethical Individualism, which implies that society, should be constructed so as to benefit the individual, giving moral priority to individual rights, needs and interests.

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Anarchism and the state

The defining characteristic of anarchism is its rejection of the state as an unnecessary evil, in contrast to the views of liberals like John Locke that the state was a necessary evil.

Why the state is unnecessary

Anarchists believe in the existence of a natural order and the state is unnecessary because peace, stability and prosperity will arise spontaneously in conditions of absolute freedom.

Anarchist faith in natural order is rooted in highly optimistic assumptions about both human nature and certain social institutions. Anarchists believe in the natural goodness, or at least potential goodness, of humankind. From this perspective, statelessness is compatible with order and harmony.

This, in effect, turns social contract theory, and its justification for the state, on its head.

Anarchists have also discussed the capacity of social institutions to maintain order in the absence of the state. These institutions serve anarchists ends by helping to regulate society and encouraging development of positive human attributes rather than negative ones. 

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Anarchism and the state

Collectivist Anarchists assert that human beings are naturally sociable, gregarious and cooperative. They stress that common ownership, decentralisation and self-management foster social harmony and personal development

Individualist Anarchists argue individuals will live in harmony with one another through the dictates of reason and enlightened self-interest. They place faith in market competition as a means of ensuring equilibrium and socially just outcomes 

Why the state is evil

Political authority in whatever form, but especially state power, is inherently evil and oppressive. Anarchists go beyond liberal theory in viewing power in any form, but especially political power wielded by the state, as absolutely corrupting, illustrating their belief in human plasticity. Anyone placed in a position of power will become tyrannical and abusive, helping to explain why devices such as constitutionalism and democracy, supported by liberals, are incapable of protecting citizens against state oppression.

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Anarchism and the state

The State is destructive as it requires individuals to fight, kill and die in wars that are inevitably precipitated by a quest for territorial expansion or national glory by one state at the expense of others.

Coercive State Authority rules through punishment, fining, imprisoning or even, in some circumstances, killing those who transgress its laws. For example, Emma Goldman argued that government was symbolised by “the club, the gun, the handcuff, or the prison”

Collectivist Anarchists also argue that the state acts in alliance with the wealthy and privileged, and therefore oppresses the poor and weak. The state is also exploitative, in that it robs individuals of their property through a system of taxation

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Anarchism and the liberal ideas of constitutionali

Constitutionalism refers to the imposition of checks on the exercise of government power by either the establishment of formal rules (usually through a codified constitution) or institutional fragmentation, so creating a network of checks and balances.

Consent is the principle that government should be based on the will of the people, expressed in practice in regular and democratic elections.

Anarchists, in contrast to liberals, believe that constitutionalism and consent are starkly ineffective as means of taming government power. This is because all systems of rule, constitutional and democratic rule as well as arbitrary and dictatorial rule, are, by their nature, evil and oppressive.

Anarchists hold that constitutionalism and consent promote subservience among the masses and recruit citizens into their own oppression, because they invest government with bogus legitimacy.

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Anarchism and the Social Democratic view fo the st

Social democrats have attempted to use the state to remedy problems created by capitalism. Individual anarchists reject this as interference with the market. Collective Anarchists argue the welfare state is a coercive force and, even if well intentioned, will be oppressive.

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Anarchists and the Marxist view of the state

The Marxist theory of the state is the state's oppressive character derives from the class system. Marxists believe the state is an instrument of class oppression, being shaped by the economic base, and operating in the interests of the economically dominant class. Anarchists link state oppression to the capacity for human corruption when anyone exercises power over others. This makes the state evil and oppressive in all circumstances. Its authority is compulsory in the sense that citizens do not choose to become members of the state

Although Marxists are against the capitalist state they don’t reject all states as evil and oppressive. In particular, they have called for the establishment of a temporary socialist state, through the dictatorship of the proletariat. The role of this proletarian dictatorship is to protect the gains of the revolution and smooth the transition to full communism through the suppression of the dispossessed bourgeoisie. Counter-revolution must therefore be countered.

Anarchists reject the dictatorship of the proletariat, as any form of state is inherently oppressive, whoever is in charge. While Marxists believe that the state will wither away as class antagonism abates, anarchists argue that states can only be abolished. The proletarian state will therefore not wither away and it needs to be abolished.

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Anarchism and Authority

Anarchists reject authority as it damages freedom and equality. Anarchism is unique in supporting the principles of absolute freedom and unrestrained political equality.

Authority is based on political inequality and the supposed right of one person to influence the behaviour of others. Therefore it enslaves, oppresses and limits human life, damaging both those subject to authority and those who exercise it. Authority diminishes people’s essential nature creating a debilitating sense of dependency.

Those in authority, even expert authority exercised by teachers and doctors, which comes from the unequal distribution of knowledge in society, acquire an appetite for prestige, control and domination.

Authority creates a psychology of power based upon a pattern of dominance and submission, creating a society in which, according to the US anarchist Paul Goodman “many are ruthless and most live in fear”.

The defining and uniting feature within anarchism is the commitment to establish a stateless society. However, there are, on the face of it, deep divisions within anarchism about the nature of the future anarchist society. 

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Anarchism and Utopianism

Utopianism can mean a political theory criticising the existing order by constructing a positive model of a perfect alternative. Or, to deluded or fanciful thinking.

Anarchism is linked to a positive model of utopianism in that anarchists have a highly optimistic view of human nature and so believe that the future anarchist society will be perfect in a number of basic respects – it will be characterised by unrestricted freedom, absolute equality, peace and social harmony, and so on.

This utopian faith is rooted in highly optimistic assumptions about human nature and the capacity for unregulated social harmony. The underlying idea is that in the right social circumstances all human beings will behave well. This is why anarchists believe that natural and spontaneous harmony is possible in the absence of the state. People can therefore live together peacefully and prosperously in conditions of absolute freedom.

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Anarchism and Utopianism

Collectivist Anarchists based on the belief that there is a pronounced human propensity for sociability and cooperation, not simply that people are naturally good. Collective ownership and collective social institutions will produce good behaviour.

Individualist Anarchists it is based on assumptions about rationalism of individuals. Working in the unregulated capitalism of free market individuals will produce good behaviour and a good society will emerge.

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Anarchism and Utopianism

 But critics argue that anarchism is linked to utopianism in the sense that its view of human nature is unrealistic and its goal of a stateless yet harmonious society is unachievable.

Conservatives emphasise human beings are imperfect and reject the idea human nature is endlessly socially malleable and can be improved.

Liberals argue that natural order is impossible because egoism will always lead to instability and strife.

Marxists have argued that anarchism gives no serious attention to political strategy, placing its faith instead in the deluded hope of a spontaneous popular uprising

Anarchism can be seen as entirely utopian, the only qualification on this being in relation to anarchists such as Proudhon, who believed that statelessness can only be achieved gradually through the progressive shrinkage of state authority Others have accepted the survival of some form of political authority Libertarians or Minarchists – believers in a minimal state. But you could argue these are not true anarchists.

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Anarchism and the free market

Free Market Liberalism is the belief the economy works best when left alone by government. This allows for very limited social and economic intervention, based on the assumption that unregulated capitalism tends toward long-run equilibrium and general prosperity.

Free market capitalism refers to a capitalist system that is free from state interference, usually based on the principle of laissez-faire.

Anarchism has been linked to free market capitalism through the individualist tradition within anarchism, and in particular through anarcho-capitalism.

Anarchists have been drawn to the market as a means of establishing social order in the absence of the state. This idea is based on the classical economic belief that market competition tends naturally towards equilibrium, as harmony is established between and among self-seeking individuals and businesses. 

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Anarchism and the free market

Anarcho-Capitalists take free market economics to its extreme, in that they believe that the market can substitute for all state functions, including the maintenance of domestic order and the enforcement of contracts.

 Individualist Anarchism generally uses liberal arguments related to the implications of market exchange to explain how the anarchist society of the future would work.

 Anarcho-Capitalism resembles free market liberalism in that it embraces the same economic theories and very similar political principles, merely taking these one step further by applying them to all goods and services including those that would be covered by the liberal minimal state.

 But Free market liberalism highlights the need for a minimal state and recognises the problem of market failure, neither of which are accepted by anarcho-capitalists.

 Collectivist Anarchists fundamentally reject the free market and all forms of capitalist organisation but especially the institution of private property. This is most evident in the case of anarcho-communism, which endorsed common ownership and communal living.

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Varieties of Anarchism - Collective

1. Collectivist Anarchism - mutualism, anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism

Collectivism is, broadly, the belief that collective human action is morally and economically superior to individual self-striving. It reflects the idea that human nature has a social core, and implies that social groups, whether social classes, nations, races or whatever, are meaningful political entities.

Anarchism has been associated with collectivism because anarchist conclusions can be reached by pushing socialist collectivism to its limits. As collectivism implies that human beings are social animals, better suited to working together for the common good than to striving for individual betterment, the natural and proper relationship between them is one of sympathy, affection and harmony.

Order and social stability therefore arise spontaneously from below and do not need to be imposed from above by law, government and the state. The state is therefore unnecessary and, because it imposes political order rather than natural order, it is also evil. Communism refers to the principle of the collective ownership of wealth and, hence, the abolition of private property.

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Varieties of Anarchism - Collective

Anarcho Communism

Anarchism has been linked to communism through the anarcho-communist tradition, as espoused by Kropotkin and others. This tradition has fused a communist commitment to collectivizing wealth with an anarchist belief in self-management and natural order.

Communist assumptions about human nature emphasise the capacity for sociable, cooperative and gregarious behaviour, assumptions that are key to the anarchist belief in statelessness and natural order.

The institution of common ownership is thought to have anarchic implications, in that collective wealth tends to strengthen social bonds and foster sympathy between and amongst people. Communism therefore creates conditions in which anarchist goals can be achieved.

Marxist ideas about the withering away of the state highlight an anarchist-like preference for a stateless society.

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Varieties of Anarchism - Individualist

The philosophical basis of individualist anarchism lies is the idea of the sovereign individual, they can be seen as pushing liberal individualism to its logical extreme. At its extreme this implies complete individual sovereignty, the idea that absolute and unlimited authority resides within each human being. Therefore, any constraint on the individual is evil, but when imposed by a sovereign, compulsory and coercive body such as the state, it amounts to an absolute evil. Therefore, they support negative freedom – an absence of external constraints upon the individual. The individual cannot be sovereign in a society ruled by law and government, so individualism and the state are incompatible.

Individualist anarchists also believe that individuals can conduct themselves peacefully, harmoniously and prosperously without the need for government and police. Free individuals can live and work together constructively because of their rational and moral nature. Reason dictates that conflict should be resolved by arbitration or debate and not by violence.

However, individualism has some difficulties in explaining how an anarchist society could remain peaceful and stable, as self-striving tends to imply conflict between and amongst individuals for limited resources. Individualist Anarchists therefore make additional assumptions, either about rationality or the capacity of social institutions, particularly market competition, to reconcile competing interests and maintain natural harmony. Anarcho-Capitalists, for example, apply assumptions about market equilibrium to all areas of economic life.

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Comparison between the different approaches

Anarchism can be viewed as a point of overlap between liberalism and socialism, the point at which both ideologies reach anti-statist conclusions. Anarchism has a dual character and can be interpreted as either a form of ultra-liberalism or ultra-socialism.

However, there is disagreement within anarchism about the relative importance of liberalism and socialism, depending on whether the anarchism in question is based on an extreme form of liberal individualism or an extreme form of socialist collectivism. 

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Comparison between the different approaches Libera

Individualist anarchists reach their conclusions by pushing liberal individualism to its logical extreme. This implies individual sovereignty, the idea that absolute and unlimited authority resides in each human being. From this perspective, any constraint on the individual is evil, especially when it is imposed by a sovereign, compulsory and coercive state. Individualist anarchists also draw on economic liberalism in endorsing market economics as a way of bringing about equilibrium within a stateless society.

But, significant differences exist between liberalism and individualist anarchism.

1. The State, even classical liberals argue that a minimal state is necessary to prevent self-seeking individuals from abusing one another. Law therefore exists to protect freedom, rather than constrain. Modern liberals take this argument further and defend state intervention on the grounds that it enlarges positive freedom.

2. Constitutionalism, liberals believe that government power can be ‘tamed’ or controlled by the development of constitutional representative institutions. Liberal-democratic states are therefore not viewed as an offence against the individual. 

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Comparison between the different approaches Social

Anarchist conclusions can also be reached by pushing socialist collectivism to its limits. In that sense, anarchism shares with socialism a view of human beings as essentially social creatures, emphasizing the importance of sympathy, affection and co-operation. This is reflected in parallels between collectivist anarchism and Marxism, which both look to the construction of a stateless society, albeit achieved through different means.

But, anarchism and socialism disagree on a number of points,

1. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, The temporary proletarian state that will protect the gains of the revolution clashes with the anarchist belief that all states are evil and oppressive.

2. The Welfare State Democratic Socialism uses to reform or humanise the capitalist system and to bring about greater equality and social justice is rejected by anarchists as all states, however well intended. are evil.

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Roads to Anarchism

The truth is many anarchists have advocated anarchy more than they have achieved it and a fair criticism is the lack a means of practical application of anarchist ideas. Proudhon and many early anarchists pictured a gradual decline of the state as it became replaced by smaller and less authoritarian organizations. Many anarchists pointed out that the state was unwilling to allow this to happen and would need to be forced.


 Bakunin, and others, saw themselves as part of the spontaneous rising of the oppressed against a capitalist state.

 Political Violence

 At various times anarchists have sought to use terror and violence to attack the state and even to force it into a violent response. The idea being that this would cause a wider uprising and bring an end to the state.

 Direct Action

 Anarcho-Syndicalists attempted to use trade unions and similar organisations to create a new society free from the old state. Spain in the Civil War is a good example. They ignored conventional politics and used protest and their own organisation to create a new way of living.

 The Anti-Globalisation movement could be argued to be trying to achieve the same thing through protests, consumer boycotts and use of the internet.

 Anarcho-Capitalists have sought to achieve anarchy by removing the state from economic activity. Going beyond simple privatisation to creating different currencies and denying the legitimacy of central economic control.


 The brutal truth is the state always seems to be very effective at fighting back and reasserting control.


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