A2 Edexcel Government & Politics - Political Ideologies



  • Word 'anarchy' - comes from Greek - means 'without rule'.
  • Anarchism refers to a collection of political movements which have emerged at various times and in various circumstances since the end of the 18th century.
  • 'Anarchism' - been used since French Revolution - initially employed in a critical sens to imply the breakdown of civilised order.
  • Defined by the central belief - political authority in all forms - especially the state - is both evil, and unnecessary.
  • Therefore, they look to create a stateless society through abolition of law and government.
  • Believe the state is evil - it is an offence against the principles of freedom and equality.
  • A highly optimistic view of human nature - believe the state is unnecessary - order and social harmony can arise naturally and spontaneously. It does not have to be imposed from 'above' - through the government.
1 of 20

Origins and Development

  • First and in a sense, classic, statement of anarchist principles - produced by Godwin in late 18th century.
  • An unusual political ideology - in that it has never succeeded in winning power - at least at the national level.
  • The nearest anarchists have come to winning power - during the Spanish Civil War - when they briefly controlled parts of Spain and set up workers and peasants collectives throughout Catalonia (1930s)
  • Its appeal has been restricted by both its means and ends - overthrow of the state is largely utopian.
2 of 20

Core Themes: Anti-statism


  • Authority is an offence against the principles of freedom and equality.
  • Anarchism is unique - it endorses principles of absolute freedom and unrestrained political equality.
  • To be subject to authority means to be diminished.
  • To be in authority, even the so-called experts, is to acquire an appetite for prestige, control and domination.
  • US Anarchist Goodman (1977) - 'many are ruthless and most live in fear'.
  • Emphasise - authority of the state is absolute and unlimited - can interfere with all aspects of life.
  • They reject liberal 'consent theory' - individuals instead become subject to state authority.
  • The state is a coercive body whose laws must be obeyed - backed up by the threat of punishment.
  • Goldman - government is 'the club, the gun, the handcuff, or the prison'.
  • Optimistic view of human nature. However, believe people who would otherwise be cooperative, sociable and sympathetic - become oppressive when raised up above others by power or wealth.
  • Believe power in any form will corrupt absolutely.
3 of 20

Natural order

Natural order:

  • The state is not only evil but also unnecessary.
  • Godwin - humans are essentially rational creatures inclined by education and enlightened judgement to live in accordance with truth and universal moral laws.
  • He therefore believed that people have a nutral prosperity to organise their own lives in a peaceful and harmonious fashion.
  • It is the corrupting influence of government and unnatural laws rather than 'original sin' that creates injustice, greed and aggression.
  • From this perspective - social order arises naturally and spontaneously.
  • They regard human nature as 'plastic' - in the sense that it is shaped by the social, political and economic circumstances within which people live.
4 of 20



  • The same criticisms of the state also apply to any other form of compulsory authority - sometimes expressed as much bitterness towards the Church as the state - particularly in the 19th century.
  • Religion has often been seen as the source of authority itself.
  • Usually suspected religious & political authority as working hand-in-hand.
  • For anarchists such as Proudhon & Bakunin - an anarchist political philosophy had to be based on the rejection of Christianity because only then could human beings be regarded as free and independent.
  • Bakunin - "the abolition of the Church and the state must be the first and indispensible condition of the true liberation of society".
  • Rulers have often looked to religion to legitimise their power - most obvious in doctrine of the divine right of kings.
  • Religion seeks to impose a set of moral principles on the individual and to establish a code of acceptable behaviour.
  • Individual is thus robbed of moral autonomy and the capacity to make ethical judgements.
5 of 20

Economic freedom

Economic freedom:

  • Bakunin - "political power and wealth are inseperable"
  • 19th century - Anarchists usually worked within working-class movement and subscribed to a broadly socialist philosophy.
  • Capitalism was understood in class terms - ruling class exploits and oppresses the masses. (the ruling class - not the same as Marxist ruling class term - refers to all those who command wealth, power, or prestige)
  • The economic structure of life most keenly exposes tensions within anarchism:
  • Collectivist anarchists - advocate an economy based on cooperation and collective ownership.
  • Individualist anarchists - support the market and private property.
  • All anarchists agree about their distaste for the economic system that dominated much of the 20th century.
  • All opposed the 'managed capitalism' that flourished in western countries after 1945.
  • Collectivist anarchists - argued that state intervention props up a system of class exploitation and gives capitalism a human face.
  • Individualist anarchists - suggest intervention distorts the competitive market and creates economics dominated by both public and private monopolies.
  • All prefer an economy where free individuals manage their own affairs.
6 of 20

Collectivist anarchism

  • Philosophical roots lay in socialism.
  • Anarchist conclusions can be reached by pushing socialist collectivism to its limits.
  • Stresses human capacity for social solidarity - or what Kropotkin calls 'mutual aid'
  • Highlights the potential for goodness within all human beings.
  • Humans are sociable, gregarious and cooperative individuals at heart.
  • When people are linked together by the recognition of a common humanity, there's no need to be regulated/controlled by the government.
  • Bakunin - 'social solidarity is the first human law; freedom is the second law'.
  • Not only is government unnecessary - but, in placing freedom with oppression - it also makes social solidarity impossible.
7 of 20

Similarities between socialism and collectivist an

Number of clear theoretical parallels between anarchism and Marxism:

  • Both reject capitalism - view it as a system of class exploitation.
  • Both endorsed revolution as preferred means of bringing about political change.
  • Both exhibit a preference for the collective ownership of wealth and the communal organisation of social life.
  • Both therefore agree that humans have the ultimate capacity to order their affairs without the need for political authority.

Similarities between socialism and anarchism:

  • Socialists believe in state intervention for redistribution of wealth. Anarchists believe in a stateless society altogether.
  • Most socialists - only really against economic hierarchies. Anarchists reject hierarchies altogether.

8 of 20

Differences between socialism and collectivist ana

Differences between socialism and anarchism:

  • Especially in relation to parliamentary socialism - anarchists see this as a contradiction - not only is it impossible to reform/humanise capitalism - through corrupt government - but also any extension in the role of the state can only serve to entrench oppression.
  • Most bitter disagreement between collectivist anarchists and Marxists - their rival conceptions of the transition from capitalism to communism.
  • Marxists have called for a revolutionary 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. This proletarian state will nevertheless 'wither away'.
  • Anarchists on the other hand  believe the state is evil and oppressive in its own right - by its nature, it is corrupt.
  • The state cannot be allowed to 'wither away' as Marx puts it - it must be abolished.
9 of 20

Mutualism - Proudhon

  • A system of fair and equitable exchange - in which individuals or groups bargain with one another - trading goods and services without profiteering or exploitation.
  • Associated with Proudhon.
  • In a sense - his libertarian socialism stands between the individualist and collectivist traditions of anarchism.
  • Came up with famous statement 'property is theft' 
  • Condemned a system of economic exploitation based on accumulation of capital.
  • Unlike Marx - he wasn't opposed to all private property - distinguished between property, and what he called 'possessions'.
  • Sought to establish a system of property ownership that would avoid exploitation and promote social harmony - through mutualism.
  • Social interaction in this system would be voluntary, mutually beneficial and harmonious - requiring no interference by government.
10 of 20


  • Although mutualism and anarcho-communism exerted significant influence within broader socialist movement in late 19th/early 20th century - anarchism only developed into a mass movement in its own right in the form of anarcho-syndicalism.
  • Syndicalism - a form of revolutionary trade unionism - drawing its name from the French word syndicat - meaning union or group.
  • Emerged first in France - embraced by the powerful CGT union in period before 1914. Spread to Italy, Latin America, USA and most significantly - Spain.
  • Syndicalist theory drew on socialist ideas and advanced a crude notion of class war. Workers and peasants were seen to constitute an oppressed class.
  • Workers could defend themselves - organising unions.
  • Short term - act as conventional trade unions - to improve wages and working conditions.
  • Also revolutionaries - looked forward to overthrow of capitalism and seizure of power by the workers.
11 of 20

Anarcho-syndicalism continued

  • Sorel - such a revolution would come about through a general strike, a 'revolution of empty hands'. - All workers participated, would bring down the state altogether.
  • Syndicalists rejected conventional politics - pointless and corrupting. 
  • W.C power should be exerted through direct action, boycotts and strikes - ultimately a general strike.
  • Saw the syndicate as a model for the decentralised, non-hierarchic society of the future.
  • Although they enjoyed mass support, at least until the Spanish Civil War - they failed to achieve revolutionary objectives.
12 of 20


  • Sociable human beings should lead a shared and communal existence.
  • Labour is a social experience - people work in common with others and the wealth they produce should therefore be owned in common by the community.
  • In this sense - all forms of private property are theft - it represents the exploitation of the workers.
  • It encourages selfishness and, particularly offensive to the anarchist - promotes conflict and social disharmony.
  • Anarcho-communism - rooted in highly optimistic beliefs about human capacity for cooperation - famously expressed in Kropotkin's theory of mutual aid.
  • Whereas Spencer used Darwinism to support idea that humankind is naturally competitive and aggressive, Kropotkin argues species are successful precisely because they manage to harness collective energies through cooperation.
  • Evolution therefore strengthens sociability and favours cooperation over competition.
  • Kropotkin concluded - successful species (humans) - must have a strong propensity for mutual aid.
13 of 20

Anarcho-Communism continued...

  • Although Proudhon had warned that communism could only be brought about by an authoritarian state, anarcho-communists such as Kropotkin and Malatesta - argued that true communism requires the abolition of the state.
  • Anarcho-communists admire small, self-managing communities.
  • Kropotkin envisaged - an anarchic society would consist of a collection of largely self-sufficient communes - each owning its wealth in common.
  • The communal organisation of social and economic life has 3 key advantages:
  • 1) As communes are based on the principles of collective endeavour and sharing, they strengthen the bonds for compassion and solidarity - helping to keep greed at bay.
  • 2) Within communes - decisions are made through direct democracy - this guarantees high level of popular participation and political equality. Popular self-government is the only form of government which would be acceptable to anarchists.
  • 3) Communes are small-scale communities - allows people to manage their own affairs through face-to-face interaction.
14 of 20

Individualist anarchism

  • Lies in liberal idea of the sovereign individual.
  • At the heart of liberalism - a belief in the primacy of the individual and central importance of individual freedom.
  • Classical liberal view - negative freedom - absence of external constraints.
  • Taken to the extreme - individual sovereignty - absolute and unlimited authority resides within each human being.
  • Any constraint on the individual is evil - but when the constraint is imposed by the state - it amounts to an absolute evil.
  • The individual cannot be sovereign in a society ruled by law/government.
  • individualism and the state are thus irreconcilable principles.
15 of 20

Differences between individual anarchism and liber

Differences between individual anarchism and liberalism:

  • Liberals accept importance of individual liberty but do not believe this can be guaranteed in a stateless society. Classical liberals argue a minimal state is necessary to prevent self-seeking individuals from abusing one another. 
  • Modern liberals take this further - defend state intervention on the grounds that it enhances positive freedom.
  • By contrast - anarchists believe individuals can conduct themselves peacefully and prosperously without the need for government.
  • Anarchists differ from liberals - they believe free individuals can live and work together constructively because they are rational and moral creatures.
  • Liberals believe that government power can be controlled by development of constitutional and representative institutions - limiting power of the government - regular elections to force government to be accountable to the people.
  • Anarchists dismiss the idea of limited, constitutional or representative government - regard constitutionalism and democracy as simply facades - behind which naked political oppression operates.
  • All laws/states infringe individual liberty.
16 of 20


  • Stirner - 'The Ego and His Own'.
  • Stirner's theories are an extreme form of individualism.
  • His view - egoism is a philosophy that places the individual self at centre of the moral universe. The individual should act as they choose - without any consideration for laws, social conventions, religious or moral principles.
  • Humankind - driven by egoism. Believed notions of humans being naturally sociable and cooperative as false.
  • Opposed the state - it denied people's egoism.
  • 'The state and I are enemies. I, the egoist, have not at heart the welfare of this human society, I sacrifice nothing to it, I only utilise it'.
17 of 20


  • Individualist movement - more fully developed in the USA by libertarian thinkers - Thoreau, Spooner, Tucker, Warren.
  • Thoreau - in his most political work - Civil Disobedience - approved of Jefferson's liberal motto 'that government is best which governs least'.
  • Adapted this 'that government is best which governs not at all'.
  • Individualism leaves in the direction of civil disobedience. The individual has to be faithful to his or her conscience and do what each elides to be right - places individual conscience above demands of political obligation.
  • Tucker - took libertarianism further - considering how autonomous individuals could live and work with one another without dangers of conflict and disorder.
  • 2 possible solutions to this problem are available to the individualist:
  • 1) emphasises human rationality - suggests that when conflicts arise, they can be resolved by reasoned discussion.
  • 2) find some sort of mechanism through which the independent actions of free individuals could be brought into harmony with one another.
18 of 20

Libertarianism continued...

Extreme individualists - Warren and Tucker - believed this could be achieved through a system of market exchange.

  • Warren - thought individuals have a sovereign right to property they produce themselves - but also forced by economic logic to work with others in order to gain advantages of the division of labour.
  • Suggested this could be achieved by a system of 'labour-for-labour' exchange, and set up 'time stores' - through which one persons labour could be exchanged for a promise to return labour in kind.
  • Tucker - 'genuine anarchism is consistent Manchesterism' - referring to 19th century free-trade, free-market principles of Cobden and Bright
19 of 20


Rothbard, Rand, Friedman - pushed free-market ideas to their limit and developed a form of anarcho-capitalism. They have argued - government can be abolished and replaced by unregulated market competition.

  • Property should be owned by sovereign individuals - who may choose - if they wish - to enter into voluntary contracts with others in pursuit of self-interest.
  • The individual thus - remains free and the market, beyond control of any single individual or group, regulates all social interaction.
  • Anarcho-capitalists go well beyond ideas of free-market liberalism. 
  • Liberals believe the market is an effective and efficient mechanism for delivering most goods - but argue that it also has limits.
  • Anarcho-capitalists however - believe the market can satisfy all human wants - no need for state.
  • E.g. Rothbard -recognised in an anarchic society, individuals will seek protection from one another, but argued such protections can be delivered competitively by privately owned 'protection associations' and 'private courts' - without the need for a police force or state court system.
20 of 20


No comments have yet been made

Similar Government & Politics resources:

See all Government & Politics resources »See all Anarchism resources »