Anarchist FAQ/What is Anarchism?/4.1

A.4.1 Are there any thinkers close to anarchism?

Yes. There are numerous thinkers who are close to anarchism. They come from both the liberal and socialist traditions. While this may be considered surprising, it is not. Anarchism has links with both ideologies. Obviously the individualist anarchists are closest to the liberal tradition while social anarchists are closest to the socialist.

Indeed, as Nicholas Walter put it, "Anarchism can be seen as a development from either liberalism or socialism, or from both liberalism and socialism. Like liberals, anarchists want freedom; like socialists, anarchists want equality." However, "anarchism is not just a mixture of liberalism and socialism . . . we differ fundamentally from them." [About Anarchism, p. 29 and p. 31] In this he echoes Rocker's comments in Anarcho-Syndicalism. And this can be a useful tool for seeing the links between anarchism and other theories however it must be stressed that anarchism offers an anarchist critique of both liberalism and socialism and we should not submerge the uniqueness of anarchism into other philosophies.

Section A.4.2 discusses liberal thinkers who are close to anarchism, while section A.4.3 highlights those socialists who are close to anarchism. There are even Marxists who inject libertarian ideas into their politics and these are discussed in section A.4.4. And, of course, there are thinkers who cannot be so easily categorised and will be discussed here.

Economist David Ellerman has produced an impressive body of work arguing for workplace democracy. Explicitly linking his ideas the early British Ricardian socialists and Proudhon, in such works as The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm and Property and Contract in Economics he has presented both a rights based and labour-property based defence of self-management against capitalism. He argues that "[t]oday's economic democrats are the new abolitionists trying to abolish the whole institution of renting people in favour of democratic self-management in the workplace" for his "critique is not new; it was developed in the Enlightenment doctrine of inalienable rights. It was applied by abolitionists against the voluntary self-enslavement contract and by political democrats against the voluntary contraction defence of non-democratic government." [The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm, p. 210] Anyone, like anarchists, interested in producer co-operatives as alternatives to wage slavery will find his work of immense interest.

Ellerman is not the only person to stress the benefits of co-operation. Alfie Kohn's important work on the benefits of co-operation builds upon Kropotkin's studies of mutual aid and is, consequently, of interest to social anarchists. In No Contest: the case against competition and Punished by Rewards, Kohn discusses (with extensive empirical evidence) the failings and negative impact of competition on those subject to it. He addresses both economic and social issues in his works and shows that competition is not what it is cracked up to be.

Within feminist theory, Carole Pateman is the most obvious libertarian influenced thinker. Independently of Ellerman, Pateman has produced a powerful argument for self-managed association in both the workplace and society as a whole. Building upon a libertarian analysis of Rousseau's arguments, her analysis of contract theory is ground breaking. If a theme has to be ascribed to Pateman's work it could be freedom and what it means to be free. For her, freedom can only be viewed as self-determination and, consequently, the absence of subordination. Consequently, she has advocated a participatory form of democracy from her first major work, Participation and Democratic Theory onwards. In that book, a pioneering study of in participatory democracy, she exposed the limitations of liberal democratic theory, analysed the works of Rousseau, Mill and Cole and presented empirical evidence on the benefits of participation on the individuals involved.

In the Problem of Political Obligation, Pateman discusses the "liberal" arguments on freedom and finds them wanting. For the liberal, a person must consent to be ruled by another but this opens up the "problem" that they might not consent and, indeed, may never have consented. Thus the liberal state would lack a justification. She deepens her analysis to question why freedom should be equated to consenting to be ruled and proposed a participatory democratic theory in which people collectively make their own decisions (a self-assumed obligation to your fellow citizens rather to a state). In discussing Kropotkin, she showed her awareness of the social anarchist tradition to which her own theory is obviously related.

Pateman builds on this analysis in her The Sexual Contract, where she dissects the sexism of classical liberal and democratic theory. She analyses the weakness of what calls 'contractarian' theory (classical liberalism and right-wing "libertarianism") and shows how it leads not to free associations of self-governing individuals but rather social relationships based on authority, hierarchy and power in which a few rule the many. Her analysis of the state, marriage and wage labour are profoundly libertarian, showing that freedom must mean more than consenting to be ruled. This is the paradox of capitalist liberal, for a person is assumed to be free in order to consent to a contract but once within it they face the reality subordination to another's decisions (see section A.4.2 for further discussion).

Her ideas challenge some of Western culture's core beliefs about individual freedom and her critiques of the major Enlightenment political philosophers are powerful and convincing. Implicit is a critique not just of the conservative and liberal tradition, but of the patriarchy and hierarchy contained within the Left as well. As well as these works, a collection of her essays is available called The Disorder of Women.

Within the so-called "anti-globalisation" movement Naomi Klein shows an awareness of libertarian ideas and her own work has a libertarian thrust to it (we call it "so-called" as its members are internationalists, seeking a globalisation from below not one imposed from above by and for a few). She first came to attention as the author of No Logo, which charts the growth of consumer capitalism, exposing the dark reality behind the glossy brands of capitalism and, more importantly, highlighting the resistance to it. No distant academic, she is an active participant in the movement she reports on in Fences and Windows, a collection of essays on globalisation, its consequences and the wave of protests against it.

Klein's articles are well written and engaging, covering the reality of modern capitalism, the gap, as she puts it, "between rich and power but also between rhetoric and reality, between what is said and what is done. Between the promise of globalisation and its real effects." She shows how we live in a world where the market (i.e. capital) is made "freer" while people suffer increased state power and repression. How an unelected Argentine President labels that country's popular assemblies "antidemocratic." How rhetoric about liberty is used as a tool to defend and increase private power (as she reminds us, "always missing from [the globalisation] discussion is the issue of power. So many of the debates that we have about globalisation theory are actually about power: who holds it, who is exercising it and who is disguising it, pretending it no longer matters"). [Fences and Windows, pp 83-4 and p. 83]

And how people across the world are resisting. As she puts it, "many [in the movement] are tired of being spoken for and about. They are demanding a more direct form of political participation." She reports on a movement which she is part of, one which aims for a globalisation from below, one "founded on principles of transparency, accountability and self-determination, one that frees people instead of liberating capital." This means being against a "corporate-driven globalisation . . . that is centralising power and wealth into fewer and fewer hands" while presenting an alternative which is about "decentralising power and building community-based decision-making potential -- whether through unions, neighbourhoods, farms, villages, anarchist collectives or aboriginal self-government." All strong anarchist principles and, like anarchists, she wants people to manage their own affairs and chronicles attempts around the world to do just that (many of which, as Klein notes, are anarchists or influenced by anarchist ideas, sometimes knowing, sometimes not). [Op. Cit., p. 77, p. 79 and p. 16]

While not an anarchist, she is aware that real change comes from below, by the self-activity of working class people fighting for a better world. Decentralisation of power is a key idea in the book. As she puts it, the "goal" of the social movements she describes is "not to take power for themselves but to challenge power centralisation on principle" and so creating "a new culture of vibrant direct democracy . . . one that is fuelled and strengthened by direct participation." She does not urge the movement to invest itself with new leaders and neither does she (like the Left) think that electing a few leaders to make decisions for us equals "democracy" ("the goal is not better faraway rules and rulers but close-up democracy on the ground"). Klein, therefore, gets to the heart of the matter. Real social change is based on empowering the grassroots, "the desire for self-determination, economic sustainability and participatory democracy." Given this, Klein has presented libertarian ideas to a wide audience. [Op. Cit., p. xxvi, p. xxvi-xxvii, p. 245 and p. 233]

Other notable libertarian thinkers include Henry D. Thoreau, Albert Camus, Aldous Huxley, Lewis Mumford and Oscar Wilde. Thus there are numerous thinkers who approach anarchist conclusions and who discuss subjects of interest to libertarians. As Kropotkin noted a hundred years ago, these kinds of writers "are full of ideas which show how closely anarchism is interwoven with the work that is going on in modern thought in the same direction of enfranchisement of man from the bonds of the state as well as from those of capitalism." [Anarchism, p. 300] The only change since then is that more names can be added to the list.

Peter Marshall discusses the ideas of most, but not all, of the non-anarchist libertarians we mention in this and subsequent sections in his book history of anarchism, Demanding the Impossible. Clifford Harper's Anarchy: A Graphic Guide is also a useful guide for finding out more.

Last modified on 21 August 2010, at 07:47