Rules Without Rulers: The Possibilities and Limits of Anarchism
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This book is about the possibility of organising society without the state, but, crucially, it makes the claim, contrary to much anarchist theory, that such a life would not entail absolute freedom; rather, as the title suggests, it would mean creating new forms of social organisation which, whilst offering more freedom than state-capitalism, would nonetheless still entail certain limits to freedom. In making this argument, a secondary point is made, which highlights the book’s originality; namely, that, whilst anarchism is defended by an increasing number of radicals, the reality of what an anarchist society might look like, and the problems that such a society might encounter, are rarely discussed or acknowledged, either in academic or activist writings.
must deal with them in this way, but it does provide a necessary space for much need critical reflection. Conclusions. I started this chapter with the claim that anarchists have failed to address some serious concerns about their ideology, and I suggested that at least two reasons for this were internal to anarchist discourse itself: first, the insistence that anarchism has already been shown to be viable, as is evidenced both by the existence of non-state societies, and by the fact of anarchy
not, as we have seen, simply the failure of anarchists to convince others of the arguments that has led to this situation; it is the failure of anarchists to provide arguments even for themselves. And when proposals are given, they throw into doubt a supposedly core principles of anarchism: the commitment to freedom. When Schmidt & van der Walt concede that ‘[a]n anarchist society must also include a measure of legitimate coercive power exercised against those who committed harmful acts against
way of thinking about the world, as long as all the appropriate provisos are well understood. However, I would suggest that there remains a serious problem with mutual aid, in the idea of a common good which we mutually work towards. Kropotkin argued that, once people were freed ‘from existing fetters’ (Kropotkin 1970, 102) the tendency towards mutual aid would be more pronounced. If we understand existing fetters as the multiple hierarchies of capitalism, the state, patriarchy, and so on, then
believes in an essential space free from power, he therefore sees anarchist understandings of repression as being linked to this. But it seems to me that we can do away with an essential human nature and still coherently talk of repression, because, whether the result of nature or social conditioning, or anything else, people still have needs and desires which can be limited by the power of others, and it is this basic fact with which, I would suggest, anarchists are primarily concerned when they
Anarchism Prefigures Anarchy. A goal which is infinitely remote is not a goal at all, it is a deception (Alexander Herzen, quoted in Ward 2008, 164). So far, it would be fair to say that my analysis of anarchism has been highly critical. Yet none of what I have had to say has been written with the intention of encouraging the reader to abandon anarchism (or to continue dismissing it). In fact, my rather grandiose hope is that, in challenging anarchism so thoroughly, I will not have killed it,