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Anarchism - Anarchist Principles In Context, Contemporary Anarchism, Bibliography

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The term anarchy comes from an ancient Greek word meaning "without a leader or ruler." However, proponents of anarchism have most often used the term to refer to a natural state of society in which people are not governed by submission to human-made laws or to any external authority. Anarchism is above all a moral doctrine concerned with maximizing the personal freedom of individuals in society. To achieve this end, leading anarchist social theorists have tended to offer critical analyses of (1) the state and its institutional framework; (2) economics; and (3) religion. Anarchist hostility to the state is reflected in the rejection of the view popularized by contract theorists that a government's sovereignty is legitimated by the consent of its subjects. Anarchists contend that no contractual arrangement among human beings justifies the establishment of a ruling body (government) that subordinates individuals to its authority. From their observations of the historical development of the state, anarchist thinkers such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865) and Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921) concluded that all forms of government have been used as instruments for establishing monopolies that favor the propertied and privileged. Anarchists also argue that the all-encompassing authority of the state allows it to exercise undue influence over the lives of its citizens. It is further maintained by anarchists that the state, using laws and the organs of power at its disposal, can control not only citizens' public and private behavior but also their economic lives. As such, the state, in all its forms, is condemned as an unnecessary evil.

From an economic standpoint, most anarchists have identified themselves as members of the anticapitalist socialist movement. In common with socialists, anarchists see capitalism as a system ruled by elites, one that exploits the working or productive members of society economically and represses them culturally and spiritually. Accordingly, anarchists argue that the emancipation of the worker will only be achieved by completely destroying the pillars of capitalism.

Anarchists differ as to what form of economic arrangements should replace capitalism. Collectivists and mutualists insist that private ownership of the fruits of individuals' labor is desirable, while anarchist communists maintain that individual freedom can only be achieved in a society where all material goods and natural resources are placed under common ownership. Still another group of anarchists known as individualists have advocated a system of "labor for labor" exchange, which they believe could operate in accordance with natural market forces.

Anticlericalism is another important dimension of anarchist thinking. Though most anarchists are materialists, they are not opposed to spirituality per se: indeed anarcho-pacifists such as Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) were self-identified as Christians. Rather, anarchists condemn organized religion, which they see as an agent of cultural repression. They have, for example, attacked the Catholic Church among other religious institutions on the grounds that it has historically served as a means of empowering church government and not of enriching the spiritual lives of its adherents. Anarchists further contend that the church has consistently acted as an ally of secular governments and therefore forms part of the general system of state repression that operates against the common person.

Because the heyday of anarchism as an ideological movement was during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the focus here will be on the core beliefs of key anarchist theorists in this period. Thus a discussion of other, less historically significant anarchist strands such as pacifism and individualism will be mentioned only in passing. The impact that classical anarchist theory has had on recent political and social movements will be summarized in the concluding section.

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