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Contemporary Anarchism

While the Spanish Civil War, World War II (1939–1945), and the rise of totalitarian communist regimes after 1949 were events that effectively ended the further development of the historical anarchist movement, anarchist ideas and sensibilities were not as easily repressed. The political and cultural protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s in Europe and the Americas saw a resurgence of interest in anarchism. Feminists, ecologists, student radicals, pacifists, and others who were eager to question the prevailing social and moral preconceptions of modern society held by both the left and the right were drawn above all to the doctrine's iconoclasm. At this time, elements from a variety of nonlibertarian groups—the Situationists in France, for example—freely borrowed anarchist ideas in developing their own ideological positions.

Anarchism has also been enriched by the thinking of some of the twentieth century's leading philosophers, political activists, artists, and intellectuals. Bertrand Russell, Herbert Read, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Buber, Albert Camus, Michel Foucault, Paul Goodman, Lewis Mumford, and Noam Chomsky are among the notable figures who have been associated with anarchist beliefs and values.

From the late twentieth century on, anarchism has continued to branch out in different directions. Anarchist ideas have been influential in the development of radical feminism and the Green and antiglobalist movements that have spread across Europe and the Americas. Contemporary anarcho-feminism has its roots in the writings and activism of historically important figures like Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre, and Federica Montseny. Goldman was among the first female anarchists to emphasize that the emancipation of women in society must begin with psychological change within women themselves. By calling on women to struggle against the repressive and hierarchical structures that dominated their personal lives, Goldman anticipated late-twentieth-century anarcho-feminists, who have insisted that the "personal is political" and have developed a radical critique of everyday life. Anarchist principles also have been adopted by some of the more radical ecological movements of postindustrial societies. Libertarian social ecologists such as Murray Bookchin have attempted to extend the traditional anarchist demand to emancipate society from government rule to our natural environment, calling for an end to human beings' dominating and exploitative relationship with nature.

Perhaps because of its shock value in an age crowded by political neologisms, the anarchist label has also been applied to groups that do not properly belong to the anarchist tradition. For example, the term "anarcho-capitalism" is sometimes used to refer to libertarian economic and social thinkers such as Ayn Rand, David Friedman, and other pro-capitalists who hold strong antistatist views. But even though they share the anarchist's contempt for state authority, their commitment to free enterprise and laissez-faire principles places them completely at odds with classical anarchist thinking and practice.

Ever since the Cold War ended in 1991, small groups of anarchists around the world have been in the forefront of the antiglobalization movement. Like their predecessors, modern anarchist activists seek to expose the adverse power relationships that affect our daily lives. They are particularly concerned with the impact that the global expansion of corporate leviathans has had on society, not least because of the seemingly unlimited ways in which this advanced form of capitalism can manipulate and control the lives of individuals. While a few anarchist groups still resort to direct-action methods to get their revolutionary message across, a growing number are turning to advanced technologies like the Internet to promote their cause. In short, whether one admires or abhors anarchist principles, it cannot be denied that anarchism offers a critical perspective of authority that appears to be endlessly relevant to those who want to sharpen their awareness of the boundaries of personal freedom.



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George Esenwein

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ambiguity - Ambiguity to Anticolonialism in Middle East - Ottoman Empire And The Mandate SystemAnarchism - Anarchist Principles In Context, Contemporary Anarchism, Bibliography