Definition of anarchism and libertarianism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Anarchism and socialism)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Anarchism and libertarianism, as broad political ideologies with manifold historical and contemporary meanings, have contested definitions. Their adherents have a pluralistic and overlapping tradition that makes precise definition of the political ideology difficult or impossible, compounded by a lack of common features, differing priorities of subgroups, lack of academic acceptance, and contentious, historical usage.


"Anarchism" generally refers to the anti-authoritarian (libertarian) wing of the socialist movement.[a] "Libertarian socialism" has been a synonym for "anarchism" since 1890,[1] as has the term "libertarian" through the mid-20th century.[2]

The terms "anarchism" and "libertarianism" represent broad political ideologies with multiple historical and contemporary meanings.[3][4] Incompatibilities within their pluralistic tradition prove difficult or impossible to reconcile into a singular set of core beliefs.[5] The range of ideological disparities within anarchism is often paradoxical and never fully coherent.[6]

Other complicating factors in defining "anarchism" include disagreement over its status as a political ideology and contention over the term's historical usage.[7] Anarchism's rejection of the state and state policy largely sits outside the purview of political scientists and in some formulations, its misconstruction as the antithesis of politics contributes to its marginalization as a political ideology.[8]

History of usage[edit]

Since the 19th century, "libertarian" has referred to advocates for freedom of the will, or anyone who generally advocated for liberty. Its long association with anarchism extends to 1858 in the title of New York anarchist journal Le Libertaire.[9] Anarchist Sébastien Faure used the term later in the century to differentiate between anarchists and authoritarian socialists.[9] While the term "libertarian" has been largely synonymous with anarchism,[b] its meaning has more recently diluted with wider adoption from ideologically disparate groups.[9] For example, "libertarians" include both the New Left Marxists (who do not associate with authoritarian socialists or a vanguard party) and extreme liberals (primarily concerned with civil liberties). Additionally, some anarchists use "libertarian socialist" to avoid anarchism's negative connotations and emphasize its connections with socialism.[9]

Anarchism retains a historical association with chaos and violence.[10] In the late 1800s, prominent anarchist Peter Kropotkin noted the popular connotations of "anarchy" as a synonym for chaos and disorder, and thus a disadvantageous name for a movement. He accepted the term despite this, just as the Dutch Sea Beggars and sans-culottes had their own names conferred.[11] Anarchists throughout the 20th century have regretted the philosophy's association with chaos, explosives, wanton violence, and marauding.[12] These connotations endure contemporaneously through the popular media's association of black bloc property destruction with the movement.[10]

The term "anarchist" is also used as an empty signifier reflecting the author's disdain or conscious abrasiveness.[8] The term's association with societal malady has been, in part, an intentional strategy by its detractors to discredit it.[7] "Libertarian" saw a similar diffusion of purpose within the American libertarian movement as a wider group less studied and less interested in minimal government adopted the term, diluting the potency of its association with the strict rights-based libertarianism of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard.[13] Anarcho-capitalists and those who believe in abolition of the state have occupied the fringe of the libertarian movement.[14]

The revival of free-market ideologies during the mid-to-late 20th century came with disagreement over what to call the movement. While many of its adherents, especially in the United States, prefer "libertarian", many Conservative libertarians reject the term's association with the 1960s New Left and its connotations of libertine hedonism.[15] The movement is divided over the use of "Conservative" as an alternative.[16] Those who seek both economic and social liberty would be known as classical "liberals", but that term developed associations opposite of the limited government, low-taxation, minimal state advocated by the movement.[17] Name variants of the free-market revival movement include classical liberalism, free market liberalism, economic liberalism, and neoliberalism.[15] "Libertarian" has the most colloquial acceptance to describe a member of the movement, or "economic libertarian", based on both the ideology's primacy of economics and its distinction from libertarians of the New Left.[16]

Relation with socialism[edit]

In the 19th century, "anarchism" and "socialism" were used interchangeably, both treated as similar threats to sociopolitical order despite their differences in views towards the state.[18]

The biggest divide in the definition of anarchism is between the main individualist and socialist anarchist traditions.[12] While anarchism sits between liberalism and socialism, the definitive extent of its affiliation with either is contested.[19] Historians (Rocker and Woodcock) have described anarchism as the confluence of liberal individualism and socialist egalitarianism. Other activists and theorists have variously argued that one tradition is "genuine anarchism" and the other tradition is oppression (Bookchin vs. anarcho-capitalists) or a combination whereof (Black).[19] These contemporary distinctions trace to the time of early modern anarchism when Peter Kropotkin and Alexander Berkman either broke with groups or otherwise separated the traditions of communist anarchism from individualist, mutualist, and egoist anarchism.[19] Even the very idea of the individualist–socialist divide is contested, as some types of individualist anarchism are largely socialistic.[12] Despite these imprecise boundaries and some similarities, socialism and individualism within anarchism have a bifurcated tradition, the former associated with the history of socialism and the latter with classical liberalism and conservatism (also known as "right-libertarianism"). Even their shared belief in anti-statism does not provide a common identity, as both traditions differ in their interpretation state-rejection in spite of the common terms.[19]

"Libertarian socialism" is synonymous with classical anarchism in their commitments to autonomy and freedom, decentralization, opposing hierarchy, and opposing the vanguardism of authoritarian socialism. Generally, this includes classical anarchism, council communism, Italian autonomists, and the Marxism of Luxemburg, Mattick, and Gramsci, as each practices an anti-authoritarian socialism, despite whether individuals personally identify as fully "anarchist" or "Marxist".[20] Classical anarchism is distinguished from general Marxism by its opposition to centralized or authoritarian organizational structures[21] and "the dominion of man over man".[22] Socialist-aligned forms of anarchism are also known as "social anarchism".[12]

Relation with property and capitalism[edit]

Modern American libertarians are distinguished from the dominant libertarian tradition by their relation to property and capital. While both historical libertarianism and contemporary economic libertarianism share general antipathy towards power by government authority, the latter exempts power wielded through free market capital. Historically, libertarians including Herbert Spencer and Max Stirner supported the protection of an individual's freedom from powers of government and private ownership.[23] In contrast, modern American libertarians support freedoms on the basis of their agreement with private property rights.[24] The abolishment of public amenities is a common theme in modern American libertarian writings.[25]

Types of definition of anarchism[edit]

Anarchism scholar Paul McLaughlin studies the various definitions of anarchism in his book Anarchism and Authority. According to him, there are 3 common types of anarchism definition:

  • etymological definitions
  • anti-statist definitions
  • anti-authoritarian definitions

But all fall short from providing a precise definition of anarchism.[26]

Etymological definition[edit]

"Anarchy" derives from the Greek anarkhos, meaning "without authority" (as opposed to "without government/state").[27] Hence the etymological definition of anarchism as the negation of an authority. But anarchism is not simple negative stance on authority but carries along a positive stance about how the society should be build.[26]

Anti-statist definition[edit]

Antistatist definitions place the focus of interest on the negation, and confrontation in the real word, of the state by anarchism. But as with the etymological definition, anarchism is much more than anti-statism, it rejects all various forms of established authority. [28]

The association between anti-statism and anarchism is both commonly understood and contested.[c] ...

Anarchism, according to historian Peter Marshall, exists outside standards of political theory because its aims are not based on the struggle for power within the state. It is more concerned with moral and economic theory than participation in political systems and indeed advocates against participation in such systems.[29]

Anarchist libertarians and modern economic libertarians share opposition to the state as their only commonality.[30]

Anti-authoritarian definitions[edit]

Anti-authoritarian definitions depicts the rejection of all kind of authorities. Even though these kind of definitions are much broader than the anti-statist ones, there are still handicaps. McLaughlin, who examines under a philosophical scope, claims that anti-authoritarianism is a conclusion of anarchist thought, not an a priori statement, therefore it can not be used as a definition.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
    • Levy & Adams 2018, p. 104: "As such, many people use the term 'anarchism' to describe the anti-authoritarian wing of the socialist movement."
    • Marshall 1992, p. 641: "In general, anarchism is closer to socialism than liberalism. ... Anarchism finds itself largely in the socialist camp, but it also has outriders in liberalism. It cannot be reduced to socialism, and is best seen as a separate and distinctive doctrine."
    • Cohn 2009, p. 4: "... from the 1890s on, the term 'libertarian socialism' has entered common use as a synonym for anarchism."
    • Chomsky 2005, p. 123: Modern anarchism is "the libertarian wing of socialism".
  2. ^
    • Marshall 1992, p. 641: "For a long time, libertarian was interchangeable in France with anarchist but in recent years, its meaning has become more ambivalent."
    • Cohn 2009, p. 6: "'libertarianism' ... a term that, until the mid-twentieth century, was synonymous with "anarchism" per se"
  3. ^
    • Jun 2009, p. 507: "One common misconception, which has been rehearsed repeatedly by the few Anglo-American philosophers who have bothered to broach the topic ... is that anarchism can be defined solely in terms of opposition to states and governments."
    • Franks 2013, pp. 386–387: "... many, questionably, regard anti-statism as the irremovable, universal principle at the core of anarchism"
    • Franks 2013, p. 388: "The fact that [socialist and individualist anarchisms] share a core concept of 'anti-statism', which is often advanced as ... a commonality between them ..., is insufficient to produce a shared identity ... because [they interpret] the concept of state-rejection ... differently despite the initial similarity in nomenclature."
    • McLaughlin 2007, p. 166: "[opposition to the state] is (contrary to what many scholars believe) not definitive of anarchism"


  1. ^ Cohn 2009, p. 4.
  2. ^ Cohn 2009, p. 6.
  3. ^ Miller 1984, p. 2.
  4. ^ Levy & Adams 2018, p. 102.
  5. ^ Levy & Adams 2018, p. 56.
  6. ^ Miller 1984, pp. 2–3.
  7. ^ a b Franks 2013, pp. 385–386.
  8. ^ a b Franks 2013, p. 385.
  9. ^ a b c d Marshall 1992, p. 641.
  10. ^ a b Evren 2011, p. 1.
  11. ^ Evren 2011, pp. 1–2.
  12. ^ a b c d Franks 2013, p. 386.
  13. ^ Doherty 2008, pp. 584–585.
  14. ^ Gamble 2013, p. 414.
  15. ^ a b Gamble 2013, p. 405.
  16. ^ a b Gamble 2013, p. 406.
  17. ^ Gamble 2013, pp. 405–406.
  18. ^ Kemp 2018, p. 180.
  19. ^ a b c d Franks 2013, p. 388.
  20. ^ Amster et al. 2009, p. 3.
  21. ^ Amster et al. 2009, p. 9.
  22. ^ Chomsky 2005, p. 123.
  23. ^ Francis 1983, p. 462.
  24. ^ Francis 1983, pp. 462–463.
  25. ^ Francis 1983, p. 463.
  26. ^ a b McLaughlin 2007, p. 27.
  27. ^ Jun 2009, p. 507.
  28. ^ McLaughlin 2007, pp. 27-28.
  29. ^ Marshall 1992, p. 639.
  30. ^ McLaughlin 2007, p. 165n26–166.
  31. ^ McLaughlin 2007, p. 28.


  • Amster, Randall; DeLeon, Abraham; Fernandez, Luis; Nocera, Anthony J.; Shannon, Deric, eds. (2009). Contemporary Anarchist Studies: An Introductory Anthology of Anarchy in the Academy. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-47402-3.
  • Chomsky, Noam (2005). Pateman, Barry (ed.). Chomsky on Anarchism. Oakland, CA: AK Press. ISBN 978-1-904859-26-0.
  • Cohn, Jesse (April 20, 2009). "Anarchism". In Ness, Immanuel (ed.). The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest. Oxford, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. pp. 1–11. doi:10.1002/9781405198073.wbierp0039. ISBN 978-1-4051-9807-3.
  • Doherty, Brian (2008). Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement. PublicAffairs. ISBN 978-1-58648-572-6.
  • Evren, Süreyyya (2011). "How New Anarchism Changed the World (of Opposition) after Seattle and Gave Birth to Post-Anarchism". In Rousselle, Duane; Evren, Süreyyya (eds.). Post-Anarchism: A Reader. Pluto Press. pp. 1–19. ISBN 978-0-7453-3086-0.
  • Francis, Mark (December 1983). "Human Rights and Libertarians". Australian Journal of Politics & History. 29 (3): 462–472. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8497.1983.tb00212.x. ISSN 0004-9522.
  • Franks, Benjamin (August 2013). Freeden, Michael; Stears, Marc (eds.). "Anarchism". The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies. Oxford University Press: 385–404. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199585977.013.0001.
  • Gamble, Andrew (August 2013). Freeden, Michael; Stears, Marc (eds.). "Economic Libertarianism". The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies. Oxford University Press: 405–421. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199585977.013.0008.
  • Jun, Nathan (September 2009). "Anarchist Philosophy and Working Class Struggle: A Brief History and Commentary". WorkingUSA. 12 (3): 505–519. doi:10.1111/j.1743-4580.2009.00251.x. ISSN 1089-7011.
  • Kemp, Michael (2018). "Beneath a White Tower". Bombs, Bullets and Bread: The Politics of Anarchist Terrorism Worldwide, 1866–1926. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. pp. 178–186. ISBN 978-1-4766-7101-7.
  • Levy, Carl; Adams, Matthew S., eds. (2018). The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-3-319-75619-6.
  • Marshall, Peter (1992). Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-217855-6.
  • McLaughlin, Paul (2007). "Defining Anarchism". Anarchism and Authority: A Philosophical Introduction to Classical Anarchism. Ashgate. pp. 25–36. ISBN 978-0-7546-6196-2.
  • Miller, David (1984). "What Is Anarchism?". Anarchism. London: J.M. Dent & Sons. ISBN 0-460-10093-9.

Further reading[edit]