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What is Anarchism?
Anarchism is a political theory, which is skeptical of the justification of authority and power, especially political power. Anarchism is
usually grounded in moral claims about the importance of individual liberty. Anarchists also offer a positive theory of human flourishing,
based upon an ideal of non-coercive consensus building. Anarchism has inspired practical efforts at establishing utopian communities, radical
and revolutionary political agendas, and various forms of direct action. This entry primarily describes “philosophical anarchism”: it focuses
on anarchism as a theoretical idea and not as a form of political activism. While philosophical anarchism describes a skeptical theory of
political legitimation, anarchism is also a concept that has been employed in philosophical and literary theory to describe a sort of anti-
foundationalism. Philosophical anarchism can mean either a theory of political life that is skeptical of attempts to justify state authority or
a philosophical theory that is skeptical of the attempt to assert firm foundations for knowledge.
Anarchism in political philosophy maintains that there is no legitimate political or governmental authority. In political philosophy anarchy is
an important topic for consideration—even for those who are not anarchists—as the a-political background condition against which various forms
of political organization are arrayed, compared, and justified. Anarchy is often viewed by non-anarchists as the unhappy or unstable condition
in which there is no legitimate authority. Anarchism as a philosophical idea is not necessarily connected to practical activism. There are
political anarchists who take action in order to destroy what they see as illegitimate states. The popular imagination often views anarchists
as bomb-throwing nihilists. But philosophical anarchism is a theoretical standpoint. In order to decide who (and whether) one should act upon
anarchist insight, we require a further theory of political action, obligation, and obedience grounded in further ethical reflection. Simmons
explains that philosophical anarchists “do not take the illegitimacy of states to entail a strong moral imperative to oppose or eliminate
states” (Simmons 2001: 104). Some anarchists remain obedient to ruling authorities; others revolt or resist in various ways. The question of
action depends upon a theory of what sort of political obligation follows from our philosophical, moral, political, religious, and aesthetic
Bakunin, Mikhail, 1873 , Statism and Anarchy (Gosudarstvennost’ i anarkhii?a), Marshall S. Shatz (trans.), Cambridge: Cambridge
–––, 1882/1908 [1910/1970], God and the State (Dieu et l’État), New York: Dover Publishing.
Ben-Dor, Oren, 2000, Constitutional Limits and the Public Sphere: A Critical Study of Bentham’s Constitutionalism, Oxford: Hart Publishing.
Bentham, Jeremy, 1843, “Anarchical Fallacies”, in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, Volume 2. Edinburgh: Tait. [Bentham 1843 available online]