Skip to content

In Defence Of Anarchy Essay

The libertarian idea of society without a state appeals to many people, but, however enticing the idea, it is often dismissed as utopian. How could an anarchist society defend itself against large, centralized states? Defense, it has been alleged, cannot be adequately supplied by the free market. It is what economists term a “public good.”

The contributors to The Myth of National Defense dissent from this verdict. In a characteristically stimulating essay, Hans-Hermann Hoppe shows in detail how an anarchist society would deal with protection. He suggests that protective agencies would be linked to insurance companies. Carrying the battle to his statist adversaries, Hoppe contends that Hobbes and his many successors have failed to show that the state that they support is preferable to the state of nature.

Walter Block confronts the public goods problem head-on. It is not true, he says, that defense must be supplied to everybody, the principal claim of those who raise the public goods objection. To the contrary, the market has ways to exclude those who do not buy defense services from receiving protection.

Jeffrey Hummel brings a historical perspective to the argument. Given modern technological conditions, a small but technological defense force, of the sort that an anarchist society could provide, would be able to repel invasions from the mass armies raised by states. Joseph Stromberg looks to the history of guerilla war to illustrate successful defense without a large army, and Larry Sechrest shows how private forces have carried out naval warfare.

The book contains much else; as an example, the distinguished philosopher of science Gerard Radnitzky challenges the view that democracies are more peaceful than other forms of government. Readers in search of a thoughtful alternative to the stale bromides that dominate current thought about national defense will find exactly what they are looking for in this outstanding book.

Subscribe to Our Mailing Lists

In Defense of Anarchism is a 1970 book by the philosopher Robert Paul Wolff, regarded as a classical work in anarchist scholarship.[1] Wolff specifically defends individualist anarchism; the book is premised on the idea that individual autonomy and state authority are mutually exclusive and, as individual autonomy is inalienable, the moral legitimacy of the state thus collapses.[1]

First published by Harper and Row in 1970 as In Defense of Anarchism: With a Reply to Jeffrey H. Reiman's In Defense of Political Philosophy, it has since run to five editions, the latest of which is the University of California Press 1998 edition.[2]

Summary[edit]

The book has three parts: "The Conflict between Authority and Autonomy," "The Solution of Classical Democracy," "Beyond the Legitimate State," and an appendix, "Appendix: A proposal for Instant Direct Democracy."[1] The book opens with Part I, "The Conflict between Authority and Autonomy," which Wolff begins by positing as the essence of modern political philosophy "how the moral autonomy of the individual can be made compatible with the legitimate authority of the state."[1] As an anarchist, he believes that it cannot be. What follows is Wolff's account of authority and Kantianautonomy, and the incompatibility of the two.

Part II, "The Solution of Classical Democracy," is Wolff's account of democratic liberalism, the dominant political structure of the late 20th century. He investigates unanimous direct democracy, representative democracy, and majoritarian democracy, drawing on Rawlsian arguments for the practicality of consensus decision-making. Wolff argues that consensus is limited by the requirement that participants are generally rational and altruistic, and that the community in question is not too large.[1] He goes on to critique the notion of democratic representation, pointing out that representation is an illusion as representatives do not obey the wishes of their constituents, and that it is impossible not to distinguish between the rulers and the ruled in a representational system.

In Part III, "Beyond the Legitimate State," Wolff arrives at the foreshadowed conclusion that because autonomy and the legitimacy of state power are incompatible, one must either embrace anarchism or surrender one's autonomy, as Thomas Hobbes proposed, to whichever authority seems strongest at the time.[1] Democracy, in this schema, is no better than dictatorship, a priori, as both require forsaking one's autonomy.

Reception[edit]

The book was well received not only in academic philosophy and in traditional anarchist circles, but also by individualist anarchists of the anarcho capitalist variety such as Murray Rothbard, whose letters of praise "chagrined" Wolff, who was shocked to have a position that was consonant to those he thought of as "right" wingers.[3]

Wolff's premising of "the State" and the "autonomous individual" as fixed, given entities has been criticised by Thomas Martin in Social Anarchism as reflecting "basic assumptions arising from Renaissance humanism, Enlightenment liberalism, and the alliance of capitalism and central authority that has marked the industrial era."[1] Such notions have been critiqued by late 20th century currents in anarchist thought such as post-left anarchy, insurrectionary anarchism and particularly post-anarchism.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]