Using the word "anarchy" to refer solely to violence only adds to the state of confusion about what "anarchy" and "anarchists" are really about. It adds to the hysteria and fear people already have - rather than contributing to knowledge about an important historical movement. How many people know about Emma Goldman or the effects that anarchists had on the labor movement (i.e. the 40 work week)? The ACLU, Planned Parenthood and even Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker Movement all originated out of an anarchist intellectual milieu.

When people use the word "anarchy" to refer only to violence it adds nothing to our understanding of the continuation of anarchists to civil society we have today. The anti-authoritarian core of anarchy is perhaps as relevant today as it ever was. As "big government" and central planning become more and more discredited, the decentralized, voluntary cooperative spirit of mankind begins to look more attractive. Demonizing anarchy and anarchists only adds to the confusion about what is an appropriate level of government and how it might be possible for people to get along with a minimum of coercive institutions. Of course, whenever some one who claims to be an anarchist uses violence, it only reinforces public bias toward anarchy. This only illustrates the difficulty of defining what it means to be an anarchist - as by definition there is no authority to enforce a membership criteria. While few people would blame Catholicism when a Catholic commits a murder, it is common practice to blame anarchism when someone who claims to be an anarchist is violent.

What do you say to someone who demonizes anarchy and anarchists?
1. First talk about the meaning of anarchy.

According to the The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy, the word "anarchy" is from Greek, prefix a, meaning "not," "the want of," "the absence of," or "the lack of", plus archos, meaning "a ruler," "director", "chief," "person in charge," "commander." The Greek words anarchos, and anarchia meant "having no government -- being without a government" [Peter A. Angeles, The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, pp. 11-12].

The
Encyclopedia Britannica entry for anarchism says that it is,

"...a social philosophy whose central tenet is that human beings can live justly and harmoniously without government and that the imposition of government upon human beings is in fact harmful and evil. Anarchists are distinguished from Marxists and other socialists in that the latter believe that the state must first be taken over before it can "wither away"; anarchists are too suspicious of the corruptions of power to believe that this is desirable or even possible."

Both of these definitions have nothing to do with "violence" or "lawlessness" which people usually associate with anarchy. If fact, anarchy has more to do with a utopian vision of people being able to get along peacefully without governmental supervision.

For a good introductory essay, read:
What is anarchism?


2. What about anarchy's association with violence?

One of the problems with anarchy is that anyone can say they are an anarchist. If someone who says they are an anarchist, then do some violent act, they immediately become representative of all anarchists. This has mainly been a media problem. If a Catholic or a Jew kills someone or commits a crime, they are not branded a "Jewish" or "Catholic killer", but when someone who professes to be an anarchist, the "anarchist label is usually applied. In fact the sloppiness of journalists in using the "anarchist" label has done much to legitimize the defamation of anarchy and anarchists. People routinely use the word anarchy without any historical context of the philosophical basisis of anarchists.

Much of the social legislation of the last 100 years has been inspired by anarchists. The 8 hour workweek was an anarchist cause. Both the ACLU and Planned Parenthood were founded by people with anarchist views. Much anarchist history is ignored in establishment publications - perhaps out of fear that it will precipitate changes in the world order. Whatever one believes about the validity of anarchist ideas, it the height of hypocrisy to make disparaging comments about a philosophy without background or understanding of it's meaning and history.

For more information about the history and philosophies of anarchism, see:
The Internet Anarchist University



More references to Anarchism

Anarchism (Doctrine and Movement in ethics and politics) — Anarchism was a sometimes violent political movement around the turn of the century, but the word also describes a moral-political ideal of a society untouched by relations of power and domination among human beings. This moral ideal has most often expressed itself in what is the technical meaning of the term, namely the total absence of government. Anarchism, in this sense, differs from the position of classical liberalism or libertarianism in politics (which upholds not a lack of government but limited government), but in its moral sense (the abolition of force and domination from human relations) it is consonant with a rational ethics. Note, however, that this ethical aspect is overshadowed in popular understanding by the political aspect, and by the former political movement. --anarchism at The Ism Book

"I must tell you, first of all, what anarchism is not. It is not bombs, disorder, or chaos. It is not robbery or murder..." --'Defining Anarchism' by Jason Justice

Noam Chomsky on Anarchism

Anarchism is a tendency in the history of human thought and action which seeks to identify coercive, authoritarian, and hierarchic structures of all kinds and to challenge their legitimacy -- and if they cannot justify their legitimacy, which is quite commonly the case, to work to undermine them and expand the scope of freedom. --Noam Chomsky
I was attracted to anarchism as a young teenager, as soon as I began to think about the world beyond a pretty narrow range, and haven't seen much reason to revise those early attitudes since. I think it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom. --Noam Chomsky on Anarchism, Marxism & Hope for the Future

For more articles about anarchy and it's history, see the
The Anarchist Reading List

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