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What is anarchism?

+7 votes
I have heard the idea used to mean very different things. Chaos, disorder, order, democracy, and more. What -exactly- is anarchism?

edited to add tags
asked Mar 22, 2010 by anonymous
edited Apr 12, 2014 by dot

3 Answers

+2 votes
Best answer
Anarchism is as a political philosophy that aspires to a world without the State and without exchange relations. It is both the negative idea that there is a laundry list of ideas, practices, and values in our current society to be against and the positive idea that what is most "us" about us (as living creatures) should be free to pursue its own ends without coercion or constraint.

Anarchism is also a variable. It means many different things to different people. This open nature to the term serves as a counter-point to ideas that are connected to specific thinkers or traditions in that, while there is a tradition, and there are important thinkers, there is also a lot of room for -you- to write your own page to the story. To apply the variable to your own life.

Anarchism is also a constraint. For many, if not most, anarchists there is a central concept that the ends do -not- justify the means, or put more gently, that an anarchist practice must embed the values and ideas of a future anarchist society. This means that anarchists are often broken into parts. One part acts against the constraints of this world. The other part constrains themselves by an ethical ruler the calibration of which is in a foreign unit.
answered Mar 27, 2010 by aragorn (2,310 points)
Could you explain what it means to have a world "without exchange relations."  My understanding is that when two beings interact, one could describe the relation between them.  So, to be against "exchange relations" is to be against exchange.  Am I missing something?  Are you saying that anarchism is a world where nobody exchanges things with others?
i believe that here "exchange relations" is referring to a way of thinking about relationships that is constrained by expectations and assumptions of economics, of market forces.
it is easy to fall into thinking about how we interact with each other in ways that are consistent with capitalism.
for example, "i am friends with you because you give me equal value..." or
"i will do nice things for you because you do nice things for me".
instead of that we are friends because we enjoy hanging out, or doing nice things because it makes me feel good to do nice things, or any of the other possibilities that exist between people who have not been stifled by a quid pro quo attitude.
Not all anarchists oppose exchange relations. Ever heard of mutualism?
Yeah, some of us have heard of mutualism. How about 90%?
0 votes
The simple answer is that Anarchism is an-archos.  Archos means ruler, An is a negative.  An-Archos = no rulers.

Anarchist believe that in every human endeavor, we will be more pleased with the process and the end results if we organize ourselves in an egalitarian manner on a basis of equality.

A longer answer involves an examination of way in which people are ruled by others including class divisions in society where the rich rule over the poor, or patriarchal relations where men rule over women, or imperialism where one country rules over another, or property relations where one person claims to own something, and rules over who may use this 'property,' when, and for what cost.

Another answer would be a description of anarchist principles like: Solidarity, Mutual Aid, Autonomy, Accountability, Self-Determination, Consent, De-Centralization, Liberation, Equality, Direct Action, and others.
answered May 12, 2010 by Taigarun (1,890 points)
–2 votes
Anarchism is opposition to capitalism, the state, and all forms of hierarchial authoritarianism. The anarchist society is based on free association, worker's self-management, and equal liberty for all people.
answered Jan 28, 2011 by vaguelyhumanoid (370 points)
not all anarchists believe in workers' self management. some are anti-work (both in the way that work is currently understood and in the way that some other anarchists expect to maintain).
if you take "worker's self-management" to mean independence from outside direction/control, self ownership, and the like, then it isn't a negative point in relation to anarchism. however, i do wonder why he thought it different enough from "free association" to mention it separately.
self-management is actually a main point in anarchism, since if there are no rulers, the only one to "manage" you is yourself. outside management of people can't really be consistent with anarchist philosophy, because that would be giving orders to others, which would be the definition of a leader or ruler, especially if there were consequences involved. the most powerful form of leadership an anarchist can use is leading by example; the individual still needs to have full control over his decision to act or not.
yea, self-management is a traditional tenet. i would argue against it, myself, at this point, since i have abandoned the word "management" to the forces in society that i reject. ie just as i am philosophically opposed to roe v wade decision (that women belong to themselves)--i see this as an alienation of ourselves from ourselves (although obviously in both examples, the attempt is in a good cause).