Anarchism and the State Essay

Anarchism and the State

Anarchism and the State

States have varied both historically and geographically such that for example David Held
distinguishes between traditional states, feudal states,the polity of estates ,absolutist
states and modern states while Richards and Smith distinguish between liberal states,
social democratic states, collectivist states, totalitarian states and developmental
states. Such distinctions are extremely important but I shall be concentrating in the
following documents on the modern liberal democratic and social democratic states and
later on important more recent changes in the nature of the modern British State.

A very useful brief definition of the state has been provided by Andrew Heywood. He states
that ” the state can most simply be described as a political association that establishes
sovereign jurisdiction within defined territorial borders and exercises authority through
a set of permanent institutions.” Using this definition let us isolate the key features of
the state follows:

1. States aim to ensure that citizens comply with their laws and they may do so by
engineering the consent of the citizens and or by the use of force. The monopoly of the
legitimate use of physical force is central to Max Weber’s definition of the state. He
states that “a compulsory political organisation with continuous operations will be called
a “state” insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds the claims to the

monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order.”

2. It has also been argued by the French Marxist Louis Althusser that institutions such as
the family, the church, the education system and the mass media should be seen as part of
the state since they are ideological state apparatuses which function to legitimise the
continued existence of the capitalist state. However other theorists would claim that
these institutions are part of civil society rather than the State.

3. Modern states are organised on the basis of their Constitutions. A state’s constitution
may be defined as a system of rules and conventions by which the state is governed. Most
importantly the Constitution specifies the relative powers of and relationships between
the various political institutions of the state, most notably the Executive, the
Legislature and the Judiciary and the rights and obligations of the citizen in relation to
the state.

Anarchism literally means “without rule” or “without government”. It has traditionally
been associated with chaos, social disorder, destruction, violence and even terrorism. For
example in the latter stages of the French Revolution the so-called Enrages who were
critical of the Jacobin government for their failure to do more to help the poor and the
disadvantaged were described by the government as “anarchists” in this pejorative sense

and since then the word “anarchist” has often been used, particularly by moderates as a
term of political abuse. However increasingly from the late C18th political theorists
building on long standing political criticisms of authority developed an altogether more
positive interpretation of the term anarchism.

The case for Anarchism has come to rest essentially on the idea that political arguments
in support of political authority and particularly arguments in support of the state are
flawed. In the anarchist view the state does not guarantee social order, nor protect
individual liberty, nor create the economic conditions for the improvement of working
class life as conservatives, liberals and non-anarchist socialists would argue: rather the
state constrains the individual and creates social disorder. Conversely the anarchists
claim it is only individual freedom and the abolition of the state which will result in
real human self-development and social harmony. To see this let us discuss the Anarchist

We must recognise that although the ideology of Anarchism contains important core elements
there are also major divergences within this ideology. Anarchists are committed to the
cause of individual liberty. They believe that individuals are the best judges of their
own best interests and that they should therefore possess the high degree of liberty
necessary to enable them to think and act as they see fit. The exercise of individual

liberty will result also in social order and social harmony whereas if individuals are
constrained by other individuals and organisations and especially if they are constrained
by the State the result will be social disorder and social disharmony.

All anarchists of all types are united in their opposition to authority and in particular
to the authority of the State. Whereas Liberals, Conservatives and non-Anarchist
Socialists advance various justifications for the existence of the State Anarchists argue
that States destroy individual liberty and in doing so undermine social order and harmony

All anarchists oppose all forms of the State. They obviously reject dictatorships as
tyrannical but they also reject liberal democratic states and the theories which seek to
justify them and they are perhaps particularly critical of so-called state socialist
states which according to anarchists have perverted the aims of anarchist libertarian

Anarchists criticise liberal democratic states on the following grounds.

• Liberal democratic states, like all states, interfere with individual freedom which is
essential to promote human self-development and social order.
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