Not everyone agrees on exactly what anarchism is, or ought to be. However, most people understand it to be a system without government.
Anarchism is a Greek term, which literally means “without rulers.” Some people are, of course, confused by this. They assumes it means “without any law” or “without any rules,” although few self-described anarchists would tell you that that’s what they want.
A ruler and a leader are not exactly the same thing. Anyone can choose to follow someone else, making that person the ﬁrst person’s “leader.” But the moment a person forces someone else to follow him or her, the person doing the forcing becomes a ruler.
Not surprisingly, anarchists are anti-racist and anti-sexist. They believe all people are born equal, regardless of race, class, creed, or gender.
ANARCHISM AND LAW
Anarchism does not mean the desire for chaos and destruction, although many mistakenly believe it does. Truth be told, law can exist without government. This is called “natural law.” Because people have a “natural right” to not be robbed, beaten up, raped, enslaved, or murdered, it is therefore a violation of natural law for anyone to do these things to another person.
Anarchists differ from non-anarchists in that non-anarchists believe the government is above the law. Many non-anarchists, for example, have little problem with the government engaging in some robbery (which it calls “taxation”).
Anarchists are often quick to point out that many of the world’s worse crimes have been committed by government. In the United States, government protected the institution of slavery, which kept many innocent people oppressed for a long time. In Germany, government actively murdered millions of innocent people. Governments often initiate wars with one another, which leads to even more deaths. And, of course, governments have stolen more money than all other criminal gangs put together.
Different anarchists, however, propose different theories as to what institutions ought to replace the government so as to protect natural rights. What we call “market anarchists,” for example, are anarchists who argue that voluntary institutions—such as private, competing businesses—can provide services better than the government, even protective services.
The ﬁrst person to describe himself as an anarchist was a French philosopher named Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. He advocated what we call “mutualism” (a form of market anarchism based around what is called the “labour theory of value”). He famously wrote the phrase, “Anarchy is Order,” from whence the Circle-A (a famous anarchist symbol) comes. (Later anarchists, such as Linda & Morris Tannehill, have added that “Government is Chaos.”)
Many great Americans have been anarchists.
For example Lysander Spooner—who was a nineteenth century (1800s) lawyer, abolitionist, and author, and who created the ﬁrst American mail company—advocated what we call “individualist anarchism.” His book The Unconstitutionality of Slavery convinced Frederick Douglas, a former slave, that the United States Constitution was actually an anti-slavery document.
Another example is Murray N. Rothbard, who advocated what we call “anarcho-capitalism” (a form of individualist anarchism and of market anarchism based around what we call the “subjective theory of value”). He was an ethicist, an Austrian School economist, an American historian, a proliﬁc writer, a natural law theorist, and a professor. He is most famous for helping to deﬁne modern libertarianism.
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