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Anarchism and Liberty

AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 26 May 2019

Anarchist conceptions of liberty cannot be reconciled with any form of state, social or economic authority and are deemed to be vital for realising the full potential of human nature.

Drawing on liberal and socialist concepts of freedom and human nature, the anarchists’ perspective on liberty informs their opposition to the state and influences the ways in which they seek to achieve freedom. Individualist anarchists, in line with their liberal ideological heritage, view humans as rational, autonomous, competitive and self-interested individuals who can make judgements in their best interests.

Given that all types of authority are commanding, a person cannot engage in autonomous and rational decision making under the state. Moreover, the controlling nature of authority deprives people of the freedom and autonomy required to explore their individuality to the full. Consequently, people have to be freed from the control exerted by all forms of hierarchical authority such as the state, church and patriarchal relationships.

Collectivist anarchists, echoing socialist arguments, maintain that, although humans are naturally rational, altruistic and co-operative, the negative impact of the state prevents individuals from being unselfish and collaborative. An individual can only be truly free when everyone has the freedom to fulfil their potential because liberty can only exist if equality is present. Under these circumstances, people treat each other equally, enjoy economic equality, and contribute equally to decision-making in their workplaces or communities. Consequently, for collectivist anarchists, freedom is achieved by removing the class-based, hierarchical society that defends and perpetuates socio-economic inequalities.

Anarchist views on liberty differ, according to their position on the individualist-collectivist spectrum.

Anarcho-communists and collectivist anarchists, such as Kropotkin and Bakunin, argue that, although individual liberty should be absolute and unlimited, humans achieve freedom by belonging to voluntary and mutually supportive communities. Members attain individual liberty because they share the same concepts of natural law and justice, making the imposition of laws redundant.

Anarcho-individualists, such as Max Stirner, call for unrestrained individual liberty, free from all institutional and moral constraints. This meant the limitations imposed by the state, private property, morality, religion and philosophy have to be removed. In Stirner’s view, voluntary associations only exist for the promotion of individual self-interest. The mutualist Proudhon attempts to combine individualism and collectivism to create a ‘state of total liberty’. He maintains that workers should freely establish a decentralised system of cooperative working communes and freely enter into contracts with each other to exchange labour and goods.

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