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Study Notes

Anarchism and Utopia

AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 26 May 2019

All anarchists are utopian because they believe that it is possible to create an alternative ‘perfect’ society where the present-day social, economic and political evils have been removed and humans can realise their full potential.

This ideal society rests on anarchism’s optimistic view that humankind’s capacity for development, and the creation of a harmonious natural social order, can be nurtured in the absence of the state. Almost every type of anarchist utopia is a decentralised society, based on free association and self-regulation, where people govern and organise themselves. For anarchists, this type of social arrangement maximises liberty, equality and solidarity.

Having said this, different strands of anarchism offer different visions of an ideal society. Collectivist anarchism, and anarcho-communists, call for a new utopian system that removes capitalism and the state, and introduces new social arrangements based on common ownership, mutual aid, economic equality and freely-formed 'natural' communities. These anarchists argue that human altruism can be nurtured only under such circumstances. Individualist anarchists advocate a utopian system that has no state and (unlike collectivist anarchists and anarcho-communists) no social or economic organisation. Moreover, anarcho-capitalists envisage a stateless society based on 'natural' unregulated economic competition, the pursuit of private property and a social balance created by competing individual interests.

Critics maintain that anarchism’s pursuit of the ideal society is utopian in a negative sense. From this perspective, anarchist aims are impractical, unrealistic and irrational. Anarchists, in short, delude themselves and others that a ‘fantasy’ society is both desirable and possible. The main objections to anarchist utopianism are set out below:

Objections to anarchist utopianism

Critics argue that anarchism has no unified utopian social vision. Although anarchists know what they are against, they cannot agree what they are for. In addition, no anarchist society has ever been formed, suggesting it is unachievable.

Conservatives maintain that anarchism has an overoptimistic view of human nature. For conservatives, humans are self-interested and flawed. Therefore, people have to be governed effectively and subjected to authority because, being selfish and competitive, they cannot be trusted to act responsibly or altruistically.

Both conservatives and liberals regard private property as a basic feature of human society. A key component of human nature is the drive to obtain and retain private property. Furthermore, liberals assert that private property is a fundamental right . Anarcho-capitalism endorses the view that the pursuit of property is natural.

Socialists object to anarchist utopianism for two reasons. First, socialists argue that the removal of the state will not achieve equality and common ownership because, without state authority, humans will simply seek to maximise their private property and obtain an unequal share of the rewards in society. Second, Marxist socialists claim that anarchism is unscientific because (1) it relies on generalisations and untested assumptions about human nature (2) it has no theory of history or explanation of how society develops (3) its rejection of capitalism (as oppressive and unjust) fails to acknowledge the role capitalism plays in shaping popular consciousness.

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