Essay, Research Paper: Anarchism And Liberalism


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Contemporary liberal and anarchist philosophy are both two very different ways
of trying to see what would be the best way to run society. While discussing
these two ideologies I will try to show how both, in their purist sense, are not
able work in today's society effectively. Contemporary liberals are involved in
every day politics but through over regulation and dependence on government they
loose their chances of running a reliable democracy. Anarchist have very good
ideas of how a natural society could function without government or modern
institutions but the biggest problem they have is how to get to that point. Both
theories look good on paper but once they hit the real world they change due to
alternating conceptions and individual influences. The root of the word
anarchism comes from the Greek word "anarchos," which means
"without ruler." The main philosophy behind anarchism is that people
can reside in an unregulated community with no real authority and maintain a
sustainable life. Anarchists see government and capitalism as an institution
that creates liberty for the rich and enslavement of the masses. Emma Goldman
best describes anarchism as: "The philosophy of a new social order based on
liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government
rest on violence and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as
unnecessary." With anarchism there is a belief that once all government is
abolished by the people that everyone will come together in a community of
mutual aid and understanding without laws or authority to direct. Their
philosophy can be considered opposite of most other ideologies, especially that
of contemporary liberalism. Contemporary liberalism strives to hold on to the
classic liberal's ideals pertaining to political, economic, and social liberties
but it tends to look at democratic government as a tool rather than a hindrance.
John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, and Franklin D. Roosevelt are established
ideologues of contemporary liberalism. Just opposite of anarchism, modern
liberalism puts its' faith in government to change and adapt to the failures of
capitalism. The emergence of this political philosophy started around the end of
the nineteenth century with John Stuart Mill's ideas in his book Principles of
Political Economy. The philosophy became an ideology in the twentieth century
with the main points of enhanced democracy, widening the role of the government,
and rethinking capitalism. The original liberals were reacting to the
aristocracy, their domination over the masses, and a lack of opportunity of the
individual to pursue happiness and freedom from the tyranny from above.
Contemporary liberalism is a reaction to the problems that arose following the
failures of democracy and capitalism in a changing world. They are still seeking
to insure liberties but to do this they believe there needs to be more
involvement from government. Authority to anarchist is looked at as being a tool
for the rich and powerful. It creates a sense of competitiveness for power which
intern creates social disorder, and can lead to moral depravity which inhibits a
well ordered society. Kropotkin wrote on the use of authority by the rich and he
says: "Three quarters of all the acts which are brought before our courts
every year have their origin, either directly or indirectly, in the present
disorganized stated of society with regard to the production and distribution of
wealth- not in the perversity of human nature." This means that because
society and capitalism create these classes, the people on the bottom sometimes
commit crimes because they have to fulfill essential needs that are denied to
them do to uneven distribution of resources. If a woman that is homeless with
three children and has no other choice but to steal food to feed her family, she
is considered a criminal. Contemporary liberals would say it is because she
hasn't been given the resources through the government to get herself out of
that situation. The anarchist would say that if there wasn't any uneven
distribution and more mutual aid from the community the woman would be taken
care of and wouldn't be in that position. Anarchists believe that
competitiveness for power creates a social disorder and cruelty to anyone
standing in the way of a person in the search of authority. Anarchists see the
struggle to get into the position of power creating more disorder than if there
was no authority at all. Government authority can also be corrupted under
certain leaders and therefore it becomes the authority of whoever controls the
position and is not protecting the liberty of all. According to the anarchist
government laws lead to a basic demoralization of society which inhibits an
efficient society. The masses only follow these laws in fear of being caught and
not for the better good of the community. Therefore if a person feels they can
get away with a crime they have no morals to fall back on to prevent them from
infringing on someone else's liberty. Paul Wolff claims in his In Defense of
Anarchism that there is a contentious conflict between authority and autonomy.
Conservatism and liberalism contend that authority of government is needed to
insure stability of the society. Governments can't make laws that fit all of
its' peoples' morals and standards therefore the people have to give up some of
their liberty. Wolff states that if there were no laws people would act in a
responsible way through a "process of reflection, investigation,
deliberation about how [they] ought to act." Social laws are the morals or
standards that would support accord in society through social pressure from
other members in society rather than through fear of the government.
Contemporary liberals are on the opposite side when it comes to the role of
government authority. They think that the government needs to expand its' role
to help the economy grow, increase the liberty of all, and to create means of
figuring out what these needs are by use of the scientific method. They believe
that the government first needs to find out exactly what social problems
attribute to the blocking of liberal goals. To do this there needs to be a
system of identification of these problems by utilizing economic and social
indicators. Through monthly reports of statistics the contemporary liberals
believe they can create government programs to fix these inequalities. They do
not want a micro-managment of these problems but more of a broad framework made
up of laws, conditions, and programs to coerce people and organizations into
stopping these problems. The Anarchist would see this as trimming the branches
of the problem not cutting the roots. In the economic realm the modern liberals
would like to see a mixed economy of government influence and stimulate the
private sphere in order to produce an effective economy. They highly support any
government agency or program that will "help" the society in a
unilateral way. Anarchists are right in the sense that excessive government
agencies only inhibit progression. Our tax money is taken, mainly from the
middle class, and is spent throughout the bureaucratic system with little money
going to the intended cause. In theory I think if people were stripped of
government and had to start from scratch without any recollection of government
or structured society, people would mutually help each other. Unfortunately, we
are here today with a government in place and regulations up and working. That
is where I agree with the liberals in that there needs to be a change in the
system to try to help those oppressed by capitalism. Both ideologies have one
main flaw in their thinking and that is the faith in human beings. The
anarchist's theory is dependent on humans having intrinsic mutual aid and the
liberals are dependent on the morals of capitalist society and the ability of it
to want to help the less fortunate. There will always be people that will want
to dominate and there will always be people to follow. Contemporary liberals
like the classic liberals see a need for representative democracy and seek to
find new ways to strengthen the representation. They would like to see more
representation of minority groups. They are aware of the unequal distribution of
power. To balance this inequality out the liberals propose to have more interest
groups to represent the labor force, minority groups, and any apathetic and
helpless citizens. The presence of sub-government groups, such as big industry,
are recognized as being insufficient in representing the public's interest and
so the liberals call for more regulations to control these sub-governments from
abusing their power. This goes right along with the whole philosophy of
contemporary liberals in that they don't want to start over and rebuild the
government, but rather reform it and ad more regulations to control it. The idea
of a ruler goes against the basic stance of anarchism. Proudhon best describes
this view when he said, "Whoever puts his hand on me to govern me is
usurper and a tyrant; I declare him my enemy." The only kind of authority
that the anarchists see as being legitimate is that of unanimous direct
democracy. This would entail decision making by a small community in which all
people can be involved in the process. They emphasize that all people must be
able to rule themselves. According to the anarchist the two aspects of democracy
that threaten individual rights are representative governments that can't cover
everyone's view and majority rule implies that there is a minority to be
oppressed. Human nature is a complex thing. Environment plays an important part
in defining what human nature is. This does not mean that human beings are
infinitely plastic, with each individual born a blank slate waiting to be formed
by "society" (which in practice means those who run it). I do not wish
to enter the debate about what human characteristics are and are not innate.
Anarchist will say that human beings have an innate ability to think and learn,
that much is obvious, they also feel that humans are sociable creatures, needing
the company of others to feel complete and to prosper. These two features
suggest the viability of an anarchist society. The innate ability to think for
oneself automatically makes all forms of hierarchy illegitimate, and our need
for social relationships implies that we can organize without the state. The
deep unhappiness and alienation afflicting modern society reveals that the
centralization and authoritarianism of capitalism and the state are denying some
innate needs within us. For the great majority of its existence the human race
has lived in anarchic communities, with little or no hierarchy. Anarchists like
to emphasize the human malleability. If someone is put into a capitalist society
they are going to form to the standards of the capitalist. If someone is put
into a free society with no external pressures then they will cooperate and help
the community in the way best suited for them. Contemporary liberals unlike the
classic liberals believe that human nature is not a set of standards that we are
all born with. They assert, like the anarchist, that humans are malleable and
are influenced by the community around them. They believe that all humans have a
need to obtain all the things that a good life entails. In other words humans
will work to obtain the good things in life but these needs could change
depending on what that person has learned are essential. It seems that the
liberal's view is somewhat compatible with the anarchist. It almost affirms the
anarchist view. According to the liberal idea of human nature, if someone were
to be born into an anarchical society their needs would be formed by that
community therefore the whole society would have the same needs. In other words
the only reason that democracy and capitalism function is because we are taught
that it does. The only problem is getting from one frame of mind to another. The
contemporary liberals feel that change is good. Through change, policies can be
implemented to reform economic and government problems. They also believe that
power can be distributed more evenly but the liberals have certain ideas about
how to achieve change. The most ideal way for change to take place for the
contemporary liberals is through democratic, non-revolutionary reform. The only
time that revolution is seen as being useful is if a nation is not democracy
already established. They hold to their system is reliable and in no need of
drastic reformation but gradual transformation through the institutions already
in power. Many American presidents have used reform to largely change the
government in order to increase the liberty of many deprived citizens. Franklin
D. Roosevelt's New Deal was one of the most impressive reforms of the federal
government. After the depression had crushed the economy he helped people get
back on their feet through public works programs. He also put into place other
government organizations to prevent another depression from happening. The
modern liberals work towards change gradually through due process but in the end
could reach a state of revolution. Change for the anarchists is much more
drastic. They do not look to violence as a tool of change but rather rebellion.
Revolution would only call for the changing of the institutions already in place
but the anarchists want all government to be done away with. There are four
basic steps to rebellion that the anarchists call for. The first one would be
that all people would have to voluntarily choose to rebel against government not
rebel just out of popular movement. Not only does it need to be voluntary, but
the second step is that it should happen spontaneously. A country would have to
completely fall apart for all to agree to rebel spontaneously. The third
qualification is for the rebellion to be total. This proposes a total
destruction of all conventional institutions that may promote values or allow
anyone to have power over someone else. The final step in this grand scheme is
after the rebellion begins that it should swiftly move to the international
level. For an anarchist society to exist there would have to be no threat of
violence by another state because anarchy does not call for a military to
protect itself. The anarchists stand on change is fairly drastic. I see how in
theory this is the only way that there could ever be an anarchical society. In
my eyes it seems a little to far fetched for it to ever happen this way. Some
anarchists call for some violence when it is against property of a business
because property to an anarchist is considered unjust. Bakunin believes that
violence is sometimes unavoidable in human history and is a good means for
resisting authority. Regardless of how the conventional institutions are
destroyed, be it violent or not, it needs to be done. To reach a utopian
anarchical society the government and religions of today need to be done away
with. Anarchy and contemporary liberalism are far from being compatible
ideologies. They both are drastically opposite on most of there stances. Anarchy
reaching for a non-government communal society and contemporary liberalism
seeking to extend the role of government to fix what is wrong with the existing
pollicies. Anarchy in theory seems like a very good idea. I would love to live
in a society where you just did what was good for you and helped others while
they helped you. I don't know why anyone wouldn't want to live in a society like
that. The only problem is that to get to this utopian society the whole world
would have to spontaneously decide they wanted it and I can guarantee there are
many politicians and CEOs that would not like that. Contemporary liberals are
right in wanting to reform institutions of today but I can't see how over
regulation of government in all areas is going to help fix things. I do see the
need for some government action towards the eradication of poverty, equal
rights, and unemployment. The biggest problem I see with the help in these areas
is the government trying to cure the problem not the cause. I attribute most of
the social problems of today to big business, the lack of family, and the lost
sense of community.

Bibliography"What is anarchism," An Anarchist FAQWebpage,,
Internet Explorer, 5/4/98. Schumaker Paul, Dwight C. Kiel, Thomas Heilke, Great
Ideas/Grand Schemes: Political Ideologies in the 19th and 20th Centuries, New
York, The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., 1996. Schumaker Paul, Dwight C. Kiel,
Thomas W. Heilke, Ideological Voices: An Anthology in Modern Political Ideas,
New York, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 1997.
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