"The thin and precarious crust of decency is all that separates any civilization, however impressive, from hell of anarchy or systematic tyranny which lie in wait beneath surface."
Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894-1963), British writer
I. Overview of Theories of Anarchism
Politics, in all its forms, has failed. The notion that we can safely and successfully hand over management of our daily lives and setting of priorities to a political class or elite is thoroughly discredited. Politicians cannot be trusted, regardless of system in which they operate. No set of constraints, checks, and balances, is proved to work and mitigate their unconscionable acts and pernicious effects these have on our welfare and longevity.
Ideologies - from benign to malign and from divine to pedestrian - have driven gullible human race to verge of annihilation and back. Participatory democracies have degenerated everywhere into venal plutocracies. Socialism and its poisoned fruits - Marxism-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism - have wrought misery on a scale unprecedented even by medieval standards. Only Fascism and Nazism compare with them unfavorably. The idea of nation-state culminated in Yugoslav succession wars.
It is time to seriously consider a much-derided and decried alternative: anarchism.
Anarchism is often mistaken for left-wing thinking or advocacy of anarchy. It is neither. If anything, libertarian strain in anarchism makes it closer to right. Anarchism is an umbrella term covering disparate social and political theories - among them classic or cooperative anarchism (postulated by William Godwin and, later, Pierre Joseph Proudhon), radical individualism (Max Stirner), religious anarchism (Leo Tolstoy), anarcho-communism (Kropotkin) and anarcho-syndicalism, educational anarchism (Paul Goodman), and communitarian anarchism (Daniel Guerin).
The narrow (and familiar) form of political anarchism springs from belief that human communities can survive and thrive through voluntary cooperation, without a coercive central government. Politics corrupt and subvert Man's good and noble nature. Governments are instruments of self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement, and reification and embodiment of said subversion.
The logical outcome is to call for overthrow of all political systems, as Michael Bakunin suggested. Governments should therefore be opposed by any and all means, including violent action. What should replace state? There is little agreement among anarchists: biblical authority (Tolstoy), self-regulating co-opertaives of craftsmen (Proudhon), a federation of voluntary associations (Bakunin), trade unions (anarcho-syndicalists), ideal communism (Kropotkin).
What is common to this smorgasbord is affirmation of freedom as most fundamental value. Justice, equality, and welfare cannot be sustained without it. The state and its oppressive mechanisms is incompatible with it. Figures of authority and ruling classes are bound to abuse their remit and use instruments of government to further and enforce their own interests. The state is conceived and laws are enacted for this explicit purpose of gross and unjust exploitation. The state perpetrates violence and is cause rather than cure of most social ills.
Anarchists believe that human beings are perfectly capable of rational self-government. In Utopia of anarchism, individuals choose to belong to society (or to exclude themselves from it). Rules are adopted by agreement of all members/citizens through direct participation in voting. Similar to participatory democracy, holders of offices can be recalled by constituents.
It is important to emphasize that:
" ... (A)narchism does not preclude social organization, social order or rules, appropriate delegation of authority, or even of certain forms of government, as long as this is distinguished from state and as long as it is administrative and not oppressive, coercive, or bureaucratic."
(Honderich, Ted, ed. - The Oxford Companion to Philosophy - Oxford University Press, New York, 1995 - p. 31)
Anarchists are not opposed to organization, law and order, or existence of authority. They are against usurpation of power by individuals or by classes (groups) of individuals for personal gain through subjugation and exploitation (however subtle and disguised) of other, less fortunate people. Every social arrangement and institution should be put to dual acid tests of personal autonomy and freedom and moral law. If it fails either of two it should be promptly abolished.
II. Contradictions in Anarchism
Anarchism is not prescriptive. Anarchists believe that voluntary members of each and every society should decide details of order and functioning of their own community. Consequently, anarchism provides no coherent recipe on how to construct ideal community. This, of course, is its Achilles' heel.