ANARCHISM AS A TRADITION OF POLITICAL THOUGHT
Considered as a tradition of political thought, however, anarchism is more complex than its manifestation in the classical anarchist movement might suggest. From this perspective, anarchism appears to be as closely related to liberalism as it is to socialism. Indeed, one form of anarchism, individualist, may be seen as liberalism taken to its extreme - some would say - logical conclusion. Individualist, as distinct from socialist, anarchism has been particularly strong in the USA from the time of Josiah Warren (1798-1874) onwards and is expressed today by Murray Rothbard and the school of 'anarcho-capitalists'. Individualist anarchism emphasises individual liberty, conscience, individuality, and the uniqueness of each person - the latter brilliantly expressed by Max Stirner (1805-56) in The Ego and His Own. Often, as with William Godwin (1756-1836), it leads to a distrust of any kind of enduring cooperation with others, such relations constraining the exercise of what Godwin called the individual's 'private judgement'. In their economic ideas, individualists have usually insisted on the importance of individual production, private property or possession, praised the free market and condemned the iniquity of all monopolies. Their central political principle is 'the sovereignty of the individual'. Taken seriously, this principle is sufficient to explain their rejection of the state and of any government other than 'voluntary government' based on the consent of each and every individual. Their vision is vividly expressed in Shelley's poetic translation of Godwin's philosophy in Prometheus Unbound:
The loathsome mask has fallen, but man remains
Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man
Equal, unclassed, tribeless and nationless,
Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king
Over himself; just, gentle, wise...
However, the difference between individualist and social anarchism, though important, should not be exaggerated. The economic proposals of most individualists are intended to secure to each person the fruits of his or her own labour, not the accumulation of possessions through the exploitation of the labour of others. On the other hand, even anarchist-communists are imbued with a strong sense of individuality. And both types of anarchism rest firmly on liberal intellectual foundations.
SOCIETY AND THE STATE
Fundamental in liberal thought is the distinction between Society and the State which, in turn, is related to the distinction made by ancient Greek philosophers between nature and convention. The distinction is expressed by John Locke (1632-1704), the key figure in modern liberalism, in a contrast between 'the State of Nature' and 'civil' or 'political' society. In the state of nature all Men are free and equal, and no one has the authority to command the obedience of others. But the state of nature is not, as Hobbes has argued, a lawless condition of strife; it does constitute a society, since it is regulated by national law from which derive Men's natural rights. Nevertheless, 'inconveniences', principally the absence of a common judge when disputes arise, do exist; and these lead Men by way of a social contract to set up political societies. In this view, the state is an artificial or conventional device, with the strictly limited and negative function of safeguarding people's natural rights. Despotism, Locke insists, is worse than 'the natural condition of mankind'.
Locke's notion that a natural order exists independently of the state provides a theoretical underpinning of the classical liberal defence of laissez-faire and limited government. In The Rights of Man, 1792, Tom Paine elaborates the notion: 'Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origins in the principles of society and the natural constitution of men. It existed prior to government and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilised community upon each other, create that great chain of connexion which holds it together. The landholder, the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and every occupation, prospers by the aid which each receives from the other, and from the whole. Common interest regulates their concerns and forms their law; and the laws which common usage ordains, have a greater influence than the laws of government.' (17)
From Paine's position it is but a short step to Godwin's conclusion in Political Justice (1793), (18) that government - deemed by Paine 'a necessary evil' - can be dispensed with. The step is reached by postulating 'the perfectibility of man', by which Godwin meant, not that men are perfect or will ever become so, but that they are capable of indefinite moral improvement.
Political Justice is rightly deemed the first systematic exposition of anarchism. But, interestingly, its main conclusion was anticipated in an early, allegedly satirical, work of Edmund Burke, The Vindication of Natural Society (1756). (18) Its title splendidly expresses the positive thrust of anarchism and the book introduces several themes taken up by anarchists: the close association between war and the state; the division of mankind into separate states as a major source of hatred and dissension; the inhumanity that flows from national prejudices; the despotic nature of all forms of government; the function of positive law in protecting the rich and the powerful against the poor and the oppressed; and the Machiavellian nature of all statecraft. Burke also poses the great anarchist question: Who will guard the guardians themselves? - the one which prompted William Morris to declare that 'No man is good enough to be another man's master'.
The idea of natural society runs like a golden thread through all anarchist thought. That mankind has always lived in society, is naturally social and sociable, and is endowed with all the attributes necessary to live harmoniously without political regulation is the basic premise of anarchism. The idea is most fully elaborated in Kropotkin's Mutual Aid (1902); (20) in another work, Modern Science and Anarchism (1913), he describes the anarchist concept of society thus: 'in society in which all the mutual relations of its members are regulated, not by laws, not by authorities, whether self-imposed or elected, but by mutual arrangements between the members of that society, and by a sum of social customs and habits - not petrified by law, routine, or superstition, but continually developing and continually readjusted, in accordance with the ever-growing requirements of a free life...No government of man by man; no crystallization and immobility, but a continual evolution - such as we see in Nature.' (21)
The phrasing suggests a vision of the future, but Kropotkin makes clear that such a society in some degree already exists. The point is vividly made by Colin Ward in Anarchy in Action (1973); 'an anarchist society...which organises itself without authority, is always in existence like a seed beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy, capitalism and its waste, privilege and its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism...Far from being a speculative vision of a future society, it is a description of a mode of organisation, rooted in the experience of everyday life, which operates side by side with, and in spite of, the dominant authoritarian trends of our society.' (22)