Anarchism and Moral Philosophy [Book Review]

The appropriation of the term ‘anarchism’ by academic philosophers to describe ultra-liberal free-marketism has to be one of the most audacious of heists. The essays in this books aim to challenge that, from within academic philosophy. So, really it is one for the philosophers – deep thinking, examining assumptions, sounds good – but I have to confess some of it was very alien.

Samuel Clark’s chapter (subtitled “Anarchist perfectionism and the conditions of independence”) wonders if “living in an anarchist utopia of freedom and non-domination might leave one’s independence stunted”. (p39) Once we’re living without domination and exploitation, surely there will be other challenges to develop our independence?

Shared assumptions are a feature of anarchist discussions but I suspect that philosophers sometimes lean on them too. Nathan Jun assures us that “anarchist theory was very much a product of literate, mostly middle-class minds.” (p60) Which is true, but only if you define theory as the content of a book which is quoted by academics. Yes, Kropotkin was posh. Did he learn radical social ideas at Prince School? Did they generate spontaneously from his genius? Or did he do an apprenticeship in the workers’ movement and learn them there? [1]

I was pleased that Malatesta snuck in with the final word. “If it is true that the law of Nature is harmony, I suggest one would be entitled to ask why Nature has waited for anarchists to be born, and goes on waiting for them to triumph”. (p241) Hopefully that (and this book over all) will give a better grounding to philosophical discussions of anarchist ideas.

1, See The anarchist way to socialism: Elisée Reclus and nineteenth-century European anarchism by Marie Fleming for an interesting discussion of “where does anarchist theory originate?”

Anarchism and Moral Philosophy edited by Benjamin Franks and Matthew Wilson. Palgrave Macmillan ISBN 9780230580664