Anarchism Vs Contemporary Liberalism Essay Research Paper

Anarchism Vs. Contemporary Liberalism Essay, Research Paper

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.


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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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