Nathan Jun, Ph.D.
Midwestern State University
The analyses of anarchism in contemporary philosophical literature relies upon gross mischaracterizations. As an alternative to these analyses, the speaker offers an explication and tentative defense of genuine anarchism.
Over the course of the past several decades the anarchism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has seldom been discussed in mainstream philosophical literature. In contrast, a certain kind of “philosophical anarchism,” represented most prominently by Robert Paul Wolff’s In Defense of Anarchism, Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia, and A.J. Simmons’ Moral Principles and Political Obligations has received significant attention. The use of the term “philosophical anarchism” in these contexts differs significantly from its original meaning. In these cases, “philosophical anarchism” refers merely to principled skepticism regarding the legitimacy and authority of states which is generally articulated in two forms: a posteriori philosophical anarchism (which contends that all existing states are illegitimate), and a priori philosophical anarchism (which contends that states are illegitimate by definition). The literature frequently makes a distinction between philosophical anarchism and “political” (also known as “strong” or “practical”) anarchism, a view which not only claims that states are illegitimate by definition (ala a priori philosophical anarchism) but that the illegitimacy of states obligates (or at least permits) us to abolish states. While the former is considered a serious position worthy of serious consideration, the latter is seldom defended. More commonly it is simply ignored or dismissed as crackpottery. A major problem with all such discussions is their tendency to overlook the fact that anarchism is a living tradition of political theory and practice that has existed in various forms for at least two centuries and is probably much older. Because the term “anarchism,” along with the theoretical and practical orientations it designates, predates academic discussions of “philosophical anarchism,” it is eminently appropriate to inquire (1) whether “philosophical anarchism” as discussed in the contemporary literature has any real relation to the anarchist tradition and, (2) if it does not, whether it ought to be called “anarchism” at all. In this paper, I argue that both of these questions should be answered in the negative and, over and against “philosophical anarchism,” offer an explication and tentative defense of genuine anarchism.