The Anarchist Background
IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND THE ROLE OF ANARCHISTS IN THE L ATE NINEteenth century, we must first understand the history of the anarchist movement itself. Although some early Christian communes repudiated the authority of civil government, the modern anarchist movement found its basis in Enlightenment rationalism with the English philosopher William Godwin. Max Stirner, a disciple of Hegel, took Romantic individualism to an anarchist extreme in The Ego and His Own, 1 which argued that the liberated individual must obey no received ideas, but rather create his own morality. This individualism was the basis of the individualist tradition within anarchist discourse. The word "anarchism, ” which always carried associations of disorder and mob action, was adopted as a political label by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in the 1840s. Proudhon favored action through nonauthoritarian collectives and directly inspired Michael Bakunin, who unified the individualist, collectivist, and Romantic strains of anarchist thought in the figure of the committed revolutionary and inspired a generation of anarchist terrorists.
The philosophical tradition of anarchism was advanced by another Russian, Peter Kropotkin, whose writings on cooperation in animal and human communities gave anarchism a rhetorical foot- hold in scientific discourse and inspired the modern environmentalist movement. While communal anarchism, which encouraged the growth of locally based production cooperatives, dominated the European anarchist tradition, American anarchists tended toward the individualist model as a logical extension of American democratic ideas. In both America and Europe, anarchism was savagely repressed even as anarchist ideas were finding a larger audience; by the beginning of the twentieth century the word "anarchism” had gained a positive meaning which stood against several centuries of negative associations.
The word "anarchy” had been in use since the mid-fifteenth century and had already acquired a pejorative meaning and an associa
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Publication information: Book title: Nightmares of Anarchy: Language and Cultural Change, 1870-1914. Contributors: Wm. M. Phillips - Author. Publisher: Bucknell University Press. Place of publication: Lewisburg, PA. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 46.
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