Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

THE ANARCHIST BACKGROUND

THE SEED of anarchism was imbedded in the first established state. It was immanent in the individual's natural reaction against his forced compliance to the will of the tribe. Later it became the cry of the rebel who refused to bow to authority; the credo of the idealist who discovered that power corrupts and must be destroyed at the source. These anarchists, cherishing liberty more than life, dreamed of a society in which the individual was completely free to live by himself if he so wished or to join his neighbors in voluntary association for the common good. Since it was in the very nature of government to exercise constraint, they were opposed to any communal organization which arrogated authority over its members. Peter Kropotkin, perhaps the most persuasive exponent of this doctrine, defined it as "a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government -- harmony in such society being obtained not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements to conclude between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being."

While the attitude of mind that gives rise to anarchism is as old as recorded history, the development of the concept into a social doctrine is a relatively modern phenomenon. One of the first formally to criticize the state was the hedonist Aristippus, who

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