Anarchism

Article excerpt

ANARCHISM Sean M. Sheehan London: Reaktion Books, 2003. 175 pp. $26.95

Anarchism, by Sean M. Sheehan, provides an informative historical analysis of anarchism, highlighting the role that anarchism plays in the contemporary anti-globalization movement. Sheehan, who has written a number of history and travel books and a study of Wittgenstein, is a sympathetic observer of this movement and especially of anarchist tendencies therein.

Sheehan starts with a summary of what has happened in the anti-globalization movement since the antiWTO (World Trade Organization] protests in Seattle in November 1999. Anarchists have been prominent in this movement and since most people have, at best, a very distorted understanding of anarchism, Sheehan discusses the beginnings of anarchism in the days of Marx and Nietzsche. By drawing on anarchist theory and on historical examples of anarchism in action, he then examines the various ways in which anarchists have rebelled against the state. After this, he compares and contrasts anarchism with liberalism, socialism, situationism, and postmodernism. Sheehan ends with a chapter dedicated to combating all the stereotypical images of anarchism.

On the whole, this book does provide a lot of good insight into anarchism and anarchist involvement in the anti-globalization movement. However, it was obviously written primarily for those who are not really familiar with either anarchism or anarchist activism in this new movement. For individuals with serious doubts about anarchism as a real political and social possibility, Sheehan describes how anarchism has worked in the past and is working in some communities to this day. He provides many real-life illustrations which show that anarchism is not an impossible Utopian dream but can be a lived reality. As examples of anarchism in action, Sheehan discusses, in some detail, the anarcho-syndicalist movement in pre-Franco Spain, the "free city" of Christiania in Copenhagen, and the Zapatista movement in Mexico. Even the most cynical of anarchists, who feel that society is doomed and that, regardless of how hard we try, we will never achieve a true anarchist society, will come away from reading Sheehan's book with a sense of hope.

The final chapter is definitely the strongest. Here Sheehan brings the book together by moving beyond his arguments for anarchism as a serious form of political thought to making a convincing case for anarchism as a real alternative to globalized capitalism. Sheehan ties up the book and the case for anarchism by citing the following stirring anarchist call to action:

They can equate our justice with their violence. …