Anarchist theory and the pitfalls of the reductio ad politicum.

Author:Jun, Nathan J.
Position:Against the State: An Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory - Book review

Against the State: An Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory

Crispin Sartwell

Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2008

ISBN 978-0-7914-7448-8; $14.95/[pounds sterling]10

Anarchism is not just misunderstood, but misunderstood in well-worn and predictable formulas. A shrewd critic could easily catalogue these formulas, just as Aristotle once catalogued the fallacies, and even assign them pretentious-sounding names. Near the top of any such list would be the reductio ad politicum--the reduction to the political--according to which anarchism is nothing more than opposition to states, governments, and other properly political entities. One encounters this fallacy chiefly, though not exclusively, in the rare attempts of Anglo-American philosophers to take anarchism seriously as a political idea. (1) A.J. Simmons, for example, summarizes it tidily when he claims that 'commitment to one central claim unites all forms of anarchist political philosophy: all existing states are illegitimate'. (2) From this 'central claim' follows what Simmons calls the 'minimal moral content' of anarchism--namely, that the subjects of illegitimate states lack general political obligations. (3) In other words, if a state is illegitimate its citizens have no specifically political obligations to obey the laws of that state, even though they may have a host of non-political reasons (or distinct and separate moral reasons) to obey them.

That the views of so-called 'classical anarchists' tend, without exception, to be much stronger and more comprehensive is not surprising, since Simmons' definition of anarchism, and all others like it, simply does not apply within their tradition. The word 'anarchy', which comes from the Greek anarkhos, does not principally mean 'without a government' or 'without a state', but rather 'without authority'. As David Weick notes, 'anarchism is more than anti-statism, even if government (the state) is, appropriately, the central focus of anarchist critique'. (4) As 'the generic social and political idea that expresses negation of all [repressive] power', (5) anarchism is committed first and foremost to the universal rejection of coercive authority, which includes capitalism, autocratic religions, patriarchy, heterosexism, white supremacy, and imperialism, as well as states and governments. It is because they ignore this dimension of anarchism that we accuse Simmons and his ilk of committing the fallacy of reductio ad politicium...

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