The Philosophy of Anarchism by Herbert Read


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Freedom Press, 1941. Second Impression. First edition published 1940. 35 pages. 

From the Introduction;

'The characteristic political attitude of today is not one of positive belief, but of despair. Nobody seriously believes in the social philosophies of the immediate past. There are a few people, but a diminishing number, who still believe that Marxism, as an economic system, offer a a coherent alternative to capitalism, and socialism has, indeed, triumphed in one country. But it has not changed the servile nature of human bondage. Man is everywhere still in chains. The motive of his activity remains economic, and this economic motive inevitably leads to the social inequalities from which he had hoped to escape. In face of this double failure, of capitalism and of socialism, the desperation of the masses has taken shape as fascism — a revolutionary but wholly negative movement which aims at establishing a selfish organization of power within the general chaos. In this political wilderness most people are lost, and if they do not give way to despair, they resort to a private world of prayer. But others persist in believing that a new world could be built if only we would abandon the economic concepts upon which both socialism and capitalism are based. To realize that new world we must prefer the values of freedom and equality above all other values — above personal wealth, technical power and nationalism. In the past this view has been held by the world’s greatest seers, but their followers have been a numerically insignificant minority, especially in the political sphere, where their doctrine has been called anarchism. It may be a tactical mistake to try and restate the eternal truth under a name which is ambiguous — for what is “without ruler,” the literal meaning of the word, is not necessarily “without order,” the meaning often loosely ascribed to it. The sense of historical continuity, and a feeling for philosophical rectitude cannot, however, be compromised. Any vague or romantic associations which the word has acquired are incidental. The doctrine itself remains absolute and pure. There are thousands, if not millions, of people who instinctively hold these ideas, and who would accept the doctrine if it were made clear to them. A doctrine must he recognized by a common name. I know of no better name than Anarchism. In this essay I shall attempt to restate the fundamental principles of the political philosophy denoted by this name.'