Workshop: Why Not Anarchy?

Liberty Monument — Nicosia, Cyprus

The workshop

Liberalism, the political doctrine that has characterized Western democracies since the end of WWII, maintains that the most effective way to secure a well-ordered society is by setting up a state. The idea is that through institutions such as the law, the police, and the prison system, the state can coerce citizens to honor their obligations and respect each others’ rights — obligations and rights that would otherwise be generally disregarded if the threat of state-sanctioned punishment were removed. After all, what guarantee would you have that I won’t try to murder or steal from you if the state did not threaten to punish me if I did? The state thus protects us from a life that would be, as Hobbes memorably put it, ‘nasty, brutish, and short.’

But is it plausible to suppose that the state will reliably protect individuals and their rights and produce desirable forms of social order? The recent pandemic, for instance, has made it clear that states are empowered and prepared to suspend various fundamental rights — the right to employment, leisure, association, movement, and protest, among others — even though protecting those rights is the primary justification for their existence. Beyond that, there are countless examples of states throughout history failing spectacularly to fulfill their purpose of keeping people safe, secure and fulfilled. See, for instance, global inequality, poverty, unemployment, meaningless work, police brutality, unaffordable education, compromised health care access, and much else.

Might the state then not provide the best solution to the problem of protecting individuals and realizing various social ideals such as equality and justice? Might there be better, anarchic ways to set up a well-ordered society? What would these look like, and why not go in for them? In short, why not anarchy? These are the questions that we take up in this workshop, with a view to understanding whether anarchy offers a more attractive option for social organization than the liberalism of our time.

The plan

We begin with the classical liberal conception of anarchy as a state of lawlessness, as it is explicated by Hobbes and Locke. We then consider responses to the liberals from the egoist-anarchist (Stirner), capitalist-anarchist (Rothbard) and socialist-anarchist (Kropotkin) traditions. We may also spend some time on responses from minimal state theorists (e.g. Nozick), who stand in between anarchism and liberalism. We conclude with anarchist conceptions of politics and law.


We will meet for 1.5 hours via Zoom weekly, for approximately 10 weeks, starting in late January. The exact day & time will be determined when registration is over, to accommodate participants’ schedules — though past experience suggests that Saturday mornings tend to accommodate most folks.

Meetings and readings will be in English, to foster bicommunal/intercommunal dialogue. No prior knowledge of philosophy/political theory is required. Come as you are!


Registration is now closed.

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