Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Thursday, June 25, 2009

ANARCHISM: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME

With this post, I begin a series of posts that will explore the relationship between the philosophical and political doctrine of anarchism and the dramatic transformations in modern political activity wrought by the internet and electronic communication. I invite comments and responses. The locus classicus for these arguments is of course my little book, In Defense of Anarchism, published thirty-nine years ago and available now in a paperback reissue by the Univetrsity of California Press.

I. What is Anarchism?

Anarchism, put simply, is the thesis that there never has been, never will be, and never could be a morally legitimate state. The state is a group of people who claim the right to issue commands and the right to have them obeyed by the people over whom they assert their authority. Sometimes the state is one person [L’etat, c’est moi, as Louis XIV of France is reputed to have said.] Sometimes the state is a military junta, or a hereditary class, or a financial oligarchy. Sometimes, as in a democracy, the state is the totality of the population, and the government merely their chosen servants or representatives. In all cases, the claims of the state must inevitably come into conflict with the moral autonomy of the individual – which is to say, the obligation that each of us has to make for ourselves the decision as to what to do. This obligation, as Immanuel Kant demonstrated, follows from the fact that we are rational moral agents, able to reason about alternatives and to make choices, for which we are then responsible. Thus anarchism is not a doctrine of irresponsibility, but, to the contrary, a doctrine of absolute individual responsibility. When I bow to a king or kiss the Pope’s ring or pledge undying allegiance to a military commander, I am forfeiting my autonomy, and thereby giving up my rationality and moral responsibility. If loyalty is the unquestioning submission to the commands of another, then loyalty is the foundation of immorality.

The defenders of the democratic state argue that when the people, through their chosen representatives, make the laws to which they are to submit, then they are truly free, for in obeying the laws, they are obeying only themselves, and hence retain their autonomy. This, in a sentence, is the argument of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s great treatise, Of The Social Contract. But despite his philosophically brilliant tergiversations, Rousseau is wrong, for when I submit to the will of a majority whose laws I judge to be ill-considered and immoral, I am forfeiting my autonomy as surely as if I were the loyal subject of a despot.

next post: The Problem of Social Coordination

1 comment:

Rvincent63 said...

Bob,
You are a true story teller! I do miss shooting the breeze at the Monkey Bar.
Rita