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In Defense of Anarchism
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In Defense of Anarchism

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  207 ratings  ·  23 reviews
An analysis of the foundations of the authority of the state and the problems of political authority and moral autonomy in a democracy.
Paperback, 135 pages
Published September 28th 1998 by University of California Press (first published 1970)
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In Defense of Anarchism is an extended essay that is not so much the titular defense of anarchism as it is an offensive against the moral authority of the state, i.e., that there is a case where the state can command an individual even against that person’s moral beliefs. Since Wolff insists on the total autonomy of the individual, it’s not surprising that he can’t find any polity that can claim the de iure right to compel obedience, with one exception. That exception is the case of a unanimous ...more
Erik Graff
Jan 21, 2015 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: political science students
Recommended to Erik by: David Schweickart
Shelves: philosophy
This was a rather disappointing book assigned for PHIL482, "Social & Political Philosophy". The claim that individual moral autonomy is irreconcilable with state authority is correct, but correct in the trivial sense that many contracts or promises are so incompatible. Are all such covenants therefore immoral?

I think not--not if certain basic rights are guaranteed. What is good is everything which increases the real autonomy of moral agents. What is bad is anything which decreases it. One ca
The book started out in the 1960s as an essay called "The Fundamental Problem of Political Theory", but eventually came to be called "The Impossibility of a Solution to the Fundamental Problem of Political Philosophy". In the conflict between authority and autonomy, even representative and majoritarian democracy faces a crisis of legitimation.

A "legitimate state" turns out to be a myth. The only possible legitimacy is in a direct democracy where there is a complete 100% consensus on a given iss
This book is deceptively poor and relatively weak. Influential in political philosophy, it outlines the position of philosophical anarchism which, according to Wolff, is the idea that one must 'treat all governments as non-legitimate bodies whose commands must be judged and evaluated in each instance before they are obeyed' (P. 71). Not an especially offensive position, Wolff's particular brand was paradoxically praised within the usual Americanized libertarianism that desires to swap one form o ...more
Premise 1: The State claims a legitimate right be an authority (rule) over a certain territory and people.
Premise 2: You have a moral obligation to be autonomous.
P1 and P2 cannot go together, so the state cannot have a legitimate right to claim authority over someone who has a moral obligation to be autonomous. Hence, be a philosophical anarchist.

Such a simple, sweet, elegant, and sound argument. We can still support left-wing state programs, because they persuade us as morally autonomous agents
Thought provoking and extremely interesting. Are people autonomous in contemporary states? Can you as an individual be free in a democracy where you are unquestioningly obliged to obey the laws of the state; laws that shape your whole life, even though they're created by other people than yourself? Is it possible to create a system of unanimous decision-making in contemporary democracies? Really recommend this book to everyone, whether you're interested in political theory or not.
Dave Kinkead
This is a lucid and concise challenge to the ideal of political authority. Wolff lays out a simple argument concerning the incompatibility of two fundamental concepts in political philosophy - the right of a state to rule and an individual's obligation to be morally autonomous.

And while his account makes too strong a case for the primacy of moral autonomy - the same argument also seems to invalidate obligations arising from promises - In Defense of Anarchism will remain one of the most important
overall, there's some fairly good critique here of "majority rules" voting as a decision-making process, and of governmental authority generally. this includes, but is not limited to, ineffectiveness at consistently choosing policy based on the majority's views or preferences, "wasted votes," and the lack of consent and autonomy that results for those who did not vote "with" the majority. a couple thought experiments and practical alternatives are discussed.

some parts made more sense with (my ad
Daithi Coombes
Unfortunately there are two issues with my review, 1) its months since I finished it 2) not used to political philosophy debates (yet).

Overall the author is able to get his point across. The book almost reads like the definition of political philosophy debates - so I had to take a pen to it (gave book to friend, so don't have notes anymore :( ). It is an excellent book for grasping an idea of rights, liberties and ownership. The flow of the book did bend and warp my head, but like I say above, t
This book can lead many decent anarchist in the wrong direction. Essentially a work that defends libertarianism because there is no justification in coercing a person into giving up their autonomy for the benefit of society. This is not at all how I see anarchism because we also need to confront other systems of power such as capitalism, religion, and the patriarchal family structure.

I suppose they have you read this in first year political science classes because it does very little to help st
James Baker
I think he underestimates the corrupting influence of capitalist fantasies and the importance of restraining autonomy to some extent. This text is strictly an analysis of how different social structures impact autonomy, and I'm fairly convinced by its argument that representative democracy, majoritarian democracy, and dictatorship/monarchy restrict autonomy of minorities in basically the same way. Wolff seems to be upset about the distance between the individual and the state, and does a fairly ...more
Knocked this off in an afternoon, and glad I did. A deep and thoughtful discussion of the conflict between personal autonomy and state authority. Written in the 1960's, I found it helpful for reflection on the upheaval in mainline denominations--and for our country--today: where does authority lie, where does personal conviction come into play, and how can we make good decisions as national and international bodies?

I can't say that I find his final argument for a anarchistic society realistic,
Had to read this for school.
Very thought provoking.
Billie Pritchett
Haha. You know what, I wrote this big long review for R.P. Wolff's book In Defense of Anarchism and when I hit Save, the next page said it failed to load. Not going to write it again. Life is too short. Regardless, I'll just state my basic conclusions, without defense: (1) title's misleading, (2) relies on a controversial theory of freedom that comes down from Kant, and (3) should settle for less in government.
Mostly dedicated to a question of whether democratic governments have a moral claim to absolute authority over their voters. Interesting, probably a bit dated.
The first forty pages is political philosophy; the rest is political science. You can quit after 40 pages, and not miss anything.
Good book, tactic was to show how other forms of government are inferior. Yet, a little too technical.
Sep 25, 2007 Rachel rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anarchists
Shelves: nonfiction
This doesn't work if you don't believe in moral autonomy. But if you do, it's good!
Craig J.
In Defense of Anarchism (with a New Preface) by Robert Paul Wolff (1998)
Changed the way i understand politics completely.
Jake Brockman
an introduction to anarchy.
Not Practical.
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Robert Paul Wolff is an American political philosopher. An alumnus of Harvard University, he currently teaches at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He was primarily known for his research on Immanuel Kant.

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