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In Defense of Anarchism

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  324 Ratings  ·  30 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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Terence
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
C
Apr 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Premise 1: The State claims a legitimate right to 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 age
...more
Erik Graff
Mar 08, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  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
...more
R
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
...more
DJ
Mar 03, 2012 rated it liked it
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
...more
Dave Kinkead
Apr 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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Annicken
Oct 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
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.
Charlie
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating and thought-provoking view of anarchism, which, in my opinion, is a much more accessible and enjoyable (not to mention concise) analysis than Noam Chomsky's On Anarchism. Though Wolff repeatedly says he doesn't have "the answers", as it were, he doesn't need to with this book. In Defense Of Anarchism serves as two-prong work - exploring in defense of anarchism the contradictions of autonomy versus democracy and the morality (or lack thereof) of authority, and proposing in academic ...more
Erik
Nov 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book. 3 stars.

This is my third anarchist book of 2017. Unlike the otehrs, it didnt try to to spell out a system in which MAGIC HAPPENS and everything works.

Instead, its a series of arguments about how there is no legitimate authority for any state to rule over you. Except that of unanimous direct democracy. These arguments are well thought out and are convincing. Additional time is spent on majority-based democracy and its specific abuses of authority.

There is no recommendation of s
...more
Thiago Vieira
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Simple, sharp and direct. One could certainly spend thousands of pages seeking to exhaustively expose the moral, philosophical and political foundations of the various anarchist traditions (and many surely did). Wolff does it in a few pages with consiseness and accuracy.
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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.

More about Robert Paul Wolff...
“An authoritative command must … be distinguished from a persuasive argument. When I am commanded to do something, I may choose to comply even though I am not being threatened, because I am brought to believe that it is something which I ought to do. If that is the case, then I am not, strictly speaking, obeying a command, but rather acknowledging the force or rightness of a prescription. … But the person himself [sic] has no authority—or, to be more precise, my complying with his command does not constitute an acknowledgment on my part of any such authority.” 0 likes
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