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(a privative, and arche, rule)

Anarchy means an absence of law. Sociologically it is the modern theory which proposes to do away with all existing forms of government and to organize a society which will exercise all its functions without any controlling or directive authority. It assumes as its basis that every man has a natural right to develop all his powers, satisfy all his passions, and respond to all his instincts. It insists that the individual is the best judge of his own capacity; that personal interest, well understood, tends to improve general conditions; that each one recognizes the advantage of justice in economic relations; and that mankind, in the man, is right in what it does. As a human being is a free, intelligent agent, any restraint from without is an invasion of his rights and must be set down as tyranny. Proudhon (1809-65), whose writings are diffuse, obscure, and paradoxical, is regarded as the father of the system; but Diderot is claimed by some, and also the association of the Enragés, or Hébertistes of the French Revolution. According to Proudhon, "anarchy is order" and, borrowing from J.J. Rousseau, man is naturally good, and only institutions are bad". Also according to him, "all property is theft". As crime is mostly committed against property, abolishing one is preventing the other. Criminals are not to be punished, but treated as lunatics, or sick men. There are to be no rulers in Church or State; no masters, no employers. Religion is to be eliminated, because it introduces God as the basis of authority, and degrades man by inculcating meekness and submission, thus making him a slave and robbing him of his natural dignity. Free love is to take the place of marriage, and family life, with its restraints, is to cease.

To the objection that men cannot live together without society, both because of the implied contradiction in such a claim, and because of the social instinct in man, the answer is: We do not destroy society, but exclude authority from it. Anarchy supposes an association of individual sovereigns acting independently of any central or coercive power. It aims at a society in which all the members are federated in free groups or corporations according to the professions, arts, trades, business, etc., which happen to suit the fancy of each, so that not only will all be co-proprietors of everything — land, mines, machines, instruments of labour, means of production, exchange, etc. — but every one will thus be able to follow his own individual bent. Moreover, as all are united in a harmony of interests, all will labour in unison to increase the general welfare, just as is done in business corporations, in which union is based on mutual advantage, and is free from all pressure from without.

As to the means to be employed to bring about this ideal condition, opinion is divided, some holding for the evolutionary, some for the revolutionary method; the former proposing to realize their Utopia by the means now at their disposal, chiefly universal suffrage; while the latter are determined to effect it at once by violent methods. In this respect the first class shades off into collective socialism, the second remaining pure anarchists. Both, however, differ from socialism on one very important point. For while agreeing with anarchists in the desirability of abolishing all existing institutions, socialism aims at what it calls "socialized society". It postulates a central power which will assign occupations, distribute awards, and supervise and direct the collective interests. It absorbs the individual in favour of the State; anarchy does the very opposite. Generally speaking, also, socialism reprobates violent methods and seeks its end by gradual evolution from present conditions. Its public alienation from anarchical methods is evidenced in its treatment of the Russian Bakounin, who was conspicuous for his activity in the French Revolution of 1848, and who, when handed over to Russia, escaped from Siberia and fomented the Russian disorders of 1869, chiefly through his agent Netschaïeff, and was finally associated with Cluseret and Richard in the atrocities of the French Commune of 1871. In 1868 he had established the International Alliance of Social Democracy, and endeavoured to unite it with the International Association of Workingmen founded by the socialist Marx in 1864. The coalition was of short duration. A violent schism began at the Congress of the Hague, in 1872, and then the party of anarchy may be said to have begun as a distinct organization. Bakounin subsequently organized the Fédération Jurassienne. He issued a paper called the Avant Garde, but nothing much was done until the founding of La Révolte by Elisée Reclus and Kropotkin.

The principles of anarchy were again repudiated in the Socialist Congress of Paris in 1881 (from which the anarchists were expelled) and in congresses at Zurich, in 1893, and at Hamburg and London, in 1897. It was in the sixth Congress of the Marxists, held in Geneva in 1863, that the distinctive term of Anarchist was applied to an autonomous section of that Convention. But how far the theories and practice of each run into those of the other is difficult to determine. For, independently of official pronouncements by the various congresses, the lines of demarcation between the two movements are not unfrequently obscure. Thus, according to some writers, anarchists may be classified first as extreme Individualists; those, namely, who regard the intervention of the State as a "nuisance" — such is the term employed — which is to be reduced as soon as possible to a minimum. This was the position of Herbert Spencer and Auberon Herbert, who would probably have resented being placed in the category of anarchists. Spencer's doctrine about the minimizing of government authority was borrowed from Goodwin's "Political Justice" (1793). A second class might be described as Expectants; those who are willing to admit a central control until public opinion is sufficiently educated to dispense with it. William Morris left the Social Democrats when he found himself drifting in that direction. Finally there are the Universal Negatives, or Nihilists, who believe in the assassination of rulers and in other violent manifestations of hatred of present conditions. The first so-called scientific exposition of this nihilistic anarchism seems to have been made by the eminent French geographer Elisée Reclus and the Russian Prince Kropotkin, who built it into a definite system, though a similar claim is made for Hess, who in 1843 published two volumes on "Philosophie der That und Sozialismus". Grün and Stern also formulated their theories about the same time. The publication of the Révolte by Reclus and Kropotkin was immediately followed by frightful acts committed by avowed anarchists, both in Europe and Amenca, not only the assassination of rulers — the murder of McKinley is an instance — but the throwing of bombs in legislative halls, the wrecking of churches, the killing of the police, as in Chicago, etc. This was the propaganda by acts which had been advocated by Bakounin; but both Reclus and Kropotkin protested that their conception of anarchy did not contemplate such excesses. Whether they spoke the truth or feared public execration must be left to each one to judge. It was only after the attempted assassination of the Emperor William, in 1878, that the German Socialists, Bebel and Liebknecht, declared against anarchy. In France, at the present time, the party that has not only suppressed the Church, but is clamouring for the suppression of the army and preaching revolt to the soldiers, ridiculing the idea of patriotism and demanding the abolition of national frontiers, are anarchists, but at the same time they seem to affiliate with the Socialist party now in control of the Government. Whether it is sympathy or a design to let anarchy do the work of destruction on which socialism is to build up its future State, is not a subject of controversy, at least among conservative Frenchmen. It is in France that anarchy at the present time is showing its hand, and exercising the greatest power, though it is not known by its distinctive name. But as a matter of fact, where socialism professes atheism it is already anarchy.

Thus far the anarchists seem to have no central organization; but they publish 14 papers in French, though not all of them are printed in France; 2 in English, one in London, and the other in New York; 3 in German; 10 in Italian; 4 in Spanish; 1 in Hebrew; 2 in Portuguese and Bohemian; 1 in Dutch. As there is no compact organization, and as their principles are often admitted by those who are not avowed anarchists, it is next to impossible to form an exact idea of their actual numbers.

The root of all this evil is the apostasy from Christianity, so marked in some countries, and the acceptance, or influence, of atheism. Once given that there is no God, it immediately becomes unjust and impossible for anyone to exact obedience and submission from anyone else. If there is no God, there can be no master. The anarchist conclusion is logical. Likewise, all the commandments of God are necessarily abrogated, and the claim that a man has a right to satisfy all his propensities and passions stands justified. There can be no family, no State, no Church, no society of any kind. The individual is to be the centre and determining power of everything, and it is their cult of the individual, originating in the egoism of the philosophy of Hegel, and perhaps culminating in Nietzsche, with his atrocious "superman", which has been the means of accelerating the spread of anarchical doctrines. The distorted conceptions of liberty of thought, liberty of the press, liberty of speech, liberty of conscience, which are claimed as rights, and are regarded as essential in modern civilization, no matter to what extravagance they may be carried — even to the propagation of the most revolutionary and immoral doctrines — have magnified the importance and sacredness of the individual until he has become a law unto himself in ethics and religion, and is practically persuaded of his absolute independence of his Creator in his conduct of life. In much of the literature of the day there exists almost an idolatry of human power, no matter with how much crime it is associated. Again, the method of education in some countries, which absolutely debars even the mention of the name of God from the schools, and which admits no religious instruction, or only an ethical code without sanction or authority, could not fail to develop a generation of anarchists. Their fathers have some memories of religion and a sense of obligation clinging to them; the rising generation will have none. Finally, the excessive accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few by supposedly dishonest methods, and its alleged use in corrupting legislatures to perpetuate abuses, furnish material for unprincipled demagogues to arouse the worst passions of the multitude. Moreover, even if the condition of the poor is not as bad as formerly, the contrast with the luxury of the rich is sufficient to excite cupidity and anger, while the absence of religious motives makes poverty and suffering not only insupportable, but, in the eyes of the victims, unnecessary and unjust.

The theory of anarchy is against all reason. Apart from the fact that it runs counter to some of the most cherished instincts of humanity, as, for instance, family life and love of country, it is evident that society without authority could not stand for a moment. Men whose only purpose would be to satisfy all their inclinations are by the very fact on the level of the animal creation. The methods they already employ in the prosecution of their designs show how the animal instincts quickly assert themselves. The only remedy of the disorder is evidently a return to right reason and the practice of religion; and, as a protection for the future, the inculcation of Christian morality in the education of youth.


BAKOUNIN, Dieu et l'état (Paris, 1895); PROUDHON, Œuvres (Paris, 1851); HERZEN, De l'autre rive; TCHEMCHEWSKY, L'économie politique jugée par la science; ELISÉE RECLUS, Evolution et Revolution (Paris, 1891); SPENCER, The Individual vs. the State; EMILE GAUTIER, Propos anarchistes; Heures de travail; KROPOTKIN, Aux jeunes gens; Parole d'un révolté; TUCKER, Instead of a Book (New York, 1893); ELY, The Labor Movement in America (London, 1890); KERKUP, A History of Socialism (London, 1892); Revue des Deux Mondes (Nov. 15, 1893).

About this page

APA citation. Campbell, T. (1907). Anarchy. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Campbell, Thomas. "Anarchy." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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