David Held is an Anarchist: Discuss

By Alex Prichard

David Held’s international political theory is an echo of many of the core ideas at the heart of the anarchist tradition. These include an attempt to mediate a course between liberalism and Marxism, the centrality of the principle of autonomy to his political theory, a similar critique of the state and the economy based on this principle, and a vision for politics that is decentralised,multi-level and federal. The core differences revolve around a different reading of the historyof state formation, the centrality of the democratic legal state to Held’s work and the rejection of the same by the anarchists. From an anarchist perspective, it is internally contradictory for Heldto call for the continued existence of the institution which has historically been the antithesisof autonomy – the state. I will argue that because he has not taken the anarchist literatureseriously, his defence of the state is left open to an anarchist critique. My argument will be thatanarchy, rather than the state, is the precondition of autonomy. My dual aim with this article is tohelp bring anarchism in from the cold and to show where anarchist theory and contemporarycosmopolitanism might fruitfully learn from one another. My conclusion is that David Held is not an anarchist, but a more consistent Heldian political philosophy would be.

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