by Eric Fleischmann
Thomas Malthus, in his infamous work An Essay on the Principle of Population, takes several sections to critique the ideas of arguably the first modern anarchist thinker William Godwin. In one, Malthus writes,
The great error under which [Mr.] Godwin labours throughout his whole work [Enquiry Concerning Political Justice] is the attributing almost all the vices and misery that are seen in civil society to human institutions. Political regulations and the established administration of property are with him the fruitful sources of all evil, the hotbeds of all the crimes that degrade mankind. Were this really a true state of the case, it would not seem a hopeless task to remove evil completely from the world, and reason seems to be the proper and adequate instrument for effecting so great a purpose .
There is much to be said about Malthus’s ultimately flawed critique of Godwin’s work, but, in some sense, he manages to elucidate a grain of truth in his accusations. That is: if anarchism—even beyond the philosophical anarchism of Godwin—is guilty of a tendency to blame institutions for the wrongdoings of humanity, it is because statist and capitalist institutions—being as they are fundamentally violent—are ‘corrupting’ society.