By Ruth Kinna
Sometimes vilified, often misunderstood, rarely taught in universities, anarchism is a political philosophy and social movement that’s far removed from today’s mainstream politics. But it was and remains a powerful motivator. Political theorist Ruth Kinna talks us through the best books to read to get a better understanding of anarchism.
To start with, can you try to give us your own definition of anarchism?
It’s always tricky. I think anarchism describes a set of practices; it describes politics; it also describes a tradition, and within that tradition there is a set of cultures. It is a bounded political movement, but it’s defined by the way that its advocates, those who call themselves anarchists, engage with those traditions and cultures, and change their practices over time.
It’s possibly the political theory burdened by the most misconceptions, and the greatest contrast between how it’s defined by theorists, and what a random person on the street would think when they hear the word ‘anarchy.’ Why do you think that is?
It’s very difficult for people who come from other kinds of politics, within the mainstream, to make sense of anarchism. Most of the ways we think about our institutions, constitutions and political organisations are framed in a particular way: at a minimum, the theoretical premise is that we need some kind of structure in order to make citizens compliant and to make us cooperate. Anarchists start from a very different foundation: that we naturally cooperate. It may be in a very sociable way, in the sense that we have friendly relations, or it might mean in a thinner way, that we can cooperate despite our anxieties, antagonisms, and conflicts. And anarchists think that it is through this cooperation that we will build our institutions.