Addressing the Critics of Anarchism

By John Wilkes Czolgosz

Anarchism faces several common critiques that question its feasibility and effectiveness. One criticism contends that humans are incapable of self-governance, necessitating the presence of a state. Philosopher Bertrand Russell argued that essential functions such as regulating sanitary conditions or ensuring a just distribution of resources would be difficult without a central government (Russell, 1917). Additionally, critics assert that anarchism is unrealistic and utopian, as it is seen as impractical to eliminate the state. Some argue that working within the existing political system to bring about reforms is a more viable approach (Fiala, n.d.).

Another critique suggests that anarchism is self-contradictory, lacking a governing theory. It is argued that while anarchism promotes collective action, it also values individual autonomy, making coordinated efforts challenging (Fiala, n.d.). Furthermore, critics contend that philosophical anarchism is ineffective in practice, as capitalism and the bourgeois class remain strong while anarchism remains theoretical (Fiala, n.d.).

Academics have also voiced criticism against philosophical anarchism. Law professor William A. Edmundson argues against the fallacious nature of three major philosophical anarchist principles, asserting that the absence of a duty to obey the state does not automatically render the state morally illegitimate (Edmundson, 1996). On the other hand, Michael Huemer defends philosophical anarchism by asserting that political authority is a moral illusion (Huemer, 2013).

Critics have highlighted the biological inclination to authority and argue that anarchism fails to acknowledge this innate tendency (Raz, 1986). Anarchists respond by stating that challenging or disobeying authority does not negate its advantages or deny the reliability of experts in various fields (Raz, 1986). However, scholars criticize anarchist beliefs about human nature, the rejection of the state, and the feasibility of achieving social revolution as naive, simplistic, and unrealistic (Fiala, n.d.).

Marxists offer a critique of anarchism, considering its anti-authoritarianism as counter-revolutionary. Friedrich Engels argued that revolutions inherently possess an authoritarian nature (Engels, 1872). Some Marxists argue that anarchism is utopian, lacking the ability to effectively implement its ideas (Molyneux, 1997). They also suggest that anarchism’s emphasis on individual values and free will hampers collective action (Molyneux, 1997).

Anarchism faces a range of critiques that challenge its practicality, effectiveness, and compatibility with human nature. These criticisms question the ability of anarchism to address complex societal issues and its potential to bring about significant social change.

Anarchists can address the challenges presented by critics through various means:

  1. Practical Demonstrations: Anarchists can engage in practical demonstrations of their ideas and principles to show that self-governance is not only possible but also effective. By creating and participating in alternative structures and organizations that embody anarchist principles, such as cooperatives, intentional communities, or mutual aid networks, anarchists can showcase the viability and success of their ideas in action.
  2. Education and Awareness: Anarchists can work on educating the public and raising awareness about the principles, values, and goals of anarchism. This can be done through public discussions, workshops, literature, online platforms, and community events. By effectively communicating the ideas behind anarchism and addressing misconceptions, anarchists can foster a better understanding of their philosophy and debunk common criticisms.
  3. Collaboration and Solidarity: Anarchists can build bridges and form alliances with other social and political movements that share common goals and values. By working together with individuals and groups advocating for social justice, environmental sustainability, worker’s rights, and other progressive causes, anarchists can amplify their efforts and create a broader movement for systemic change. This collaboration helps address the criticism that anarchism is ineffective or lacks the ability to bring about significant social transformation.
  4. Emphasizing Practical Reforms: Anarchists can engage in pragmatic approaches that combine immediate reforms with long-term goals. By advocating for and actively participating in grassroots initiatives, community organizing, and social movements, anarchists can address immediate issues and injustices while also advocating for the dismantling of hierarchical systems. This approach demonstrates that anarchists are not solely focused on abstract theoretical ideals but are actively involved in tangible efforts to improve society.
  5. Historical and Theoretical Analysis: Anarchists can engage in rigorous historical and theoretical analysis to respond to specific critiques. By examining historical examples of successful anarchist movements, such as the Spanish Revolution of 1936 or contemporary examples of anarchist-inspired communities, anarchists can provide evidence of the practicality and effectiveness of their ideas. Additionally, anarchists can further develop and refine their theoretical frameworks to address specific challenges raised by critics.
  6. Addressing Human Nature: Anarchists can engage with the critique that anarchism goes against human nature by highlighting the potential for cooperation, mutual aid, and voluntary association that exists within human societies. By emphasizing the inherent capacity for empathy, solidarity, and cooperation, anarchists can challenge the assumption that authority and hierarchy are essential for social order and progress.

Anarchists can effectively address critics by combining practical demonstrations, education, collaboration, pragmatic approaches, historical analysis, and a nuanced understanding of human nature. By actively engaging with critics and providing compelling arguments and evidence, anarchists can present a robust case for the feasibility and desirability of their vision of a society without rulers.

Edmundson, W. A. (1996). Anarchism and the duty to obey the state. Law and Philosophy, 15(3), 315-345.

Engels, F. (1872). On authority. Retrieved from

Fiala, A. G. (n.d.). The philosophy of anarchism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from

Huemer, M. (2013). The problem of political authority: An examination of the right to coerce and the duty to obey. Palgrave Macmillan.

Molyneux, J. (1997). Anarchism: A Marxist criticism. International Socialism, 74. Retrieved from

Russell, B. (1917). Political ideals. Retrieved from

Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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