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Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism [Kindle Edition]

Peter Marshall
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Lively and authoritative, this study of a widely misunderstood subject skillfully navigates the rough waters of anarchistic concepts—from Taoism to Situationism, ranters to punk rockers, individualists to communists, and anarcho-syndicalists to anarcha-feminists. Exploring key anarchist ideas of society and the state, freedom and equality, authority and power, the record investigates the successes and failures of anarchist movements throughout the world. Presenting a balanced and critical survey, the detailed document covers not only classic anarchist thinkers—such as Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus, and Emma Goldman—but also other libertarian figures, such as Nietzsche, Camus, Gandhi, Foucault, and Chomsky. Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand what anarchists stand for and what they have achieved, this fascinating account also includes an epilogue that examines the most recent developments, including postanarchism and anarcho-primitivism as well as the anarchist contributions to the peace, green, and global justice movements of the 21st century.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The goal of an egalitarian, communal society has always united Marxists and leftist socialists, some of the latter (often if not always described as anarchists) refusing any truck with centralized power At various times, such ideas have found relatively wide appeal, and this era is one—expressed for instance in the antiglobalization movement's emphases on local control and direct democracy—making Marshall's comprehensive treatment a timely read. Newly revised and updated, this indispensable history of social libertarian thought now reaches into the 21st century—touching upon themes echoed in other recent titles, including Raj Patel's The Value of Nothing. Marshall casts a wide net, gathering all traces of antiauthoritarian socialist thought in works from Lao Tzu through Noam Chomsky, social ecology, and the Zapatistas. Readers will be repeatedly rewarded by Marshall's judiciousness and close readings of both the great names in anarchist history—Proudhon, Kropotkin, and Tolstoy—and less expected contributors—Rousseau, Swift, and Burke. Blowing away cobwebs of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, this is a stimulating portrait of a highly varied but distinctive political ideal, tradition, and practice arising from the enduring human impulse to be free. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


'Massive, scholarly, genuinely internationalist and highly enjoyable.' David Widgery, Observer 'An exhaustive and authoritative study which is bound to become the standard account.' John Gray, The Times 'Indispensable.' Richard Boston, Guardian 'This is the most comprehensive account of anarchist thought ever written. Marshall's knowledge is formidable and his enthusiasm engaging.' J.P. Pick, Scotsman 'Large, labyrinthine, tentative: for me these are all adjectives of praise when applied to works of history, and Demanding the Impossible meets all of them.' George Woodcock, Independent

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and intelligently written survey October 8, 2000
Although the pioneering work of anarchist history was Woodcock's relatively tiny volume "Anarchism", Marshall demonstrates with this revision that the torch has passed from Woodcock to him. What is most satisfying in this edition is that, although Marshall's sympathies are unambiguously anarchist, he manages to offer a very balanced, clear, objective, helpful historical account, combined with admirably critical insights. Written in 1991, it has an added value for being reasonably recent, as previous scholarship on the subject is by now mostly dated. "Demanding the Impossible" is superior also because of its sheer bulk: 700+ information-packed pages. Not merely confining himself to looking at anarchism as an ideology, Marshall spans a period starting from Buddhism and Taoism, to ancient Greece and Christianity, up to the present and offers a rich and powerful exposition of these cultural phenomena and the ways in which they prefigure anarchistic ideas, to form a many-streamed "river of anarchy". In addition, there are explorations of modern anarchism in action in Russia and the Ukraine, Asia, Northern Europe and the United States, among many other countries across the globe. Other chapters include surveys and critiques of the major classical anarchist thinkers -- Mikhail Bakunin, Count Leo Tolstoy, Max Stirner, William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Prince Kropotkin -- as well as examinations of libertarian movements and thinkers allied to anarchism, such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, Nietzsche, J.S. Mill, Herbert Spencer, the existentialists Sartre and Camus, The New Left, the hippy Counterculture, Right Libertarianism, the work of Michel Foucault, and so forth. Extremely accessible account overall.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Overall, an excellent overview of anarchism that is well worth reading. Glad I bought it and enjoyed reading it.

However, at times the author goes from chronicling the views of individual anarchists (and opponents) to coming down on one side or another of a debate. This itself would be useful, except the author seems to give short shrift to views he doesn't share.

For example, take Murray Bookchin's criticisms of deep ecology. Marshall simply treats Bookchin's criticisms as untenable and treats Bookchin's disagreements with the deep ecologists as an example of how Bookchin "laments our alienation from nature ... but he would still appear to be a victim of the process."

Perhaps if the subtitle of "Demanding the Impossible" had been "An Evaluation and Critique of Anarchism" rather than "A History of Anarchism" this wouldn't have been so jarring, but it left me wondering (as someone not overly familiar with anarchist thinking and debates) how much of his history is colored by his own personal views on what is and is not anarchism proper.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
This book was absolutely excellent. Complete in almost every way, it covered every major anarchist thinker, almost every anarchist stream of thought, and anarchist history by nation. The book was very objective, unbiased and *extremely* comprehensive, and as such i feel that it is essential reading for any anarchist or student of anarchism.
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Format:Kindle Edition
Seven hundred pages of fine print, and another hundred of footnotes (in 2010's revised edition) narrate thousands of years over which people have longed for the right to make their own decisions, live as best they choose among each others' mutual assistance and communal support, and to conduct their livelihoods and relationships as they please, free of coercion, top-down dominance, or imposed government or creed. If leaders are chosen, if organizations are established, then these are entered freely and exited at will.

This sums up anarchism's principled versions. It seems from early on, philosophers, priests, bosses, legislators, politicians, and generals all have feared such a movement. Peter Marshall's immense survey shows the results, parading steadily the greatest names in the centuries who've tried to make theory into practice. The Introduction begins with great quotes from some of its exponents, and prefaces in Part I anarchism as it is in theory. While "the river of anarchy" changes with each version, the essence of freedom attracts a few each generation to plunge into what, by the heady rhetoric recurring, appear inviting waters of liberation, personally and socially. For, society for most advocates remains, even if the State withers away. The former is sought freely; the latter isn't chosen. "Society and the State" and "Freedom and Equality" articulate this in Marshall's introduction.

In Part II, the forerunners of anarchism, Taoism and Buddhism, surprisingly show how ancient this impulse is. Feared by Plato if somewhat anticipated by the pre-Socratic Greeks, its impulses survived into early and medieval Christianity, among such as dissenters, heretics, guilds, and rebels against Rome--and against Luther, tellingly.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview May 22, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Well worth the effort. Reads well. Learnt heaps about something I thought I knew about. Buy it, you'll thank yourself.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The encyclopedia of Anarachism May 7, 2014
By Travis
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the most concise book I've ever read about Anarchism. If you are even slightly interesting in the origins and practice of Anarchism I couldn't recommend anything other than this.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars The Golden Rule as justification for murder?
A good illustration of inadequate scholarship may be found in Marshall's description of Kropotkin's essay on an anarchists morality. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Dugout Doug
4.0 out of 5 stars Anarchism from a contemporary perspective
This is one of the best collections and historical recalls on Anarchism. Peter Marshall passion on the topic adds clarity and make it a most interesting reading
Published 9 months ago by LEON FERNANDO DEL CANTO GO
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force
Peter Marshall's Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism has all the earmarks of a scholarly but eminently readable tour de force. Read more
Published on May 30, 2012 by Dana Garrett
1.0 out of 5 stars Beware the Type Size!
I have the paperback edition, published in 2008 by PM Press. While I am more than sympathetic that it was printed by the "Employee Owners of Thomson-Shore in Dexter, Michigan", I... Read more
Published on March 10, 2012 by Jeff
5.0 out of 5 stars Tells you what it's all about
Instead of giving the reader a personal point of view, Peter Marshall tries to cover the different factions in the Anarchist movement.
Published on September 8, 2011 by Jack
1.0 out of 5 stars Inaccurate tome about a futile politics
On p. 442, Marshall writes, "Georges Sorel, inspired by by Proudhon and the syndicalists, maintained in his Reflections on Violence (1908) that class war invigorates society. Read more
Published on May 6, 2010 by William Podmore
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor scholarship
"My edition of Demanding the Impossible was published in 1992 by HarperCollins Publishers. On p.561, Marshall writes that:

David Friedman sees such agencies as both... Read more
Published on April 2, 2006 by Jeremy G. Snyder
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