- Paperback: 135 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; First edition (September 28, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520215737
- ISBN-13: 978-0520215733
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #863,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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In Defense of Anarchism (with a New Preface) First Edition
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"To entitle a book "In Defense of Anarchism simply requires "chutzpah. To do it well requires some intelligence. Professor Wolff has both. Anarchy, being generally relegated to the ideological dust-bin or drafted as fodder for editorializing blasts, has long been in need of an intelligent reassessment. Wolff's brief book attempts this by taking the reader along a political "via dolorosa which begins with his own innocent belief in 'traditional democratic doctrines.'"--Lawrence S. Stepelevich, "The New Scholasticism
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"A provocative and engrossing introduction to current questions of political legitimacy, consent, deliberative democracy, the basis of majority rule, workers collectives, etc., that have been taken up by contemporary political theorists."―Georgia Warnke, author of Justice and Interpretation
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In any case, most of the other things people are saying about this book are spot-on. It's clearly-written, engaging, and short. The biggest sticking point for people will be the book's explicit Kantian bent. As a Kantian, I must simply say, "Get over it."
His arguments support anarchism for sure. BUT he does not give up his leftist ideology! (In my experience, I have found this to be the case with most professional philosophers). His conclusion (chapter 3) is the most distressing in this regard (however, I find the new preface to be not only biased to the left but also, in one comment, insulting to libertarians). In this chapter, he begins by summarizing that, yes, his arguments show that the only "just" systems (one which is legitimate and preserves autonomy) is unanimous direct democracy - which is only feasible in a small, homogenous society (like a kibbutz) - and anarchy. BUT he then immediately says that he does not want to give up the idea of a just state (at least he's honest) and proceeds with a Marxist interpretation of society and the market - that society is all about marginalizing and dominating others, the market especially so.
I would say to free-market anarchic-capitalists - like myself - read the book for the arguments: some of his premises need a little more to strengthen them, perhaps a little Rothbardian and Hoppean insights, but they are valid and sound. BUT KNOW THIS - Wolff is a statist! And, considering the fact that he himself presents arguments AGAINST the state only to say IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH that he refuses to give it up, makes him a disreputable philosopher.
But, the book is excellent. I am no anarchist, but the arguments set forth here are completely convincing. If we value autonomy--and almost everyone claims they do--then these are the necessary conclusions. Wolff's comments on majoritarianism vigorously ring the bell of indisputable truth. This is not what you learned in high school government class.
The book is quite short. The preface is a fun read, as Wolff talks about the how the book came into being, but once the first chapter starts, he is all business. But though it deals almost exclusively with philosophical ideas, it had no problem keeping my attention. A short 80 pages has given me a whole new understanding of the justifcation of government. Consider my philosophical cobwebs knocked out.
The title is misleading, as Wolff's essay is not so much apologia for anarchist ideas about social structures, it is in fact an exploration of the apparent paradox between the authority of the state and the moral autonomy of the individual. After running through the arguments for various kinds of representative and direct democracy, Wolff concludes that the only form of government which is morally acceptable (that is, which does not subvert moral autonomy) is 'unanimous direct democracy', which for obvious reasons is not a practical form of government. Wolff concludes that, from the perspective of moral philosophy, anarchism is the only acceptable social arrangement.
Wolff's treatment of the subject was rather illuminating for me, it finally revealed to me why political scientists as a whole do not regard anarchism as an ideology; it is instead considered a moral stance independent of political and economic issues, despite what some people might assert.
I've been thinking a little bit about his arguments, and they all seem sound. But I'm inclined to agree with Wolff's sentiments that even if the authority of the state truly cannot be reconciled with moral autonomy, the alternative is not practical. I was briefly considering pursuing the line of argument that societies as a whole can possess moral autonomy, and that a 'social moral autonomy' would outweigh the individual's moral autonomy. The obvious problem with this argument, though, is that if you accept it, it can make any form of government acceptable.