Anarchism Book Summary - Anarchism Book explained in key points
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Anarchism summary

Colin Ward

A Very Short Introduction

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Brief summary

Anarchism by Colin Ward is a comprehensive introduction to the philosophy and practice of anarchism. It examines the history and core principles of anarchism, emphasizing the importance of cooperation and mutual aid as a means of achieving social and political change.

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    Anarchism is a political philosophy revolving around the rejection of all hierarchies.

    The term anarchy stems from the Greek word anarkhia, which translates to “without leader.” But its modern meaning took hold in the mid-nineteenth century, when French anarchist thinker Pierre-Joseph Proudhon attached “anarchism” to his political ideology. This ideology, anarchism, contended that society could – and should – be organized without central governments or authorities.

    Proudhon and later anarchists believed that society ought to be organized around voluntary agreements between individuals and groups, and that such a society would be able to meet, with both efficiency and fairness, all of its members’ production and consumption needs.

    But why did Proudhon feel the need for such a society? The answer lies in the failures of the French Revolution.

    After the Revolution, peasants and workers became disillusioned when they realized that the newly ascendant bourgeois political class was no better than the aristocrats who’d just been ousted. Oppressed by institutions such as punitive police forces and brutal armies, early anarchist thinkers like Proudhon noted that it wasn’t the rulers themselves who were the problem. It was the very concept of rule – a concept that placed one group of people over another – that was at the root of society’s ills.

    It is thus the problem of the state – and how to abolish it and build a fairer society – that has concerned anarchists since the eighteenth century. How to do this, however, depends on who you ask.

    The most prominent grouping of anarchists is anarcho-communists. They believe that land, resources and the means of production ought to be controlled by the communities that benefit from them.

    Other offshoots of anarchist thought emphasize, for example, feminism or green politics, but all anarchists reject hierarchies and all forms of external control, whether imposed by states, employers or religious organizations.

    But how would an anarchist society be organized? Well, there are four main principles that would likely be involved.

    First, anarchist organizations should be voluntary – membership mustn’t be required, as this would impede individual freedom and responsibility.

    Second, they must be functional, having a clear purpose and reason for existence.

    Third, they must be temporary, since permanent organizations tend to outlive their usefulness, becoming more concerned with perpetuating their survival than with serving their original purpose.

    Finally, anarchist organizations must be small, as hierarchical tendencies are less likely to develop when individuals come together in person to solve problems.

    Maybe this all seems like head-in-the-clouds theorizing? Well, in the next blink we’ll explore how specific anarchist thinkers envisioned social change, and how anarchism has worked in practice.

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    What is Anarchism about?

    Anarchism (2004) lays out the history and principles behind an oft-misunderstood political ideology. Crucially, anarchists emphasize freedom over oppression, thereby seeking to do away with human life’s many hierarchies, be they those imposed by the modern nation-state, by patriarchal societies or even by religious organizations. Anarchism envisions a world free from any sort of coercion.

    Anarchism Review

    Anarchism (1974) by Colin Ward offers a thought-provoking exploration of the principles and history of anarchism, making it a book that is worth reading. Here's why this book is special and interesting:

    • With its comprehensive analysis, it dives into the core ideas and philosophy behind anarchism, shedding light on its relevance in today's society.
    • By examining real-life examples of anarchist initiatives and movements, the book demonstrates how anarchism can work in practice, challenging preconceived notions.
    • Through clear and concise explanations, it presents complex concepts in a way that is accessible to all readers, ensuring that the book is definitely not boring.

    Best quote from Anarchism

    The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution... we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently. – Gustav Landauer

    —Colin Ward
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    Who should read Anarchism?

    • Anyone looking to learn about alternative societal models
    • Students of politics or history
    • Citizens concerned about climate change and how we might stop it

    About the Author

    Colin Ward, a British anarchist and prolific author, wrote multiple books on politics, ecology and urban issues. He is also the author of Anarchy in Action, Cotters and Squatters and Talking Green.

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    Anarchism FAQs 

    What is the main message of Anarchism?

    The main message of Anarchism is the importance of individual freedom and dismantling oppressive systems.

    How long does it take to read Anarchism?

    Reading time for Anarchism varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Anarchism a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Anarchism is a thought-provoking read that challenges conventional ideas of power. It's definitely worth reading for those interested in political philosophy.

    Who is the author of Anarchism?

    The author of Anarchism is Colin Ward.

    What to read after Anarchism?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Anarchism, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Socialism by Michael Newman
    • Populism by Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser
    • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
    • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
    • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
    • The Republic by Plato
    • Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss
    • The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
    • Fascism by Madeleine Albright
    • Be the Unicorn by William Vanderbloemen