Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction (Colin Ward)

untitledAnarchism is one of these things I’ve never really bothered reading about—indeed politics generally has not loomed large in my lifelong reading history—but for some reason I’ve been feeling lately like I should do so, and as such, why not start with something light. Author Colin Ward lived a long life (he was already 80 when this was published in 2004) devoted to the cause, which also made this look like a good option quite apart from its brevity. And I suppose, yeah, it was, but at the same time there was something ultimately unsatisfying about the book, although I’ll be damned if I can nail what it was… Anyway, Ward presents an interesting perspective that’s obviously pro-anarchist while acknowledging that, frankly, anarchism hasn’t exactly been a glowing success story, and that when the revolution has come in various places (from 17th century England on down), it’s never exactly resulted in the abolition of the state as such, just replaced the old one with a new one. Instead, he observes how the evolution of educational practices and the rise of the environmental movement could be taken as signs of anarchist influence; while we’re still waiting for that general strike, maybe anarchism can still have an effect on at least some aspects of the modern. Plus Ward is quietly scathing of American Libertarians (“The 19th-century American individualists… were busy social inventors exploring the potential of autonomy, including women’s liberation and black equality. … The American ‘libertarians’ of the 20th century are academics rather than social activists, and their inventiveness seems to be limited to providing an ideology for untrammelled market capitalism”), and I’ll give him points for that.

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