The development of anarchism including an examination of Henry David Thoreau

Seminar Paper, 2020

13 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Characteristics of anarchism

3. Development of anarchism
3.1. Moral development of anarchism
3.2. Anarchism and the government
3.3. Democratic anarchism

4. Henry David Thoreau
4.1. Influences on Thoreau
4.2. Thoreau's approach towards society

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Anarchism is a highly interesting topic and especially during the current crisis concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and a massive arise of various political movements, it gains more signif­icance all over the globe. Anarchism has always been part of governmental systems and will always somehow establish itself in our society through certain individual thoughts and beliefs. Concerning this, it is highly captivating to closely examine the development of anarchism es­pecially in terms of morality and how this might have changed throughout the years. Another very important factor when it comes to anarchism is how this topic is connected to our govern­ment and the principles of how a government is build in the first place. This approach is very complex and can only be dipped into briefly as a very close examination would go beyond the constraints of this paper. What is also essential concerning this course is which role Henry David Thoreau played in this whole anarchism and morality combination and if his presence had a mentionable impact on how anarchism is viewed currently. While incorporating all of the ideas mentioned above, the following research question had been imposed and will be worked on throughout this paper:

How did anarchism, concerning the moral development and especially the connection be­tween anarchism and the government, evolve in the past and which role did Henry David Thoreau play in this setti

The paper is divided into several chapters including a variety of subchapters. The first basic part of the paper will be a short overview about how anarchism works and what the main char­acteristics of anarchism are. Following that, we will already delve into the main chapter of the development of anarchism. This chapter is divided into three subchapters including the moral development of anarchism, anarchism and the government, and democratic anarchism. After this, there will be a closer analysis on the significance of Henry David Thoreau. This chapter again contains another two subchapters, namely firstly the main influences on Henry David Thoreau and secondly how Thoreau's approach towards society worked. After this complex examination of several factors concerning anarchism, the government and Henry David Tho­reau, a conclusion will outline all the main results and hopefully answer the research question in a satisfactory manner.

2. Characteristics of anarchism

In a literal sense, anarchy means “without authority” and is mostly referred to as a system where a social order is maintained on a voluntary base. Although there are many different schools of anarchism, the most prominent characteristics of anarchism are individual sovereignty, the op­position to coercive authority that undermines individual freedom, voluntarism and mutual aid as a basic social factor of society, and the recognition that only a free individual existing within a free society can exploit its full potential (Peterson 1987: 237). The aims of anarchism are not only also the characteristics of anarchism, but they are also the basic fundament for the whole anarchist doctrine as it is. The anarchist society promotes the viewpoint, that each and every free individual within their rows is responsible for their personal needs and interests. The main difference that distinguishes anarchism from any other form of social school is if the main an­titheses that exist in any other schools are reduced. Another important factor in terms of aims of anarchists is that just like the socialists, the anarchists urge the expropriation of the bour­geoisie. In order to have this expropriation however, the anarchists do not hope for the gener­osity and justice of the bourgeoisie. Due to this, anarchists would rather have corrosion and continuous offensive to reach their goals. In contrast to the socialists, the anarchists hold dif­ferent standards when it comes to the evaluation of reforms which consequently lead to certain political actions. While the socialists encourage reforms as an inevitable way to elevate the proletariat, they have a rigid discipline of the parliamentary socialists, who have undermined the general interests of the proletariat for their own political function. This also led to the fact that their initial belief, namely the fostering of the class struggle was replaced by class collaboration in the legislative arena. The anarchists on the other hand, consider reforms as a ballast of the bourgeoisie and a barrier for their desired revolutionary storm. They believe that social reforms will come anyway as the attacks against the predominant social institutions be­come more forceful and violent. Rather than electoral and parliamentary action, the anarchists prefer direct action by the working people and abstention from any form of political activity (Galleani 1982: 18-20).

3. Development of anarchism

The development of anarchism is a highly complex subdomain of the whole anarchism topic itself. The following subchapters try to evaluate the selected areas concerning the development of anarchism. This should be seen as an overview as this paper is barely able to cover all the information given on the area of anarchism and its development.

3.1. Moral development of anarchism

For the purpose of examining the moral development of anarchism, one of the most eminent theorists concerning moral development in general in the United States, Lawrence Kohlberg has to be introduced. Kohlberg distinguishes three general levels of moral development, each including two different stages (Peterson 1987: 239).

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Stage 2. Naive egoistic orientation. Right action is that instrumentally satisfying the selfs needs. Awareness of relativism of value to each actor’s needs. Naive egalitar­ianism and orientation to exchange and reciprocity.

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Stage 4. Law and order orientation. Orienta­tion toward “doing one's duty” and to showing respect for authority and maintaining the given social order for its own sake.

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Figure 1: Level 1 and 2 of moral development from Lawrence Kohlberg (Peterson 1987:240).

III, Postconventional Moral value resides in conformity by the self Stage 5. Social-contract, legalistic orienta­ te shared or shareable standards, rights or tion. Recognition of an arbitrary element or duties. starting point in rules for the sake of agree­ ment. Duty defined in terms of contract, general avoidance of violation of the will or rights of others, and majority will and welfare.

Stage 6. Conscience or principle orientation. Orientation not only toward actually ordained social rules, but to principles of choice involving appeal to logical universality and consistency. Orientation to conscience as a directing agent and to mutual respect and trust.

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Figure 2: Level 3 of Lawrence Kohlbergs moral development chart (Peterson 1987: 241).

In order to link this theory of moral development to anarchism, Kohlberg argues that in his studies and findings, individuals with a lower moral development are more prone to support anarchism. Although this whole theory of Kohlberg has to be reflected in a critical manner, there is a point to the statement mentioned above. Individuals who are situated at a higher level of moral development are more likely to appreciate a society that remains orderly. Even if younger people during current times strive for freedom, individuals who enjoyed a higher edu­cation, which is also linked to a higher moral development, are able to understand how these institutions work and therefore are also able to approve of a regulated governmental system (Peterson 1987: 243-244).


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The development of anarchism including an examination of Henry David Thoreau
University of Innsbruck
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henry, david, thoreau
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Romana Pfurtscheller (Author), 2020, The development of anarchism including an examination of Henry David Thoreau, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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