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Anarchism By Cunningham, Anne

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM358-1
Published: 09/05/2016
Retrieved: 24 April 2024, from


Anarchism is a term derived from the Greek anarkhia, meaning “contrary to authority” or ”without a ruler.“ Anarchism narrowly refers to a theory of society without state rule, and generally to a social and political ideology advocating a society that does not use coercive forms of authority. Many advocates trace its roots to the Greek Stoics. William Godwin’s An Inquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (1793) is widely recognized as the first work to present a full articulation of the idea of anarchism.

The term was considered derisory until the French social philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon used it in 1840 to describe his political program. Proudhon is credited as the first to call himself an anarchist. The Russian revolutionary Michael Bakunin (1814–1876), a key figure in anarchism, sought the violent overthrow of the state in order to replace it with a federation built on the basis of voluntary associations. Bakunin was a proponent of what would become anarcho-syndicalism, a term not coined until the early 20th century by Sam Mainwaring in Britain and Georges Sorel in France. Anarcho-syndicalism focused on trade unions as the transformative agent of social change, because they championed workers and could serve as a foundation for a new social organization after the successful overthrow of the existing state.

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Citing this article:

Cunningham, Anne. Anarchism. Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, Taylor and Francis,

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