What comes to mind when one hears the words ‘anarchism’ or ‘anarchy’? Maybe lawlessness, survival of the fittest, or people throwing bricks through storefront windows and Molotov cocktails at the police. There is, however, the political theory of anarchism which proclaims that everyone has the right to be free, and if this freedom is curtailed, then only for legitimate reasons. That sounds like it would lead to chaos or law of the jungle, but it does not, because social anarchists believe in a highly organized society, but one that is based on democracy all the way through.
This is not a comprehensive treatise on the theory, history, various incarnations, or hypothetical implementation of anarchism but more of an introductory text consisting of five previously published lectures, interviews, and essays that give at least some insight on a broad range of related topics, like the bad reputation of anarchism, its role in Spain before and during the Civil War, its ties to worker’s movements, its relation to libertarian socialism, or the conflict between individual freedom and collectivism. It is very much a presentation of Chomsky’s own beliefs. Still, I would have appreciated a little more in-depth analysis, especially concerning the possible problems that would arise in the practical application. The weakest part is unfortunately the section on anarchism in Spain which is rather long and dry in comparison to the other chapters, as it is used not only as a historical example, but also to demonstrate a bias against social revolution and a subsequent misinterpretation of crucial events by scholars who studied these events.
The true strength of the book is that it provides a lot of food for thought, especially in economic matters. Capitalism and its exploitation of man and nature cannot be the answer to the problems of our time, as we can see very clearly in light of an impending climate catastrophe. The Coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effects on the world’s economy may be the impetus needed to review policies and ideologies because calls for a universal basic income are getting louder, as are demands for the domestic production of critical goods like pharmaceuticals or protective equipment to lessen the dependency on other countries, which could also lead to a departure from globalization in general.
You don’t need to agree with Chomsky’s opinions, and you don’t have to think that anarchism is a good idea in order to take away a lot of enlightening information from this, to let it challenge your own beliefs, and to start considering the meaning of freedom from a different perspective. Human history is not over, and to think that our political and economic systems cannot and will not evolve anymore is unrealistic. The biggest obstacle to this evolution are not only the totalitarian tendencies threatening democracies all over the world, but also complacency and stagnancy. Therefore, different approaches have to be considered in order to move forward, but what is needed most of all, and here I agree with Chomsky completely, is the will to change.