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Etymology of the words "Anarchy" and "Anarchism"

The word anarchy came into English from the New Latin term anarchia but derives ultimately from the Greek anarkhia, whose roots are αν(α), an(a), "without", and αρχ(ος), arkh(os), "ruler, authority". Anarchism is therefore the theory and/or practice of anarchy, that is, of living without rulers or authority.

  • Quite a few people use the term "anarchy", often in a derogatory way, as meaning "without rules" or "without laws" (for which the correct term is anomy or anomie).
  • On the other hand, scholars and anarchists themselves, use the term as meaning "without rulers", "without government", or "without hierarchy".
  • Actually, according to some sources [1] (http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig/neill1), the "an-" prefix was used to mean "private", so that "anarchy" originally meant self-government.

Usage of the word "Anarchism"

Technically, the word "anarchism" covers any theory that proposes the absence of government, even though its proponents mightn't claim the term "anarchism" itself. Authors like William Godwin, Max Stirner, Gustave de Molinari or Leo Tolstoy might never have claimed the title of "anarchist", but their works nevertheless promote a society without government, and they are widely considered as anarchists.

Another use of the word "anarchism" is to designate political movements that specifically claim the label of "anarchist", whether or not their theories propose a society actually devoid of any kind of governance.

History of the word "Anarchism"

The first known usage of the word "anarchism" seems to be traced to the French Revolution (c.1789), when it was used as a derogatory term against the left. The French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, in the 1840s, is considered to have been the first to refer to oneself as an "anarchist", which he did in a non-derogatory fashion, becoming the first to articulate a social philosophy that called itself anarchism. He referring to anarchy as absence of government.

Proudhon was originally a socialist, though he incorporated some classical liberal ideas in his discourse as he matured.

Bakunin and many others, particularly in Europe, have developed after Proudhon an anarchist movement that openly endorses the main socialist ideas and left-wing politics. While members of this movement call themselves "anarchists" without qualification, they are often called left-anarchists or socialist anarchists, or libertarian socialists, to disambiguate when needed.

Benjamin Tucker, who translated Proudhon into american, insisted on the individualist[?] aspect of anarchism, and though he did argue for some of the socialist ideas by Proudhon, he and others clearly advocated free markets as solutions to problems government claim to solve. Though Tucker and other similar authors also claimed the unqualified term "anarchist", they are often called individualist anarchists to disambiguate when needed.

Gustave de Molinari, who in the 1840s explicitly argued for the abolition of government from a classical liberal point of view, prudently avoided to openly endorse the term "anarchist", by fear of confusion with the usage of the term made popular by Proudhon. Only more recently, with Murray Rothbard in the 1950s has there been a definite movement openly endorsing both the classical liberal school of thought and term "anarchism". Indeed the term is technically correct, and has no substitute. To distinguish from other anarchist trends, however, they called themselves anarcho-capitalists. It is wrong to call them "right-anarchists" since they reject the left-right axis [2] (http://www.self-gov.org/quiz)

Bias in usage of the term "Anarchism"

For historical reasons, the term "anarchism" is often used to mean left-anarchism and its many variants, as other forms of anarchism have little media coverage. Left-anarchists often call themselves "anarchists" or "libertarians" without further qualifier, and people often used the unqualified term to mean specifically the left-anarchists.

Indeed, thought they can claim no monopoly on the technical meaning of the term "anarchism", and no clear historical precedence in the tradition of thought, they have historical precedence in having a widely known movement using it as a rallying name.

Also, people who thus use the term "anarchist" exclusively for the left-anarchists mightn't know the diversity in anarchist movements, mightn't care for it, or mightn't agree that other kinds of anarchist movements deserve the title "anarchist".

Readers beware of the confusion that this biased usage of the term may bring.

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