In Defense of Anarchism - Robert Paul Wolff In Defense of Anarchism is an extended essay that is not so much the titular defense of anarchism as it is an offensive against the moral authority of the state, i.e., that there is a case where the state can command an individual even against that person’s moral beliefs. Since Wolff insists on the total autonomy of the individual, it’s not surprising that he can’t find any polity that can claim the de iure right to compel obedience, with one exception. That exception is the case of a unanimous universal democracy. A condition found only in small groups, and – even there – one that breaks down in a short time.

I’m catching up on a depressingly large backlog of reviews and I don’t want to devote a lot of time to this so I offer up the notes I took while reading, which may interest readers sufficiently that they will read the book themselves:

• holds out possibility of such a state because social and political conventions are manmade, not natural, and some genius could someday create the conditions where individual and state were reconciled

• I think the issue is unresolvable. We can aim for an ideal – the least amount of coercive authority and the greatest amount of individual autonomy* – but we must recognize that we’ll only achieve an approximation. We should strive for a society that can best handle that constantly moving target.

• Whatever legitimacy a state possesses comes from its ability to promote the welfare of all its citizens and provide opportunity for them to influence its policies. If power is concentrated in the few or the one, then a state has little or no legitimate authority.

* And this point is not universally accepted. A Neo-Confucian, for example, would be appalled at the idea of individual autonomy (at least as conceived by myself or Wolff). And even in the Western democracies there are far too many (IMO) who would grant the state enormous coercive and intrusive powers.