Washington Post, “Anarchist is often hurled as a slur. But can anarchists teach us something about democracy?”

These days anarchists are all over the news, oddly positioned at both ends of the political spectrum.

Conservatives rail against members of the radical antifa (anti-fascist) movement, claiming they are violent anarchists hellbent on battling the police and destroying property, all in an effort to express their displeasure with the Trump administration. Meanwhile, Trump’s critics label him the true anarchist: They charge that, unmoored from law and custom, he indulges in childish tweets and displays a shocking level of incompetence in the Oval Office. In their view, he is a creature of the viscera, spreading chaos (anarchy) wherever he goes.

These divergent views of anarchists illustrate the problem with the label: It is imprecise and malleable, and it means whatever (usually bad) things different people want it to mean. Supposedly the one principle that unites anarchists is their opposition to government, but that statement tells us little about their actual views.

Still, is it possible that self-identified anarchists from the past can tell us something about our politics in the present? Specifically, in the quest for a just and equitable society, are political labels of all kinds not just irrelevant, but counterproductive and even divisive?

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