Res Publica

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 309–329 | Cite as

Political Anarchism and Raz’s Theory of Authority

  • Bruno LeipoldEmail author


This article argues that using Joseph Raz’s service conception of authority to reject philosophical anarchism can be affected by political anarchism. Whereas philosophical anarchism only denies the authority of the state, political anarchism claims that anarchism is a better alternative to the state. Raz’s theory holds that an institution has authority if it enables people to better conform with reason. I argue that there are cases where anarchism is an existing alternative to the state and better fulfils this condition. Consequently, in these cases, anarchist groups and societies and not the state have legitimate authority. When anarchism is not an existing alternative to the state, the state will, under Raz’s theory, have some legitimate authority, but that authority will be limited because anarchism remains a better possible alternative to the state. To support the political anarchist claim I discuss the anarchist collectives during the Spanish civil war, which I argue are an example of anarchism as an existing alternative to the state that better fulfils Raz’s service conception and also provide suggestive evidence that anarchism is in general a better possible alternative. I also discuss the relationship between political anarchism and authority and I argue that despite some tension they are not irreconcilable. I conclude that the interesting anarchist challenge for political theorists is political not philosophical.


Anarchism Authority Joseph Raz Legitimacy Spanish collectives 



For helpful comments on earlier versions of the article I would like to thank Svenja Ahlhaus, Puneet Dhaliwal, Mirjam Müller, Rob Jubb, Tom Parr, Laura Valentini, Andrew Walton and the anonymous referees for Res Publica. I am also grateful to the organisers and participants of the graduate political theory conferences at Warwick and Science Po, and I was particularly fortunate to receive feedback from Joseph Raz at Science Po.


  1. Bakunin, Michael. 1970 [1882]. God and the state. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  2. Beevor, Antony. 2007. The battle for Spain: The Spanish civil war 1936–1939. London: Phoenix.Google Scholar
  3. Borkenau, Franz. 1963 [1937]. The Spanish cockpit: An eye-witness account of the political and social conflicts of the Spanish civil war. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  4. Casanova, Julián. 2005. Anarchism, the republic and civil war in Spain: 1931–1939. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Cohen, G.A. 2009. Why not socialism? Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Dahl, Robert. 1989. Democracy and its critics. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Darwall, Stephen. 2010. Authority and reasons: Exclusionary and second-personal. Ethics 120: 257–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. De George, Richard T. 1978. Anarchism and authority. In Anarchism: Nomos XIX, ed. J. Roland Pennock and John W. Chapman, 91–110. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Egoumenides, Magda. 2014. Philosophical anarchism and political obligation. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  10. Ehrenberg, Kenneth. 2011. Critical reception of Raz’s theory of authority. Philosophical Compass 6: 777–785.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gibson, Morgan. 2013. The anarchism of the occupy movement. Australian Journal of Political Science 48: 335–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Goldman, Emma. 1972 [1940]. The individual, society and the state. In Red Emma speaks: Selected writings and speaches by Emma Goldman, ed. Alix Kates Shulman, 86–100. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  13. Gordon, Uri. 2005. Anarchism and political theory: Contemporary problems. DPhil Thesis, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
  14. Gordon, Uri. 2008. Anarchy alive! Anti-authoritarian politics from practice to theory. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  15. Graeber, David. 2002. The new anarchists. New Left Review 13: 61–73.Google Scholar
  16. Graeber, David. 2013. The democracy project: A history, a crisis, a movement. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  17. Green, Leslie. 1985. Authority and convention. The Philosophical Quarterly 35: 329–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hershovitz, Scott. 2003. Legitimacy, democracy and Razian authority. Legal Theory 9: 201–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Híjar González, Christina. 2008. Autonomía Zapatista: otro mundo es posible. Mexico: Arte, Música y Video.Google Scholar
  20. Hirsch, Steven, and Lucien van der Walt (eds.). 2010. Anarchism and syndicalism in the colonial and postcolonial world, 1870–1940: The praxis of national liberation, internationalism and social revolution. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  21. Kinna, Ruth. 2005. Anarchism: A beginner’s guide. Oxford: Oneworld.Google Scholar
  22. Krehoff, Bernd. 2008. Legitimate political authority and sovereignty: Why states cannot be the whole story. Res Publica 14: 283–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kropotkin, Peter. 1970. [1897] Anarchism: Its philosophy and ideal. In Kropotkin’s revolutionary pamphlets, ed. Roger N. Baldwin, 114–144. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  24. Lannon, Frances. 1991. Women and images of women in the Spanish civil war. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 1: 213–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Malet, Michael. 1982. Nestor Makhno in the Russian civil war. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  26. Marshall, Peter. 1992. Demanding the impossible: A history of anarchism. London: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
  27. McLaughlin, Paul. 2007. Anarchism and authority: A philosophical introduction to classical anarchism. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  28. Miller, David. 1984. Anarchism. London: J.M. Dent & Sons.Google Scholar
  29. Orwell, George. 1986 [1938]. The complete works of George Orwell volume six: Homage to Catalonia. London: Secker & Warburg.Google Scholar
  30. Pateman, Carole. 1979. The problem of political obligation: A critique of liberal theory. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  31. Preston, Paul. 1986. The Spanish civil war 1936–1939. Chicago: Dorsey Press.Google Scholar
  32. Raz, Joseph. 1979. The obligation to obey the law. In The authority of law: Essays on law and morality, ed. Joseph Raz, 233–249. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Raz, Joseph. 1986. The morality of freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Raz, Joseph. 1989. Facing up: A reply. Southern California Law Review 62: 1153–1235.Google Scholar
  35. Raz, Joseph. 1990. Introduction. In Authority, ed. Joseph Raz, 1–19. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Raz, Joseph. 2006. The problem of authority: Revisiting the service conception. Minnesota Law Review 90: 1003–1044.Google Scholar
  37. Roughan, Nicole. 2013. Authorities: Conflicts, cooperation and transnational legal theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schmidt, Michael, and Lucien van der Walt. 2009. Black flame: The revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism. Oakland: AK Press.Google Scholar
  39. Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Scott, James C. 2012. Two cheers for anarchism: Six easy pieces on autonomy, dignity, and meaningful work and play. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Shubin, Aleksandr. 2010. The Makhnovist movement and the national question in the Ukraine, 1917–1921. In Anarchism and syndicalism in the colonial and postcolonial world, 1870–1940: The praxis of national liberation, internationalism and social revolution, ed. Steven Hirsch, and Lucien van der Walt, 147–191. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  42. Simmons, A.John. 1979. Moral principles and political obligation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Simmons, A.John. 1987. The anarchist position: A reply to Klosko and Senor. Philosophy & Public Affairs 16: 269–279.Google Scholar
  44. Simmons, A.John. 1996. Philosophical anarchism. In For and against the state: New philosophical readings, ed. John T. Sanders, and Jan Narveson, 19–39. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  45. Simmons, A.John. 1999. Justification and legitimacy. Ethics 109: 739–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Simmons, A.John. 2008. Political philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Starr, Amory, María Elena Martínez-Torres, and Peter Rosset. 2011. Participatory democracy in action: Practices of the Zapatistas and the Movimento Sem Terra. Latin American Perspectives 38: 102–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stahler-Sholk, Richard. 2007. Resisting neoliberal homogenization: The Zapatista autonomy movement. Latin American Perpectives 34: 48–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Thomas, Hugh. 1966. Anarchist agrarian collectives in the Spanish civil war. In A century of conflict 1850–1950: Essays for A.J.P. Taylor, ed. Martin Gilbert, 247–263. London: Hamish Hamilton.Google Scholar
  50. Ward, Colin. 1973. Anarchy in action. London: George Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  51. White, Stuart. 2007. Making anarchism respectable? The social philosophy of Colin Ward. Journal of Political Ideologies 12: 11–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wolff, Robert Paul. 1970. In defense of anarchism. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  53. Woodcock, George. 1963. Anarchism: A history of libertarian ideas and movements. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics and International RelationsUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations