The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd


  • George Woodcock
Reference work entry


A doctrine whose nature is suggested by its name, derived from the Greek an archos, meaning ‘no government’. The term anarchist appears to have been first used in a pejorative sense during the English Civil War, against the Levellers, one of whose enemies called them ‘Switzerizing anarchists’, and during the French Revolution by most parties in deriding those who stood to the left of them in the political spectrum. It was first used positively by the French writer Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1840 when, in his Qu’est-ce-que la propriété? (What is Property?), a controversial essay on the economic bases of society, he defined his own political position by declaring, perhaps to shock his readers into attention, ‘I am an anarchist.’ Proudhon then explained his view that the real laws by which society operates have nothing to do with authority but are inherent in the very nature of society; he looked forward to the dissolution of authority and the liberation of the natural social order which it submerged. He went on, in his rather paradoxical manner, to declare: ‘As man seeks justice in equality, so society seeks order in anarchy. Anarchy – the absence of a sovereign – such is the form of government to which we are every day approximating.’

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Authors and Affiliations

  • George Woodcock
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