In this post I aim to show early thinkers of anarchists including the first ones whether they called themselves or not is irrelevant to the fact that they were anarchists in some way philosophical or otherwise. Once more I’ll be using Barclay and Worden but now I’ll add more references such as Rothbard, de Cleyre, Tucker, and more for the societies that were in the beginning and 19th century and the schools of thoughts and thinkers that made them up.

No thinkers or schools of thought were mentioned before because none were really started until we got past Ireland and Iceland. Although in retrospect the Not So Wild, Wild West should be here and not in the last section all three societies were classic examples of what is claimed to be “anarcho-capitalism” and so it’s fitting either way that they are together and examine them one after the other.

Earliest thinkers

Apart from the fact that Barclay has already mentioned for the longest period of human history almost all people were anarchists or at the very least lived in anarchic conditions and even perpetually strived to keep them in some cases. Besides that one of the earliest thinkers of radical libertarianism is Lao Tzu a Taoist out of China who Rothbard has written about him here and said of Lao Tzu,

“By far the most interesting of the Chinese political philosophers were the Taoists, founded by the immensely important but shadowy figure of Lao Tzu. Little is known about Lao Tzu’s life, but he was apparently a contemporary and personal acquaintance of Confucius. […] For Lao Tzu worked out the view that the individual and his happiness was the key unit of society. If social institutions hampered the individual’s flowering and his happiness, then those institutions should be reduced or abolished altogether. To the individualist Lao Tzu, government, with its “laws and regulations more numerous than the hairs of an ox,” was a vicious oppressor of the individual, and “more to be feared than fierce tigers.” Government, in sum, must be limited to the smallest possible minimum; “inaction” became the watchword for Lao Tzu, since only inaction of government can permit the individual to flourish and achieve happiness. Any intervention by government, he declared, would be counterproductive, and would lead to confusion and turmoil.”

Clearly Lao Tzu if not at the very least a philosophical anarchist was a straight out libertarian in his respect of staunch anti-statism and opposing institutions that limit the individuals personal freedom.

But Rothbard agues not Tzu but his follower was the first anarchist in history, explicitly anyways,

“Two centuries later, Lao Tzu’s great follower Chuang Tzu (369–c.286 BC) built on the master’s ideas of laissez-faire to push them to their logical conclusion: individualist anarchism. The influential Chuang Tzu, a great stylist who wrote in allegorical parables, was therefore the first anarchist in the history of human thought. ”

If Lao Tzu was at worst a minarchist then Chaung Tzu was at worst a philosophical anarchist which is nothing that bad at all really.

Past that the Greek Stoics usually held some very individualist beliefs in general but a man by the name of Zeno actually adhered to anarchism (though he most likely never called it that) and believed that,

“[…][T]he necessary instinct of self-preservation leads man to egotism, nature has supplied a corrective to it by providing man with another instinct – that of sociability. When men are reasonable enough to follow their natural instincts, they will unite across the frontiers and constitute the cosmos.”

More anarchist history of other thinkers as well as Zeno can be found on this Anarchist Timeline. There are other anarchist timelines out there of course, even the Wiki on the History of Anarchism isn’t too bad and has many references to it, some of which I shall use later in this post.

Other early communities

Anarchist communities?

(These would also go along with agricultural societies and can be seen as an extension of where I left off)

Although there is talk of free communities in the Middle Ages Barclay personally disputes such claims,

“The liberal characteristics of these communes did vary considerably, however not only from place to place, but also the same city might experience a period of relative liberality,and, then, ultimately decline into tyranny. Indeed, the latter seems to be the historic process of them.” (p. 102)

He continues,

“The residents of the medieval commune, as [Peter] Kropotkin notes, swore a collective oath to follow the decisions of the city’s elected judges. However this collective oath was not always freely given; residents were often forced to make it. In addition it soon become only a perfunctory act. Judges and the other city administrators were chosen often in a popular assembly, from the wealthy and influential family who were precisely those most interested in having a free city – free of the interference of neighboring dukes and kings so they might better pursue their business interests.” (p. 103)

So while the communes were not exactly anarchic or at least not as much as Kropotkin would like people to think that is not to say the communes were always unfree or other communities like the Anabaptists were always tyrannical. Indeed both style of communities certainly had trappings of anarchic ideas and a far less centralized authority then the modern state. But again the anarchic ideas that were espoused should not be treated as if they were more than they were, ideas that were put into practice in some cases and not in others.

The Holy Experiment

In, The Origins of Individualist Anarchism in America Rothbard discusses a few communities that may have also had some anarchic qualities to them what I shall focus on mainly however is the Holy Experiment done in Pennsylvania.

This is discussed at length by Rothbard who says,

“[…] [T]he people of Pennsylvania continued to refuse to vote to levy taxes. They even infringed upon the monopoly of lime production, which Penn had granted to himself, by stubbornly opening their own lime quarries. William Penn found that deprived of feudal or tax income, his deficits from ruling Pennsylvania were large and his fortune was dissipating steadily. Freedom and a taxless society had contaminated the colonists. As Penn complained, “the great fault is, that those who are there, lose their authority one way or other in the spirits of the people and then they can do little with their outward powers.”

Clearly monopolies and unjust authority was not respected and this remained for a few years even during the time where there was a council and Penn left a governor in charge no one respected his authority just like in Iceland and Ireland where any usurping authority over the people was hardly ever respected and usually fell apart. The same thing held true for Penn and any council he tried to set up and Rothbard explains why,

“Why did the Council rarely meet? For one thing because the Councilors, having little to do in that libertarian society and being unpaid, had their own private business to attend to. The Councilors, according to the laws of the colony, were supposed to receive a small stipend, but as was typical of this anarchistic colony, it proved almost impossible to extract these funds from the Pennsylvanian populace.

If the colonial government ceased to exist except for the infrequent days of Council meetings, what of local governments? Did they provide a permanent bureaucracy, a visible evidence of the continuing existence of the State apparatus? The answer is no; for the local courts met only a few days a year, and the county officials, too, were private citizens who devoted almost no time to upholding the law. To cap the situation the Assembly passed no laws after 1686, being in a continuing wrangle over the extent of its powers.”

And so even past the councils little to nothing was done in the way of governance and anarchic type lifestyles were lived rather freely for a few years. But of course things did not last like this, Rothbard laments as any anarchist should that eventually Penn got fed up with the lack of authority he had and tried to set up another council. Rothbard tells us that eventually this council took more power as the protests of the people died down and the state was back on top once more.

More information about Rhode Island in general, Ryan Faulk talks about it here as Rothbard did and Pennsylvania specifically.

The beginnings of widespread anarchist thought (18th Century)

Philosophical Anarchism

The idea that the state is necessary but not necessarily should be abolished is referred to as philosophical anarchism and sometimes the people that hold these ideas may be called “Closet anarchists”, several people were certainly philosophical anarchists such as William Godwin, Thoreau and likely ones may have been Thomas Jefferson and there are even some who think Ludwig von Mises was a closet anarchist. For more information a good resource would be the Wiki article on it or perhaps the texts of the people themselves some of which I shall share.

These sorts of anarchists are generally considered to be gradualists of some sort seeing the state as a necessary evil for now but eventually must be done away in some way. And although some anarchists (such as myself) partly agree with this this does not make us philosophical anarchists.

I for one see the state always an unnecessary evil but still take the gradualist approach through peaceful actions. But I consider politics a waste of time and instead focus on social-networking, educating, direct action, agorism and civil disobedience and as such would probably not be classified as a philosophical anarchist.

William Godwin

William is widely considered one of the first philosophical anarchists and was most likely one of the first well known anarchist in England specifically due to his work in Political Justice. Later on in his life however Godwin became a sort of conservative or reactionary in defense of the state. More information about Godwin can be heard on this episode of The Libertarian Tradition in which Godwin’s life is talked about at length.

Henry David Thoreau

Another non-self proclaimed anarchist would be Thoreau who is famous for his quote,

“I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe–“That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.”

Which started his just as famous essay Civil Disobedience.

Thoreau is also well known for his refusal to pay a certain tax and opposing the American-Mexican war and being thrown in jail for refusing the tax which lead to him writing CD, as well as him living right near Walden Pond and living on his own for many years.

Other debatable philosophical anarchists

Herbert Spencer, Max Stirner and Thomas Jefferson can call be said to be some sort of philosophical anarchist (I find the term “conservative anarchist” ludicrous) due to the work they put out and the philosophies they sometimes advocated. Though Spencer eventually regressed to conservatism and it’s not clear whether Stirner really advocated anarchism or he was just an extreme individualist to the point of atomitism and of course while Jefferson may have spoken like an actual radical sometimes he certainly did not walk the walk when it came time to decide whether he would be president or not.

Stirner also is famed within the anarchist movement as starting the egoist anarchist movement but it’s not too prominent now within the anarchist now and it’s also disputed whether he was an anarchist or not as I’ve said before. It is worthy of note here though because of the debate about who exactly is an anarchist and is not. Stirner’s claim to fame is his read The Ego and his Own and his very radical individualism and considering the idea of Gods, rights and so forth as spooks. Stirner’s ideas are also looked on with a positive outlook in Ken Knudson’s A Critique of Anarchist History (p. 35-42) and so obviously Stirner’s “egoist anarchism” is looked on with respect, even Benjamin Tucker later in his life adhered to Stirner’s line of thinking saying,

“”In times past…it was my habit to talk glibly of the right of man to land. It was a bad habit, and I long ago sloughed it off. Man’s only right to land is his might over it. If his neighbor is mightier than he and takes the land from him, then the land is his neighbor’s, until the latter is dispossessed by one mightier still.”

This adheres to the egoist ideas on property.

First self-proclaimed anarchist theorists and further development of anarchist schools of thought (19th century)


Mutualism is a political philosophy that advocates free market anti-capitalism in the sense of capitalism taken in the historic sense of being aided by the state in order to become the dominant system in today’s society. The most popular figure within mutualismw as it’s founder Pierre Joseph Proudhon who will be talked more in length later on. He advocated cooperation between freely associating individuals and oppose government property when he yelled the “Property is theft!” but believed people getting property through their own means instead was liberty, hence him also claiming liberty is property. Mutualism has recently been revitalized through contemporary mutualists like Shawn P. Wilbur and Kevin Carson among others including left-libertarians. Mutualism was also discussed in What is Mutualism? by Clarence Lee Swartz and was also advocated by Josiah Warren and William B. Greene for his theories on mutual forms of banking. It was one of the first well established anarchist theories drawn from the first self proclaimed anarchist.

It might be good to also check out this resource for more information on mutualism.

Pierre Joseph Proudhon

Credited as being the first self-proclaimed anarchist in history Produhon proudly called himself an anarchist and wore the mantle for most of his life. He advocated free associating individuals without the state through workers owned firms and cooperatives as well as mutualist style banks and property rights not based on the state. Mutualists generally called for reform in currency in a more efficient way and Proudhon was not different however is oft quoted work What is Property? tells us Produhon’s opposition to government interference, in fact one of Proudhon’s most famous quotes is what government is, namely interference in our personal lives,

“To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated, regimented, closed in, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, evaluated, censored, commanded, all by creatures that have neither the right nor wisdom nor virtue[.] […]To be governed means that at every move, operation, or transaction, one is noted, registered, entered in a census, taxed, stamped, authorized, recommended, admonished, prevented, reformed, set right, corrected. Government means to be subject to tribute, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, pressured, mystified, robbed; all in the name of public utility and the general good. Then at first sign of resistance or word of complaint, one is repressed, fined, despised, vexed, pursued, hustled, beaten up, garroted, imprisoned, shot, machine gunned, judged, sentenced, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and to cap it all, ridiculed, mocked, outraged, and dishonored. That is Government. That is its justice and morality!”

Prodhon though did have his faults, he is widely considered to be anti-Semitic and also used his idea of federations more federal than some present day anarchists or even past anarchists may have liked and Barclay adds to that criticism in his first chapter that he eventually reached some sort of federalized minarchism.


While the idea of anarcho-communism may not be as popular as it once was (at least in America and perhaps globally otherwise) it certainly has had a huge impact on anarchist whether anarchists of other stripes want to admit it or not. The work of Peter Kroptkin, Mikhail Bakunin and some even claim Emma Goldman was in some respects an anarcho-communist (though I personally consider her a radical anarcho-socialist if anything having read some of her works and many quotes by her) cannot be denied as important in the anarchist history.

Peter Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin

To save some space on his already huge post I’ll reference both by saying that they were both staunch opponents of the Marxist type of communism or as they would probably called it “authoritarian communism”, Kropotkin put a special benefit on mutual aid that is voluntary helping others and freely associating with others for mutual benefit and wrote Mutual Aid which is regarded as one of his most known works. While Bakunin’s most known work (actually a collection of unfinished word) is God and the State

Towards the 20th century and current history

And another century passes with many schools of thoughts being started in America, in the next part 20th century and current anarchism will be discussed and the divides of the many anarchist ideas and even some communities that have been tried.