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Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism

By V.G. Kiernan | Published in History Today 1992 
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by Peter Marshall
  • Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism
    Peter Marshall - Harper Collins, 1992 - 767 pp. - £25

Peter Marshall writes from the standpoint of a convinced advocate of Anarchist principles: anarchism that is of the non-violent kind, and with a preference for a co-operative society over 'authoritarian socialism'. His vast book is an encyclopaedia of Anarchist thought, and strands of 'libertarian' thinking having some affinity with it. All its ideas are carefully summarised and commented on. Some unexpected figures are swept into the net. De Sade is bracketed with Fourier as a champion of 'human freedom' (p.143). Nietzsche is credited with 'one of the most eloquent defences of individualism ever made' (p. 143).

Oscar Wilde is introduced as 'the greatest of all libertarians' (p. 180). He might be better described as a great libertine, with some good intentions. In some sense, no doubt, we are all libertarians; each of us wants freedom at least for himself. A feudal baron, in the old saying, claimed liberty to hang his own peasant on his own park tree. Today's capitalists, tutored by Bush and Thatcher, claim the right to run the national economy, well or ill, without let or hindrance from anyone.

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