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Anarchism and Its Aspirations

Anarchism and Its Aspirations is a collection of several essays that together offer an introduction to modern anarchist thought and its applications. The title essay, which is the first and longest essay in the book, discusses anarchism’s historical and philosophical roots, as well as its fundamental tenets. The other three essays, “Anarchism’s Promise for Anticapitalist Resistance,” “Democracy is Direct,” and “Reclaim the Cities: From Protest to Popular Power,” attempt to tease out the relevance of anarchism in the contemporary context of state consolidation and the globalization of capital.

The book is geared toward two audiences: first, established anarchists who want to renew their visions for anarchism, and second, readers curious about anarchism who are familiar with the basics of progressive political theory, but unacquainted with anarchist thought in particular. As the author states explicitly, the book attempts to present a rosy view of anarchism–an emphasis on what it strives to be capable of–more than a detailed analysis of its past or present weaknesses or distortions. However, the author does touch on her opinions about the areas in which anarchism has room to grow–in particular, she discusses the importance of getting beyond “protests against” and placing more emphasis on building popular power.

I appreciated the book’s visionary tone, as well as the clear analysis of what anarchism uniquely has to offer to other progressive schools of thought. Among the many aspects of anarchism discussed in the essays, I found the focus on unabashed utopianism particularly compelling. In a world in which even the most progressive of activists often think in terms of strategic compromise, it is refreshing to remember that it is possible to dream bigger dreams–anarchist dreams of pluralism, direct democracy, organizing for mutual aid based on true consensus, and above all, an abundance of resources, love, play, sustainability, and peace for all inhabitants of the planet.

If Anarchism and Its Aspirations has a single flaw, it is its tendency towards slightly dense prose. Overall, it is highly readable, especially given the many layers of history and politics that it explores with depth and nuance. However, a few more anecdotes and applications would have helped this particular reader immensely–the most striking example is the “battle of Seattle,” which is mentioned throughout the book as a watershed moment for modern anarchism, but which is never elucidated, not even via a brief account of the events of November 30, 1999. In this regard, the book occasionally assumes prior knowledge and familiarity (which I, for one, didn’t have) with the internal politics of modern anarchism, which renders some of the book’s detailed political discussion abstract and difficult to follow. In general, I don’t have a problem with finding myself in over my head when I’m reading about something new–in this case, though, the book states that one of its two main aims is to serve as an introduction to anarchism to those who are unfamiliar with it, so I feel that the omission deserves comment.

On the whole, though, Anarchism and Its Aspirations succeeds in painting a hopeful portrait of the relevance and utility of an anarchist framework in the context of the contemporary struggle for revolutionary social change.

Written by: Ri J. Turner, July 24th 2010

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