Democracy and Beyond 

Amedeo Bertolo


If understood to the letter a democracy must be a stateless society...
Power belongs to the people insofar as the people exercise it themselves.

Giovanni Sartori [20, p. 30]


Abstract: In this article the author mantains the apparent paradox that anarchy (as seen by anarchists) and democracy (in its most radical forms) are irriducibly different but at the same time mutually compatible. Democracy, even in its direct, participatory interpretations, cannot exhaust all the philosophical, ethical, "utopian" dimension of anarchism. But a "libertarian democracy" could be the political form of a feasible anarchy.



This article is concerned with democracy from an anarchist point of view and with anarchism from a democratic point of view. The principal question is those aspects of the two political and philosophical categories which are relevant to a confrontation between them, that is to say the essential differences and similarities between democracy and anarchism.

This means that neither democracy as it is commonly understood («representative» democracy) nor political anarchism (as anarchists see it) will be looked at in detail, nor even that particular primary form of democracy, «direct democracy», which lies on the borderline between democracy and anarchism. It would need much more space than we have here to deal with any or all of these in detail and so I will limit myself to brief definitions for the purpose of comparison, or better said, to a general assessment of their compatibility/comparability.

What I hope to demonstrate is that democracy and anarchism are neither identical (under certain conditions) nor antithetical. Anarchism is the most fully developed form of democracy but at the same time moves definitively beyond it –as the title of this article suggests.

To the question of whether it is possible to move beyond democracy I would say yes, it is, in both quality and quantity. In an analogy to what I once wrote about freedom[1], the anarchist conception of freedom is both «more» and «different» than the liberal one. In simpler terms, this «difference» or diversity lies in the fact that for the liberals the freedom of single individuals is limited by that of others, while for the anarchists it is enhanced.

However the «different» freedom of the anarchists also encompasses that of the liberals, while moving beyond in both quantity and quality. Quantity is essential as without it there is no guarantee of quality; a «different» freedom must at the same time signify a greater one. Even religious fundamentalists (Christian, Moslem, etc.) speak of «different» freedoms which are however less freedom, both at the individual level and at the collective one– particularly individual. Thus the political idea of the anarchists is and must necessarily be greater democracy, over and above anything else, if it is not to remain on this side of the dividing line. This is in fact what anarchists maintain: that it is both greater and different.

So the anarchist idea of the political is of something both quantitatively and qualitatively beyond the democratic one. This is so for the reigning democratic idea, the representative one, and for more radical ones such as «participatory democracy»...[2] and even for so-called «direct democracy».[3] The anarchist idea of the political, which could be termed «anarchist politics», is in fact at one and the same time «more» than democracy and something different.

How then can something be one thing and at the same time another? Difficult though it may be to comprehend, it is in fact possible. Here we are thinking not of «things» from the physical world, but of «things» from the social-political imaginary, for which the way they «are» depends on the point of view from which they are viewed. Anarchism, in this case, can be seen as an extreme form of democracy and as a different form of constructing the political, or even as something lying beyond the political.

First it must be clearly stated that I have in mind certain definitions of democracy (or better democracies[4], which were always implicit but have gradually become more explicit. These definitions are relatively neutral –total neutrality being neither possible for useful. They are definitions of anarchism first and foremost from an anarchist perspective (although bearing in mind the democratic critique) and of democracy from the democratic perspective[5] (although bearing in mind the anarchist critique).

First, however, I would like to make a digression which is only apparently irrelevant andior personal.


 When I am in a bad mood and I look around me in the «ideological storeroom» of anarchism, I feel as if I were in the back of a second-hand shop. Not an antique shop, as some malicious enemy of anarchism might have it, but worse– a second hand shop. In among the timeworn set phrases, the declarations of principle, the verbal extremism, the statements of affection, recollections, dear departed ones... I can see bits and pieces of a more recent date - not old enough to be antiques but enough so not to be really modern, i.e. almost contemporary.

I know that anarchism has produced original and important things in the last fifty years (particularly in the last twenty or thirty), things that can justifiably be termed modern. I know too that anarchist thought has of course preserved some wonderful «antiques» of its classical period. It still bases itself largely on these and by making fun of the ingenuity and rich potential of the «modern», the «old», i.e. the vulgate, has built itself a shell of common ground to protect its fragile identity. The identity of the «classics», of the founding fathers of anarchism was so strong that they could even contradict themselves (really or apparently) without any great difficulties. Lucky them!

In 1848 Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a member of the National Assembly; in 1849 he wrote a crystal clear and devastating attack not only on the state and the government but on the political dimension per se. In 1863 in  Du Principe fédératif  he set out a plan for an autonomous political sphere, speaking of communes, provinces, regions, and, Hear ye well!, of government and the state[6].

Then there was Mikhail Bakunin, who wrote to his friend and comrade from Naples, Carlo Gambuzzi, «You will perhaps be surprised to hear that I, a passionately convinced abstentionist, am now suggesting to my friends that they stand for election to the national assembly. The circumstances however have changed»[7]. And what circumstances had changed –was good old Bak no longer an anarchist? You must be joking! It is just that while anarchism today holds up abstentionism as a principle, for Bakunin it was a strategic choice, or judging from the above quote we could almost say a tactical one.[8]

You may be asking what this has to do with the subject, but it is indeed relevant, if only in part. The idea that anarchists today have of democracy is heavily influenced by the anarchist vulgate, just as the idea that democrats have of anarchism (apart from some clear cases of ignorance and distrust) is heavily influenced by their vulgate.

One example is the statement that «anarchists do not vote». If this is a fundamental principle it is inevitable that the vulgate maintains that not only are anarchists opposed to voting in certain historical (social, economic, political) conditions, but that anarchists never and never will vote in any circumstances, and that is sublimely foolish. Sublimely because it is a declaration of faith that is totally utopian, and utopia is an essential element of anarchism. Foolish because it is entirely devoid of that common sense without which there can be no «possible anarchism» i.e. anarchism that has an important role in transforming society, not only by revolution.

To avoid any misunderstandings, I should say that I am fifty-seven years of age and I have  never  voted in any of the elections (most of them touted as «decisive»)  in Italy in the last thirty-two years. But this is not the point, or at least not the place to look for it.

So what then is the point? I think Bakunin summed it up in his outline for society after the revolution: «The basis of all political organisation in a country must be the totally autonomous commune, always represented by the majority (my italics) of the votes of all adult men and women residing there»[9]. And again: «Elections of all national, provincial and communal representatives [...] shall be by universal suffrage (my italics) of all adult men and women»[10].

And this brings us back to the point.

The Government of All

Francesco Saverio Merlino, who was an anarchist in the 1890s and later moved towards libertarian and then liberal socialism, wrote that «government by all = government by none»[11]. Shortly before he died he made a note on a manuscript that «democracy = anarchy». Merlino looked beyond the similarities that are obvious to me and found identity, either because he undervalued anarchy or because he overvalued democracy –or both at once.

Merlino’s two statements (which do seem to present a pair of clear affinities: government by all/democracy, government by none/anarchy) can act as a starting point for a more deep-reaching comparative analysis of democracy and anarchy, if taken together with certain useful definitions and such a confrontation.

Taking anarchy first, it can be (and indeed has been) be understood in different ways, even by anarchists themselves. The particular interpretations which are of interest here are of a society without government, or without a state, or without power (or better,} without domination. These interpretations call for further clarification. What, for example, is meant by government? Anarchists often speak in positive terms of «self-government», so that what they reject must be the «government by others», government imposed on one part of society by another, a division between the government and the governed, rather than government per se.

As far as the state is concerned, this is a particular historical form of legitimisation and organisation of political power. Its legitimacy is rational, bestowed by a real or supposed «popular will» rather than by the will of God or who knows what else. It still however lies within a hierarchical view of society, the state being a }{paradigm of power}{, or better of domination[12]. The state is an institution (or a sum of institutions), but above all something which provides the conceptual foundation of modern class domination[13].

When anarchists speak of power they virtually always mean that «evil» (i.e. what they reject) hierarchical power which entails a relationship of command-obedience. In the case of political power (which is always seen as negative) this is not the normative function of society, nor the «collective political force»[14], but the usurpation of the political corpus of society with all its functions by a minority. In a society split between the rulers and the ruled, the power which anarchists reject is that which is constantly exercised by the former over the latter. Anarchy is not anomy (i.e. the absence of norms), but, with the necessary specifications, autonomy.

By the way, I prefer the terms domination[15] to signify the expropriated power of the «collective force», retaining a more neutral meaning for the term power, although in a hierarchical society this is still rich in hierarchical potential. I also prefer to use the term domination to talk of constantly asymmetrical power relations, including those which fall outside the political sphere. This includes those asymmetric relations between humans and nature which can be traced back to the same concept of domination carried over from the social[16].

Returning to the question of anarchy, this is a strongly libertarian principal of organisation of reality, a non-hierarchical conception of the world, which is not limited to the political sphere. «Anarchy» is more the realm of philosophy, ethics and aesthetics than of politics, although it is this latter political dimension which is of interest here.

So since anarchists claim to have a conception of society which rejects domination but not the collective functions of organisation of society (rejecting only the hierarchical forms and the implications of domination), it can perhaps be said that anarchists believe in a government/non-government, in a state/non-state, in a power/non-power. This only seems to be paradoxical since the first term in each pair refers to a neutral concept of the corresponding function, while the second refers to the actual function founded on a hierarchial principle.

For the state too it is necessary to be clear about what we really mean by this term. We do not mean the state in its historical configuration (which anarchists have rightfully shown to bea exemplary form of modern domination, a central hierarchical institution of reality and of the social imaginary of the post-Enlightenment), but rather the state in the sense of a «republic» {res publica}[17], the public domain, a term which the classics of anarchism used more than once in a neutral sense.

Words do of course carry a heavy emotional and ideological load, which is why anarchists prefer not to use in a neutral sense words like government, State and power, which have great historical significance. In the same way they reject the word «party» for their political organisations, even though these are undeniably forms of party/non-party. It is a party because it is a social group organised to pursue certain values and interests, but it is a non-party because it has no hierarchical structure and is not directed towards gaining power.

Forms of the Political

However much they may want to go «beyond politics» the anarchists have not entirely managed to avoid proposing, both in words and deeds, forms of political organisation that are compatible (although not identical) with anarchism understood as the absence/negation of domination. In the same way in the economic field, while recognising something «beyond» economics, they have always suggested economic forms which essentially boil down to what can be called self-management. The forms of government/non-government that the anarchists propose to take over the political functions of society can essentially be boiled down to what has been termed direct democracy. Whatever Merlino may have said, democracy, even in its direct form, is not anarchism (and nor is self-management). It is not true that the power of all is at the same time the power of none, or at least not entirely true. There is still some measure of coercive power, even if only through moral sanctions. It is power over someone, not over no-one. So even the limited form of direct democracy, democracy that operates face-to-face and through unanimity (i.e. only through unanimous decisions), limited also by its  limited area of practical functioning, is not necessarily anarchist in the fullest sense. It may perhaps be so in political terms, since theoretically when all norms are fixed and all decisions taken by all and particularly by every individual concerned, there is no domination.

This distinction between all and every individual is important since for the «anthropological form» suggested as the basis of anarchism (what one author[18] has called  communitarian individuality) «political sovereignty» does not lie in the society or in the individual but a continual unresolved tension between the two. If this prevails, even in a democratic form, it is tyranny, disintegration and loss of sense. Anarchism is jealously individualist, but also generously communitarian. And it is perfectly aware that the unique individual is also inevitably a  social  product and subject.

If everyone consciously and freely joins in and at the same time respects (not «obeys») deliberations, this is not the domination of one part of society and nor of «all» over the individual. There is the not insignificant theoretical problem of norms established in the past and still in force due to social inertia, norms which an individual has not always joined insetting or approved and which they cannot modify and which therefore represent a form of domination of the past over the present, but for the present we can leave this aside. So if everyone etc..., sovereignty lies in both individual and the collective. On a theoretical level direct democracy in its «purest» form can reconcile the apparently irreconcilable.

However this is a precise case: direct democracy which is unanimous and applied only in situations which do not lend themselves to a generalised application, i.e. on a small level and with an extreme homogeneity of values and interests. Beyond this smallest dimension delegation becomes essential. Without a strong homogeneity there must be a mechanism for decision-making over and above unanimity.

If decisions were always and only really unanimous, very few would ever be taken, even within groups with a high level of social and cultural homogeneity. It is true that when there is a certain level of homogeneity and where there are no opposing interests, unanimous decisions can often be reached without any great difficulty or exhausting discussions as an individual (or a minority) may well withdraw their opposition to the opinions and so the decisions of the majority. This could however surely be seen as a particular consensual form of majority decision.

When the collectivity making decisions (whether ten people or one hundred or one thousand...) is heterogeneous in terms of values and interests, unanimous decisions, even in the limited form described above, become difficult, if not impossible. It is then that the democratic mechanism of the majority comes to seem the lesser evil among the possible decision-making criteria. A lesser evil that is from the anarchist point of view. The majorities may be simple, absolute, qualified, even highly qualified (two thirds, four fifths, nine tenths...), but they are majorities nonetheless.

When the anarchist Errico Malatesta replied to Merlino, who had accused him of having said that in certain situations a majority decision is better than none ... he did so by accepting, in substance, the majoritarian criteria[19].

The Scale

Once we move beyond a certain numerical threshold (one hundred people? five hundred? a thousand?), direct democracy in the strict sense of face to face democratic meetings, no longer works. It cannot work, because for face-to-face democracy to work those present at a meeting must know each other at least a little and have a certain degree of mutual trust. They must be able to talk in other situations as well and, last but not least, they must be able to contribute directly to the discussion leading up to a decision, as this is an integral part of the decision-making process.

Anyone with any experience of meetings knows that beyond a certain dimension they tend to move closer to demagogy than to direct democracy, with the majority of the «participants» in fact merely being present. In this way the «public» changes from participants to spectators with varying degrees of interest and motivation, just like the audience at a theatre (or a cinema or concert) or a football match. They are transformed from the thing to its representation, even if emotionally involved. Direct democracy becomes representative democracy.

The first question is where this threshold lies? This depends on many factors: the complexity of the subjects in qestion; the «democratic maturity» of the participants; their knowledge of the subject; their psychological make-up; their willingness to be really involved in the decision-making process; and the relative homogeneity of their values and their real interests. But whatever the circumstances there is a threshold and it is not very high.

The long-lasting «utopian» experiment of the Israeli kibbutzim shows that the upper limit for a meeting to be considered direct democracy is somewhere around some hundred persons. It is certainly far from hundreds of thousands. To gather this number of persons together in a stadium does not mean they will discuss a question and reach an agreement, seeking an acceptable compromise. Even putting a decision to the hypothetical electronic vote of a million people means having to simplify the question and the possible options to a binary level of yes/no. In such a case, whoever simplifies the question has in a certain sense already partly decided the answer. Not even in the best possible scenario can this be considered direct democracy in the true sense.

So over and above face-to-face democracy there is inevitably a dimension of democracy which is in some way indirect, at least in fact. There are federal and confederal forms of «direct» democracy. As Bakunin said, «every organisation must work from the bottom up, from the commune to the central organ, the State, by the route of federation»[20]. Such federal and confederal forms must inevitably use some form of «representation» (the quotes are to distinguish it from the particular form of representation familiar from representative democracy).

The form which anarchists have given to such «federal» representation (in both theory and practice) is an «}{authoritative and revocable}{» mandate. This mandate can at any time be revoked by those who gave it, i.e. through direct democracy in the strict sense. It is difficult, but not impossible to imagine this immediacy even for second and third degree mandates (delegates elected by delegates and so on). The authority of the mandate comes because politics is also the art of mediation, of compromise, and the decision-making process (at all levels from the local meeting through all the different levels of delegation) is one of compromise between opinions and interests that need not be opposing (although they sometimes are) as much as diverse. How then is it possible to find an equilibrium on the base of authoritative, i.e. rigid, mandates. Only mandates that are reasonably flexible can produce a satisfactory compromise.

Among the three features of direct democracy which anarchists see as «necessary» unanimity, an authoritative and revocable mandate two at least are, if taken to the letter, difficult to reconcile (to put it mildly) with the functioning of a society that is somewhat more complex than that of the Inuit (Eskimos), of the Yanomani (Amazonian Indians) or of the Nuer (from the Sudan). That is if they are taken to the letter.

It is worth leaving this question to one side for a while and turn to the question of representative democracy.

The Dominant and the Dominated

Democracy as it is generally understood, as vaunted by various self-styled liberal-democrats, is representative democracy and not democracy per se. Even the «people’s democracy» of the former so-called State socialists was representative democracy, on its own terms of course. Even Fascism was in its way a representative democracy. Its «political class» represented the Italian «demos», it was just that the forms of representation were different to those of pluralist political systems. We should not be overlook the fact that freedom of speech, of the press, of association... were limited. But then what belongs to the liberal ambit does not necessarily belong to the democratic one. It cannot be denied that on the eve of the second world war, the fascist regime enjoyed the support, active or passive, of the majority of Italians, i.e. of the people. Nor that the Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni (the Italian Fascist parliament) was an elected body representing the demos.

An anarchist friend from Portugal recently pointed out to me that Antonio Salazar’s regime regularly held semi-democratic elections – and won them all. Even in the last one, shortly before the «revolution of carnations», the regime won an, admittedly slight, majority.

I am not trying to place fascism and liberal democracy on the same level – such logical gymnastics would belong to the worst anarchist «junk shop». I am simply trying to show that the term democracy covers a semantic space that stretches from direct democracy in the strict sense to authoritarian democracy, passing through forms of limited and controlled delegation, to forms of representation that are generically limited (true «limited partnerships») and periodically renewed through the electoral process (in the dual sense of choice and selection), which unite the elements of agreement and co-opting in different measures.

If direct democracy in its «pure» form represents one pole of this continuum, the liberal version of representative democracy (which is the best form which has been thought up or implemented to date), i.e. liberal democracy, does not represent the opposite pole (which is authoritarian democracy) but is undoubtedly somewhat closer to that pole. It is no coincidence that in social crisis, when confronted by the risk not so much of revolution as of radical reform of the economic power, liberal democracy has shown no great difficulty or reluctance in «letting itself be transformed» into its authoritarian counterpart (and on occasions into true dictatorship) for however long it may take to rebuild sufficient support on the part of the ruling/dominant class for a return to a more «liberal» form of democracy. It is only natural that representative liberal democracy should be closer to the authoritarian pole than to the libertarian one. It is in fact the «human face» of the «rational» division between the ruler and the ruled, the political counterpart of the division between dominant and dominated, of the class division of society and of its hierarchical structure. There is no reason to labour this point here since there is a wealth of writings[21], both anarchist and non-anarchist, which have demolished the myth of representative democracy, i.e. the myth of its real democracy in the original sense of the word.

Democracy is the government of the demos, of the people. The demos has been defined in various ways, on the basis of gender, of citizenship, of wealth, of age, and so on.[22] In its most wide-reaching form (as, for example, in Italy today) it includes virtually all citizens over the age of 18 (which is not the same as all inhabitants), regardless of class, wealth, sex and race.

How then does this demos, i.e. the great majority of Italians, exercise its «government», its «power»?  It does not exercise it in person; that would be self-government, direct democracy. Instead it delegates it’s declared right to an elected oligarchy which then exercises this power in its own name. And it is not as if the only choice was that between an unlikely anarchism and an electoral oligarchy (representative democracy).... Dahl[23] says that while representative democracy may have major defects (another euphemism) there is no better alternative... but there is.

There is the alternative of direct democracy integrated in a system of federations and confederations, in the broadest sense, in a greatly decentralised political sphere in which the mandates of even the delegates of the basic social structures can be revoked and limited (albeit with relative room for manoeuvre) on specific decisions, and where the power delegated in a coordinated situation is always less than that which is not delegated. This would be a democracy in which a community of ten thousand inhabitants would primarily be governed by its own decisions and not by those of the province, let alone those of the region, etc. etc. in a federal succession. This would be a democracy in which «peripheral» political realities (city neighbourhoods, or towns or regions) would not be a partial devolution of a central power, but in which the «central» body would be a federal system of partial devolution of power stemming from the base. This is not just playing with words. Under representative democracy, on the other hand, the power to decide is delegated to a body of political professionals and the only «power» left with the demos is that to choose its representatives (under conditions in which there is some reason to doubt the real and conscious freedom of choice), and power grows rather than decreases as you move from the political «periphery» to the centre, from the local to the national. This is a different dimension of democracy. It is not the demos which governs itself, albeit with contradictions which cannot be eliminated but can be controlled once their existence is recognised, but a demos in whose name someone governs, with some mechanisms for creating and/or simulating consent. There is a quality leap in the nature of the apparent continuum of the democratic forms.

A democracy that is compatible with the anarchist rejection of domination (and in political terms of the division between the rulers and the ruled) is necessarily a «direct» democracy in the above sense , i.e. strongly based in democratic meetings and with a necessary but controlled system of temporary political delegates. Delegates  may be elected or chosen by lot (why not –it was the case with the magistrates of Athens) but would be truly representatives. Under no circumstances would there be a political class (whether one party or several makes no difference) cut off from the demos by the simple fact of being professional politicians.

A Model

Planning forms of direct democracy is already a move beyond democracy as it is generally understood, i.e. representative liberal democracy. This space beyond (as has been said more than once) presumes something that is both greater and at the same time different democracy. Direct democracy places much greater power in the hands of every individual making up the demos, by breaking up, decentralising and diffusing political power.

Direct democracy is a discrete approximation of a political an-archy (absence of domination). And in fact in both theory (as with Proudhon and Bakunin) and practice (in the various revolutionary situations like Spain in 1936 in which anarchists have played a decisive role) the political forms suggested and experimented with have been those of «direct democracy on a federal basis».

This is a good approximation of political anarchism. It is nothing more but nor is it any less than that. Political anarchism is certainly founded on an further «beyond», but just as the christian ideal is sainthood «in imitation of Christ» and yet all Christians including the saints settle for less, indeed for much less, for striving towards the ideal, so too do anarchists. There is another sense in which anarchism goes beyond democracy. As has already been said, anarchism is a principle for organising reality which goes beyond the political sphere (and indeed beyond the social sphere too, but this is beyond the scope of this article). As a philosophical, ethical and aesthetic principle it stretches beyond the political arena (which is that of democracy) and indeed rejects it. It moves beyond it because even the extreme model of direct democracy is not really enough.

A face-to-face meeting could pass unanimous decisions that are horribly incompatible with anarchism. The direct democracy of Athens could burn Pythagoras’ books or condemn Socrates to death, but nobody can make an anarchist accept the justice of a verdict which punishes heterodox ideas. Unanimity, and even less a majority, may be accepted by anarchists as the criteria for political decisions in specific contexts, but never as a way of deciding in absolute terms what is good and what is bad, what is beautiful and what is ugly.

Even liberals see certain areas of «human rights» as lying outside the majoritarian mechanism, and they have quite conscious doubts about the power of the majority. For example: «for the democratic doctrine, the simple fact that the majority wants something is enough to make what it wants good; [...] the will of the majority determines not only that something is a law, but also that it is a good law». And again, «it is at least conceivable that under the rule of a very homogeneous and doctrinaire majority, a democratic regime could be as oppressive as the worst dictatorship».[24]

There is yet another and perhaps even greater way in which anarchism goes beyond politics. Politics, like economics, is a dimension of society which has become visible and «autonomous» of the totality of social functions and a «fixed point» of history. In this way it can be seen as a historical creation. Both the political function and the economic one have always existed in some form and degree in every society, but (apart from the Athenian «interlude»  it is only in recent centuries that they have been observed, described, prescribed, studied and practised as independent social forms, starting with Machiavelli, Hobbes, etc., and increasing after the Enlightenment with its disenchantment of the world and its «worldly» deconsecration and reconsecration of domination.

Libertarian Democracy

Like economics and almost at the same time, politics too has acquired an «autonomy» of the social magma in the imaginary and institutional representation. Economics has sought to apply its own categories to social phenomena (the «utopian» undertaking of capitalist ideology is in fact impossible) and to bend them to its own form of «reason»[25]. Politics has been more modest although no less dangerous and has sought to explain itself  «according to its own rules». There have been attempts to shape society to it which have had considerable historical and ideological significance: Leninism, and those third-world forms more or less contaminated by it, as well as fascism: «everything for the State, nothing outside and against the State», as Mussolini said.

But economic, political, legal, ideological-religious and other functions of society are precisely that, functions of a «social being» which is not economic, nor political, nor... The realisation that the overall physiology of the social being has various diverse functions is undoubtedly an important addition to our knowledge, knowledge necessary for a radical transformation of society as it is, but it is also important to recognise and understand the close links and interrelationships between the various organs and functions.

«Holistic» medicine can only be seen as progressive once anatomy and physiology have already  identified and studied the various processes of the human body, including the as yet little understood psychosomatic relationships. The holistic idea can be valuable as something beyond anatomy and physiology, otherwise it would be just magic or charlatanism.

Anarchism is in fact a «holistic» conception of society and can only be beyond  politics, economics, and so on (not an ingenuous and primitivist «before»). The social organism is not just a sum, a mechanical combination of politics, economics..., but rather an organic interrelationship of political, economic and other functions. There can be no real democracy in the political sphere unless all those acting in it are socially equal (or if you prefer, equivalent}. Thus it is not possible to have political democracy without economic democracy[26], which we may call self-management. And it is not possible to have self-management unless the people involved are equal, i.e. without the integration of manual and intellectual work[27]. And so it goes on.

LIBERTARIAN DEMOCRACY (to employ a neologism)[28] (which is more or less synonymous with possible, practical anarchism) is impossible unless the ethos of society and its fundamental values do not have at least a certain coherence with direct democracy and self-management, that is to say with equality, freedom, solidarity and diversity in the broadest sense. That is, more or less, anarchism. Q.E.D. quod erat demostrandum


(Translation by April Retter)




[1] Amedeo Bertolo, "I fanatici della libertà", Volontà, n. 3-4, 1996. An abridged English translation of a previous version of this writing was published as "Fanatics of Freedom" on Our Generation, vol 23, n. 2 (1992), pp.50-66.

[2] David Held, Modelli di democrazia, Bologna 1989, p.332 (English edition: Models of Democracy, Cambridge, 1987).

[3] For a fairly full dicussion and benevolent critique of direct democracy from non-anarchist prospects (the first neo-marxist and the second liberal-socialist) see David Held, op. cit, pp.157-178, and Norberto Bobbio, Il futuro della democrazia, Torino, 1993, pp.36-61.

[4] See David Held, op. cit.

[5] See Murray Bookchin, Democrazia Diretta, Milano, 1993; Id. Remaking Society, Montreal, 1993; Id., "Communalism: The Democratic Dimension of Anarchism", Democracy and Nature, 1995, pp.1-17; Robert Dahl, Democracy and its Critics, Yale,1989; Giovanni Sartori, Democrazia. Cos’è, Milano, 1993.

[6] Giampietro Berti(ed.), La dimensione libertaria di Proudhon, Roma, 1982, p.77.

[7] Quoted in François Munoz, Bakounine et la Liberté, Paris 1965, p.228.

[8] Errico Malatesta too, 25 Years later, wrote that "For us abstentionism is a question of tactics", although he added that it is so important that when it is abandoned we risk to abandon the principles " (E. Malatesta,F.S. Merlino, Anarchismo e democrazia, Ragusa,1974, p.60.

[9] Michail Bakunin, Libertà eguaglianza rivoluzione, Milano 1976, p.93.

[10] {. Ibid}., p.88.

[11] Quoted in Giampietro Berti, Francesco Saverio Merlino, Milano, 1993, p.414.

[12] Eduardo Colombo, "Lo Stato come paradigma del potere", Volontà, n.3, 1984.

[13] See Renée Lourau, L’Etat incoscient, Paris, 1978.

[14] Giampietro Berti (ed.), op. cit., p.45.

[15] See Amedeo Bertolo, "Potere, autorità, dominio", Volontà, n.2,1983. An abridged English translation was published with the title }{Authority, Power and Domination}, in Laslo Sekelj (ed.), Anarchism. Community and Utopia, Praha, 1993, pp.137-166.

[16] See Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom, Palo Alto, 1982.

[17] As E. Colombo shows ("Della polis e dello spazio sociale plebeo", Volontà, n.4, 1989), publicus  is derived from  populicus, i.e. "of the people", which is clearly relevant to democracy.

[18] Alan Ritter, Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis, Cambridge,1980, chap.II.

[19] E. Malatesta, F.S. Merlino, op.cit., pp.42-43.

[20] Michail Bakunin, op.cit., p.92.

[21] See Robert Dahl, op.cit., who sets out and argues against the critique of democracy from various points of view, including the anarchist one, even if in fact based mainly the anarchist critique on a writer who is not an anarchist (Robert Wolff). See also E. Colombo, "Della polis etc.", cit.

[22] E. Colombo ("Della polis etc.", cit) in fact says that , according to some hellenistics, the term democracy (which was created by enimies of democracy) is inappropriate as kratos means domination or force exercized by one part of the society over an other, while legitimate authority is arkhè. It would thus be more correct to speak of demarchy t than democracy and maybe of  acracy  than anarchy.

[23] Robert Dahl, op.cit., pp.75-76.

[24] Friedrich von Hayek, quoted in D. Held, op.cit., p.314.

[25] See Luciano Lanza, "Il mercante e l’utopista", Volontà, n.1-2, 1990.

[26] See Takis Fotopoulos, Toward an Inclusive Democracy, London, 1997.

[27] See two "classics" of anarchism: Michail Bakunin, op.cit.,chap. on "Integral Education", and Petr Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow (ed. by C. Ward), London, 1974, chap. on "Intellectual and Manual Work".

[28] To my knowledge, this expression was first used by Gaston Leval (Espagne Libertaire. 1936-1939, Paris, 1971, pp. 217-225)























"EN-GB">To my knowledge, this expression was first used by Gaston Leval (Espagne Libertaire. 1936-1939, Paris, 1971, pp. 217-225)