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Lively and authoritative, this study of a widely misunderstood subject skillfully navigates the rough waters of anarchistic concepts--from Taoism to Situationism, ranters to punk rockers, individualists to communists, and anarcho-syndicalists to anarcha-feminists. Exploring key anarchist ideas of society and the state, freedom and equality, authority and power, the record Lively and authoritative, this study of a widely misunderstood subject skillfully navigates the rough waters of anarchistic concepts--from Taoism to Situationism, ranters to punk rockers, individualists to communists, and anarcho-syndicalists to anarcha-feminists. Exploring key anarchist ideas of society and the state, freedom and equality, authority and power, the record investigates the successes and failures of anarchist movements throughout the world. Presenting a balanced and critical survey, the detailed document covers not only classic anarchist thinkers--such as Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus, and Emma Goldman--but also other libertarian figures, such as Nietzsche, Camus, Gandhi, Foucault, and Chomsky. Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand what anarchists stand for and what they have achieved, this fascinating account also includes an epilogue that examines the most recent developments, including postanarchism and anarcho-primitivism as well as the anarchist contributions to the peace, green, and global justice movements of the 21st century.


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Lively and authoritative, this study of a widely misunderstood subject skillfully navigates the rough waters of anarchistic concepts--from Taoism to Situationism, ranters to punk rockers, individualists to communists, and anarcho-syndicalists to anarcha-feminists. Exploring key anarchist ideas of society and the state, freedom and equality, authority and power, the record Lively and authoritative, this study of a widely misunderstood subject skillfully navigates the rough waters of anarchistic concepts--from Taoism to Situationism, ranters to punk rockers, individualists to communists, and anarcho-syndicalists to anarcha-feminists. Exploring key anarchist ideas of society and the state, freedom and equality, authority and power, the record investigates the successes and failures of anarchist movements throughout the world. Presenting a balanced and critical survey, the detailed document covers not only classic anarchist thinkers--such as Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus, and Emma Goldman--but also other libertarian figures, such as Nietzsche, Camus, Gandhi, Foucault, and Chomsky. Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand what anarchists stand for and what they have achieved, this fascinating account also includes an epilogue that examines the most recent developments, including postanarchism and anarcho-primitivism as well as the anarchist contributions to the peace, green, and global justice movements of the 21st century.

30 review for Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    This is a fairly substantial and worthy account of the history of anarchism, largely built around review chapters of prominent figures and historical reviews of anarchism in action. It takes a broad view by including writers and thinkers who might better or equally be considered liberal or libertarian, although Marshall is always at pains to show their differences from classical anarchist thought. It has to be said that it can be a little dull at times and there is a lack of a sustained overview, This is a fairly substantial and worthy account of the history of anarchism, largely built around review chapters of prominent figures and historical reviews of anarchism in action. It takes a broad view by including writers and thinkers who might better or equally be considered liberal or libertarian, although Marshall is always at pains to show their differences from classical anarchist thought. It has to be said that it can be a little dull at times and there is a lack of a sustained overview, something that would give us a better idea of what it all may mean. It was also written in or around 1991/2 so the 'action' (such as it is) takes place at one of the low points in anarchist history - a quarter of a century after the collapse of the student hopes of the 1960s. Similarly, Marshall is writing at least a decade and probably more before the internet permits the creation of a new politically-directed hacker activism and the emergence of the post-2008 insurrectionism that, one suspects, would have thoroughly confused the somewhat earnest intellectuals who dominate his book. Indeed, that is the problem with the tale told here. This is mostly a story of intellectuals pontificating from on high about ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and about the nature of humanity and the world in a way that bears little relationship to the actual lived-in world of the people they claim that they want to liberate. And it gets worse over time. The culmination of the book is a deathly dull (I skimmed in the end) account of the thoughts of that dodgy old Hegelian Murray Bookchin, a throw-back to the nineteenth century if ever there was one. Marshall is old-school. The succession of (mostly) dead and nearly-dead white males leaves one, ultimately, less minded to anarchism at the end than one was at the beginning, partly because of the brutal realization that, if most of these gentlemen could have achieved their utopian dreams, the rest of us would have been oppressed and miserable before very long, certainly from utter boredom in their craftsman/peasant, neighbourly, crushingly dull, little communities. At the end of the day, most of these thinkers (as opposed to the far more interesting practical seizures of power by anarchists in the Latin street) have no real language for accepting humanity as it is and so they rapidly go scuttling into a world of claimed reason where you can read petit-bourgeois tyranny on every page, at least when the people do not match up to the dreams of their saviours. The Green Anarchism of Murray Bookchin is typical. His is a turgid and unrealistic Hegelianism that has very little to do with real freedom, calling us back to what amounts to the faith-based politics of dreamers like Kropotkin and Tolstoy via that German theoretician. Anything that is ultimately faith-based or essentialist is definitely a bit creepy to anyone with their two feet placed firmly on the earth and many anarchists can be lumped with the Marxists and New Age loons in that respect. In the end, one is thrown back to a place somewhere between the minimal state libertarianism and a humane left-libertarianism that permits some state action to enable all to be autonomous on equal terms. Grand theory has little to say to us here, praxis everything. But even the praxis leaves us with a romantic bad taste in the mouth because every decent anarchist experiment – the Paris Commune, the Kronstadt rebellion, Makhno in the Ukraine, the POUM in Catalonia, the Evenements of ‘68 and many others – is quite simply crushed by superior reality. Not just by superior force but by the fact that the force represents something – the reality of the situation. As a romantic, I am definitely with all these rebellions but, let's face it, participation is heroic but futile, an act of suicide. It would be like Mishima's hari-kiri only for the goodies. It is not enough to say that these experiments ‘should have won’ because they were ‘right’. The truth is they did not win for very good reasons related to what we are as human beings. The only successful anarchist rebellion would be one that could change humanity – and that is very dangerous territory indeed, a repetition by force of what the Bolsheviks tried and failed to do. All in all, this book, which is highly sympathetic to the movement, tells us that anarchic thinking is like a chair that is very appealing to the eye but falls apart when someone tries to sit on it. If it did not exist, it would have to be invented but only as a constraint or restraint on power, by promising rebellion if lines were crossed but not as an option for any social organization that is actually viable. This has implications for the four main current strands of quasi-anarchic thinking in the world today – hacker activism, greenery (which has already compromised with reality to gain a power that it probably does not deserve), the Occupy Movement and anarcho-capitalist libertarianism. All of these are troublesome for the prevailing order but none of them represent a terminal threat – indeed, the Occupy Movement’s achievement may have been little more than mobilizing the vote for Tweedledum Obama over Tweedledee Romney and giving the State some populist welly when it is minded to bring the capitalists to heel for its own tax-raising purposes. It is interesting that the State did not even bother to do that. Occupy is particularly daft from a classical anarchist perspective. It is led by naïve middle class students and activists whose sole purpose seems to be to get more cash into the hands of the State from the private sector or give the NGOs a bit more oomph in the street so that money can then be diverted to their latest pet project. The general public, of course, has seen through this. The most threatening to the State may be hacker activism and then only because its more louche side is quite prepared to act as intellectual muscle for organized crime. But it can just as easily be co-opted into the State Department’s manipulative cyberwars against states it does not approve of and it is most effective as trail-blazer for anarcho-capitalism’s darker side. Kim Dotcom is an anarchist of sorts but not quite what Prince Pyotr Kropotkin had in mind. Even in Greece today, where one would most expect insurrection, the struggle for mastery over a corrupt and failed bourgeois elite, backed by the European Union, is in the hands either of sensible Leftists who have no intention of unraveling the State and a bunch of gangster fascists. In Catalonia, the drive for independence is also no longer associated with anarchist ideology but with a revived Leftism. Worse, this Euro-Leftism is not only not anarchist in the traditional sense but is imbued with an ideology of identity politics that wholly relies on the State to impose its cultural agenda on an increasingly resentful mass (at least that proportion of the mass not on the State pay roll, admittedly a decreasing proportion). Having said all that, if we winnow out perhaps seven out of ten of the anarcho-intellectuals as either faith-based essentialists (and we include the Hegelians) or narcissistic imposers of their values and personality on the world, we are left with some good people and good thinking. The American Paul Goodman stood out in this respect. And it was good to see Foucault briefly included as gad fly. There is real value in anarchism but not as praxis or ideology. Its value lies in it being a reminder of the core value to humanity of personal autonomy and of individuation. People of anarchist bent would do much better to hold their noses and engage with the political process and the State through improved organization, if only to halt the growing power of authoritarian Leftists, fascists and religious believers. Camus' concept of rebellion as preferable to revolution holds water here - we can all constantly rebel against the unwarranted demands and claims of others. The final pages of the book raise issues with anarchism as practical politics but by this time we have all made our mind up – either we are anarchists or we are not. I am not – more so after reading the book than before. My initial sympathies dissipated chapter by chapter as I realized that I would be filled with a terminal boredom by these men and their utopias. Anarchists are too often people who have lost their sense of reality, equally as much as the religious types they claim to despise. In some cases (horror of horrors!), they will even claim to have found a better God or reality as did Tolstoy. Any politics that has a place for invented beings and universal consciousnesses must be considered dangerous and yet a small minority of anarchists persist in this sort of flummery. Like Marxism, anarchism can be religion by other means and so deeply dangerous to non-believers in the long run. Nevertheless, this book is strongly recommended as a sound guide to what anarchists have thought in the past and what they did in history.

  2. 4 out of 5

    عبدالرحمن أبوذكري

    Neither do you have to finish reading this book to rate it, nor do you have to be an anarchist to love it. Peter Marshall is really a hell of a good writer. His profound account of anarchism is rare and almost unique. I was not that much enthusiastic about the book in the beginning, when Professor Chomsky recommended it among some others as essential readings on Anarchism, but after I read almost 150 pages out of the 700, I would be mistaken if not recommending it to whoever may be concerned. It Neither do you have to finish reading this book to rate it, nor do you have to be an anarchist to love it. Peter Marshall is really a hell of a good writer. His profound account of anarchism is rare and almost unique. I was not that much enthusiastic about the book in the beginning, when Professor Chomsky recommended it among some others as essential readings on Anarchism, but after I read almost 150 pages out of the 700, I would be mistaken if not recommending it to whoever may be concerned. It is not just a "Political Philosophy" book, but a profound cultural account for the rise of one of the most controversial western schools of thought ... and Action ;)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This is a wide ranging overview of the political theory of anarchism. In that endeavor, it is similar in scope to Woodcock's esteemed volume. The work begins by defining the subject. The second part explores forerunners of anarchism--from the east to the Greeks and so on. The third part considers leading exponents of the theory from France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. Part 4? Classic anarchist thinkers, such as Godwin, Stirner, Proudhon, Bakunin, and so on. Part five focuses o This is a wide ranging overview of the political theory of anarchism. In that endeavor, it is similar in scope to Woodcock's esteemed volume. The work begins by defining the subject. The second part explores forerunners of anarchism--from the east to the Greeks and so on. The third part considers leading exponents of the theory from France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. Part 4? Classic anarchist thinkers, such as Godwin, Stirner, Proudhon, Bakunin, and so on. Part five focuses on anarchism in action--its manifestations in different countries (e.g., France, Spain, Rusian). It concludes with discussions of modern anarchism and the legacy of this perspective. A book that tries to cover so much risks being a mild wide and an inch deep. There is some of that, of course, but the book would prove a useful introduction to readers interested in the subject.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael Schmidt

    I have to give credit where it is due, and when I picked up Peter Marshall's Demanding the Impossible at Adams' Books in Durban (the symbol on its 1930s concrete facade was a red Circle-A) back in the early 1990s, it was the first book I had laid hands on that attempted a global synopsis of anarchist thought and action. In many ways, it was hugely influential on me as a young anarchist and lead to my own studies into the history of the anarchist movement and its mass-organisational expressions, I have to give credit where it is due, and when I picked up Peter Marshall's Demanding the Impossible at Adams' Books in Durban (the symbol on its 1930s concrete facade was a red Circle-A) back in the early 1990s, it was the first book I had laid hands on that attempted a global synopsis of anarchist thought and action. In many ways, it was hugely influential on me as a young anarchist and lead to my own studies into the history of the anarchist movement and its mass-organisational expressions, which have resulted in my books Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism (first, French-language, edition 2012), and Wildfire (forthcoming). That said, it was specifically the imbalance in Marshall's work between a rather conventional heavy focus on Europe and North America, and the slight representation of Latin America where in most countries the movement overwhelmingly dominated the organised labour movement until the imposition of dictatorships in the 1930s, plus a really poor and factually incorrect overview of the Argentine movement in Rebel Worker that lead directly to me starting work 15 years ago on my own history. The problem is that that many historians, in misguided attempts to either detect its origins or secure legitimacy for the anarchist tradition, claim a long prehistory for the movement. Marshall is a good example of this error: he traces anarchism’s supposed roots to ancient Taoists, classical Greeks, Medieval radical Christians, and Enlightenment freethinkers; then he dates the emergence of anarchism proper to Enlightenment libertarian William Godwin (1756-1836) and includes as “anarchists” the egotistical individualist Max Stirner (1806-1856), the socialist mutualist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), the mystical pacifist Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), and the “individualist anarchist” Benjamin Tucker (1854-1939) . This lumping together of the five with de facto revolutionary anarchists Bakunin and Kropotkin, thus produces a motley crew of very disparate thinkers who really only have their anti-statism in common. Strangely, this ahistorical collection of varied thinkers derives from the arbitrary “seven sages” selection of Paul Eltzbacher in an influential book published in 1900. Although Eltzbacher was a judge and thus an enemy of our movement, anarchists themselves including Kropotkin adopted his mismatched collection of thinkers as their own – the result being that 20th Century anarchism was often viewed among many in its own ranks, as well as among broader society, as a chaotic tendency in theory and practice. This fundamental error in delineating the core anarchist ideology has a direct impact not only on how self-described “anarchists” act today, but on how we understand the movement’s true history. In Black Flame (2009), Lucien van der Walt and I flatly rejected Eltzbacher’s ideological bastardisation of the historical coherence of anarchist theory, ethics, strategies and tactics in favour of a narrowly pro-organisational line based on mature Bakuninism that arose in mass working class form only from 1868. Our approach outraged many self-described anarchists, but the exciting result was that while those who followed Eltzbacher produced very slender, largely North Atlanticist histories of the movement (and Marshall, like Max Nettlau before him, is an honourable exception), applying our narrow focus to the historical record produced a startlingly broader picture of mass anarchist movements across almost the entire world than was previously recognised by either academics or anarchists themselves. Aside from this conceptual weakness, Marshall has a well-deserved place on the bookshelf of any anarchist, libertarian socialist, anti-authoritarian, or political scientist. If one of the objectives of historical works is to provoke others - and not necessarily even of similar views - to start examining aspects of history in ways they never considered before, with fresh eyes, and as a result to produce their own intellectually challenging works, then Marshall succeeded brilliantly.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ollie

    Demand the Impossible has been on my to-read list ever since I saw its cover with a Noam Chomsky quote on the book racks at Powell’s. However, this is one hefty book and I didn’t want to tackle it until I knew I was mentally prepared. I’m glad I braced myself because Demand the Impossible is thorough to say the least. I’ve read a good amount of anarchist literature and have been interested in its history and theories over the years. I still can’t quite decide whether I should have read this book Demand the Impossible has been on my to-read list ever since I saw its cover with a Noam Chomsky quote on the book racks at Powell’s. However, this is one hefty book and I didn’t want to tackle it until I knew I was mentally prepared. I’m glad I braced myself because Demand the Impossible is thorough to say the least. I’ve read a good amount of anarchist literature and have been interested in its history and theories over the years. I still can’t quite decide whether I should have read this book at the beginning of this journey because Demand the Impossible does an impeccable job of summarizing the history of anarchism, its most important contributors, their theories and what advances the movement has made over the years. It might have improved my understanding later on if I had used this book as a crash course. Starting with the Taoist movement many centuries ago, Peter Marshall elegantly takes us through the different political movements that have adopted anarchist ideas. Demand the Impossible discusses the forerunners of anarchism that were prevalent in old Asian, Greek, Christian and European societies, then touches on the old libertarian thinkers who had an anarchist slant in their beliefs, followed by the more prominent thinkers. Throughout, Marshall displays an expertise for their philosophy and gets at the core of what their ideas were. At the end, Marshall focuses on the trends worldwide and movements that have claimed anarchist principles, like the Mexican revolution, the Spanish civil war, the 1968 protest in France, and more recent events. Regretfully, this book was not updated in time to include the Occupy movement. Having read most of these authors before, I can tell Marshall is doing a lot of the heavy work for us in trying to understand what some of them were trying to get at. A lot this source material is dry, convoluted, and very difficult to read and having someone like Marshall extract its meaning for a general audience is vital. What’s also important is how Marshall shows us the complete picture of the philosophers, warts and all. So for example, he makes it a point to talk about Proudhon’s patriarchy and anti-Semitism, Bakunin’s contradictions in stressing the importance of a secret police, Kropotkin’s support of the war and imperialist powers, Goldman’s jealousy in open relationships, and Bookchin’s reversion to Marxism towards the end of his life. This may sound like nitpicking, but it’s important to remember that these representatives of freedom had flaws themselves. I cannot stress it enough: this book is thorough and well put together. Many more Anarchist anthologies will be written and undoubtedly the day will come when this book will be obsolete, but that won’t happen for a very long time. Demand the Impossible is simply exhaustive and Peter Marshall has done an incredible job. Every historian will have to reckon with it. 3.5 stars

  6. 4 out of 5

    K

    This is the definitive history of Anarchism as a cultural movement, sociopolitical phenomenon and lastly, a fairly coherent political philosophy with its own analyses, solutions, trends and debates within its own framework. Peter Marshall delivers a very impressive book, both in depth and scope. In it, one can find pieces from a lucid array of thinkers that range from Taoism to contemporary right wing libertarianism, as well as lessons in history and some political and ethical theory to compleme This is the definitive history of Anarchism as a cultural movement, sociopolitical phenomenon and lastly, a fairly coherent political philosophy with its own analyses, solutions, trends and debates within its own framework. Peter Marshall delivers a very impressive book, both in depth and scope. In it, one can find pieces from a lucid array of thinkers that range from Taoism to contemporary right wing libertarianism, as well as lessons in history and some political and ethical theory to complement all of the above. There are interesting discussions on the ideas of prominent figures from Rousseau to Kropotkin and from Josiah Warren to Bertrand Russell, along with a fair share of criticism on most of them. Anarchosyndicalist, collectivist and libertarian experiments are also discussed in an interesting manner, which pinpoints their evident strengths as well as their weaknesses. While it's more useful as a reference book, it can be read at once but one should bear in mind that there's some repetition and I can understand if the reader occasionally looses interest. It's so complete which can lead to ignoring parts of it. For example, I found the chapter on anarchist movements in Asia quite uninteresting but this was a result of my own idiosyncracy. However, one can't blame the author for completeness and this was a monumental task for anyone to achieve. I found Peter Marshall's effort the most praiseworthy of all.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Zain Haider

    If you are an Anarchist, question the monopoly of the state on your lives or just have a problem with Authority and Power then this book is (and should become) your Bible, Quran and everything in between. Marshall has done an impressive job in tracing the lives and philosophies of some of the most important thinkers in the Anarchist school of thought; his selections are broad and extensive, they are inclusive and voluminous (900+ pages) ; many branches and positions within the school are not onl If you are an Anarchist, question the monopoly of the state on your lives or just have a problem with Authority and Power then this book is (and should become) your Bible, Quran and everything in between. Marshall has done an impressive job in tracing the lives and philosophies of some of the most important thinkers in the Anarchist school of thought; his selections are broad and extensive, they are inclusive and voluminous (900+ pages) ; many branches and positions within the school are not only present but are discussed and dissected. It is a powerful analysis of the most questioning and perhaps most important political philosophy of them all.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nicolas Garcia

    dense! rich! after I read this I got into a debate with an anarchist . . . anarchists need to brush up on the history of their political theory . . .

  9. 4 out of 5

    Piers Haslam

    This great volume is fine introduction to the anarchist creed and its history. Marshall traces the story of libertarian and freedom-loving strains throughout human history, and argues the case for these ideas having been around for an awfully long time. A good 200 pages is used documenting this before Proudhon(the first self-professed anarchist) is discussed, and in this way Marshall makes this a story of freedom and popular movements against authority rather than simply of the anarchist moveme This great volume is fine introduction to the anarchist creed and its history. Marshall traces the story of libertarian and freedom-loving strains throughout human history, and argues the case for these ideas having been around for an awfully long time. A good 200 pages is used documenting this before Proudhon(the first self-professed anarchist) is discussed, and in this way Marshall makes this a story of freedom and popular movements against authority rather than simply of the anarchist movement. I found the chapter on the millenarian sects of the Middle Ages particularly interesting, as I was already familiar with the radical Taborites of Bohemia described. It was fantastic to see them examined from a directly anarchist perspective. He then reviews all the classic anarchist thinkers: Goldman, Bakunin, Proudhon, Stirner, Kropotkin, etc. But it goes way beyond this; many more thinkers with anarchistic echoes and ideas are discussed in less detail, with many wonderfully esoteric choices like Oscar Wilde and De Sade. This gives the book a great colour and life. I was stunned by the utterly agreeable nature of Marshall himself. His personal political beliefs are never directly discussed, but as he says in the introduction, “my own sympathies will no doubt shine through”(p.xiv). This is quite right. Marshall holds pacifistic beliefs, is an advocate of anarchism without adjectives, and is non-dogmatic in his approach to anarchism; he's someone who truly loves the variety and vigour of the human race. So be aware that the book is kind of biased, but one can always read through that I find. I hold a position very close to Marshall's, so it worked well for me, that I can say. One thing I would like to have seen discussed more would have been the anarchist terrorism of the 1880s and 1890s. It's alluded to very often, but no chapter is dedicated to it. I think there should have been one, but I can see why Marshall left it out. I think for a full historical picture it would have been an extremely welcome addition. So in all I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in anarchism and its exciting and “largely untried path to personal and social freedom”(p.639). It was a fantastic journey for me, and I hope to read more about anarchism in the future.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Meghan Fidler

    Marshall is impressive in his attempt to cover a wide breadth of people, religions, regions and governments, but the manuscript is also weak because of it, unable to give full depictions of any topic broached (it is lamentable, for example, that the majority of women activists are submerged as 'lovers' of the featured men. Covering everyone is impossible, but Marshall made the attempt, so his choices for inclusion are political commentaries in and of themselves). This is more of a reference man Marshall is impressive in his attempt to cover a wide breadth of people, religions, regions and governments, but the manuscript is also weak because of it, unable to give full depictions of any topic broached (it is lamentable, for example, that the majority of women activists are submerged as 'lovers' of the featured men. Covering everyone is impossible, but Marshall made the attempt, so his choices for inclusion are political commentaries in and of themselves). This is more of a reference manual than a book, and will be very useful for me to keep on hand as such.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ronan

    Very well written and researched so far. Wouldn't quite agree with his glowing endorsement of Taoism, Buddhism, and some Greek philosophy though. The chapter on Bakunin was very interesting, I'm not sure whether it counts as a hatchet job or a balanced appraisal of the man though. I'm inclined to lean towards the latter as Marshall is consistently balanced and generous, he certainly doesn't lean to the fanatical attacks of other writers on Bakunin. Very well written and researched so far. Wouldn't quite agree with his glowing endorsement of Taoism, Buddhism, and some Greek philosophy though. The chapter on Bakunin was very interesting, I'm not sure whether it counts as a hatchet job or a balanced appraisal of the man though. I'm inclined to lean towards the latter as Marshall is consistently balanced and generous, he certainly doesn't lean to the fanatical attacks of other writers on Bakunin.

  12. 4 out of 5

    emma

    Some books change the way you see the world and Demanding the Impossible is one of them. If, like me, you've spent years wrangling with socialism/communism/other assorted left wing isms but had a vaguely uneasy feeling about all of them, then you'll probably find your spiritual home in this book. It covers too much to give comprehensive detail on everything, but it's an excellent history and a great starting point for further exploration. Some books change the way you see the world and Demanding the Impossible is one of them. If, like me, you've spent years wrangling with socialism/communism/other assorted left wing isms but had a vaguely uneasy feeling about all of them, then you'll probably find your spiritual home in this book. It covers too much to give comprehensive detail on everything, but it's an excellent history and a great starting point for further exploration.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sumayyah

    Excellent resource for the future. Of course, this book feels alarmingly like a text book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Justin Martin

    This sprawling history of the rejection of government -- from Tolstoy to the Toaist/Confucianist conflict clear through to Chomsky, Malatesta, Bakunin and Kropotkin -- is nuanced, critical, and never dry. Anarchism at its core is a debate about how a human acts when left to themselves, and this is a lively one that did more than any nonfiction book to rewire my priors, even when picking through the opinions of somebody flagrantly wrong.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Love

    Clear, detailed and thorough history of anarchism. Marshall does a great job connecting anarchy to its philosophical forerunners. From the philosophical connections to Taoism (in the Tao Te Ching), Buddhism, the Greeks, Christianity, the Middle Ages, the English Revolution, the French Renaissance and Enlightenment and the British Enlightenment. Marshall also provides detailed accounts of the major anarchist thinkers in the movement and provides information on how their work affected the society a Clear, detailed and thorough history of anarchism. Marshall does a great job connecting anarchy to its philosophical forerunners. From the philosophical connections to Taoism (in the Tao Te Ching), Buddhism, the Greeks, Christianity, the Middle Ages, the English Revolution, the French Renaissance and Enlightenment and the British Enlightenment. Marshall also provides detailed accounts of the major anarchist thinkers in the movement and provides information on how their work affected the society and the movement. From Godwin, the first to express anarchist ideals, without using the title (interestingly enough, he was married to the first feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft) to Gandhi, who was profoundly influenced by Tolstoy's Christian variety of anarchism. Thoroughly details anarchism in action. I'll mention the Spanish anarchist revolution because it was a pivotal moment in modern history for society at large and anarchism. Makes reference to Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, which is a harrowing account of Orwell's first hand experience with the civil war and anarchist movement. You can really learn when the powers that be don't like something, Stalinists, Fascists and the West all agreed that the anarchist revolution had to be crushed and that's what happened. It's sad because the anarchist revolution was based on 50 years of organizing, planning and community building (which our current society lacks) and was crushed by huge imperialist powers. However there are still some remnants of anarchism in Spain today, such as the thriving worker co-operative, Mondragon. Details how in Russia and Ukraine the anarchists were crushed by Lenin and how the anarchists really DID want to "give all the power to the Soviets" unlike the authoritarian communists. Details anarchism in Latin America. The movement is mostly limited in scope due to the huge amount of colonial repression faced in the continent, Marshall (and I) believe that Latin America is ripe for the voice of anarchism to be heard. This is made evident by the modern day World Social Forum which is an annual meeting of civil society organizations, held in Brazil, which offers a self-conscious effort to develop an alternative future through the championing of counter-hegemonic globalization (paraphrased from Wikipedia). A great book with plenty of good references and sources. As stated in the introduction "anarchism is like a river with many currents and eddies, constantly changing and being refreshed by new surges but always moving towards the wide ocean of freedom" Marshall did an excellent job demonstrating just that. I'll end with my favourite definitions of anarchism: Unlike Marxism or democratic capitalism which are institutional theories, the rejection of authority is an attitude not a program. Once adopted it patterns the kind of solutions we are disposed to accept (People without Government - Harold Barclay). Anarchism is a tendency in human development that seeks to identify structures of hierarchy, domination, authority and others that constrain human development. Then it seeks to subject authority to a very reasonable challenge, justify your legitimacy. Maybe in some special circumstances or conceivably in principle and if you can't meet that challenge (which is the usual case) the structures should be dismantled. Not just dismantled, but reconstructed from below (From one of Chomsky's lectures on anarchism). These definitions are limited, but usually provoke interesting conversation. I wouldn't recommend this book as a starting point to learn about anarchism. It requires some foreknowledge of anarchism such as the themes and people within them. I'd recommend Nicolas Walter's About Anarchism, it takes a clear and persuasive approach to explaining anarchism. Once you've learned a bit, check this book out.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mckenzie Ragan

    Dense and thorough (but extremely readable), Demanding the Impossible was exactly what I was hoping it would be. Starting with Taoism, the Greeks, and other precursors, Marshall follows the anarchist tradition from its roots to its (relatively) modern manifestations. The end result is a three-headed beast of a field guide: it is as close to a chronological history as possible, given overlaps in time among various schools, people, movements, and events; it is an overview of the major players – bo Dense and thorough (but extremely readable), Demanding the Impossible was exactly what I was hoping it would be. Starting with Taoism, the Greeks, and other precursors, Marshall follows the anarchist tradition from its roots to its (relatively) modern manifestations. The end result is a three-headed beast of a field guide: it is as close to a chronological history as possible, given overlaps in time among various schools, people, movements, and events; it is an overview of the major players – both in philosophical thought and action; and it is an introduction to the concept of anarchism itself – the general as well as idiosyncratic/localized ideas, the schools, theory and practical application, etc. In my opinion, this is the essential, definitive handbook for the curious and the novitiate. This is not to say it is comprehensive. It’s too big a field. But from other books I’ve looked into, this comes closest to approximating comprehensiveness. Understandably, the well-versed would probably find some topics missing, some demanding more exposition, and maybe even some they don’t think belong (the branches of anarchism overhang a lot of different sociological, political, and cultural ground that arguably should be included within anarchism’s bounds, or, arguably even have a relation). Another problem is occasional redundancy. These things aside, I found this to be an excellent starting point for getting the general ideas and definitions, which can be tangled and confusing if presented the wrong way. It also succeeded in differentiating, and showing the common ground that would appear on a Venn diagram, between anarchism, libertarianism, socialism, and communism, and it does so in a clear way, which is no small feat given the different strands and flavors running through each of those categories even standing alone. I finished not only feeling like I had a clearer idea of what anarchism is, I also left the book with a good idea of the writers and schools that appeal to me and that I’d like to read further into. (For me, classic thinkers like Godwin, Proudhon, Kropotkin, Bakunin, Reclus, Goldman, etc.; the Paris Commune; early intentional communities in the U.S.; the Wobblies; the October Revolution; the Spanish Revolution; the March 22 Movement & May 1968 (68 in general, not just May or France); the Zapatistas; the Provos and Kabouters; Situationism; Paul Goodman; anarcha-feminism; etc. Really, I’m equally interested in the good and the bad, the things I agree with and disagree with.) Readable, informative, and fascinating, Demanding the Impossible is perfect for anyone who doesn’t know what anarchism is but would like to, as well as anyone who has preconceived notions of what it is and have come to assume a negative framework (of violence, utopianism, laziness, impracticability, etc.) The truth is, anarchism in general is an intriguing, practical, and possible (if not immediately) (a)political system built on a foundation of spontaneity, creativity, efficiency, imagination, mutual affection/concern, and the full and undeterred development of the individual.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    Woah! All this time studying has actually allowed me to think like a 17th century thinker (Well at least the ones that were published!). Freaky. I have so many parallels with the modern (like 17th century) critics of 'government' and society'. And that's not to say I have any answers or my truth is more poignant than anyone else s but it certainly does address the big problems that still plague society. And you know what, a nice blend of anarchism and libertarianism would actually fix climate ch Woah! All this time studying has actually allowed me to think like a 17th century thinker (Well at least the ones that were published!). Freaky. I have so many parallels with the modern (like 17th century) critics of 'government' and society'. And that's not to say I have any answers or my truth is more poignant than anyone else s but it certainly does address the big problems that still plague society. And you know what, a nice blend of anarchism and libertarianism would actually fix climate change, as its a symptom of our current governance and trade. Described simply here "the state is invariably controlled by the rich and powerful and that its legislation is inevitably made in the interests of the dominant elite. Godwin saw, like Marx, that the rich are always 'directly or indirectly the legislators of the state' and that government perpetuated the economic inequality in society. (Quote from the book) Heres another good one " it doesn't matter who you vote for the government still gets it" LOL Yep Im right at the beginning of a very large book. In a way, let me guess in today's society the easiest and most peaceful way to achieve the anarchist vision would be to stop paid employment, stop using government benefits, create solidarity through a collective of like minded individuals in the form of mutual reciprocity (eg sharing) and discover mechanisms for housing and accommodation that did not involve purchasing land. Becoming self reliant, community minded and living without violence of any type. Anyone else, sir (in the way of "poor me punkers bent on smashing up stuff", or "complainants that suck of the nipple of the social welfare state and do nothing to change their position"), is an idiot.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Billie Pritchett

    Peter Marshall's Demanding the Impossible is a wonderful expose of anarchism. Marshall painstakingly examines the major figures and their biographies, the history of anarchism, and the core ideas that underly this '-ism.' "Anarchism" is an awfully scary word but the basic principle is a suspicion of centralized government. You can compare it to what is sometimes called "libertarianism." Libertarianism advocates that we should have the most minimal government possible. Anarchism goes a step furth Peter Marshall's Demanding the Impossible is a wonderful expose of anarchism. Marshall painstakingly examines the major figures and their biographies, the history of anarchism, and the core ideas that underly this '-ism.' "Anarchism" is an awfully scary word but the basic principle is a suspicion of centralized government. You can compare it to what is sometimes called "libertarianism." Libertarianism advocates that we should have the most minimal government possible. Anarchism goes a step further and says we should not have government at all. The core concern of the view survives, though, wherever people are suspicious of authority and is against any position which assumes that authority is self-justifying; rather, if someone or some institution is in a position of power, they had better be able to give some reason for occupying that position. So the core concern goes. Anyway, this was one of the more interesting and engaging works of ideas I've read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kate Savage

    If this were subtitled "A History of European Anarchist Philosophy," I would be less disappointed in this book. The anarchist ideas and movements that are relevant to me hardly appear. Instead of the rich and lively anti-authoritarian experiments that have happened throughout the world, this book focuses on the intellectual Authorities, the big men with their big ideas, who -- surprise surprise -- at some point try to make themselves secret presidents of secret societies and betray the hope at t If this were subtitled "A History of European Anarchist Philosophy," I would be less disappointed in this book. The anarchist ideas and movements that are relevant to me hardly appear. Instead of the rich and lively anti-authoritarian experiments that have happened throughout the world, this book focuses on the intellectual Authorities, the big men with their big ideas, who -- surprise surprise -- at some point try to make themselves secret presidents of secret societies and betray the hope at the heart of anarchism. Though Emma Goldman appears, she is called an "unoriginal thinker." Proudhon believed that a woman equaled 8/27 of a man. Though Marshall takes him to task for his misogyny, I wish the book he wrote was at least 8/27 women. Also what about people of color, queer folks, and all the big wide rebellious world outside of those dusty white-man books?

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sander

    This is an outstanding encyclopedia of/on all thought, action, theory, history, synthesis, antitheses and cosmology, not just of Anarchism as an idea, but all political/ philosophical/ theological thought that incorporates the notion of human freedom. Im only half-way through but its the kind of book that's hard to put down. Happily -since reading this book I no longer feel Anarchy is possible which is why I imagine the books title is what it is- but this is a good thing. Why it's impossibility o This is an outstanding encyclopedia of/on all thought, action, theory, history, synthesis, antitheses and cosmology, not just of Anarchism as an idea, but all political/ philosophical/ theological thought that incorporates the notion of human freedom. Im only half-way through but its the kind of book that's hard to put down. Happily -since reading this book I no longer feel Anarchy is possible which is why I imagine the books title is what it is- but this is a good thing. Why it's impossibility outweigh's it's possibility is important, I feel, as its in its impossibility that we may find something meaningful.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Everyone agrees that there's such a thing as too much government. But how much is too much? Anarchists say that any government is too much. Not surprisingly, those who have advocated this extreme position have included some colorful characters, so there are entertaining anecdotes in Peter Marshall's book. A good overview of anarchist history up to the Cold War. Everyone agrees that there's such a thing as too much government. But how much is too much? Anarchists say that any government is too much. Not surprisingly, those who have advocated this extreme position have included some colorful characters, so there are entertaining anecdotes in Peter Marshall's book. A good overview of anarchist history up to the Cold War.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Will

    Absolutely fantastic. Covers everything (really; everything) in a concise, detailed, and objective way. Individual chapters on thinkers and subjects are accessible for people unfamiliar with the content and insightful even for those who know the subject. Spent the best part of two months going through it cover to cover. Can’t recommend it more highly.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kristoffer

    Remarkable and well-read history of the many facets of anarcho-syndicalism, discussing their roots in everything from Ancient China to Kropotkin, Bakunin, Thoreau, the Situationists, Gandhi and Wilde.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I had wanted this book for a long time and they had it at Pages Coffee Bar and Used Bookstore in Conway, MA. What an amazing little bookstore!!! Highly recommend it if you are in the area, it made me happy to patronize them. I had wanted this book for a long time and they had it at Pages Coffee Bar and Used Bookstore in Conway, MA. What an amazing little bookstore!!! Highly recommend it if you are in the area, it made me happy to patronize them.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dayton

    I tend to agree with another person's review of this book "Blowing away cobwebs of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, this is a stimulating & portrait of a highly varied but distinctive political ideal, tradition, and practice arising from the enduring human impulse to be free." I tend to agree with another person's review of this book "Blowing away cobwebs of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, this is a stimulating & portrait of a highly varied but distinctive political ideal, tradition, and practice arising from the enduring human impulse to be free."

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I read the first bit of this and skimmed a bunch of it. Another volume that I can't wait to get my own copy of for some deeper perusal. Really REALLY good collection. I like Marshall's style as well. I read the first bit of this and skimmed a bunch of it. Another volume that I can't wait to get my own copy of for some deeper perusal. Really REALLY good collection. I like Marshall's style as well.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    There are a lot of stupid ideas in here and even the author's personal analysis of these ideas is kind of off at times but still, for a summary of all these different schools of thought you're probably not gonna find anything better. There are a lot of stupid ideas in here and even the author's personal analysis of these ideas is kind of off at times but still, for a summary of all these different schools of thought you're probably not gonna find anything better.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sean Gardner

    A must for anyone interested in Anarchism and it's history! Highly recommended! For the seasoned as much as for the curious... A must for anyone interested in Anarchism and it's history! Highly recommended! For the seasoned as much as for the curious...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Willie Whelan

    Easy to read, comprehensive history of Anarchist thought.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pensive_sojourner

    A very comprehensive and informative history with great biographical information as well on the major anarchist thinkers and practitioners.

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