An Anarchist Guide to Critical Thinking

Anarchists have long supported the idea of developing critical thinking skills among free individuals. Critical thinking skills are important to anti-authoritarians, who are critical not just of government authorities, but of all experts and dogmatic knowledge. Critical thinking is also important to liberatory learning, otherwise known as "learning without schooling." And given the ongoing problem among left activists of believing in conspiracy theories that are obviously wrong, we provide this anti-authoritarian and anarchist guide to critical thinking.

Readings on Critical Thinking

Topics in Critical Thinking

Concepts in Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking as Anarchist Methodology

by Lawrence Jarach

It is important to look at how critical thinking operates in terms of developing a course of action in the real world. The crucial components to critical thought are the following:


We notice that there is injustice and suffering in the world, and so we ask the question, "What's wrong?" We look at the mechanisms, institutions, and social dynamics that create and perpetuate injustice, and analyze them thoroughly, down to their root causes-hence the term radical. For example, there is violence in the world. We need to examine what we mean when we use the term and what other people mean when they use it; an anarchist definition will probably be different than that of a statist. We need to figure out why that is. Next we need to try to discover the main causes of violence, and who benefits from its continued existence.


We try to understand how a particular injustice is created and perpetuated, and why it's wrong. We study, discuss, and interpret the relevant facts and history of the problem, and begin to formulate a reasonable solution based on those facts. Using the example of violence, we develop our analysis by tracing its widespread practice by the various institutions that exist in the US, and what they have in common with other formal and informal institutions around the world. We will probably discover that, as the world has become more dominated by industrial capitalism, it has become increasingly more violent. A possible solution to the continued existence of violence, therefore, might begin with the idea of abolishing industrial capitalism.


We devise a set of goals for how we want to change the situation into one that fits our principles and analyses. This is where our overall vision is based. We try to figure out how to implement our ideas practically. A major goal of an anarchist strategy is to undermine people's belief in the legitimacy of the State, to make it possible for all people to gain confidence in retaking control of all aspects of our lives. Is one of the goals of anarchism to create a world where violence is minimized, or to create a world completely without violence? This will depend on how we define violence with our critique and analysis.


We come up with actions that are compatible with our strategy. The main question to ask is "What methods/tools can be used to achieve the goal?" The answer is whatever helps to make the goal(s) a reality; whatever is expedient at the moment depending on who's involved and what exactly we are trying to accomplish. Of course our tactics must be in keeping with our principles. But it is important to remember that tactics are not the same thing as principles. Non-violence is not an anarchist principle; it is a tactic.

Depending on the situation, we decide when it's convenient-or not-to adhere to non-violent guidelines. At times we may decide that it makes more sense to fight back with force. Morality plays no part in deciding upon which tactics to use in a given situation-it only matters what is compatible with our strategy and principles.

From Instead of a Meeting