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Politics & Freedom: Anarchism & Conservatism - PHI00118I

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Christopher Jay
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

In some ways, it is hard to imagine two more diametrically opposed philosophies than anarchism and conservatism. But both anarchism and conservatism come in many varieties, and there are interesting and surprising things that some anarchists and some conservatives agree about. This module will investigate views about liberty, authority, value and justice, and explore the ways in which scepticism and an emphasis on liberty can be developed in very different directions.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

  • To understand different forms of two political philosophies.

  • To introduce students to the critical study of demanding historical and contemporary texts which deal with often controversial subjects in a measured and analytical way.

  • To think carefully about various issues in value theory and other moral and political issues.

  • To gain confidence and improve students’ ability to write and communicate clearly and precisely.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students should be able to:

  • Explain what proponents of several forms of conservatism and anarchism believe, and why.

  • Explain some of the arguments motivating conservativism and anarchism, and some of the issues in value theory and other areas of philosophy which those arguments are about.

  • Articulate clearly and precisely what is at issue in debates about political authority, the value of tradition, rationalism in politics, and liberty; and reach a careful judgement about what to say in those debates.

Module content

Many anarchists agree with many conservatives about the importance of liberty, and in their trust of individuals. But anarchism is a radical political philosophy, whilst conservativism is (often) resistant to radical politics. How do these shared commitments lead to such different political ideals? In fact, both anarchism and conservatism are broad churches, with deep disputes between different kinds of anarchists and between different kinds of conservatives. We will investigate some of the ideological connections between, and some of the divisions within, anarchism and conservativism.

Along the way, we will consider various issues including the value of liberty, scepticism about political institutions, the role of tradition and the rationality of ‘status quo bias’, whether we have a general obligation to obey the law, the advantages and dangers of optimism and of pessimism, and how to think about justice. We will read historical and contemporary texts, some famous and some more obscure, and we will consider arguments which those texts present and, in many cases, reconstruct missing arguments and take a step back to consider broader philosophical ideas, from philosophy of law, ethics and the study of rationality, as well as political philosophy, which inform or give us a useful perspective on the claims of our authors.


Task Length % of module mark
Summative Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Summative Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

All feedback will be returned within current University and Departmental guidelines.

Indicative reading

Key texts may include:



Ruth Kinna, The Government of No One: The Theory and Practice of Anarchism

Rationalist Utilitarian Anarchism

William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1st Ed. [1793]) (Oxford: OUP (2013)), Book III Chapters 3–6

Individualistic Associationism

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, ‘The Authority Principle’ [1851] in Daniel Guérin (ed.) No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism (Compete Edition, Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2005), pp. 81–98.

Emma Goldman, ‘Anarchism: What it Really Stands For’ in Anarchism and Other Essays (New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1911)

Socialist Anarchism

Petr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread (Cambridge: CUP), Chapter 4.

Michel Bakunin, God and the State etc. in Readings from the Founder of Anarchism

Ruth Kinna, ‘Kropotkin’s Theory of Mutual Aid in Historical Context’, International Review of Social History 40 (1995), pp. 259–83.


Conservativism as an Attitude to Change, and the Rationality of Status-Quo Bias

Michael Oakeshott, ‘On Being Conservative’ in Rationalism in Politics (London: Methuen & Co., 1962)

Geoffrey Brennan & Alan Hamlin, ‘Practical Conservativism’, The Monist 99:4 (2016), pp. 336–51

F. A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty [1960], ‘Postscript: Why I am Not a Conservative’, in The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2011)

Conservative Valuing

G. A. Cohen, ‘Rescuing Conservativism: A Defence of Existing Value’ in Finding Oneself in the Other (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press)

Geoffrey Brennan & Alan Hamlin, ‘Conservative Value’, The Monist 99:4 (2016), pp. 352–71

Conservativism, Epistemology and Organisation

F. A. Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty: A New Statement of the Liberal Principles of Justice and Political Economy (London: Routledge, 1982 [1973–9]), Vol. 1 Chapter 2 (‘Cosmos and Taxis’)

Conservativism Applied

Amy R. Baehr, ‘Conservatism, Feminism, and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’, Hypatia 24:2 (2009), pp. 101–124

Roger Scruton, Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously About the Planet (London: Atlantic, 2012), Chapters 1 & 8.

Anarchism and Conservatism


Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, selections from Property is Theft

Petr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread (Cambridge: CUP), Chapter 1 Section II

Voltairine de Cleyre, ‘In Defence of Emma Goldman and the Right of Expropriation’ [1894], reprinted in The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader (ed. A. J. Brigati, Oakland, Cal.: AK Press, 2004).)

Jeffrey Brennan, Why Not Capitalism? (Oxford: Routledge, 2014), Chapter 4. (Read Chapter 2 as background.)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.