by William Smith
Deliberative democracy has arguably become the dominant—perhaps even hegemonic—paradigm within contemporary democratic theory. The family of views associated with it converge on the core idea that democratic decisions should be the outcome of an inclusive and respectful process of public discussion among equals. The paradigm has evolved considerably over the previous decades, with an initial emphasis on the philosophical contours of public reason gradually morphing into a more empirical analysis of democratic deliberation within a range of institutional and non-institutional settings.
The ideological assumptions underlying deliberative democracy have surprisingly not received much attention, either within the field of ideology studies or political theory. It is a mistake to approach deliberative democracy as an ideology in its own right, but the normative aspirations and empirical assumptions of its orthodox iterations are clearly informed by liberalism and social democracy. It takes from liberalism the idea of citizens as autonomous agents that are capable of engaging in a mutual exchange of reasons with their peers. It takes from social democracy a progressive aspiration to refashion, though ultimately not abolish, the institutional architecture of an ailing representative system.
This ideological fusion can be seen, at least in part, as a reaction to the rise of new social movements and the resurgence of interest in civil society that accompanied the end of the Cold War. The deliberative paradigm emerged as an attempt on the part of thinkers such as Joshua Cohen, James Bohman, Seyla Benhabib, and—most influentially—Jürgen Habermas to steer liberalism in a more radical democratic direction, while insisting that emancipatory political projects must commit to the system of rights that underpin liberal constitutional orders.
The relative lack of attention to the ideological moorings of deliberative democracy is unfortunate for at least two reasons. First, it diminishes our understanding of the rivalry between the deliberative approach and alternative theories of democracy. It is, for instance, difficult to fully grasp what is at stake in the debates between deliberative democrats and their agonistic, participatory or realist interlocutors without appreciating their underlying ideological differences. Deliberative opposition to a resurgent conservatism and the far right should also be understood as a manifestation of its ideological commitments, rather than a mere expression of technocratic distaste for anti-rationalist populism.
Second, it clouds our view of the extent to which deliberative democracy is itself a site of ideological contestation. This is, at least in part, an upshot of internal tensions. The liberal influence on deliberative democracy heightens its concern for preserving order in the face of disagreement and conflict, such that achieving an accommodation between opposing societal perspectives is thought to take priority over the achievement of substantive political reforms. The more overtly leftist and emancipatory social-democratic influence is a countervailing force, which motivates criticism of the status quo and support for political change notwithstanding the risk that this may exacerbate political divisions.
There is, though, another process of ideological contestation at work. This process is revealed when we turn our gaze away from, as it were, the ‘centre’ of the deliberative paradigm, toward developments at its ‘periphery’.
There have, in recent years, been numerous attempts to implement recognisably deliberative practices within settings that are radically different to liberal democratic regimes. The most striking, in many respects, are the experiments with deliberative mechanisms in regions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Officials have periodically experimented with custom-made deliberative forums, as well as importing mini-public designs pioneered elsewhere. The ideological underpinnings of these developments are difficult to map, though the influence of the prevailing doctrines of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and ideas that can be associated with certain interpretations of Confucianism are evident. Baogang He and Mark Warren draw a connection between the use of deliberative forums in the PRC and a practice of consultation and elite discussion that has ‘deep roots within Chinese political culture’. They describe these experiments as instances of ‘authoritarian deliberation’, which is in turn presented as the core feature of a ‘deliberative authoritarianism’ that might serve as a potential pathway for political reform in the PRC.
The radical protest movements of the twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries have also emerged as unexpected but notable sites of deliberation. The democratic practices of these movements have evolved through an iterated process of experimentation, spanning, among others, the women’s liberation movement, the New Hampshire Clamshell Alliance, the Abalone Alliance, ACT UP, Earth First!, the global justice movement, and the transnational wave of ‘Occupy’ movements. These movements are ideologically heterogenous, but anarchism is a particularly prominent influence on their politics, cultures, and internal practices. I contend that we can analyse these practices as a kind of ‘anarchist deliberation’, which corresponds to the emergence of ‘deliberative anarchism’ as a process of political mobilisation among decentred and autonomous movements.
There may be some reticence in referring to ‘deliberation’ in these authoritarian and activist contexts, rather than similar but distinct concepts like ‘consultation’ or ‘participation’. The concept is nonetheless salient, as the practices under consideration are constituted by the adoption of a ‘deliberative stance’ on the part of participants. This stance, as defined by David Owen and Graham Smith, requires agents to enter ‘a relation to others as equals engaged in mutual exchange of reasons oriented as if to reaching a shared practical judgement’. The adoption of deliberative practices in various institutional or cultural settings is shaped, at least in part, through the various ways in which this core deliberative norm can be refracted through contrasting ideological prisms. In authoritarian deliberation, for instance, the egalitarian logic of deliberation is strictly limited to the internal relations of forum participants, against a systemic backdrop characterised by highly inegalitarian concentrations of power.
Anarchist deliberation, by contrast, is an intersubjective practice among activists that is shaped by the core ideological values of anti-hierarchy, prefiguration, and freedom. These values underpin a communicative process that is premised upon horizontal relations among participants recognised as equals, within autonomous spaces that emerge more-or-less spontaneously in the course of political mobilisation or mutual aid. These dialogic and expressive processes are instantiated within the networked organisational forms that have become synonymous with anarchist-influenced movements. Consensus decision-making is adopted within affinity group and spokes-councils as a means of both reaching decisions in the absence of hierarchy and prefiguring alternatives to the majoritarian procedures favored by parliamentary bodies. The consensus process is favoured because it is thought to amplify the voice of participants in various ways, allowing for the inclusion of diverse forms of expression against the backdrop of supportive activist cultures and shared political traditions.
The deliberative process performs important functional roles in political environments where alternative coordination mechanisms are prohibited by ideological commitments. Authoritarian deliberation, for example, facilitates the expression and transmission of public opinion to elites in circumstances where open debate and multi-party elections are not permitted. Anarchist deliberation, by contrast, enables heterogenous protest movements to arrive at collective decisions about goals and tactics in the avowed absence of centralised or top-down power structures. The General Assembly (GA) in Occupy Wall Street (OWS), for instance, at least initially performed the functional role of allowing participants to clarify shared values, agree on processes, decide upon actions and discuss whether the movement should adopt ‘demands’. The debates that occurred in the GA evolved into something of existential import for the movement, in that it was in and through the substance and symbolism of these large scale procedures that OWS forged a collective identity.
The ideological underpinnings of deliberative practices inform their character and complexion, as well as attempts to ensure their operational integrity. Authoritarian deliberation, as the name suggests, is characterised by extensive control of issues and agendas by political elites, albeit with scope for citizen participation in selecting from a range of predetermined policy options. Anarchist deliberation, as one would expect, is characterised by extensive participant control over agendas and debates, though there are a range of informal cultural norms that aim to ensure the fairness and transparency of the process. These norms are typically seen as more flexible and organic than the more formal rules that lend structure to deliberation within mini-publics in authoritarian or democratic contexts.
A recurring and much-discussed problem is nonetheless the emergence of informal networks of power and influence among activists, which tends to prompt much soul searching about whether more formalised rules or procedures should be adopted. David Graeber documents a particularly fraught meeting of Direct Action Network activists, where deep ideological divisions emerged over an apparently innocuous proposal to tackle gender inequalities in their ranks through the use of a ‘vibes watcher’ or ‘third facilitator’. These debates, he argues, may seem incomprehensible to outsiders, but are a matter of great significance to activists intent upon taming the corrosive influence of power while preserving the ideological integrity and ties of solidarity that underpin their political association.
The deliberative practices that emerge in authoritarian regimes and activist enclaves are treated as curiosities by deliberative democrats, but not as matters of primary concern. This is, for the most part, because neither authoritarian deliberation nor anarchist deliberation exhibits any sort of connection to democracy as it is understood within mainstream deliberative theorising.
The extent to which ideas and practices associated with deliberative democracy can be adapted within authoritarian regimes and radical activist networks nonetheless demonstrates the ideological fluidity of the broader paradigm. It is, in fact, possible to place the deliberative views discussed here on an informal spectrum. Each view affirms deliberation as an optimum means of generating collective opinions or arriving at collective decisions, though each takes its bearings from contrasting assumptions:
This spectrum captures the contrasting ideological influences shaping deliberative practices across diverse political and cultural contexts, enabling us to tease out interesting similarities and differences. Deliberative authoritarianism and deliberative democracy, for instance, converge in treating deliberation as a discursive practice that should exert a positive influence on state institutions at local or national levels, albeit with diametrically opposed visions of how state power should be constituted. Deliberative anarchism, by contrast, tends to resist any association with authoritarian or liberal democratic institutions, adopting an antagonistic and insurrectionary orientation toward state and non-state sources of hierarchy.
There are, to be sure, profound challenges confronting each of these perspectives, such that there must be at least some doubt about their future prospects. Deliberative authoritarianism, for instance, appears to be far less viable as a developmental pathway for the PRC in light of the recent tightening of political controls under the premiership of Xi Jinping. Deliberative democracy retains considerable hold over the imaginations of democratic theorists, but it is not clear whether and how it can shape democratic practices in an era of post-truth politics and increasing polarisation. Deliberative anarchism, for its part, may suffer from an ongoing fall-out from the various movements of the squares, which has seen intensifying criticism of a perceived tendency among radical activists to fetishise process over outcomes.
There are, notwithstanding these challenges, at least two lessons that we can take from setting out this informal spectrum of deliberative positions. First, it illustrates the reach and appeal of deliberation across contrasting political traditions. In other words, the basic idea of deliberation as a means of including persons in a common enterprise, pooling their experiences and perspectives, and arriving at collective views or decisions appears to cohere surprisingly well with a broad range of political ideologies and frameworks. This should temper superficial critiques of deliberation that casually dismiss it as a creature of liberal political morality.
Second—and I think more significantly—it reveals the contingency and contestability of the ideological basis of deliberative democracy in progressivist liberalism and social democracy. Deliberative authoritarianism and deliberative anarchism may not, in the end, pose an enduring challenge to mainstream interpretations of deliberative democracy, but their emergence nonetheless demonstrates that alternative iterations of its core ideas are possible. This should again give pause to those who are too quick to criticise the paradigm as inherently wedded to a broadly reformist or even quietist outlook. It should also, conversely, guard against political complacency on the part of its adherents, standing as a permanent reminder that tethering the idea of public deliberation to the political and institutional horizons of the present is neither necessary nor—perhaps—desirable.
 A. Bächtiger, J. S. Dryzek, J. Mansbridge, and M. Warren (Eds), The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
 M. Freeden, The Political Theory of Political Thinking: The Anatomy of a Practice, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 219-222.
 M. A. Neblo, Deliberative Democracy Between Theory and Practice, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 36.
 J. Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. W. Rehg, (Cambridge: Polity, 1996).
 W. Smith, ‘Deliberation Without Democracy? Reflections, on Habermas, Mini-Publics and China’, in T. Bailey (Ed.), Deprovincializing Habermas: Global Perspectives (New Delhi: Routledge, 2013), pp. 96-114.
 B. He and M. Warren, ‘Authoritarian Deliberation: The Deliberative Turn in Chinese Political Development’, Perspectives on Politics, 9 (2011), pp. 269-289. He and Warren discuss numerous examples of deliberative consultation at local or regional levels in the PRC, such as the use of deliberative polling to establish budgeting priorities in Wenling City. These mini-publics are comprised of ordinary citizens allowed to select policy recommendation after a structured process of deliberation, but their agenda and remit remains under the control of local CCP officials.
 F. Polletta, Freedom is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements, (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2002).
 W. Smith, ‘Anarchist Deliberation’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 27:2 (2022), forthcoming.
 D. Owen and G. Smith, ‘Survey Article: Deliberation, Democracy, and the Systemic Turn’, Journal of Political Philosophy, 23 (2015), pp. 213-234, at p. 228.
 B. Franks, N. Jun and L. Williams (Eds), Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach, (London: Routledge, 2018).
 N. Schneider, Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2013), pp. 56-64.
 D. Graeber, Direct Action: An Ethnography, (Edinburgh: AK Press, 2009), pp. 336-352.
 He and Warren, ‘Authoritarian Deliberation’, p. 269.
 L‐C. Lo, ‘The Implications of Deliberative Democracy in Wenling for the Experimental Approach: Deliberative Systems in Authoritarian China’, Constellations (2021), https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8675.12546
 M. Fisher, ‘Indirect Action: Some Misgivings about Horizontalism’, in P. Gielen (Ed.), Institutional Attitudes: Instituting Art in a Flat World, (Valiz: Amsterdam, 2013), pp. 101-114.
 I’d like to thank Marius Ostrowski for the invitation to write this post for Ideology Theory Practice and for his generous comments on the initial draft.
by John-Erik Hansson
The pages of the Journal of Political Ideologies testify to the resurgence of interest in anarchism in the last couple of decades. The number of articles on anarchism in the journal has increased rapidly in recent years; the last five years alone has seen articles covering everything from punk collectives and non-domination to anarchist hybridisation with other ideologies. This suggests that there is more work to be done to reconsider anarchism as a dynamic ideology concerned with contemporary political problems.
Three recent works on anarchism, the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism (2019), Anarchism: A Conceptual History (2018) and Kropotkin, Read and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism (2015), show how the field of anarchist studies has benefited from engaging with Michael Freeden’s morphological approach to the study of ideologies. They have done so in two ways. Firstly, from the perspective of political theory, these works—and especially the first two—have helped clarify the conceptual constellations of anarchism. This is useful for rethinking what contemporary anarchism is, even if the precise morphological structure of anarchism may still be up for debate. Secondly, from a more historical perspective, these works—and especially the first and third—have foregrounded the dynamic process of the constestation and decontestation of concepts. This helps us understand the agency of anarchist thinkers and activists in their geographical and chronological contexts and offers fresh and much needed perspectives on the intellectual history of anarchism. Beyond anarchism, this latter point hints at the potential rewards of a closer collaboration between historians of political thought and scholars in ideology studies.
The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism, edited by Carl Levy and Matthew Adams, is an essential resource for anyone interested in contemporary developments in anarchist studies. Its four parts provide a masterful overview of the theory, history, and practice of anarchism from a global perspective. Eschewing the well-trodden path of reconstructing anarchism and anarchist political theory on the basis of a set of canonical thinkers, the first part of the handbook introduces the subject through nine chapters dedicated to what the editors consider to be the “core problems / problématiques” of anarchism. This provides a solid base for understanding anarchism in the variety of traditions, historical circumstances, and applications presented in the rest of the work. The second, “core traditions”, outlines the diversity of intellectual and political tendencies in anarchism, from mutualism to anarcha-feminism, green anarchism, and post-anarchism. Part III of the handbook then deals with the history of the anarchist movement through a set of “key events” and moments from the late 18th to the 21st centuries; from the revolutions that form the historical perspective of early anarchism to the alterglobalisation movement. The last part explores the applications and limits of anarchist theories and perspectives. It explores the breadth of anarchist studies and suggests possible trajectories for the development of the field. Issues broached include, for example, anarchism’s relation to post-colonialism, indigeneity, food security, and digital society. As a whole, the handbook successfully delivers what the editors wanted: a “rich tour d’horizon” of anarchism and anarchist studies.
Although the editors do not frame it this way, the first part provides one plausible way of considering the morphological structure of anarchism. It even might be seen as progressing from core to peripheral concepts. In this reading, the state, the individual, the community, and freedom stand at the core (chapters 2, 3, and 4). They constitute the basis of the identity of anarchism throughout its history and remain stable components of anarchism today, regardless of internal divisions between, for instance, anarcho-syndicalists, mutualists, and anarcho-communists. Political economy, social change, revolution, and organisation (chapters 5 and 6) can then be seen as adjacent concepts that help understand the grounds for internal divisions within anarchism. The emergence of different perspectives and arguments on the desirability and viability of an anarchist market society, for instance, explain the split between mutualists and anarcho-communists. Finally, cosmopolitanism, anti-imperialism, religion, and science appear as peripheral concepts (chapters 7–10). These are concepts that became part of anarchism’s morphology in more specific circumstances and that informed political action and fostered dialogue with other ideologies and intellectual traditions.
Whether this is the best or most accurate conceptual characterisation of anarchism may be a matter of legitimate debate. As we will see with Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach, others exist. Still, it is a reasonable morphology. It accounts for the diversity of anarchist traditions and the distinctiveness of anarchism. To do so, it highlights many of the fault lines within anarchism and between anarchism and other major ideologies—such as liberalism or socialism—that have emerged over the last century and a half. The authors thus show that anarchism has been and remains a dynamic ideology, developed by a diverse set of actors in a variety of political and intellectual contexts. Moreover, chapters in this section are both analytical and programmatic. In his chapter on “Freedom” (chapter 4), Alex Prichard suggests that seeing anarchist freedom as a (radicalised) version of freedom as non-domination helps make sense of and overcome debates on the nature of liberty in anarchism. Contributors to the handbook not only track the different ways of thinking about the central concepts of anarchism, they also offer new perspectives on these concepts, thus feeding the process of (de)contestation.
In that sense, part I of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism both describes anarchism as an ideology but also intervenes in contemporary debates about its nature and identity. In Freeden’s terms, the handbook is at once interpretative and prescriptive; that is one of its strengths. Although the editors of the handbook do not frame it as such, the perspective that emerges may usefully be seen as a historically inclined response to a slightly earlier volume: Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach, edited by Benjamin Franks, Nathan Jun, and Leonard Williams. Whereas the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism is a wide-ranging overview of the field of anarchist studies, the explicit purpose of this latter volume is to present anarchism’s morphological structure of core, adjacent, and peripheral concepts. Among the core concepts are to be found what the editors identify as anarchism’s “basic values”—anti-hierarchy, freedom, and prefiguration (chapters 1–3), and the concepts that ground what anarchists do—agency, direct action, and revolution (chapters 4–6). Adjacent concepts—horizontalism, organisation, micropolitics. and economy (chapters 7–10)—complement the core and provide a more nuanced understanding of how anarchists think and act politically together. Finally, the peripheral concepts—intersectionality, reform, work, DIY [Do It Yourself], and ecocentrism (chapters 11–15)—relate the conceptual core of the ideology to more concrete forms of political actions given contemporary political concerns.
As is to be expected, there is much overlap between the two morphologies. However, one of the central differences between may be the absence of a chapter entirely dedicated to the State in Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach. Other differences of note regard what I have identified as the peripheral concepts of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism’s morphology. In Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach, they include notions such as intersectionality (chapter 11), DIY (chapter 14), and ecocentrism (chapter 15). By contrast, peripheral concepts of the handbook include, for example, religion and science (chapters 9 and 10). This suggests important differences of ideological commitments within anarchism—and there are—but there is another explanation for such variation.
In my view, this has to do with the different intellectual projects related to anarchism that these two works pursue. The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism seems to me to be more concerned with anarchism’s history than Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach. While the former volume builds a morphology that is perhaps more appropriate to understanding anarchism in the longue durée, the latter provides a morphology that is especially appropriate for both interpreting 21st century anarchism and defining possible political strategies for anarchists. By proposing a more systematic analysis of key concepts in anarchism, Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach suggests a definition of anarchism as a political ideology deeply embedded in contemporary politics. This proposed morphological structure, the editors hope, can then be used to spark further discussions in the field as well as suggest “the possibilities for developing solidarities based on shared norms and practices”. However, this does not mean that the morphological structure proposed in The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism is solely historical and interpretative. While it recasts anarchism in its conceptual history, it suggests new paths to explore for contemporary scholars of anarchism and for anarchists alike. If Prichard’s account of anarchist freedom is correct, then new “solidarities” and discussions could emerge between contemporary anarchists and republicans and anarchists might be encouraged to rethink their approach to rulemaking in relation to those of other activists.
Taken together, then, Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach and the first part of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism offer two distinct perspectives on anarchism as a political ideology, by considering its relationship to different if broadly overlapping concepts. In and of itself, this is a valuable addition to discussions of contemporary anarchist political theory. What it also provides is a framework for recasting the intellectual history of anarchism. The development of anarchist ideology can be understood in terms of two intertwined dynamics: (1) that of the contestation and decontestation of concepts (including their adoption and abandonment), and (2) that of the ordering of concepts as core, adjacent, or peripheral. Late nineteenth-century debates in the First International, which led to clearer distinctions within socialism between Marxists and anarchists, are classic instances of particularly intense processes of ideological contestation and decontestation. Matthew Adams, in his chapter on “Anarchism and the First World War” in Part III of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism (chapter 23), makes the case that the diversity of anarchist responses to the First World War also constitutes a peculiarly intense moment of ideological contestation. He demonstrates how the disagreement on the war between Pëtr Kropotkin and his supporters (who supported the Entente) and Errico Malatesta and his supporters (who opposed the war altogether) was not so much a betrayal of anarchist ideas and ideals as a reconfiguration based on local circumstances.
What makes Adams’s chapter particularly compelling, however, is what the framework of ideology studies lacks from theoretical perspective: an understanding and account of context. Against what social, cultural, political, and intellectual backdrop do the morphological structures of ideologies change? What local problems were thinkers and activists trying to solve? Combining the study of ideology and a broadly contextualist approach to intellectual history gives us the tools to rethink the development of traditions of thought as they become essential parts of political ideologies.
Matthew Adams’s Kropotkin, Read, and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism, is a prime example of such a successful combination. It is an attempt to shed new light on and account for the development of (British) anarchism through the sustained contextualisation of the Pëtr Kropotkin’s and Herbert Read’s anarchist theories. It shows both continuities and discontinuities in the British anarchist tradition. Kropotkin and Read reformulated their commitments to “the rejection of authority encapsulated in the modern state, trust in the constructive abilities of free individuals, faith in the unitary potential of communalist ethics, and belief in the equity of communised distribution” to respond to locally specific circumstances and political languages. The consequence was that, while such core claims remained, new adjacent and peripheral claims were made. As Read contributed to the re-circulation of Kropotkin’s thought, he developed anarchist theory in directions which would either not have been available to or contextually strategic for Kropotkin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
For instance, although Adams considers that Herbert Read developed a more systematic anarchism than is often recognised, he also demonstrates that the language and concepts of nineteenth-century sociology, so useful to Kropotkin, “could be an impediment” to the further circulation of his philosophy, which emphasised culture, art and aesthetics. Reviving Kropotkin’s ideas in the mid-twentieth century led Read to reformulate them and bring them in relation to new concepts in a new context, in which “systematic ambitions were unfashionable and brought to mind a particularly uninspiring form of Marxism”. The relative stability of the core claims of anarchism from Kropotkin to Read is then best understood as an agent-driven reconstruction of anarchism’s conceptual constellations, its morphological structure, given new political, social, and cultural contexts.
The key to Adams’s insights into the intellectual history of (British) anarchism is methodological. His work testifies to the fruitfulness of the combination of a contextualist approach to the history of political thought and a morphological approach to the study of ideologies. The history of anarchism has benefited from this methodological insight, but other ideologies should as well. The field of the history of political thought as a whole would benefit from greater engagement with Freeden’s approach to ideologies. Conversely, the field of ideology studies would likely also benefit from greater engagement with more historical approaches, from contextualism to Begriffsgeschichte. Further embracing interdisciplinarity and such methodological combinations can only sharpen our understanding of the political ideologies and traditions that structured and continue to structure our worldviews.
 Michael Freeden, “Interpretative Realism and Prescriptive Realism”, Journal of Political Ideologies 17(1) (2012), 1–11, https://doi.org/10.1080/13569317.2012.651883.
 Benjamin Franks, Nathan J. Jun, and Leonard A. Williams (eds.), “Introduction”, in Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach (New York: Routledge, 2018), 8.
 Franks, Jun, and Williams, 10.