Comparing Anarchism, Capitalism, Fascism & Communism

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the differences between anarchism, capitalism, fascism, and communism. We will compare and contrast the key elements of these philosophies, and cite examples from history.

Political Philosophies in the United States

Every four years the people of the United States have the opportunity to elect a national leader. During presidential election season you'll find that many people have very strong opinions. Often they are in complete support of one candidate, and are totally opposed to the other. You know, the routine: some people are Democrats and others Republicans, and the two sides argue about the best candidate and the best path for our nation.

But despite their differences, at the end of the day, both Democrats and Republicans still have a lot in common. They both support democracy and the foundational freedoms our nation was built on. They can still talk with one another at school or work. They don't attack one another or burn each others house down (at least we hope not, right?). Okay, that was a joke. Anyway, here in the U.S., despite political difference, most people agree on a lot of core themes.

But not all political philosophies are so compatible. Some are very extreme, and because of this, they are diametrically opposed to one another. In this lesson we are going to look at some foundational global philosophies, namely anarchism, capitalism, fascism, and communism. If we look back at history, we will see numerous examples of violence stemming from a conflict between these philosophies. World War II, for example, was, in many respects, a conflict between forces of fascism and communism. Let's dig in, and learn about these systems.

Anarchism

Derived from the word 'anarchy', anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates human self-governance and is emphatically opposed to state authority. Basically, anarchists would say there is no need for government. They would argue individuals should be free to make choices and regulate their own lives apart from the authority of government. In the view of anarchists, the state is harmful and destructive, and should be eliminated.

A circle with an A in the middle is the symbol for anarchism.
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Now that said, we have to understand there is quite a bit of fluidity and variety within anarchism. There are all kinds of different strands of anarchists across the political spectrum. For example, there are leftists anarchists who support collectivization and communal living, and there are rightist anarchists who support free market economics and other ideals in line with libertarianism.

Sometimes there is a stereotype that anarchists just want to burn everything down. Certainly there are strands of militant, violent anarchism, but generally this is an incorrect perception. Some anarchists are even pacifists. The basic idea is that the state should not be in authority, and that humans should be free to work out their own self-governance in a context outside of state authority.

Capitalism

Capitalism is an economic system in which the means to create wealth are privately controlled (as opposed to being owned by the state). Capitalists lament government interference in industry. They argue the private sector is more successful in creating wealth than the state. Capitalists would say government control stifles economic growth. For example, take the state-operated Amtrak railroad company. Capitalists often cite the fact that Amtrak is not economically successful because it is run by the inept government. Their solution is to privatize the railroad, and by making prices competitive with the market, they argue Amtrak would be far more successful.

Capitalists argue competition within privately controlled industry increases quality and decreases prices. For example, if you have ten shoe manufactures competing against one another, the manufacturers are going to lower their prices and increase quality in order to appeal to consumers, because they want the consumer to buy their shoe! Capitalism also stresses the concepts of supply and demand. Sometimes you'll hear capitalism called free market economics. Modern capitalism developed following the Protestant Reformation in Europe, and was the driving force in America's transformation into a global superpower.

Fascism

What does everyone think of when they think of fascism? Usually Nazi Germany, or Mussolini's Fascist Italy. Fascism is a right-wing political system in which the state exercises complete control over economics and society. Fascism is usually nationalistic. It is extremely authoritarian. Basically in a fascist state, the government is always right: you do what the government says, or else... Today the term usually has a negative connotation. In modern politics, sometimes liberals apply the term to conservatives in an attempt to demean them.

Nazi Germany is a classic example of a fascist state.
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