William O. Reichert, Partisans of Freedom: A Study in American Anarchism, 1976.


When the average citizen is asked to describe the image he carries in his head as to what anarchism stands for, he generally responds with the cartoon stereotype which pictures the anarchist as a wild, bomb-throwing malcontent who possesses no love whatever for the human race or any of the cherished values upon which civilization has been built. Historians and political scientists have been less given to accepting that stereotype without question but even a few of them have added to the confusion that surrounds the anarchist idea by typing at least one wing of anarchist thought as dedicated to violence as a fundamental principle. For example, shortly after the assassination of President William McKinley, it became accepted practice for American political scientists to draw a rigid distinction between philosophical anarchism and anarchist communism on the grounds that the former did not embrace the use of violence whereas the latter did. Thus in 1926 Charles E. Merriam maintained that anarchist groups in the United States may be divided into the "philosophical and the fighting anarchists, one believing in the attainment of anarchy by the peaceful processes of evolution and the other by the employment of force and by revolution."1 A few years later Westel W. Willoughby gave support to Merriam's definition when he maintained that the philosophical anarchist is to be distinguished from the anarchist of deed or of action on the grounds that the former believes that anarchism must be established by the peaceful processes of persuasion and enlightenment, whereas the latter does not believe [2] that society will naturally evolve toward its perfection without the assistance of the revolutionary act.2 This neat but misleading dichotomy has dogged the idea of anarchism ever since, causing that viewpoint to appear uninviting in the eyes of succeeding generations of Americans. But as a careful look at the basic political thought of American anarchists demonstrates, the conviction that violence must be deliberately employed in order to carry off a successful social revolution was not a necessary principle in the mind of any reputable American anarchist, whether he be classified as an individualist or an anarchist communist. There are, of course, real distinctions to be drawn between the many different varieties of anarchism which were found in this country but the question of the deliberate employment of violence and revolutionary force is not a meaningful categorical determinent and will not be used to choose between the various anarchist groups in this study.

When the Congress of the United States sought to ban anarchists like John Turner from our shores by law, the members of that legislative body were evidently of the impression that anarchism is a foreign ideology that could never taint the pure thoughts of the American citizenry unless it were imported from abroad like fruit flies, Japanese beetles, or some other variety of infectious pest. Where Congress went astray in formulating its immigration policy was in failing to recognize that thousands of native-born Americans had already been introduced to anarchism not by reading radical tracts imported from abroad but by a process of spontaneous intellectual combustion that was sparked at the precise moment that they first thought out for themselves the full social and philosophical implications of the concept of freedom upon which this political culture was originally formed. It cannot be stressed too strongly that both as an idea and as an ideology, anarchism focuses directly on the heritage of freedom that is fundamental to this country and is thus as "American" in character as the Fourth of July. The conviction that anarchism begins and ends with liberty is the central theme of this study and the essential foundation of the definition of anarchism to follow.

To argue that anarchism completely embraces the idea of freedom as it developed historically in America is to invite the criticism of those historians and political scientists who hold that the genius of American politics is exhausted in the liberal tradition of political thought. Building on the theoretical underfootings laid by Hobbes [3] and Locke, the liberal view of freedom postulates the theory that iibv- J and government are two sides of the same coin and that one is not possible without the other.3 The liberal, to be sure, believes in limited government, for as both Hobbes and Locke freely acknowledged, where political power is permitted to concentrate in the hands of an unapproachable sovereign, there tyranny and oppression inevitably follow. The liberal solution to the problem of maximizing freedom was to design a political system that guaranteed the individual his personal freedom on the condition that he would obey the demands of the state insofar as this was essential to the maintenance of public order. There were, of course, to be careful safeguards erected around the awesome power of government to prevent it from reenacting the lawless behavior of the monarchical tyrants of old. And thus it was that liberals drew upon the wisdom of philosophers like Montesquieu as well as Hobbes and Locke to fashion a carefully balanced political machine that would be strong enough to curb the excesses of individual egocentrism but flexible enough to permit its subjects to exercise their own tastes and desires in the realm of individual freedom.

As liberal theory worked itself out in practice, however, there has been more emphasis upon the demands of collective security than there has been on individual freedom, for implicit in the basic idea of government is the correlative principle that its own survival must come before the free exercise of rights by the individual whenever a conflict develops between them. Liberals are quick enough to sing the praises of liberty as an abstract ideal, of course, and hence they claim a deep concern for the defense of individualism. Saul K. Padover gives us a classic example of liberal theory with reference to individual freedom when he writes: "Unlike other cultures, where emphasis has been on the state or the society, in the United States the stress has been on the individual. . . . Americans have placed the individual at the center of their political life. They have taken the position that government exists for freedom, and that freedom means individual freedom vis-a-vis government."4 However much Liberals may insist that the power of government over the individual is limited and that his rights come first, it is quite clear that there is a point at which liberalism faces a serious contradiction, and this is with reference to the basic problem of political sovereignty. If the state, which is to say, government, has the ultimate power to reverse or [4] veto any decision made by an individual even when acting in accordance with his own rational judgement, the Liberal is forced to admit that individual rights and power are not in fact inalienable but very definitely subject to limitation by a superior sovereign force. And once he has made this admission, he can no longer fully embrace the notion that the individual comes before any other consideration when public policy is being forged on the political anvil; obviously the Liberal really believes that public order and necessity come first or he would not admit that there is any reason whatever for curtailing the powers of the individual.

Whatever other faults it may possibly possess, anarchism, unlike liberalism, cannot be criticized on the grounds that it accommodates its dedication to the principle of individual freedom to the demands of power and public order. Anarchism is distinguished from other political ideologies, in fact, precisely because of its rejection of power and formal organization. Anarchists recognize that power is a definite and necessary characteristic of all social situations but they draw a careful distinction between social and political power. So long as there are human beings there will naturally exist subtle forces of social control which make collective social action and cooperation possible. Anarchists deny, however, that this control must be exercised by government over the individuals of whom society is composed. Viewing the world from a position of libertarian concern, anarchists maintain that political power wielded by government can never be acceptable in their eyes as a legitimate mode of social control because it crushes out individual freedom. And where individual freedom is absent, social life becomes impossible, for society is nothing more than the sum total of the free acts of the individuals of which it is composed.

In order to appreciate the essential nature of the anarchist idea as it has developed in America, we must clearly understand that anarchism is basically a species of libertarian thought. Although it is only in the last few years that the term itself has come into prominence, anarchists have long recognized that their basic philosophic orientation was derived from the libertarian model of freedom.5 Peter Kropotkin, the chief theorist of nineteenth century anarchist communism in Europe, addressed himself directly to the close relationship that exists between anarchism and Hbertarianism when, in discussing the nature of the state, he pointed out that men from the beginning [5] of time have fallen into one or another of two categories.6 On the one hand those who hold to the Roman or imperial tradition. Often called "statists," these are people who place their trust in hierarchy and formal political authority. The adherents of this view maintain that public order is impossible without the state and that men are incapable of living in peace with one another without the assistance of formal institutions of organized power and leadership. Where organized government is absent, the imperialists maintain, order and liberty are also non-existent. The centralization of government within the modern democratic state has been forced by the imperialists, for they have been highly successful in convincing the mass of men that social life without the guiding hand of the state is an impossibility. Americans need only look as far as their own Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist Party for a model of imperialist thought.

The other tradition Kropotkin makes mention of is the popular or federalist tradition. If we seek a name that will convey its precise meaning, Kropotkin wrote, we might well call it "the libertarian tradition." The libertarian, unlike the imperialist, totally distrusts hierarchy, formal political authority, and organized government. Convinced that men are created by nature for a genuine social life, although they have not yet attained any significant degree of this potential, the libertarian, according to Kropotkin, denies that external compulsion and force are essential to order and peace. To the contrary, human freedom is only possible where men abandon the state and seek instead to create social life through the principles of federalism, mutual aid, and self-discipline. Kropotkin's emphasis upon the necessity of renouncing formal orgainzed control by government and turning instead to the individual as the central focus of social life is the distinguishing characteristic of all anarchist thought and the rationale for proclaiming the philosophy of libertarianism the essential foundation of all anarchist theory.

What anarchism and libertarianism hold in common is a thoroughgoing commitment to the proposition that the one and only modus operandi of government is force and coercion, either actual or implied. When the actual dynamics of governmental activity are examined in depth, according to both the libertarian and the anarchist, it is clearly evident that the single device in its entire bag of tricks is the physical retribution it is capable of exercising against its subjects in a most ruthless and inhumane fashion when all other methods [6] of control have failed. Force and coercion, however much they may be sugar-coated with deceptive language by legalists intent upon defending the reputation and sovereignty of the state, are in final analysis totally foreign elements in any formula for liberty or freedom. For "In its most fundamental sense, the sense from which the other senses stem, and the sense which is historically the earliest, liberty (or freedom) is the absence of coercion by other human beings. To the extent that a person is forced against his will to do something, he is not free."7 When the libertarian announces himself the adamant enemy of government, it is because he considers government and the coercion it relies upon the moral enemy of human freedom. Hereafter, whenever an individual is identified as an anarchist in this study, it is to be taken for granted that his basic social and philosophical outlook is essentially libertarian.

However necessary it may be for the sake of accuracy to establish the connection between anarchism and libertarianism, a switch in labels is not in any way a final solution to the problem of understanding anarchism. As Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the man who coined the anarchist label in the first place, well knew, names, like words, are always meaningless until we have plumbed the symbolic depths that lie behind them and have clearly analyzed the character of the means by which any particular philosophy would achieve its ends. If we would understand anarchism more exactly, therefore, we must address ourselves to the anarchist's claim that freedom is not only his primary value or goal but that it is the means by which he would bring about the kind of world in which he would like to live.

When anarchists speak of liberty as being fundamental to their basic philosophy, they are not engaging in mere rhetoric. "Liberty," as one American anarchist wrote, "is not a declaration, or even an inspiration, it is a science."8 That is to say, liberty, in the anarchist frame of reference, is not so much a goal to be striven for as it is the essential means by which the goal of human freedom itself must be realized. This, of course, is why the anarchist is the sworn opponent of all attempts to achieve freedom through the use of organized government, for government, as we have already insisted, is impossible without resort to force and compulsion at some point. As strange as the idea may at first appear, this rejection of force is fundamental to the thinking of all anarchists, and is the essential foundation of anarchism's entire philosophical structure.

Undoubtedly the main reason why the noncoercive character of anarchist philosophy has never been apparent to the American people is that the basic nature of the political world we live in renders the anarchist a revolutionary. Since power does exist at any given time in the nands of an elite of governing leadership, the anarchist is perforce placed in the position of calling for the elimination of established power through revolution. And the word "revolution" tends to send shivers straight to the hearts of those who fear the consequences of political upheaval.

What Americans fail to realize when they condemn the anarchist for his revolutionary ardor is that revolution is by no means an alien phenomenon in America but the very basis of the freedom they profess to cherish so much. As one astute observer has pointed out, the greatest obstacle that stands in the way of a real understanding of what freedom really means in this country is the failure of Americans "to remember that a revolution gave birth to the United States and that the republic was brought into existence by no 'historical necessity' and no organic development, but by a deliberate act: the foundation of freedom."9 That is to say, the idea of individual freedom and the concept of the American republic are for all practical purposes synonymous and we cannot understand the genius of America until we have thought out the full social and political implications of "the heritage of liberty bequeathed us by the Declaration of Independence. As more and more historians are coming to see of late, the conception of human right spelled out in the Declaration is not merely a rhetorical device but a solid statement of what Americans really believed during the eighteenth century as to the nature and function of government as it pertains to the individual. Since the "right of revolution was justified by presidents as well as prophets, by politicians in power as well as by radicals out of it" during the first one hundred years of this country's existence,10 it can hardly be charged that the anarchist is outside the pale of civilization when he, too, claims a right to it. If the right to rebellion in pursuit of freedom was an original right of the American people, it remains the most basic of civil liberties, and those who urge its exercise, as Thomas Jefferson and countless other patriots persisted in doing, are acting fully within the scope of the American conception of freedom.

Perhaps^ the main reason why anarchism has been so poorly interpreted in the past is that the concentration has been on its alleged [8] dedication to violence rather than on its philosophic foundations, and so it is to its essential historical beginnings that we must return. Like most other modern political ideas, anarchism was initially inspired by the sight of the downtrodden lower orders in eighteenth century France rising in spontaneous rebellion against the heartless rule of a corrupt, effete aristocracy. One of anarchism's most pronounced characteristics is its insistence that the slave is not only entitled to rise up against his master and overthrow him if he can but that he actually has a duty to do so. But unlike many other ideological groups that applaud the struggle for freedom that was central to the French Revolution but which ignore the brutal carnage and political machinations that accompanied it, anarchists clearly recognize the negative aspects of coup d'etat, even when it is conducted in the name of liberty and the popular will. Slavery is always the implacable enemy of human freedom and is to be stamped out by all means. The anarchist insists, however, that the fight against tyranny be waged by autonomous groups acting in response to their own internal feelings and not by organized governments or mobs led by professional militants. For all their sympathy for the French people against the abuses of aristocracy,11 anarchists "did not like the centralization of power they saw in the Revolution, the unitary collectivism the Revolution represented, and the stringent laws prohibiting free association of the people in cooperatives, communes, and labor unions. . . ."12 They were moreover, greatly disturbed by the bourgeois thinking demonstrated by many followers of the Revolution in the face of the rapidly expanding industrialization and concentration of property that came in its aftermath.

As the sociologist, Robert Nisbet, perceptively notes, anarchists totally rejected the view of political modernity first advanced by the Jacobins and later given a more elaborate theoretical structure by Marx and Engels.

The anarchists did not accept, as did Marx and the main line of radicalism in the West, the necessity of violence and terror; they did not see history as a unilinear, inexorable and irreversible process, as did the Marxists; they opposed utterly the centralized collectivism that the Revolution ushered in and that Marxism, from the Manifesto right through to Lenin and Stalin took virtually for granted. Without exception, the major anarchist philosophers, beginning with William Godwin in England . . . through Bakunin, Proudhon, and Kropotkin, down to Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, rejected this legacy of the French Revolution: the legacy of centralization and unitary collectivism. And with [9] their rejection of this went also a rejection of nationalism in any of its forms, socialist as well as capitalist."13

Nisbet puts his finger on the vital center of anarchist social theory when he insists that the crucial distinction in modern radical thought takes place with reference to the problem of modernity, Marxian socialists accepting "all the structural characteristics of capitalist production, including the factory system, technology, and the dominance of city over rural areas," and anarchists calling for the rejection "of the factory system, the complete decentralization of technology, and a general restoration of rural patterns of life."14 As we shall see in the following pages, the anarchist's dedication to the idea of agrari-anism as it was developed during the eighteenth century was basically determined by his fear that centralized industrialization would inevitably lead to centralized political control and thus the eventual destruction of the American notion of individual freedom. This is why the anarchist consistently places himself in opposition to the spirit of nationalism in all of its forms, including the pursuit of capitalist gain through imperialism and the creation of national wealth through state socialism.

To argue that the anarchist has historically placed himself against state socialism is not the same thing as saying that the anarchist rejects socialism. In point of fact, as Daniel Guerin points out, "Anarchism is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man."15 The anarchist quest for socialism during the first half of the nineteenth century in America largely followed the idea of mutualism worked out simultaneously but independently by Josiah Warren in this country and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in France. Primarily individualists, both Warren and Proudhon sought to eliminate inequality and economic servitude by building a strong social collectivity based upon a population of free individuals federated together in mutual support of one another without interference or control from government. In this phase of its development, anarchism was a clear reflection of Jeffersonian agrarianism. During the last part of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth, however, many anarchists, reacting to the changes that had taken place in industrial technology and the concentration of captial in the hands of powerful corporations, toyed for a time with the Marxian notion that the exploited workers needed to associate together in the trade union [10] movement as a first but necessary step in the direction of socialism; the Chicago Anarchists and the Free Society Group were both structured in their actions by this development. But this flirtation with Marxism was never a fundamental part of the anarchist idea in this country or any other, for that matter, and by the late 1930's the mood had passed and anarchists spoke as one in rejecting the conception of collective action under the aegis of the state as it was worked out by the Bolsheviks. Anarchists continued to divide on the question of which came first, the individual or the collectivity, to be sure, but there was never any question among anarchists that the state had no legitimate role in bringing socialism about.

By now it should be perfectly clear that the central idea of anarchism is the libertarian view that the state is a totally negative force when it comes to the establishment of human freedom. By way of definition, then, the term "anarchist," as it will be used in this study, applies to all those Americans who dedicated themselves to the realization of the idea of freedom by adopting a negative attitude toward formal social control in the hands of the state. The distinctive characteristic of anarchist thought as its proponents define it, in other words, is a thoroughgoing repudiation of the concept of the modern state with its omnipresent evils of power and coercive authority in the hands of a professional bureaucracy.

Not only did American anarchists derive their political theory from the eighteenth century but their basic social and philosophical assumptions were also structured according to the major ideas of that age. If anarchists in America can make any claim to originality or greatness, it has been said, it is for their achievement of a "true synthesis of the philosophy of the Enlightenment."16 Almost as misunderstood as anarchism itself, the eighteenth century Enlightenment has been portrayed by some historians as an age totally given to the simplistic notion that nature as it is found in the universe is to be explained according to mechanical laws set in motion by a "clock-maker" God at the beginning of time. It is on the basis of this charge that the Enlightment, with its great reliance on reason, has often been discredited. But enlightened philosophy did not in fact proceed along the lines of such a sweeping, jejune generalization as this. In the mind of the typical philosopher of the Enlightenment, the cosmos was synonymous with nature itself rather than the product of a deliberate act of an all-powerful deity who had the capability of willing the world [11] and all that is in it. Nature on the enlightened view, that is to say, is a process to be understood through human observation and understanding and not an inscrutable pattern of necessary laws and rules forced upon us by an omnipotent power that rules from outside the human spectrum.

The distinction drawn here between nature as a reflection of the will of God and nature as process is fundamental to an intelligent analysis of anarchism as well as enlightened thought. If nature is the result of God's deliberate will, then God possesses a monopoly of power, and man, consequently, can never be anything more than a powerless creature whose very existence depends upon strict obedience to the rules laid down by his divine benefactor. Under this circumstance, it would be sheer folly for man to attempt to steer his own course through life, for he could never hope to live intelligently through the exercise of his own imperfect faculties. Where God is thought of as the creator and ruler of the universe, the only possible definition of reason left to man can be that of perfect faith and dependence upon the will of God, the supreme ruler.

Where nature is defined as process, however, man need not be relegated to a position of impotence regarding the course and quality of life. Under this view, the laws of nature are not hard and fast propositions laid down by a superior power that must be obeyed under all circumstances by the subjects for whom they have been made. The laws of nature, rather, are to be discovered by man in the process of life. "Life alone spontaneously creates real things and beings," Michael Bakunin once proclaimed.17 This statement embraces and makes clear at one and the same time the central theme which anarchism shares with enlightened thought.

In anarchist writings of the late nineteenth century, the idea of nature as process takes the form of evolutionary theory. In the early period of its development in America, however, nature was viewed more in terms of its aesthetic qualities than its biological properties. But in both instances anarchist thought centered around the enlightened idea that there is a design of freedom imprinted in nature that must be released before human beings can realize their true being. Man, in the enlightened view, possesses a natural capacity for social life and expression, just as all living things in nature do. But in the process of becoming human, man, leaving his basic animal characteristics behind, has built a complex superstructure of [12] institutionalized patterns of behavior that now define his character and function in a wholly artificial way. Man's basic nature is a reflection of the joy and beauty of nature itself, but the demands of advanced civilization have robbed him of his natural social heritage and have crippled his creative power. Enlightened thought proposes that this embroglio might be solved to the extent that men can learn to rely again upon their own powers of critical reason instead of the rules and laws formulated for them by others.

Enlightened thought does not conceive of reason as a facet of the intellect so much as it does the natural capacity for life that man shares with all things in nature. To possess reason, on this view, is to instinctively know the inherent form of a thing. Enlightened philosophy, however, does not subscribe to the theory that all the knower can do is to passively describe the pattern of nature he perceives through his faculties of sense. While nature is thought of as consisting of a series of essential and necessary forces that exist prior to the act of perception, the individual who does the observing is not considered to be unimportant to the process. Enlightened philosophy projects the idea "of an original spontaneity of thought; it attributes to thought not merely an imitative function but the power and task of shaping life itself."18 Things are what they are by virtue of the inherent forces they possess and without which they could not function or exist. Yet at the very same time it is clear that the act of perception in and by itself is important to the character of the thing observed, for without that act the thing could not exist. Man does not in any literal sense create the forces he discovers in nature, since they are there prior to his act of discovery, but the rules and laws of nature remain hidden from him until he exercises his critical faculties to reveal what lies beneath the surface of illusion.

In final analysis, then, nature "is not the sum total of created things but the creative power from which the form and order of the universe are derived."19 And the faculty of reason is primarily subsumed in the act of criticism by which man tears down the walls and veils of unexamined appearance which custom and habit have surrounded things with. Convention, tradition and authority are impediments which man must get behind before he can discover the true forms of nature, for in the realm of human affairs, as in the realm of the natural sciences, it is necessary to clear away the false theories and beliefs of the past before real understanding and [13] perception can begin to take place. This is why Voltaire and all the other great thinkers of the Enlightenment praised the act of tearing wn the structure of existing systems of thought, whether they had to th theological truths or scientific propositions. For until the illusions and misconceptions that blind mankind to the true order of things are removed, the business of reconstructing knowledge and social life on more solid foundations cannot begin.

Nowhere is the influence of the Enlightenment more pronounced than in the conception of freedom advanced by anarchism. For most men, freedom appears to be little more than a rhetorical device by which the emotions of others may be aroused, or perhaps an empty phrase which they speak as mindlessly as they greet one another on the street. Even for the Liberal Democrat who takes freedom much more seriously than most other men, freedom is defined negatively in that the formal rights reserved to the individual are a residual product of the political process; public order maintained through the power of the state is the Liberal Democrat's first concern after which he concerns himself with freedom. For the anarchist, however, it is not enough to define freedom as a body of rights that one possesses on the sufferance of the state or society. For the anarchist as for the philosopher of the Enlightenment, freedom or liberty is intimately connected with the basic condition of human rationality and is essential to the business of being a social being. Freedom on the anarchist view is not a body of formal rights arbitrarily granted to the individual but an inherent quality the individual possesses in his very capacity as a social being, although all men must undergo an internal struggle before they can liberate themselves from the forces which prevent them from enjoying their natural condition of freedom.

Fundamental to an intelligent understanding of anarchism is the "positive doctrine of liberation by reason" which lies at the basis of all enlightened thought. Compulsion and force, in this view of freedom, play no part whatever, for the individual is envisioned as a wholly autonomous agent who has the power to direct his own actions at every point. Rather than being an artificial construct of society, freedom is conceived of as a reflection of man's rational nature. On this theory, that man is free who, knowing a thing to be necessarily true, voluntarily bends his will to conform to the rational necessity he intuitively feels within himself. There is no suggestion,whatever here offeree or external control, for the rational individual envisioned by [14] enlightened thought could not if he wanted to, depart from the direction which reason relays to his will. As Isaiah Berlin puts it: "What you know, that of which you understand the necessity -- the rational necessity -- you cannot, while remaining rational, want to be otherwise."20 Actual men do not always immediately recognize what is true and what is not, of course, for their passions and prejudices have a tendency to trick them into following unreasonable patterns of behavior from time to time. In point of fact, the vast majority of men at any given point in time will be found to be laboring behind a veil of illusion forced upon them by their own individual neuroses and fears as well as by the collective neuroses and fears of the society of which they are a part. To see through this veil to the rational light that lies beyond is to liberate oneself from myth, the basis of all human ignorance and social malaise.

All anarchists, however they may be classified as to their economic or philosophical beliefs, agree on the fundamental proposition that human slavery starts and ends with myth. Man as a political animal is the product of countless generations of development wherein he has progressively enslaved himself by fettering his reason with the chains of superstition and fear. The anarchist holds that the precise point at which man lost his freedom cannot be determined but we can be relatively certain that the cause of his enslavement stemmed from his forebears' readiness to grovel in the dust at the feet of the gods they erected to protect them from the things they could not understand or control. Man's greatest enemy in this regard has been himself. Unable to attain that solidarity that is essential for real community, mankind has from the earliest of times taken refuge in myth in a futile effort to find the security that is necessary to collective life. Mankind, to be sure, was never conscious of the fact that it was in the process of enslaving itself to the stultifying grip of a collective unconscious from which it might never escape again. For as Ernst Cassirer so perceptively notes, men who live under the sway of myth are never conscious of the fact that their lives are dominated by images and symbols which took form and shape in the dim recesses of the past.21 The impulses which surge through man as he performs his rites of magic and religious atonement are deep-seated, unconscious relics of the past over which he has absolutely no control. If he were conscious of their existence, he would no longer be under their power. [15] There is a sense, of course, in which the idea of myth is essential to the evolution of human freedom. Karl Jaspers gives demonstration of this when he argues that mankind needs to recover the original n ailing of its myths rather than destroy them altogether, for at the basis of every myth is a solid substratum of moral content which points the way toward the discovery of real religious value.22 Laying aside for the moment the positive side of myth, it is necessary to focus upon the fact that anarchism in America has been primarily concerned with coming to grips with the negative qualities of mythical thought as it is embodied in the state idea. In the eyes of the anarchist, "the ultimate superstition of mankind is the state,"23 and hence for him the highest form of moral act is to condemn both church and state as enemies of humanity. Firm in their conviction that reason and justice are essential properties of the human condition, anarchists have sought to make the Enlightenment's faith in freedom come true. The evolution of the anarchist idea in America is the story of a babble of voices as one freethinking son of the Enlightenment after another added his home remedy to the anarchist brew. But throughout the confusion of all this cacophony one theme is constant and this is the enlightenment idea that the beginning and end of philosophy is the concept of nature from which all human knowledge must be drawn. If man would be free, he must turn to himself in an effort to understand his enslavement to the power of the state. Anarchism, then, is essentially a theory of liberation aimed at the recovery of man's basic social nature through the destruction of the myth systems he has imposed upon himself and his progeny almost from the beginning of time.

When the anarchist speaks of freedom as being a quality implicit in nature, he reveals a deep commitment to the aesthetic as the true revolutionary force in society. In proclaiming art rather than politics the true revolutionary force in life, the anarchist does not in any way accept the argument of elitists who insist that only the noble few have the power to direct life intelligently. As Benedetto Croce points out, "the aesthetic fact is not something exceptional, produced by exceptionally gifted men, but a ceaseless activity of man as such; for man possesses the world, so far as he does possess it, only in the form of representation-expressions, and only in so far as he creates."24 We are artists all, the anarchist insists, and the consequences of our art is inevitably a better and more just world. But we do not consciously [16] work toward this revolutionary end, nor do we submit to any ideological design in terms of organizing ourselves and our activity. Life itself is our only blueprint and the methodology we discipline ourselves by is the spontaneity that is fundamental to human nature. At best, as Croce points out, there is a mere quantitative difference separating the ordinary man from the great artist, for the source of energy for both is their common human nature. Were the average man totally lacking in imagination and aesthetic sense, no artist could talk beyond himself. "The cult of the genius with all its attendant superstitions has arisen from this quantitative difference having been taken as a difference in quality," Croce points out. "It has been forgotten that genius is not something that has fallen from heaven, but humanity itself."25 To look toward political leadership for the initiative for social change, therefore, is to be turned in the exact opposite direction toward which we should be pointed.

Since Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was the first to call himself an anarchist, it is not improper that we start with his attitude toward art and the artist. Central to all of Proudhon's social thought is the idea that social progress stems from the activity of man's creative spirit. If we would build a sound society in the future, Proudhon maintained, we must somehow free man from the fetters which presently restrict his imagination and keep him in servitude to the political state and other instruments of repression. Human progress depends, according to Proudhon, not upon the reform of political institutions but upon the education of mankind in the ways of its own social nature, for man is basically a creative being who has been robbed of his natural social propensities by the crushing weight of the political restrictions he has imposed upon himself over the centuries. To the extent that man derives insight into the content and meaning of his own basic nature, he becomes capable of perfecting himself and living in freedom and social unity with his fellowman.

Displaying a genuine commitment to science in the very best sense of the term, Proudhon refused to confine his thinking within the rigid boundaries of any intellectual discipline, and hence he acknowledged poetry and art as being at least as important as sociology, economics, or political economy. In Proudhon's view of things, social progress takes place as the human race becomes reeducated in the ways of its own social nature. According to Proudhon, this is essentially a collective rather than an individual process. Yet Proudhon saw [17] clearly in his own mind that it is the individual rather than the mass i -ion whom progress ultimately depends. Mass society has no form %>m the individual, and it follows from this that social progress ca>. >nly take place to the extent that the individual differentiates himself from the mass. But, Proudhon insisted, the individual's redemptive progress cannot proceed faster than the general pace of social advance made by society as a whole, and hence it is impossible to draw a sharp line between the individual and the collective.

Central to Proudhon's contention that social progress stems from the activity of man's creative spirit is the correlative assumption that art is essential to the health of society, for the dialectical surge toward human perfection wends its way from one plateau of beauty to another. Truth, to Proudhon, was nothing less than the continuous progress of mind from poetry to prose." What is really fundamental in Proudhon's social thought is his libertarian idealism which led him to hope that man might in the future realize the social strengths he is capable of by nature by giving his imagination full play. "Man is by nature a sinner, -- that is, not essentially ill-doing, but rather ill-done, -- and it is his destiny to perpetually re-create his ideal in himself," Proudhon wrote.27 This is what Raphael, the "greatest of all painters," meant when he maintained that the function of the artist is not to portray man and things as nature made them but rather as they should be made, Proudhon continued. In final analysis it is the artist -- painter, writer, poet, philosopher, social critic—who must give society crucial insight into its own character. Where they fail to provide such guidance, society must flounder in its efforts to establish a real social order.

Peter Kropotkin, adapting anarchist theory to the nineteenth century notion of social evolution, followed Proudhon in maintaining that mankind is inevitably progressing toward social perfection. It is still not widely understood, however, that Kropotkin's fascination with the idea of nature was not so much scientific as it was aesthetic.28 And again, like Proudhon, Kropotkin is nowhere guilty of the superficial thinking which characterizes the outlook of the elitist, nor was he foolish enough to suppose that the purpose of art is purely didactic. The general effect of art is to inspire mankind as to what is true and beautiful, and in this task the artist is essential. But Kropotkin had no more use for the aristocratic principle in art than he did in politics. It is the people who produce great art, he maintained, [18] and not the chosen few. This is the reason for anarchism's total rejection of political power as a possible means of effecting social order. For it is only when the people are uninhibited by law and formal political authority that the creative energies of human nature may rise to the surface of human society and display themselves.

Given the American anarchist's penchant for free thought, it is not difficult to understand why Michael Bakunin's writings have been widely acclaimed in the pages of the many anarchist journals published over the years in this country, for he has left us with a great deal of helpful insight concerning the problem of overcoming mythical thought. To this day Bakunin at first strikes those who dare to read his writings as someone to be feared because of the apparent irrever-ance with which he denounces the idea of God. When Bakunin argued that it is necessary to abolish the idea of God from our minds if we would be free, however, his iconoclasm was not without noble purpose; he was opposed to the idea of God not because he favored the bad over the good but because it is before the God idea considered as supreme power that mankind has prostrated itself throughout history until today men are almost totally lacking in the strength to live in social order with one another. If we would again become free, we must abolish the very thought of God, i.e., myth, from our minds, for it is only thus that we have any hope of reclaiming the pristine social qualities of our human nature, Bakunin held.

Although Bakunin, like most everyone else who lived in the nineteenth century, was greatly affected by the philosophy of Hegel, he departed radically from the Hegelian conception of world order when he postulated the novel idea that history "is the revolutionary negation of the past."29 Man, essentially an animal, according to Bakunin, has behind him his primitive beginnings during which he erected a social structure built upon a foundation of language and thought. Rejecting this heritage as grossly inadequate, Bakunin called upon men to look forward to the development of their humanity in the future. In urging humanity to look forward to the future rather than back to the past, Bakunin put himself squarely within the Enlightenment view of human progress. According to Bakunin, "The only thing that can warm and enlighten us, the only thing that can emancipate us, give us dignity, freedom, and happiness, and realize fraternity among us, is never at the beginning, . . . but always at the end of history."30 What we must do if we would become socially whole again, which is to say [19] free, is to reject the mythical patterns of thought the human mind I -came steeped in during the primitive era of history and replace with rational patterns of behavior drawn from life.

In Bakunin's view of things, life and nature are not two separate and distinct entities but one and the same thing, and the primary quality that identifies them both is the power of human creativity which is synonymous with human rationality. Outspokenly critical of those of his contemporaries who interpreted the eye-catching achievements of nineteenth century science as an indication that the scientist is the true savior of humanity, Bakunin issued a severe warning against this kind of elitist thinking. "Life alone spontaneously creates real things and beings," he postulated. "Science creates nothing; it establishes and recognizes only the creations of life.31 And again he urged: "The sole mission of science is to light the road. Only life, delivered from all its governmental and doctrinaire barriers, and given full liberty of action, can create."32 When anarchists argue for spontaneity of thought and action over against a rigid adherence to formal rules and form imposed by authority, the basis of their preference is to be found in the aesthetic inclinations expressed by Michael Bakunin and others who describe life as being synonymous with nature.

Where revolution proceeds along the lines of the aesthetic paradigm, as the anarchist argues it must, human freedom becomes a distinct possibility rather than the mere rhetorical phrase it is on the lips of the politician and professional revolutionary. Far from ruling over the world through formal methods of social and political control, the artist considered as revolutionary persuades only via the means of rational influence. Where the political revolutionary -- i.e., the Jacobin, the Bolshevik, or the democratic politician -- utilizes power and law, the artist employs symbol and aesthetic form derived from nature to induce people voluntarily to accept the outline of a new and better kind of world. To the extent that art and nature are synonymous, anarchism thus presents itself as a highly useful guide to human freedom, and we would do well to pay heed to what those who have put themselves within this tradition have said. As the life stories of American anarchists clearly demonstrates, the idea of anarchism, although it may have become a minor phase of American political thought after a time, had much deeper roots in the culture of this country than most people realize. [20]


1. American Political Ideas (New York, 1926), p. 349. For a more recent discussion of violence as a central issue in anarchist thought, see Billie Jeanne Hackley Stevenson, The Ideology of American Anarchism, 1880-1910 (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Iowa, 1971). And for an exhaustive bibliography annotating the recent literature about anarchism, see Nicholas Walter, "Anarchism in Print: Yesterday and Today," in Anarchism Today, ed. by David E. Apter and James Joll (London, 1971), pp. 127-144.

2. The Ethical Basis of Political Authority (New York, 1930), p. 43.

3. See especially Oscar and Mary Handlin, The Dimensions of Liberty (Cambridge, Mass., 1961).

4. The Genius of America: Men Whose Ideas Shaped Our Civilization (New York, 1960), p. 14.

5. The interchangeability of the libertarian and anarchist labels is dealt with by Jerome Tuccille in his study, Radical Libertarianism: A Right Wing Alternative (Indianapolis, 1970), pp. 20-58. Unfortunately, Tuccille creates new confusion by suggesting that anarchism is properly described on the right of the political spectrum instead of the left where it belongs. Murray N. Rothbard's For A New Liberty (New York, 1973) is less extreme on this point, but he, too, considers libertarianism as essentially a facet of capitalist economics.

6. The State: Its Historic Role (London, 1946), p. 44.

7. John Hospers, Libertarianism: A Political Philosophy for Tomorrow (Los Angeles, 1971), p. 10.

8. William A. Wittick, Bombs: The Poetry and Philosophy of Anarchy (Philadelphia, 1894), p. 186.

9. Hanna Arendt, On Revolution (New York, 1963), p. 273.

10. Staughton Lynd, Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism (New York, 1968), p. 4.

11. See especially Peter Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution (London, 1909).

12. Robert Nisbet, The Social Philosophers: Community and Conflict in Western Thought (New York, 1973), p. 355.

13. Ibid., p. 356.

14. Ibid., p. 357.

15. Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, trans, by Mary Uopper (New York, 1970), p. 12.

16. Yehoshua Arieli, Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), p. 124.

17. God and the State (Bombay, n.d.), p. 65.

18. Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, trans, by Fritz G. A. Koelln and James P. Pettegrove (Princeton, 1951), vii.

19. Ibid., p. 326.

20. Four Essays on Liberty (London, 1969), p. 142.

21. The Myth of the State (New Haven, 1961), p. 47.

22. Myth and Christianity (New York, 1958), p. 17.

23. Edward Dahlberg, Do These Bones Live (New York, 1941), p. 142.

24. Aesthetic, trans, by Douglass Ainslie (New York, 1953), p. 416.

25. Ibid., p. 15.

26. System of Economical Contradictions, trans, by Benjamin R. Tucker (Boston, 1888), p. 448.

27. Ibid., p. 115.

28. One who has clearly recognized this aspect of anarchist thought is Donald Drew Egbert, Social Radicalism and the Arts: Western Europe (New York, 1970). See especially the sections on Proudhon, Kropotkin and Bakunin.

29. The Political Writings of Michael Bakunin, ed. by G. P. Maximoff (Glencoe, 1953), p. 173.

30. Ibid., p. 174.

31. Ibid., p. 70.

32. Ibid., p. 76.