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


Like most Americans, I grew up in an intellectual atmosphere in which the idea of anarchism was invariably portrayed as a doctrine of willful destruction and blind violence, and thus in my youth anarchists became stereotyped in my mind as vile and unsavory creatures, enemies of all that was pure and good in life. Some years ago I chanced upon the writings of Adin Ballou, a native American Christian anarchist, and was dumbfounded to discover that not only was the idea of anarchism deeply rooted in American culture but as a political theory, anarchism does not in any way accept violence as a tactical mode of action or an essential principle. This mind-opening experience led me to delve more deeply into the writings of anarchists both at home and abroad and to think on my own in terms of what they were trying to say. As I have learned more about the subject of anarchism, I have been distressed to discover that the essential nature of anarchist thought has been seriously distorted not only by the press but by social historians as well. So great has been this distortion that with John Turner, the English anarchist writer who was turned away from our shores in 1903 because of his ideological loyalties, "I fear that trying to tell Americans what Anarchism means is like attempting to give an account of 'foreign devils' to the Chinese."

This book is the result of my concern that the record ought to be made more accurate with reference to what anarchism is all about, and thus I have attempted in the pages that follow to give as honest an account of what American anarchists have said and [viii] believed as is humanly possible. I say "humanly possible" because I fully recognize how difficult it is to construct an accurate report of what anyone believes in the realm of ideology where subjective feelings and hard objective facts stand back to back in a shadowy twilight that invites the observer to interpret what he sees after the familiar patterns of value he holds in his own mind's eye. In order to minimize the distortion that inevitably accompanies any social or political writing, I have attempted throughout this study to report what anarchists have said as closely as possible after their own viewpoints with as little interpretation of my own as possible; I may well have failed in my quest for objectivity but this has not been because of a lack of good intentions on my part.

If a candid avowal of my own ideological sympathies would be helpful to the reader in judging the authenticity of what follows, I am quite willing to confess that I am something of an anarchist myself, for I invariably find myself reacting positively to the arguments that anarchists raise concerning important social issues and I am firmly convinced that the kind of stateless world anarchists envision is the kind of world in which I would like to reside myself. But it is one thing to call oneself an anarchist and quite another to define with any precision exactly what anarchism is, for there are a great many different categories of anarchist thought. I have not sought to establish my own preference as to what particular brand of anarchist thought is most sound, for this would be special pleading, indeed, but have been content to let the reader judge for himself which is most worthy. This attempt at objectivity has led me to write a much longer book than I had originally planned, but since in the past, anarchism has not received the attention it deserves, brevity was simply not possible. In determining the points at which I should begin and end this study, the nature of my subject matter again proved to be so broad that I was forced to exercise arbitrary judgment in this regard also. And since the political developments of the post World War II era seem to have precipitated an entirely new way of viewing anarchism, I have chosen 1945 as my cut-off point, leaving the contemporary period of anarchist thought to be treated elsewhere.

When I first started this study some ten years ago, the only published histories of American anarchism were Eunice Schuster's Native American Anarchism and James J. Martin's Men Against [ix] the State. While both of these works are still valuable as a source of information concerning the ideological viewpoints of those who have embraced the idea of anarchism, they both primarly focus upon the individualist phase of the idea and thus leave out of consideration the many other facets of anarchist thought. George Woodcock's Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements published in 1962 is a superb general history of anarchism but does not deal at any length with the development of the idea in America. In recent years several histories of anarchist thought in America have appeared but none of these has managed to avoid interpreting the idea from a predominantly liberal bias. Gerald Runkle's Anarchism: Old and New is written more as an epitaph than a serious analysis of what anarchists believe, while Corinne Jacker's The Black Flag of Anarchy discounts what the anarchist has to say because: "Fine though his dissection of the evils of the State and government may be, unanswerable though his ethical stand may be, he does not recognize the practical necessities of day-to-day living. . . ." As with all liberal accounts of anarchism, the notion that formal social control through government is the bedrock of reality misleads these authors into concluding that the idea of anarchism is wholly impractical and already dead as a viable plan for human action, and thus it is necessary that yet another book on the subject be written.

Among the more recent books that have attempted to portray anarchism nearer to the way that anarchists view the idea themselves, several deserve special mention. Yehoshua Arieli's Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology is invaluable for the insight it gives into the social and economic characteristics of anarchist thought during the crucial period of the eighteenth century; while Robert Nisbet's monumental work, The Social Philosophers: Community and Conflict in Western Thought, is one of the most scholarly and objective treatments of anarchism that I know of. If we would really understand anarchism, of course, it is to anarchists themselves that we must turn, and hence it is necessary to mention two recently published works, Daniel Guerin's Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, and Giovanni Baldelli's Social Anarchism; if one were imited to only two books about anarchist theory, either of these would be well chosen, although neither of them deals with American anarchism in particular.

I wish to acknowledge the generosity of the University of [x] Chicago Press for allowing me to use material that originally appeared in Ethics; the Institute of Government at the University of Utah for material that appeared in The Western Political Quarterly; and the Extension Divison of the University of Wisconsin for permitting me to include excerpts from "Art, Nature, and Revolution," which appeared in Volume 9, Number 3, of Arts in Society. I also owe gratitude to The Houghton Library of Harvard University for permission to publish quotations from the letters of Josiah Warren to Stephen P. Andrews and from three unpublished manuscripts of Joseph Ishill. Finally, I am indebted to Morgan Gibson of Goddard College for permission to use his poem, "Before Undressing the Liberals," as well as his comradeship back in the days when it was difficult to find anyone in academia who would not snicker at the mere mention of the word "anarchism." As to the other individuals who gave me assistance in completing this study, I owe particular gratitude to my students over the years who have forced me to probe ever deeper into the meaning of anarchism and to put what I have learned into writing. To Professor Mulford Q. Sibley of the University of Minnesota, I owe thanks not only for the inspiration he gave me when I was a graduate student but for my initial introduction to the idea of anarchism and its libertarian implications. I am most appreciative of the kindness of Edward Weber of the University of Michigan Library for helping me find mateials in the Labadee Collection; and the editorial board of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, along with Professors Paul Avrich and David Thoreau Weick, for invaluable assistance in understanding what anarchists have been trying to say. I also gratefully acknowledge the research associateships I have received from the Faculty Research Committee of Bowling Green State University, as well as the support I have been given by Pat and Ray Browne of the Bowling Green Popular Press. Finally, I wish to express deep gratitude to my wife, Doris, for her unstinting help in editing this manuscript when she had much more interesting things of her own to do, and to my son, William Robert, for his illustration of the text.