The Reluctant Anarchist

The Reluctant Anarchist--Joseph Sobran
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And its result is a kind of anarchism of the spirit and of experience.

This approach culminates in the Emersonian ideal of self-reliance and nonconformity. But it does not lead toward active resistance to the state. Like Ballou, Thoreau seems to believe that human government is nearly nothing. This attitude also helps to explain why Thoreau has remained a significant figure in mainstream discussions of American political philosophy.

Despite his anarchist sympathies, his withdrawal from society at Walden pond, and his anti-state civil disobedience, Thoreau is not a radical revolutionary who calls for radical destruction of the status quo although his later support of the violent abolitionist John Brown indicates that he is not opposed to violence on principle — as later anarchists would.

Nor does he advocate complete retreat into a commune — as Christian anarchists such as Ballou did.

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He takes some modest action on his ideas. But he is not calling for a utopian anarchist revolution based in a religiously oriented ideas about allegiance to the Kingdom of God. But like Emerson — and like later pragmatists — Thoreau appears to have doubts about utopian communities and religiously based anarchism. Emerson and Thoreau articulated skepticism toward government that is grounded in the ideal of self-reliant individualism — not in utopian aspiration. Henry James Sr. But like the others in this circle, James was critical of government.

Moreover, James notes that no government lives up to the standard of absolute justice.

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Instead, he thought that there should be a reform in social and political institutions which would be directed by universal and cosmopolitan norms grounded in human rights and the Golden Rule. William James also links this critique to the search for a moral alternative to war, nationalism, and militarism. Pragmatists like William James were skeptical of absolutizing systems — both in metaphysics and in political life.

James is particularly critical of the massiveness of modern nation-states. Mass society is not conducive to the sort of trust and familiarity that is essential for political legitimacy grounded in the consent of the governed. Mass society is a breeding ground for alienation and skepticism. The anarchist strain in American pragmatism is linked to skepticism about the justification of large social institutions, which is connected with pragmatic skepticism toward absolutizing philosophical systems.

Pragmatic meliorism is aimed at incrementally improving the world, not at radically revolutionizing it based upon some utopian ideal. Nonetheless, the direction of improvement for the American pragmatists is oriented around the critical insight into the failure of justification and the legitimation crisis that haunts the large political structures of mass society. Moreover, this tradition is skeptical about the motives of politicians and doubts about the usefulness of values embodied in political formulas.

This social and political skepticism holds that it is difficult to see the value in larger systems and institutions, which reify political life and give politicians increasing amounts of power. From this perspective, the state begins to lose its legitimacy. We mentioned that Emerson was also skeptical of anarchy — for Emerson there is a flux of moods and no one should tyrannize over the others, including the tyrannical desire to destroy the state and create anarchy.

But as American Imperialism spread under Roosevelt, James criticized such big heroic adventures, nationalism, militarism, and the rest of the Roosevelt agenda. The connection between anarchism, anti-Imperialism and pragmatism is found in skepticism about the significance of absolutist and monistic philosophical and political systems. Rather — like Emerson and Thoreau — James longed for a smaller world that made sense to individuals.

James put it this way in another letter to Sarah Wyman Whitman; June 7, :. The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost… At some point, as the scale of things — technologies, economics, politics — increases, there is a qualitative shift and the personal and humane is lost amid the machinery of mass life.

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James saw in anarchism a movement that was close in spirit to his own pluralistic approach to the world. In Lecture VII of Pragmatism , James used political and social metaphors to describe the world as it appears to pragmatists. He explicitly connects his ideas with anarchism. This happy-go-lucky anarchism is closely related to a sort of skepticism, especially skepticism directed at big, absolutizing, and monistic systems. While not calling for direct action against the state, James is advocating for a kind of freedom that occurs through the employment of skeptical and anarchist criticism.

James points out that it is the bigness of things that alienates us and disenchants us. The primary focus of lived experience is the micro-level of individual life.

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That is where things make sense. Swift eventually would write a book in entitled Can Mankind Survive? Jane Addams, for example, was accused of being an anarchist.

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Addams travelled to Russia to meet Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian anarchist. As part of the backlash in response to the McKinley assassination, anarchists were rounded up and jailed in Chicago. Addams went to the mayor of Chicago to complain on their behalf. But Addams remained committed to the political process and the legal traditions of the United States. Addams held that the state ought to be dedicated to the defense of individual rights — even defending the rights of anarchists who were opposed to the state.

Throughout her account of her dealings with the Russian anarchists, she makes it clear that she thinks that the American system is superior — at least in principle, due to its legal orientation and its system of justice. While sympathetic to anarchist critiques of the status quo, Addams was skeptical of their radical political tactics.

For James, the problem of big mendacious institutions was not to be solved with direct action.

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Rather, the goal was to find a melioristic, pluralistic, and happy-go-lucky alternative to imperial power. It is not clear what this would look like in practice. However, one key is skeptical criticism of absolutism and imperialism in both metaphysics and political life. But the anarchist themes in the early American tradition found a receptive audience in Europe. Nietzsche quoted Emerson in order to point out that the individualistic pursuit of philosophical genius is more important than allegiance to the State.

In a letter from , Tolstoy praised Garrison, Emerson, Ballou, and Thoreau — as authors who directly influenced his thinking. One could outline further connections between anarchism and pragmatism. But an exploration of subsequent developments in anarchist thought and in American pragmatism would require another article. This tradition is obviously skeptical about political power. Another common theme is praise for small systems of things and the belief that large systems tend to prevent community, undermine autonomy, and leave us alienated.

Anarchists tend to be skeptical of large institutions such as the State. This skepticism is shared by the early Christian anarchists in the American tradition, by Emerson and Thoreau and the Transcendentalists, and by pragmatists such as William James and Jane Addams. The longing for a smaller world in which things make sense is connected to a skeptical and critical approach to political reality, to a pluralistic approach to the world, and to a critique of absolutizing philosophical systems. The fact that individuals no longer feel at home within the waves of mass society and the large systems that govern our lives indicates a reason for skepticism about political life.

A similar sort of alienation can be experienced with regard to philosophical systems. Philosophical pragmatism, pluralism, individualism, and anarchism are linked. But the skeptical formulation of these ideas give us reason to be cautious with regard to direct action and social and political movements. They were philosophical anarchists, not political revolutionaries. One cannot simply propose to destroy those large-scale systems that produce alienation and anomie.

Rather, the solution is to recognize the problem of mediation and alienation within mass society as well as the absolutist and monistic tendencies of metaphysical systems. This recognition points toward a cure: to find ways to reconstruct social and political life —and to approach metaphysical and ethical philosophy — in ways that are more humane and less alienating, more pluralistic and less absolutist. Philosophical anarchism in this tradition is oriented around the hope that somehow the world can be reconstructed in more humane, pluralistic, and democratic ways.

Addams J. Ballou A. C ain W.

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My arrival (very recently) at philosophical anarchism has disturbed some of my conservative and Christian friends. In fact, it surprises me, going as it does. My arrival (very recently) at philosophical anarchism has disturbed some of my conservative and Christian friends. In fact, it surprises me, going.

Coon D. Cotkin G. Emerson R. Ferguson K. Fiala A. Garrison W. James H.

Reflections of a Would-Be Anarchist

James W. Kennan G. Kro potkin P. Manicas P. Nietzsche F. Rosenwald L. Swift M. Simmons A. Thoreau H. Hanging on the ropes, she made a fantastic impression, like a creature somewhere between snake and bird. Oh, had I but never left the path That would have led me to freedom Oh, that on the broad avenues Of vanity I had never strayed I have awakened in a dungeon With chains on my hands.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria, She further alienated the Viennese aristocracy by filling her personal staff with Hungarian nationals. In , Hungary became an equal partner in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Franz Joseph was crowned King of Hungary and Sisi became queen.

Here she displayed surprisingly down-to-earth behavior for a royal: holding hands with the dying, and speaking to patients about their needs. The empress was fascinated with new innovations in the treatment of the insane, and even toyed with the idea of opening her own psychiatric hospital. By the s, it was clear Sisi was suffering from a serious mental illness herself.

Marie Valerie, the one child on whom Sisi doted, wrote of finding her mother laughing hysterically in a bathtub. The empress frequently spoke of suicide to a terrified Franz Joseph, and turned to mediums and psychics to help cure her mental anguish. In , her beloved son, Crown Prince Rudolf, was found dead with his year-old mistress, Mary Vetsera, at the Mayerling hunting lodge, sending Sisi into a steep decline. Though both Rudolf and Vetsera left behind notes, the circumstances surrounding their deaths remained a mystery; rumors of a double murder persisted. With her liberal, progressive son dead, she knew that the creaking empire of Austria-Hungary could not last.

And so, Sisi wandered. The end came on September 10, , when the empress was visiting Geneva under an assumed name. So he approached Sisi as she walked along a dock to board a ship, attacking her with a small triangular file. After the blow to her chest, Sisi stood up thinking she had been punched, but collapsed shortly after boarding the ship.

In fact, Lucheni had stabbed her. Though medical help was called, Sisi soon died of internal bleeding. Her heart had been irreparably pierced long before her murder, however. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! Twice a week we compile our most fascinating features and deliver them straight to you. This Day In History. Who Was Boudica?

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