Anarchy – Never Been Tried? Part V: Anarchy in the U.S.A.???
This is the fifth in a series of posts on historical free and anarchic societies by guest-author Daniel Hawkins
Americans are in trouble.
If you’ve been watching the news at all lately, you know this is true. The American government is larger than it has ever been before.
The healthcare industry is being completely transformed into something horrendous. The United States military has bases in over 130 countries, and is rapidly expanding into Africa. The National “Security” State is by-far the largest it has ever been, spying on nearly everyone on Earth. Domestic police have been killing an average of 500 innocent civilians every year for the past 10 years. FDA raids are being conducted against people who sell lemonade and raw milk. Entitlements are completely insolvent. The government spends about twice the amount on corporate welfare for industries like pharmaceuticals and energy than it does social welfare (which is still a problem). Promises aren’t being fulfilled by those who’ve made them. The poor are getting poorer, the rich richer. The dollar’s value is tanking. Things aren’t looking good.
And it’s this isn’t new. The US government has been heading down this path for a long time. The march to despotism started has been a long and disturbing one: policies like the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Trail of Tears, slavery, segregation, the policies enacted during the Civil War, the Espionage Act, the creation of the Fed, the New Deal, internment camps, the Red Scare, the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, the PATRIOT Act, the NDAA, and about every war the US government has been involved with, and a myriad of other things that would and should terrify any sensible person have all contributed to where we are today.
But as bloated and corrupt and slimy the US government is, there is still some hope. Like always, to find the solution for the future, we must look to the past. It’s probably hard to believe now, but Americans haven’t always been so docile and brainwashed. In fact, I bet what I’m about to tell you will change the way you think about how society can work, even with such an oppressive government as ours.
America was founded by Anarchists.
Yes, it’s true. But let me make a note: I’m not saying Washington or Lincoln were Anarchists. They definitely weren’t. No, I’m talking about our lost forefathers. I’m talking about the radicals, the rebels who said “hell no” to Statism long before it was this big of a problem, and who so bravely laid a road map for how we should tackle today’s problems.
The Apostles of Anarchy
Most Americans know something about every state—a little stereotypical fact or something. In many minds, Pennsylvania is famous for Philly cheese-steaks, the Constitutional convention, Amish furniture, and chocolate. But what if I said Pennsylvania should be famous for Anarchism?
Founded by William Penn in the late 1600s, the colony of Pennsylvania was settled mostly by members of the Society of Friends (more commonly called Quakers). Though they weren’t the first or only group to practice Religious Anarchism, the Friends are a special group of people. With no formal ties to any organized body, the Quakers have always celebrated individuality and uniqueness. Most people in the 1600s didn’t like this. Amid constant wars between Theocrats, the Quakers found the common denominator in this chaos and sought to eliminate it: the State.
Cast out by their peers as a fringe sect, the original Quakers sought places where they could freely practice their faith. The young and promising America provided such a haven. And they needed one. Though their members still differ widely on the political spectrum, many Quakers have a penchant for anti-Statism. Holding pacifism as a central tenet of Quaker life, they have traditionally opposed taxes, conscription, nuclear arms, and the worship of or loyalty to the very earthly and very imperfect State. And while their ideologies vary from Communism to Capitalism, many Quaker colonies have made their living as rather brilliant entrepreneurs within their communities and outside them.
William Penn was a Quaker himself, and in the beginning, he was a benevolent ruler. His incentives to immigrants brought in diverse jobs, and he made it a point (through treaties and community action) to foster an amicable, if not equal, relationship with the Native American population. The ethical principles of the early Quakers permeated Pennsylvanian culture and spread throughout the colony. With their 12,000+ lives already separated greatly from the more regulated, stratified European States, Pennsylvania became an intensely independent place. In fact, Penn lifted all taxes (which were already very light) on the colony for two years. Unfortunately, power corrupts, and it did. The colony’s unique bicameral legislature operated in a very dubious way, and tensions within and without the parliament soon rose.
Following the inevitable path of Statism, Pennsylvania society separated into the politically connected and the common taxpayers. The Quakers, as pure as some of them were, were no exception to this rule. Those with influence within Penn’s circle held sway over domestic business and politics. As governor, Penn even granted himself a lime monopoly that caused anger with those who wanted to compete, and he also passed laws prohibiting any written criticism of himself or his government.. As young as it was, the once egalitarian and peaceful colony seemed on the verge of collapse.
After they had a taste of it, the commoners of Pennsylvania couldn’t get enough of their freedom. Simply put, they wanted to do what they wanted. It sounded crazy then, and sadly, it sounds crazy today. They just wanted to practice their faith and associate with each other without anyone telling them what to do. They refused to pay feudal quitrents, they refused to pay taxes, and they refused to call their parliament to session. The powerful, on the other hand, wanted more privilege and wealth to siphon from the colonists. The governor tried to administer his colony, but the tides of liberty were strong, and he couldn’t help but to make more and more concessions. Penn even sent military and administrative officials to uncooperative communities, but to no avail.
By 1690—after about 10 years of Anarchy in Pennsylvania—Penn lost his authority over the colony. The colonists went about in a voluntary, peaceful, prosperous way long after he died. The parliament met occasionally, but only a handful of resolutions were passed. The people didn’t need or want their government. Parliament couldn’t help but practice “salutary neglect.” Pennsylvania grew ever-more unique, creating their own commodity-backed currency and welcoming other outcast sects like the Amish. They even had Natives from the area come into their communities as traders, babysitters, and jurors. Pennsylvania’s treaty with the Natives remains, to this day, the only treaty ever signed and fulfilled by white settlers.
Sadly, though, all good things must come to an end. The Anarchist dream of Pennsylvania eventually fell apart. After the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War brought Philadelphia to the forefront, where Benjamin Franklin and other founders launched their campaign against Great Britain. Pennsylvania’s currency was replaced, their government replaced by the Continental Congress, and their men enlisted into Washington’s army. After the Revolution, the colony became a state, and was assimilated into the United States of America. A few—albeit passionate—rebellions were staged against the young (but tyrannical) US government. But the free people of Pennsylvania were crushed by the very people who claimed to represent freedom. But for about 30 (or more) glorious years, Pennsylvania was truly free and beautiful.
But Pennsylvania isn’t alone in its dream. Throughout history, religious societies opposed to the State have flourished. From the Dhoukobors to the Jewish Renewal movement, Religious Anarchism has a rich and tenacious history. Authors like Leo Tolstoy and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan have written extensively on how the State threatens people of faith. Even today, it is alive and well. In England, for example, the community of Stapleton (founded by a cousin organization to the Quakers) operates in open defiance to the UK government, asserting their rights to faith, life, and liberty. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s probably a good thing, especially these days. But there is no question, the tradition of friendly, Stateless life lives on, and there is hope it will continue.
Mutually Assured Construction
You might have heard of a man named Josiah Warren. In fact, if you’re reading this article, you probably have. Besides being an inventor, musician, and writer, he was also one of the world’s greatest philosophers. You see, Josiah Warren was the first ever Anarchist.
But here’s another note: If you’ve read any past articles from this series, you know that many, many people have believed in and practiced Anti-Statism. But Josiah Warren was the first ever person (an American, at that) to vocalize and pen the philosophy of Anarchism.
Dissatisfied with slavery, corporatism, and other ills that infected the young United States, Warren closed his factory and left his home for New Harmony, Indiana. The town of Harmony already existed (founded by one of the many religious sects during the Second Great Awakening), but Josiah Warren and his compatriot Robert Owen sought to build a heaven on earth.
The whole idea for a town run without any government administration was actually Owen’s idea. Robert Owen, some of you might know, was a major proponent of the Labor Theory of Value and one of the founders of Anarcho-Communism. With a disdain for property and individualism, Owen attempted to form New Harmony around these ideals. Unfortunately, the experiment largely failed. This prompted the young and industrious Warren to pick up his things and start all over.
For his own experiment, Warren thought he’d try something different. Individual autonomy and property rights would be key. In Ohio, he created the community of Utopia (but don’t worry, he wasn’t so arrogant as to name it that—it was also a carry-over from another religious sect). It was there that Warren began to formulate his idea of Mutualism, a system of trade based around the LTV. From 1847 to the early 1860s, Utopia exploded in population and wealth. Forward-thinkers came to the town to set up home and shop, eager to experiment in a market economy with no regulations or laws.
By the 1850s, when Warren returned from one of his many adventures, the town had several factories, stores, and other attractions. Tragically, the Civil War came to Ohio. As a crucial Union state, Lincoln’s administration wanted to squeeze as much military might out of Ohio as possible. Warren’s decision to make Utopia a by-invitation-only community led to disaster when the Union bought all surrounding land, making expansion virtually impossible. Original inhabitants stayed in the area at least until the 1870s, but eventually the state of Ohio absorbed the county Utopia is in today.
But, always persistent, Warren was not finished by a long shot. While he was away from Utopia, Warren teamed up with Individualist Anarchist and polymath Stephen Pearl Andrews. Together, they founded the town we call Brentwood, Long Island. From 1851 onward, the community expanded as the ideas of Anarchism spread throughout the world. And this time, instead of inviting certain people, all were free to move to what the pair called Modern Times. Transcendentalists, teachers, doctors, hedonists, writers, entrepreneurs, and an array of other castaways formed the colony’s growing but manageable population.
Again, though, the tides of war proved unstoppable. The Union, very present in New York, bought up and/or incorporated the surrounding land. Eventually, the original population dwindled. By the 1900s, Brentwood, NY was incorporated and its history was lost.
By the end of his life, Warren was supremely satisfied with what he accomplished. With nothing but a pen and a dream, he managed to convince hundreds of people to follow his ideal: that humankind is meant to be free. Without the mammoth State watching, coercing, and forcing people around, these two communities lived in absolute peace and harmony. Voluntarily trading and cooperating, they created the most efficient and enjoyable way of life, free from their contemporary horrors like slavery and conscription. Instead, they bloomed.
With these examples in mind, there is no reason that we, as a society, cannot replicate them. Time and time again, we have seen States (like America) remorselessly abuse the people they claimed to represent. And time and time again, the abused make the terrible mistake of replacing their governments with even more government. French Revolutionary Jean Varlet summed up this problem:
“Government and revolution are incompatible, unless the people wishes to set its constituted authorities in permanent insurrection against itself.”
But these Anarchic societies haven’t failed through their own flaws. Without fail, the peaceful, prosperous people of societies like the Icelandic Commonwealth or Moresnet have seen the thunderous boots of tax-fueled armies pouring into their land, taking their resources, destroying their way of life, and—to add insult to injury—completely forgetting their history. No, these Edens were destroyed by the original sin of government.
Isn’t it time we woke up? Isn’t it time we stop reliving our nightmares over and over and over? Life can be more than what it is. We, as a species, have slowly but surely been watching this, and we’ve been getting sick of it. We’ve been getting sick of violence and theft and poverty. Something needs to happen. But what we shouldn’t keep clinging to the idea that we need someone to control us. If we do, nothing will change. The human race will forever kill itself.
There is overwhelming evidence Anarchy can work. Anarchy does work. Let’s stop with this petty excuse that it can’t be done. Let’s stop saying it will always fail. No, it is possible. It will be successful if only we get out of our own way. Let’s stand up like the human beings we are and say, “No. I’m a responsible person. I’ll succeed or fail on my own. I can be trusted to deal equitably with others. I do not need someone spying on me, I do not need someone stealing from me, I do not need someone threatening me. I am an adult. I will buy what I want from those who are willing to sell. I will sell what I want to those that are willing to buy. I will not hurt my neighbors or my friends or my family. I am not a tax cow that needs to be harnessed and milked. I am a human, and I alone will determine my fate.”
And, lucky for us, that is happening right now.
Continue to Part VI: The Living Anti-Nation
If you missed the previous parts of this series, catch up here:
Sources and Further Reading:
“Pennsylvania’s Anarchist Experiment: 1681-1690″ by Murray Rothbard
“Introduction of The Practical Anarchist: Writings of Josiah Warren” by Crispin Sartwell
“Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist” by Jeff Riggenbach
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