Karl Hess

Anarchism without Hyphens

(1980)

 



Note

Karl Hess (1923-1994) was an American writer and libertarian activist. He joined the Libertarian Party and was the editor of its newspaper from 1986 to 1990. This short text first appeared in the magazine “The Dandelion” in 1980. It stresses the position already highlighted by the historian and theoretician of the anarchist movement, Max Nettlau (see: Quelques idées fausses sur l'Anarchisme) that anarchy means freedom and voluntary self-organization and no one in the anarchist movement should be interested in prescribing which of the various “isms” (capitalism, communism, mutualism, etc.) every anarchist should follow.
This message is very relevant now that the interest for anarchy is growing and that some people, who profess to be anarchists, are battling in order to promote very vigorously (and in some cases trying to impose) their own brand of anarchism, either anarcho-communism or anarcho-capitalism. To all of them the message from Karl Hess is: neither anarchist-communist nor anarchist-capitalist, because “there is no hyphen after the anarchist.”

For a video concerning this text see: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSR3DlzNNUc

 


 

There is only one kind of anarchist. Not two. Just one. An anarchist, the only kind, as defined by the long tradition and literature of the position itself, is a person in opposition to authority imposed through the hierarchical power of the state. The only expansion of this that seems to me to be reasonable is to say that an anarchist stands in opposition to any imposed authority.

An anarchist is a voluntarist.

Now, beyond that, anarchists also are people and, as such, contain the billion-faceted varieties of human reference. Some are anarchists who march, voluntarily, to the Cross of Christ. Some are anarchists who flock, voluntarily, to the communities of beloved, inspirational father figures. Some are anarchists who seek to establish the syndics of voluntary industrial production. Some are anarchists who voluntarily seek to establish the rural production of the kibbutzim. Some are anarchists who, voluntarily, seek to disestablish everything including their own association with other people, the hermits. Some are anarchists who deal, voluntarily, only in gold, will never co-operate, and swirl their capes. Some are anarchists who, voluntarily, worship the sun and its energy, build domes, eat only vegetables, and play the dulcimer. Some are anarchists who worship the power of algorithms, play strange games, and infiltrate strange temples. Some are anarchists who only see the stars. Some are anarchists who only see the mud.

They spring from a single seed, no matter the flowering of their ideas. The seed is liberty. And that is all it is. It is not a socialist seed. It is not a capitalist seed. It is not a mystical seed. It is not a determinist seed. It is simply a statement. We can be free. After that it’s all choice and chance.

Anarchism, liberty, does not tell you a thing about how free people will behave or what arrangements they will make. It simply says that people have the capacity to make arrangements.

Anarchism is not normative. It does not say how to be free. It says only that freedom, liberty, can exist.

Recently, in a libertarian journal, I read the statement that libertarianism is an ideological movement. It may well be. In a concept of freedom, it, they, you, or we, anyone has the liberty to engage in any ideology, in anything that does not coerce others, denying their liberty. But anarchism is not an ideological movement. It is an ideological statement. It says that all people have the capacity for liberty. It says that all anarchists want liberty. And then it is silent. After the pause of that silence, anarchists then mount the stages of their own communities and history and proclaim their, not anarchism’s ideologies - they say how they, how they as anarchists, will make arrangements, describe events, celebrate life and work.

Anarchism is the hammer-idea, smashing the chains. Liberty is what results and, in liberty, everything else is up to the people and their ideologies. It is not up to THE ideology. Anarchism says, in effect, there is no such upper case, dominating ideology.

It says that people who live in liberty make their own histories and their own deals with and within it.

A person who describes a world in which everyone must or should behave in a single way, marching to a single drummer, is simply not an anarchist. A person who says that they prefer this way, even wishing all would prefer that way, but who then says all must decide, may certainly be an anarchist. Probably is. Liberty is liberty. Anarchism is anarchism. Neither is Swiss cheese or anything else. They are not property. They are not copyrighted. They are old, available ideas, part of human culture. They may be hyphenated but they are not in fact hyphenated. They exist on their own. People add hyphens, and supplemental ideologies.

I am an anarchist. I need to know that, and you should know it. After that, I am a writer and a welder who lives in a certain place, by certain lights, and with certain people. And that you may know also. But there is no hyphen after the anarchist.

Liberty, finally, is not a box into which people are forced. Liberty is a space in which people may live. It does not tell you how they will live. It says, eternally, only that we can.

 


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