Henry Appleton

Anarchism, True and False




This article was published in the Anarchist periodical Liberty (6 September 1884) edited by Benjamin R. Tucker.
It expresses the central conviction and aspiration of the anarchist that is to be left free to organize personal life and social relations on the basis of voluntary choices instead of compulsory regimentation, as it is still nowadays under the central territorial state.



There seems to be no end of those singularly ordered minds who can conceive of no radical system of reform except something is to be torn down, ripped up, blown to pieces, or annihilated after some terrible fashion. These persons will have it that the Anarchist is a mere destructionist, – that he is bent upon levelling down all existing institutions. They see blood in his eye and dynamite in his boots as they sadly inquire: “Well, what do you propose to substitute in their place, after you have levelled down all existing institutions?”

The philosophy of Anarchism has nothing whatever to do with violence, and its central idea is the direct antipodes of levelling. It is the very levelling purpose itself projected by republican institutions against which it protests. It is opposed, root and branch, to universal suffrage, that most mischievous levelling element of republics. Its chief objection to the existing State is that it is largely communistic, and all communism rests upon an artificial attempt to level things, as against a social development resting upon untrammelled individual sovereignty. Sifted to its elements, the government of the United States is after all nothing but a mild form of State Socialism. The true Anarchist indicts it largely on this very ground. He is opposed to all manner of artificial levelling machines. How pitiful the ignorance which accuses him of wanting to level everything, when the very integral thought of Anarchism is opposed to levelling!

Unfortunately for the integrity of true Anarchistic thought, there is a class of ranting enthusiasts who falsely call themselves Anarchists, but who have in reality never repudiated the central idea upon which the existing State is founded. As types of these we may cite Burnette G. Haskell [1] of the San Francisco “Truth” and Johann Most [2] of the “Freiheit.” The class represented by Haskell are State Socialists who, while shouting the battle cry of “the revolution” and calling for the overthrow of existing institutions, have absolutely nothing more in their proposed machine than an enlargement of the destructive central principle which generates all that is reprehensible in the existing order. These men want more government, more centralization, more absorption of individual concerns by the central machine, – in short, in the last analysis, more politics. They are not Anarchists in the light of individualistic thought. They are masquerading in a livery that does not belong to them.

Herr Most occupies the still more ridiculous position of a State Communist, if indeed such a term is comprehensible. Communism is indeed levelling, and hence Anarchism is utterly and radically opposed to it. Communism being impossible in Nature, its propagandism and proposed realization can rest upon nothing short of violence. Herr Most boldly accepts the situation; hence he would destroy and confiscate property by whatever methods might seem effectual, sparing not the torch, dynamite, or any of the terrible devices of Pluto. He would assassinate rich men by the wholesale, and drive all enemies of his schemes from the earth. When the morning sun of successful revolution shall rise, he would then organize all the concerns of men into communes and level all human conditions with a vengeance. Yet Herr Most calls himself an Anarchist. I would not disturb him in whatever satisfaction he may find in that name but for the very serious reason that he is no Anarchist at all. The man who wrote “Die Eigenthums-Bestie” [The Beast of Property] expresses the very methods of remedial organization which it is the bottom purpose of Anarchism to protest against. All Communism, under whatever guise, is the natural enemy of Anarchism, and a Communist sailing under the flag of Anarchism is as false a figure as could be invented.

The Anarchist does not want to destroy all existing institutions with a crash and then inaugurate the substituting process on their ruins. He simply asks to be let alone in substituting false systems now, so that they may gradually fall to pieces by their own dead weight. He asks the humble privilege of being allowed to set up a free bank in peaceable competition with the government subsidized class bank on the opposite corner. He asks the privilege of establishing a private post office in fair competition with the governmentally established one. He asks to be let alone in establishing his title to the soil by free occupation, cultivation, and use rather than by a title hampered by vested rights which were designed to keep the masses landless. He asks to be allowed to set up his domestic relations on the basis of free love in peaceable competition with ecclesiastically ordered love, which is a crime against Nature and the destroyer of love, order, and harmony itself. He asks not to be taxed upon what has been robbed from him under a machine in which he has practically no voice and no choice. In short, the Anarchist asks for free land, free money, free trade, free love, and the right to free competition with the existing order at his own cost and on his own responsibility, – liberty.

Is there any violence in all this? Is there artificial levelling? Finally, is there any want of readiness to substitute something in the place of what we condemn? No, all we ask is the right to peaceably place Liberty in fair competition with privilege. Existing governments are pledged to deny this. Herein will reside the coming struggle. Who is the party of assault and violence? Is it the Anarchist, simply asking to be let alone in minding his own business, or is it the power which, aware that it cannot stand on its own merits, violently perpetuates itself by crushing all attempts to test its efficiency and pretensions through peaceable rivalry?




[1] Burnette G. Haskell (1857-1907) was a lawyer, a social activist and the editor of the newspaper Truth. In 1882, Haskell founded the International Workmen's Association (IWA) in San Francisco.

[2] Johann Most (1846-1906) was the newspaper editor of Freiheit (Freedom) and a fierce advocate of the "propaganda of the deed" by which he meant violent actions against the rulers.


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