American Anarchism

On July 2nd, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed, officially breaking ties between the American colonies and the British empire. It is the idealism behind this document and American independence that folks across the United States will celebrate this 4th of July. The 4th is the central holiday of the summer season and liberty is the theme of the day. After signing the Declaration, John Adams, in a famous letter to his wife Abigal, penned his thoughts on the new holiday:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival … It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Of course, Adams was correct. There are 4th of July celebrations all across the country — fully equipped with the activities mentioned in his letter plus tons of food and fireworks. Today, however, there is an urgent need for collective reflection on the all too important idea behind the holiday — liberty — and its unique history in the country.

A society rooted in liberty would be defined simply as (to borrow from Merriam Webster) one “free from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior or political views.” We in the United States enjoy degrees of freedom, but said freedom is not absolute. Furthermore, there currently exist aggressive barriers to achieving a free society (such as structural poverty and racism to name only a couple) and such barriers are institutionalized, protected and upheld by state power.

Social power, however, works in opposition to state power. Throughout our collective history, liberty has been achieved by people either working around power structures or directly engaging them, forcing change. Liberty is not the product of legislation, but the sum of human action. It is important to remember that patriotism is not allegiance to government or obedience to law, but rather defending and advocating moral positions in spite of the power structure.

There is something classically American about questioning authority and having distrust of large centralized governments. This tradition is experiencing a needed resurgence as of late, and along with it, so too are libertarian politics.

There are many libertarian “schools,” but in the mid-nineteenth century, a vibrant American school, known as individualist anarchism, existed with other varieties. This tradition is gaining popularity again today in the form of market anarchism. Independent scholar Kevin Carson, in his landmark book Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, describes this philosophy as free market anti-capitalism. Carson writes:

The classical individualist anarchism of Josiah WarrenBenjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner was both a socialist movement and a subcurrent of classical liberalism … Thus, individualist anarchism was an alternative both to the increasing statism of the mainstream socialist movement, and to a classical liberal movement that was moving toward a mere apologetic for the power of big business.

This tradition resists domination, violence and privilege because these societal attributes are violations of liberty and human dignity. The idea embraces markets that are crafted by the spontaneous order of inclined labor and holds that society can be organized around voluntary interactions. Anarchism is the belief that human beings are fundamentally good so as we pursue happiness in absolute liberty, our natural instincts for altruism and cooperation will produce a free and prosperous society. These ideas are self-evident and as American as apple pie. On this Independence Day light your bonfires, celebrate liberty and further embrace American anarchism.

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Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist