Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Star-Spangled Anarchism"

Ziga Vodovnik interviews Howard Zinn — Rebels Against Tyranny. There is, of course, much with which to disagree, but overall, it's a valuable read, especially the parts about the philosophy's American history:
    One of the problems with dealing with anarchism is that there are many people whose ideas are anarchist, but who do not necessarily call themselves anarchists. The word was first used by Proudhon in the middle of the 19th century, but actually there were anarchist ideas that proceeded Proudhon, those in Europe and also in the United States. For instance, there are some ideas of Thomas Paine, who was not an anarchist, who would not call himself an anarchist, but he was suspicious of government. Also Henry David Thoreau. He does not know the word anarchism, and does not use the word anarchism, but Thoreau’s ideas are very close to anarchism. He is very hostile to all forms of government. If we trace origins of anarchism in the United States, then probably Thoreau is the closest you can come to an early American anarchist. You do not really encounter anarchism until after the Civil War, when you have European anarchists, especially German anarchists, coming to the United States. They actually begin to organize. The first time that anarchism has an organized force and becomes publicly known in the United States is in Chicago at the time of Haymarket Affair.


    Well, the Transcendentalism is, we might say, an early form of anarchism. The Transcendentalists also did not call themselves anarchists, but there are anarchist ideas in their thinking and in their literature. In many ways Herman Melville shows some of those anarchist ideas. They were all suspicious of authority. We might say that the Transcendentalism played a role in creating an atmosphere of skepticism towards authority, towards government.
When Prof. Zinn discusses European anarchism, I'm remided of Bill Kauffman's phrase from his recent book review, Daniel J. Flynn’s A Conservative History of the American Left: "The freeswinging and disorderly Wobblies and farmer-labor parties, with their 'the star-spangled anarchism,' in Flynn’s felicitous phrase, were a poor fit for European regimentation." I'll take "star-spangled anarchism" over "European regimentation" any day of the week, except on Sunday.

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