Margins and Problems: Disquisitions and Demands

Constructing Anarchisms

Part II—Anarchist History: Margins and Problems (An Idiosyncratic Survey)

General Resources:
II—Anarchist History: Margins & Problems:
I—Constructing an Anarchism:

❦ ❦ ❦

Having fun? Donations help to expand and sustain the archive.

I acknowledge no tribunal over me, of authority competent to regulate my words and actions, but that of Nature, Reason, Justice and Truth. — Paul Brown, The Radical and Advocate of Equality (1834)

We started by identifying a couple of near-anarchisms, one of which granted human beings too little capacity to achieve a very full freedom and one of which ultimately settled for patriarchal government as “natural.” We’re now exploring the possibility of an anarchism-in-progress, a philosophical anarchism that aims for self-government according to reason alone—at least as an ideal—with an emphasis on the capacity of human beings to improve themselves and their conditions.

This is obviously a narrow conception of anarchism, but also one that we will find, combined with other elements, in quite a number of the works he will examine moving forward. In 1840, for example, Proudhon will assure us that, thanks in part to his anarchistic analysis, “the despotism of the will will be succeeded by the reign of reason”—but it isn’t at all clear that the transition will be rapid or the road smooth. One of the elements of our philosophical anarchism is a sense that reason is a comparatively uniform thing, widely shared among human beings, so that our exercise of it should presumably eventually lead to a meeting of the minds.

But let’s pick up our story in 1834, with the imaginary Mr. R. Zane of Ohio, watching the collision of Paul Brown—who rejected individual property and believed that “when men follow reason, they have no need of any other guide, governor, or director”—with the freethinkers of Boston, who were not prepared to give too much of a welcome to a “leveler” (who had already shocked the readers of the Boston Investigator with his ideas regarding legal marriage.)

I have found surprisingly little discussion of Brown’s lecture. He would be charged, in the Investigator, with promoting the equal distribution of property—to which he retorted that he had, in fact, “preached the doctrine of common property.” No one seems to have been particularly reassured, if the rather predictable talk about “community of women and children” is any indication. Speakers changed their topics for subsequent weeks, in order to respond to Brown’s ideas and there was a certain amount of back-and-forth in the Investigator. And then there was another round of public refutations when The Radical and Advocate of Equality was finally published. What we know is that at least significant factions among the workingmen and freethinkers of Boston simply weren’t having any—and felt some obligation to persuade others to reject Brown’s message as well.

I wish I could say that all of the opposition met by Paul Brown was because he was clearly an anarchist and revolutionary, but his program was explicitly one of reform. In the second installment of “The Radical,” he said:

What we immediately want … are, as was before observed, 1. repeal of bad laws—2. enactment of other laws—3. a provision for the education of all classes’ children alike, in a rational way, at the public expense.

And in the twelfth, we listed the better laws he wanted to see passed:

1. A law to retail the public lands to poor people in such quantities as they are able to buy.

2. A law limiting the quantity of land to be purchased, so that no individual (nor trading company purchasing to sell,) shall be allowed to purchase at any price, or hold at one time, more than one hundred and sixty acres.

3. A law granting a tract of the public land to a colony of such as should covenant to hold property in common, to be inherited by them or their successors so long as they strictly adhere to the principles of such covenant, and have no individual trade,—to revert to the government whenever they deviate from them.

4. A law extending the right and liberty of suffrage to all sane persons twenty-one years of age.

5. A law putting an end to all banking and usury as a resource of profit and as a trade affording a livelihood to individuals and companies.

6. A law effectually prohibiting all charters, and the granting of privileges to individuals and companies, under the names of manufacturing or trading companies, land companies &c.

7. A law abolishing the patenting of mechanic inventions to individuals.

8. A law abolishing all poll-taxes, and confining assessments of taxes to property distinct from persons.

9. A law abolishing the will-making system, and prescribing a periodical equal distribution of the remaining estates of the dead to all young persons just arrived at twenty-one years of age and other · poor and destitute persons within the town or district.

10. A law limiting the maximum value of machinery (including the buildings that contain it,) to be set up, held, or kept in operation, by any one person or any one company of persons, as private property, to $2,000.

11. A law reducing the pay of all representatives and senators, and assembly-men, to $2 per day including their travel to and from the seats of legislation, the pay of the President of the United States to $1,800, per year, and the pay of all secretaries, governors, clerks, judges, and every other officer in proportion.

12. A law appointing the election of the President to be made by a majority of the direct votes of the people, abolishing the office of District Electors, and suppressing all caucusses and formal pub- lic nominations of candidates for office.

13. A law securing to a married woman on the death of her husband sufficient of the estate left (if enough remain,) in fee simple, to support herself and minor children. What remains after this partition, to be distributed to the destitute.

14. A law acknowledging the evidence of a wife against her husband in all cases.

15. A lien law, giving to laborers the first right of attachment and sale on all products of their hands, when necessary to secure their wages.

16. A law making the oath of every person a sufficient proof of his book accompt when nothing suspicious attends it and no countervailing proof is adduced: subject to abatement when exorbitant.

17. A law prohibiting the jobbing of labor, and imposing a fine on every one who should be convicted of doing work by jobs, or letting work to be done by jobs.

18. A law limiting the hours of all labor done by men or women for other men or women, by the week, month, year, or single day, to eight hours per diem, which should be reckoned a day’s work; and also fixing the minimum price for a day’s labor of mature persons male or female, in any sort of service, at fifty cents.

19. A law fixing the pay of all such judges as have not yearly salaries, at $2 per day while they are attending courts; and abolishing the profession of Lawyers as a trade having any immunities more than an occasional agency or factorship with which any competent persons may be invested.

20. A law annihilating money, prohibiting its use, and excluding from being a tender for the payment of debts or taxes, everything but real wealth or labor. Some of these laws may involve alterations in our constitutions; but whenever the people shall. be able to send such men to their legislatures, they will also be able to amend the constitutions.

Now, that is obviously an ambitious and radical agenda, but not apparently so radical that the editors of the Investigator felt any particular pressure to stop providing Brown a platform for expressing it. That situation would persist through the end of 1832 and six more installments of “The Radical.” During that time, Brown was still in good enough graces that excerpts from his 1822 Disquisition on Faith also appeared in the paper. The last straw was apparently the eighteen essay (titled “Halfway and Thorough Reform” in the book publication of The Radical), which I will include here in its entirety:

Radical—No. 18.

Some speak of a ‘moderate,’ mild sort of reform, which should leave the property of individuals untouched; not disturbing the peculiar advantages and powers of the wealthy. This were an absurdity: seeing, in the end, it would be no reform at all. Indeed it would be no change in the condition of society. For these peculiar powers and pre-eminent advantages held securely by the wealthy, are the very nuisance we have to get rid of, the very abuse we have to correct, in order to a renovation of the structure of the social system, that should make our condition better. There must be no rich and no poor: Or rather, we must be all rich, i. e., have equally a sufficiency to satisfy all our natural wants and reasonable requirements. In short, we must have an equality of possession, or use, of all the things in the world adapted to sustain or make human beings comfortable.

Perhaps, then, what they really mean when they commend a peaceable reform, is, that, deprecating violence, they would not have this change attempted till those who hold the greatest shares of the wealth of this world, shall be so changed in their minds as to ultroneously accede to it. To suppose however that it is not justifiable to take measures to bring it about upon any other terms, is to beg the question in favor of the rights of tyranny and arbitrary governments. For what does it imply less than that kings have a right to rule, according to their wills, as long as they will; and when they will drop their sceptres it is right for the people to enjoy liberty, and not before? But republicans cannot concede this.—They maintain that the right to rule and regulate society, is with the mass of the people, when they know their RIGHTS; and that when the people have their eyes open so far as that they know what their rights are, that they are curtailed in those rights, and are enslaved, it is justifiable for them to demand their rights of their usurpers: and if it is right ever to do so, it is right for them to do so IMMEDIATELY. How long shall we wait for all our kings, nobles, nabobs, usurers, and rich misers, to be so humanized and completely regenerated, as to feel that it is not right for them to retain useless wealth while millions pine in poverty? Must we drag out our whole lives in confessed slavery, [ah! and our children after us?] that no violence may be done to our tyrants, but that they may at peace securely brandish their thongs over us?

The probability is that those who oppugn forcible measures so feelingly, and urge a mild gradual approach to reform, speak [as the saying is] two words for themselves and one for society. Being rich, cannot consent to have their heaps of hoarded wealth levelled down and apportioned equally among those around them while they live, wherefore they are willing to defer the day of distribution to another generation. What will their children be likely to consent to? The rich aristocratic gentry who hold in their clutches the wealth of this world, will not resign their dominion over it while they live, and though some of them may say they are willing that future generations should hold their property common, yet they cannot consent that such arrangement should take place in their time unless it is at a great distance and they are out of the reach of it. Then before they die they will make ‘wills‘ entailing upon their children and near relatives their immense estates to be held in exclusion. Here will be perpetual injunctions laid upon an even distribution of property. He that is an honest and sincere man, if he is a community-man and believes it is right that all property should be equal and common, will incline to teach his children this doctrine, instilling into them the same principles. Thus he will at least make a commonwealth in his own family.

How shall we extend our intellectual and moral education to the heads and hearts of the nobles of the earth, the usurers, the bankers, the merchants, the capitalists, the manufacturers, the robbers and tyrants that detain from us, our property? How can we touch them with our newspapers, our handbills, our pamphlets, our books, our lectures, our orations ? Behold! they will neither read nor hear any thing from us. Let us enlighten the common people as far as possible.—A rational system for educating the rising and future generations of the common people, is confessedly necessary to ensure the perpetuity of that reform for which we ought to contend. To establish this in full operation, may be the work of half a century. Alas! our oppressors will prevent its being commenced.—But the many, who now suffer degradation, have a right to demand their rights the moment they know them. Even if we have no refined education and are never likely to have, in our life time—if we cannot read or write a sentence of any language, yet if we know enough to know what our rights are and that the few have encroached upon them or have usurped dominion over us by means of wealth, we have a right to demand of this few an instant rendition of the wealth which they detain from us and the prerogatives they hold at our expense. Whether is actually the most equitable, for the millions to remain in a state of slavish dependence, abjection, indigence, drudgery, and disgrace, during their whole lives? or for the hundreds to suffer the privation of their superfluous pelf, their puerile, imaginative [iniquitous] enjoyment, of having superior powers above their fellow beings! In regard to those who premonish us against precipitate measures or doing violence to the feelings of our patrician robbers, the question is, which is the most cruel, or the most unjust violence—for the millions who now suffer wrong, to be obliged to wear the chains of vassalage through all the remaining days of their lives and see no salvation, or for the few, the hundreds, the thousands, to be at once deprived of that which is of no use to them but to injure their fellow beings, and put on a level with others? It is true a civil war is to be deprecated. If we can possibly obtain our rights without it, let it be so done, by all means. However, what signifies our rights secured to us after we shall be dead?

We want indeed that the workingmen and workingwomen should have higher wages and that they should be as much respected and admitted to as good company as others; but we want more than this. We want those who have NOTHING should have SOMETHING: even their equal share of the wealth in the country. We want those who are not workingmen, having nothing to do, to have something to do with—to have land to work upon, implements to work with, stock to manufacture, or trades to work at, and to have an equal share of the proceeds of all the labor that is done in the country. In short, we want EQUALITY. We have heard of it as being set down in Constitutions and Declarations of Independence, that ‘all men are born equal’ or ‘created equal,’ that they are equal, that they have equal rights, that they ought to be equal, &c. &c.; and we want to SEE THE REALITY. Let us arise in the majesty of our strength, assert our rights, and demand of our usurpers an immediate surrender of their illgotten hoards of exuberant wealth, with all they iniquitously hold that belongs to us. Our spoilers are villainous cowards; and when they are overmatched a thousand fold in numbers they will yield without bloodshed. They will succumb at the mandate of eternal justice. They cannot gainsay, they cannot resist the conviction of this eternal truth, that human creatures being born equal, have equally a right to the inheritance and use of this world and of the things that are therein. Let us demand an abolition of the trading system, an abolition of money, a total extinction of all factitious representatives of wealth, and an equalization of resource. For without these things being done, it is impossible for us to realize, in our social condition, such a thing as equality or perfect rational liberty.

That installment apparently called for an editorial response, which read, in part:

We wish it to be distinctly understood that either the Editor, nor Publisher, any more than the Proprietors, can be responsible for the opinions of our correspondents. So far from it, as regards the “Radical,” in our last number, we are decidedly opposed to some opinions there advanced, if we understand them, as well as to the language in which those opinions were expressed. But still we say, if such opinions exist, and honestly too, there is less danger in allowing them to be publicly expressed, that their errors may thereby be publicly exposed, than to suffer them to be harbored in secret, and only expressed in confidence from breast to breast, until they break out in open violence.

And that response really said very little that hadn’t been said directly to Brown, a year earlier, on the occasion of beginning “The Radical:”

…judging from present appearances, we are confident that his lectures would be too much on the leveling system to be well received in Boston. We are willing, however, to give his writings place, to any reasonable extent, in the Investigator. We trust and hope that our candor in this respect will be received, as it is intended, kindly.

But it was accompanied by a sudden halt to the steady flow of Brown’s writings, a little more than halfway through the material that would be collected in The Radical and Advocate of Equality—a circumstance that seems to have some “louder than words” significance.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks diving deep into the texts most likely to inform the philosophical anarchism that we have posited as possible in these early years. And I have to confess that I remain resistant to recognizing a real anarchism in most of the material. Even recognizing that whatever anarchism we might find is much more likely to be an anarchistic (or anarchisant, anarchizing) tendency, rather than an explicit ideology, it seems clear that the most radical works tend to stop somewhere in the vicinity “anarchy would be a good thing—someday,” if they get beyond the “looks good on paper” stage of things, so that it is difficult to make any very meaningful distinctions between the works that are presumably heartfelt and those that are purportedly works of satire or products of mental crisis.

I don’t love the distinction between revolution and reform, but I don’t think it would be unfair to characterize a lot of the texts I have been examining as radical, even revolutionary disquisitions with distinctly reformist conclusions. William Manning’s 1798 work, The Key of Liberty, would not have been known to Brown or our “possible historian” R. Zane, as it remained unpublished for decades, but it’s a fine early example of the type: a striking, radical exposé of the class system in the United States which ends with the admonition to choose better representatives. Much of Brown’s work has a similar character, oscillating between very trenchant analyses of existing institutions, asides of an often humorously idiosyncratic sort and appeals to the power of clear reasoning and good government. The elements combine and collide. The strong statement with which I chose to head this post—

I acknowledge no tribunal over me, of authority competent to regulate my words and actions, but that of Nature, Reason, Justice and Truth…

—refers, among other things, to defiant intention to “use hisself and theirselves in the nominative instead of himself and themselves, and that for several reasons best known to myself.” But he also assures us that he will not “court the suffrages of those Kings, Dukes, and Princes of the earth, those rich upstarts, those butterflies that wallow in luxury at the expense of others’ labor, those capitalists, those manufacturers, bankers, merchants,—and professional jackalls who consecrate prescription, and prop up the pillars of the ‘ancient order of things.’” Those are fighting words, at least “if we understand them.”

Given the uncertainties involved, is it useful to think of Brown as contributing to even a philosophical anarchism? My inclination is to say yes, provided we are treating that anarchism as an anarchism-in-progress. Recall my suggestion “while not fully clarified and perhaps obviously flawed,” anarchisms-in-progress “at least seem to point us down some promising path” toward fuller articulations of anarchist thought, and let me suggest further that one way that pointing will occur is through a (small-d) dialectical play of contradictions.

Consider, for example, the opening of Brown’s 18th installment, where he begins by dismissing “a ‘moderate,’ mild sort of reform, which should leave the property of individuals untouched.” As long as the dream of better representatives survives, perhaps this marriage of wild critique and tame proposals can survive, but, then again, perhaps not…

The thing that struck me about Brown’s writings this time around, in what was a considerably more concentrated encounter with them, was an underlying relentlessness, sometimes overshadowed by the twists and turns of his thought. For example, the rather impenetrable first number of “Gray Light” is clearer if you have looked at the Disquisition on Faith and the Inquiry Concerning the Nature, End and Practicability of a course of Philosophical Education. The fine points regarding the use of hisself and theirselves are actually explored in a separate letter to the Investigator. And, while Brown seems rather intent on not making a clean, anarchic break with existing institutions, he can’t seem to avoid certain very radical conclusions of his analysis. We’ve already noted the passage in “Gray Light” where he observes that “when men follow reason, they have no need of any other guide, governor, or director”—and “The Radical” has provided this gem:

…when the people have their eyes open so far as that they know what their rights are, that they are curtailed in those rights, and are enslaved, it is justifiable for them to demand their rights of their usurpers: and if it is right ever to do so, it is right for them to do so IMMEDIATELY.

This is the sort of thing that we should expect from a philosophical anarchism-in-progress: moments when the philosophizing suddenly gets carried away and the disquisition becomes an argument for IMMEDIATE demands. It’s hard not to suspect that references to “the language in which [Brown’s] opinions were expressed,” together with vague remarks about “open violence,” were connected to this shift from talk of proposing legislation—laws that no one could expect to pass—to this:

Let us arise in the majesty of our strength, assert our rights, and demand of our usurpers an immediate surrender of their illgotten hoards of exuberant wealth, with all they iniquitously hold that belongs to us. Our spoilers are villainous cowards; and when they are overmatched a thousand fold in numbers they will yield without bloodshed. They will succumb at the mandate of eternal justice.

We’re suddenly in familiar territory. In 1912, IWW activist Joe Ettor would give one of the more famous descriptions of this same strategy:

If the workers of the world want to win, all they have to do is recognize their own solidarity. They have nothing to do but fold their arms and the world will stop. The workers are more powerful with their hands in their pockets than all the property of the capitalists. As long as workers keep their hands in their pockets the capitalists cannot put theirs there. With passive resistance, with the workers absolutely refusing to move they are more powerful than all the weapons and instruments that the other side has for protection and attack.

Real proposals for large-scale unions of workers would become a standard feature of radical politics moving forward. Flora Tristan’s The Workers’ Union would appear in 1843. But the responses to Brown suggest that, at least in Boston in the 1830s, the workingmen were perhaps not quite ready to take on the project of the general strike.

To be fair, it isn’t clear how ready Brown was to be an activist or revolutionary and rise up. But one of the things that his work demonstrates is an instance where the work of “reason alone” finds itself inseparable from another kind of work. The disquisition end in a demand—of a sort, Brown assures us, that even the oppressors must find irresistible—but also, it appears, finds itself incomplete (“no reform at all”) without not just the demand, but its fulfillment.

They cannot gainsay, they cannot resist the conviction of this eternal truth, that human creatures being born equal, have equally a right to the inheritance and use of this world and of the things that are therein. Let us demand an abolition of the trading system, an abolition of money, a total extinction of all factitious representatives of wealth, and an equalization of resource. For without these things being done, it is impossible for us to realize, in our social condition, such a thing as equality or perfect rational liberty.

Paul Brown, a decidedly obscure figure by modern standards, was, in his day, a relatively big fish in the small pond of radical freethought circles. When we place him front-and-center in an explicitly idiosyncratic account of anarchistic ideas and their development, we are obviously taking certain liberties. The question, however, is whether we are taking unusual liberties—or whether the emphases in more familiar accounts might raise very similar objections, were the accounts not so familiar. Brown is interesting as a foil for a figure like Josiah Warren, who was his acquaintance and who shows up in a lot of the same places in the period we are examining now. Both were members of the Owenite colony at New Harmony and, despite the fact that Brown was an advocate of common property and Warren was increasingly drawn to the individualization of interests, they apparently toured parts of Ohio together “extolling the virtues of socialism” (as one account puts it) and were instrumental in the formation of the Kendal Community. Anyone concerned with the various social experiments in what was then the western United States would have likely been familiar with both of them. The same would have been true for readers of the Boston Investigator, where Warren’s “Principles and Progress of an Experiment of Rational Social Intercourse,” reprinted from The Peaceful Revolutionist, began to appear while the dust was still settling from Brown’s lecture and the publication of his book. (Brown would return to the Investigator in the 1840s, disappearing, as far as I can ascertain, after another contentious exchange in late 1846 and early 1847, while Warren’s ideas would become a staple of the paper, starting in 1846.)

It’s not hard for me to pile up reasons why I might not consider Brown anything like an anarchist, but I have to admit that many of those reasons would also apply to Warren, who is a well-established figure in so many of our histories, despite his own hatred of labels and his rather extreme individualism. The same is true when I consider a range of other more-or-less familiar figures, such as Lewis Masquerier, Joshua King Ingalls or Stephen Pearl Andrews, all of whom would have to be considered fairly heterodox by any very consistent definition of anarchism. It’s not hard to understand why those figures—and others like them—feature in the histories of anarchist ideas, but hard to discount the fact that one of the reasons is that they have not been considered important enough to evaluate in depth on their own terms. What I have found in my own research is that, when examined closely, a lot of these figures because much more interesting than they were as footnotes in the anarchist histories, but they also become considerably more difficult to fit into the comparatively simple stories we have inherited.

It’s likely that we need a different kind of account to do them justice—even if it is just as a supplement to more general histories.

In my ongoing historical project, “Our Lost Continent and the Journey Back,” I’ve tried to make a distinction between two kinds—or two directions—of historical analysis. The first is a matter of retrospective appropriation. Anarchism emerges as a keyword, movement and ideology late in the 19th century and there is an immediate attempt to give it a history, whether it is a matter of distinguishing it from various potential precursors or presenting it as simply the most clearly developed manifestation of perennial concerns. This sort of project obviously has its attractions for those concerned with solidifying the status of emerging ideologies—in which context sometimes the quantity of associations might outweigh the clarity of the connections—but we might be forgiven for thinking that anarchism is pretty well established at this point, and that if we are going to invest much time in historical spadework, it should probably be of a more precise sort.

I’ve really struggled with different ways to talk about the evolution of anarchist ideas before the 1870s and the emergence of anarchism as a keyword. In some of my work, I have been very careful not to use that term to describe anything before its emergence, and generally to force myself to at least try to judge earlier works in ways that avoid anachronism. That has led to a lot of complicated clarifications, which have worked pretty well for me, but have not always had the same success with my readers. The notion of “possible anarchisms” that we are using in this survey is an attempt to continue to highlight the problems of historical interpretation, while acknowledging that our current project has some of that retrospective character. We’re raiding the past for present uses. The goal is simply to do so with some degree of care and sophistication.

So if we try, once again, to return to 1834, our “possible historian” R. Zane and philosophical anarchism, understood as a “possible anarchism,” what are we really talking about?

We’re not saying that this philosophical anarchism is the familiar anarchism that emerged in the 1870s or that its development leads to that anarchism—although we can immediately note some overlaps.

We will leave as an open question, for now, the extent to which that familiar anarchism was—or remained—coherent and self-similar.

We are noting a significant family resemblance to that familiar anarchism—something visible to us in retrospect—but we are also claiming that, if our “possible anarchisms” are coherent and significant enough to be useful to us as historical and theoretical tools, they should also have been recognizable by properly motivated observers at the time.

And we are imagining our “possible historians” as a means of clarifying how that recognition might have taken place.

What do we know about R. Zane of Ohio?

He’s of an age to have visited Josiah Warren’s “time magazine” and perhaps even have played a part in the failed communistic experiment that Warren talked about in “The Motives for Communism—How It Worked and What It Led To.” He might well have read Warren’s earliest proposals in The March of Mind, the Western Tiller or in copies of the Boston Investigator (for which Warren himself served as an agent.) He could have visited New Harmony, perhaps encountering Brown there, perhaps reading his “Gray Light” in the Gazette or his Twelve Months in New Harmony. We know that there were any number of similar figures, who followed developments in radical circles and often contributed to the debates themselves, but anonymously or under pseudonyms that are now indecipherable. So let’s give him a body of work—anonymous editorials in a workingman’s paper, published in Bethel and Moscow, but now lost; contributions to various local papers, signed “R,” “Z” or sometimes “R. Z;” mentions, as “R. Z.” and then, later, “Zane,” in some of the larger freethought papers, from which he ordered a steady stream of radical literature—and then let’s acknowledge that not everything we would like to attribute to him can be exactly verified.

I imagine him coming of age around 1820, being drawn into a series of intellectual controversies current in southern Ohio—Symmes’ hollow earth theories, communistic experiments, New Harmony and its failure, Warren’s “time store” and the theory of equitable commerce, etc.—and then being drawn further, following the players from those events—Warren, Brown, the Owens, etc.—as they moved on to new projects, launched or contributed to new publications, and so on.

If you wanted to follow along on his journey, you might end up trying to trace the various conflicts among the factions of New York workingmen in the late 1820s and early 1830s, encountering figures like Thomas Skidmore, Robert Dale Owen, Frances (“Fanny”) Wright, George Henry Evans and perhaps even a young Lewis Masquerier. Owen—son of Robert Owen, founder of the New Harmony colony—and Wright published and promoted the work of Warren in the Free Inquirer. Skidmore—author of The Rights of Man to Property! Being a Proposition to Make it Equal among the Adults of the Present Generation, a work not unlike Proudhon’s What is Property? in its subversive examination of property rights, though strikingly different in its conclusions—represented the more radical, active position among the workingmen, while Owen pursued a program centered around education. Evans would distinguish himself as a publisher of radical books and newspapers—publishing P. W. Grayson’s  “Vice Unmasked,” a call for the abolition of all law, in 1830—and then go on to become one of the most prominent figures in the land-reform movement, drawing figures like Masquerier and Joshua King Ingalls into his circle.

The debates and conflicts in Ohio, Indiana, New York and Massachusetts all had an international character, with the younger Owen, Wright and Evans were all being recent immigrants. They were wide-ranging in scope, involving abolitionism, feminism and a variety of other reforms, alongside the promotion of radical political parties, the establishment of colonies, workers’ schools, etc. Individual reformers differed considerably in their commitments, often being extreme in their proposals on one subject, while advocating much tamer measures with regard to others. For someone intent on understanding the general movement of ideas, synthesizing positions, it would have been possible, I think, to find all of the pieces of something like “our” anarchism present in one form or another, without being able to point to any particular individual as obviously advocating anarchy.

We can imagine R. Zane, struck by the movement in Paul Brown’s work from disquisition to demand, gathering up all of the most uncompromising descriptions of self-government through reason alone and discovering in the synthesis a fairly well-developed sort of philosophical anarchism. We can even imagine him encountering, in the works of Godwin (not much more than a short step from a number of these other works and debates), the distinction between “a well conceived form of society without government” and “anarchy as it is usually understood”—and then beating Proudhon to the punch with regard to another understanding of anarchy. But it is hard, I think, to imagine him getting to that point without raising some significant questions about that efficacy of “reason alone,” at least as reason was understood by so many of the thinkers in question.

If reason is considered the sole legitimate source of government, then presumably its dictates always amount to some kind of demand. If it is possible—let’s say permissible in this very specific context—to reason our way to anarchism, but then to defer action for a variety of more-or-less “practical” reasons, then it is hard to distinguish between the since anti-authoritarian arguments, the intellectual pranks (Burke’s Vindication, if we believe his account) and a work like Grayson’s, which he eventually disavowed as the fruits of a period of mental distress or illness. That may or may not be a problem. If we assume that reason has a fairly universal form, then perhaps we should expect it to to produce similar results, regardless of the intent or state of mind of the reasoner.

If, however, reason is indeed fairly uniform from reasoner to reasoner, we still have to account for the fact that these figures on whom we might draw for the elements of a philosophical anarchism actually produced a wide range of contradictory propositions and proposals. Even if we account for some obvious failures of reason, some deviations from logic, we seem likely to still end up with some diversity in the results. But if we begin to account for real differences in the character and operation of reason in different individuals, we may find means to cling to the formula of “self-government according to reason,” but its meaning almost certainly has to change. Our philosophical anarchism is not an individualism and, within it, the function of a presumably universal reason really does have a regulatory function, whereas a reasonable anti-authoritarianism that accounted for temperaments and a real variety in the reasoning faculties would indeed have an individualist character.

So we can imagine R. Zane, having assembled the elements of his synthesis, perhaps devoting a chapter at the end of his book to certain uncertainties and problems still to be addressed before this nascent philosophical anarchism could produce much real change in the world. Without straying too far from material we have already mentioned, perhaps it might have compared and contrasted the account of human faculties, virtues and passions in Paul Brown’s 1822 “Moral Catechism” with the early reports in the United States of Charles Fourier’s work on the human passions (which would see an explosion of interest in the English-speaking world within a decade.) In that context, Fourier might come across as very much an individualist, while providing his own account of more-or-less libertarian “natural government.” Then—recalling that the freethinkers of Boston objected not just to the things that Brown said, but equally to the language in which he expressed them—perhaps our “possible historian” might have dedicated some space to the problems posed by the imperative movement from disquisition to demand in work like Brown’s, wrestling with the problem of revolution, which seems to be both urgently called for and largely precluded by this philosophical approach to social change.

If Zane’s “possible” work of synthesis and criticism had gone even just this far, and had survived to be known by later historians of anarchist thought, I suspect that it might feature more prominently than many of the figures we imagine him drawing from.

We’re certainly not done with our philosophical anarchism, nor with at least some of the figures we have addressed in this section, but we have probably lingered with figures like Paul Brown longer than we might have expected to in even an idiosyncratic survey of anarchist thought.

Our next move is a lateral one on the timeline, as we will remain in 1834, but shift territory to France and take a careful look at Pierre Leroux’s pioneering treatment of the antinomy between individualism and socialism, picking up some of the threads we have identified here.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.