Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken
“Well, there are anarchists, and then there are anarchists. There are the type of anarchists who hide in the wilderness with big caches of weapons, take target practice every day, and hope some hapless government representatives stumble on to them so they can start shooting. There are anarchists who feel the government is so omnipresent and oppressive that it would be better to have a small and weak one and flee to some refuge like Belize, where English is spoken and taxes are much less. There are anarchists like Timothy McVeigh, the infamous Oklahoma City bomber, who felt there needed to be a civil uprising against a tyrannical federal government. Then there are the tree-hugging anarchists, who are a strange combination of old-school hippie and co-op farmers, who believe that all civilization violates the Earth’s ecosystem, and we need to stop the industrial machine and return to a simpler era… which sounds like a peaceful kind of protest, except there’s a certain “fringe” among them that are so frustrated about nobody listening to them that they want to stage a dramatic protest, like, blowing up a dam.”
~ Ronald P. Salfen, in The Presbyterian Outlook
That is how Salfen, minister of St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, TX, begins his review of the recent film, Night Moves. From what I have read, the movie seems more about what happens when violently inclined people get frustrated and decide to make a difference through violence (for a similar story, study up on Teddy Roosevelt and the Spanish-American War). In other words, it appears the film mistakes anarchy for progressivism. Regardless, this post has much more to do with Salfen and his ilk than it does with the film. Given the current climate, I would never expect a film with even mediocre stars to preach a pure message of anarchy.
As regards Salfen, perhaps it is unfair of me to fault him for his obvious lack of understanding of anarchism. Even Tolkien felt the need to explain to his son that he was not interested in bomb throwing mustachioed men, but rather “abolition of control”. I would think that Salfen’s primary subject of study would be the Bible, not political philosophy. Nor would I think Salfen immune to the mischaracterization of anarchists as violent criminals or the claims to anarchic belief often made by violent criminals. However, as it stands, no one forced Salfen to write his review in this way nor did they use force to keep him from doing the research which may have informed his understanding of the topic he chose to discuss.
Anarchists as Terrorists
I thought by now people were over the whole Timothy McVeigh thing. McVeigh is obviously not an anarchist. He constantly referred to the Constitution and hated the federal government for not following its own founding document. Anarchists do not believe in a founding document for a government. Anarchists write books like No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority by Lysander Spooner (an actual anarchist). McVeigh not only ‘served’ in the military but won a bronze star and aspired to become part of the Special Forces before washing out of Green Beret training. Even the militia ties bind him not to anarchy, but to an organized group seeking to fulfill a ‘Constitutional mandate’. Contrast that with Matt Kibbe’s recent book: Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto. McVeigh was a nutjob, not an anarchist.
Anarchists as Gun Nuts
Seriously? A form of anarchy is hoarding guns and laying in wait to murder someone? This is just a repeat of the Anarchists as Terrorists point. We do not advocate violence whether it is perpetrated against us or done to promote our cause. Though some early anarchists were confused at their outset of their understanding of anarchy – Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin, for example – and endorsed what was called ‘propaganda of the deed’ (terrorist violence), they quickly came to understand the error in their thinking. Goldman, having seen the result of violent revolution later said, “I have never denied that violence is inevitable, nor do I gainsay it now. Yet it is one thing to employ violence in combat, as a means of defense. It is quite another thing to make a principle of terrorism, to institutionalize it, to assign it the most vital place in the social struggle. Such terrorism begets counter-revolution and in turn itself becomes counter-revolutionary.” Obviously she came to understand that violence begets more violence, just as power begets more power. The irony here is that the gun nut disparagement serves – in its usual sense – to be an accusation of right-wing behavior. Kropotkin and Goldman were of the leftist anarchist bent.
Anarchists as Luddites
I do not have a whole lot to say here. Google “are nerds libertarians” and you may run across a theory or a thousand about why so many technologically and scientifically inclined young people seem to be inclined to libertarianism. And before you count out the ‘hippie’ who wants to pull back on over-industrialization, you may want to consider folks like Joel Salatin who write books like Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal. There are many reasons to scale back food production – taste, ethical treatment, health, ecological concerns – and more and more people are discovering how markets are perverted by government interference. Call me a hippie, but the spontaneous order of people acting out their freedom sounds much better than tasteless meat and unpronounceable ingredients.
Anarchists as Tax Dodgers
When Salfen says an anarchist is one “who feel[s] the government is so omnipresent and oppressive that it would be better to have a small and weak one and flee to some refuge like Belize, where English is spoken and taxes are much less,” he is not too far from a type of anarchist. An anarchist could certainly choose this course of action to lower his interaction with the government. This a peaceful personal choice. However, a true anarchist’s political beliefs would not be assuaged merely by lower taxes. The anarchist may choose to live under a less capricious ruler but will always desire self government.
While I understand that this is an isolated article, Salfen’s inaccurate (yes, I know I am being charitable) descriptions of anarchy are too often par for the course when Christians interact with anarchy. Much of the time, even simple discussions of anarchy result in a quick reference to Romans 13 and an even quicker ‘talk to you later’. I think it is high time that Christians consider the context of their ‘go-to verses’ – like Salfen’s I Peter 2:13-16. But that is a topic for another post…