Book Review: Pagan Anarchism by Christopher Scott Thompson
Pagan Anarchism is a book that shines a light on the commonalities between Anarchism and Paganism by drawing from myth, history, and personal experience of the author. This book serves as a solid introductory for those who may have an interest in paganism/polytheism as well as classical Anarchism (anarcho-communism), and how the two are related, although the critiques within seem to be missing something.
The book starts off giving a good explanation of what paganism generally entails. Thompson writes from a Gaelic pagan’s perspective , so his sect of paganism is more earth based and animistic, although he doesn’t claim that to be the only legitimate form of paganism. Animism and earth based spirituality go well with the theme of this book as it has some undertones of Green Anarchism, albeit from an anarcho-communist perspective. He goes on to give a brief history on Anarchist thinkers, revolutions, principles, etc. Although he says he doesn’t think Anarchism should be dogmatic or viewed as system, he does seem to lay it out as one stating that Anarchism is essentially anti-state communism and then speaks of solidarity, direct democracy, collective organization, etc. These things, more often than not, seem to suggest a system. He also goes on to say that being apolitical amounts to being conservative. That to be ‘passive’ and not promote solidarity, is to not be involved in the fight, on some level. I can’t agree with this as I have and do see many apolitical or anti-political individuals / groups fighting domination to different degrees, and in no way do they represent conservative values or thought.
Thompson talks a good deal about magic in this book and how it relates to resistance. About how magic can be used to fight against authoritarianism and capitalism. While the idea is extremely inviting, I personally would’ve liked to see more examples or perhaps ideas on how to implement magic in the fight against oppression. He uses examples of witchcraft being used authoritarian figures and how these practices can be utilized today in the struggle against domination. This reinforces the book with the theme of a more mystical paganism, which I personally find fascinating and welcoming. Again, his brand of Paganism is derived from Gaelic practices and may be seen as a more traditional folk practice, as opposed to be neo-pagans, wiccans, self-proclaimed druids, etc. This particular practice of paganism may serve as a useful addition to the green anarchist’s practices in connecting with the natural world and fighting domination.
One particular section I found interesting was Thompson’s approach to anarcho-primitivism. While he states that the critique has relevance, he takes some issue with primitivism. One example is a primitivist critique rejecting paganism as being a religion of domination. Thompson gives examples of how it’s a matter of practice, and that the Gods can be invoked by any side- authoritarian or anti-authoritarian. He also refers to green capitalism as a ‘suicidal fantasy’ and earlier in the book mentioned the fight against industrial capitalism. He also seems to understand the detrimental relationship between the wilderness and technological society. I found this shared understanding to be much more enticing, but was immediately pushed away when he talks about the “sanctity of life” and preventing our civilization from collapsing in a later section. He states that those wanting to trigger the downfall of civilization (a ridiculous idealist approach from the green anarchist milieu) don’t value the sanctity of life. He then sympathizes saying that if civilization were to collapse, then adopting anarcho-primitivism might be right, but proceeds to suggest that there is a better way forward. This particular section ends with a slight positive nod towards eco-cities. I find that he still holds onto the values of civilization as an order that allows for the existence of man while not fully understanding that for many, these conditions are absolutely awful and the natural world suffers tremendously due to techno-industrial society. He also grouped Derrick Jensen, an avid anti-anarchist, in with Anarcho-primitivism. Jensen does not represent anarcho-primitivism. I think Thompson means well for the natural world but I find his subtle pro-civilization attitude to be a bit discouraging.
The rest of the book talks in parts about Anarchist practice and action. It covers a bit on the Rojava revolution, anarcho-syndicalism, and related themes. Thompson clearly holds firm to leftist values and for those who are also radical leftists, I’m sure there would be many agreements throughout this particular work. He continues discussing and giving examples of how paganism and anarchism work together and serve one another. My favorite chapter was the last one in which he talks about how Dionysus (or the Roman Bacchus) was used as a symbol and patron of resistance in antiquity. I also appreciated how he talks about making the Gods worldly, and how complex and mystical their relationships to us can be.
While I can’t fully agree with the author’s politics and his stance on civilization, I would recommend this book to any who have an interest in paganism, classical anarchism, and how the two correlate. I would characterize this book as an Old Soul with some beautiful poems and provoking stories of resistance. The author’s spiritual approach to authoritarianism is something new and refreshing when all else turns to strict dogma and ideological utopianism.