The Conservative Anarchist

From Center for a Stateless Society

| @DakotaAHensley| August 12th, 2020

Can an anarchist be socially conservative? Yes. I see no reason why someone who is anti-abortion or has fundamentalist views on sex or drugs can’t be an anarchist. Anarchism is about building a society in which no one forces their beliefs on others. As long as you respect the views and lives of others, your personal views don’t matter.

Historically, there are a few examples of conservative anarchists. One such thinker was Dorothy Day, a Christian anarchist and anarcho-distributist who died in 1980 (about nine days before John Lennon, actually). She wrote extensively in her organization’s penny-a-copy newspaper, The Catholic Worker. Going through the hundreds of articles she wrote, one will begin to see a few topics that she wrote about often. She wrote about cooperatives communes (especially farming communes), about the need to care for the poor, and about her support for private property and collectives. She also wrote about how she thought pre-marital sex was wrong and that abortion and birth control amount to genocide.

In The Catholic Worker, in December of 1972, she wrote, 

I feel that, as in the time of the Desert Fathers, the young are fleeing the cities–wandering over the face of the land, living after a fashion in voluntary poverty and manual labor, seeming to be inactive in the “peace movement.” I know they are still a part of it–just as Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers’ Movement is also part of it, committed to non-violence, even while they resist, fighting for their lives and their families’ lives. (They, together with the blacks, feel and have stated this, that birth control and abortion are genocide.)

About pre-marital sex, she wrote in September of 1963, 

I have been asked to express myself on these matters, especially since there has been a pamphlet published in England by the Quakers which is said to condone premarriage sexual intercourse “if the parties are responsible.” My reaction to this is that of a woman who must think in terms of the family, the need of the child to have both mother and father, who believes strongly that the home is the unit of society.

While these views are uncommon among anarchists, they’re not uncommon among the people of Appalachia where anarchist distributism would do well in an area that prides itself on its individualism yet has a strong sense of community. Combine it with an ardent social conservatism and anarchism would explode here. Many forget that Appalachians don’t vote. Turnout is quite low here. Even if you, like me, aren’t a social conservative, you can alter your message and focus on the aspects of anarchism that could appeal to social conservatives.

Many forget that most social conservatives would be okay with a “leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone” approach to these issues. My readers may think that I’m too sympathetic to the average social conservative. I should remind you that only 7% of Americans use Twitter. The conservatives on Twitter (much like the liberals) are a small, small fraction. The average conservative is much more like Dorothy Day. They hold conservative views on social matters but do support things that strengthen the individual and community and would be open to anarchism if it was presented to them in a friendly package.

Now, there are certain views that are incompatible with anarchism such as race realism, racism, and the like. One can be anti-abortion as long as they don’t believe the State should intervene and there is a case for reducing abortion without a State by reducing poverty and establishing a voluntarily-funded paid family leave plan. An anarchist can be for school prayer and for traditions as long as they don’t believe the State should enforce it. As long as they don’t hold views fueled by hate, I see no reason why a conservative anarchism cannot exist.

Dorothy Day was a model for how one can be conservative and an anarchist. While I am not a social conservative, I know and am friends with many. I believe her work could appeal to conservatives, Appalachians, Southerners, Christians of all denominations, and the Right. If we ignore conservatives, we’ll doom anarchism. Why? If we don’t bother appealing to people who would be receptive to our message then we might as well give up.

There are 44 Comments

If we can have anarcho-liberals, we can have anarcho-conservatives. I see no reason why oxymorons should be exclusive to the left. Anyone can contradict themselves. You can fall short of anarchy from all sorts of directions and walks of life, and also walk towards it.

what makes this article one about oxymorons? the only way that actual anarchy will happen is if people stop feeling like they have to monitor other people's beliefs. it is not your responsibility or option to make sure that other people agree with all your beliefs. it is anarchist to make sure that other people's beliefs don't impinge on anyone's ability to live their own life, which is what states and purity programs do.
this article is a great challenge, especially in these days of binary thinking. don't make it merely a semantics one.

I live to disappoint, and you'll live to be disappointed again and again.
Specially since you say "the only way that actual anarchy will happen":

-"the only way....": you assert that there is only one correct way, making you more normative, restrictive and authoritarian than what you accuse me of "monitoring beliefs" or "purity programs

-"...that actual anarchy will happen": anarchy is not an end state, a desired scenario you'll get to achieve, it's a lived antagonism, a tension and defiant orientation against the existent. it either always was, as the chaos that constitutes everything, as the way you live your life, or never was and never will be.

You concern trolling does not dissuade me, I'll double down to spite you. The ONLY anarchists are those who have not obeyed even once literally immediately attacking every single instance of oppression against them that they encountered AND AT THE SAME TIME have not expected or asked anything from anyone. Obviously this is no one, it's an ideal, not a program. Yet some people manage to get pretty close, and if it were just one, i'd rather there be one of them against the world as it is, than the whole world fashioned by the likes of you.

Came here from twitter and I don't use this site often, so sorry if I fucked up how the comment system works.

The idea that anarchism, the radical opposition to all hierarchy and the abolition of both gods and masters, could somehow be conservative and remain internally coherent, is laughable. "Anarchism is about building a society in which no one forces their beliefs on others. As long as you respect the views and lives of others, your personal views don’t matter." This is false. There are views and beliefs that simply aren't respectable and deserve no less than unmitigated hostility. This seems to be an extension of the pacifist, christian socialist, spooner brand of "anarchism" in that it prioritizes this faux individualism over any resistance to authority. Anarchism isn't about respecting beliefs, it's about rebellion. There is no rebellion to be found in conservatism. Conservatism by it's very nature protects traditionalism, white supremacy, theocracy, and other suffocating authoritarianisms.

You bring up opposition to pre marital sex up as a good thing, so let me ask you this, is marriage not a patriarchal, misogynist, christo fascist concept rooted in european white supremacy? Is it not another fabrication put forward by institutions of power to control our social lives? Why should I respect a concept so baseless and reactionary as marriage? Even further, why would I limit who I can and can't have sex with upon the basis of something so garbage as marriage? Marriage seems to me to be a license to certain behaviors arbitrarily dolled out by governments and churches.

Another example you bring up is birth control, a term invented by anarchists funnily enough. Birth control, very simply, gives a person some control over their own body and it's functions. Birth control is an extension of personal autonomy and self ownership. I believe anarchist transhumanists would even label it as an extension of morphological freedom. It is exercising control over your body via the improvements brought about by science and technology. Of course, this seems to be based in the stereotypical conservative argument that abortion is murder or dirties the "sanctity of life." Allow me to bury this very briefly. The sanctity of life is a made up boogeyman term that reactionaries fashioned to sound smart. It isn't a real thing. Nothing is sacred, including life. If life were truly sacred as you claim, and your gods cared about that life, SIDS wouldn't exist. Next, the idea that birth control/abortion is murder. This comes from the idea that a zygote, somehow, has the same value and importance as a typical adult. Now I'm a nihilist, so a person's supposed inherent value is something I find to be garbage, but I'll humor you, what about a zygote or embryo gives it the same value as an adult person? Is it the fact that they're both alive? Clearly not as your immune system kills organisms far more complex and far more numerous every second. Is it their intelligence? Clearly not, we eat animals that are vastly more intelligent/conscious all of the time. Is it simply the fact that they're human? If so, why? Conservatives drive their children to suicide all of the time by abusing them, so I doubt you care about someone simply for being human. The conservative valuation of embryos seems internally inconsistent and would only make sense if a deity mandated this, which if that's the case, I have a few things to ask. 1. Prove this deity is real. 2. Prove this deity did in fact say abortion and birth control are murder. 3. Prove to me this deity has good reason for declaring this. 4. Prove why I should give a shit what this deity thinks.

I could keep going but there seems to be a character limit. Basically, the point is that conservatism is promotes submission to abstractions and authority. The nuclear family, gods, clergy, morality, property, rights, and tradition are all little more than authoritarian bullshit. You can't be a conservative anarchist.

I agree. But to be contrarian, you can't convince everyone to agree to your same notions of anarchism nor stop anyone from calling themselves anarchist. There seems to be no limit to the expansion of hyphenated-anarchisms to encompass any fanciful ideological construction. If you are against any of these groups you could say "these are not anarchists" or "i'm against these types of anarchists" or "anarchists of many kinds are among my enemies". Another attitude you could have towards that is letting others be even if you don't agree with them while keeping to your own autonomous intentional community. This dilemma is explored in this essay https://bellamyfitzpatrick.com/index.php/2020/01/22/decentralist-anarchy...

P.S. There is a word limit on comments to avoid someone posting an endless post in a single comment, but you can comment again under yours to continue your thoughts until you're satisfied.

"letting others be, even if you don't agree with them" is totally the same old liberal free speech narrative. That's literally Chomsky's defense over giving a tribune to Holocaust deniers, and even forewording their books.

But I let others "be" on a daily basis.. What I'm still against is to be giving a platform for their hate and bigotry, as it totally support more authoritarian movements and their narratives. Banning "free speech" for the Alt Right is not the reason why it got so big lately... on the contrary because this tendency was allowed to spread and consolidate, online.

Even hardcore liberal republican Thomas Jefferson was clearly opposed to letting bigotry and "fake news" happen, back in the late 18th where it was already a thing (US was always a haven for charlatans and toxic bullshitters, as you should know). But in the name of "mah libuhrty", plenty of shitty tendencies were still allowed to flourish.

Your commune obviously won't include particular people. And that's okay! If you are making a Stirnerite critique of "conservative-anarchism" then you also must realize that anarchism, understood by you, can't be held as sacred either.

"is marriage not a patriarchal, misogynist, christo fascist concept rooted in european white supremacy?"

You're just throwing out strings of words. How, exactly is marriage "christo fascist" when the practice predates Christianity by two millennia and fascism by four? I'm sympathetic to the critique of marriage, but want to challenge the practice (which is nearing ubiquity among internet-brained radicals) of substituting strings of /bad words/ for actual critique. Simply calling things names doesn't offer any substantial critique of them, it just perpetuates the moralistic condemnation that passes for thought among contemporary anarchists.

For someone who says they're nihilist, you sure did a lot of moralising in that there post, partner.

I'd invite you and others to consider the strange case of Ishi, the last native ever to be captured by the colonisers, just over a hundred years ago. Ishi was deeply conservative. His tribe were thought of as backwards and stubborn by other natives. Yet it was their conservatism that meant they fought to the very last. They never negotiated, never reformed, never strayed from their age old ways. They were totally against the new world, against the colonisers, and against civilization itself. Couldn't these old conservatives be called anarchists?

Good point. I've advanced beyond intellectualizing in words, but if someone, maybe you, could reply (pleeeease) with an explanation about the relationship between conservatives, traditionalists and culture, and the dispossessed, the nihilists, poets and levellers. Thanks before you actually reply, if you can be bothered?

Keeping traditions is authoritarian? Morality is authoritarian? And self-righteous anarchists like you are not authoritarian?
Are you not following traditions and morality which you call anarchism?

"If we ignore conservatives, we’ll doom anarchism."
wait,, is this the new political strategy of the Anarchist Party this election season?

I don't care what anyone says, but Bookchin and Chomsky ARE conservative and are not anarchists in the pure sense of the word. Their writings and essays MAY HINT AT a theory of anarchism, but as people they are leftist, and their theories are leftist.

So we have the names of two dead and one elderly near-dead anarchist here and no reference to the prevailing forms of anarchism they were brought up with.

Nobody cares about what you say either.
To everyone else: didn't Bookchin end up rejecting anarchy?

bookchin rejected anarchy at the end. all those dmd *lifestylists*

Bookchin didn't reject anarchy "in the end" but in the middle, at exactly the same time his stupid pamphlet "Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism" was published. as his partner Janet Biehl makes clear here ("As early as 1995 he was telling the people closest to him that he no longer considered himself part of that movement." -- https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/janet-biehl-bookchin-breaks-with... )

social conservatism is one thing, but "her support for private property..." is that a typo? because that just doesn't square so well with the rest of the argument.

It's not a typo, but I think it's important to look at the lives of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin to see how they viewed the issue of property, as they believed in there being no divide between one's theory and practice. Both lived without anything of their own (Peter refused even a desk, using his lap to write), in collective city houses and rural communes, living & sharing among the poor, of whom they were a part. Their ideas on property are a bit idiosyncratic, as Peter looked to the Sermon on the Mount, distributism, personalism, Kropotkin, and the British Arts & Crafts movement for inspiration. They were anything but defenders of capitalism or free markets. (If you want a better idea of their concepts than the above essay gives, Peter Maurin's 'Easy Essays' on life, labor, etc are online: http://www.easyessays.org/)

hey member when anarchy meant something about being opposed to authority?

i member.

what do words mean anyway?

Conservative in this context seems to merely equate to Catholic. Ho-hum. And so there will still be Catholic sermons for me to ignore. Perhaps we can just tear up the road together; or am I being threatened with being overwhelmed?

Did conservatives exist before the birthing of liberalism and its nationalist counterpart? Perhaps when "conservative" is uttered the liberal and nationalist is invoked. Perhaps the same is invoked when "radical" or "socialist" bends the air. Horror!

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...

Liberals and nationalists can't help but love riding the coattails of their religious ancestry, the Conservative seemingly only differs as a subset in its level of tolerance towards the State's bullshit.

I'm keeping an eye on yooouuuu!

Definitely a Catholic link, going way back. Follow this timeline back. Catholic KKK arose out of Freemasons arose out of Catholic Templar Knights arose out of Catholic Crusaders arose out Catholic Charlemagne arose out of Catholic Byzantium arosè out of Roman Catholicism arose out of Emperor Constantine the Great. 2,000 years of liberal/totalitarian conservatives all with imperialist/cosmopolitan Utopianism.
DING DING DING WE HAVE A WINNER HERE!!

Everyone makes Anarchism overly complex. True anarchy is not a political ideal nor a social objective to attain. It is a lifestyle, a thought process, the understanding that authority is both unethical and an illusion, plus the complete rejection of unjust/compulsory requirements set forth by the state.

I love the thoughts and ideas, but 99% of ”Anarchy” seems to be people discussing and trying to define anarchy rather than living it. People must quit pondering and start actioning.

people MUST!!!!!!

ACTIONING!!!!!

There have certainly been class-reductionist 'anarchists,' and contributors to anarchism with contradictory ideological views: the antisemitism of Bakunin, the sexism (and, er, antisemitism again) of Proudhon. While I can't say people with such ideas rooted in material oppressions can't be identified as anarchist, I have to do it with qualification that those views were absolutely not — they were incoherencies, and, often, they did real harm. Anarchism itself must be socially progressive to the extreme, rooted in the disestablishment of the old order.

Of course, with people, that's probably reductive. The perfect anarchist hasn't been born: conscious and unexamined, we all perpetuate small hierarchies, and in many ways, the path of anarchism is about struggling to recognise and overcome those we have yet to defeat, as many as we can, even if we do not always do so as perfectly as we demand from ourselves.

than it does a political identity. In my opinion, many nihilists and post-leftists are conservative because they just snarkily grin while you get excited about political bullshit, and so are work-obsessed protestants with fat bank accounts.

I don't think Catholicism and anarchism are in any way compatible. Catholicism was literally the rock which evanglicals built their sign posts on. Has nothing to do with any of the more mystical and potentially dangerous elements of christianity.

The "YOU THINK WHAT I/YOU WANT WHILE I THINK WHAT I WANT" is at the heart of modernity.

"While these views are uncommon among anarchists, they’re not uncommon among the people of Appalachia where anarchist distributism would do well in an area that prides itself on its individualism yet has a strong sense of community. Combine it with an ardent social conservatism and anarchism would explode here."

So what propaganda do you think is going to light up the mountains? I've been really curious about this for a long time, as i live fairly close to appalachia, but it's not "real" appalachia. I was by the standards of the lib gossipers a redneck, but nobody in the course of my life has every used the word "conservative" to describe what i think or how i betray myself.

To me the real question is: how is the destruction of the spook of productivity even possible? Easy as a loner, but not as a community. Sure you can sit in a cabin making bombs and spreading a gospel but the possibilities of intentional communities are almost completely gone.

Being a revolutionary anarchist does not mean being self-righteous. I respect Dorothy Day, but believe she had significant flaws. As several commenters have written, no one, not even the best of anarchists, is perfect. So I am an atheist but do not believe in demanding that everyone else give up their religious beliefs (however much I regard them as contradictory). If we insist that everyone become atheists, there will never be anarchism! I do not object if someone comes to the conclusion that abortion is wrong. I object if they insist that no one else is allowed to have an abortion. I don't object if a couple commits to living together for life (or as long as they can stand it); I object to anyone trying to force this pattern of sexual relations on everyone. And so on

in response to abortion laws.

What i meant to say above is that reffering to abortions as "genocide" clearly shows me that someone does not have a live and let live attitude about people in a community. Abortion is "murder" in the sense that its a planned killing, however in my experience catholics repeat that dogma so emphatically that they ignore every other aspect of the more immediate concerns with an abortion. Abortions can hurt women and be a bad idea, but not 100% of the time.

i admit i sounded a bit dogmatic and "leftist" above, but some things to me are just WIERD! The description of the article read more as satire to me, her idea of having private and collectives made way more sense to me. Things are wierd...to that extent i am totally conservative.

",,,couple commits to living together for life (or as long as they can stand it)"
I just picked up a very slight hint of sarcastic misogyny in the last part of that sentence. SHAME ON YOU WAYNE!

You're projecting since no gender was implied, only a critique of coupling and the couple-form was.

Seems to be quite a bit of anarchist gatekeeping in these here comments. This is how the ruling class will stop the revolution, As long as we are fighting amongst ourselves, we cannot fight agaist them.

Showing hostility to all who want to curtail your freedom and to accomplices of the ruling class is self-defense and not gate-keeping.
The question the article poses is valid, if incongruent claims to anarchy are allowed, then there is space for conservatives as well, and they may even fit in better at times than others who also claim anarchy.

There will never be an anarchist revolutions. Revolutions only establish new ruling orders. So yes, fighting among ourselves, not limited to other "anarchists", is preferable to your revolution, or to social war-peace/disaster-business as usual.

I'm curious then, how do you see anarchism playing out? Or is anarchism just a side thing for you? Genuinely asking.

Anarchism will keep playing out more or less as it has until it doesn't.
Anarchy for me is a matter of how much can i muster to live in opposition to authority and all the things that encroach into my life, alternating evasion and attack. I fail at this every day and fall short of my expectations. It's not a side thing, it's an existential (crisis) question. To me it's not about herding (through self-organization or self-management) a mass movement towards a cliff to jump off. There no grand climax or culmination in the horizon.

Anti-misogynist commenter here, Well said, the -ism attached to anarch devalues and prostitutes the pure pursuit of anarch-esque living and ideas. There should be no structure or organization in its natural evolving processes.
My pre-motor cortex warns me that my comment will be deleted!

we can only hope, in the end we are etymologically doomed to praise the black in an anarchist...yet uhm...ad infinitum.

right, mope around passive aggressively because a stranger in a comment section is not on board with your program

Very often, even in anarchist circles, the future organization of ‘anarchist’ society is discussed along with the role of work, self-management of the means of production, direct democracy, etc. According to us, this kind of debate and proposal looks like the construction of a dam that tries to control the impetus of the abundant stream of Anarchy.

that any talk if revolution must be disengenuos.

but whatever, troll on. Trolls also need food because they are compassionate and love dopamine.

I'm really not a troll. I'm just (honestly) severely undereducated. I do want to know how other anarchists think, not just the high school ones.

What would it mean for anarchism to function as a source of disalienated pleasure rather than an accumulation strategy?

Add new comment