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Monarchism, Primitivism & Fascism?
Some thoughts on anarchism and power
As a change of pace from my usual writing I thought I’d spread my intellectual wings a bit and engage with a little niche political thought. Anarchism is one of those fringe adolescent movements which maintains itself on rebellious energy but does have some history of serious writing and theory. Like all fringe movements it has splintered into numerous, and quite dull, subsects: syndicalism, green, communism and so on, each trying to stick the appendage ‘anarcho’ onto something more outlandish. You might ask then why I’d be interested in three utterly insane sounding ideologies, two of which sound oxymoronic. I think all three represent some deep archetypes about ‘organicism’ - the interest in how societies and organisations develop naturally, rather than through imposed ideological blinkers. This to me represents a subterranean question or fault-line running through our political life, is it possible to rationally or ethically ‘create’ or ‘design’ a society from scratch? The fundamental conservative Burkean insight is that human life must move from where it currently sits, with all its own histories, baggage, prejudices, assumptions, mores, cultures and tendencies. For the reactionary there is no Ground Zero of history, only zealots attempting to level and destroy. In these three ideas: monarchism, fascism and primitivism, I find a well-spring of inspiration and thought about this subject and I often return when I feel thrown around by current events.
Notes On Anarchism
There are two approaches one could take when considering the history of anarchism. The first is the ‘official’ history of the anarchist labour movement in the 19th century, that mixing of liberal and socialist thought, with a healthy dollop of romanticism. The second is the more diffuse and deeply historical look at what we could call the ‘anarchist tendency’, that instinct to rebel, to be sovereign, to create life outside the walls of the city. For me this is the more interesting of the two by far. I see anarchism from this perspective as the youthful, violent, impulsive need to be away from authority, from parents and priests, to let Life ascend and to not only ‘be’ free, but to create it and forcefully take that freedom if necessary. Here I depart from any traditional left-wing understanding of the term. I include pirates, war-bands, adventurers, explorers, the Indo-European koryos, Junger, Nietzsche, Polynesian island hunters, prophets, cattle-raiders and nomadic steppe tribes in my vision of what anarchism means, spiritually understood.
Scholars of anarchist history, who tend to be activists themselves, have an irritating habit of looking back into history and drag-netting everything which they see as having any spirit of independence and liberty, claiming it as some ‘prehistory of anarchism’. This is intellectually sluggish and turns all of human history into a linear approach to the apex of 19th century thought when the Word could finally break through and an independent and self-aware ‘anarchism as ideology’ crown itself as the inheritor of all human freedoms. In this way Taoism, Socrates, the Khirijites and the Anabaptists were all just signposts on the road to modern sociology departments. My argument with these modern scholars is that the impulse of anarchism, to be without a ruler, is too rigid and modern an understanding of power. I think it is possible to see the desire to throw off a particular type of ruler or regime as only part of the concept, and that what could fill the void could certainly involve a hierarchy and authority, but of a kind or degree. With this qualification in place I think we can turn to the first of the three ‘organic impulses’.
Anarcho-Monarchism: ‘with the King and the True Commons’
My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning the abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs)—or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate real of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could go back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so to refer to people.
This quotation from J.R.R Tolkien, taken from a 1943 letter to his son, is one of the only written examples of anything that could resemble anarcho-monarchism. Tolkien’s instinctively English love for both Saxon liberty and the organic, dishevelled institution of constitutional monarchy is the crossover point in the seemingly contradictory venn diagram of anarchism and monarchism. Clearly on first reading the two seem polar opposites - how could a philosophy which rejects hierarchy be compatible with belief in a divinely chosen sovereign? In Bronze Age Pervert’s essay, The Biology of Kingship, published in Asylum Magazine, he posits the ‘monarchical instinct’ in man, building on Schopenhauer’s description of monarchy as a natural force. This instinct is built around the physical body of the king, in his blood and descendants, originating in his power as a warrior and ruler of his war-band. He argues that any belief in the divine institution of monarchy, of the king as anointed by God, is a secondary development and justification. The primary claim to kingly rule is the organic majesty of the warrior.
Monarchy thus appears as political manifestation of the principle of blood or heredity or breeding, as these are the only ways known to mortal humans to cultivate and transmit quality across generations. The continuity of monarchy rests on the presence of a culture of biological breeding, even if this should be limited only to the warband and its lineages, meaning to the nobility. The king exists as king—and not, for example as a cloistered figurehead—only so long as he remains “the most noble of the nobles,” the head of his warband. It is this type of ruler especially who is able to be target of the people’s passions, to “trigger” the monarchical instinct in the people, who are able to respond to his remote powers and spontaneously organize themselves in orbit around him. It could be added also that it is only through the king and his retinue that a nation in the proper sense exists as a political as well as organic unity. Outside of this there are only agglomerations of individuals vying for supremacy, but no political or hive order.
That monarchy is an organic instinct, which binds the political community together, is the jumping off point for understanding how it relates to anarchism. In keeping with my earlier description of anarchism as not merely the rejection of authority - but the rejection of a certain kind of authority - I believe Tolkien’s magnetic attraction to both philosophies makes sense. The organic contract between the king and his people embodies a form of order whereby the two are bound together through mutual obligations and inheritances. To my mind there is no greater example of this than the so-called Peasant’s Revolt of 1381.
The open rebellion of the English Commons in the 14th century seems a strange place to find evidence for the organic contract between sovereign and ruled, but too often people misunderstand exactly what the aims and grievances of the rebellion were. The yoke of serfdom, imposed from 1066 onward, had largely come to an end by the 1370’s. In its place was a complex and typically medieval mixture of loyalty, obligations, dues, laws and customs. The historian Dan Jones, in his book Summer of Blood, describes the situation thus:
Yet despite the occasional irritations, and the intrusions of life’s grimmer realities, the various strata of English society had lived in relatively peaceful coexistence since at least the days of the Conquest. Medieval life was acutely hierarchical, with a sense of place in the world inseparable from ideas of Christian duty and the belief in a divinely ordained order of the universe. Charity and paternalism on the lords’ side was largely reciprocated by deference and respect for authority on their tenants’. Villages could not be policed in the sense that we would understand it now, and a sensitive lord understood that he had to work his estate management and local government through the existing village hierarchies. More senior men in the village were needed to perform administrative tasks for the lord, and to broker potentially unpopular lordly demands with the lesser men of their communities.
The ravages of the Black Death and the subsequent attempts by Parliament to introduce wage caps to maintain social order ripped into this social fabric. New taxations and demands for money began to be aggressively imposed, a situation which essentially broke the social contract between King and Commons. When the villages began to assert their ancient rights and resist these impositions, tensions reached boiling point and exploded in an orgy of violence. Intriguingly the Anglo belief in their ancient liberties was evident even then, as over 100 villages applied for a copy of the Domesday Book in order to apply for tax exemption, on the basis that many were granted freedom nearly 300 years ago from “lordly claims on their labour and wealth”. When the rebellion began in earnest, the target of their fury was not the king himself, but rather his advisers and the entire class of lawyers and administrators:
Even among the chaos and rioting, then, a clear statement of ideology was emerging. The rebels fixated on the cult of kingship, but despised all those dripping poison into the king’s ear and spreading rot through the timber of government by their self-serving use of royal positions and power. And they saw themselves as the voices of true moral justice, on a mission to restore the natural order of things to the realm. They were the true commons indeed.
As the barricades went up, the watchword across England was simple and clear:
The rebels’ watchword, ‘With whom holds you?’-answerable by ‘With King Richard and the true commons’-was in their minds a clear badge of loyalty.
There is no need here to describe all the events of the Rebellion, but it is evident from an objective reading of the history that the rebels meant in the first instance to restore the correct organic relationship between themselves and the king, not destroy it. They were the true commons, not Parliament, and it was only after they were stymied by an inexperienced young king and his inept advisers that the situation turned dangerous for the monarch.
This I suggest is the archetypal vision of anarcho-monarchism, a philosophy which seeks to maintain the ordered and hierarchical system of relations between king and commons. Far from the simple revisionism that the peasantry had always wanted to be free from authority, what they craved was the right and true form of authority, the one which protected them and upheld its duties and responsibilities. I submit that this is the monarchical instinct. People will gravitate towards the figure of the king who in turn will provide order and justice.
Anarcho-Fascism: Donovan & the Koryos
Fascism is probably the most misunderstood political theory in a crowded market. The historian and palaeoconservative Paul Gottfried, in his book Fascism: The Career of a Concept, goes to great lengths to divorce fascism and Nazism in his reader’s mind. That the two have become conflated, he argues, is the result of decades of political propaganda and sloppy thinking. ‘Generic fascism’ looks something like Italian fascism, a distinctly Latin phenomenon which drew far more from the philosophy of the left than people care to admit. Gottfried argues that fascism is a right wing collectivist movement which arose in response to the domination of the Communist left. Many will take issue with this description and fascism will always remain a contested theory, but what is clear is that anarchism should equally be divorced from its total association with the left. Strains of right wing anarchism have existed, and traditions which energise it go back millennia.
The right wing writer Jack Donovan exhorts in a short article for Counter-Currents magazine:
With no more frontiers to explore, save space–which can only be allowed, even in fantasy, as a neutered bureaucratic project–the modern, effeminate, bourgeois “First World” states can no longer produce new honor cultures. New, pure warrior-gangs can only rise in anarchic opposition to the corrupt, feminist, anti-tribal, degraded institutions of the established order. Manhood can only be rebooted by the destruction of their future, and the creation of new futures for new or reborn tribes of men. It is too late for conservatism. For the majority of men, only occupied structures and empty gestures remain.
The way of men can only be rediscovered in Night and Chaos.
Ur-fascism is the source of honor culture and authentic patriarchal tradition.
Ur-fascism is a response to anarchy.
The political position of The Way of Men is “anarcho-fascist.”
This anarcho-fascism is not an end; it is hungry for a new beginning.
In Donovan’s reading, anarcho-fascism is the condition of total war and chaos, out of which comes the war-band of warrior men, their vitality and violence being the necessary precursor for any form of later order. What we have here then is not a political programme or conception of the Good, but rather the set of preconditions which leads to something else. The anarcho of anarcho-fascism for Donovan is the swirling disorder which provides the raw material for the correct kind of man to rise up. Whether he believes that this Hobbesian war is part of a cycle of collapse or whether we should be pushing for it is beside the point, the man of power is born in conditions of anarchy, wherein he can engage in the fascistic struggle for himself and his own.
A traditional source of inspiration for right-wing thinkers is the Indo-European tradition of the youthful warrior band, the koryos, the Männerbund. Common to many Indo-European cultures and literature is the presence of a group of young men who achieve manhood by leaving their homes in order to raid, steal cattle and women and prove themselves men through deed and valour:
The Greeks in later times did not think that out-of-control warriors had a place in the phalanx formation. Individual, berserk-acting warriors do not make good soldiers and are, consequently, obscured in the written sources during classical times… The evidence gravitates around two interconnected points, the terrifying aspect of the warriors and the use of animal skins. These points find parallels among other IE young warriors. For instance, the Germanic Harii, whose name is etymologically built on the IE root *koryos, were, according to Kershaw, contingents of young men more than a separate tribe. Tacitus mentions in section 43 of the Germania that “their shields are black, their bodies dyed. They choose dark nights for battle and strike terror by the horror and gloomy appearance of their death-like army. No enemy can bear their strange and almost infernal aspect”
In a similar way to Donovan’s conviction that a state of anarchism allows for the flourishing of the primal male instincts, the history of the koryos suggests that its unpredictable and wild nature was at odds with the later development of professional warfare. Only in those spaces where the State does not control can such a warband flourish, it is antithetical to any form of external governance, hence the koryos being expelled from the lands of their people. But what exactly is fascistic about this?
The academic Daniel Woodley sees fascism as promoting an ethic of violence for its own sake. In his work Fascism and Political Theory he writes:
Fascism is distinguished from liberalism by the aestheticization of struggle and the glorification of paramilitary violence as primary features of political action. Whereas liberals seek to isolate or minimize the disruptive impact of violence – seeing war as the distinctive activity of military specialists – for fascists ‘creative violence’ is contrasted with the insipid cowardice of liberal intellectualism: violence is not just a means to an end, but an intrinsic value in itself.
Some have argued that fascism inherited this value from the Victorian theory of Social Darwinism, but this feels like weak sauce. The celebration of violence as a critical means for a man to prove himself is ancient, and collective violence organised by a tribe or a state has rarely been seen as a wholly negative attribute throughout human history. Wars and conflicts are the testing ground, the real physical way to ensure one can achieve a goal outside of words and the worship of logocentrism. In this way anarcho-fascism is a condition of war where the celebration of violence can be at its zenith. As Cormac McCarthy’s Judge famously declares:
It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way… war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one's will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.
This is the second archetype of our list of three, the man who thrives in the absence of external authority, who gives himself over to his comrades and the greater cosmic authority of war and violence. War alone in this way is the ultimate sovereign and the warrior who becomes stronger through this test can impose his will upon others. If left wing egalitarian anarchism is the struggle to liberate all, then anarcho-fascism is the struggle of a select few to impose their will upon the herd-like many.
Personally, I am pleased that these anarchists are blowing up fire extinguishers, burning buses, and giving themselves over to violent action. Their devotion to these works is very respectable (as in the case of anyone carrying out violence). So let’s see if those with big mouths start putting their money where their mouth is, stop writing their entries on their blogs and start making devices… faggots. I am only stating this for the sake of the war so that it’s not extinguished, so that the anarchos of the future will see that they just didn’t devote themselves to talking shit… But for now the Mafia will not take one step back, and neither will the politically-incorrect propagandists. Let the war against civilization and the modern human continue in the South and North!
Atassa Vol 2 - Readings in Eco-Extremism
Anarcho-primitivism is probably the most coherent and popular of the three strands of thought in this essay - barely coherent by any other measure. Simply put it seeks to eradicate civilisation and return humans, and the rest of the world, to a wild or savage state. Primitivists argue that civilisation is a form of human domestication, brought about through the twin forces of agriculture and the State. Humans once existed in a free condition, and this ended when we committed ourselves to the bondage of the field and taxman. Although this seems an extreme take, it is merely the next step after identifying agriculture as a sort sort of cosmic mistake, a wrong turn in our potential future, and this is not far away from being a mainstream opinion. Popular writers like Jared Diamond, James C Scott and Yuval Noah Harari have described agriculture as the worst blunder in the history of the human species, citing health, disease, labour, freedom, inequality and warfare as the consequences of adopting farming. I’m not unsympathetic to this argument myself, but the notes sounded here are all too familiar - what anarcho-primitivists argue is that domination itself as a form of human relation was essentially created alongside agriculture. Prior to this, reading from simplistic anthropological views of the San Bushmen and the Mbuti Pygmies, humans were egalitarian, free from gendered divisions of labour, peaceful, cooperative and ecologically minded. If this sounds fanciful, its because it truly is.
However, it would be a mistake to think that primitivism stops here in its assault on civilisation. The author John Zerzan takes the root cause of human alienation with the natural world back to symbolic thought itself:
Culture is a fairly recent affair. The oldest cave art, for example, is in the neighborhood of 30,000 years old, and agriculture only got underway about 10,000 years ago. The missing element during the vast interval between the time when I.Q. was available to enable symbolizing, and its realization, was a shift in our relationship to nature. It seems plausible to see in this interval, on some level that we will perhaps never fathom, a refusal to strive for mastery of nature. It may be that only when this striving for mastery was introduced, probably non-consciously, via a very gradual division of labor, did the symbolizing of experiences begin to take hold.
For Zerzan and other primitivists, civilisation begins with domestication, of animals, plants and humans. Splitting up the gestalt of the world into utilitarian functions and parts has enabled humans to exploit and commit violence against it. The activist-author Kirkpatrick Sale goes so far as to argue that Homo sapiens themselves are a creature evolved on cruelty and domination, and that our erectus forebears lived simple, peaceful lives of harmony. To go this far is to wish for a levelling of such a great degree that even cave art and clay figurines represent a radical split in the world. Better that we almost abolish consciousness itself, in order not to be separated and alienated from nature.
But whilst this tendency towards nihilism through the obliteration of the mind exists within primitivist thought, so too does a far more violent and bloody vision of the state of nature. Anthropologist Pierre Clastres, in his research amongst Amazonian tribes, conceived of a new form of political philosophy, one where the equation of the State with violence is a mistake. For Clastres, primitive violence was not the proto-State beginning to assert itself, but rather the opposite - the State abhors violence and does everything possible to reduce it:
For [Hobbes], the social link institutes itself between men due to "a common Power to keep them all in awe:" the State is against the war. What does primitive society as a sociological space of permanent war tell us in counter-point? It repeats Hobbes's discourse by reversing it; it proclaims that the machine of dispersion functions against the machine of unification; it tells us that war is against the State.
Under the Clastrian conception of war, the State can be held at arms length through the deliberate use of violence, in order to prevent power from coalescing. Even torture, mutilations, executions and humiliations all serve the purpose of keeping men in a state of war. Clastre’s thought had a profound impact on some anarcho-primitivists, who have continued to hold that violence is an essential tactic to destroy the State and prevent another from arising. In language that comes flirtatiously close to fascism, primitivists and so-called ‘eco-extremists’ have turned to Nietzsche, anthropologies of steppe warriors and early Islam and Indo-European paganism to make sense of the primitive mind. In an essay called The Return of the Warrior, primitivist Ramon Elani writes:
Clastres demonstrated that what is desirable, substantive, and eminently deserving of emulation in primitive society is precisely due to and constituted by ever-present, permanent violence. We must refuse to shy away from the importance of violence in the creation of community. We must acknowledge, in fact, that violence alone, properly understood, is the only means to achieve the kind of society we desire.
Some primitivists have followed these thoughts to their logical conclusion and also rejected the entire ‘moralistic’ and ‘humanistic’ framework upon which leftist anarchism is built. Obscure anonymous journals like Atassa contain a plethora of writing rejecting feminism, egalitarianism and even the principle that human life has any inherent worth. These self-described ‘eco-extremists’ place ‘wildness’ and nihilism as their ultimate goal, casually turning towards homophobia and the celebration of rape, bride capture and arbitrary murder. This is unsurprising in many ways, since someone who rejects civilisation but believes in egalitarianism is fooling no-one. A response piece to this new primitivist tendency - Of Indiscriminate Attacks and Wild Reactions - highlights exactly where anarcho-primitivists cross the line into anarcho-fascists:
It’s easy to imagine that Elani’s Warrior possesses qualities resembling the ideal of warbound Aryans and eager Freikorps a century ago, or any number of young neo-fascists of today. Before the name change to “Wild Reaction” and their intensifying spiral of bigotry (hearkening back to the positions of former leading light Kaczynski) there were already strong authoritarian commitments evident in this group who so badly wanted to see its name in lights in its contest with the establishment, a fight now recalibrated to hone in on those most hated targets: anarchists and random women. Furthermore, their identity could shift to an explicitly ethnic one, their rhetoric could become suffused with a heroic folkish realism, and their spirit could end up falling closer to the Traditionalism of arch-fascist philosopher Julius Evola.
Thus anarcho-primitivism is a hopeless mess of left-wing ideas trying to engage with the realities of anthropology, confused about where and why domination and violence arose, lost in the thicket of accusations and denunciations. If there is a binding element here, it is in the rejection of domesticated life and the destruction of the natural world, but attempting to square this circle while retaining the exceptionally novel ideas of left-wing anarchism seems a fool’s errand. In many ways this makes primitivism a wellspring of ideas which belongs to neither left nor right, but rather an archetypal refusal to be shackled to the cage of civilisation.
In the three philosophies I have attempted to describe we can see perhaps three approaches to violence: Violence to restore order, violence to create order and violence to destroy order. The monarchist seeks an organic and perhaps divine hierarchy; the fascist seeks an organic order through struggle and the primitivist seeks to sweep the civilised order and a return to a primordial order. The anarcho-prefix is the recognition of the state of flux we find ourselves in, a transition state between here and the desired outcome. While none of them offers a blueprint or ideological mission statement, I think that this is precisely the point. Rational designs fail to ignite the passions needed to drive change and struggle, rather a conception or pre-rational image of aesthetics and war is what stokes the human heart to action. This is why I find these philosophies attractive, they offer a glorification of struggle in which one can become something greater. An invitation to overcome. Maybe they will do the same for you as well.