I am an American Anarchist


And so she asks: “What does it mean? ‘The Anarchist’s Tool Chest?’”

I take a deep breath and purse my lips a bit. I get asked this question a lot, especially by non-woodworkers, people who haven’t read “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” and complete wankers.

The truth is, I eschew labels such as “libertarian,” “liberal” and “lemming.” While I am happy to explain my outlook on life, I do it without a whiff of political language. Instead of talking about the political landscape, I’d rather live in the real one.

So my basic response to the question goes like this: I dislike large organizations – governments, corporations, churches. When organizations get enormous, the humans in them tend to do inhumane things, such as start wars, burn each other at the stake or enslave people in factories.

I refuse to participate in those organizations as much as possible. I don’t vote. I don’t give money to churches. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, or really any other chain store. I admit it’s difficult to be Puritanical about this. Buying a car or a computer is difficult without somehow engaging with a large organization, but I do my best.

Most of all, I try to consume less and make more – and not be an a-hole about everything I’ve said above. The world has enough of those, and I’m surprised they don’t have their own organizing body.

If you are interested in American anarchism, or the particular branch that applies to woodworkers – aesthetic anarchism – I encourage you to read the following short bits.

1. The Wikipedia entry on Josiah Warren, the first American anarchist and the founder of the Cincinnati Time Store.

2. The 1906 book on Josiah Warren by William Bailie. It’s available for free here from archive.org.

3. Buy a copy of “Native American Anarchism” by Eunice Minette. Many libraries have the book. You can buy one from AbeBooks.com as well. The book is a bit mistitled. It has nothing to do with Native Americans. It is about anarchism that took root in America.

Most of all, if you think you are an anarchist, refuse to listen to the non-anarchists who dismiss your approach to life. That’s like listening to the factory owners who laugh at hand-tool woodworking as quaint.

The best response to the criticism is to close the laptop, sharpen a chisel and chop some dovetails. As George R.R. Martin writes over and over in his books, “Words are wind.”

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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39 Responses to I am an American Anarchist

  1. KampWood says:

    Amen brother!


  2. don2laughs says:

    That’s why I’ve followed every post, bought every book and watched your every (cyber listed) move for the past nine years….I hold your manifested integrity in very high esteem. Thank you for reminding me.


  3. lew60 says:

    Long tradition in America. A friend has written on Shay’s and the Whiskey Rebellion and how they were part of the tradition. As was the Calico Rebellion-1)http://www.amazon.com/HORNS-CALICO-Story-Anti-rent-Rebellion/dp/B0013KTXVI 2) http://libcom.org/history/1839-1846-the-anti-renter-movement . From the 1870’s unitjust after WWII the issue of left. right and parties took a secondary place in the discussion of anarchism. Thoreau was an anarchist at heart, as was Whitman. Unfortunately the powers that be on all sides have disparaged anarchists.
    Chris, thank you for being so honest and open.


  4. forbeskm says:

    “Words are wind” I like that. The Anarchist Tool Chest did help push me over the edge to hand woodworking. Though its too big for the portability I need, a set of stairs in the way 😦 its well written and applies to many more things like say a smaller tool chest.

    Hard to believe making stuff by oneself is anarchist 🙂 but these days its no longer the norm.


  5. Eric R says:

    Sums it up nicely.


  6. stevevoigt says:

    What does not voting accomplish, other than leaving the results of elections up to the craziest and most partisan members of society?


  7. oldbaleine says:

    What does voting accomplish, other than leaving the results of elections up to the craziest and most partisan members of society?


  8. Andy in Germany says:

    “Most of all, if you think you are an anarchist, refuse to listen to the non-anarchists who dismiss your approach to life. That’s like listening to the factory owners who laugh at hand-tool woodworking as quaint.”

    So you’ve met my employer, then?


  9. The Wiki article you cite seems to give more reasons in support of voting than not. In the article, Rothbard states: “……it is licit for us to vote for what we believe the lesser of two or more evils, and still more beneficial to vote for an avowedly libertarian candidates.” Not voting is always a vote for someone, and it’s guaranteed not to be the Libertarian.
    We live in a political world. Eschewing labels is eschewing words and language (Jonah Goldberg has written some great stuff on the ‘eschewing labels’ fad). Wishing reality away cannot make it less so.


    • My politics is done in the workshop. Not in the voting booth. After covering politics for years as a journalist I never met anyone worth voting into office. That is all there is to say.


      • Yeah, I hear you Chris. But to me, James Madison’s sentiment rings true: “If men were angels, there would be no need for government”. It’s just that we need 95% less than we have now, and we need it as local, and hence as accountable, as possible (subsidiarity); not central in DC, and God forbid, not in Brussels.

        ……..So, be vote (early and often) for Ben Carson 🙂


  10. raney says:

    Zinn: Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.


    • mbred says:

      As we are a republic, voting is essential, and is a direct action by concerned citizens. Being an informed voter is neither easy or marginal.


    • Zinn, as in Howard Zinn? He was a Marxist, an Anarchist, and became a Communist.
      Zinn hated America and spoke forcefully about wishing for it’s destruction. That’s what he meant by “direct action”. Not necessarily a source of good advice. I you want anarchy, try Rwanda or Kosovo.
      The Founders knew that pure democracy was mob rule, that’s why they gave us checks and balances. Sadly, since Woodrow Wilson, the Constitution has been all but destroyed. So, Obama does whatever he wants.
      BTW, check out Dinesh D’Sousa’s film “America” in theatres now, for more insight on Zinn and his very influential fellow travelers, such as Bill Ayers et al (our government schools still use their textbooks).


  11. mbred says:

    We are fortunate (maybe not) to live in a country where abstaining from participation can be done without immediate effect on our lives. It seems obvious to me that the mindset of ignoring it has lead to a government of such large proportions that it impacts our lives in so many ways that inhibit our freedoms. As the government assumes more power and responsibility for our individual lives, our choices become more limited, (and taxes higher). Politics is an ugly business, but without a government based on the founding principles that we have, focusing on our individual passions would be at best, difficult. You don’t have to look far to see countries where it is impossible. Can you really suppose we would be better off without a government, and that the world would just leave us alone? You speak of propping up the craft, isn’t our country deserving of as much?
    I am proud to be an American,
    Mike Bredemeyer


  12. While as a political ideal Anarchism may be a poor way to run a large society or a state, it does have many good ideas that are worth discussing for running a local community, and providing a ‘guiding philosophy’ for life (example: Chris Schwartz).

    Also, if the books Chris mentions above aren’t in the public library, you can see if your library does inter-library loans between library systems, or do like me and source them through the local university library. It’s easy for me because I have an alumni card, but some of the larger university libraries will extend (limited) borrowing privileges to the local public.


  13. EJ Miner says:

    I agree. Anarchism, Libertarianism, Volunaryism. They are not as extreme as the statists would like you to think. When people ask what would happen if we didn’t have government you have to ask look what happens when we do.


    • mbred says:

      Oh, I don’t know, a government that recognizes inalienable rights such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” , not the guarantee of it. When Ben Franklin was asked by a woman on the street after the constitutional convention what they had given us., his reply was, “A republic madam, if you can keep it”. If not a republic, then what would you prefer?


  14. Raney,
    Just different backgrounds, education, etc. What a blessing to live in a country where we can still even have interchange and discussions like this. I love history and politics; I guess I sort of jumped out of my seat after reading this post.


  15. Not voting is not cool for so many reasons.

    Most importantly, it is a blatant disrespect and slap in the face to those who paid the ultimate price to allow us all to participate in the governance of our country.

    If one is disillusioned with the state of government and the apparent void of leadership shown therein, one should then work to correct that imbalance by either promoting a worthy leader of their choosing or BEING that worthy leader. Withdrawing from the process is not leadership, it’s closer to cowardice, complacency or apathy. Within the democratic system we have, if one is convinced there is a void of worthy leadership and one does nothing, they are demonstrating that they have not faced the horrors and adversity that comes from living within oppressive regimes. This person is then free to hide away and ride out time, making no meaningful contribution to the betterment of their nation, and the world. If what we need are leaders, and we know we need leaders, and we don’t do anything to promote leaders, who are we to say we have anything to offer at all?

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
    — Edmund Burke

    Refute the author if you choose but, the point is still true.


    • durbien says:

      If most people followed your example and didn’t vote, the country would be much… like it is now.


    • Jason says:

      Telling someone not to use the rights all “those people paid the ultimate price” for is the real blatant disrespect and slap in the face. Exercising your rights (the right not to vote in your example) or not is in no way a slap in the face of anyone. I choose not to own a gun. By your logic I’m being disrespectful.


    • terrygday says:

      As one of those who gave some, I am not offended in the least if Chris doesn’t vote. It is a right not an obligation and I fought to protect rights. Maybe things would have been different if we had heeded George Washington’s warning about political parties. I vote but it is done while holding my breath from the stench while trying to choose the lesser of two liars. Cincinnatus was the exception not the rule.


  16. Bob Jones says:

    That’s a fine position that you have the luxury of having because of the sacrifices of previous and current folks in uniform (and others). I doubt the good people of the Ukraine would agree that anarchy is a positive thing.

    I know you don’t mean any harm, sometimes I wonder if you are taking your situation for granted (along with 99% of us in the USA).


  17. Agreed. Noam Chomsky has some enlightening thoughts on voting and anarchy. The best way we as average citizens can vote is with our wallets. Whether by buying something we believe in, or more importantly, by not buying things we don’t.


  18. rwyoung says:

    I seem to have dropped my can of worms here somewhere. Perhaps you have seen it? I hope it didn’t come open…


  19. Kudos Chris. Let’s strive to someday have every factory be just like yours—worker owned and run.


  20. carpenterman says:

    this blog sure has created a lot of wind.


  21. lexxluthier says:

    Without government, who would build the roads Chris?!?! Who would build the roads?!?! **Rips out hair and cries in hysteria**


  22. tpier says:

    If I am not mistaken, the roads are mostly built and repaired by private contractors.


  23. Wes Beal says:

    On voting, I also disagree with Chris and the idea that not-voting is an effective response to the world we live in.

    But I’ll take Chris’ thought-out rationale for choosing not to vote over the disengaged masses that never show up any day.

    Maybe Chris and others would feel different here in New England. I’m a recent transplant (4 years) and serve on what we call Representative Town Meeting. Our town of 40,000 has a 252 elected member legislative body – 12 people elected from each precinct, that has the sole authority to set all town laws. Most folks in town have one or two elected local “politicians” on their block.

    Perhaps voting in local elections would be more digestible. Regardless, engagement and not voting beats the heck out of disengaged and not voting.


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