OK, I’ll go First

Josiah_WarrenWhen “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” was released in 2011, I caught flack from people saying I didn’t know squat about anarchism. (It’s interesting to note that none of the assailants were anarchists.)

I know that the word “anarchist” stirs a lot of emotions, and I hesitated for years to use it. But it’s the correct word to describe who I am. Plus I’m old enough that I just don’t give a rat’s $#& what people say about me.

With the release of “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” I know this topic is going to come up again. So before you worry that reading my book is going to make you build bombs, you can do a little bit of reading and find out what North American Anarchism is really about.

In short: Anarchism is a tendency to avoid large organizations – governments, corporations and churches. It is not about violence. It is not about revolution. It is not a form of society that can ever be the majority. But it is, like I said, a tendency to favor the small over the huge. It favors individual over collective action. Self-reliance over consumerism.

Or, as I like to say: “To build rather than buy.”

It’s definitely not God-less. American anarchism has its roots in the foundation of Rhode Island over the principles of religious freedom. Read the entry on Anne Hutchinson at Wikipedia for a look at the pillars of anarchism on this continent.

It’s not anti-capitalist. The founder of American anarchism was Josiah Warren, an early 18th-century businessman and social experimenter. He dabbled in communism and socialism at New Harmony, Ind., before moving back to Cincinnati to found the Cincinnati Time Store. Personal property and the ability to own the fruits of your labor are at the core of aesthetic American anarchism. Read more about Warren here.

Or read his book “Equitable Commerce” at Google Books.

And if you really want to dig in, pick up a copy of “Native American Anarchism” (Loompanics Unlimited, 1983) by Eunice Minette Schuster – preferably at a used or independent bookstore.

Once you get through that reading list, then we’ll be ready to joust.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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43 Responses to OK, I’ll go First

  1. greenebelly says:

    No jousting here. If we ever meet, we will drink microbrew and pay for our own drinks!😃😂🤔 I’d probably buy you a couple. Thanks for the books, your efforts are extremely appreciated.

  2. raney says:

    Nicely done. My favorite gross oversimplification was always that anarchism is to individualist philosophy what libertarianism is to political philosophy. Not that leanings towards one equate to leanings to the other – often the opposite – but its a good short form to get people to put the connotations they’ve inherited on hold to investigate a bit.

    Personally, I don’t mess with political philosophy. Lost my taste for it when I gave up the barroom and dorm-room intelligentsia who always had the only solution to everything in a sentence they kept in their back pocket. Personal philosophy, though, is an entirely different can o snakes.

  3. I was hoping you’d post something like this! I went through the new book at warp speed, and now I’m doing a deeper dive. Saw benches once my tapering toys arrive! Great work.

  4. I spent Thanksgiving weekend reading William Coperthwaite’s book, as well as Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow’s book about Cooerthwaite and their relationship.

    He was all about democratic living – but it sure read like anarchism to me.


    And just like Coperthwaite, you, me, and everyone else has conflicts with the way we actually live and our philosophies. I like being human.

  5. Cameron says:

    I was a bit disappointed when I picked up ATC originally, I was expecting it to be full of plans for making armored cars to battle Mel Gibson in the Australian outback, or tips for homemade hair gel strong enough to keep my mohawk in place in the Apocalypse.

    Kidding aside I’m really glad you didn’t get bullied out of using the term because it definitely is the right word, and it rolls off the tongue a little easier than “Practical furniture design for self reliant woodworkers who dont care for excessive ornamentation and the modern tendency towards rabid consumerism”.

  6. nrhiller says:

    No jousting necessary. Consult the Greek. Anarchy means against rule. Is there any more American concept? (I’m stopping here, lest I cause trouble.)

  7. Stefan Rusek says:

    While I doubt that it will stop anyone from complaining (especially since they are also less likely to actually read the book), I think you did a better job of articulating directly your philosophy in ADB, while ATC was a more deeply philosophical experience, it was more of a read between the lines philosophy. My big problem at the moment is to figure out how to get my wife to read ADB. Thank you for both books!

  8. abtuser says:

    Bakunin is often cited as one of the early leading thinkers of anarchism. In Chris’s own backyard, Alperovitz (Cleveland) is supposedly leading projects along these lines.

  9. Speaking of not being “god-less” there are those like Jaques Ellul and Tolstoy who would argue that anarchism is at the heart of Jesus’ message.

    I’ll be honest. I had read those others but it was only finally upon reading the ATC that I could finally articulate my position as a Christian Anarchist.

  10. Ron says:

    I may not agree with your thoughts on 18th Century furniture nor some of your other musings, but I just read your short comments about Anarchist. Hmmmm. Seems to describe me almost to a “T” I plead guilty to being a non conformist. Unfortunately many tend to associate Anarchist with chaos. This brings up the question…” At what point does propagandist fiction become fact ” or a more modern day version… At what point does marketing hype become fact. :):) Always interesting to read your musings. Best of luck with the new publication and your remodel.

  11. KampWood says:

    Oh drat! I thought for sure this would be the book you tell us how to build a bomb with a hand saw and Southern yellow pine.

  12. Brian Clites says:

    You Pinko Commie Nazi Socialist Anarchist Crazy Man.

    • stillad says:

      Given Chris’s geographic location, you could’ve just said “Democrat!”. In the South, they’re generally viewed the same way. 🙂

  13. potomacker says:

    I’m a wouldbe wobbly, myself so I know all about the flack and grief for making any statement that requires knowledge of political history and economics

  14. Joel says:

    I’m not sure exactly where the Anarchic Bilbliography fits in the cacopedia…

  15. tpier says:

    If this is truly a book on “furniture of necessity” where are the plans for the beer caddy?

  16. Jay Wilkinson says:

    As a graduate of Anne Hutchinson Elementary and who grew up in Portsmouth RI – I say Hooray for power of being an individual.

  17. Paul McGee says:

    Will there be bumper stickers saying “Without government there’d be anarchy” ?:p

  18. Rick says:

    This article alone proves how little you care what people think.

  19. billlattpa says:

    if you care to hear my opinion (which you probably don’t), from what little I know, it seems that you’ve stuck to your philosophy as closely as possible; not that that matters one way or the other; you don’t owe anybody anything. I just think that true anarchy, whatever that may be, is near an impossibility unless it’s surrounded by a non-anarchist society. Sort of like a person saying “I’ve never been vaccinated and I’ve never gotten measles.” But when everybody around you has had the measles vaccine that statement is a lot less impressive. Meaning, modern anarchy is in many ways dependent on the rest of society functioning normally.
    At that, I love what you are saying: think for yourself, make rather than buy, be as self-reliant as possible. But I think what may rankle some people is not those ideals, or not that the fact that you live your life by them, but that it can easily be construed, or misconstrued, as a knock to those who don’t chose to live the way you do. For example, when the statement is made “Big box furniture makes junk…” that may very well be true, but when a man or woman who just happened to purchase their kids crib at Big Box inc reads that statement it can easily be upsetting. Or when you say “Church is a form of control..” which it very well may be, yet on the same token there are many people, including woodworkers, who find great comfort in attending church.
    It’s easy to say, “just don’t read what I write or buy my books”, and in many cases that is probably the best solution for those who are easily upset, but the fact is that woodworkers who may enjoy many of your offerings aren’t always necessarily going to agree with you on this point. Again, that doesn’t matter one way or the other; disagreeing isn’t a sign of disrespect. But I think it’s difficult to resolve writing something that may upset people and then saying that they shouldn’t be upset by it.

    Sorry about the manifesto. This is why I don’t often comment on many blogs.

  20. Sam Morgan says:

    Dang…All this time I thought you meant a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of person(s), events, objects, or customs from different periods of time!

  21. Matt Colby says:

    I completely agree with Josiah Warren, although, it is probably not the way to get rich. it also reminds me of classical liberalism, which is much different from the devolved Liberalism of today.

  22. flatironjoe says:

    No issues here with using Anarchist in the title, but I am a little confused about the choice of “design.” The book is great and highlights a couple useful, simple techniques and plans for several great pieces of furniture, but there isn’t a whole lot about how to go about designing things. Perhaps you meant design more in terms of “pattern” and not so much as a process, in which case I need to alter my expectations. Not that you in any way write books to meet others’ expectation 🙂

    • I think there actually is quite a lot about design in the book. But that’s my take.

      And the other reason it is called “The Anarchist’s Design Book” is because I’m an anarchist, and those are my designs. Based somewhat in historical ideas, but mine.

      Anyway, the chapters on design are about all I think are necessary for people who don’t do it for a living.

      • flatironjoe says:

        Fair enough on all points. It wasn’t meant as a criticism; I maybe just thought with that title it would be more focused on the designing process than the designs themselves. (Don’t you hate it when words have more than one meaning?!)
        Thanks for the reply, and thanks for another great book that I’m sure I’ll be re-reading and referencing for years to come.

  23. I think it might be a bit of a stretch to include Hutchinson as a pillar of anarchism in the U.S. While there are a number of 18th & 19th century anarchists who were religious and pro-capitalist, there were just as many who were militantly atheist and anti-capitalist. I think Goldman had a much larger influence on the popularization of anarchist ideas in the U.S.
    But this discussion itself kind of makes the point. Anarchism at its most fundamental is about heterodoxy. The stiff-necks who challenge inherited traditions and dogmas, whether they be religious laws or rules about how to cut a dovetail. Or anarchist orthodoxy.
    But that’s just me individual take on the matter.

    • I think Schuster makes a compelling case with details not included in the Wikipedia entry.

      Either way, Christian anarchists are very common feature of the early American social landscape.

      • Fair enough, I’ve got his book on order from Abe. I’ve just started on the PDF of the Anarchist’s Design Book and am already off on twenty tangents reading about the Siege of Naarden and Haarlem and the Geuzen. Good stuff but it’s gonna take me twenty years to finish this book. 🙂

  24. Wesley Beal says:

    In response to this post, and the one this evening (FAQ About American Anarchism), I’ll just say this: I don’t worry about whether your anarchism is correctly following the tenets of this or that strain of anarchism espoused wherever whenever.

    I read what you say you mean when you use the word. That’s good enough for me.

    I don’t agree with everything you say you practice as part of being your version of an anarchist, in your FAQ post, here, and elsewhere. That’s fine. I agree with some parts, not with others. I’m an atheist who can quote Jesus more than most self-identifying Christians I know, as I find the ideas presented worthy of consideration and reflection.

    What’s relevant here is that I find value in reflecting on the ideas you present. Especially as it relates to me as a hobbyist woodworker.

    I think this latest book (just finished reading it tonight) is an important book for hobbyists like me, and whether a lot of people will adopt every argument presented as their own or not, it will have an impact on the community, and I believe it will be a very positive journey for all of us.

  25. escottplace says:

    While I love your books, I have to disagree about some of your assertions about anarchism. Anarchism is opposed to capitalism. From the Diggers in 1649 through the 1968 student uprisings. Individualist anarchists aren’t capitalists. Also, American anarchism isn’t as neat and tidy as you say. Paul Avrich was a great historian who wrote about American anarchism. Also infoshop.org is an amazing resource. Still love your books, though.

  26. Christopher, I understand that you had fallen in love with this US-shocking word and you’re using it as a marketing term to stand out from the woodworking writer mass.
    I also understand your attempt to justify this term at all costs, since you’ve naively started using it and you don’t want to seem ignorant.
    In fact, in this attempt to justify your ignorance, you did a little step, from anarchism to american anarchism, but you’re still far away from what you actually are. Or you say you are.
    You’re much more banally an anti-consumerist, an anti-globalist or an anti-corporatist. Which are some good things, to ble clear, things tobe proud of. But definitely you are not an anarchist, that is a much more noble word, that, reading you, you don’t know much about.
    Best regards,

  27. tenwinkle says:

    It all seems rather silly to quibble over whether you’re a “true believer” anarchist, someone with anarchistic tendencies, or simply loony. Who cares? Your personal philosophy is yours and it’s no one’s business how you choose to define yourself or what you choose to call yourself. Those who march to the beat of a different drum are seldom in step with anyone, and more power to them. To quote my favorite philosopher, Jimmy Buffett, we need more fruitcakes in the world. And a lot less organization.

    I had a brief opportunity to thumb through the PDF of the new book and I can’t wait to get my hands on the hard copy. PDFs are fine for browsing but for serious reading and working from I need something I can hold and smell.

    On a side note I wanted to leave a comment on your January 19 post Frequently Asked Questions but couldn’t figure out how to do it (duh!) so I’ll leave it here. Josiah Warren’s “Equitable Commerce” is also available as a Print On Demand book from AbeBooks.com for $7.22 including shipping, from India no less. For those like me who don’t find ebooks completely satisfying.

  28. Jim Maher says:

    I do so which I could find a better word than “anarchist”, despite the ancient Chinese proverb that “True wisdom begins by calling things their proper name”.

    My problem is that some words accrue connotations that MIS-lead the hearer. “Anarchy” may derive from “without ruler”, but common usage and understanding is far too skewed toward politics and a history of violence. Indeed, note how very much effort is being spent right here to explain what each individual “means” when uttering “anarchy”, and then defending that interpretation.

    Me, I oppose collective concentrations of power, because the leader / representative / boss / etc. of such collectives inevitably are corrupted by a very natural inclination to retain power. There just aren’t that many true altruists, really. Now I’m probably technically guilty of believing in “anarchy”, but I am so weary of wasting time defending the word. Can’t never seem to move on toward what to do instead.

  29. jbgcr says:

    Thanks Chris, all these years I didn’t know what I was.

  30. bbrazil69 says:

    The people of Rhode Island still maintain a bit of an anarchist bent 😉

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