Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About American Anarchism


What is anarchism?
There are as many flavors of anarchism as there are anarchists. So the only broad definition I will offer is that it is “against the state.” Unlike modern European anarchism, American anarchism is a pretty peaceful affair (with some notable exceptions) and has its roots in religious freedom and justice movements in the early days of the nation.

Since the early part of the 19th century, American anarchism has been best described as a “tendency” toward individual action. It is a reluctance to engage with large governments, corporations, churches or organizations.

Most modern anarchists are not living life in the woods (those are survivalists). Instead, for me it it is about disconnecting myself as much as possible from large organizations that seek to homogenize us, control us or – at the very least – trick us into buying a bunch of things.

Is it about revolution?
Though many would disagree with me, I don’t think it is. A revolution would have to be organized and offer a replacement regime. Anarchism is not a viable way to run a railroad. Instead, it exists in parallel to whatever system is in place – capitalism, socialism, etc.

So why does it exist?
To be a part of the bell curve of thought that makes us diverse, weird and something to think about.

Is it socialism in disguise?
Hardly. American anarchism (particularly the aesthetic wing of it) is about private property. It advocates that individuals can own their tools and the fruits of their labors. The founder of American anarchism, Josiah Warren, dabbled in socialistic communities such as New Harmony, Ind., and rejected that as a way of living.

You can read all you like about Warren here at Wikipedia. Or you can skip that and read his book “Equitable Commerce” free on Google Books. Warren was an inventor, publisher, entrepreneur and band geek. But not a socialist or a revolutionary.

Is it Godless?
Nope. The first seeds of anarchism were in the Massachusetts colony and were reactions to Puritan law. Early proto-anarchists such as Anne Hutchinson believed that God’s law superseded earthly law. And she fought for equal representation of women in society. And this was in the 17th century.

Anarchists don’t have any problems with spirituality. Just don’t get us started on mega-churches or the relationship between church and state.

How does this relate to “The Anarchist’s Cookbook?”
Unfortunately, most Americans’ first encounter with anarchism is through this odd book, which has been disavowed by its author. The book has little to do with anarchism and is mostly a misguided manual on social mischief. It’s for people who want to make bombs, smoke banana peels and play with guns.

That book was my first encounter with the word “anarchism,” as well. In high school, one of my friends read the book, made some pipe bombs and threw them on the top of the local McDonald’s at 4 a.m. Luckily, he was an idiot and they didn’t go off. Was he an anarchist? Absolutely not. He was a screwed-up teenager who liked to play with fire and guns.

But when his day in court came, it was all about “anarchism.”

You say you are an anarchist. But what does that mean day-to-day?
I don’t vote. I don’t go to church. I buy everything I can from small independent businesses or individuals. I pay a lot of taxes.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not involved in my community, I’m not spiritual or I am anti-capitalist.

Why inject politics into woodworking with “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” and “The Anarchist’s Design Book?”
You might think that building quality furniture for yourself and others is a perfectly normal thing to do. I assure you it is not. Taking up tools and making something that lasts is one of the most subversive things you can do in this disposable society that encourages – nay, requires – rampant consumer spending.

I’m just trying to point out that you are not your Gap(TM) khakis.

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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