This article is included in the recently released National-Anarchism: Theory and Practice, edited by Troy Southgate and available from Black Front Press.
By Craig FitzGerald and Jamie O’Hara
The unification of National-Anarchist theory and practice will take as many shapes as there are tribes. The very nature of this philosophical school requires a wide range of cultural values, methods of organization, economic systems, industrial aspirations, social institutions, and more. National-Anarchism is reminiscent of the natural environment, and its diverse communities are like the myriad life forms on our planet. This being the case, to speak of National-Anarchism in purely practical terms is to be either extremely general or extremely personal. However, it is useful for both National-Anarchist discourse and application to explore various ideas for putting principle into action. Anarcho-feudalism represents one possibility of National-Anarchist organization.
The historical concept of feudalism is not without controversy. Many modern scholars question both the usefulness and the accuracy of the term.# This is partially because feudal systems in different areas had divergent social and political structures, and therefore do not fit perfectly in the same category. But despite the many ways in which feudalism varied from one locality to another, certain characteristics of the term are consistent enough to merit its use, especially with some qualification.
The attachment of the anarchist prefix is the ultimate qualifier of the word “feudalism;” it immediately implies that any coercive or oppressive aspects of traditional feudal society are rejected. The components that remain include the centrality of the land and agrarian pursuits, mutual militia-style protection, and the institution of allegiances that elevate social relationships to familial status.
In spite of feudalism’s reputation as an exploitative and strictly stratified society, it possesses several traits that make it compatible with anarchist theory. First, it is important to distinguish feudalism from seigneurialism, with which it is commonly confused. A feudal arrangement is a voluntary contractual agreement between parties. Unlike seigneurialism, a system whose authoritarian hierarchies subjugate a peasant class, feudalism is a mutual understanding among sovereign peers.# It is a free exchange of resources and services: land, labor, food, and the promise of physical protection. In addition to these practical necessities, feudalism cultivated the social values of honor, loyalty, mutual respect, and cooperation. These virtues help create principled and resilient communities. Human relationships constitute the basis of tribal organization; the deeper the bonds among people, the stronger the community.
Examining the etymology of the English feudal lexicon helps to illuminate this significance of fraternal bonding to anarcho-feudalism. Some etymologists posit that the world “feudal” has Germanic origins and means “property” or “cattle.” However, Noah Webster claims that “feudal” and its associated term “fealty” come from the Latin word “fidelis,” i.e. “fidelity” or “loyalty.” The Germanic attribution likely holds some weight, but the ritualistic elements of European feudal society lend credence to Webster’s etymology, at least in a more esoteric sense. Ceremonies of allegiance between vassals and lords were integral to feudal arrangements and the social fabric they helped weave. Individuals who chose to participate in feudal situations had to demonstrate fealty, faith, and trust in one another. These tight and formalized bonds between parties allowed feudalism to sustain itself without centralized governance or regulation.
Such a characteristic can undoubtedly appeal to proponents of anarchism. Feudalism arose in response to the destruction of empire, a cyclical occurrence that anarchists either anticipate will happen organically or directly attempt to cause. Much of feudalism’s historical growth depended on the ineffectiveness of imperial enforcement over wide expanses of territory. This weakness of the state is still relevant, but unfortunately the global power grid today is more efficient and pervasive because of centralization and advances in technology. Nonetheless, when absolute power inevitably fails, a decentralized structure emerges. Feudalism’s adaptability and pragmatism can provide insight into the possible ways of adjusting to major collapses of power. For twenty-first century anarchist movements, this kind of historical-geopolitical context is all too familiar and pertinent.
Another possible anarchist expression of feudalist elements is the multifaceted nature of feudal culture. The various organizations of the period reflect the diversity of National-Anarchist tribal formation. Sacred orders of knights, magicians, and alchemists, or guilds of blacksmiths and stone masons, provide examples of free voluntary association and mutual aid. They also reveal the seriousness with which the individuals involved took their fraternal bonds. Such depth of interpersonal respect and allegiance is necessary for the successful decentralization of society into self-sustaining anarchist tribes.
It is important to realize that the global oligarchy has implemented this same type of ritualized fraternal bonding for thousands of years. Given the small fraction of the population that the elite represent, it should be surprising that they are so successful in their various endeavors. But solemn oaths of fidelity — or even informal cliquishness — have the ability to unite people and establish such a deep sense of trust and cooperation that mutual enterprises excel. From exoteric political think-tanks to esoteric initiation societies to recreational country clubs, the use of these associations as vehicles for societal influence has been highly effective. Unfortunately, those who generally employ such connections rely on coercion and exploitation (of the masses, or anyone outside of their networks) to achieve their aims.
However, if anarchists, who respect the rights and autonomy of others, take advantage of a similar mode of organizing, they too can more easily bring their ideas into fruition. Based on the particular values of each community, such interpersonal connections could be based on spirituality, cultural traditions, trades, political or economic agendas, environmental objectives, art forms, or any other common identity or goal. It is important to note that this is not a reactionary suggestion, nor is it an imitation of the techniques of our opponents. Actually, such methods of fraternal bonding are ancient and rooted in the traditions of indigenous cultures everywhere. The elite has upheld them, albeit in a twisted way. Anarchists are sorely lacking in this realm.
The need for anarchists to strengthen their organizations in this manner is precipitated by the current global trend towards a negative, hyper-hierarchical system of tyrannical neo-feudalism. States, corporations, invasive non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, and other bodies of power perpetuate and benefit from such authoritarianism and stratification. Rather than reflecting the positive aspects of feudalism previously discussed in this essay, the existing international order more accurately mirrors seigneurialism and serfdom in its exploitative attempt at total control.
A current example of this globalist neo-feudalism is evident in the implementation of the United Nations’ Agenda 21. This international agreement establishes global mandates about where people can live, and limits landowners’ rights to farm, build, hunt, burn firewood, etc. The various national governments who have submitted to this program allow legislation in their respective countries that support the overall global vision of micromanaged nature under the guise of environmental conservation. In contrast, anarcho-feudalism has the potential to counter Agenda 21’s hegemony because of its agrarian and land-based foundation. If the entire basis of Agenda 21 is concern about ecology, then permacultural agro-forestry and sustainable energy projects can hardly be considered activities to ban.
All anarchists agree that opposition to and independence from the global power structure is essential. National-Anarchists tend to focus equally on the culture and values of each autonomous community. Not only is it important to subvert the state, but it is also crucial to institute morals and principles in one’s tribe. Anarcho-feudalism fits perfectly under the umbrella of National-Anarchist theory because it outlines achievable means of applying particular ethics and standards.
The purpose of theory is to attempt to provide a blueprint of ideal practice. Anarcho-feudalism may seem like the intellectual exercise of a bored philosophical historian, but it is practical (despite the rhetorical characteristics of any hyphenated anarchism). It represents an intensification of grassroots organizing because it solidifies anarchist relationships to a degree that has rarely been seen. This is not to say that it unites all anarchists, but rather that it can fortify an individual anarchist community with a stronger immune system — an absolutely crucial quality for self-defense against the corporatist state.
By adopting traditional feudal relationships and adapting them to an anarchist context, theory becomes functional. The most practical aspect of anarcho-feudalism is the land itself and the related enterprise of food production. Cooperative property holding and farming are tangible ways to catalyze self-sufficiency and autonomy. This can be accomplished according to the legal guidelines of the state, or it can be set up as a private contract upheld solely by the oaths of all parties. Either way, the process of attaining food independence is vital.
Rather than mimicking the monocultural methods of industrial agriculture, a microcosm of biodiversity that reflects the natural environment is most beneficial. This can be attained, while at the same time food production is maximized, by utilizing organic, biodynamic, agro-forestry, and permacultural methods including raised beds, terrace gardens, blanket sowing, and companion cropping.# Crop cultivation does not have to be limited to the traditional growing season, even for those who live in northern climates. The use of greenhouses and other season-extension methods are conducive to year round self-sufficiency. Certain plants, like quinoa and amaranth, are particularly desirable because their seeds contain high levels of protein and their greens are rich in calcium. Various sweeteners — maple syrup, beet sugar, and honey — can replace dependence on sugar cane imported from imperialist plantations. Another method of feeding the community is foraging for wild foods, which are abundant in the northeast and include dandelion and other greens, a variety of berries, different species of mushrooms, clover, amaranth, tubers, and more.
Orchards and groves are also worthy pursuits, especially here in the northeastern United States where certain nut trees have died off or mysteriously stopped producing. Apple trees are also greatly appreciated for their versatility; not only do they provide fruit, juice, and cider, but also the potential to make vinegar, which is just as useful for cleaning as for its countless health benefits. In addition, vinegar is required for canning a large number of foods, and preservation of provisions in general is fundamental to food security.
Another fundamental aspect of complete independence is water. Each sovereign community’s water-related projects will differ based on the natural aquatics of the local region. If a tribe is fortunate enough to have springs on their property, collection cisterns can be fabricated so the people can have a constant supply of fresh drinking water. If springhouses are also built, the community has a natural, non-electrical source of refrigeration. On land that does not contain any springs, people can seek out underground sources of water, and dig or drill wells for their drinking supply. Rainwater collection is useful for gardens and animals, and can also be potable if it is purified.
Ponds are also valuable features of the land, particularly for the farming of fish. Sustainable aquaculture entails the stocking of ponds with a variety of fish, and the creation of habitats (using rocks, plants, dead tree limbs and stumps) for smaller fish so that they can effectively evade their predators. This way, because the big fish do not eat all the small fish, the balance of species and the survival of the aquatic ecosystem is maintained. Fish ponds benefit communities in multiple ways: with food, with fertilizer for gardens in the form of fish emulsion, and with a source of drinking water for livestock and wild animals.
The concept of food as medicine is a primary component of the most pragmatic autonomous community healthcare system. A healthy diet of fresh farm-produced foods is the best way to avoid illness. When health issues do arise, the reliance on herbs and essential oils for their curative properties can preclude the patronage of the medical-industrial complex.
Another beneficial crop for health and wellness is hemp, which is possibly one of the most versatile plants one can cultivate. Its oil has many uses, and its seed can be used for a variety of food products. It is also incredible in its industrial applications; communities could use it to make rope, canvas and other textiles, and building materials. It has the potential to replace all of the products which currently contain petroleum: soaps, beauty products, plastics, and fuel. Due to its illicit status in most places, however, tribes should exercise caution when embarking on such enterprises. However, if the state eventually fails and people are completely left to their own devices, the cultivation of hemp is an obvious step in the pursuit of self-sufficiency.
Hemp’s potential to contribute to energy independence makes it highly attractive, but other resources exist as well. A tribal settlement with access to trees that can be felled possesses significant building materials, as well as a source of heat and energy. Communities with saw mills could construct housing fairly easily. The additional benefits of wood include the constant production of fertilizer in the form of ash, which provides crops with necessary minerals. Although forests are finite, actions can be taken — like tree planting and coppicing — to increase their sustainability.
When houses and community buildings are being planned, earth berming, or the partial covering of the structure with soil and plants or grass, should be considered. The earth insulates the building naturally, and keeps it cooler in the summer. Passive solar, or large sun-facing windows coupled with natural stone floors, creates the same effect. These are great ways to generate some heat for the building without the upkeep necessary for energy systems dependent on fuel or natural forces.
For those who want to take it to the next level, there are more proactive methods of generating energy. Each approach has benefits and drawbacks. Solar panels are growing in popularity, but the required equipment is highly technical and expensive, and relies on rare minerals monopolized by China. Windmills and water wheels are helpful because they can run mills (for cider or grain, for example) pump water and even generate electricity. Hydro-turbines are probably the most efficient producers of electricity, but like the other techniques mentioned, they rely on the natural landscape. Communities have to plan their energy independence based on what is locally abundant: sunlight, wind, and/or bodies of water. Depending solely on one form will likely lead to periods of little to no electricity production.
Other ways to power homes and vehicles include biodiesel, ethanol, and methanol. Biodiesel consists of fueling diesel engines with vegetable/plant based oil. The best feature of this method is that it can be made from used vegetable oil from deep fryers, reducing waste and utilizing resources efficiently. Unfortunately, it is difficult to run in extreme cold weather, so climate should be a significant consideration. Distilling ethanol is fairly easy, but it doesn’t store well. Even if kept in airtight containers, it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere over prolonged periods, so whatever is distilled has to be used immediately. Methanol, which is made from the methane gas in human and/or animal waste, serves as an effective off-the-grid replacement of propane and natural gas. It maximizes efficiency by converting unwanted waste matter into a valuable source of energy. However, it is dangerous to inhale, and has special storage requirements.
Electricity and engine fuels are certainly not the only type of technology autonomous communities should pursue. Industries that used to be local keystones should be revitalized in a decentralized world. Forges and the craft of blacksmithing in particular can be imperative to self-reliance. Tanning and leatherworking, for those tribes who choose to hunt, have a number of applications. And although clothing is overabundant in most countries, spinning wheels and looms are forgotten homespun industries that play an important role in independence. Similarly, soaps, candles, and pottery making can return to their historical status as staple household activities.
The decisions to implement some or all of these projects depend on the outlooks of individual tribes, but execution of any of these projects will strengthen the greater agora. Some communities may focus much of their attention on energy because they want the comforts of abundant electricity. “Luddite” districts, on the other hand, may not aspire to produce electricity at all, like the Amish. Primitivist communities could decide that agriarian pursuits are inconsistent with their ideology, and rely on foraging or hunting for their fare. The specifics and the logistics of self-sufficient independence are not important.
Anarcho-feudalism, like National-Anarchism as a whole, is not a recipe, but more like a potluck dinner. Its character is defined by the participants themselves and what they choose to contribute. It represents a spectrum of paradigms and corresponding actions. Although an anarchist perspective can elucidate the flaws of feudalism (primarily its interconnectedness with more oppressive contemporary hierarchies), if the historical model is fused with the priorities of freedom, autonomy, and voluntary participation, it can serve as a valuable prototype of local agrarian anarchism.
1. Brown, Elizabeth A.R. “The Tyranny of a Construct: Feudalism and Historians of Medieval Europe.” The American Historical ReviewVol. 79, No. 4 (Oct., 1974).
Reynolds, Susan. Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
2. Cazel, Fred A. Jr. “Feudalism.” UCSB Department of Black Studies. http://www.blackstudies.ucsb.edu/antillians/feudalism.html
3. Steiner, Rudolf. Agriculture Course: The Birth of the Biodynamic Method. Forest Row: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004.
Holzer, Sepp. Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening. Hampshire: Permanent Publications, 2011.
Angier, Bradford. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Harrisburg, Penn.: Stackpole Books, 1974.
Bridgewater, A. & G. The Self-Sufficiency Specialist. London: New Holland Publishers, 2007.
Brown, Tom and Morgan, Brandt. Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival. New York: Berkley Books, 1987.
Country Wisdom Almanac. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2008.
Gehring, Abigail R., ed. Back to Basics, 3rd ed. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2008.
Kern, Ken. The Owner Built Home. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975.
Kern, Ken and Barbara. The Owner Built Homestead. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977.
Nearing, Helen and Scott. The Maple Sugar Book with Remarks on Pioneering as a Way of Living in the Twentieth Century. New York: Schocken Books, 1970.
Seymour, John and Sally. Farming for Self-Sufficiency: Independence on a 5-Acre Farm. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.
Stoner, Carol Hupping, ed. Producing Your Own Power: How to Make Nature’s Energy Sources Work for You. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale Press, Inc., 1974.
Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State, Economics/Class Relations, Left and Right, Strategy
Leave a Reply