Anarchy, Faith, and Tradition: A Review of Wayne John Sturgeon’s Albion Awake
By Keith Preston
Decades ago, I became interested in the classical anarchist tradition rooted as it is in the works of such thinkers as Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin. The message of anarchism was powerful one, and even then I realized that the anarchists had not made their final stand in such places as Kronstadt and Barcelona. Instead, the philosophy of anarchism offered a glimpse into the future, perhaps the far distant future. However, from the earliest days of my exposure to anarchism, I realized that the state of the “movement” as it was and is in late modernity is hardly up to the task of challenging capitalism and the state. I instinctively understood that an ultimately successful anarchism would have to make its peace with the cultures, traditions, faiths, and folkways of ordinary people, rather than positioning itself as an enemy of all that common folk hold to be sacred. I likewise realized that such a daunting task would be a long time in the making.
Yet it would appear that such a moment has arrived in the form of Wayne John Sturgeon’s Albion Awake, published in 2014 by Black Front Press. Sturgeon is a veteran of the English left-wing anarchist scene, a Christian convert, and a proponent of a decentralized, libertarian folkish patriotism that is reminiscent of earlier thinkers ranging from Gustav Landauer to Johann Gottfried Herder, both of whom he claims as influences. Sturgeon’s knowledge of various libertarian, anarchist, and decentralist traditions is voluminous. He possesses an equally encyclopedic knowledge of the many variations of “third way” philosophies that propose an alternative to both state-capitalism and state-socialism, ranging from social credit to the Catholic Worker movement to guild socialism to anarcho-syndicalism.
To top it all off, Wayne John Sturgeon is also quite erudite in the many traditions of radical Christianity. He describes his own faith outlook as “Orthodox but not eastern, Catholic but not papal, and Anglican but not protestant.” Sturgeon’s Christian perspective is neither the shallow ecumenicalism of contemporary established churches nor the reactionary fundamentalism common in American evangelical circles or the right-wing authoritarianism found in some Catholic traditionalist camps. Instead, Sturgeon embraces a faith outlook that manages to be radical, traditional, progressive, and libertarian all at once.
Albion Awake is a profoundly nuanced work. Sturgeon provides a comprehensive discussion of a wide range of topics in this collection of eighteen essays. Among the subjects he touches on are British mythology, integralism, folk radicalism, free markets, statism, Gnosticism, counter-economics, national-anarchism, futurism, William Blake, and metaphysics. The figures cited in this work are as diverse as Proudhon, Tolkien, Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, C.S. Lewis, William Morris, George Orwell, Richard Hunt, and the Sex Pistols. Many luminaries from the worlds of anarchist and libertarian thought are referenced, as are those from various Christian traditions and folkish philosophies. Every page of this book contains fascinating nuggets of information.
As eclectic as Sturgeon’s outlook and analysis are, he does not hesitate to criticize the excesses of various political currents. He has no time for crude racism, fascism, neo-nazism or the left’s counterparts to these such as Stalinism, Maoism, or the “cultural Marxism” of present day Western leftists. He criticizes the global imperial pretensions of the New World Order while rejecting various camps that call for a counter-imperialism of their own. Among the various descriptions Sturgeon offers to characterize his own outlook are such balanced pronouncements as patriotist but not nationalist, socialist but not Marxist, libertarian but not capitalist, non-violent but not pacifist, and liberal but not politically correct. The book’s chapters explore many unusual byways of political theory, history, economics, and religion. A discussion of Murray Bookchin will appear on one page, of Murray Rothbard on another page, of national-syndicalism another page, and on still other pages Martin Heidegger, W.B. Yeats, or John Milton.
One of the key points that Albion Awake insists upon is the archaic nature of the left/right model of the political spectrum. Sturgeon recognizes that libertarians, decentralists, and anarchists, whatever the many differences among them, are properly situated on end of the spectrum, with fascists, communists, state-socialists and reactionary nationalists on the other end, and the liberal capitalist center situated in the middle. He also has no time for self-proclaimed “anarchists” who nevertheless engage in wantonly destructive violence or champion Marxist-inspired repression. Indeed, Sturgeon’s work provides a blueprint for what genuinely radical populist movements organized in opposition to the neo-liberalism and totalitarian humanism of the establishment might look like.
Sturgeon’s thought is representative of what a mature anarchism might be. In recent decades, various European nations have witnessed the socialist and labor parties becoming completely absorbed by neo-liberalism. Meanwhile, frustrations with mass immigration, political correctness, and a loss of national sovereignty to the bureaucratic expanse of the European Union have triggered the rise of various populist-nationalist parties. Yet these parties typically offer virtually nothing other than a return to the status quo as it was before the 1990s. In place of such a mundane program, Sturgeon offers a revolutionary outlook that is authentically far sighted yet is not the sort of thing one might feel they have to hide in a brown paper bag. This is not a radicalism of smashed windows and inane slogans, or outmoded Marxist clichés, politically correct self-parody, flag-burning, and FEMEN. This is a radicalism that one may introduce to a wide cross section of one’s peer from all walks of life.
Wayne John Sturgeon’s amazing ability to synthesize left, right, anti-capitalist, decentralist, ecological and libertarian ideals in a way that is appreciative of traditional culture, ethnicity, faith, community, and family is a much needed addition to the anarchist canon. Contemporary anarchism has spent much of its energy attempting to appeal to the most extreme elements of the left or the most marginal subcultures. Somewhere along the way the question of “What about most people?” seemingly got lost. When the day finally comes that a political realignment takes place bringing the decentralist forces into alliance against totalitarians everywhere, it is not unlikely that the work and thought of Wayne John Sturgeon will have made a significant contribution to such a turn of events.