Why True Conservatism Means Anarchy

This article is an important illustration of why a pan-anarchist movement, committed to global revolutionary struggle, needs to transcend the left/right paradigm. These romantic medievalist anarchists are people that we need as part of cultivating a mass audience for the project of state/ruling class/empire abolitionism.

By Alexander William Salter

The American Conservative

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” These words are Patrick Henry’s, uttered in the course of his famous oration known for its powerful closing words “give me liberty or give me death.” Although Henry probably did not intend it as a sociopolitical axiom, the Anglo-American conservative tradition has adopted it as such. Conservatives rightly look to the past to influence their views of the future. Change in the basic structure of society’s institutions is inherently perilous, and must be guided by the “lamp of experience” lest reform lose its way.

But experience accumulates as time marches on. Proposed changes to public life that seem radical and dangerous in one era can embody wisdom and stewardship in another. Applied conservatism is nothing less than continual constitutional craftsmanship. And in that context, “constitution” refers not to whatever is formally drawn up in a document, but the actual procedures and practices that comprise a society’s public sphere.

In this spirit, I propose a position that seems extraordinary, but I am convinced is vindicated by historical experience: the state is a fundamentally anti-conservative force, and in order to preserve the good, true, and beautiful things in society, it’s got to go. In short, I argue that conservatives should seriously consider anarchism.

I realize such a position seems absurd, at least on its surface. Conservatism has long held that the existing political order deserves respect precisely because it is the result of custom, habit, and experience. Massive changes in basic social institutions almost always create chaos. How then can one be both conservative and anarchist?


6 replies »

    • Yes, I agree. Though it may be possible to bring refugees from conservatism into the pan-anarchist camp because we’re the only ones that would be motivated to protect them from the state, in the same ways we might bring in refugees from the Left or the mainstream. There is room under the Black Flag for Tolkienist anarcho-monarchists (Liechtenstein), Evolan anarcho-fascists (Fiume), Hoppean anarcho-capitalists (Liberland), Kropotkinist anarcho-communists (Catalonia/Aragon), Bookchinite anarcho-municipalistd (Rojava), and Zerzanite anarcho-primitivists (North Sentinel Islands).

      • What about Prodhonian/Carsonian + Tuckerite/Kokeshite Mutualists and Individualist Anarchists such as me. I think it’s big time for the Libertarian Left to make big improvements big time.

        • We definitely need a new economic paradigm for anarchists to replace the social democrats vs corporatists paradigm that dominates mainstream economic discourse, and which most anarchists and libertarians at least implicitly buy into. But there are really two issues here. One is the need to build the movement against the state itself, and one to create a new mode of production in a post-state world. One thing the Marxists get right is their interpretation of history as the unfolding of successive modes of production (although I don’t agree with their historical materialism and economic determinism). The ancient Greek cities may have had many forms of government, but they had one dominant mode of production (agricultural slavery). The medieval Europeans may have had many kinds of social institutions but within a feudal model of production. The same is true today where managerial capitalism exists virtually everywhere in the industrialized world. A better set of answers to the question of what a post-state economy would be would go along way toward moving past the social democrats vs conservatives divide.

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