Captain Jack White: imperialism, anarchism and the Irish Citizen Army

Captain Jack White: imperialism, anarchism and the Irish Citizen Army

Published in Book ReviewsIssue 2 (March/April 2015)ReviewsVolume 23

Merrion Press
€20.25 pb, €49.95 hb

ISBN 9781908928931

Reviewed by
Angus Mitchell

Of the many strands of radical thought to be reckoned with in the ideological crossfire of Ireland’s revolutionary years—nationalism, socialism, feminism, anti-imperialism, modernism, internationalism, pacifism and vegetarianism—the relevance of anarchism is notably understudied. Part of the reason is due to the pejorative connotations associated with the very notion of anarchy as a political alternative. Historian F.S.L. Lyons famously used the term in the title of his published Ford Lectures, Culture and anarchy in Ireland 1890–1939. He deployed the word negatively to describe the lack of common identity that resulted in years of internecine tragedy. But anarchy as a philosophy has a coherency lacking in Lyons’s usage.

Oscar Wilde’s undervalued The soul of man under socialism (1891), the campaigning of Dublin-born Nannie Dryhurst (translator of Peter Kropotkin’s The Great French Revolution 1789–1793) and the agitation of Tipperary-born Agnes Henry are all specific Irish interventions in this global movement. If anarchism could be freed from its symbolic association with chaos and violence, as it is in other European countries, it might be reimagin-ed as a coherent challenge to the oppressive formations of power of the pre-1914 world. The ideals of anarchy sought to disband central government and replace it with community organisation, individual freedoms and creative education.

Notions of cooperation lie at the very heart of anarchist theory and belief. This is evident in the collaborative endeavour that drove the moderate separatism of Horace Plunkett’s cooperative movement, the designers of Irish Arts and Crafts, as well as the Irish Citizen Army. This critical biography about a prominent Irish anarchist is most welcome. It asks us to rethink the meaning, value and relevance of anarchy both to the past and to our own time.


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