So why call it Anarchism?

The Strange Case of Tory Anarchism, Peter Wilkin, Libri Publishing

What have we done to deserve this? Really, what is it about anarchism which makes non-anarchists think they can appropriate our names and attach it to the ideologies and systems anarchism developed in protest against? Thus we have an oxymoron like “anarcho-capitalism” inflicted upon us, despite anarchism’s well-known socialist credentials.

Now Peter Wilkin has produced a book on “Tory Anarchism.” All that really needs to be said of this book is quote Wilkin himself: “It needs to be stressed that Tory anarchists are not anarchists in the traditional sense of the term” (32) So why call them anarchists? After all, George Orwell “aside” (perhaps because he was a socialist?), Tory anarchists “tend not to share the ideals of anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-communists and so on, to put it mildly” (33) So why call it anarchism?

The term “Tory Anarchism” is associated with Orwell who used it to describe Jonathan Swift in his essay Politics vs. Literature. Swift was “a Tory anarchist, despising authority while disbelieving in liberty, and preserving the aristocratic outlook while seeing clearly that the existing aristocracy is degenerate and contemptible.” A slim basis to produce a book from as any sensible person would realise Orwell was pointing to the contradictory nature of Swift’s politics rather than suggesting that such a theory could exist.

While Phillip Blond, director of British think tank ResPublica, has suggested the so-called Red Tory thesis no one would write a book called “Tory socialism” or “Tory communism.” So why does anarchism get this treatment? Partly, because there are not many of us and, as a consequence, our protestations can be ignored. Partly, because anarchism is not well known and people prefer to rely on the dictionary definition (purely opposition to government) rather than discover what it actually stands for.

Thus we see people combine a whole series of contradictory notions under “anarchism” because someone proclaims themselves “anarchist” or “against the state.” This fits into the dictionary definition and so what anarchism as a social movement means by the term can be forgotten.

This can be seen from Wilkin’s book when he proclaims that Anarchism’s “central aim is the elimination of the state and government in favour of a society of freely cooperating people” (32) Yes, people and so not a class society. We have always aimed to abolish classes, to end the situation (to use Proudhon’s words) where “the class that obeys and suffers” (the proletariat) has “parted with their liberty” and “have sold their arms” to “the class that commands and enjoys” (the capitalists and landlords). Yet we discover that “Tory anarchists” celebrate Britain’s class system! Still, they at times condemn all classes for their role in Britain’s decline – but not class systems as such.

For the traditionalist, in the past people in all classes knew their place and their role and members of all classes are to be condemned for adjusting to a changing reality. For the anarchist, this changing reality points to a classless society and we denounce (to again quote Proudhon) the “affirming as a definitive state a transitory condition, — namely, the division of society into patricians and proletarians.”

Significantly, Wilkin suggests that Tory anarchists think capitalism is the least bad kind of economy. Except Orwell I assume, since he was (like “traditional” anarchists) a socialist. But, as Wilkin states, Tory Anarchism is not anarchism “in the traditional sense.” For anarchism in the “traditional sense” has always combined a critique of the state with a critique of property/capitalism. Surely the title of the first book by the first self-proclaimed anarchist should show that anarchism has never been purely concerned with the state? Answering “Property is Theft!” to What is Property? should be clear enough.

No, apparently. Thus we get the term “Tory anarchist” to describe someone who is both a radical and a traditionalist just as we see “anarcho-capitalism” invented by Murray Rothbard to describe an ideology diametrically opposed to what anarchism actually stands for based on, significantly, an inversion on why we oppose the state.

And this shows why we should bother, why I even mention a book which, despite its title, has nothing to do with anarchism. For if we do not protest against these appropriations of our terms then we will lose them. This can be seen in America, where libertarian now means the exact opposite of what it did/should do. It was stolen by the laissez-faire capitalist right in the late 1950s and knowingly so:

“One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy . . . ‘Libertarians’ . . . had long been simply a polite word for left-wing [sic!] anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over...” (Rothbard, The Betrayal of the American Right, p. 83)

The propertarian usage is creeping into British discourse. So we see the Guardian using “libertarian” in the American sense to describe the May 14th pathetically tiny pro-cuts (sorry, anti-debt) get-together (sorry, demonstration):  “The protest will be attended by an alliance of rightwing and libertarian activists including . . .  the Freedom Association, a libertarian pressure group.” No genuine libertarian would be siding with the state against its subjects as these propertarians so enthusiastically are.

Tory Anarchism can be seen as part of this debasement of what anarchism actually stands for. And we should not tolerate it for if we do then we will wake up one day to discover libertarian means its exact opposite in mainstream politics.

In short, when someone talks of the “anarchic humour” of, to show my age, The Young Ones they are not using the term anarchy in its sense of a socio-economic theory which has inspired a social movement. Much the same can be said of this book and its attempts to draw mileage from Orwell’s passing comment on Swift. Still, if you are interested in the likes of George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Peter Cook and Chris Morris then this book may be of interest.

Just remember that it has nothing to do with anarchism or anarchists.


I it would be remiss of me not to mention the 1998 Freedom Press book George Orwell at Home (and among the Anarchists): Essays and Photographs. This contains two excellent articles on Orwell and anarchism by Colin Ward and Nicolas Walter as well as Freedom's obituary of Orwell by Vernon Richards. As is clear from Homage to Catalonia, Orwell was impressed by the social revolution in Spain lead by the anarchists of the CNT-FAI.


Very funny...Anarchists

Very funny...Anarchists getting sniffy about who they will be associated with...

Orwell was a "Tory anarchist" in the very real sense that he was very grounded in his culture and his country whilst also believing in the expression of the human will as embodied in the democratic and individualistic principle..."Tory anarchism" is proud and grounded individualism and that sums Orwell up.........

Orwell was a socialist

Orwell was a self-proclaimed socialist and was well aware of what anarchism actually stood for (he helped Freedom Press when it was under attack during the Second World War). He also saw anarchism in action when he was fighting in Spain (see Homage to Catalonia).

All of which suggests you know as little about Orwell as you do about anarchism.

As for Orwell and "Tory anarchist", he used the term in the context of describing his confused ideas when he left Imperial service. I doubt that he would have been very impressed by attempts to produce a book out of such a fleeting remark...

In short, "Tory anarchism" is simply nonsense and the book a product of someone with no grasp of what anarchism actually is. And we need to remember that it does mean something -- it is a very specific socio-economic theory and movement and so "Tory anarchism" makes as such sense as "Tory Marxism"

Great share

Anarchism is a philosophy that embodies many diverse attitudes, tendencies and schools of thought; as such, disagreement over questions of values, ideology and tactics is common. The compatibility of capitalism,nationalism, and religion with anarchism is widely disputed. Similarly, anarchism enjoys complex relationships with ideologies such as Marxism, communism and capitalism. Anarchists may be motivated by humanism, divine authority, enlightened self-interest, veganism or any number of alternative ethical doctrines. how to get followers on instagram

 wow priase spam from someone

 wow priase spam from someone who has made an effort to actually work out what the site is about.  Or the bots have just got smart enough to get close to Turning

What you see as a bug ...

As a Tory Anarchist myself, I see nothing but good in learning that our appropriation of the word angers you.

oh hum...

So that is two "Tory Anarchists" -- glad to see that you have no ethics at all, what with happily appropriating a name with a long and glorious history and sticking something the complete opposite to it in front of it...

And I thought Tory's were meant to be believers in tradition!

no ethics at all


Name Change: Anarchism to Antistatism

Its about time we ditched the word Anarchism and replaced it with Anti-Statism.

Anti-Statism would cause more problems

That would cause even more problems, as it explicily limits anarchism to something it never was -- namely purely anti-statism.

If you read Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and so on it becomes clear that the critique of capitalism was just as much a key aspect of anarchism as its anti-statism. Proudhon is particularly strong on this. To rename anarchism to "anti-statism" then you lose all that -- unless you proclaim it "anti-state socialism" (which is a bit of a mouthfull).

And, of course, why should we have to change our name? I don't let the fact that the American right has tried to steal "libertarian" stop me using it. Although I often preface libertarian with genuine and call them propertarians...

Semantic Silliness

"Partly, because anarchism is not well known and people prefer to rely on the dictionary definition (purely opposition to government) rather than discover what it actually stands for."

Look, I don't really give a rat's arse who is called an anarchist and who isn't. But why in the world do you think YOU get to decide? That's not the way language works. Words mean what the majority of people use them to mean, i.e., pretty much the dictionary definition.

there's also the matter of

there's also the matter of etymology and the fact that any Tory version of 'anarchy' would be the most in violation of something as basic the as prefix and suffix of the word itself.

If the majority of Christians began referring to themselves as "atheist", the notion that dictionaries would just adopt the word as such is an Orwellian one; objecting to the use of 'anarchism' in defense of a hierarchical and stratified society isn't silly semantics. Neither would using the word "atheist" to describe someone who believes in *God* The Father and *God* the Son.

Anarchism as anarchists define it

Look, I don't really give a rat's arse who is called an anarchist and who isn't. But why in the world do you think YOU get to decide?

I'm defining it as the anarchist movement has defined it since 1840 -- anti-state socialism.

That's not the way language works. Words mean what the majority of people use them to mean, i.e., pretty much the dictionary definition.

Ah, right, so a socio-economic political theory and movement is boiled down to a few words? I don't think so. And the majority of people use the term "anarchy" in the sense of chaos, so should what would anarchist mean in that case? Someone who wants chaos? But anarchists don't want that so I guess the dictionary definition is missing something.

As is obviously the case, anarchism means something -- it is a political theory with a long history. That cannot be ignored. Otherwise you end up with author's of books called "The Strange Case of Tory Anarchism" defining what anarchism is -- or, in this case, what it most definitely is NOT!

Defining anarchism

I should have noted that An Anarchist FAQ discusses this in an appendix:

6 Appendix: Defining Anarchism

I hope that is of use to readers.

What is liberty?

I despise authority while disbelieving in liberty. But being an American, I've had the "negative" definition of liberty pounded into my skull so many times that I maybe have no idea what I'm talking about. Rightly or wrongly, I associate the word 'liberty' with very aggressive-looking, predatory-looking depictions of bald eagles. I also despise "rank," so I don't think I'd fall under this silly "Tory Anarchism" heading.


Your conclusion sums up your article.


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