IdeoLogs: Interview with a National-Anarchist (Keith Preston)

This is the transcript of an interview by the IdeoLogs Youtube channel [here], with Keith’s written replies to their questions being read out by them.

How do you define anarchy? Is it about no government or no “unjust hierarchies” for you?

First, let me say that I am only speaking for myself, and not for any organization, or any movement as a whole. I would define anarchism as a form of social organization that is based on individual autonomy and voluntary association in the absence of the state. As for the question of hierarchy, I think it is necessary to differentiate between voluntary and coercive hierarchies, natural and artificial hierarchies, and superfluous hierarchies and hierarchies that might serve some legitimate pragmatic purpose.

An example of voluntary hierarchy would be when an individual chooses to embrace the rigors of a monastic lifestyle or a disciplined sports team. A coercive hierarchy would be a conscript army, a prison, or a state system that imposes a particular set of values by authoritarian means such as the threat of death, imprisonment, or expropriation. 

A natural hierarchy would be when a parent is providing care for an infant or dependent child such as preventing a child from running into traffic, or when a hospital grants surgeons and physicians more authority to treat patients than janitors or parking lot attendants. An artificial hierarchy would be one where some are receiving unmerited privileges by coercing others, ranging from extortion or acts of violence carried out by criminals to systems of economic or social privilege imposed by the state by, for example, creating economic monopolies or barriers to economic self-sufficiency, or by excluding individuals or categories of persons from  access to resources.

A superfluous hierarchy might be the system of highly concentrated top-down management found in many corporate or other economic organizations, while a pragmatic hierarchy might involve chain of command in a militia or guerrilla army.

However, I would acknowledge that some anarchists define anarchy as “no government only” and other anarchists oppose hierarchies of any kind, for almost any reason. I would recognize some degree of flexibility on this question, along with the view that anarchists would tend to have a general preference against hierarchy. 

So now that you’ve defined anarchy, how would you define national-anarchy?  

National-anarchism is a variation of anarchist philosophy that is multi-dimensional. At the meta-level, national-anarchism is very similar to the panarchist philosophy of thinkers such as Paul Emile de Puydt, Gustave Molinari, or John Zube in the sense of allowing for an infinite variety of voluntary forms of self-government or self-organization.

At another level, national-anarchism is consistent with the communitarian anarchism of Gustav Landauer, and his emphasis on folkish communities reflecting the unique cultural, ethnic, spiritual, or artistic identities of their members. The movement of the early 19th century toward the building of utopian colonies such as Robert Owen’s New Harmony is also very similar to national-anarchism, as are later anarchist currents such as Murray Bookchin’s philosophy of communalism or the EZLN’s philosophy of Zapatismo.

National-anarchism is also compatible with efforts by others to bridge the gap between the different hyphenated forms of anarchism. Historically, anarchists have been subdivided into many hyphenated categories such as mutualist-anarchism, collectivist-anarchism, anarcho-communism, anarcho-pacifism, Christian-anarchism, individualist-anarchism, anarcha-feminism, anarcho-capitalism, Green-anarchism and many others. Various anarchist thinkers have sought to find commonalities among different kinds of thinkers that transcend these categories. Examples include Voltairine de Cleyre’s anarchism without adjectives, the synthesis anarchism of Sebastian Faure and Voline, and Karl Hess’ anarchism without hyphens.

Many national-anarchists also hold to a strong ecological critique such as that developed by Richard Hunt, and many hold to the kinds of criticisms of technology that have been developed by figures such as  Kirkpatrick Sale, Ivan Illich, E.F. Schumacher, John Zerzan, and Ted Kaczynski. Some national-anarchists are also influenced by traditionalist critiques of modernity, including the ideas of thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Julius Evola, Ernst Junger, and Alain de Benoist. In this sense, national-anarchism often bridges the left/right divide. Other national-anarchists are concerned with the preservation of indigenous, traditional, or native cultures against the encroachments of cultural imperialism, global capitalism, Americanization, and the homogenization process that is associated with globalization.              

Interesting. So in your view, what is the best way to prevent some groups from simply overtaking others with a coercive hierarchy? As in what would prevent one group from using force to control another?

It has been said that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” In order to prevent new state systems from arising, it would be necessary to have a pre-existing and underlying cultural consensus in favor of maintaining a libertarian society, and against the creation of a new state. What prevents our present-day civilian democracies from becoming military dictatorships, or succumbing to totalitarian ideologies such as Fascism or Communism?  It is the fact that there is a pervasive cultural consensus against such things, even among members of the military and state institutions. Antonio Gramsci’s insight that political victory is dependent on first winning the battle of ideas is largely correct. A libertarian society would not be sustainable in the absence of a general consensus in favor of its preservation.

In the event that a libertarian society was threatened with external invaders, the traditional anarchist view is that a defensive confederation would necessarily form among the anarchist communities for the purpose of repelling the invaders.  The success of such a defensive confederation would largely be dependent on the level of commitment that was demonstrated by its members. Rough historical precedents might be the defense of Greece against the Persian invaders by an alliance of cities, the successful defense of Europe against the Moorish invasion by a federation of medieval kingdoms, or the leagues of cities that were formed in the Middle Ages for defensive purposes. None of those places were anarchist, of course, but they do represent prototypes for successful defensive confederation organized independent of top-down central authority.              

Okay, so now that we’ve gone through what your ideology is and how it would preserve itself, what benefits do you see national-anarchism bringing to a society?   

The value of anarchism as a philosophy is that it challenges the systems of oppression that have been perpetrated by states for the past 5500 years. Unlike other political ideologies, anarchism recognizes that states are founded on conquest, mass killing, expropriation, slavery, and exploitation. While other ideologies merely want to replace one group of rulers with another, anarchism seeks to eliminate the rule of exploitive ruling classes, elites, and states altogether.  National-anarchism is unique even among anarchist ideas in that it promotes the proliferation of an infinite number of voluntary associations and self-determination movements reflecting an infinite number of preferred ways of life.        

Cool, so your ideology encompasses other ideologies. How do you plan on achieving national-anarchism?

Anarchists disagree on the question of strategy and tactics as much as they disagree on the philosophical questions that are represented by the different anarchist tendencies. Many national-anarchists are in favor of forming intentional communities that reject mainstream values or lifestyles, often with an orientation toward living “off the grid” or in a way that is not heavily dependent on technology. Some other anarchists have similar views. But other anarchists think technology has a liberatory potential and are involved in the crypto-currency movement and other means of using technology for subversive purposes. Engaging in countereconomics or forming dual power structures as an alternative to those controlled by governments and corporations is another method frequently championed by anarchists, along with such tactics as direct action, civil disobedience, mass protests, strikes, or creating temporary autonomous zones. Some anarchists favor revolutionary struggle, while others favor disengagement from the wider system. Another method that has been suggested is secession by smaller geographical entities from larger ones, or by local institutions from centralized ones. Forming mutual aid networks or what have been called “neo-tribes” is another idea that is popular among many anarchists.

Once your national-anarchist society has been established, how do you see the issue of borders? Should they be enforced by the groups within the society?

The argument that we hear taking place within mainstream discourse between proponents of “open borders” and proponents of “closed borders” represents something of a false dichotomy. It is likely that in the absence of the state, individuals and groups will form free associations and federated communities of their own, with the degree to which these are inclusive or exclusionary varying widely. Rather than open borders or closed borders, a position that is more consistent with the anarchist perspective would be decentralized borders, a principle that has been articulated by anarchist thinkers Derrick Broze and John Vibes, which has been defined as “a mixture of open borders, closed borders, public property, private property and unowned land. We believe a network of competing public and private spaces which allow for freedom of movement is most consistent with the sovereignty of the individual.”

Do you see any past or present societies as coming close, at least in spirit, to national anarchism? 

Historically, there have been many different kinds of communities and societies that have existed either without formal political structures, or within only very decentralized or loosely confederated political systems. Many such prototypes can be found among indigenous communities, within various religious traditions, in a range of medieval communities, among different kinds of utopian colonies, and largely autonomous units within existing state structures. For example, the Zomia region of Southeast Asia claims about 100 million residents, and the state has never taken root there. The religious colonies that existed in colonial America are another example, along with the Iroquois Confederation among the native North Americans. Systems of dual power have emerged in many contemporary societies where civil unrest, civil war, or social breakdown has taken place such as Mexico, Syria, Bolivia, and Argentina. Anarchists were able to establish revolutionary enclaves in Spain, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Manchuria. Many examples autonomous entities in different nations or adjacent to state systems exist or have existed around the world including communes, special economic zones, eco-villages, micronations, and free cities.

So on to the “national” part of your ideology. Do you consider yourself nationalists, or are you just referring to the idea of nation-like societies in an anarchic society?

The concept of a “nation” means different things to different people, including anarchists and national-anarchists. A “nation” could conceivably be an entity like, for example, France or Germany, where the history and culture are affirmed but minus the state. There are “anarcho-nationalists” who conceive of their ideology in that way. However, most national-anarchists conceive of a nation in the sense of a “tribe,” which in an anarchist context means a voluntary community sharing a common identity or ideals. Certainly, these can be traditional forms of identity such as ethnicity, geography, religion, traditional culture, or language. But a tribe in this context could also be fans of a particular sport, film genre, or comic book series. Each of the hyphenated forms of anarchism, such as anarcho-syndicalists or anarcha-feminists or queer-anarchists, is a “tribe” by this definition.  Another example is the range of stateless peoples that shared a common identity outside of any state system such as indigenous peoples, or sectarian religious communities such as the Amish or Hasidim. An intentional community can be a “tribe” and so can an occupational or fraternal association.

Thank you, do you have any closing thoughts?

During the 20th century alone, approximately 260 million people worldwide were killed by their own government, while 43 million people were killed in all of the civil wars and wars between governments during the same century. While the totalitarian regimes were the worst, the liberal democracies were also merciless when it came to slaughtering civilians in foreign states, maintaining puppet regimes, practicing state terrorism, and conducting counterinsurgency activities. Since World War Two, 20 million people have been killed in wars, coups, and purges that were either instigated or aggravated by the United States. The legacy of the European colonial regimes from the early 20th century was similar. If there is one lesson we can learn from the 20th century it is that the state is the enemy of humanity, and has been since the earliest states were formed in Egypt and Babylon 5500 years ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *