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Archive for January, 2013

J.M. Clarke, “Who are the Philosophers?” from FREE SOCIETY IX.18 (May 4, 1902)

During the early 1900s, partly as a result of intense government scrutiny in the wake of the assassination of William McKinley, a number of anarchist journals featured heated debates over questions of methods, as well as the different meanings of “philosophic,” “revolutionary,” and other sorts of Anarchism. During 1902, some of that heat was concentrated in debates between writers in Free Society (a leading movement paper published in Chicago) and in Discontent (one of the anarchist papers published from the Home colony in northwest Washington). Here is a letter from that exchange, in which J. M. Clarke (in Free Society) calls J. F. Morton (of Discontent) to task for his articles claiming the title of “philosophic Anarchism.” This letter appeared in Free Society, Volume IX, No. 18, Whole No. 360 (May 4, 1902), p. 3.

Who are the Philosophers?

I observe that there is no little friction just now among those designated under the general name Anarchists as to whom the designation properly applies. J. F. Morton, editor of Disconent, has defined the matter down to a very plain thing! Some of us more rudimentary ones have supposed that Anarchy was a social state in which there would be in all our social and personal conditions absolute individual liberty–at least as far as the possibilities of humanity would permit. We had supposed that all that stood in the way of this, law, Church, custom, or government, any restraint by any other person is contrary to Anarchist theory; that the means taken to attain this end, either the passive resistance methods of Tolstoy, the revolutionary theories of the “reds,” as commonly called, the assassinatory violence of a Bresci or a Czolgosz, have nothing to do with the question of whether a person is an Anarchist or not. Some of us too had the temerity to suppose that as individuals, we were philosophic to a degree at least in maintaining our separate ideals, differing tho they might, each with the other. But now it seems we were all mistaken, we rudimentary ones: there is a cut-and-dried “philosophical” that just fits to real Anarchy and all other kinds are “no good.” Love, taffy, goody-goody non-resistance, gentle cooing with our opponents as a whole, who are “obeying their convictions of duty,” etc. Anarchism is also, we have found out, to “obey the law while it exists”! O wonderful philosophic Anarchy! This kind is doubtless simon pure, it out-Tuckers Tucker himself. It relegates “Instead of a Book” to a back seat, and in its stead places absolute, unquestioning obedience to law, for when it does not “exist” is the only time that we must not obey!

Seriously, is it not about time for us Anarchists to have done with such quibbling evasions? Let us manfully acknowledge there are Anarchists and Anarchists; that some do believe in assassinating tyrants, some in non-resistance, some in self-defense, some in collective effort, some in purely individual effort; but all in absolute individual liberty, believing that results will be the best guide to a normal use of the same. I am a believer in such action as shall in the light of my own reason, aided by my own instinctive expression, seem the truly advisable in the conditioning of the hour. One cannot say one method or another is best independently of circumstances of the case. Anarchists acknowledge no pronunciamento. We have certain ideas: we propose to live them each for himself. We do not propose to have anybody, not even a comrade, define us out of our individuality by allowing anybody to judge for us whether we are “philosophical” or not!

J. M. Clarke

Volumes I and II of The Liberator now available in facsimile PDFs

To-day I am happy to announce that facsimile PDFs of the entire first and second volumes (1831-1832) of William Lloyd Garrison’s radical Abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator are now available in the Fair Use Repository. 52 full issues per year, 4pp each, in PDF facsimiles of the original papers; a few articles have been transcribed into HTML, with more to come.

See Vol. I and Vol. II of The Liberator online at the Fair Use Repository.

Garrison’s Liberator, running from 1831–1865, was the most prominent periodical of radical Abolition in the united states. Proclaiming, in the first issue, that:

… I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.

… Garrison, together with the circle of black and white radicals that his paper attracted, helped organize, and offered a forum for, spent the next 35 years arguing for the immediate abolition of slavery, the end of racial prejudice and “American Colorphobia,” and insisting that emancipation could only truly come about by inspiring a radical moral and social transformation — urging a politics of radicalizing conscience, and denying that electoral gamesmanship, partisan politics, or political compromise would ever bring about liberation on their own. In the age of the Fugitive Slave Acts, the Garrisonians denounced the united states Constitution as a weapon of the slavers, “A Compromise with Death and an Agreement with Hell.” Rejecting the use of either political gamesmanship or military force as a means of overcoming the slave system, they argued for Disunion (“No Union with Slaveholders, religiously or politically”), holding that the Northern free states should secede from the Union, thus peacefully withdrawing the Federal economic, political and military support that the Slave Power depended on, and (they argued) driving the slave system to collapse, by kicking out the Constitutional compromises that propped it up. Garrison and his circle, against the condemnation of more conservative anti-slavery activists, also constantly drew parallels and connections between the struggle against slavery and other struggles for social liberation, taking early and courageous stances in defense of women’s rights and international peace.

These first two volumes are part of a project in progress, with the ultimate aim being to make all 35 years of The Liberator available in full on the web. The full-issue PDFs are scanned from the reproductions available on microfilm (American Periodical Series, University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Mich.) through the Auburn University Libraries in Auburn, Alabama. Scans from other sources are welcome, if available, in order to supplement the collection when reproductions from the Auburn microform are illegible or defective. All the issues made available so far were scanned by Charles W. Johnson in May–November 2012. A great part of the inspiration for this project came from Shawn P. Wilbur’s magnificent work in producing an online archive for Benjamin Tucker’s Liberty. The reproductions of the issues in the microfilm that I used as my source were of varying quality. I hope to be able to run through soon and mark the issues whose reproductions have significant defects. (And eventually to put up alternate versions from a different microfilm source.) But in the meantime…

Read, cite, and enjoy!