Fair Use Blog

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

Leave a Reply