1978, Summer – Letter to Michael E. Coughlin, editor of The Dandelion

The Dandelion is an anarchist journal edited and printed by Michael E. Coughlin, beginning in 1977. The letter that follows was printed in Volume 2, Issue Number 6, in the Summer of 1978.

Dear Mike Coughlin,
The trouble with much of what is today called “anarchism” is the fact that its exponents are dominated by “socialized mentalities”. By this I mean an obsession with the notion that the liberation of the individual is by way of integration with “society”. Not, in this case, existing society, but an ideal, stateless society that the indefinite future is supposed to bring.

The distinguishing feature of this type of socialized mentality is its possession by the belief that anarchism equals anti-statism. Once the State has been eliminated, so the argument runs, mankind will dwell in freedom. Unfor­tunately, this is not the case, because authority has other sources than the State. One of these is “society”. In­deed, social customs and mores, because they are not specified in legal enactments, can be more persistently op­pressive than the laws of the State against which, at times, there is some measure of juridicial defense. Many professed anarchists recognize the oppressiveness of the State, but are blind to that of society. Their “anarchy”, therefore, consists of replacing the vertical authority of the State with the horizontal authority of Society.

It is for this reason that I found Reichert’s article, “A Lesson in Anarch­ism”, incredibly naive and superficial. Indeed, it demands his belief in the possibility of “miraculously” trans­forming power to accept that the “in­formal social control” he advocates will be in any way fundamentally different from the “formal social control” that he denounces. It is clear that any form of social control, whether “formal” or “informal”, will be control over me and that I will be required to submit to it one way or another. So much for my “liberty” ….

As an anarchist-individualist I ac­knowledge neither the legitimacy of State control over me, nor that of an acephalous mob labelling itself “an­archist”. I am in agreement with Renzo Novatore when he wrote:
“Anarchy is not a social form, but a method of individuation. No society will concede to me more than a limited freedom and a well-being that it grants to each of its members. But I am not content with this and want more. I want all that I have the power to con­quer. Every society seeks to confine me to the august limits of the permitted and the prohibited. But I do not acknowl­edge these limits, for nothing is for­bidden and all is permitted to those that have the force and the valour.

“Consequently, anarchy …. is not the construction of a new and suffocat­ing society. It is the decisive fight against all societies — Christian, democratic, socialist, communist, etc., etc. March ism is the eternal struggle of a small minority of aristocratic outsiders against all the societies that follow one another on the stage of history.”

The one thing that redeems Reich­ert’s article from the utopian glibness so beloved by the socialized mentality is his recognition in his concluding re­marks that an anarchist society is im­possible. The anarchist, he writes, “puts himself in permanent opposition . . . . (and) is thus forever on the defensive and can hardly win any decisive vic­tories”. This sudden breakthough into the hard realism of “permanent pro­test” reveals a critical perspective that one day he might direct at “society” and its oppressions.

Yours sincerely, S. E. Parker