National-Anarchism: Methodology and Application, edited by Troy Southgate and available from Black Front Press.
by Jamie O'Hara and Craig FitzGerald
The connotations of the
word “nation” have been so intertwined with the concept of a State that
contemporary anarchists have generally rejected the term as something
intrinsically oppressive. The globalization-era anarchist obsession
with the eradication of all borders is well-intentioned but harmfully
misdirected. Arbitrary State borders are meaningless symbols at best
and justification for genocide at worst, but a world without any
boundaries at all is unrealistic. Even for individuals who choose to
live in communal tribes where everything is shared and privacy is
limited, not everyone on earth is truly equally “welcome.” Only
like-minded people are invited; this is the basis of all intentional
communities and collectives. Any infinitely open invitational rhetoric
is based on the arrogant assumption that people who don't agree with the
tribe's beliefs will quickly learn and adopt them. People with
different values and goals can peacefully co-exist and interact, but
humans will always impose borders on their own lives. Rather than rid
the world of borders, it makes more sense to re-think and re-apply them.
Upon analysis, most individuals will find that they maintain many
different associations, each perhaps with its own set of boundaries.
These entities might include ethnic, family, trade, intellectual,
artistic, fraternal or political groups, or geographic areas, including
existing states. Freedom of association is a core anarchist principle,
and it is up to individuals and local communities whether they identify
with a larger federation and/or participate in a system of voluntary
The United States of America was intended by many of
its founders to be such a voluntary arrangement.
In the Declaration of
Independence, Thomas Jefferson relies on the social contract theory of
government to justify the secession of the colonies. He introduces the
American list of grievances by speaking in very general terms about the
periodic need for political revolution.  He asserts that “whenever
any Form of Government becomes” oppressive, people should “alter
or...abolish it” [emphasis added]. Jefferson recognized that the
situation between the Americans and the British Crown was not a special
case but merely one instance “in the course of human events” when it is
“necessary for one people to dissolve...political bands...” The social
contract theory holds that relations between the government and the
people are voluntary, and if one party violates the terms of the
agreement, it becomes null and void. In other words, as soon as the
government fails to protect the rights of the people, it automatically
abdicates its role.
Jefferson's emphasis on the social contract
philosophy of government rests on the premise of voluntary participation
in the American union. The confederation was composed of local states,
which originally self-defined as nations, and was established primarily
for the purposes of foreign diplomacy and regional amity. The 1781
Articles of Confederation emphasizes that by freely associating, the
states were strengthening without sacrificing their autonomy. The
document immediately proclaims that “Each state retains its sovereignty,
freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right,
which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United
States.”  The Articles of Confederation captures the raw early
spirit of an American identity that emphasized freedom and
Although much of its philosophical background
is European, the Articles of Confederation was also influenced by
indigenous American models of association, in particular the Iroquois
confederacy. The Iroquois League of Peace and Power was a network of
completely autonomous tribes. A Grand Council united the various
nations, but could not regulate them or enforce anything through
coercive means. As early as 1744, the Onondaga Chief Canasatego
recommended that the American colonies unite through a confederation
similar to that of the Iroquois League.  In 1751, Benjamin Franklin
compared the Iroquois system to the union he was attempting to create.
 In 1778, John Adams refers to the indigenous American  practice
of separating branches of power.  Three years later, the
newly-liberated states publish the Articles of Confederation, which
presented a vision for a voluntary alliance that closely resembled the
Iroquois League, which has clear anarchist elements. 
anarchist perspective, the historical transition from the Articles of
Confederation to the Constitution is disappointing. The primary
document of the United States shifted from a treaty among sovereign
locales to an incomplete governmental blueprint whose strategic
ambiguity has allowed for ridiculous abuses throughout the years. The
Constitution solidified coercive measures that completely contradict the
American philosophy. It establishes the powers to tax, criminalizes
rebellion (the foundation of the United States), codifies slavery, and
reserves the “right” to suspend habeas corpus. However, this development
in the direction of concentrated statism does not represent the
revolutionary views of the majority of Americans. Despite centralizing
changes like the creation of an executive office and a federal court
system, American libertarian ideals were still reflected in the Bill of
Rights. The fledgling nation, in its attempts to confederate and
cooperate, was concerned with the potential for abuses of power and
intently focused on the necessity to curtail federal control. The Ninth
and Tenth Amendments, intended to protect individual and local
sovereignty, are most reminiscent of the earlier Articles of
The First Amendment to the Constitution protects
the right of personal belief and free association. The five enumerated
essentials—religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition—are all
manifestations of individualism and nationhood. In other words,
participation in the American nation secures one's participation in many
other associations—spiritual, political, artistic, regional, ethnic,
etc. This is an assurance that has made the United States unique, and
it depends on the full engagement of all Americans down to the most
local level. To safeguard the rights of free expression and
association, the establishment of grassroots community defense groups is
a necessary endeavor. The Second Amendment is clear in its assertion
that individual self-defense and local militias are requirements for the
protection of liberty.
In 1791, the same year that the Bill of
Rights was passed, Thomas Paine authored Rights of Man, which also
captures the early American spirit of self-regulation over coercive
statism. “The more perfect civilization is,” Paine writes: “the less
occasion has it for government, because the more does it regulate its
own affairs, and govern itself.”  In addition to the recognition
that man should determine the course of his own life, Paine addresses
the tendency for the State to actually harm society: “Excess of
government only tends to incite...and create crimes which...had never
existed.”  The masses' desire for safety and security fails to
justify the establishment and perpetuation of an institution that not
only strips individuals of their creativity and agency, but also
introduces new and unnecessary societal and international problems.
not all early Americans were as anarchistic as Paine, and the decision
to ratify the Constitution introduced a stream of federal power abuses.
However, elements of resistance persisted even within the new political
framework. Despite his inconsistencies and imperfections, Jefferson
continued to defend decentralism after the Constitution solidified a
central State. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and 1799
illustrate this perspective. Direct responses to the Alien and Sedition
Acts, the Resolutions assert the right of localities to nullify
unconstitutional legislation. The documents rest heavily on the social
contract theory of government — the relationship between individuals,
communities, counties, states and the federal government is a voluntary
one, and all parties are accountable to the mutual agreement. Jefferson
attempts to clarify a common misconception about federalism to an
Englishman: “With respect to our State and federal governments, I do
not think their relations correctly understood by foreigners. They
generally suppose the former subordinate to the latter. But this is not
the case. They are co-ordinate departments of one simple and integral
whole. [...] The one is the domestic, the other the foreign branch of
the same government; neither having control over the other, but within
its own department.” 
Jefferson's nineteenth century letters
advocate localism as a necessary aspect of voluntary confederation. He
acknowledged the impossibility of monolithic governance for all of the
states and saw the importance of regional autonomy: “Our country is too
large to have all its affairs directed by a single government,” he wrote
in 1800.  Jefferson recommended the division of territory into
smaller and smaller jurisdictions, each level operating under
self-government. In 1816, he suggests the division of “counties into
wards of such size as that every citizen can attend, when called on, and
act in person.”  Each ward should create its own autonomous social
structures, institutions, and culture, and individuals should be
inextricably connected to their local communities. “Making every
citizen an acting member of the government, and in the offices nearest
and most interesting to him, will attach him by his strongest feelings
to the independence of his country, and its republican constitution.”
 Jefferson saw a direct correlation between the citizen's
participation in national politics and his participation in the most
local of social structures. The republic as a whole was a macrocosm of
the local municipalities: “Each ward would thus be a small republic
within itself, and every man in the State would thus become an acting
member of the common government...” 
participation in the self-regulation of a community is often
complemented by similar financial models. Jefferson was a fervent
opponent of centralized banking institutions and condemned the
Hamiltonian plan for a national bank as unconstitutional.  He was
not alone in his defense of freedom from economic oppression. Free
market economic incentives have always been a central aspect of American
history, and smuggling and tax evasion were common. Black markets were
widespread because of the distance between the “new world” colonies and
their “old world” masters, and the consequential difficulty of
enforcing mercantilist economic policies. This fostered a culture of
American economic liberty whose pragmatism paralleled its philosophical
spirit. Traditional populist American economics cultivated a vibrant
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, one of the most important and
influential anarchist thinkers, held economic theories that resembled
Jeffersonian ideas and early American market styles. He suggested a
system of mutualist banking and established a voluntary Bank of the
People. His writings, along with those of Jefferson, Paine, and other
early Americans, influenced the anarchist movement in the United States,
including people like Josiah Warren, Lysander Spooner, and Benjamin
For the American anarchists, there was complete
consistency between Jeffersonian federal republicanism and the
Proudhonian concept of federalism. Proudhon's federalism was a voluntary
association of equal parties, just like the original relationship among
the several American states. Proudhon writes: “a confederation is not
exactly a state; it is a group of sovereign and independent states,
associated by a pact of mutual guarantees.”  This echoes the
concept of governance by consent which was so important to people like
Jefferson. Both philosophers eschewed centralization and emphasized the
importance of local autonomy, which is the only way to ensure that the
federation remains voluntary.
The American tradition of
decentralization produced a “republic of republics,” or a nation of
nations, with a libertarian and individualist spirit. This voluntary
mode of organizing laid the groundwork for Anarchist theory and practice
to develop in the United States. Pragmatic aspects of American history
also overlap with anarchist tendencies. The historic assertion of
squatters' rights by early American pioneers is one such example.
Frontier settlers relied on what they identified as the “ancient
cultivation law” to defend their claims of adverse possession .
This idea is identical to Proudhon's argument about occupancy being
ownership, and it is engrained in American history, which consists of a
series of groups settling in a new place and hoping to live the way they
choose. American history tells countless stories of Puritans, Quakers,
Hutterites, Amish, Shakers, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and others
seeking religious freedom and establishing intentional communities.
These smaller, independent societies (spiritual or otherwise) represent
the core of America's original values.
Josiah Warren was
intimately familiar with the process of establishing intentional
communities based on values. Warren was involved with several different
intentional communities, including New Harmony, Indiana; Utopia, Ohio;
and Modern Times, New York. Some were more successful than others.
New Harmony was actually started by Robert Owen, whose vision was much
more collectivist than anarchist. As a direct result of his experience
in New Harmony, Warren began to champion individual sovereignty .
In Utopia, Warren established a free market economy that relied on
voluntary cooperation . He wanted to live in a place where people
could cohabit in a way that was unified but not coercive. While Utopia
was still active, Warren decided to leave Ohio and purchase land in Long
Island, New York. Starting from scratch (as opposed to reviving a
disintegrating village as he did in Utopia), Warren sought to alleviate
social problems like poverty and homelessness by facilitating efficient
communal building projects . In all of his tangible community
enterprises, Warren conveyed a do-it-yourself anarchist initiative. He
was concerned with practical tasks like working the land effectively,
building homes for new residents, printing newspapers, and other
concrete actions . His approach is a crucial counterpart to the
theoretical element of anarchism.
Warren's practical American
anarchism was not unique. Lysander Spooner, Warren's contemporary,
focused on direct action by challenging the federal government's
monopoly on postal services with an independent competitor, the American
Letter Mail Company.  But Spooner was also an extremely
intellectual anarchist. Rather than completely reject everything about
the United States, Spooner used the Constitution and other founding
documents to prove legal arguments about the despotic, hypocritical
crimes of the U.S. government.
The historical context of the Civil
War contributed greatly to Spooner's anarchist perspective. Spooner
was highly critical of the United States government for having betrayed
the original Jeffersonian principles of the Declaration of Independence.
Despite his strong disagreement with and activism against slavery, he
fully supported the Confederate states' right to secede. He criticizes
the Civil War in No Treason: “Notwithstanding all the proclamations we
have made to mankind...that our government rests on consent, and that
[consent] was the rightful basis on which any government could rest, the
late war has practically demonstrated that our government rests upon
force — as much so as any government that ever existed.”  Spooner's
discussion of consent as the essence of republican confederation
conveys the same idea as Jefferson's earlier emphasis on the social
contract in the Declaration of Independence.
earlier spirit of the American Revolution, Spooner devotes an entire
chapter to the Declaration in his book The Unconstitutionality of
Slavery.  He argues that the document is the legal foundation of
American constitutionalism, and that it ensures the inherent freedom of
all individuals (including slaves) by establishing “life, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness” as the core tenets of the nation. He
emphasized the importance of the Second Amendment right to bear arms and
connected it directly to a human being's freedom. This was an
essential element of his argument in defense of slaves owning or using
weapons for their emancipation. Spooner wrote from the angle of a
radical abolitionist, but he used the American political tradition to
support his position.
Benjamin Tucker, under influence from
Warren and Spooner (as well as Proudhon and Bakunin), represented
American anarchism into the twentieth century. Like his predecessors,
Tucker used American philosophical traditions to bolster his arguments
for autonomy and independence. In an edition of his publication
Liberty, he speculates that if Jefferson would be an anarchist if he
were alive,  and in his book State Socialism and Anarchism he refers
to anarchists as “unterrified Jeffersonian Democrats.”  Like
Spooner, he bases his analysis on the social contract premise of
American constitutionalism. The Declaration of Independence “declares
that 'governments derive their just powers from the consent of the
governed.' it therefore follows that, when any individual is governed
by a government without his or her consent, that government is
exercising unjust powers, and is a usurpation.” 
Jefferson, Tucker was a vehement opponent of centralized banking. He
saw the financial monopoly of currency and banking by the state and
large corporations as a form of usury.  He advocated the creation of
Proudhonian peoples banks as a commonsense solution to the “money
monopoly,” putting an end to exploitative practices without the use of
force or state legislation. He also railed against the monopoly on land,
arguing that occupancy and use constitute the only rightful titles to
earth.  This echos the Proudhonian sentiment of occupancy as
ownership as well as the early American “ancient cultivation law.”
understood the importance of voluntary defense organizations for the
preservation of “self-liberty.”  He explains that such groups are
the most successful method of providing actual protection for the people
while dismantling the State's monopoly on violence.  The best
anarchist action is one that injures the State and simultaneously
provides the people with an alternative. Tucker's vision of private
defense organizations differs slightly from the communitarian militia
model of the second amendment. However, the two systems are compatible
because of the decentralized and voluntary nature of both. The right of
constitutional militias to abstain from national conflicts places them
outside of the state's monopoly on violence, just like Tucker's private
self defense associations.
Tucker, Spooner, and Warren
understood that the American libertarian tradition was a source of both
inspiration and potential support from the public. They did not become
zealous reactionaries who vilified everything American, as some
anarchists do today. Rather, they were more open in their perspectives
and more fluid in their analyses. Nineteenth century American
anarchists recognized that the true meaning of American nationalism was
congruous with their anti-statist views.
This essay is in no way
intended to suggest that any amount of government is necessary.
However, voluntary systems of governance are instances of free
association, and therefore not antithetical to anarchism. Voluntary free
association can never be antithetical to anarchism, no matter how
regulated or hierarchical the association may be. Local anarchist
communities can sign treaties and participate in larger confederations
without compromising the values of freedom and autonomy.
not everyone shares the values of freedom, autonomy, and the
accompanying responsibility, and anarchists need to accept this. It is
preposterous that anarchists would perceive the internal affairs of
divergent tribes as any of their business. In a truly decentralized
society, communities will not be identical, and some may be based on
values that anarchists abhor. But harmony in this arrangement can be
attained with the essential components of voluntarism, the
non-aggression principle, and the right of non-participation. Just as
individuals and tribes are entitled to associate with whomever they
choose, individuals and tribes who do not wish to confederate have an
equal right to abstain from such intercommunity relations.
being said, a wide range of decentralists, including various anarchists,
minarchists, secessionists, and others, could benefit far more from
working with each other than they could from completely isolating or
only associating with those who are exactly like them. Conflicts among
the diverse proponents of local autonomy and individual autarchy
(especially arguments that involve denouncing one another as “statist”)
are a ridiculous way to waste time and accomplish nothing. The
anarchism vs. minarchism debate is merely a question of degree. If
minarchists are “statists,” then at what point do autonomous, voluntary
community organization projects become “the state”? The state is not
just any kind of organized social structure; it is a coercive monopoly
Rather than focusing on disagreements, people with
similar beliefs could be cooperating on projects that reflect their
agreements. This is the nature of coalition building. It's not about
finding carbon copies of one's group; it's about collaborating with
groups that are noticeably different but share some kind of common
ground, no matter how small. By focusing on specific issues and
endeavors rather than idealistic wishes for the entire world, diverse
activist organizations can accomplish tangible goals even if society as a
whole remains tainted. Anarchists should be pragmatic; a slow chipping
away at the State is sometimes necessary and can often be more
effective than drastic or violent revolutionary upheaval.
oriented contemporary anarchists, if they choose to look outside their
dogmatic boxes, will find natural allies in the modern American patriot
movement, which is quite averse to government encroachment on
individual, family, and community rights. American patriots' proclivity
towards rugged individualism, self-sufficiency, and community
self-defense,  combined with a populist anti-banking sentiment, are
all very anarchistic elements as well. Local sovereignty and
self-determination are crucial to both movements; it is only blatantly
obvious that they should collaborate.
The nation is not the
State; the people are the nation. Ward Churchill precisely conveys the
misconceptions anarchists have about nationalism: “a...lot of
anarchists...[think] they’re anti-nationalist, that...nationalism in all
forms is...some sort of an evil to be combated... You may have nations
that are also states, but you’ve got most nations rejecting statism.
So...the assertion of sovereignty...is an explicitly anti-statist ideal,
and the basis of commonality with...anarchists.”  From Churchill's
indigenous perspective, nationalism is in direct opposition to statism.
Consistent with Churchill's view, the meaning of true American
nationalism includes grassroots independence, libertarianism,
individualism, populism, autarchy, agorism, and anti-imperialism. It
allows for personal and collective freedom, and holds sacred the
founding of intentional communities. It is Jefferson's idea of a
“republic of republics,” a decentralized nation of nations down to the
most local levels. This is the very essence of American
National-Anarchism. The United States was once a diverse confederation
of regions with distinct identities—regional, ethnic, religious, etc.
The states participated in the confederation voluntarily, and the
broader umbrella of “American” did not negate their sentiments of local
nationhood. Rather, choosing to call oneself an American added a rich
ideological dimension to one's existing identity.
identity is not based on war and dominance; it is not globalization,
whose pervasive monoculture has been falsely termed “Americanization.”
The global anti-culture propagates materialism, consumerism, and
detachment from the earth. This is not the foundation of America. True
American culture means complete decentralization, which results in rich
heterogeneity and diversity. Towns and states in this country used to
have unique character. Americans are just as negatively impacted by
McDonaldization as the rest of the world. Despite this context,
America's philosophical and practical traditions can continue to provide
the people with inspiration to resist the empire. Anarchists and
patriots share this goal, even if they differ in opinion or lifestyle.
Because of similar principles and aims, anarchist-patriot cooperation
makes sense. The creation of an American National-Anarchist alliance
would be a living example of a decentralized, independent grassroots
 Jefferson wrote to William Stephens Smith
in 1787: “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without...a
rebellion. [...] What country before ever existed a century & half
without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it’s liberties if
their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve
the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. [...] The tree of liberty
must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots &
 Articles of Confederation, Article II.
in Van Doren, Carl. Indian Treaties Printed by Benjamin Franklin
1736-1762. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Philadelphia, 1938.
 Franklin, Benjamin. Letter to James Parker, 1751.
 He does not specify whether he means Iroquois.
Adams, John. Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United
States of America. Philadelphia: Budd and Bartram, 1797.
 Arthur, Stephen. “'Where License Reigns With All Impunity:' An Anarchist Study of the Rotinonshón:ni Polity.” http://www.nefac.net/anarchiststudyofiroquois.
 Paine, Thomas. The Rights of Man. 1792.
 Quoted in Van der Weyde, William M. “Thomas Paine's Anarchism.” Mother Earth, 1910.
 Jefferson, Thomas. Letter to John Cartwright, 1824.
 Jefferson, Thomas. Letter to Gideon Granger, 1800.
 Jefferson, Thomas. Letter to Samuel Kerchival, 1816.
 Jefferson, Thomas. Letter to Samuel Kerchival, 1816.
 Jefferson, Thomas. Letter to John Cartwright, 1824.
 Simons, Algie Martin. Social Forces in American History. New York: Macmillan Co., 1911.
 Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. The Principle of Federation. 1863.
Faragher, John Mack. Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American
Pioneer. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC., 1992.
 Josiah Warren, “From the March of Mind,” New Harmony Gazette 2, No. 46, September 10, 1828.
 Sartwell, Crispin, ed. The Practical Anarchist: Writings of Josiah Warren. New York: Fordham University Press, 2011.
Spooner, Lysander. The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress,
Prohibiting Private Mails. New York: Tribune Printing Establishment,
 Spooner, Lysander. No Treason #1. 1867.
 Spooner, Lysander. The Unconstitutionality of Slavery. Boston: Bela Marsh, 1880.
Tucker, Benjamin. Liberty Vol. II—No. 5. Boston, MA. December 9,
1882. Whole No. 31. Interestingly, Mexican revolutionary Enrique
Flores Magon also said that Jefferson was an “anarchist of his time”
(Wehling, Jason. Anarchist Influences on the Mexican Revolution. http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/mexico/history/anarchism_1910.html)
 Tucker, Benjamin. State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree, and Wherein They Differ. 1888.
 Tucker, Benjamin. Liberty Vol. II—No. 5. Boston, MA. December 9, 1882. Whole No. 31.
Tucker said "Liberty, therefore, must defend the right of individuals
to make contracts involving usury...and many other things which it
believes to be wrong in principle and opposed to human well-being. […]
In defending the right to take usury, we do not defend the right of
usury” (Liberty Vol. I, No. 12 January 7, 1882.)
Benjamin. “Economic Rent.” Individual Liberty: Selections From the
Writings of Benjamin R. Tucker. Vanguard Press: New York, 1926.
 Tucker, Benjamin. Liberty Vol. XI—No. 13. New York, NY. November 2, 1895. Whole No. 325.
 Tucker, Benjamin. Liberty Vol. IV—No. 26. Boston, Mass. July 30, 1887. Whole No. 104.
Defense associations and community militias have been organized by
anarchists in other countries, from the volunteer militias of the
Spanish revolution to the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN),
which is one of the best examples of a movement that combines anarchism
and decentralized nationalism.
 Interview with Ward Churchill. Upping the Anti. http://uppingtheanti.org/journal/article/01-indigenism-anarchism-and-the-state.