Sturgeon gives us an interesting picture of how to reconceptualise anarchy within ancient social and spiritual bonds. His analysis of pre-Norman England is certainly enlightening, as it shows the voluntary aspects of that society, with its social hierarchies and social connection to the land. In many ways it falls in with other aspects of voluntary feudalism, such as the early clan system of Scotland and the tuatha of Ireland. However, we should not fall into the trap of pure historical romanticism. We have to understand that these voluntary, quasi-anarchist systems were on the peripheries of life at that time. Like all stages of history, there is a consistent tension between the modes of centralisation and decentralisation. So far the latter has lost. What Sturgeon shows though is that by understanding these historical systems (that only ended due to centralised forms of power conquering them) we can understand ways of constructing intentional communities of anarchy, where relations are voluntary and bound in common conceptions of community, economy and law. (by the blog author)
by Wayne John Sturgeon
One of the most significant contributions to what could be referred to as a form of anarcho-feudalism is what is sometimes described as ‘Heathian anarchism’. Heathian anarchism is a form of free market libertarianism based on a model of proprietary communitarianism. This was originally defined in the social theory of Spencer Heath (1876-1963) who had been deeply influenced by the land reformism of Henry George (1), who advocated the socialisation of rent via a ‘single tax’ on land value made payable to the government. Heath developed this, but rather advocated a voluntary rent made payable to single private corporations who would provide for all public services out of such a revenue. Thus, this single private landlord would own all the land and housing in a single given geographical area, much like a city-state from medieval and Greek times. Spencer Heath defined this vision in his book, Citadel, Market and Altar (1957), where he develops a Trinitarian theme working throughout history, symbolised by the threefold synergy of human biology transferred to the social and economic spheres (2).
As the human being is made up of a skeleton with muscles and tissues (corresponding to the ‘Citadel’) and a nutritional, circulatory and reproductive system (corresponding to the ‘Market’), plus a neural and nervous system based in the mind (corresponding to the ‘Altar’), their successive and ultimate holistic synthesis and integration would bring about the fully realized spiritual human being and society. This would take place in three stages of historical development and social evolution. Firstly, the ‘Citadel’ or government organism would be progressively absorbed and transcended, when distorted by coercion, and transcended by the principle of co-operation via an evolutionary anarcho-capitalism based in a voluntarist free marketism. This spontaneous order or ‘Market’ stage would eventually become economically successionist and anti-statist before achieving a consummation of market forces in the ‘Altar’, a period within the social organism symbolizing the full realization of art, science and religion.
Heath would also echo elements of medieval apocalyptic and mystical millennialism by referring to these periods as the age of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
Heath based most of his views on the ancient Anglo-Saxon model of society that existed in England before the Norman Conquest, where voluntary revenue of rent provided for all public services. Not until after 1066 was any permanent system of centralized taxation put in place. Land ownership thus became a political and coercive institution, laying the foundations for the latter servile feudalism in contrast to the more decentralized voluntary feudalism that had existed before. Where before ‘to own was to owe’ (private property having a social value defined in service to others) and there were mutualist obligations between landlords and freemen on the land, and whereas these relationships had been defined without either the twin evils of serfdom and servitude through forced and conscripted labour.
The ‘Norman yoke’ inaugurated the Romanist conception of feudalism laying the basis for the authoritarian state. The early conception of Anglo-Saxon voluntary feudalism was based in a free market and proprietary contractual association that was completely non-political. This had been evolving out of the earlier tribal blood bond of allegiance to an earthly king via the custom of public moots and witans, etc. Sadly, this had been historically arrested and distorted by the papal inspired invasion of 1066, along with other events.
Heathian anarchism does not differ from most other modernist schools of anarcho-capitalism, in that Spencer’s vision contains no model of competing security agencies in any one geographical area or zone. There is only the one, although this single provider would be subject to the competition of other city-states or free zones. Where Heath saw these emerging communities as being also in competition to central governments etc., they would also be responsible for protecting their tenants from both criminality on the one hand and statist taxation on the other. It is easy to see here how Heath’s vision has provided the template for many different social and economic experiments in anarcho-capitalist enclaves, retreats, intentional communities and so on.
Heath foresaw voluntarist possibilities in the development of multi-tenant properties such as hotels, holiday camps, industrial business parks, apartment buildings and even shopping malls, if these could be made to function as templates for entrepreneurial opportunity, individual autonomy and quality of community life, towards spiritual realization etc.
Heath’s grandson Spencer Heath MacCallen would further develop these concepts in his booklets, The Art of Community and The Enterprise of Community, Market Competition, Land and Environment (3). Heath would also form a close friendship in his later life with the radical alternative monetary theorist, E.C. Riegel (who was also influenced by Proudhonist mutualism), and inspired the popular LETS system of community non-governmental credit (4).
Maybe it is time to reclaim this tradition of voluntary ‘Anarcho-Feudalism’, both in its agorist sense of being a model for economic successionism, its Trinitarian model of historical and spiritual development, and its inspiration and celebration of the ancient historical regionalist and non-papal pre-reformation Anglo-Saxon confederate England. In this sense, it looks both backwards and forwards at the same time, in anticipation of realizing the ‘Ancient Future’: this ‘ancient future’ being an attempt at a synthesis of religion and social life akin to a radical traditionalist sacred order that allows for dynamic innovation but is essentially timeless and changeless in its stability, unlike the dynamic of modernity that is constantly striving to change humanity and the world but from a materialist viewpoint.
In this respect, another precursor to a vision or inspiration for an anarcho-feudalism can be found in the writings of the much-celebrated J.R.R. Tolkien (5). Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings sought to reclaim a cultural tradition and revive a ‘mythology for England’ based in what Tolkien referred to as ‘the north-west of the old world’, a world where indigenous peoples and cultures live in harmony with nature but without sentimentality strive to survive against the fascist imposition and union of state power, capital and technology as represented in the book by ‘Mordor’ – ‘One ring to rule them all.’ Tolkien noted in 1943 that ‘my political opinions lean more and more to anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control, not whiskered men with bombs) or to ‘unconstitutional monarchy’. I am not a ‘Socialist’ in any sense – being averse to planning (as must be plain) most of all because the planners when they acquire power become so bad.’
Tolkien was a devote Roman-Catholic, and one of the writers of a famous fraternity of Oxford-based scholars dubbed the ‘Inklings’ that comprised the brilliant Christian apologist C.S. Lewis and the Christian esoteric novelist Charles Williams (6).
Tolkien’s description of ‘The Shire’ very much functions similar to a municipal (as opposed to representative government) direct democracy, half republic and half aristocracy, neo-feudal Paternalism. There are three positions of authority in the hobbits’ Shire, two of them hereditary and one elected, but even here the power or rather duties are minimalist. The hobbits appear self-governing, and even at the end of the book, Lord of the Rings, the king merely grants to the Shire the autonomy and independence it already had as a sovereign province. The king merely serves as a ‘symbol of unity’, much as the concept of ‘Romanity’ served the pre-schism church before the advent of papalism as a true template of ‘subsidiarity’: an orthodox imperium of historical regionalism where decisions are taken at the lowest level possible given the ancient church practice of ‘Sobornosti’ and autocephalous administration.
So Tolkien was very much in one sense a ‘revolutionary conservative’ and anti-modernity, particularly in the ecological sense given his profound love for trees – a theme very much evident in Lord of the Rings (7).
It is tragic that many of the themes Tolkien wanted to reclaim and seed back into popular culture against the cult of modernity, with its worship and idolatry of technocratic centralism and despotism, would be betrayed in the hands of fascism. Writing during the Second World War, he commented, ‘I have in the war a burning private grudge against Hitler for ruining, perverting, misapplying and making forever accursed that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe which I have ever loved and tried to present in its true light’. Indeed, when asked by impending German publishers of The Hobbit as to his racial origins, he sarcastically replied, ‘If I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.’
Let us reclaim the northern tradition as a faithful and true guardian over and against those who would like either to hijack it or to destroy it (8).
- Other important thinkers and activists in this tradition of Georgist and libertarian/anarchist syntheses being Albert Jay Nock, Frank Chodorov, Franz Oppenheimer and Fred E. Foldvary, who has developed a brilliant exposition of natural law or universal ethics from a libertarian standpoint. Please see The Soul of Liberty, The Gutenberg Press, 1980.
- This concept of tripartite or threefold commonwealth society can also be found in the writings of anthroposophicalism as originated by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner envisaged three separate realms pertaining to ‘equality’ in the political realm, ‘fraternity’ in the economic realm and ‘liberty’ in the cultural realm. The distortion of this being theocracy dominating the political and economic realm, capitalism dominating the political and cultural realm, and communism dominating the cultural and economic realm. Steiner’s conception was that all three realms had to be completely independent and autonomous, but would gradually evolve into what amounts to a form of conciliated Rosicrucian styled corporatism, albeit libertarian rather than essentially fascist. Please refer to The Renewal of the Social Organism, The Anthroposophic Press, 1985, and Tarjei Straume’s website exploring Steinerite anarchism: http://www.uncletaz.com
- Also see: The New Approach to Freedom. Escape from Inflation, The Monetary Alternative. A Short Perspective for Land and Social Evolution and Planned Communities without Politics. Finding a Market Solution to the Social and Economic Problems of Common Interest Development. Available on request from email@example.com
- Please refer to The Monetary Economics of E.C. Riegel by Jon Matonis at: http://www.themonetaryfuture.blogspot.com. Also worthy of consideration is Silvio Gesell at: http://www.complimentarycurrency.org
- Please refer to the excellent Defending Middle Earth: Tolkien Myth and Modernity by Patrick Curry, Harper Collins, 1998.
- See The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and their Friends by Humphrey Carpenter, Harper Collins, 1997.
- Consider the impact Lord of the Rings had on the ‘romantic’ counter-cultural protest movements of the 1960s to the 1990s and beyond, and in particular to the anti road-building protests in England throughout the 1990s and the negative media stereotyping of the activist ‘tree hugger’. As William Blake observed, ‘The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.’
- For a brilliant introduction and exposition on anarcho-feudalism, please see also Anarcho-Feudalism as Practical Model for National Anarchism by Craig Fitzgerald and Jamie O’Hara, published in National Anarchism Theory and Practice, edited by Troy Southgate. Blackfront Press, 2012.