Two Reviews of Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel

(The second review was added to this post on Feb. 27, 2012; a response by the author was published on Mar. 22)

An Overview of Christian Anarchist Theory

By Nathan Jun, Midwestern State University, WSA/TX

Alexandre Christoyannopoulos’ Christian Anarchism is a meticulously researched but readily accessible survey of an often overlooked and frequently misunderstood anarchist tradition. As he explains in the introduction, “Anarchism is not all there is to Christianity. The point which some describe as the overlap of the two separate traditions, however, seems to be precisely where others argue that Christianity logically leads to some form of anarchism… The aim of this book is to focus on this overlap, and therefore solely on the anarchist political implications of Christianity. That is, this book focuses solely on the view that Christianity implies a (peculiarly Christian) type of anarchism” (7). There is no question that Christian Anarchism meets its stated aim, and this in two ways: first, by offering a richly detailed overview of Christian anarchist theory vis-à-vis its key thinkers and schools of thought; and second, by vividly demonstrating how Christian anarchists have attempted, and continue to attempt, to live their ideas in practice.

At the level of content, my only criticism concerns the puzzling inclusion “anarcho-capitalists” [sic] alongside genuine anarchists such as Leo Tolstoi and Dorothy Day. While I am not in a position to judge the Christian bona fides of any of the figures discussed in this book, I do feel confident in asserting that capitalists—by definition—cannot be anarchists, and vice versa. (As an anarchist as well as a scholar of anarchism, Professor Christoyannopoulos surely knows this, which is why I say—quite charitably, I might add—that I am “puzzled.”) At the same time, so little space is devoted to “anarcho-capitalists” [sic] that it’s fair to describe the entire discussion as an aberration in an otherwise fine book.

Book CoverBy its own admission, Christian Anarchism is not a critical work; it is a descriptive work intended to introduce the reader to the Christian anarchist tradition, and on this score it is a great achievement. My hope is that Christoyannopoulos will follow up at some point with a more critical treatment of Christian anarchism—one that, for example, will address some of the common arguments which non-Christian anarchists level against the very idea of Christian anarchism. I say this as someone who has serious moral and philosophical objections to organized religion in general and Christianity in particular but is also willing to countenance religiosity when it is marshaled in the service of liberation. And although Christian Anarchism goes a long way toward allaying my concerns, many remain unaddressed. For example, isn’t Jesus Christ himself the ultimate ground of political and moral obligation for Christians? If so, doesn’t this imply that any Christian action—no matter how much it happens to outwardly overlap with the means and ends of anarchism—is ultimately carried out for the sake of Christ? And wouldn’t this suggest that Christian anarchists’ reasons for acting differ in a non-trivial way from those of non-Christian anarchists (viz., because they are acting ultimately for the sake of Christ rather than for the sake of humanity)?

The overarching problem I keep returning to is this: Christian anarchism has an archē—an ultimate authority, a first principle—that structures, organizes, and licenses it, and this seems self-contradictory to me as it did to Bakunin and others before me. I do not doubt this problem is a non-problem, that I am somehow missing the point in fretting over it, but this is where Christoyannopoulos needs to set my mind at ease. By raising these sorts of questions, Christian Anarchism has definitely whetted my appetite and I have no doubt that it will be followed up by deeply satisfying critical work.

Imprint Academic, Exeter, 2011, ISBN 978-1-845-402471; $34.90/£17.95

 

Book Review: Christian Anarchism

By Al Tucker, Southern California WSA

“[N]othing they have imagined they can do will be impossible for them.” –Genesis 11:6b (Amplified Bible)*

In his book Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel, Alexandre Christoyannopoulos attempts to engage Christian anarchism in a conversation with more ‘mainstream’ anarchist thought and, more broadly, with general political thought. He starts by advancing a generic theory of Christian anarchism. His strategy is to outline a “detailed and comprehensive synthesis” of individual thinkers into a coherent perspective that deserves to be it’s own school of thought – something he feels has yet to be done.

Even though this book is for the most part easy to read and understand it is still an academic work belonging to that time honored genre of doctoral thesis turned book. It is nicely mapped out with frequent suggestion of what chapters to turn to to find more detailed information on a topic. The abridged edition I was furnished with is heavily footnoted and promises an even greater number of footnotes to be found in the unabridged edition.

However, the book’s citations of a Christian Reconstructionist give pause. From my understanding of things it would be fair to say that Christian Reconstructionism is a fringe movement that wants to return all of human society to the Mosaic Law as found in the Jewish Scriptures (also known as the Old Testament by Christians). This law would be administered by God-fearing patriarchs instead of the bourgeois democratic state that we now live under. You see, the secular humanist state gets in the way of things like being able to publicly execute homosexuals or young women who engage in per-marital sex by having the community throw rocks at them. So naturally the state is evil and is opposed to the kingdom of God and God’s children should oppose such a thing.

I am not saying Alexandre Christoyannopoulos is agitating for Christian Reconstructionism in his book Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel. However, I cannot comprehend how someone can earn a Ph.D. in Politics & Government like our esteemed Dr. Christoyannopoulos1 and then go on to repeatedly cite a Christian Reconstructionist author2 and document3 in a book on Christian Anarchism.

Christoyannopoulos ultimately advances a pacifist ideology rooted in non-violent response to evil. He marshals many influential thinkers to instruct Christian adherents to ‘wait on God to disrupt history’ instead of engaging in political activism. Meanwhile, more activist Christianity is segregated into the Liberation Theology camp. The author even suggests that Liberation Theologists lack a faith in a God who is in full of control of history. Although to him Christian Anarchism excludes anyone who might see a  possible need for political violence, he strangely casts a ridiculously wide net on some other issues – he finds a spot for “Christian anarcho-capitalists” in his synthesis, but admits you only seem to find them on the internet.

* These are supposed to be the words  of God regarding humanity from the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. In this story humanity is said to have came together to build a great city with a tower that reached to the heaven (according to some traditions in order to argue with God face to face). The biblical text then goes on to tell us that God confused human language and scattered humanity across the face of the earth in order to thwart this endeavor. Christoyannopoulos’ book never touches on this story. I personally feel that something in the attitude of this story touches the most problematic root in the idea of a “Christian anarchism.” Maybe if anarchism is understood to be a political theory that addresses nothing but individual freedom, especially of that kind of freedom standing in opposition to civilization and technological advancement then there is a seemingly holistic synthesis to be found here. [I’m confused by the meaning of the above 2 sentences] Personally speaking, anarchism is only of interest to me in so far as it is a theory that addresses ways of organizing humanity to work together to make a better world – a world that will require that we build upon the scientific, technological, and social advancements that have come before us, and will continue to advance even while our dreams of a horizontally organized communal society have yet to be realized. A dream that requires nothing short of humanities willingness to work collectively together hand in hand.

  1. “Alexandre Christoyannopoulos joined the University of Kent in 1997 to complete a BA (Honours) in Economics. He then joined the Department in 2000 to pursue an MA in International Relations and European Studies and, after a brief internship at the European Commission in Brussels, returned to complete a PhD in Politics & Government.” []
  2. “Kevin Craig the Libertarian Party Candidatefor the U.S. House of Representatives from Southwest Missouri is the only candidate Uncompromisingly Committed to the ideal of Liberty Under God” Kevin Craig describes himself as being “Christian Reconstructionist” since 1977 who was personally tutored by R.J.Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen, and who has had articles published by Gary North. See more links here, here, here, here, and here. []
  3. “Ninety-Five Theses In Defense of Patriarchy”!? Seriously, Google that, Christoyannopoulos loves to cite it. []

Comments

Comment from arran james
Time: September 25, 2013, 5:16 pm

I’m an anarchist and I’m interested in a specific reading of Christianity. In the tradition of kenosis (“self-emptying”) creation and then crucifixion are the abasement and abjection of Christ. In other words, it is a paricularly potent myth of God allowing “Himself” to be destroyed as God. In this reading, God is the cause of the death of God in a literal (mythical) sense. For a philosopher like Gianni Vattimo, and a slew of “death of God” theologians from the 1960s, this is mirrored in the historical secularisation of Christianity, the death of God that Nietzsche wrote about. Through all this there is the sense that anarchism is already Christian and that secular atheism is in fact the only kind of Christianity possible. What happens when we read anarchist Christianity this way? No Gods, no Masters becomes the Christian move par excellence. The ontological arche that Christianity is founded on disappears- and with it any claims to authority over scriptural interpretation too. This seems profoundly anarchist to me.

That said, I’m a little concerned about the identification of the philosophical term “arche” with political anarchism. It is by no means obvious that the rejection of involuntary political authority (to give a bare bones definition here) necessitates an embrace of the an-arche in this sense. Indeed, the recent work by Simon Critchley (Infinitely Demanding) shows where this kind of thinking can lead: to a politics that claims the name “anarchism” but delivers little more than liberalism in a radical pose. Not to suggest this is the necessary end, but it is certainly worth bearing in mind.

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