Debate Reviews

Reviews of Christian Anarchism – the Author Responds

(This is a reply to the two reviews of Christian Anarchism that appeared in ideas & action.)

By Alexandre Christoyannopoulos

Thanks for organising these reviews of my book. I feel I ought to respond to a couple of points.

As I explain in the book just before I introduce the main sources relied on in the book, the only criterion which I used to decide on who to include was whether an author had “something to contribute to the perspective that Christianity logically implies a form of anarchism”. I was very aware that some of those included would not be welcomed by all, and I never claimed to agree with every thought any of these authors expressed (I don’t). The aim of the project was (again as stated in the book) to weave together the different threads of Christian anarchist thinking so as to present as coherent and exhaustive as possible a case for this political interpretation of the gospels. In my view, this means including even those whose views on some matters I disagree with – including those whose views on some issues, such as private property, are actually contrary to the position held by most other Christian anarchists. There is no doubt that Christian anarcho-capitalists sit uneasily in the broader crowd of more “genuine” Christian anarchists. The same applies to Christian Reconstructionists. But given the aims of the project and hence the criterion used to decide on who to include, it’s excluding those people because of questionable aspects of their beliefs which would be un-academic – contrary to Al Tucker’s apparent assumptions. Academic integrity and scientific method, it seems to me, means that you don’t exclude people because you don’t like them, but you base your decision using clearly defined methods which are appropriate to the task in hand. In other words, to “earn a PhD” on this topic, I had to “repeatedly cite” such authors – even if I don’t agree with them on everything.

I should perhaps add that what is argued in the book is only very rarely my view, but usually the views held by Christian anarchists. So although Tucker is disappointed that “I” didn’t touch on the story of the Tower of Babel, it’s not me but the Christian anarchists I read and relied on which didn’t touch on it. Equally, by the way, the book says next to nothing on modern capitalism and “empire”, but that’s not because I don’t have a view on this (I do!), but because those I read didn’t seem to tackle the question, and so I couldn’t include it given the aims and methods of the book. Similarly, what is said in the book about history and Liberation Theology is rarely me speaking, but me conveying the voices of the authors selected by the above criterion.

As to the further point made by Nathan Jun on the hope for a more critical treatment to come, I can only agree. It’s something I hope to work on and develop in the future. And he’s quite right, I think, when he reflects on the fact that Christian anarchism still has an archē. If rejecting all archēs is a precondition of anarchism, then they’re not anarchists. But if rejecting the state makes one an anarchist, then they are. At the very least, there’s a discussion worth having there. Incidentally, I wonder if one couldn’t argue that “secular” anarchists often also have an archē, in the sense of a first principle – such as freedom or equality. So again, this is worth exploring.  

Finally, I agree with Tucker that we should be willing to work together hand in hand. It’s sometimes tempting, and in the end (I think) destructive, to focus on only our differences. There’s lots of work to do, and anarchists (Christian or not!) along with many others on the left are stronger when they manage to overcome their differences and collaborate to improve things. I’m not claiming every Christian anarchist discussed in my book holds equally valid views, but I still think that casting a wide net has helped put together a reasonably strong case for why those who claim to follow Jesus ought to find themselves working in solidarity with many anarchists.

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