Less concerned with who’s first up against the wall than with how to decorate it

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. phuzz
    January 22, 2015 @ 2:42 am

    The Church of England as created by Henry VIII was just a copy of the Church of Rome, with only one change, it allowed Henry to grant himself a divorce.
    It was Henry's descendants who moved it towards Protestantism, which was the real object that the Catholics of England had.


  2. prandeamus
    January 22, 2015 @ 3:47 am

    "And as David Lloyd noted, the basic cheek of trying to blow up Parliament is rather appealing"

    I hope I know polemic when I read it. Nevertheless: blowing up Parliament is not a appealing project, nor is the "cheek" in doing so. I certainly would not posit England in the 1600's as a modern liberal democracy, or an idealised state. But Fawkes and the other conspirators were using real gunpower and not barrels of metaphor, irony and post-modernism.

    (Also, cue the "Fawkes was framed" discussion, which I find fascinating but am not qualified to comment on)


  3. Neo Tuxedo
    January 22, 2015 @ 3:53 am

    And of the spells cast, it is the one whose influences are, perhaps, the purest. […] And as David Lloyd noted, the basic cheek of trying to blow up Parliament is rather appealing.

    I don't know whether you did that on purpose, but your phrasing, especially the first of those sentences, puts me in mind of the common ironic toast to Fawkes as "the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions."


  4. Spoilers Below
    January 22, 2015 @ 5:26 am

    Now, now, as we all know, despite his anarchist sympathies, Phil is also a strident monarchist, and therefore would, as a consequence, side with the man doing his very best to restore the true royal bloodline to the throne, and preventing that horrid Charles I from ever taking power down the line ;p


  5. BerserkRL
    January 22, 2015 @ 6:13 am

    The picture you use of William Godwin is the most famous one, but at the time of the Enquiry he looked more like this: http://praxeology.net/godwin-writes.PNG

    It's a bit odd to support the claim that "anarchism can in many ways be described more as an aesthetic" by citing a list of images that the enemies of anarchism have associated with it. Admittedly anarchists have traditionally responded to those images by appropriating them, but the images don't have anarchism as their native soil.

    Colin Ward's Anarchy in Action is online. The line you quote from Ward continues thus:

    "How would you feel if you discovered that the society in which you would really like to live was already here, apart from a few local difficulties like exploitation, war, dictatorship and starvation? The argument of this book is that an anarchist society, a society which organ­ises itself without authority, is always in existence, like a seed beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy, capitalism and its waste, privilege and its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism. Of the many possible interpretations of anarchism the one presented here suggests that, far from being a speculative vision of a future society, it is a description of a mode of human organisation, rooted in the experience of everyday life, which operates side by side with, and in spite of, the dominant authoritarian trends of our society. This is not a new version of anarchism. Gustav Landauer saw it, not as the founding of something new, 'but as the actualisation and reconstitution of something that has always been present, which exists alongside the state, albeit buried and laid waste'. And a modern anarchist, Paul Goodman, declared that: 'A free society cannot be the substitution of a "new order" for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of social life.'"

    Of course Ward's recommended mode of social change — "the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of social life" (which broadly describes Godwin's recommended mode also) — is rather different from blowing up stuff. Godwin was rather against blowing up stuff.

    Benjamin Tucker's attitude toward bomb-throwing anarchists was: no praise for them, but no pity for their victims either. He also favoured an expanding-spheres method (though unlike the pacifist anarchists he had <a href='http://fair-use.org/benjamin-tucker/instead-of-a-book/the-advisability-of-violence">no objection to violence in those rare circumstances when it was effective</a>).


  6. BerserkRL
    January 22, 2015 @ 6:26 am

    The most famous quote from the afore-cited Gustav Landauer is: "The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another."

    For my own development of this idea, see here, here, and here.


  7. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 22, 2015 @ 10:05 am

    I agree, I probably worded that claim slightly more strongly than is warranted.

    I think it's absolutely the case that Moore's embrace of anarchism in V for Vendetta, and I suspect across his career, is largely an aesthetic embrace. I will, admittedly not in so many words, spell that out over the next few weeks. I think a strong case can be made for Blake as well, at least inasmuch as I think it's generally unhelpful to treat Blake as having a set of policy positions he means to espouse, although I think it's important to highlight that there were very few of Blake's viewpoints that couldn't be described as aesthetic.

    If you think Moore can be pegged into a definable school of anarchist thought, mind you, it's an argument I'd love to hear.


  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 22, 2015 @ 10:07 am

    Truth be told, I probably like explosions more than monarchy.


  9. encyclops
    January 22, 2015 @ 10:07 am

    “an ultra-violent and demented version of Spy vs. Spy…"

    So…Spy vs. Spy, then. 🙂

    Fascinating essay, fascinating comments — I'm parking this here because I want to thank BerserkRL for these references. I really like this: "the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of social life."


  10. BerserkRL
    January 22, 2015 @ 1:26 pm


  11. BerserkRL
    January 22, 2015 @ 1:36 pm

    Anarchists usually think of anarchy in terms of peace and order (for a classic 1850 statement of this position, see Anselme Bellegarrigue's "Anarchy Is Order") — at least in terms of anarchisms's ends, whether they favour peaceful or violent means to those ends. At the same time, even the most peaceful anarchists, when presented with mainstream imagery associating anarchy with chaos and explosions, tend to find that imagery attractive, even if they think of it metaphorically rather than literally (destroying power structures rather than brick-and-mortar structures).

    I say "they," but "we" would be accurate too; my preferred method for achieving an anarchist society involves building alternative institutions and gradually winning people's affiliation to them and away from the state/corporate nexus until the latter collapses of its own weight, rather than engaging in usually-counterproductive violent insurrection; but I'm sufficiently hostile to existing power structures to find blowing up their physical incarnations an attractive metaphor.


  12. BerserkRL
    January 22, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

    Plus I'm not a pacifist. I don't imagine that the path to anarchism will be completely free of all need for violence. But violence can't be the main focus. In addition to being morally problematic, violence has the disadvantage that a) so long as the forces of the state/corporate nexus vastly outnumber the anarchists, violence is going to be ineffective; and b) once it is no longer true that the forces of the state/corporate nexus vastly outnumber the anarchists, violence becomes superfluous, as mass withdrawal of obedience becomes practicable instead.


  13. Adam Riggio
    January 22, 2015 @ 5:46 pm

    What I love about Colin Ward's work is his contention that anarchism is a universal tendency of social behaviour immanent to human life, but that it's usually elided, obscured, or overwritten by hierarchical institutions and organizations.


  14. Matthew Blanchette
    January 22, 2015 @ 9:57 pm

    There's also the little matter of Fawkes, being no dummy when it came to explosives, using double the amount needed to blow up Parliament — suggesting he wanted to destroy not just the sitting Parliament, but half of London, with his work.

    "…no one within 330 feet (100 m) of the blast could have survived, and all of the stained glass windows in Westminster Abbey would have been shattered, as would all of the windows in the vicinity of the Palace. The explosion would have been seen from miles away, and heard from further away still. Even if only half of the gunpowder had gone off, everyone in the House of Lords and its environs would have been killed instantly."


  15. Matthew Blanchette
    January 22, 2015 @ 9:58 pm

    You must color me a little disappointed at Mary Wollstonecraft only getting a brief look-in; in my opinion, she was an even greater intellect than her husband — perhaps one of the greatest minds of her time, with one of the most difficult lives, to boot. 🙁


  16. IG
    January 23, 2015 @ 4:53 am

    (When asked in 2014 whether this account was actually true, Blake sardonically replied, “as true as this answer is.”)

    Er… 2014? Really? Blimey 🙂


  17. BerserkRL
    January 23, 2015 @ 5:50 am

    You've been missing the Blake 2014 references? This wasn't the first.


  18. encyclops
    January 23, 2015 @ 8:45 am

    IG is just shocked that Blake is still able to talk after Avon shot him.


  19. Jesse
    January 26, 2015 @ 5:16 am

    Mikhail Bakunin’s Collectivist Anarchism, with was an important predecessor to Marxism

    "Predecessor" is misleading. Bakunin and Marx were contemporaries and rivals.


  20. Daru
    February 14, 2015 @ 6:53 am

    "(When asked in 2014 whether this account was actually true, Blake sardonically replied, “as true as this answer is.”) "

    Brill. On the topic of Fawkes and metaphorically blowing things up, I really enjoyed your comments on Shabcast 1 with Jack Graham.

    I lived in Bridgwater, Somerset for a couple of years and interestingly the actively celebrate, via fireworks (of the most extreme kind) and a very un-carnival carnival, Guy Fawkes's failure. Living there it really felt like the grimmest, most unhappy of celebrations and really felt a celebration of Conservatism.


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