Last modified on November 26, 2019, at 12:27

Atheism and anarchism

The symbol of anarchism.

Anarchists have traditionally been irreligious/anti-religion.[1]

The atheist Francois Tremblay wrote about atheism and anarchism:

Some people believe that there is a strong connection between atheism and Anarchism, others believe there is no such connection. Certainly it is true that Anarchist thinkers have been strongly unsympathetic to organized religion and tend to be atheists, but the reverse has not been true. Why is that? And what is the connection?

Anarchism is a position about society and undesirable structures within it (that is to say, the belief that hierarchies are unjustified). Atheism, on the other hand, is an ontological position (about the existence of gods). But if you ask atheists why they see the need to label themselves and discuss atheism, they will almost invariably answer you that Christian dogma infiltrating itself in the schools and politics is the main issue. Therefore atheism does reduce itself to a social issue to some extent.

I think the issue that links them both, therefore, is the concept of authority. Atheists reject both concepts of authority in Christianity: the authority of God over man, and the authority of organized religion against their believers and society as a whole. Anarchists merely reject other forms of authority which any individual atheist may or may not reject.[2]

According to the website The Atheist Scholar:

Most anarchists, past and present, are atheists. Their slogan is: “No god, No master.”

Quotations from famous anarchists, William Godwin to Voltairene de Clerye, all theorists and/or activists against religion and god.

Most scholars agree that in 19th Century America, freethought was basically anti-Christian and anti-clerical, whose goal was to free each individual spiritually and politically to make personal decisions about religion.

Anarchy had its theoretical and political roots in Europe.

Five important atheist/anarchist theoreticians and a discussion of their ideas:

William Godwin (1756- 1836)

Max Stirner (1806- 1856)

Pierre Proudhon (1809- 1865)

Mikhail Bakunin (1814- 1876)

Peter Kropotkin (1842- 1921) Kropotkin influenced Emma Goldman.

The anarchists maintained that “Where there is authority, there is no freedom.”[3]

Nicolas Walter wrote in his article Anarchism and Religion:

Thus the French Encyclopdie Anarchiste (1932) included an article on Atheism by Gustave Brocher: ‘An anarchist, who wants no all-powerful master on earth, no authoritarian government, must necessarily reject the idea of an omnipotent power to whom everything must be subjected; if he is consistent, he must declare himself an atheist.’ And the centenary issue of the British anarchist paper Freedom (October 1986) contained an article by Barbara Smoker (president of the National Secular Society) entitled ‘Anarchism implies Atheism’. As a matter of historical fact the negative connection has indeed been the norm anarchists are generally non-religious and are frequently anti-religious, and the standard anarchist slogan is the phrase coined by the (non-anarchist) socialist Auguste Blanqui in 1880: ‘Ni dieu ni matre!’ (Neither God nor master!). But the full answer is not so simple.

Thus it is reasonable to argue that there is no necessary connection. Beliefs about the nature of the universe, of life on this planet, of this species, of purpose and values and morality, and so on, may be independent of beliefs about the desirability and possibility of liberty in human society. It is quite possible to believe at the same time that there is a spiritual authority and that there should not be a political authority. But it is also reasonable to argue that there is a necessary connection, whether positive or negative.[4]

William Godwin, deism, atheism, French Revolution and anarchism

See also: History of atheism and French atheism

On July 14, 1789, the Bastille was stormed by a mob and its prisoners freed, which is regarded as the start of the French Revolution.

The theory of the divine right of kings in France was overthrown during the French Revolution.

The University of Cambridge reports the following historical relationship between atheism and the French Revolution:

Between 1700 and 1750 thousands of atheistic clandestine manuscripts circulated across Europe (although still only read by a very small minority)...

The French Revolution (1789-94) would dramatically transform the power relationship between belief and unbelief in Europe: whereas before atheism had been 'high brow', discussed in the cafes and salons of Paris, henceforth it would set itself down among the people. A strident unbelief became a real political factor in public life, as the anticlerical 'dechristianisation' period following the revolution would demonstrate. The impact of the French Revolution in inspiring people to put the irreligious ideas of the Enlightenment into practice would extend beyond France to other European countries, and to the American colonies (although in the latter it would take a deistic rather than atheistic form).[5]

The Reign of Terror of the French Revolution established a state which was anti-Roman Catholicism/anti-Christian in nature[6] (anti-clerical deism and anti-religious atheism and played a significant role in the French Revolution),[7][8] with the official ideology being the Cult of Reason; during this time thousands of believers were suppressed and executed by the guillotine.[9]

William Godwin, the father of philosophical anarchism, was a deist and former Calvinist.[10][11]

According to the website The History Guide:

It was the French Revolution which profoundly influenced the course of Godwin's career. Although he never supported all aspects of the Revolution (basically because much of it was contrary to human reason), he thought it beneficial in general and served on a small committee which helped secure the publication of Paine's Rights of Man. Godwin believed that what was needed at the time was not another refutation of Burke, but rather a thorough analysis of society and government. He was given an advance by his publisher and in January 1793 appeared his most important political treatise, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice, and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (London, 2 vols.). Despite its length and cost, Political Justice became a bestseller (some 4,000 copies were sold). In Political Justice, Godwin produced a sweeping explication of the general principles that underlay society and a plan for the future based on his comprehension of the past. In 1794 appeared his novel, Things as They Are, or the Adventures of Caleb Williams (London, 3 vols.), a novel which further popularized his political and social views of the individual victimized by society.[12]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his writings were also attributed to the creation of anarchism alongside modern socialism and Marxism.[13]

Father William Jenkins, in a segment of What Catholics Believe, also stated that the French Revolutionaries, and more specifically the Jacobin Club, when demanding for total liberty was closer in meaning to "total anarchy."[14]

Karl Marx, Communism, Anarchism, and the New Left

See also: Atheism and Karl Marx and Atheism and communism

Karl Marx, when drafting Communism, not only intended to base the concept directly on the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, but he also, in addition to creating a classless society, wanted to have the state fade away, meaning he advocated for anarchism. As such, he also advocated against any form of power structures such as the church, kings, and family and included those to be removed in the ten planks of communism. Communism was also well known for its militant atheism.

The Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, an atheist, proceeded to sing praises for various communist groups, such as calling Che Guevara "the most complete human being of the century," referring to Mao and his revolutions as "profoundly moral," and also frequently being in bed with the KGB. However, Sartre, while nonetheless acting as a cheerleader for communism, made clear late in his life that he was always an anarchist in his views. He also, while praising the Maoists, inferred that the Jacobins during the reign of terror "didn't kill enough people." He also alluded to how "man is free and man is freedom" in Existentialism is a Humanism, which was meant to imply that humanity was "free" when there was absolutely no moral constraints upon them, and advocated for such a reality.

Similarly, Michel Foucault, an atheist and post-structuralist philosopher, took it one step farther than Sartre or Marx and advocated that they do away with any and all court systems altogether, even Socialist "people's courts", and instead have "popular justice" enacted in the vein of the 1792 September Massacres, and also frequently praised communist and other revolutionary groups, even the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Bill Ayers, a member of the infamous Weathermen Underground domestic terrorist group, also advocated for anarchism, and Noam Chomsky, a leftist who tended to blame America exclusively for all the ills of the world as well as many times praising or at least failing to condemn Communism, stated that he adhered to anarchism.

Americans, atheism and anarchism

See also: Sociology of "atheism is un-American" view and American atheism

Charles Louis Richter declared in his interview with the International Society for Historians of Atheism, Secularism, and Humanism (ISHASH) about America and atheism:

The turn of the century ended the golden age of nineteenth century freethought with two events: the death of Robert Ingersoll in 1899, and the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. The lack of a widely popular voice for irreligion, combined with the murder of the president by an anarchist, led to a backlash against not only anarchism but also atheism. From that point, Americans tended to see irreligion in terms of whatever ostensibly foreign ideology seemed most threatening. So for the rest of the century, we see atheism and atheists associated with anarchism, fascism, socialism, and of course Soviet-style communism. By the late seventies, secular humanism became the buzzword for a whole suite of threats not only to religion, but to Americanism. It’s important to note that this phenomenon is not limited to the political or religious right; liberals also framed irreligion as un-American.[15]

See also

External links


  1. Nicolas Walter. "Anarchism and Religion"
  2. Atheism and Anarchism: ideological cousins? by Francois Tremblay
  3. Anarchism, Website: The Atheist Scholar
  4. Anarchism and Religion by Nicolas Walter, website: The Anarchist Library
  5. The material was formerly at the University of Cambridge's Investigation Atheism website. A website which closed down. The material has been transferred to 18th Century History, Investigating Atheism
  6. War, Terror and Resistence
  7. Forging Freedom: The Life of Cerf Berr of M Delsheim by Margaret R. O'Leary, iUniverse (June 1, 2012), pages 1-2
  8. Multiple references:
    James Adair (2007). Christianity: The eBook. JBE Online Books, 461. Retrieved on July 18, 2014. “Although the Civil Constitution called for religious liberty, which was extended to Jews as well as Christians, many revolutionaries pushed for the establishment of a new state religion, either the Cult of Reason (atheists) or the Cult of the Supreme Being (Deists). Changes to the calendar eliminated references to Christian holidays, and even the ancient seven-day week, and a list of officially recognized saints included such famous thinkers such as Socrates, Jesus, Marcus Aurelius, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A period of political persecution, often with religious overtones, broke out, known as the Reign of Terror. Thousands of people were executed by the guillotine, including many of the original leaders of the French Revolution.” 
    William Belsham (1801). Memoirs of the Reign of George III. to the Session of Parliament ending A.D. 1793, Volume 5. G.G. & J. Robinson, 105–6. Retrieved on July 18, 2014. “In allusion to the monstrous transactions of this portentous period, it has been eloquently and energetically observed, 'that the reign of atheism in France was avowed the reign of terror. In the full madness of their career, in the highest climax of their horrors, they shut up the temples of God, abolished His worship, and proclaimed death to be an eternal sleep:—in the very centre of Christendom, Revelation underwent a total eclipse, while atheism, performing on a darkened theatre its strange and fearful tragedy, confounded the first elements of society, blended every age, rank, and sex, indiscriminate proscription and massacre, and convulsed all Europe to its centre, that the imperishable memorial of these events might teach the last generations of mankind to consider religion as the pillar of society, the parent of social order, and the safe-guard of nations.'
    "It is wonderful that, amid the horrors of this dismal period, while 'the death dance of democratic revolution' was still in rapid movement, among the tears of affliction, and the cries of despair, 'the masque, the song, the theatric scene, the buffoon laughter, went on as regularly as in the gay hour of festive peace.'”
    William Kilpatrick (2012). Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. Ignatius Press, 57. Retrieved on July 18, 2014. “Actually, it's helpful to think in terms of two Enlightenments: the Enlightenment that cut itself off from God. The former led to the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the abolition of slavery, and the civil rights movement. The latter led to the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, the suppression of church by state, and the godless philosophies of Marx and Nietzsche and their offspring—National Socialism and communism. More recently the abandonment of God has led to the regime of cultural relativism that regards rights as arbitrary constructions.
    "It's this second Enlightenment tradition that Cardinal Ratzinger referred to when he wrote, 'The radical detachment of the Enlightenment philosophy from its roots ultimately leads it to dispense with man.' Actually this transition happened not 'ultimately' but almost immediately. The first instance occurred when Enlightenment worship of abstract 'reason' and 'liberty' degenerated quickly into the mass murders committed during the antireligious Reign of Terror in France. 'Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name', said Madam Rolande as she faced the statue of Liberty in the Place de la Revolution movements before her death at the guillotine. She was one of the early victims of a succession of secular systems based on rootless notions of 'liberty', 'equality', and 'reason'.
    "As many historians have pointed out, the atheist regimes of modern times are guilty of far more crimes than any committed in the name of religion. Communist governments alone were guilty of more than one hundred million murders, most of them committed against their own people.”
  9. William Godwin, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  10. William Godwin, 1756-1836, The History Guide
  11. William Godwin, 1756-1836, The History Guide
    "While the French Revolution called for principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, the concept of “total liberty” they proposed is best described as “total anarchy,” said Fr. William Jenkins, in a 1980s segment of the TV show “What Catholics Believe.”"
  14. ISHASH MEMBER INTERVIEW: CHARLES LOUIS RICHTER, International Society for Historians of Atheism, Secularism, and Humanism