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What are some non-anarchist readings that are useful to anarchists?

+9 votes
Bob Black, in 'Anarchy After Leftism', writes of the anarchists that Murray Bookchin blasts:

"They read, for instance, about the ethnography of the only societies — certain of the so-called primitive societies — which have actually been operative anarchist societies on a long-term basis. They also read about plebeian movements, communities, and insurrections — Adamites, Ranters, Diggers, Luddites, Shaysites, Enrages, Carbonari, even pirates (to mention, to be brief, only Euro-American, and only a few Euro-American examples) — seemingly outside of the Marxist-Bookchinist progressive schema. They scoped out Dada and Surrealism. They read the Situationists and the pro-situs."

I'd love to hear what you have read that you feel was useful or important to you along this path.

I'm also particularly interested in relevant philosophy and social theory, and a suggestion of where to start with the Situationists.
asked Jul 4, 2014 by formyinformation (2,500 points)
All of them. Seriously, limiting yourself to readings that you only see as useful to anarchists is far too limiting. Everything is relevant to anarchism. I think that's the real point behind the quote you've shared here.

8 Answers

+2 votes
The Theory of the leisure class - By Thorstein Veblen

I can't recommend this highly enough,  there are so many ideas and concepts that have shaped and sharpened my thinking on everything from the dynamics of class identity to human nature;  if (like me) you dont have the time/energy/focus to read full books regularly, read a summary.   The central idea of the book is that the primary class division is between those who make a living by exploiting others, and those who make a living by actually making stuff.  Veblen wrote during the 'gilded age' (think the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, Carnegies etc).  Personally he was an instinctive non-conformist, he didn't really care about politics, ideology or the working class (or that his boss was married to his mistress), but his critique and analysis of capitalism and class is unique and refreshing; I value it far above Marx's work, particularly because unlike Marx he looks primarily at what motivates the individual, how that influences class culture and how class culture influences that, where as Marx largely ignores the individual, using class as his starting point/unit of study/basic agent.  Veblen's account of capitalism just feels more 'common sense', you don't need to immerse yourself in an ideological-pseudo-religion to 'get' it.  Key ideas to look out for are 'emulation', 'conspicuous consumption' and 'the engineer's spirit'.

The Picture of Dorian Grey - Oscar Wilde*

I read Dorian Grey when I was 16 or 17, and it's proved a profound and lasting influence.  It was basically my introduction to amorality, and I found the character Lord Henry to be particularly inspiring with his irreverent self-interested hedonism.   When I first encountered egoism, it's ideas felt instinctively familiar to me, and I think a large part of that was this novel, or at least my selective reading of it.

Industrial Society and its Future (aka The Unabomber Manifesto) - Theodore Kaczynski

A thought provoking attack on civilisation and leftism, written by the Unabomber.  I particularly like the idea of 'oversocialisation', it explains a lot of the the behaviour of the aggressively moderate liberal activists that pissed me off back when I was involved in activism.

Why Socialism? - Albert Einstein

I'm including this not because I agree with it, but because it's an interesting article, mainly because Albert Einstein wasn't an economist, an ideologue or a marxist.  Because his expertise was in a completely different field his criticism of capitalism is pretty unique, and while it buys into the myth of progress to a certain degree, it's still worth a read.


*While Oscar Wilde is often identified as an anarchist of some description, I'm including him because his primary project/focus wasn't explicitly political.

Edit -
Re: the Situationists, I've not read the actual texts very deeply but Raoul Vaneigem's 'The Revolution of Everyday Life' seems to be the most anarchism-oriented of the main Situationist texts, and is meant to be an easy and entertaining read.
answered Jul 5, 2014 by Yosemite (5,820 points)
Awesome, thanks Yosemite, especially the Veblen suggestion.
My pleasure :), the Wikipedia article on the book is actually pretty good, as is Robert Heilbroner's summary in his book 'The Worldly Philosophers',  which is itself a worthwhile read if you're interested in the history of ideas surrounding the development of capitalism, most of the economists/philosophers it covers are considered 'heterodox' by the academic economics establishment ;)
+2 votes
So to clarify, the passage from AaL you quote is not Black quoting Bookchin, but his describing the directions that anarchists (particularly N. American anarchists) took their explorations; places that ol' Murray found not in keeping with his prescriptive ideas of what anarchism (social ecology, libertarian municipalism).

It might be worth reading some Bookchin (stop laughing! I'm sort of not joking!), if nothing else to see what can go wrong when you take yourself too seriously. "Post-Scarcity Anarchism" and maybe a quick skim of some of his later, grumpier work ("SALA" or "Anarchism, Marxism & the Future of the Left") is really all you need. Don't bother with any of his attempts at writing THE book (ie - "Ecology of Freedom") unless you want to simultaneously get a headache and fall asleep (like a hangover without the drunk...)

You mentioned the Situationists. Beyond Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle”, “Poverty of Student Life” (by UNEF Strasbourg), and, my favorite of the three, Vaneigem’s “Revolution of Everyday Life” (aka “Treatise on Etiquette for the Younger Generation”), which are the Situ texts I see referenced most often, I would also recommend the "Situationist International Anthology" (translated & edited by Ken Knabb) is worth checking out. More recent Situ-inspired stuff like "I Want to Be a Suicide Bomber" by Sherif Xenoph Ibn El and "Demotivational  Training" by Guillame Paoli are definitely of interest and highly recommended.

I found some worthwhile content in the AK Press collection of writing by Maurice Brinton “For Workers’ Power”. Brinton was a member of the British Libertarian Socialist group Solidarity. He translated Cornelius Castoriadis, and was in dialogue with the Socialisme ou Barbarie group. While he was critical of the authoritarian left, he was also a harsh critic of the anarchists of his time.

In the world of anthropology (which is a highly flawed field, to be sure) I appreciate “Stone Age Economics” by Marshall Sahlins (who also wrote a pamphlet called “The Western Illusion of Human Nature” which I read some time ago but remember liking). Stone Age Economics is the work on which Bob Black bases a lot of his essay “Primitive Affluence”. In addition, “In Search of the Primitive” by Stanley Diamond is often referenced, though I can’t admit to having gotten all the way through the book (this is a danger with always trying to read several books at once).
It will probably piss off everybody else who regularly posts here, but I personally really like bell hooks, as liberal as she is. In particular “Feminism: From Margin to Center” and ‘Where We Stand: Class Matters” were instructive to me. While certainly not anarchist by any leap of the imagination, I have still learned and grown from critically reading her work.

Last thing I will recommend right now (I will probably add comments with more shit…) is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. There is a way in which Ellison narrates the experience of humiliation after humiliation, and the building rage of being the unnamed narrator in segregation-era US culture that I found viscerally descriptive.
answered Jul 7, 2014 by ingrate (19,990 points)
edited Jul 7, 2014 by ingrate
Thanks ingrate, these look great. I introduced that quote poorly, thanks for clearing it up. I'm actually reading 'The Spanish Anarchists' by Bookchin, but I'll check out his more theoretical stuff.
+1 vote
the kinds of things that spark imagination, inspire deeper thought, are so subjective...

but, as a place holder, i will wave my hand and say
anthropology and science fiction
(each for the same reason(s)--which is that they are both forms of fiction that can stimulate thinking differently about our lives/world).

and comic books/graphic novels - to reconnect our brains... :)
answered Jul 7, 2014 by dot (50,790 points)
Hey, Dot. I was wondering what your thoughts are on Anthropology in general ? (In relationship to Anarchist ideas but also as a field of study). Black Seed has done a great job of bringing up that topic and questioning the connection of Anarchism and Anthropology. I really enjoy Anthropology but I try to temper my enjoyment understanding that it is just another academic field of study, etc. Even though I am not an Anarcho-Primitivist, I would be lying if I said I was not influenced by many of the ideas to a great degree.
nevermind, i found your answer to the question about the relationship between anarchism and anthropology !
0 votes
Charles Eisenstein's "Ascent of Humanity" was very useful for me, as well as his book about money called "Sacred Economics".

Alan Watts' "The Wisdom of Insecurity" and "The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Really Are".

"The Moneyless Manifesto" by Mark Boyle.

Both of Eisenstein's books and Boyle's book are available online for free in their entirety.

I don't know who is or isn't an anarchist exactly, but I don't recall any of the above writers referring to themselves as such. I didn't call myself an anarchist until recently, and all the books I mentioned I had read previously. These books were all significant to me in my path toward embracing anarchy, and looking back now they still seem very relevant and in sync with my thinking as an anarchist.

edited to add...

James C. Scott's "The Art of Not Being Governed" is a good read that I'm about half way through, and I've found it to be very informative from a historical perspective.
answered Jul 8, 2014 by bornagainanarchist (7,800 points)
edited Jul 8, 2014 by bornagainanarchist
+1 vote
One of the most underrated contemporary thinkers/writers in France today is Clement Rosset. His work _Joyful Cruelty_ is not only one of the most interesting and radical interpretations of Nietzsche I've come across (Rosset links his own work inextricably to N), but his own attempt toward 'philosophy of the real,' that is, a philosophy unmitigated by metaphysics, is quite suggestive in itself. This unmediated, unhesitating, love for the real, even with its undeniably tragic character, is *perhaps* (note the qualifier) the most provocative aspect of the book and the basis of a critique of every other philosophy For those who wish to explore and expand upon his thought, the newly released _The Real and Its Double_ is very much worth the time.
answered Oct 6, 2014 by AmorFati (7,780 points)
0 votes
a couple that immediately jump to mind:

the power elite, by c. wright mills

the monkey wrench gang, by edward abbey
answered Oct 12, 2014 by funkyanarchy (10,260 points)
+3 votes
I think this is a lovely question.

Here are some non-@ philosophers/theorists that have been important references for me (sorry if this list is kinda obvious) ---->

Friedrich Nietzsche - The Gay Science, Daybreak, and Genealogy of Morals are all really excellent and deal w/ power + morality in a (to me) quite exciting way

Gilles Deleuze - so much to read w/ this guy and I'm really behind, but if you're interested in styles of political resistance other than "class struggle" I think that you should read A Thousand Plateaus -- the chapter "Nomadology: the War Machine" for instance is really fun

Karl Marx - aside from the unavoidable things (capital, grundrisse, etc) there is a really great letter titled "towards a ruthless critique of everything existing" and also his "Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right" (this early stuff I think is especially amenable to anarchist readings..)

Walter Benjamin -- Theses on the Philosophy of History ... everyone should read this essay... and The Arcades Project

Michel Foucault -- he's my favorite philosopher bc his analysis of power/knowledge/history seems to me to open up possibilities for humans being possibly more free than we imagine. I really recommend his essay "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History," and I think his writing in The Birth of Biopolitics and the Security, Territory, Population lectures is really relevant for an understanding of neoliberalism.

others = maurice blanchot, jean-luc nancy, jacques derrida, georges bataille, giorgio agamben, theodor adorno, herbert marcuse

For situationists, you could start with "Society of the Spectacle" by Guy Debord or "The Revolution of Everyday Life" by Raoul Vaneigem
answered Oct 28, 2014 by asker (9,280 points)
edited Oct 28, 2014 by asker
Some great works on your list. Foucault's 'Discipline and Punish' is fucking awesome. I loved 'Panopticism,' in particular, when I read it. Hannah Arendt's 'Ideology and Terror' is terrific too.

Just a suggestion, if you're open to it, you may really enjoy Maurice Merleau-Ponty's work.


The reasons for this suggestion may not be obvious at first, but is a huge impetus behind my answer here:


Good answer.
+2 votes

Jacques Camatte, the strangest sort of Marxist, coming to an anti-civilization position and a critique of domestication not from anthropology but from ultraleft Marxism. He was a key influence on Monsieur Dupont, who are also worth reading.

Others mentioned Nietzsche. I'd add The Anti-Christ and Thus Spoke Zarathustra to the texts already mentioned.

Guy Hocquenghem's The Screwball Asses and Homosexual Desire.

Jean Genet!

Also, I have not yet read but expect to find relevant and fun Fourier, Sade, Wittgenstein, Baudelaire, and Lautréamont.

[edited to expand]

answered May 11, 2015 by anok (19,540 points)
edited May 13, 2015 by anok