Laurens Otter clearly knows and has extensive experience of Christian anarchist currents in the UK, and he is obviously familiar with many of the key arguments around Christian anarchism. He knows many fascinating figures, and I wish we had crossed paths earlier as I could have learnt a lot about British and Christian anarchists thanks to him.
It is all the more disheartening and disappointing to have caused as much irritation to him as my book appears to have caused. Most other reviews I have come across have generally been much more positive, although some valid and well-argued criticisms have been made by some. I too find a number of significant faults in the book. There are things I would do a little differently, claims I would qualify, sentences I would word more carefully. However and perhaps inevitably, some of the criticisms I’ve read have felt less valid, or perhaps accuse the book of failing in aspects it never meant to tackle. To put it more bluntly, I think some criticisms have been fallacious and therefore unfair.
Otter’s rebuttal, in my view, is an extended example of such mostly unfair criticism. He makes dozens of implicit or explicit accusations, many of which I think misjudge my intentions or betray a misunderstanding of what the book claims to be doing. At the same time, many of those accusations are also undeniably informative and point to avenues for further study, and some touch on weaknesses which, perhaps if phrased a little differently, I would perhaps more easily recognise. Moreover, some of Otter’s criticisms resonate with criticisms of other reviewers, so responding to Otter’s extensive rebuttal provides me with an opportunity to indirectly respond to some of those, too.
I think most of Otter’s complaints can be grouped into the following rough categories:
I. a number of accusations around my use of the term ‘Christian anarchism’, and my questionable inclusion of some sources;
II. the unnecessary development of arguments which are too obvious or hardly controversial;
III. the academic approach which results in a questionable selection process;
IV. the irritating omission of a considerable number of ‘Christian anarchists’, and the misjudging of many;
V. an unsatisfactory discussion of non-resistance and non-violent resistance;
VI. a dislike of some of the arguments made by some of the authors I cite;
VII. miscellaneous further accusations about the book which by and large (whether wilfully or carelessly) misread its claims.
Many of these, in my view, suggest that Otter misunderstood my intentions, which I think (hope?) are a lot clearer in the book than he suggests. So, before I try to answer in detail Otter’s many accusations, it might help if I explain a little more about the context in which the book was written, in order to clarify and repeat its aims and limitations.
The text’s context
The text was written mostly as a PhD thesis in 2007-08, edited a little in 2009, first published as a hardback in 2010, then abridged and published in (cheaper but admittedly still not cheap enough) paperback format in 2011. It was therefore researched and written a while ago, and originally the book was meant to fit the examination criteria of doctoral work. So yes, there are many quotes, many footnotes, rather detailed ‘scaffolding’ or structure, and a way of making certain claims which might at times read as a little too ‘academic’.
After I defended my thesis, I thought that even structured as a doctoral thesis, it might be helpful to others if I published the text without fundamentally rewriting it because it did bring together many different Christian anarchist writings and could work as a useful taster for Christian anarchist theory. I always thought that more could be brought in, but a PhD remains a limited project and this was the best I could do with the literature I had managed to find and absorb.
The only relatively significant alteration I made to the text in converting the PhD to the book was to delete the word ‘theorising’ from its title and from parts of the introduction and conclusion. That is, the original work’s title was ‘theorising Christian anarchism’. To the extent that titles make implicit claims, my PhD’s title claimed that I was presenting a ‘theorisation’ of ‘Christian anarchism’ through ‘a political commentary on the gospel’.
To be honest, I deleted this reference to ‘theorising’ for what could be described as ‘marketing’ reasons, in other words to at least give a chance for this revised PhD thesis to be noticed on book shelves and catalogues by enough Christians, anarchists, Christian anarchists and others who might find it useful. The word ‘theory’ seems to put people off, and my publisher agreed it made sense to drop it. On reflection, maybe I should have kept the notion of ‘theorising’ in the title as it might have implicitly moderated the (admittedly sometimes contestable) claims I make in the book.
Aims and limitations
Having said that, I tried to make the aims and limitations of the book clear in the introduction (though perhaps I could have been even clearer). The book notes right at the start that, despite the adoption of a ‘Christian anarchist’ position by several writers, “an overall theory of Christian anarchism has yet to be outlined” (p.1). The aim of the book, I then write, is to do just that, i.e. to “delineate Christian anarchism by bringing together the main insights of individual Christian anarchist thinkers” (p.1).
A little later, I explain that “because it is focused on Christian anarchist thought, this book does not examine the countless millenarian sects and movements which could be classed as Christian anarchist, but concentrates on the theoretical case for the Christian rejection of the state” (p.7). I also say that “while every effort has been made to include all the relevant literature into this generic outline of Christian anarchism, there is always room for more. This book intends to be as comprehensive as possible in its coverage of Christian anarchist thinkers and certainly in its thematic breakdown of Christian anarchism as a generic theoretical perspective, but it does not claim to be the final word on this topic” (p.8).
I add that the book “relies almost completely on the existing writings of individual Christian anarchist thinkers, quoting them extensively in the process” (p.8). I admit that “in a sense, therefore, the thought that this book conveys is not novel or original” but that “the originality of this book lies in the [...] weaving together of separate Christian anarchists into what thereby begins to resemble a school of thought” (p.8). I explain that the criterion with which I selected my “thinkers” is that they each “have something to contribute to the perspective that Christianity logically implies a form of anarchism, that anarchism logically follows from Christianity – the defining characteristic of Christian anarchism” (p.13).
In short: what I did was pull together what Christian anarchist writings I could find and reorganise them into (hopefully) coherent themes in Christian anarchist ‘theory’. Therefore, I think I admit quite clearly in the book that:
· it’s based on a limited selection of writers;
· these are writers who were chosen because of their similar (Christian anarchist) analysis of ‘Christianity’ but also because oddly, they rarely cite and engage with one another, and they are rarely studied together in academic publications;
· many voices could (and I hope will) be added to produce a bigger study (or set of studies) of ‘Christian anarchism’.
Moreover, by the time I would have cited, contextualised and engaged with all the Christian anarchists Otter feels I should have also mentioned, I wouldn’t have had much space in a text of 100,000 words to say as much as I felt was needed to simply make a first relatively comprehensive case that ‘Christianity implies anarchism’. However, all those people Otter cites sound well worthy of studying and knowing about (indeed, it would be great if Otter could publish more on these figures, on arguments they made that Christianity implies anarchism, or on interesting things they said on any of this).
A detailed rebuttal
What follows is a point-by-point response to many of the detailed accusations I could identify in Otter’s rebuttal. In a sense, it’s my rebuttal to his rebuttal. I might add: it seems a little curious and telling to me that Otter called his review a ‘rebuttal’ in that it suggests that he felt argued against. The book was not meant as an argument against him – or against any Christian anarchist, for that matter. Having compiled that survey of Christian anarchist writings and brought it together for my PhD, the book was simply meant as a conventional way of sharing that work with potential readers outside my supervisors and examiners.
I hope that the detailed response below can help make all this clearer. I don’t know whether Otter will find these answers satisfactory, but I hope that others at least will find them helpful.
(In what follows, the page numbers for Otter’s rebuttal are those of the PDF version which I was sent and worked with. The pages for my book are for the 2011 edition. Note also that when quoting Otter, I have abbreviated my family name to ‘C’.)
I(a). The book’s aims and the term ‘christian anarchism’
1. The book “is highly selective of those it calls Christian anarchists, dogmatically laying down what constitutes Christian anarchism on the basis of that selection” (p.2). It might be selective, but I do explain the basis on which I selected those authors, which is that they have written arguments according to which “anarchism logically follows from Christianity” (p.13) and they wrote “publications I managed to come across and study” (p.vii). I didn’t realise this was dogmatic. I just meant it as an exploration of how strong a case, based on exegesis of the gospels, those writers could make that in theory (or as at least based on its most important text), Christianity’s defining moral teaching implies an anarchist rejection of the ‘state’. Those who wrote such scriptural interpretation are of course not the only Christian anarchists, just those I had the time and luck to come across, and who I thought made a stronger case when brought together. I alluded to many more, especially in chapter 6, and I think I recognise the limitations of the book’s study quite often in the book.
2. “C claims to be the first to write about Christian anarchists” (p.2). No: I claim that the book is the first ‘academic’ study (of this length) which brings together those particular disparate voices, that it aims to produce “a detailed and comprehensive synthesis of the main themes of Christian anarchism” by “bringing together the main insights of individual Christian anarchist thinkers” (p.1), but not that I’m the “first” to write about Christian anarchists. Indeed I cite numerous sources who have “written about Christian anarchists”, so obviously I cannot be the first to have done this.
3. “C does not explain why [...] he presumes to arrogate to the current he describes the sole right to the term” (p.2). I didn’t mean to arrogate that right, and I’m worried if I gave that impression. I just meant to study those particular thinkers and bring them together. That never meant that the term could be applied to them only.
4. Because “it takes the words of notable militants out of the context of their actions,” the book results “in much misrepresentation” (p.2). Half of the introduction concentrates on describing the historical context in which the writers who I bring together in the book lived and published. I admit I could have covered more, but I wanted to focus as much as I could on “weaving together the different threads presented by Christian anarchist thinkers” (p.1). It seemed to me that what writers like Tolstoy, Ellul, Day, Elliott, Andrews, Eller and many others could, when brought together, make a stronger case for why “the premise of anarchism is inherent in Christianity and the message of the Gospels” (O’Reilly, quoted on p.1). My (limited but acknowledged) focus in the book is on what they wrote, on the arguments they published – not on their context but on the content of what they wrote.
5. “C nowhere gives his definition of christian anarchism” (p.7). I do discuss what I mean by that twice, in the introduction (as mentioned above), and in the conclusion where I return to the question of how best to describe what the book outlines.
6. “The Conclusion chapter tells us we shouldn’t be calling ourselves Christian anarchists” (p.16). No: what it says is that a “question” which “arises” is “whether the term ‘Christian anarchism’ is really the best term to describe this school of thought, because of an etymological quirk spotted by Eller” (p.215). I go on to discuss (following Eller) what I think is the interesting etymology of the terms ‘anarchy’ and ‘hierarchy’ and then suggest that “the term ‘Christian anarchism’, if one wants to be etymologically pedantic, is somewhat inadequate” because “Christian anarchists do not reject Jesus as the arky” (p.216). I playfully discuss some possible alternative wordings and find them all problematic in some way, and conclude that “anyway, despite all these considerations, given the common understanding of the meanings of ‘Christianity’ (as an apolitical religion at best, a religion supportive of the state at worst) and ‘anarchism’ (as the rejection of the state [to which with hindsight, I would add other types of oppressive hierarchy]), it may well be that the term ‘Christian anarchism’ continues to best identify the essence of what this perspective is about” (p.216). In short: I merely discuss the term, and I certainly do not tell anyone that they “shouldn’t be calling themselves Christian anarchists”.
7. “Intentionally or otherwise this book seems like an attempt to co-opt christian anarchism to the ranks of the Utopians” (p.2). If it does (and for the moment I remain unconvinced), then that was not intentional.
I(b). Disputed inclusions
8. “Bas Moreel is listed, which would surprise him” (p.7). I explain that “several regular Christian anarchist publications provided useful input into this book” (p.21), and Moreel is cited as someone who “published” such a set of publications with the Religious Anarchism newsletters, some of which were “helpful in the present outline of Christian anarchism” (p.22). In that I called ‘Christian anarchists’ any of those writers who had “something to contribute to the perspective that anarchism logically follows from Christianity” (p.13), Moreel is indeed cited as one. That does not mean he defines himself as one, simply that he fitted the criterion I used to group under that label the various writers I relied on.
9. “The book includes several anarcho-capitalists” and “I am not convinced that any of them have any right to the label anarchist” (pp.7-8). I have much sympathy for such scepticism. Most anarchists reject what they (justifiably) see as the mislabelling of free market fundamentalism (so to speak) as anarcho-capitalism. Most anarchists are (justifiably) deeply critical of capitalism as a central structure of oppression (perhaps today more important even than the state). At the same time, no-one has the monopoly (or exclusive rights) over the use (or misuse) of words, and although anarchists can (justifiably) refuse to call those people anarcho-capitalists, it’s just the case that some of them do call themselves exactly that. Moreover, even though those anarcho-capitalists accept capitalism and this can be disputed, they do also reject the state, which is at least one of the main characteristics of most anarchisms. In terms of my book, when researching the topic, I did come across a substantial number of smaller publications by Christian ‘anarcho-capitalists’ whose writings sometimes added depth to the case developed by other Christian anarchists. Including some such passages seemed justifiable (even if contentious) given my purpose to make a compelling case that Christianity implies anarchism. I still made a point of noting where Christian anarcho-capitalists diverge from the more standard Christian anarchist view, and my outline of Christian anarchist thinking basically just includes Christian anarcho-capitalists when they help make the case for Christian anarchism, but ignores them or notes their different approach when they differ from other Christian anarchists on property, capitalism, and so on (pp. 9, 24-25, 121, 124-125, 156, 160, 178). In short: they are included because some of what they wrote was helpful to make the case for Christian anarchism, but the disputable aspect of their inclusion is noted, and I didn’t follow their arguments on capitalism.
II. Unnecessary arguments
10. With regards to chapter 3: “it might not be thought it would need anything much to say why anarchists oppose the state” (p.14). Actually, my purpose in that chapter is “to tease out the critique of church and state mounted by Christian anarchists” (p.107, italics added). That is, I wasn’t explaining why anarchists oppose the state, but deliberately bringing together and relaying in detail some of what Christian anarchists say on this. I guess Otter doesn’t need to be convinced because he already agrees with their case, but here I was precisely relaying for the academic (and broader) community the Christian anarchist critique of the state, so it seemed to make sense to do this in some detail.
11. “C retails [sic?] christian anarchist views on the lex talionis (eye for an eye) as if they were remarkable if not unique”; “this is followed by sections on the cycle of violence & on overcoming it with arguments which will be familiar to any Guardian reader, & would hardly surprise a moderately conservative Church wo/man”; “our author takes it that observing that state actions fall short of ‘loving your enemies’ is remarkable” (p.10); “it is hardly controversial to say the Sermon on the Mount is a manifesto against existing politics” (p.11); “when his writers cite evidence that the coming of the Messiah was foreseen as a politically revolutionary event, they are hardly saying anything unusual”; “our author makes what would seem a conventional discussion about a text read as if it were extremely eccentric” (p.12); and so on. All this might seem obvious to Otter because he has already been converted to those arguments. I’m not sure they all are all that obvious to all potential readers. Some of those arguments might be fairly uncontroversial, but such Christian anarchist interpretations do not seem to me to be as widespread as Otter implies. I didn’t claim they were wildly original, but it seems to me that they do often tend to be overlooked or ignored by the mainstream. Moreover, the point of the book being to convey what the writers I cite said about Christianity and politics, these various arguments needed reporting. I’m glad Otter was already converted, but the aim here was to relay the main arguments which might convert the yet unconverted.
III. The ‘academic’ approach
12. “The academic mind is almost programmed to dismiss the actions of the educationally unqualified; when a social worker goes into an area of poverty or racial tension, to set up a new facility, that to the academic is right & proper; when the inhabitants of the area do it themselves that is subversion.” (p.2). I don’t think so. The ‘academic mind’ tends to seek to articulate arguments using methods that can be explained and justified. It applies different methods from one discipline or sub-discipline to the other. In my book, my main claim was that by bringing disparate writers together, a compelling-enough case could be made that Christianity implies anarchism, and my method was to synthesise those writings and present those disparate voices as a compelling chorus. As to this claim that a social worker setting up a facility is right and proper to the academic, whereas inhabitants doing it is subversion, I simply cannot agree. Not only is this not an accurate description of the majority view among academics, I’m not aware of a single academic holding such a view. It might help if Otter would provide evidence and/or further argument to demonstrate this claim.
13. “The demands of academia” are that “everything the doctoral student says has to be backed by quotations from written evidence”, whereas “reports from demos, campaigns” etc “are more difficult to find” (p.2). Well, yes, at least in this particular case. Because my aim was to weave together disparate writers and show they made a good case when taken together, my method involved quoting these writers extensively. I deliberately avoided making any new arguments myself according to which Christian implies anarchism, instead preferring to let those writers make that case in their own language. So yes, that meant relying extensively on quotes. What Otter calls “reports from demos” etc are indeed rarer (though there are a quite a few) in part because they are harder to search and find, yes. I do hope, though, that further research will be carried out and published to add such sources to the growing academic literature on Christian anarchism.
14. “The academic insistence on relying on quotes means that activists who were not by & large writers only get mentioned if our author happens to have come across a biography, which seems to be a rare event” (p.6). Again, in a way, yes. To be more precise: I never meant to simply “mention activists” if I “came across a biography”. My main aim was to quote arguments that have been written according to which Christianity implies anarchism. It is not and was never meant to be an encyclopaedic overview of Christian anarchist writers and activists, which is why what I was searching for primarily were arguments, not biographies.
IV(a). The many I omitted
15. “No reason is given for the exclusion of major activists, nor for the selective quotes from writers” (p.8). This is not true: as explained above, I give a fairly detailed explanation for my selection. The focus of the book is on what was written, on the ‘theorists’, not on ‘activists’. In no way does this mean to reduce my admiration for activists, nor does it mean they are not worth studying. But since the academic study of Christian anarchism was rather embryonic, my focus in this book was on the theory, not on the activists. As Otter does correctly note: “Since one needs to conform to a certain length, it is easier if one can narrow the subject of study, so as to be able to study a little in depth” (p.2). I could not cover every possible Christian anarchist that ever existed, so I did deliberately contain my study. Indeed even the present response to Otter does not cite all those people mentioned in Otter’s rebuttal.
16. “There seems to be a consistent trend to avoid any thinker or thinking which inspired & was reflected in mass movements” (pp.5-6). Not really. I tried to include all the published thinkers I managed to come across, whether or not they inspired a mass movement. So there was no “consistent trend” to avoid those thinkers.
17. “Whether he has only heard of a few or whether he has chosen to exclude the vast majority (not regarding them/us as anarchists, or perhaps not as christians), I obviously cannot say” (p.3). As explained in the introduction, I excluded them deliberately because of my limited scope and aim. However, I never meant to exclude them from the label: ‘Christian anarchism’. The many who Otter cites seem to fit the label well. They just hadn’t written arguments which I came across which I could use for the purpose of the book.
18. “One might have thought that C would also mention the Dead Sea scrolls & the Qumran community” (p.3). Why? Who discusses them such that I should have built upon their discussion for the exegesis which I report? The scrolls did advance Biblical scholarship, and the Qumran community is an interesting one, but these did not seem essential to the aims of the book.
19. “Curiously C doesn't record the fact that Rabbi Hillel, who lived only a little before Christ, is generally credited with the Jewish form of the Golden Rule” (p.10). Why would this be essential to the explicit focus of the book?
20. “C does not seem to feel himself constrained to remark on the fact that, apparently, neither Tolstoi's wife nor any of the former peasant-tenants with whom he joined in a commune, seem to have written or said anything that our author wanted to quote” (p.8). Why would this be relevant to the aims of the book? I do, by the way, report on Tolstoy’s followers (pp.203-207).
21. “The anabaptists, the beghards, beguines, & fraticelli do not get a mention”, nor John Ball, nor St Basil (p.3). “There is no mention of the Berrigans; none of Trident Ploughshares” (p.5). Anabaptists are discussed briefly p.201, and they are clearly a current close to Christian anarchism. Beghards are mentioned in a passing footnote p.200, and the Berrigans on p.209. The rest are omitted, yes. I had limited space and a different focus!
22. “C does not cover the Year of Jubilee” (p.3). True, but only for the ‘abridged’ version of the book, which Otter read. The original (and rather too expensive) 2010 version included the full 65,000 words of footnotes from the doctoral thesis, which were reduced to 25,000 in abridging the 2011 version. Of the many notes that were cut were four which at least mentioned or briefly discussed the Jubilee (see the 2010 index).
23. “C does not mention that a little earlier those who were to found Purleigh had left the Quakers” (p.6). “C does not mention that several sects – including the Quakers – which would not be described as anarchist, used to forbid their members to take part in trials” (p10). Again, interesting and worth studying that it is, how relevant was that to my argument? And I do mention Christian anarchist views on trials (p.167 but also indirectly in chapter 3).
24. “C doesn't see fit to mention that Godwin was a Sandemanian” (p.3). “We are told nothing of Berdyayev's role within the wider political scene”, of Day and other Catholic Workers’ socialist past (p5). “Hancock & Hebden are but again no suggestion is made of a role within a wider secular movement” (p.7). My study isn’t a biography but a published doctoral thesis focused on making a single argument as consistently as possible. I’d love to read more biographical stuff of the sort Otter seems to have hoped my book could have been (sorry, it’s not).
25. “It is curious that our author does not at any time refer to or quote those puritans (ranters or muggletonians, let alone later writers in their image such as Blake) who might arguably be seen as anarchist. Most of the puritans, however, were very far from anarchism, &, as our author doesn't consider the 17th century, he doesn't see a need to discuss what makes for the difference” (p14). Yes, they preceded the advent of the modern industrial state and indeed the anarchist reaction to it, and yes, these are interesting figures well worth bringing into the broader Christian anarchist discussion, but partly precisely because they preceded the modern state, and because they were not so exactly ‘anarchists’, I do not “refer to or quote” them. I do mention the Ranters in passing (p.200), although not the Muggletonians. I confess they hadn’t crossed my radar, so I look forward to learning more (if Otter would write a short discussion of their Christian anarchism, I’d love to read it). As to Blake, he has often been evoked in conversations I’ve had with people about Christian anarchism, but I wish I had more time to read him. In any case, although I could have mentioned all those people, the book wasn’t meant as a survey of all Christian anarchists (that has yet to be written!), but merely a generic argument for why ‘Christianity’ implies ‘anarchism’.
26. “C does not seem to feel himself constrained to remark on the fact that, apparently, neither Tolstoi's wife nor any of the former peasant-tenants with whom he joined in a commune, seem to have written or said anything that our author wanted to quote. Two of the tenants (I recall) in fact reappeared in other sectors of the Russian left; but the absence of supporting testimony for Tolstoi's ideas from those who supposedly shared his libertarian lifestyle is disturbing, suggesting paternalism” (p.8). I’m not sure this is ‘paternalism’, or at least I’m not sure what Otter means here. As to quoting those various people, once again, the book’s focus was more limited than Otter seems to have assumed.
27. The “exclusion of all mention of marxist thinking is particularly bizarre” (p.3). It’s not. Marxist thinking is fascinating and alluded to at times (along with liberation theology), but it’s “excluded” because of the narrow focus on arguing that ‘Christianity’ implies ‘anarchism’.
IV(b). Misjudging key figures
28. “Whereas our author implies that Ammon Hennacy, who left the New York Catholic Worker & moved West to launch the Catholic Anarchist, was a non-church christian; he was not in any church, but the name of his paper suggests a desired affiliation; as they say: ‘the clue's in the name’” (p.5). Well, as I say in the book (p.20, but with more references in the corresponding 2010 section) and as Hennacy himself explains in this autobiography, he did have a Catholic phase but later rejected the church and reaffirmed his more Tolstoyan anticlericalism. He changed the title of his autobiography to reflect that, so yes, the clue is indeed in the (change of) name.
29. “C says that Berdyayev rejected the association with christian anarchism - in one book he does, but in Freedom and the Spirit he said that anarchism was the nearest approximation to an authentic political expression of christianity” (p.5). I agree and say almost as much in the book (p.23), indeed Berdyaev’s main publication which is frequently quoted in the book is the one Otter mentions.
V. Non-resistance and non-violent resistance
30. “Though at one time C refers to one writer as affirming non-resistance, and at another to Thoreau & civil disobedience, he makes no effort to describe (outline) the differences between those who take literally the injunction ‘Resist not evil’ (non-resisters) & those of us (nonviolent resisters) who see the Way of the Cross itself as a form of resistance & who would argue that Jesus's life contains examples of a multitude of forms of resistance, so that the (non-resistance) injunction must be modified in the light of these” (p.6). I think that’s unfair. I say in the introduction that “views diverge among Christian anarchists” on this (p.34). I discuss this further, in some detail, in chapter 4 (pp. 161-165), where I say for instance that “there can be no denying that there is a tension here, between Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek and his cleansing of the temple, between what Eller calls ‘voluntary self-subordination’ and civil disobedience”. I then return to this a little in chapter 6 (when considering Christian anarchist examples), in the conclusion and in the epilogue, noting that this tension is something well worth studying further. So, it might be that the way I discuss this isn’t quite as Otter would have preferred, but it’s simply untrue to say I “make no effort to describe (outline) these differences”.
31. “C concedes that ‘for some’ christian anarchists ‘love is confrontational’, against which he instances Dorothy Day, but if, as he says, she opposed this she must have changed since the 1950s” (p.13). I simply say that Day, “after confirming that the ‘justification for a Christ who urges militant action’ is indeed the story of the temple cleansing, writes: ‘I can only answer in these other words of His: “Let him who is without sin among you, cast the first stone”’” (p.85). That doesn’t quite mean she “opposed this”, as Otter puts it. These are merely words she wrote on this at one particular time, and yes, she may well have altered her views slightly on such things over the years.
32. “There is the usual discussion as to whether Christ was violent; the APF once published a pamphlet in which it examined the Aramaic text & showed that the ‘whip’ was a somewhat flimsy one which would not have been adequate for use for anything more than token droving, a view which accords with a more robust interpretation than those our author favours” (p.13). That view (that the whip was most probably for droving) is pretty much what I argue, or rather what I show Christian anarchists to have argued (pp. 85-86).
33. “Paradoxically C then quotes some of his authorities – mainly those he considers ‘supportive thinkers’ rather than anarchists – who argue that Jesus’s illustrations of nonresistance (Matthew V, 38-42) are moral ju jitsu; they may indeed be, but if they are, the nonresistance command is more nuanced than Tolstoi thought” (p.9). Indeed. I never said Tolstoy’s approach was the only or the correct one, just that it’s one of the several important Christian anarchist voices which I aimed to bring together in the book. Hence also the various mentions and discussions of precisely this variety of views on nonresistance, non-violent resistance and so on.
VI. Disagreements with authors I cite
34. “Christian socialists (anarchist or otherwise) have normally held that the Church is both a divine & an human institution” yet “the writers our author likes follow a different tradition” (p.14). Otter makes these remarks in his few paragraphs on chapter 3 of the book. The aim of that chapter is, it is true, to relay the criticisms which those who I called ‘Christian anarchists’ made of both church and state, to show that their anticlerical and anti-state arguments are comparable to those of many ‘secular’ anarchists. To repeat: I explained in the introduction that I would hereafter call ‘Christian anarchists’ those specific and limited type of writers I then go on to introduce. Among them, Dorothy Day and many Catholic Workers do indeed also see the church as mysteriously somehow “divine” (the book mentions that pp.18-19), and it’s true that many more Christian anarchists have a much more respectful view of theology and the church than Tolstoy does. But Tolstoy is by far the most prolific and famous writer known as a ‘Christian anarchist’, so his (admittedly peculiar and strongly anticlerical) view does dominate in chapter 3. Therefore, something close to what Otter means by many ‘Christian socialists’ and ‘anarchists’ holding the church as “also divine” is true and well worth exploring, but discussing this in the book seemed too tangential to the limited focus of arguing that ‘Christianity’ implies ‘anarchism’. I do at least indirectly acknowledge (in parts of introduction, chapter 6, and conclusion) that most of “the writers I like” (such as Ellul, Eller, Catholic Workers, Cavanaugh, Yoder, and many more) are more patient with theology and the church than Tolstoy.
35. “Our author from these premises calls the Sermon a manifesto for anarchism; certainly a large section of the 19th century Brotherhood Church so regarded it. Studying it, & contrasting it with what goes for conventional morality must indeed incline any sincere Christian to question the latter. So it is hardly controversial to say it is a manifesto against existing politics. But it is taking a large step on from there when our author begins the next chapter: ‘Christian anarchists develop their critique of the state primarily from their interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount’; (in fact in my experience most such became libertarian socialists through their understanding of the Trinity, saw that that could only be attained by anarchist rejection of the state, & only then found confirmation of their anarchism, & a strategy (or perhaps criteria for judging strategy) of how to achieve the aim, in the Sermon & elsewhere). Moreover our author doesn't consider that the code he has produced deals solely with sins of commission. Starting from the Sermon might lead (indeed frequently does) to a purely pietist inward turning and not be manifest in positive anarchist activity” (p.11). I should perhaps have been clearer: as explained in the introduction, those I call ‘Christian anarchists’ are the authors I rely on in the book, but that doesn’t mean to include all Christian anarchists. Therefore, this claim and other similar ones about ‘Christian anarchists’, although I think fairly accurate as concerns the specific thinkers weaved together in the book, is misinterpreted if read outside the context of the book as including all possible strands of Christian anarchism. As to the danger of pietism, that’s an interesting argument, indeed one which I hope can be explored further in future studies.
36. “Given that the Greek for ‘pagan powers’: αρχαι would also serve as the plural of ‘archon’, & therefore ‘anarchist’ can serve for opposing both it is perhaps not surprising that for Jesus's crucifixion we are once more treated to a mish-mash of gnostic views instead of the plain reading. It may well appeal to New Age terms, since it transfers Jesus's struggles from the earthly political plain to a semi-magical sphere, but it is not anarchism as Kropotkin knew it” (p.13). The views the reader is treated to are simply those held by the main writers I brought together. That’s not to say every possible Christian anarchist would agree with those specific views, just that several hold them. Besides, I think these views on the crucifixion are more subtle and interesting than Otter claims.
37. “His next topic is fulfilling the Old Law; he does not take it in the spirit of Christ's ‘to show that the sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the sabbath ...’, but at first he quotes Elliott & Ballou, who seem to have made heavy weather of the matter.” (p.11). I’m just relating what the Christian anarchists I studied say on the matter, and I think it’s more interesting than Otter implies.
38. “C neglects the most significant factors concerning ‘render to Caesar’, but it is rather surprising that he then confuses the matter by amalgamating the issue with the Temple tax (Matthew 17),” followed by a long quote from Conrad Noel on those themes (pp.14-15). I do somewhat amalgamate those two issues (in that I mention the latter just after the former), but then the book is an amalgamation of comparable writings by those I managed to study in detail. As to the content of the Noel quote, it is interesting, but does it not make arguments similar to those I discuss by quoting Ellul in particular?
39. “Having neglected to consider Conrad Noel it is, I suppose, unsurprising that our author neglects the most significant factors concerning ‘render to Caesar’, but it is rather surprising that he then confuses the matter by amalgamating the issue with the Temple tax (Matthew 17)” (p.14). I am merely reporting what the authors I cite said about both passages. As some of those authors mention both passages in the same breadth, I thought it made sense to do so too. Besides, as I devote clearly separate subsections with their own subheadings to each (4.2.1 and 4.2.2 respectively), I’m not sure I “amalgamate” them all that much.
40. “Perhaps not surprisingly the Conclusion chapter tells us that we shouldn't be actually working for anarchism (whether by non-violent resistance or whatever) but leaving it to God's good-time, i.e. the whole thing should be removed from the human (political) sphere & entrusted to the realm of the miraculous. That for many of us is a denial of the value of the Incarnation.” (p.16). Again, I’m just reporting what some of the main Christian anarchist authors have said on the question, which does not mean that other Christian anarchists cannot take a different view – in fact I point out some of the differences between Christian anarchists on the matter, though it may well be that Otter’s own view isn’t reflected in any of theirs.
41. “The account of the Catholic Worker & its various off-shoots is spoilt where our author produces a theory which is a mixture of Tolstoi's utopian desire that rich men should adopt his philosophy and found egalitarian communes (he does at one point admit that where they did they were hardly libertarian) & his gnostic one of constructing a counter-Church” (p.16). I didn’t “produce” this theory but merely reported what Tolstoy thought, deliberately articulating it alongside other Christian anarchist views since weaving together those different voices was the aim of the book.
42. “C tells us that very few christian anarchists are concerned at all with the Old Testament” (p.3). “C follows Tolstoi in devaluing the Old Testament; and only mentions his favourite writers' views in order to say that the case has not been fully made” (p.12). Not really. I do devote some pages on the OT and give references (especially in the 2010 version) to several Christian anarchist commentaries (pp.68-73). I do cite Tolstoy a lot, but he’s arguably Christian anarchism’s most famous ‘theorist’ or prolific writer. Neither he nor the other Christian anarchists I mention published much on the Old Testament, especially compared to how much they wrote on the New Testament (to their credit, I think, as it keeps them closer to the defining trait of Christianity: the story and teaching of Jesus). That’s not to say that much can’t be said about the OT from a Christian anarchist perspective. I suspect a lot more can be written and I hope many studies of the sort will emerge, but in my own study, I felt the section on the OT reflected the scholarship I was citing, and once again I had a word limit within which to cover a lot of material already.
VII. Misreading my claims
43. “He distances christian anarchism from liberation theology & black theology; (going so far as to say that, whereas these make much of the Exodus, christian anarchists do not; had he studied more strands of christian anarchism he would have found this to be untrue)” (p.3). I did try to point out what looked like significant differences between what is often referred to as liberation theology and Christian anarchism. Maybe I overdid this, and arguably Christian anarchism is a strand of liberation theology in the way anarchism can also be seen as a strand of socialism (broadly defined). But I do think one can draw a parallel between the way ‘anarchism’ compares to ‘socialism’ and the way ‘Christian anarchism’ compares to ‘liberation theology’, and I think it’s helpful to delineate the similarities and differences. I didn’t mean to impose a unbridgeable ‘distance’, just to spell out some of what makes Christian anarchism particularly original based on what I read of it. Exodus does feature quite prominently in liberation theology in a way in which, in the Christian anarchists I studied, it does not. Maybe there are Christian anarchists who focused a great deal on Exodus, but if so then I’m interested in studying them (could we have some references?). As to black theology, I don’t mention it at all (even though in an encyclopaedic and hence much larger study of Christian anarchism, I would).
44. “The second chapter turns to other biblical exegesis; while the third is ‘The State's wickedness & the Church's infidelity’. It is stressed that the author sees such points as purely secondary & believes that such a view is held by all christian anarchists” (p.11). I do not describe as “purely secondary” – indeed it’s a puzzling accusation. Why would I spend two long chapters of a thesis on insignificant matters?
45. “It's not absolutely clear how C defines ‘modern’” (p.3). I use the term a few times, and often use it quite broadly. But I also discuss it a little in a footnote (p.196).
46. “Less surprising but equally inaccurate he says: ‘Jesus very clearly distanced himself from the Zealots’. Given that of the Twelve the second Simon was described as a Zealot, & that most commentators, noting that Kerioth was an hotbed of the Zealot movement, assume that Judas was also one, the distancing was not as clear as that; certainly – pace Eisenman & others – he almost certainly did not use the methods of the Zealots, probably thought their methods would only result in a new elite rule, but he did not distance himself from the Zealots themselves” (p.16). I didn’t mean that Jesus put physical distance between him and the Zealots. The exact words are: “Several Christian anarchists stress that Jesus and his followers would have clearly sympathised with the Zealots’ criticisms and aspirations (in the same way that they today sympathise with socialism and communism), but that nevertheless, Jesus very clearly distanced himself from these Zealots, precisely over the question of the means to be used for the liberation of the oppressed” (p.169). The distancing I intended to refer to was therefore on this issue of method, which didn’t mean to imply that he kept himself as a physical distance from them. I do in fact mention earlier on that at least one of Jesus’ disciples was a Zealot (p.91, footnote 215). Maybe I could have argued those points more clearly.
47. “He makes the large claim ‘Christian anarchists do not favour any overthrow of government’. Given that an anarchist is normally defined as one who works for the overthrow of the system of government without wishing to substitute another, that is a fairly surprising claim” (p.15). I could have been clearer, but as the earlier part of the quoted sentence suggests (“It will be evident by now”, p.168), I am referring there to claims covered earlier in the book. In making those claims (e.g. p. 76, 94, 154), again I am merely reporting and reorganising what Christian anarchist authors have said. Moreover, what I and they mean by ‘overthrow’ often refers more to the violence which is often associated with ‘overthrowing’ and to the implicit idea of replacing one government with another. Yes, anarchists generally aim to get rid of government, but also crucially don’t want another government in its place. That is what the section which begins with that claim goes onto to discuss. Still, I could have been clearer, and here again the original version of the book is arguably more cautious in that this very sentence is followed by a footnote pointing to Christian anarchist literature making that very point (2010 p.206). So, I could have been more careful with this claim, but again I’m only using and reporting words found in the literature, and anyway the claim is part of a broader argument which is ignored when quoting me out of that context.
48. “Our author quite rightly later attributes christian views on war to St Augustine, who watered down the Nicaean rules, to create what is generally now accepted as the Church's rules on the bellum iustum; he does not see that this negates his claims about Constantine (though it should be remembered that even in St Augustine bellum should be translated to cover any struggle, even getting up a petition would have been included, certainly strikes & civil disobedience, so that the reasons for such bellum being iustum are not necessarily those that would appeal to modern politicians. It was, of course, later authorities who went further than St Augustine in turning St Basil's rules upside down, & introducing the provision of ‘lawful authority’” (p.9). I’m not sure what claim about Constantine this negates. Chapter 3 discusses both Augustine and Constantine in ways which seem to accord with what Otter is referring to.
49. “Curiously, when it came to conscientious objection C did not go into details as to whether people should go before a Tribunal or, indeed, should register, a matter that used to divide the pacifist movement” (p.15). It’s true that I don’t discuss this in the depth that Otter would have preferred, but I do say, after noting that Christians “should not make complaints to the police or otherwise rely on its services”, that “similarly, for Christian anarchists, neither can Christians take part in court proceedings, nor can they rely on courts for the adjudication of any disputes, nor should they adorn secular courts with their presence” (p.167). Moreover, the earlier discussion of Jesus’ instruction not to judge also touches on this, noting for instance that “Tolstoy insists that Jesus’ instruction condemns all earthly tribunals” (p.48), and that from this perspective “a Christian can be neither a judge, nor take part in any trial, nor take a fellow human being to court” (p.49).
In short: the book isn’t perfect, and does not come close to what Otter would have liked it to be, but I think most of his accusations are misjudged or fallacious, even though some are more valid than others. In any case, Otter’s rebuttal opens many avenues of possible research on Christian anarchism and anarchists. I hope to see many studies exploring these avenues in the future, and I still hope my book will prove more helpful to such studies than it did to Otter.
Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, May 2013