pariah status in perpetuity


From cries of “Long live dynamite!” to arguments for vegetarianism, the anarchist cause has been a very broad church. Often naive and under-theorized – although it has always had highly intelligent proponents and sympathizers, a current example being Noam Chomsky – anarchism has also been dogged by a reputation for ill-directed violence, leading to what Alex Butterworth describes as “the movement’s pariah status in perpetuity”. Although The World That Never Was is an unashamedly popular book and concentrates on the more lurid end of the anarchist tendency, Butterworth at least tries to treat his pariah subjects with a counterbalancing sympathy. United – if at all – by a resistance to imposed authority, the characters here range from the almost Tolstoyan figure of Peter Kropotkin to the far wilder François Koenigstein, better known as Ravachol. Disgusted by Thomas Huxley’s 1888 Darwinian essay “The Struggle for Existence”, Kropotkin was the great theorist of Mutual Aid who had a soft spot for the rabbit as a species, admiring it as “the symbol of perdurability [that] stood out against selection”. Ravachol, on the other hand, began his career by disinterring an old woman’s corpse, murdered a ninety-five-year-old man, and then embarked on a terror bombing campaign which some commentators romanticized for the perpetrator’s “courage, his goodness, his greatness of soul”.

more from Phil Baker at the TLS here.