Michael Kazin: Anarchism Now: Occupy Wall Street Revives an Ideology

Roundup: Historians' Take

Michael Kazin is the author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. He teaches history at Georgetown University and is co-editor of Dissent.

From Zuccotti Park to the streets of Oakland, the Occupiers have been careful to define their ideology as broadly and vaguely as possible. That has been a wise decision. If you claim to represent the “99 percent,” it would be contradictory, as well as self-defeating, to assert there is just one correct explanation for what caused the economic crisis and just one true way to achieve economic justice for the heterogeneous majority. The very size and breadth of the protests have also defied any honest attempt to paste a single label on them.

Yet, at the risk of handing a juicy talking point to the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, one can detect an ideological preference among a vocal and articulate minority of the young activists behind this remarkable, if still embryonic, movement. And that preference goes by the name of anarchism.

Now, this is definitely not the kind of anarchism that inspired terrorists a century ago to murder presidents and princes, and which was depicted in editorial cartoons as the faith of red-eyed men with heavy beards and bombs hidden inside their shabby coats. Instead, the anarchism that motivates some Occupiers today is ultra-egalitarian, radically environmentalist, effortlessly multicultural, and scrupulously non-violent. They are the cyber-clever progeny of Henry David Thoreau and Emma Goldman, streaming video and organizing flash mobs instead of writing essays about the wilderness or traveling around the country touting feminism and free love. The “horizontal” nature of a movement brought to life and sustained by social media fits snugly inside their anarchist vision of a future in which autonomous, self-governing communities would link up with one another, quite voluntarily of course....

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