Appalachian Anarchism

"Banjo" playing his banjo rifle, from the film "Sabata" (1969).

via Center for a Stateless Society

Appalachian Anarchism: What the Voting Record Conceals

by Dakota Hensley

Individualism, community, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and faith are the values of the people of Appalachia. It is in these values that we find an anarchism that has existed in the cities and rural communities for decades. However, most Appalachians don’t refer to their culture as such, but it carries many of the same attitudes and beliefs as anarchism. .This fact is further obscured by the pressure to view political beliefs through an electoral lens.

Appalachian anarchism is a syncretic philosophy that combines Christian anarchism with individualist anarchism along with aspects of traditionalist conservatism and agrarianism. It is Christian anarchist in that faith is held dear to Appalachians who let the Bible guide them, despite 70% being unchurched and their native Christianity being decentralized and opposed to religious hierarchy and established churches. It is individualist in its opposition to communism and acceptance of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. It is traditionalist conservative in its views of social issues, being opposed to abortion and supportive of the traditions of the mountains among others. It is agrarian in its support of the back-to-the-land movement’s components, namely smallholding, self-sufficiency, community, and autonomy. All these mix together to create an individualist and conservative anarchism.

Appalachians live this conservative anarchism everyday. Many spend their whole lives without interacting with a government or anything close to it. Wallins, Kentucky doesn’t even have a government (as a result of its being demoted from a city to an unincorporated community back in 2010 after failing to elect a mayor in 2008) and Harlan, Kentucky has a mayor who’s a non-presence most residents don’t even know the name of.

Many smaller unincorporated communities dot the Appalachian landscape, living peacefully without a local authority. There are 62 of these little communities in Harlan County alone. The only government presence is the Harlan police and they only seem to patrol the streets of Harlan (though I only lived in Baxter and Wallins so I’m open to corrections). There’s also a post office (though some of these communities don’t have that anymore) and the Harlan County Rescue Squad. Other than Wallins’ volunteer fire department, that’s as far as government presence goes. These unincorporated communities are small and anarchist and are a key characteristic of Appalachian.

In contrast with this reality, many people still see Appalachia as a hotbed of conservatism. But that’s only those who vote and, even then, their personal views are nothing like the views of the candidates they vote for. If you average the turnout of Kentucky’s 5th district, Tennessee’s first three districts, and Virginia’s 9th district (all of which make up Central Appalachia), you’ll find that only 42% of residents there vote (a number I found by taking the number of votes last election, dividing it by the total adult population, then adding up all five percentages and finding the mean). In the 2018 midterms, 47% of Americans voted. Considering that even those who do vote don’t always agree with their choice, you’ll find that Appalachia as this conservative hotbed is nothing but a myth.

The only thing preventing Appalachians from calling themselves anarchists is that they don’t know what that means. Anarchists forget that the large majority of Americans know nothing about anarchism or the philosophies of Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner, William Greene and Stephen Pearl Andrews, or even Pyotr Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin. The few who do associate it with violence.

Some will assume that Appalachian anarchism can’t be anarchism because of anarchism’s association with labor. And if we see Appalachia as conservative based on its voting record, that must make it anti-labor as well. That is far from the truth. Appalachia has had labor disputes for decades and its people are always on the side of the worker. Bloody Harlan, a war between coal miners and coal operators in 1931, was a deeply Appalachian struggle. There were movies about it and it’s one of the most well known labor disputes. Harlan even had a protest against Black Jewel last year.

Anarchism is as Appalachian as poke sallet. It is not the progressive kind championed by contemporary anarchists but it is something Appalachians know well and is something anarchists should capitalize on. Appeal to Appalachian values and relate anarchism to places like Wallins and Harlan and explain how it’s not different from their lives now. That’ll expand anarchism to these mountains where it would grow and blossom.

There are 19 Comments

Maybe I’m just being a pessimist, but having lived in similar areas my whole life I don’t really see this as some hot bed of anarchy. Maybe I haven’t talked to enough of these “decentralized Christian anarchists, that just don’t know that they have an anarchist philosophy” to have a good grasp of the situation. I’m open to this being all my own fault, but I’m not gonna hold my breath to long.

based on the last thing by hensley, and the last paragraph here, it doesn't sound like they're saying that it's the anarchism WE want now, but that there's a space we share, and we can expand on that, right? obviously this will be possible with some people and not with others because appalachians/rural folks/anarchists are none of us monolithic, but still seems like a worthwile poke to the purist, no?

Fair enough! I didn’t want to sound like I was espousing some sort of search for a pure anarchist, just don’t know if I think the affinity is as strong as the author. Though common space is common space and neat stuff could happen. I just don’t like to get too Yexcite and all. :)

Great analysis. I'm presently doing a thesis on the history of Texan anarchists starting on those brave pioneering Occupy-esque fellows who manned the barricades at The Alamo.

Anarchism is not the default catch-all for all things non-state.
Though it is true that anarchism is more about lived values, than about naming and quoting authors, these values and desires extend beyond those mentioned in this article.

This article mentions "Individualism, community, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and faith [...] Appalachian anarchism is a syncretic philosophy that combines Christian anarchism with individualist anarchism along with aspects of traditionalist conservatism and agrarianism. It is Christian anarchist in that faith is held dear to Appalachians who let the Bible guide them, despite 70% being unchurched and their native Christianity being decentralized and opposed to religious hierarchy and established churches. It is individualist in its opposition to communism and acceptance of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. It is traditionalist conservative in its views of social issues, being opposed to abortion and supportive of the traditions of the mountains among others. It is agrarian in its support of the back-to-the-land movement’s components, namely smallholding, self-sufficiency, community, and autonomy. All these mix together to create an individualist and conservative anarchism."

Meanwhile the gist of anarchism summarized in the slogan "No gods, no masters", which extends to no governments, no rulers, no hierarchies, which of course means no patriarchy (which implies body autonomy that goes much further beyond the topic of abortion and contraception, freedom from patriarchal notions of family and coupling), no ageism, no racism, and no speciesm. "God-fearing" men and women does not sound so free to me. Living in fear means living under coercion. Christianity, even without the vatican, has patriarchal trappings, and lacks the means to provide or inform living freely in many areas.

This is just another case of wishful thinking looking around expecting to find an anarchist utopia under a rock if you just look close enough and squint. Hoping to stumble into a new untapped source of critical mass. Looking at anything that isn't the most techno-euphoric and enthusiastic statism and saying "Look! These people live far away from the city. Is this anarchy? Eh, close enough." It's the "normal everyday people" that are more real and authentic that the anarchists, our noble savages we can look to. The rural periphery is whole new world activism can make inroads after unions and student organizing becomes stale. Why not help organize an anti-abortion rally and shoot-up an abortion clinic? Not saying that's what the article proposes, but it's not exactly critiquing it either. Oh well, so they didn't vote for a mayor. Neither did most of the people that are complicit with the status quo, since low voter participation is the norm in U.S.A.

Anarchists don't have ownership over "doing whatever I want" and "minding my own business", most people do, acting according to their interests, cooperating or not. That's the point, the state is an imposition and an illusion, it's not everywhere it intends and presumes to project control. People are not so obedient. You can learn from anyone who evades and resists the state, without trying to force them into your pet notions of anarchy. Like when anarchists become fascinated with indigenous or aboriginal cultures, or the zapatistas or rojava and feel the urge to call them anarchist in order for them to be allowed to like them and be interested in learning about them or from them. Why not focus on what you can bring as well? If everyone is already an anarchist, then anarchy achieved, or no one is.

Is an ideology word. Since I take "aboriginal" (hunter-gatherer-permaculturist) life as the basis for what is normal/healthy in humans, I have started to use a more functional word: regeneration/adaptive fitness.

It is the most "backward", 4th World "savages" in remote parts of the world who are best positioned to outlive the coming Collapse (which will be dragged out over 50-80 years). Those who were last shall be first.

Since rednecks were never fully "civilized" to begin with, it is easier for us to "revert to savagery". Right now I'm living in a mechanized covered wagon - a king cab truck w/camper shell, while investing in gold/silver in preparation for Great Depression 2.0 (when all the $$$$$$-printing has run its course). Covid19 has compressed my timetable. A deep backwoods sanctuary is planned.

" Since I take "aboriginal" (hunter-gatherer-permaculturist) life as the basis for what is normal/healthy in humans"

What? Why redefine aboriginal to this anachronism of a hunter-gatherer and the 20th century concept of permaculture, and then imply that is normal/healthy in humans? Do you take "aboriginal" to mean hunter-gatherer permaculturists when it comes to non-human life? So weird

I think Redpanther should spend less time in their redneck camper truck and do more walks outside where there's people...

"Since rednecks were never fully "civilized" to begin with, it is easier for us to "revert to savagery".lolwut?

Not sure what kind of rednecks you know, but those in my area can't fucking do anything in their lives without some noisy engine. They may be a lil closer to forest survival than urban hipsters, but their engine and guns will run out of ammo/fuel eventually. "Unsustainable" means not self-sustaining.

Yup, redecks are highly technological noise addicts who cannot writè their name and think that the square root of 36 is the number of local gals at the Xmas square dance and not their IQ.

I hope you don't refer to "noise music addicts", as I don't wanna think of what kind of noise rednecks are into.

The syndrome of gas guzzling V8 engines without noise reduction growling macho noise saying my bigger dick with fret burning banjo amplified to whining Merle Haggard not on acid.

"I take "aboriginal" (hunter-gatherer-permaculturist) life as the basis for what is normal/healthy in humans"

sure glad you presume that 8 billion (whatever the number is now) individuals all have a singular normal. way to reduce.

If you chuck the cringey noble savage bullshit, there's an interesting discussion to be had about living rough and simple, participating in capitalism as little as possible, etc.

At least it was interesting the first 100 times? It's also just poverty but like, when you wear it well, solo or with a group that isn't too fucked up.

"living rough and simple, participating in capitalism as little as possible, etc."

some of us have been doing this for years. it is only "poverty" to someone incapable of thinking outside an economic paradigm.

yeah, me too but no, it's not just a state of mind

the most obvious example perhaps being healthcare in the US ... lets not pretend you can cancel material conditions with your jedi powers, mmk? it's a bit crass because of all those people who die from poverty.

but you still get full marks for being a genius about the simple life tho!

Full o' shit my ol' 4rend! Poor is just more identity politics, like rich, black and white, gay and trans, all political identities. Just get on with life and what you've been served up on the plate of life. Get over you mmk-mmk-mmk crap! Fuckit lets go for a drive somewhere!

well .. you can smack away at a keyboard and that's about all you've accomplished here

The theory of wealth actually being a psychic burden and making inner peace impossible, or metaphorically as the passing through the eye of a needle to reach a goal, doesn't it follow that poverty is healthy and beneficial to humanity, Therefore, to create a class based on financial/capital wealth is false. Do you read and watch media and noted that the poorest Africans with all there diseases and problems are the most cheerful folk compared to the affluent peoples who are glum and morose, mostly. Class is crap, and "poor rich" should be struck off the dictionary. Let the material anxieties wallow in their own makings.*smacks on*

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