The Unique Importance of the Tory Anarchist
By CJay Engel
If ever there was a phrase that deserved more widespread repute in libertarian circles, it is the charming title “Tory Anarchist,” which Murray Rothbard— though not the first to apply it— gave to the likes of H.L. Mencken and Albert Nock in his book The Betrayal of the American Right. What he meant by this phrase, together with a case for its adoption today, are the themes of the present article.
Now, as an American not nearly as culturally committed to the word Tory as is the esteemed Sean Gabb, I should note at the outset that I will use the word with a broader, more vague application than he has in his recent reflections on the matter. I seek not to make the case for an English-oriented Toryism, for this is clearly beyond any reasonable realm of my expertise. However, the Toryism that I have in mind echoes the demeanour of his own: a sharp hesitancy toward tendencies of sweeping social change, a deep-seated cynicism of revolution, and perhaps a flair of distressed pessimism about the winds of leftism and egalitarianism sweeping the West.
The libertarian is one who, whether for utilitarian or ethical reasons —often both— is radically critical of the state. The so-called “anarchist,” in the present context, considers the application of libertarian ideas most consistent when they apply equally to the state as to every other human institution. That is, if the state represents an intervention into the natural and private property order, then the theorist should have no use for it.
If economics be one’s foundation, the state is, every turn, a transgression against the efficiency and potential achievements of the market. If instead one rests his anti-statist arguments on ethics, as I do, then the state is the unethical institutionalized breach of the right of the individual to live without external violence against his person and property.
Thus Murray Rothbard wrote that his own definition of an anarchist society was “one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of an individual.” Since the state itself is a rejection of this simple principle, the state is therefore excluded from an anarchist paradigm.
Now then, this unique definition of anarchism is clearly not the definition of anarchism which focuses its brand on social unrest, a destruction of various social institutions, and an upending of a private property order, which necessarily includes basic provision for law and order.
Thus, Rothbardian anarchism itself, which is a certain position on the legal permissibility of aggression against person and property, does not per se extend itself to more general and empirical observations of sociology.
Hans Hoppe once observed therefore that libertarianism, a legal-political theory, is “rationalistic, philosophical, logical, and constructivist” and that it focuses on “concepts of property, production, exchange, and contract.” Libertarianism as rationalistic and applicable to all times and places should be contrasted with the nature of sociological observations, which are “empiricistic and descriptive,” focused on “families, authority, communities, and social ranks.”
If the “anarchist” in “Tory Anarchism” relates to the rationalistic and ideological realm, then the “Tory” relates to the empirical, culture-specific realm.
The Tory Anarchist, then, is one who not only takes up a radical position on the nature of the state (as well as its right to exist), but he also carries with it a demeanour of caution and concern over a western world in cultural revolt. Looking out across history at the development of western culture and mannerisms, he laments the fall of the Old World conventions and traditions. He is aware of the relationship that traditional cultural habits and norms have with a thriving society and he sees in the tides of modern leftism a wave of social revolution.
The Tory Anarchist is able to see that the revolution does not merely seek to undermine the fundamental role of private property rights, but it seeks to swarm every institution, uniting the world under a new banner of cultural uniformity as designed and approved by the Progressive elite.
The Tory Anarchist does not shrug off the extraordinary mania of egalitarianism and intense agitation of various “victim” classes as non-concerns because they do not require the state. Rather, the Tory Anarchist understands that a tendency toward revolution of culture will bring with it a completely new set of assumptions about the role of the state over the lives of its citizens, particularly those citizens that intellectually dissent.
But the Tory Anarchist does not merely stand concerned about the revolution, he also takes pleasure in reflecting on the past. The history of the western way of life, the developments it underwent, and the struggles it overcame are important to him. He observes that the revolutionary leftists endeavour to sway the western world by the use of cultural guilt, by regret over one’s ancestral past. But the Tory is unfazed by this attempt, he embraces the history of his people as part of his story. He does not necessarily agree with every action committed in the past (who does?), but this does not make him abandon affiliation with those who came before.
The Tory Anarchist therefore agrees with the idea that family is, aside from the individual himself (as a moral, acting agent), the most basic unit of society. The family should be a bulwark against the state and it does not surprise the Tory Anarchist that the state has a specific incentive to undermine and replace the role of the family unit in society.
The Tory Anarchist holds that government is a reflection of culture, and a culture that rejects non-state institutions like the family, like churches, like wealthy private owners of the means of production— a culture that rejects and revolts against these pillars of western society, will inevitably cling to the state as their guide and compass.
Indeed, the Tory Anarchist appreciates that hierarchy and authority are natural elements which exist in society independent of the state. The state is not a natural source of hierarchical relationships among men. The democratic state therefore rests on it’s own artificial authority as it seeks to undermine the natural order. This of course calls to mind the “conservative anarchism” of Edmund Burke and his “natural society.” Here also we find relevance in Rothbard’s application of the phrase to the American iconoclast H.L. Mencken, who once observed that the state is “a conspiracy against the superior man.” Mencken continues:
“If [the state] be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them.”
Such sentiments wonderfully capture the essence of the Tory Anarchist. Superiorities and inferiorities, and other sorts of inequalities, exist among men. Such is the way of nature. But the state seeks to undermine the natural order. Far from being the great establisher and protector of private property rights, the state tends to revolt against them.
In a world captivated by a utopian and internationalist egalitarian leftism, the Tory Anarchist offers something unique, something of value. As Daniel McCarthy put it, “Tory anarchism isn’t really an idea at all, just a intuition.” This intuition is simply that society does not depend on the state— communities and people groups do not need to identify with each other by the means of the state. The leftists would have us believe that everything must be political; that political action and the centralization and globalization of such politicized action is the means toward a better world.
But a ‘toryist’ demeanour moves in the opposition direction. The Tory Anarchist plays an important role in both having a well-thought out theory of the economics and ethics of statism on one hand, but also an appeal to the healthy tendency that many people still have to trust their own immediate circles over the Progressivist political class. Toryism finds meaning in family, in faith, in the traditions of his community even though such traditions may seem to have been buried in the sands of time.