Ammon Hennacy

A Catholic Anarchist




A memory that brings to light the sectarianism of some anarchists that think to possess the truth and that only they are the true anarchists.

Source: Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist, 1954.


I had not met Dorothy since September 1941 in Milwaukee. I had written letters to her and the Catholic Worker. She had come to Albuquerque a few months after I left for Phoenix in 1947. Now I was overjoyed to get a card from her saying that she would be here Dec. 29th. I met her at the bus. She had been a chain smoker until 1940 and now that she had quit as a penance she had a relaxed and peaceful countenance instead of that nervousness that goes with cigarettes. She stayed at Rik's. On New Year's Day we both met Father George Dunne, nephew of Finley Peter Dunne, the humorist, and now at St. Francis Xavier church here. He had been changed from St. Louis to Los Angeles and now to Phoenix because he was ahead of the ecclesiastical authorities on the race issue. He is not a pacist nor an anarchist, but a fine brave man.

We went with Father Rook to the Indian Yaqui mission in the desert southeast of Tempe. Here the Indians who are very poor had built this church or rather had added to the old one - and all without any games of chance or bingo parties. The leading anarchist of this country happened to be in Phoenix just then, so I asked him if he and his atheistic Italian anarchist friends would like to meet Dorothy. Accordingly we met one evening in an anarchist home. The atheistic anarchists led off by saying that anarchism as defined by Bakunin negates all authority: that of the state and that of God. Therefore for Christian and especially Catholic anarchists to use the name anarchism is unethical. Furthermore it hurts the feelings of Italian anarchists who have felt the lash of the Catholic hierarchy.

Dorothy listened carefully to this reiterated statement and replied that this argument had not been brought to her before and deserved careful consideration. She felt that man of his own free will accepted God or rejected God and if a man chose to obey the authority of God and reject the authority of the state it was not unethical to do so. She inferred that we were born into a state and could not help it, but accepted God of our own free will. She and Bob Ludlow are converts to the Church.

The atheistic anarchist answer was that it was entirely illogical to use the anarchist conception of freedom to accept the authority of God which denies that freedom. Dorothy felt that the authority of God only made her a better rebel and gave her courage to oppose those who sought to carry over the concept of authority from the supernatural to the natural field where it did not belong. She said that the use of the word anarchism by the Catholic Worker might shock people; that Peter Maurin, although an anarchist, had generally used the word personalist instead, but she felt that Bob Ludlow and myself used it rightly.

Another anarchist present thought that Ludlow had slipped over the use of the word anarchism on Dorothy. She replied that she stood back of all he said on the subject. This same anarchist repeated the regular argument that religion was opium for the people and that the Catholic Church always stood for the rich against the poor and that the Catholic Worker was as bad as the history of the church. The anarchist leader felt that if the Catholic Worker was only called the Anarchis Worker instead of the Catholic Worker it would be the best anarchist paper going. It was the word Catholic that spoiled it. These atheistic anarchists felt that if I had not hid behind the Catholic Worker I would have been arrested long ago for my tax refusal. Dorothy answered that I had been a Christian Anarchist long before the Catholic Worker was ever heard of. The anarchist leader said that Tolstoy in his Appeal to Social Reformers denounced the regular anarchists of his time and therefore should not be considered an anarchist.

I replied that I had read that article of Tolstoy's long ago and that Tolstoy was simply fi the atheism and violence of various types of anarchists, and saying that without pacifism and the Fatherhood of God there could not be an effective anarchistic brotherhood of man. I also quoted from a book Tolstoy the Man by Prof. Stirner issued by Fleming Revel Co. about 1902. Prof. Stirner visited with Tolstoy and quoted him as saying that he was such an anarchist as Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount had made him; not to be afraid of the word anarchism, for the time would come when people would know its true meaning; that one who had accepted and obeyed the laws of God was thereby divorced from obeying the laws of men and did not need them. Stirner was sort of a Fabian Socialist, and he asked Tolstoy if Socialism was not a step on the way to anarchism. Tolstoy answered that it was not, and that it would end in a terrible dictatorship.

Dorothy mentioned the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, original sin, etc., emphasizing the fact that rebels who sacrifice for a cause need this supernatural help to remain true. The anarchists misunderstood this idea or else were physically unable to accept the importance of sacrifice, saying that what they wanted was better material conditions and not pie in the sky; that religion made people willing slaves. Under pressure from Dorothy and myself they admitted that a good martyr now and then like the Haymarket men and Sacco and Vanzetti, was a good thing; but they did not like the emphasis upon sacrifice.

I felt that this was the trouble with the present atheistic anarchists: that they were not willing to sacrifice enough. I reviewed my prison history to prove that what changed me from being a Socialist and an atheist was the example of that true rebel Jesus. That thus my sanity had been saved and I had emerged from prison an anarchist. That I was associated with the Catholic Worker because of its brave stand in publicizing my anti-tax campaign when anarchist and pacifist papers said very little about it. That my idea of God was not an authority whom I obeyed like a monarch but a principle of good as laid down by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which I interpreted in day by day decisions as the forces of the state came in conflict with these ideals. And that in the same manner every person had to make a choice between his conception of good and of evil.

The anarchist leader still felt that religious people had no right to use the word anarchist, although we knew that he as an anarchist could not go to law and prevent it. I replied that the atheistic anarchists were more atheistic than they were anarchistic so he should not be adverse to allowing Christians or Catholic Christians to be at least as religious as they were anarchistic, if not more so. That the atheistic anarchist should be glad that the Catholic Worker had left the state worship of ecclesiastical authorities and were anarchists. I said that the atheistic anarchists did not realize that it was possible for a Catholic to accept spiritual authority and not, like most Catholics, accept the state and temporal authority; that the atheistic anarchist should be glad that someone was fighting authority in one sphere - and the most difficult sphere at that - where the atheistic anarchist stood no chance of being heard. Dorothy told of losing over half of the Catholic Worker subscribers because the Catholic Worker opposed Franco and World War II.

The summary of Bob Ludlow on this subject seems conclusive: “There is an incompatibility between anarchism and religion only if the Christian insists on transforming the authoritarian set up of the Church to the temporal field or the anarchist insists in rejecting authority in religion. In both cases it comes from a confusion of the supernatural with the natural."

As two of those present were vegetarians, our Italian hosts gave us all that diet. Despite the excitability of the Italian temperament there was good humor and goodwill present at all times. I felt that a fair summary of the question would be that whenever we of the Catholic Worker became cowardly because of pressure from the Pope, then it would be time for atheistic anarchists to decry our use of the name anarchism. And that as long as they had no Pope to tell them what to do, they ought to assert their native anarchism and come out and be as brave fighters against war and capitalism as were Bakunin, Berkman and Goldman, whom they revere.



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