Review: Christian Anarchism, by Alexandre Christoyanopoulos

Christian Anarchism

by Alexandre Christoyannopoulos.

Published by Imprint Academic.

In this well researched and thoughtful book, Dr Christoyannopoulos spells out the basis of a profoundly Christian form of anarchism, explains how it can be applied in practical terms, and then introduces the reader to a number of key individuals and communities which have tried to do just that.

The depth of research into the writings of key thinkers such as Tolstoy, Ellul, Yoder, Andrew and others brings alive a subject which has provided, and will yet provide plenty of fuel for many contentious discussions.

One of the key principles of Christian anarchism is pacifism, and the author spends a good deal of time outlining the reasoning and theology behind this concept and other important ideas. He looks in depth at the Sermon on the Mount, which he describes as a manifesto for a ‘Christian anarchist society’.

But rather than base his discussion solely upon the Sermon on the Mount, Dr Christoyannopoulos doesn’t shrink from other parts of the Bible – including considering the Old Testament, particularly in the light of 1 Samuel 8, and proffering the Mosaic system as ‘a form of anarchy’.

The thrust of the whole of the first part of the book, is to present Christianity as an alternative way of thinking/living to the way of the state, which ‘derives its power and authority from Satan’. It presents Jesus as a critic of the state, and understands aspects of his life such as the ‘Clearing of the Temple’, as forms of direct action against the state.

Throughout the author draws heavily on the writings of Tolstoy, who is certainly the most influential of the avowedly Christian anarchist writers, and is in some ways the spiritual father of many of its later advocates. Much of the book is spent outlining Tolstoy’s thinking, including his incisive and witty critique of democracy.

The second part of the book moves on from the principles which under gird the Christian anarchist philosophy, and goes on to consider ways in which we can live as Christian anarchists, particularly given that we are obliged to live in a world governed by earthly authorities. We are asked to reconsider Romans 13, often thought of as a bar to anarchism, as an application of the Sermon on the Mount, rather than a reproof. And we’re reminded in practical ways of the necessity of love as the demonstration of Christian spirituality.

In its final chapters the book summarises a number of examples of people who have made Christian anarchism into a way of life, rather than a philosophy. From the Early Christians, to the Anabaptists, Monastics (or more accurately Religious) and more contemporary Christian groups including the incredibly important, if unusual, example of the Catholic Workers.

The book, the author suggests can provide a basis for a dialogue between Christian and secular anarchists. I would suggest it can be much more than that.

This book details with great clarity the concepts which make anarchism a crucial part of the Christian story. For those considering their own participation in the forthcoming election, it presents a strong argument for a reasoned and loving rejection of democracy.

It also presents many challenging ideas in an attitude of loving humility, suggesting for instance the seemingly contradictory idea of voluntary poverty as the way to eradicate poverty, as well as rehearsing in great depth the arguments against the use of, or passive condoning of, any form of violence.

It’s a good read, inspiring and inspired. What little it lacks in terms of a broader range of contemporary examples of groups living according to Christian anarchist principles can easily be forgiven in the light of the scholarly research which has gone into the presentation of the basis of Christian anarchism.

While Tolstoy features heavily, there are no shortage or references to and quotes from other philosophers and activists, from the likes of Peter Maurin and GK Chesterton, to the numerous contributors to the hugely influential ‘A Pinch of Salt’.

I would recommend this as a very good read for anyone seriously interested in Christianity and/or anarchism, indeed for any Christian who takes politics seriously, this is a book which has a great deal to offer.

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