Interview completed: 01/15/2019
How did you first hear about anarchism? What was that encounter like?
My first serious encounter with anarchism was in my senior year at the College of the Holy Cross in 1973. I was introduced to the story of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement by two young Holy Cross men who had dropped out some time before to work against the war in Vietnam and who had returned to Worcester to start a Catholic Worker house. I was intrigued by a group which could call itself “Catholic, Anarchist, and Pacifist”—it seemed like a total contradiction. I was further intrigued when Daniel Berrigan, recently out of prison from the Catonsville Nine action, gave our graduation speech. He began, very simply, with something like this: “You’ve graduated. Aren’t you proud! You’re winners now. You’ve bought into that American Winner-Loser mythology. You don’t have to worry about those losers anymore, because you’re with the winners.” He followed with several Zen parables. As I remember it, there was somewhat of an exodus of parents during the speech. It was the last thing I expected to hear at graduation and the one graduation speech (out of dozens I have sat through) that meant something.
Nonetheless, I had plans to get a Masters in City Planning at Cornell, and off I went to do “important work.” After getting the degree from one of the top planning schools in the country, I came to the conclusion that anarchism was not a bad alternative and connected with the Catholic Worker. I visited the New York Catholic Worker house in the late 1970s, experiencing a poverty I hadn’t dreamed existed in America, but fascinated by the fact that after a friend and I had spent around eight hours in this house of hospitality for homeless persons, neither of us had any idea who was “running” the house and who were the homeless guests.
I soon moved into a Catholic Worker House in Syracuse and, after two years there, went on to a Ph.D. in sociology.
What within sociology and anarchism are the most compatible?
I think the emphasis on ways of achieving some sort of social order beyond that imposed by the state is very compatible. Symbolic interactionism, while rarely specifically anarchist, has an elective affinity with anarchism in that it emphasizes the person as social and society as a process made up of personal interactions.
Has anarchism contributed anything to sociology?
Sociology would have been better off if anarchism had contributed more.
What could anarchism contribute to sociology?
Sociology could benefit from the anarchist analysis of power and, particularly, from anarchist anthropology, e.g., David Graeber’s work. More integration of the study of acephalous societies would benefit sociology greatly.
What classical sociologists were the most anarchistic?
I would say that George Herbert Mead was compatible with anarchism, although he was a Progressive rather than an anarchist.
Max Weber, while not an anarchist, had many concepts which can be fruitfully employed in anarchist thought, particularly his analysis of authority.
What anarchist(s) (whether classical age or contemporary, individuals or a group) seem(ed) to have the strongest sociological imagination?
Although an obvious answer would be Kropotkin, I suspect many have written you about him, so I would like to focus on an individual—Leo Tolstoi—and a group—the Catholic Workers.
After finishing Anna Karenina, Tolstoi experienced a conversion to his own vision of Christianity – an anarchist vision founded on the principle of nonresistance to evil. Both as a novelist and as an advocate of Christian anarchism, he exemplified the sociological imagination. War and Peace (hardly an anarchist novel), was in large part a theoretical attack on the “great man” theory of history, an attack not claiming to be sociological but imbued with a great deal of sociological imagination. His last novel, Resurrection, written to finance the flight of the Doukhobors from Russia, was a scathing attack on the injustices of the “criminal justice” system of his day, beginning with the scene of a nobleman called to serve on a jury to determine the fate of a young prostitute charged with murdering her trick, a prostitute whom he had raped while she had been a servant in his father’s house. His nonfiction work was even more sociological. The Kingdom of God is Within You was Tolstoi’s exposition of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which Tolstoi claimed contained the principle of nonresistance to evil, the only possible basis for an egalitarian, peaceful society. The book also contained vivid ethnographic description of Russian peasant resistance to the Tsar’s military draft. What Then Must We Do? presented his analysis of Russian poverty. The Slavery of Our Times was an analysis of economic inequality which concluded with proposals for the abolition of government.
Although Tolstoi is practically unrecognized in the field of sociology, his vision resonated elsewhere. Tolstoyans formed communes in Russia, England, and the United States. Under the Soviet regime, the Russian Tolstoyan communes were consolidated into one commune in Siberia, but this survived until 1939, while refusing to be drafted into the Red Army and refusing to send their children to government schools. Stalin only ordered the commune dismantled with the coming of World War II. Mohandas Gandhi was another protege of Tolstoi. He cited The Kingdom of God is Within You as a major source of his practice of nonviolence and actually corresponded with Tolstoi in the last year of the latter’s life.
The Catholic Worker involves, I think, a unique solution to the micro-macro problem in that their houses of hospitality both shelter homeless persons and immigrants and act as centers of resistance to state militarism and war. The daily practice of hospitality puts a face on, and generates solidarity with the marginalized, providing a face to face grounding for more abstract forms of resistance.
Why has anarchism not had as much impact upon Sociology as other movements (e.g., Marxism, feminism)?
In large part because so many sociologists seek grants to fund their work. Not many corporations or corporate foundations (or government) are too interested in funding scholarship on anarchism except the kind which could lead to its repression.
How could sociology (as a discipline, a practice, etc.) be more anarchist?
Sociologists need to engage in more active nonviolent resistance to the State.
Have you encountered anarchists in the classroom? What was their response to Sociology?
One anarchist student has been notable. He began in my social movements course, loving the section on the Wobblies, and became a sociology minor. We have had many powerful discussions on anarchism and nonviolence, and I have gone to a number of his court appearances in support.
Is it possible (to say nothing of desirable?) for anarchists to work as professional sociologists? (Especially within the academy?) What are the concerns or challenges?
An anarchist must make compromises to work as an academic sociologist, particularly in today’s corporatized university. Accepting a salary is the first compromise. My wife and I tried tax resistance for a few years, but eventually abandoned it under some pressure, and have paid ever since. I have tried to maintain both a civil disobedience and an academic career, reasonably successfully due to having only a couple of stints of incarceration (in one of which colleagues covered my classes for a week; in the other, I was incarcerated in a community correction center which released me during the day for a month to finish the semester).