Kropotkin, Read, and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism: Between Reason and Romanticism.

Author:Jun, Nathan
Position:Book review

Matthew S. Adams, Kropotkin, Read, and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism: Between Reason and Romanticism

Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015; 251pp; ISBN 9781137392602

The past ten to fifteen years have witnessed a veritable efflorescence of historical research on anarchism. Although this work has contributed significantly to our understanding of the political, social, and cultural history of the anarchist movement, it has been comparatively weak on the history of anarchist ideas--a trend which Matthew Adams, to his great credit, is helping to reverse. In his recently-published volume Kropotkin, Read, and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism, Adams aims to 'cast fresh light on both thinkers as intellectuals plotting new paths for anarchist theory in their different contexts' (p5) and, by extension, to offer a deeper, more nuanced account of 'the distinctiveness of anarchism's political culture as it developed in Britain' (p7). Though separated by time and historical context, Kropotkin and Read were both 'engaged in an effort to articulate anarchism for a British audience' (p2) by adapting its 'core precepts... to fit immediate political circumstances' (p5). In so doing, Adams argues, they 'contributed to a discernible tradition of libertarian thinking that had deeper roots in British intellectual and cultural history than has hitherto been appreciated' (p7).

Adams' study is noteworthy not only for filling an appreciable void in the literature but also, and more importantly, for deliberately seeking to overcome the shortcomings of already-existing scholarship--not least of which its 'lack of sensitivity to contextual issues' (p6) and general 'disregard for both the complexity of anarchist history and the broader intellectual history that was its crucible' (p7). Recognizing that appreciation for 'the nuances of past political thinking' requires 'sensitivity to the sites of its articulation and demands a broad lens' (p5), Adams extends his analysis beyond the 'internal economy' of Kropotkin's and Read's texts' to 'their defining interactions with contemporary thinkers and intellectual problems beyond the confines of anarchist discourse' (p6). This, in turn, invites a deeper understanding of their 'innovations within [the] boundaries set by broader British intellectual and cultural life' as well as the 'imaginative ways' they responded to shifting political, cultural, and intellectual contexts more generally...

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