Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities
2003—2004 Forum on Belief
Individualist Anarchism and 19th-Century America
The 19th century bore witness to the rise and fall of individualist anarchism in the United States. Unlike their communist counterparts, individualist anarchists emphasized radical economic programs rooted in a fundamental belief in the "sovereignty of the individual" and anticipated the conflict between strong and weak central government that would come to the fore in the Progressive Era. Although individualist anarchists failed to achieve mainstream intellectual and political legitimacy, Zwang asserts that there is value in understanding their work as a lens to view 19th-century America, a complex and turbulent era when the modern system of American capitalism and industrialism was still nascent. Neither "progressive" nor "backward-looking," individualist anarchism constitutes an "alternative" path untaken whose study Zwang believes will challenge our ideas about how history unfolds.