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Tribalism, Romanticism, and Anarchism

December 20, 2012

Many may wonder why is there so much love for an archaic, tribal past in Circle Ansuz. For an antifascist group it would seem counter-intuitive for us to engage in similar activities, particularly the glorification of a distant past, as the fascists we oppose. Such groups are notorious for their romanticization, politicization, and mangling of history to serve their purposes. In Circle Ansuz we draw inspiration from the past but that is where any similarity stops. Our perspectives on tribal societies and romanticism are coming from a very different place than that which is used by fascist, reactionary, and conservative groups.

In groups which whip up a romanticized vision of the past the main reason they do so is because they want to return to that time and place. Images of an older, simpler, idealized time run rampant in modern political discourse. Whether its American nostalgia for a sanitized vision of the 1950s, British ultraconservatives yearning for the glory days of the Empire, or Russian ultranationalists hearkening back to the Tsars the use of a fabricated past is a common tactic for justifying the actions of a whole host of political factions, fascists being one of the worst offenders in this regard. These narratives all share in common a rose-tinted vision of a past time that never really existed as depicted by their proponents. They sweep aside facts in favor of ideologically-induced phantasms constructed specifically to entice people to join them in abandoning their reason in favor of a false narrative. When used to seduce people into supporting fascist ideas the romanticizing of the past can be very powerful and dangerous.

Our view of tribalism is far more nuanced. While we argue there are values, ideas, and practices of the tribal period of the Germanic peoples which are worth emulating we understand the difference between reconstruction and resurrection. For all the facets of Germanic society we praise; most notably the Thing assemblies, communal defense and law enforcement, their relatively egalitarian attitudes, and worker control of their labor, we understand the society they lived in emerged in a specific time and place to face specific challenges. We also understand this society is far from ideal. Women, while treated with far more respect than the societies influenced by the Roman Empire and medieval Christianity, were not by modern feminist standards genuine equals. All of these societies exploited the labor of slaves; in fact the bulk of the wealth from the height of the Viking Age came not from plunder but from the sale of slaves taken in raids. For all the positives of Thing governance brutal, nasty blood feuds were also a major feature of Germanic life.

Considering all these negatives why should we consider this time, culture, and period to be such a vital inspiration to our ideas? It is because in spite of these flaws there are fundamental elements of the tribal period which present a powerful critique of society. In the modern discourse regarding the Germanics, as it is with all other tribal societies, it is generally assumed that life was nasty, brutish, and short. Taking a cue from the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes and more modern social Darwinists most assume life in such “primitive” societies was defined by constant violence and savage warfare. Many assume such cultures existed in a “barbaric” state of eternal war of all against all. These assumptions are the foundations of the modern reasoning that all institutional power depends on the monopoly on the use of force and coercion to maintain itself.

Running up against this narrative are new facts regarding tribal life in the Germanic period and from the world over. A new consensus is developing where tribal societies were anything but the ruthlessly brutish places depicted in the popular narrative. As the Thing assemblies, the use of outlawry as the worst punishment, and other practices demonstrate the foundation of order and stability in these societies was not based on force or the fear of force but through consent, mutual aid, discourse, and discussion. This pattern repeats itself the world over, whether you are discussing the indigenous tribes of the Americas, Africa, or the Asian steppe. By holding up these tribal societies and their attitudes as a mirror to modern society a powerful critique emerges. If it is possible for society to be based on consensus and mutual aid in a time that is assumed by most to have been an age of violence and bloodshed then perhaps our modern ideas of what is necessary to build a nurturing, prosperous, and free society should be re-examined.

After all, there are many modern practices and innovations which the ancients would find just as abhorrent as we find slavery and human sacrifice. The ancients did not invent concentration camps, weapons of mass destruction, or anything comparable to the soullessness of corporate economics. They would likely find our acceptance of homelessness as a consequence of economic destitution and our lack of concern for our fellow community members to be inexcusable and uncivilized just as they would recoil from the needless, excessive waste of our consumerist economy. They would most certainly walk away in disgust at the ease of which people will discard dearly-held principles the moment they become an obstacle or inconvenience to the pursuit of personal advancement. If there are major aspects of our society which our allegedly savage ancestors would have cursed as inhuman then what does that say about us?

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