Sir Herbert Read: Monarchically Knighted and Anarchically Inspired Critic, Artist and Essayist
Another excerpt from this excellent book I’m reading, Anarchist Seeds Beneath The Snow: Left-Libertarian Thought and British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward by David Goodway.
Read breaks with the classic anarchist political thinkers in just one way, but it is of decisive importance. This is his rejection of force. By 1930 he had concluded of 1914-1918: ‘The whole war was fought for rhetoric – fought for historical phrases and actual misery, by politicians and generals and with human flesh and blood, fanned by false and artificially created mob passions…I can conceive of no values…for which human life indiscriminately and in the mass should be forcibly sacrificed.’1 Writing in 1938, he explained:
There is no problem to which, during the last twenty years, I have given more thought than this problem of war and peace; it has been an obsession with my generation. There is no problem which leads so inevitably to anarchism. Peace is anarchy, Government is force; force is repression, and repression leads to reaction, or to a psychosis of power which in its turn involves the individual in destruction and the nations in war. War will exist as long as the State exists. Only a non-governmental society can offer those economic, ethical and psychological conditions under which the emergence of a peaceful mentality is possible.
‘Anarchism,’ he therefore believed, ‘naturally implies pacifism.’2 He explicates further, in 1952, as a Gandhian:
Revolt, it will be said, implies violence; but this is an outmoded, an incompetent conception of revolt. The most effective form of revolt in this violent world we live in is non-violence.3
Those are some pretty Crass politics there, Sir Read.
Cited by Jason Harding, The ‘Criterion’: Cultural Politics and Periodical Networks in Inter-War Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 122-3 (Read’s emphasis). ↩
Herbert Read, Poetry and Anarchism (London: Faber & Faber, 1938), pp. 87, 119-20. ↩
‘Introduction: Revolution and Reason’, to Herbert Read, Anarchy and Order: Essays in Politics (London: Faber & Faber, 1954), p. 26. ↩