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celtic anarchism

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Celtic Anarchism is a new tendency within the larger anarchist movement. It is not an ideology, but an attempt to bring together disparate aspects and tendencies within the existing anarchist movement and re-envision them from a "celtic" perspective. The tendency is strongly influenced by Indigenism, Anti-State forms of Nationalism, Irish Republicanism, the Pan-Celtic movement, Celtic Reconstructionism, Anarchist People of Color, and many other sources. There are no formal publications promoting this tendency, rather it is organized loosely through the use of internet listserves.[1] and a few websites [2]

Celtic Anarchism is syncretic and diverse, incorporating a wide range of sources, as is to be expected from a tendency representing a diaspora community.


The most basic aspect of the tendency is the belief that pre-Roman Celtic societies had aspects in common with Anarchist ideals of how society should be structured, and that modern Anarchists would do well to investigate these early models. Celtic Ireland, prior to Cromwell's invasion, is frequently held up as a positive example. The tendency is thus similar to Indiginism in that it seeks inspiration for anarchism in the history and practices of tribal cultures, rather then relying solely on political theory and speculation.

Celtic Ireland (650-1650)[edit]

In Celtic Irish society of the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, courts and the law were largely anarchist, and operated in a purely stateless manner. This society persisted in this manner for roughly a thousand years until its conquest by England in the seventeenth century. Preconquest Ireland was not in any sense "primitive": it was a highly complex society that was, for centuries, the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of Western Europe. A leading authority on ancient Irish law wrote, "There was no legislature, no bailiffs, no police, no public enforcement of justice... There was no trace of State-administered justice.[3]

All "freemen" who owned land, all professionals, and all craftsmen, were entitled to become members of a tuath. Each tuath's members formed an annual assembly which decided all common policies, declared war or peace on other tuatha, and elected or deposed their "kings." In contrast to primitive tribes, no one was stuck or bound to a given tuath, either because of kinship or of geographical location. Individual members were free to, and often did, secede from a tuath and join a competing tuath. Professor Peden states, "the tuath is thus a body of persons voluntarily united for socially beneficial purposes and the sum total of the landed properties of its members constituted its territorial dimension.[4] The "king" had no political power; he could not decree or administer justice or declare war. Basically he was a priest and militia leader, and presided over the tuath assemblies.

Celtic Ireland survived many invasions, but was finally vanquished by Oliver Cromwell's reconquest in 1649-50.


The intersections between Celtic culture and Anarchism are particularly evident within the radical wing of the Environmentalist movement, particularly Deep Ecology. Earth First! is one of the largest networks organizing around these issues and is organized along anarchist lines with many of the people who work under its banner self-identifying as anarchists. It is perhaps natural that the British and Irish Earth First movements in particular would seek inspiration from and consciously seek linkages with Celtic identities, given that the ancient Celts are commonly portrayed as being more in touch with nature then modern consumer society. The Earth First Journal, the main publication of the movement, organizes its printing schedule around the Celtic calender and it's issues are identified by the season in which they are published - Beltane, Eostar, Brigid, Samhain/Yule, Mabon, and Lughnasadh. [1]

Religion and Spirituality[edit]

While many Anarchists are atheists, many others have sought spiritual inspiration in a wide range of traditions ranging from Taoism and other eastern philosophies to Christianity, Neo-Paganism, and indigenous religious traditions. For Anarchists in the Atlantic Isles and among the Celtic Diaspora who are interested in indigenous and tribal traditions, the desire to avoid cultural appropriation has led many to investigate Celtic Reconstructionism; which seeks to reconstruct and revive ancient Celtic religious practices in a modern context. The process works in the other direction as well and some individuals who enjoy the egalitarianism of these religious traditions find themselves drawn to Anarchism.


Paganism and/or Neo Paganism have grown immensely in influence in recent years. Prominent Anarchist Pagans such as Starhawk have gone out of their way to incorporate ritual into protests and Neo Pagans were and are very much present in the left wing of the Anti-Globalization movement, both in the USA and Europe.

Celtic Christianity[edit]

Recent years have also seen an attempt to revive the ancient Celtic Christianity, both in the form of organized churches such as the Celtic Catholic Church, and by individuals who seek to re-envision Christianity along lines more consistent with ideals of gender equality. Christian Anarchism has a long tradition going back at least to Leo Tolstoy, with some claiming that its roots go back much further. Within Anarchist circles, attempts to ground Christian Anarchism in Christian history lead adherents to look to the early Gallic Christian church, which pre-dated the adoption of Christianity as the State religion by the Roman Emperor Constantine. The Gallic Christian church was the last Christian church in Western Europe to be brought under the control of Rome, and is thus seen as an inspiration for Christian Anarchists seeking an example of an early egalitarian Christianity.

Liberation Theology[edit]

Irish Catholic priests and missionaries have played a large role in the spread of Catholicism since very early in the history of the Catholic Church. In Latin America in particular, many clergy embraced what was known as Liberation Theology, which has been described as "a marxist interpretation of the gospel"[2]. While there are clear differences between Anarchism and Marxism, the two share a basic commitment to social justice and have influenced each other over the years. Liberation Theology has also been influential within the Irish Nationalist movement.

Atheist Humanism[edit]

Anarchism, and especially Anarchist Communism, have traditionally been associated with Atheism and Humanism and these ideas remain powerful among Anarchist Celts, as well as among the larger Anarchist movement.


Anarchism and Nationalism have a long history, going back to Bakunin's early involvement in the Pan-Slavic movement. Anarchists have participated in Left-Nationalist movements in China, Korea, Vietnam, Ireland, Britanny, Ukraine, Poland, Mexico, Israel, and many other nations. Modern Anarchist organizations in the Celtic Nations that incorporate demands for self-rule and independence into their platform include the CBIL In Brittany and the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland.

Irish Nationalism[edit]

The armed struggle against British rule in Ireland, particularly up to and during the War of Independence, is portrayed as a National Liberation struggle with the Celtic Anarchist mileau. Anarchists, including the Irish Workers Solidarity Movement, support a complete end to British involvement in Ireland, a stance traditionally associated with Irish Republicanism, but are also very critical of Stateist Nationalism and the I.R.A. in particular.

In two articles published on, Andrew Flood of the WSM outlines what he argues was the betrayal of class struggle by the IRA during the war of independence,[5][6] and argues that the Stateism of traditional Irish Nationalism forced it to place the interests of wealthy Irish Nationalists who were financing the revolution ahead of the interests of the vast majority of Ireland's poor.

Anarchists are also extremely critical of the modern I.R.A., U.D.A., and other armed sectarian groups, both because of their use of terrorist violence and because of their internal Authoritarianism. From the Anarchist view, British and Irish nationalisms are both Stateist, authoritarian, and seek to dominate and exploit the Irish Nation to empower their competing States. Anarchism would instead create a political system without States and where communities are self-governing on the local level, which would satisfy both Republican demands for home-rule and Unionist demands that the religion and culture of the Ulster-Scots protestants should be respected and not forcibly integrated into a larger Catholic-dominated polity. Celtic Anarchism can thus be seen as a third-way and an alternative to Nationalism that achieves its liberatory goals without its oppressive tendencies.

Notes and References[edit]

  1. Anarchist Celts on
  2. including Celtic Anarchy
  3. Joseph R. Pedea, “Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law,” Journal of Libertarian Studies I (Spring 1977), p. 83; see also pp. 81–95. For a summary, see Peden, “Stateless Societies: Ancient Ireland,” The Libertarian Forum (April 1971), pp. 3–4.
  4. Peden, “Stateless Societies,” p. 4.
  5. Insurrection in Ireland from
  6. Insurrection in Ireland from