Attack the System

A New Anarchist Perspective for the 21st Century

By Keith Preston

Review: Gwendolyn Taunton

A state? What is that? Well! open now your ears to me, for now I will speak to you about the death of peoples. State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies; and this lie slips from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.” It is a lie! It was creators who created peoples, and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life. Destroyers are they who lay snares for the many, and call it state: they hang a sword and a hundred cravings over them.”

– Nietzsche

Attack the System, Keith PrestonKeith Preston presents an impressive anthology of twenty-six essays composed between 2001 and 2013, the purpose of which is to direct the narrative of the anarchist movement and advance its theoretical foundations into an approach more appropriate to the modern era. This begins with an examination of the philosophical premises behind the politics, before expanding further into elements of practicability.

Drawing inspiration from a number of different sources including Max Stirner, Ernst Jünger, and Friedrich Nietzsche, the form of anarchism presented here takes on a decidedly different visage than that in which it is usually perceived. Beginning with what can be seen as an ‘a priori’ introductory essay, “The Nietzschean Prophecies: Two Hundred Years of Nihilism and the Coming Crisis of Western Civilization”. As would be expected this addresses the events arising from the “death of God” and its impact on modernity, heading towards the final ‘re-evaluation of values’. The often overlooked ‘Parable of the Madman’, one of Nietzsche’s strongest pieces is cited here, highlighting the consequences which can arise from the premature of ‘death of god’ in Nietzsche’s philosophy. Nietzsche’s political philosophy in regards to democracy, socialism and nationalism is also clearly referenced, along with the decay inherent in traditional forms of aristocracy and the formulation of aristocratic radicalism which passes very closely to what is sometimes termed the ‘anarchism of the right’, placing emphasis not only just on personal liberty but on merit, excellence, and the preservation of high culture. This line of thinking is illustrated again in subsequent essays and references to Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle – all of whose preference for specialist knowledge stands in harsh contrast to democratic ochlocracy. This is not indicative of any restrictive imposition proposed by ‘philosopher kings’, but rather in its complete form operates as a meritocracy with recognition of the ability and merit of people as individuals.

Similar motifs are highlighted in the chapters on Max Stirner and Ernst Jünger. Jünger advances Nietzsche theories on war and the duty of the warrior class/caste. This connection betwixt Nietzsche and Jünger is well related by the author, presenting an accurate and in depth portrayal of Jünger’s thought. Jungers political ideal is described as one of an elite warrior caste standing above petty partisan politics and the plebeian obsession with mass consumerism. The culmination of Jünger’s thought can be said to reach its apex (despite Jünger trying to distance himself from the work) in The Worker: Mastery and Form which outlines “his vision of a future state ordered as a technocracy based on workers and soldiers led by a warrior elite”. Preston also explains Jünger’s concept of the ‘Anarch’ which Stirner describes as a “solitary individual who remains true to himself within the context of whatever external circumstances happen to be present”.

All in all the sentiment of the philosophy in the first section of the book is best summarized by the concluding statement at the end of this section: “We can expect as little from society as from the state. Salvation lies in the individual.”

Part II offers a sequential development on the philosophical section which attempts to reconcile the application of traditional anarchist theory to the problems of modernity such as the New World Order and the Hobbes style Leviathan-State, all of which attribute to the broader rubric of a form of totalitarian humanism operating under a strictly enforced aegis of ‘political correctness’. Here Preston rejects the rigid and failing ‘Left/Right’ model and the ‘progressive’ notion of history, favoring the more realistic cyclic model of civilization and time against the universalist assumptions of contemporary ideologies.

Preston’s work also highlights the aspect that democracy (as it currently exists) is a grievously flawed system and draws attention to its association with capitalism, proposing that the failing paradigm be replaced with a form of philosophical anarchism. This is developed upon further by speculations on how the flaccid and almost necrotic economy could be resurrected and revitalized.

In later chapters the author offers a startlingly in-depth analysis of the problem areas on both the ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ of the old unilateral political system, including criticisms of Marxism, Totalitarian Humanism and Conservatism, drawing attention to areas in which they are problematic. Preston uses the following very quotable description state of the modern West:

“Perhaps a more appropriate analogy might be to compare the Western ruling classes to drunken drivers. Their respective nations might be compared to motor vehicles that have been crashed into a pile-up on the freeway. The producing classes are their casualties who have been maimed and dismembered.”

In Part Five the foundations for a new perspective are laid out, which are both logic and cohesive, representing a mature outlook on the topic that incorporates not only the theoretical nature of political philosophy but the incorporation and proposed methodologies for their practical implementation. One thing the author clearly identifies is the necessity of a “’vanguard’ of radically anti-state and anti-ruling class activists and intellectuals to come together as the brains trust and leadership corps of a broad anti-establishment populist movement.” The purpose of which is obviously to work cohesively in the advancement of new ideas to incorporate positive changes. They would then proceed to prune the decay out of the contemporary political system, which lays a philosophical impetus on the work underlying its political application.

In summary, this book presents a number of interesting ideas here should be of interest to anyone interested in political philosophy as well as those interested in anarchism and contemporary political issues.