Review of
Paul Cudenec, The Anarchist Revelation (Sussex: Winter Oak Press, 2013)

Publications on anarchism have been thriving since the early 2000s. Yet, there is still a place for surprisingly unique releases. Paul Cudenec's The Anarchist Revelation, recently published by Winter Oak Press in England is one such example. The book attempts no less than equipping contemporary anarchism with a footing that is often neglected: the transformation not only of society's structures but also of people's souls.

In order to achieve his goal, Cudenec embarks on a daring journey through the history of ideas. The list of references is long: Taoism, Sufism, the Bhagavad Gita, Nietzsche, Hesse, Huxley, C.G. Jung, Marcuse, Baudrillard, Zerzan, to name but a few. This alone will be reason enough for some folks to be skeptical: the list includes many non-anarchists, the danger of romanticizing non-Western traditions is evident, and when the likes of Oswald Spengler pop up, a fear for reactionary ideas corrupting a presumably progressive treatise is never far. Make no mistake, though: this is no hodgepodge of random notations, and no new age hocus-pocus disguised in anarchist colors. Cudenec's text is well-structured, consistent in its arguments, and manages to address poetry, mysticism, and spirituality without regressing into lofty gibberish. It is never in doubt that the book is a serious attempt at helping us answer the ever relevant question of whether life can change with a rearrangement of social institutions alone, if we don't change as human beings. This is not an either-or question of course, as social institutions determine personal development – but the opposite is true as well. As Cudenec puts it, it is not that "the message is an individualist one … The reason why individuals must follow this path is so that they can better channel and carry out the needs of the larger whole." (vii)

In a kind of Landauerian twist of Nietzsche (readers who couldn't care less about either can simply ignore this observation), Cudenec puts a strong emphasis on the figure of the "outsider": "Being an 'outsider' is thus a stage in a personal transformation which we must all experience if we are ever to emerge from the perpetual self-obsessed adolescence encouraged by contemporary society." (viii) Once again, the purpose of this stage is not to remain isolated, but to reunite with others as an individual better equipped for communal existence: "As instinctive outsiders, we free ourselves from the chains of society's expectations only to find ourselves bearing an enormous burden of care for the well-being of the community. An extreme sense of personal freedom combined with an extreme sense of collective responsibility – this is the powerful creative tension at the heart of the anarchist psyche." (85) The anarchist "revelation" that the book's title alludes to is a consequence of these convictions: "It is not so much a revolution that is needed, but a revelation – a lifting of all the veils of falsity and a joyful rediscovery of the authentic core of our existence." (121)

To speak of an "authentic core of our existence" or, as Cudenec does on other occasions, of a "human archetype" (19) or the possibility of failing to become "all that nature intended us to be" (25) easily evokes accusations of essentialism. Yet, if we look beyond the terminological difficulties, an important question is raised here: What is it that we, as anarchists, actually want and need? In the end, only an answer to this question can lay the foundation for the communities we are seeking.

Paul Cudenec's work will mostly appeal to those who – in increasing numbers – explore the relations between anarchism and philosophy, psychology, and religion. People looking for in-depth analyses of governmental bodies, labor conditions, or gender and race relations might have to turn somewhere else. No single book has it all. The Anarchist Revelation has a clear purpose, however, that is, reflecting on the transformation of the self for the benefit of the community. Everyone interested in this mighty challenge will find the text to be an inspiring read.


(August 2013)