Rising Above the Herd: Keith Preston’s Authoritarian Anti-Statism

by Matthew N. Lyons

[The following article was published on the New Politics website on April 29, 2011.]

“Perhaps what I champion is not so much the anarchist as much as the ‘anarch,’ the superior individual who, out of sheer strength of will, rises above the herd in defiance and contempt of both the sheep and their masters.”

— Keith Preston, “The Thoughts That Guide Me: A Personal Reflection” (2005)


Freedom from government tyranny has always been a central theme of right-wing politics in the United States. From the original Ku Klux Klan that denounced “northern military despotism” to the Tea Partiers who vilify Barack Obama as a combination of Hitler and Stalin, U.S. rightists have invoked the evil of big government to both attract popular support and justify their own oppressive policies. Witness the rise of so-called National-Anarchism (NA), an offshoot of British neonazism that has recently gained a small but fast-growing foothold in the United States. National-Anarchists advocate a decentralized system of “tribal” enclaves based on “the right of all races, ethnicities and cultural groups to organize and live separately.” National-Anarchists criticize statism of both the left and the right, including classical fascism, but they participate in neonazi networks such as Stormfront.org and promote anti-Jewish conspiracy theories worthy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Anti-statism is a key part of National-Anarchism’s appeal and helps it to deflect the charge of fascism.

Keith Preston, who calls himself a “fellow traveler” of National-Anarchism, is in some ways even more dangerous. Preston is a former left-wing anarchist who advocates a revolutionary alliance of leftist and rightist libertarians against U.S. imperialism and the state. Unlike many far rightists who claim to be “beyond left and right,” Preston actually incorporates many leftist ideas in his political philosophy and apparently is still in touch with some actual leftists. An intelligent, prolific writer, Preston has established himself over the past decade as a respected voice in libertarian, paleoconservative, and “Alternative Right” circles. His “anarcho-pluralism” represents a sophisticated reworking of far right politics that is flexible, inclusive, and appeals to widely held values such as “live and let live.” Unlike most rightist ideologies, it also has the potential to serve as a bridge between a wide variety of rightist currents such as white nationalists, Patriot/militia groups, Christian rightists, and National-Anarchists — and even some left-wing anarchists, liberal bioregionalists/environmentalists, and nationalist people of color groups.

In this article I will outline the major features of Preston’s political program, strategy, and underlying philosophy. Although Preston claims that implementing anarcho-pluralism would result in an expansion of freedom, in reality it would promote oppression and authoritarianism in smaller-scale units. Although Preston is an individualist who does not directly advocate the racial determinism and separatism of his friends the National-Anarchists, he has made it a priority to (in his own words) “collaborate with racialists and theocrats,” claiming that leftists who oppose such collaboration are the true bigots. Digging deeper, Preston’s opposition to the state is based on a radically anti-humanistic philosophy of elitism, ruthless struggle, and contempt for most people.

Preston offers a window into the larger issue of right-wing decentralism. This article will trace both the historical roots of the phenomenon and its various branches of recent decades, including libertarian, Christian rightist, neonazi, and Patriot movements in the United States. Preston blends these U.S.-based influences with ideas drawn from the European New Right, a decentralist offshoot of classical fascism, and from German Conservative Revolution figures of the 1920s and 1930s, who influenced but mostly stood outside of the Nazi movement. Preston’s own relationship with fascism is much closer than he acknowledges. While he lacks fascism’s drive to impose a single ideological vision on all spheres of society, he offers a closely related form of revolutionary right-wing populism. Above all, Preston and his rightist allies embody the main danger associated with fascism — to preempt the radical left as the main revolutionary opposition force.

read more

9 thoughts on “Rising Above the Herd: Keith Preston’s Authoritarian Anti-Statism”

  1. Keith Preston's three-part, 16,000-word response to my critique underscores his fundamental opposition to any sort of liberatory politics. Preston believes that most people are servile, herd-like sheep dominated by a small number of ruthless, power-hungry wolves. To him this is not the product of the centralized state or anything else — it is the inevitable, natural order of things, true "in virtually all human societies." In this context, human advancement and civilization depend on a handful of superior, inner-directed people he calls owls, and owls are most likely to thrive under political anarchism. Preston confirms as generally accurate my statement that the main reason he supports anarchism "is not to liberate all people — but to help a handful of superior individuals rise above the bestial mass of humanity." And since Preston believes that most people are servile by nature, anarchism simply means that "the power to engage in coercive violence be dispersed as widely as possible."

    Preston claims that egalitarianism leads to tyranny, because it requires massive state coercion to enforce leftist ideology. The question of what positive role, if any, the state has to play has long been debated among those who want to dismantle oppression and exploitation, and the issue is complex. (I believe that centralized authority, like political violence, is inherently dangerous, yet this danger may sometimes be outweighed by other threats.) But Preston isn't part of this debate, because he rejects its goals at the most basic level. He believes that fighting for an egalitarian society is hopeless and wrong, and that any ethical challenge to systemic oppression is based on arbitrary value judgments. I ask: does Preston's elitist pessimism serve the interests of anyone except the privileged and the powerful?

    Preston also devotes many words to attacking me for things that I didn't say and don't believe — for example, that history follows an inevitable march toward utopia, or that anything done in the name of the oppressed is justifiable, or that left-wing authoritarianism poses no danger. Speculation based on preconceptions about what leftists supposedly believe makes for a lazy polemic. I invite anyone who is interested in my views to read my work.

  2. I am a White Nationalist. I enjoyed your analysis of Preston's work and found it thought-provoking. Your analysis was the best critique of rightist ideas I have ever seen. Much of the criticism is puerile and not in your ballpark. If you ever reconsider your position on these issues, come on over the hard alt right any time. More and more leftists are coming over.

  3. I should point out that as a libertarian, I am horrified by much of Preston's views. Ayn Rand once called racism "the oldest form of collectivism". How sad that Preston, who is definitely NOT a libertarian, should somehow try and claim that he is.

    I don't agree with you guys on many things, but well done for exposing this guy.

  4. Anonymous,

    What does Matthew actually say in his essay?

    "Preston is an individualist who does not directly advocate the racial determinism and separatism of his friends the National-Anarchists…"

    "It would be a mistake to see Preston's elitism as a mask for bigotry against any specific group of people."

    "Preston is neither a white nationalist nor a Christian anything, and his affinity to the Patriot movement is based on militant hostility to globalizing elites, not conspiracism or crackpot legal theories."

    "Even more importantly, the ENR criticizes not only modern welfare state liberalism, but also classical liberalism, individualism, and free markets, while Preston embraces all three. These disagreements inform an important difference in their political ideals. While the ENR utopia emphasizes "organic" communities rooted in a specific culture and region, Preston's vision emphasizes individuals choosing the communities they want and not bothering other people."

    Philosophical differences and haggling over details aside, Matthew's critique of my work is as fair and honest as anything I would ever expect to get from the Left. You on the other hand need to begin by improving your reading comprehension skills.


Leave a Comment