Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

(Tory) Anarchy in the UK: The Very Peculiar Practice of Tory Anarchism

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

(Tory) Anarchy in the UK: The Very Peculiar Practice of Tory Anarchism

Article excerpt


The term 'tory Anarchism' is reasonably well known but largely unanalysed in either popular or academic literature. It describes a group of apparently disparate figures in English popular and political culture whose work has, in part, satirised key British institutions and social relations. At the same time, tory anarchists also provide interesting insights into questions of British, though predominantly English, identity, by focusing upon issues of class, empire and nation. This article examines tory anarchism by focusing upon four representative figures: Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell, Peter Cook and Chris Morris.

Keywords: Tory anarchism, popular culture, world system, English identity, empire


Tory anarchism is a term that describes a group of (largely) English writers and artists who span the twentieth century. As a concept it is infrequendy referred to and lacks any systematic analysis in either academic or popular literature. It is a predominandy English phenomenon, associated with men, not women, and members of the middle and upper-middle classes in revolt against what they sec as the denigration of the core values of England or the idiocies of the ruling establishment. Although often linked with social satire, tory anarchism is much more than this and embraces ideas about die nation, morality, class, culture and patriotism.1 The argument that I develop in this paper is that tory anarchism emerges against the background of Britain's changing circumstances as a global power. In particular it should be seen in the following context:

* The end of empire and relative decline of the UK (more specifically England) as a political force. In this respect it is both an evocation of and a commentary upon the changing nature of English identity over the course of the twentieth century.

* An ambivalent reaction to modernity and capitalism that invokes a cultural critique sharing many concerns with those of the Frankfurt School:

1. The death of the individual;

2. The rise of authoritarianism and totalitarianism;

3. The subordination of moral to monetary values;

4. An ambiguous attitude towards both elite and mass popular culture.

However, tory anarchism offers a profoundly different analysis of these problems and ultimately hankers after a different kind of utopia to those of die critical theorists, one rooted in a romanticised past rather than a romanticised future.

What, then, does it mean, to describe someone as being both a tory and an anarchist? On one level the term is clearly paradoxical; conservatism and anarchism are often seen as political opposites and yet in truth there are often striking overlaps in these political philosophies: a concern with the local and the empirical,2 the concrete reality of everyday lived experience, as opposed to more abstract, universal theorising;3 and the importance of class in understanding social order. However, the analyses that orthodox anarchists and conservatives offer to explore these issues are radically different. What can be said to characterise the idea of a tory anarchist then? First, it is an individualist creed. There can be no party of tory anarchists as it is an anti-political stance or posture that would make such an idea impossible in practice. There is no institution in which the tory anarchist is housed and nor is it a political badge that simply anyone can wear. The history of tory anarchism suggests that it is restricted in its meaning to members of a particular social class, working in areas of popular culture. To be a tory anarchist in practice means having an authence for your work, to be someone that has made an impact on popular and political culture. Given the rebellious nature of tory anarchism it is difficult to make a case for lay people adopting die mande with any degree of conviction. Tory anarchists are essentially public figures who use their public image to unsettle, to question and to challenge the failings and contradictions of English society. …

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