OVER 150 YEARS AFTER IT WAS FIRST USED TO DENOTE A POLITICAL MOVEment, the word "anarchism” is still charged with controversy and contradiction. The word conjures associations of both private utopias and Hobbesian societies based on force, the bloodthirsty nihilist as well as the genteel individualist. The Internet is said to be "anarchistic, ” even as Albania is said to be an "anarchy.” These contradictory associations have always been a part of the history of the word, a history that was nearly forgotten after the birth pangs of industrial society ended in the early twentieth century. Nevertheless, the rhetoric of both the United States and Great Britain carries a latent anarchism, and, in times when social institutions seem out of date and incapable of ordering the world, anarchism once again becomes an active part of the cultural dialogue. Anarchism as a term has always denoted both the hopes and the fears of cultural disorder. By examining the first period of anarchist activism in Great Britain and the United States, we can begin to understand the complex history that the word embodies. Such an exercise also suggests that modern society and its history likewise carry forward the same conflicts between authority and liberty, and order and freedom that the anarchists voiced during the last century.
The late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literary associations of anarchism and anarchists suggest ways to trace reactions to the social change that occurred during the period. It was a time of much social unrest, when the social consensus had weakened in the wake of industrialization and immigration. The increasing power of the working classes and the diminishing power of the landed aristocracy led many to fear for the breakdown of the old order. At the same time, the example of the French revolution and the dizzying pace of technological change that the period witnessed convinced many observers that sudden, catastrophic change was possible. Many anarchists, arising out of populist traditions in Europe, worked to hasten the fall of an old order they considered unjust. Although never numerous or powerful enough to actually effect