Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Old-Time Libertarian Community: The Ferrer Colony of Stelton, New Jersey

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

If you have ever driven behind Livingston Campus in Piscataway, NJ and made a turn down School Street, you have driven through the grounds of what was once a thriving libertarian community. I’ve been fascinated by this place for years, and I’ve just posted an article about it.

On a rainy day in May of 1915, the first settlers of the Ferrer Colony of Stelton got off their train from New York and walked about a mile to their new homes. The crowd on its way to the old farmstead included 32 children who would be enrolled in the radical school that anchored the community.

While there was no political test to participate, committed anarchists and reformers with libertarian leanings were the driving force behind the school and made up a large number of Stelton residents. They were leaving the city behind to build a community where the Modern School model of Francisco Ferrer could be tested away from the struggles and investigations that the school in New York could not avoid. The community they founded was not without its problems, but it would grow and thrive for years, creating a pocket of freedom that nurtured many students and gave all residents a chance to participate in cooperative living that respected their individual liberty. Even after the community lost its identity and the school closed in 1953, many former residents recall their time at Stelton as a good time that shaped them into the people they are today…

Read the rest at Center for a Stateless Society.

Going Head First Into 2013

Friday, February 1st, 2013

I’ve had a busy year so far. I posted at Head First every Thursday, with articles exploring the Paterson Silk Strike centennial, an ice-covered fire tower in the Catskill Mountains, an old stone bridge and early American roads, and old mining areas. Yesterday we posted our first video that we made together. It follows us as we explore the grounds of a community that was rooted by an anarchist-inspired school with a former resident describing what life was like there.

As described at Head First,

The Modern School, based on the ideas of Spanish anarchist Francisco Ferrer, was a radical program of freedom in education. After Ferrer was executed in 1909, anarchists and social reformers founded Modern Schools in many countries, and the movement took root in the United States. From 1915 to 1953, a community anchored by a Modern School existed in Piscataway Township, New Jersey.

Head First took a tour of the old Ferrer grounds with Bob Vinik, who grew up in Stelton and attended the Modern School. He gave us a fascinating picture of community life and how students grew into successful adults. We also got a chance to see how the land of the old colony has changed as Piscataway Township grew around it. It was a pleasure meeting Bob and discovering the unique history around the corner.

Originally I had wanted to do a few videos before we did the Modern School, as I knew it would be a challenge to do justice to the topic. But I am satisfied that we made what we wanted: a fun and informative video that can inspire people to learn more about things like the Modern School and to explore the history around them. I was excited and a little nervous while filming since I had never made a documentary video before. I trust that my excitement comes through, but I do see some things I can work on for my next video presentation.

Up next is trying to grow Head First into a solid series with broader coverage and more readers and viewers. I’m working on a few trips now, which will include winter scenes and places a little farther from home. I want the series to not only impress the viewer with how cool these places are, but also to showcase examples of things that can be explored with various levels of personal investment.

Introducing Head First!

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Darian and Ryan are heading out to explore the past and read the ruins!

The history adventure series begins with Holes in the Ground, where we explore old mines in New York.

Check out and let us know what you think!

We have a video in the works that should be out in early December. It features a trip to the grounds of the old Modern School Colony at Stelton with a graduate of the unique school.

Head First has an evolving list of places to explore, and we expect our videos and adventure blog to only get better!

To Be Governed Not At All!

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the Students for Liberty regional conference in Philadelphia last weekend. It was refreshing to meet so many young, enthusiastic, inquisitive, and friendly libertarians. In 2005 I thought it was great when 5 people came to the Rutgers Libertarians meeting. On Saturday there were nearly 200 students in attendance, and that was just one of 15 SFL regional conferences.

I wanted my talk to give people new to anarchism a decent foundation for understanding the idea, but also to be something original that could hold the attention of the initiated, myself included. I think I succeeded and I could tell that most of the audience was intrigued.

A transcript that approximates my speech (a little of it was improvised) is now online at Center for a Stateless Society: To Be Governed Not At All!

When Buildings Are Attacked

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

I recently saw a picture suggesting that the resilience of Belgrade’s Usce Tower should cast doubt on the official story of the September 11 attacks.

Like many internet accounts that lack citations, there are some problems here.

The Usce tower was built in 1964 and housed offices of the ruling party of Yugoslavia. It is 25 stories tall. During the NATO bombing campaign, the building was targeted for airstrikes because Milosevic’s Socialist Party had used it as a headquarters and because the NATO command believed that nationalist propaganda was being broadcast from the tower.

It is odd that an “unskilled” workforce would be able to construct a 25-story building. I guess that depends on what is meant by skilled. A bunch of commies from a country that doesn’t exist anymore might not have built things as well as Americans, but they could make a sturdy 25-story building. Considering the importance of the building as a party office and a symbol of national prestige, its resilience shouldn’t be too surprising. It also wouldn’t be surprising if missile attacks were actually taken into account, considering that Yugoslavia’s national identity was closely linked to the WWII partisan struggle and concerns of attack were probably in the background.

It’s not clear where the figure of 12 Tomahawk missiles comes from, but the building was attacked on multiple occasions by at least four cruise missiles.

The World Trade Center north tower was hit near the 80th floor, with 30 floors above it. The south tower was hit near the 60th floor. The buildings withstood the plane hits, but not the fire fed by jet fuel and wind combined with the massive strain of multiple stories on top of steel losing its rigidity at high temperature. Neither of these factors would have been as bad for the Usce tower.

How much fuel was involved? says 20,000 gallons were in each plane. Wikipedia says 10,000 gallons. Per Wikipedia, a 767-200ER has a capacity of 24,100 gallons of fuel. 30% of that would be 7,230 gallons. It’s not clear where the image’s 30% figure comes from. By comparison, the maximum fuel capacity for a Boeing 727 listed by Wikipedia is 10,520 gallons. Of course, since there are no citations on the picture, it’s difficult to determine what kind of plane strike the towers were actually built to withstand. It looks possible that a slow-moving 707 was considered, but not the fires that would be produced.

This image does not present credible evidence against the position that the official story is the closest to what actually happened.

The Essay That Started The Appalachian Trail

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

The Appalachian Trail might be the most famous trail in the Eastern United States – and for good reason, as it stretches over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. The idea for the trail was first published in the 1921 essay by Benton MacKaye, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning”.

Hiking the entire trail is an impressive feat that many set out to do, and it sometimes seems like this is the primary purpose of the trail. But MacKaye describes the project as linking a series of outdoor recreational areas within the densely-populated East to enable workers to enjoy nature during healthy vacations that could fit into two weeks of leisure time.

The actual partaking of the recreative and non-industrial life – systematically by the people and not spasmodically by a few – should emphasize the distinction between it and the industrial life. It should stimulate the quest for enlarging the one and reducing the other. It should put new zest in the labor movement. Life and study of this kind should emphasize the need of going to the roots of industrial questions and of avoiding superficial thinking and rash action. The problems of the farmer, the coal miner, and the lumberjack could be studied intimately and with minimum partiality. Such an approach should bring the poise that goes with understanding.

MacKaye even raises the possibility of recreational camps being sustained by nearby cooperative farming camps. This sounds like – and is – a very forward-thinking consideration of the sustainability of outdoor recreation. But MacKaye also intends it as a means to transform labor and leisure.

The farm camp is the natural supplement of the community camp. Here in the same spirit of cooperation and well ordered action the food and crops consumed in the outdoor living would as far as practically be sown and harvested… Their development could provide tangible opportunity for working out by actual experiment a fundamental matter in the problem of living. It would provide one definite avenue of experiment in getting “back to the land.”

However closely the development of the AT matched MacKaye’s vision, the trail remains a place that can be enjoyed on a day off work with a large bottle of water or over a period of months with the latest in backpacking gear. Either way it’s good to consider the roots of where we tread.

More: The Appalachian Trail Reader

Revising Ron Paul

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

I recently came across the following video. I would like to see a transcript of the full speech and know when this was delivered.

A number of things are misleading here.

It’s misleading to cast Lysander Spooner as a Confederate-apologist. Spooner was a militant abolitionist who had advocated the expropriation of slave estates by slaves and partisan warfare against slaveholders. He was also involved in a failed plot to capture the governor of Virginia to exchange him for John Brown. Spooner’s No Treason doesn’t honor the Confederate government but criticizes the Northern government’s priorities in carrying out the war to keep the South in the union. It’s not exactly the kind of thing that should have a Confederate military flag flown behind it without further explanation.

Paul mentions that slavery elsewhere was abolished without war – as if it didn’t require two to make a war, that the whole thing was the north’s fault, and had nothing to do with the entrenched power of the Southern slaveholding elite.

Paul brings up the concept of compensated emancipation – to bribe slaveowners to free the humans they had kept as property. Besides inferring that it would be less costly than war he doesn’t go into the ethical concerns here. He also doesn’t address the practical concerns of how free labor could be implemented without re-organizing a society based on racial hierarchy. (Paul does not say it here, but Confederate apologists frequently exclaim “but the north – including Lincoln himself – was racist too!” It is true that racism was not limited to the South but there are certainly degrees in racism and degrees to which it defines society.)

A typical defense that Paul does employ is to highlight differences in economic organization and advantages given to northern manufacturers, without acknowledging that Southern industry, including sugar manufacturing centers, was based on slave labor. Federal enforcement of slavery was a massive subsidy to the big business of slaveholding.

Paul insists that Northern elites cynically used the issue of slavery to “cancel out individual choice” yet what individual choice did slaves have? There is a major difference between consent of the people and consent of the states, and coming down on the side of states is not very libertarian.

The political elite of the Confederate states didn’t secede just to see if they could, but because they were worried about the institution of slavery. See the statements made by Confederate elites worried that the national government would restrict slavery too much.The political elite of the North was more concerned with keeping the Union together and building their political power than they were with the freedom of black people, yet pressure from refugee ex-slaves, abolitionists, and international politics eventually brought the north largely on the side of abolition, though a struggle over what emancipation would mean continued.

Presentation: The Modern School Movement

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

At the second Agora I/O online un-conference, I presented a talk on the Modern School movement, an experiment in education that was heavily influenced by anarchism and implemented largely by anarchists.

What is a Post-9/11 World?

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

As the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks approached, I thought I should write something about it. But then I was hesitant to do so. What more could I say that hasn’t already been said? And if I was going to write it as a news commentary, how would I put my thoughts on the event into such a format?

As someone who was 16 when the attacks were made, I would have to say that the entire politically-involved period of my life has been colored by the post-9/11 period it took place in. Since I was too young to be aware of the Soviet collapse, I would consider September 11, 2001 the defining historical event of my lifetime.

As someone who studies history, I’d like to think about what September 11 will mean in the long run. So that’s the standpoint I took in my 9/11 commentary, which is available for reading at Center for a Stateless Society.

It’s not uncommon to hear that “everything changed” on September 11, 2001. While it is not true that policies that came after September 11 were always different from what was done before, the tragic attacks on that day did lead to major changes. As we remember the events of ten years ago, we should also reflect on how to build a better world.

(Read the rest: What is a Post-9/11 World?)

It is good that people remember September 11, but thinking about September 11 is better than just remembering. As difficult as it might be to think about so many lives destroyed, people who could be neighbors, people dead because they were in the way of a murderous act of political violence, we do no service to the dead or to the living by keeping our minds away from the task.

75 Years Ago

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

On July 17, 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out after an attempted military coup. On July 19, the people of Catalonia armed themselves against the reactionary and fascist forces and began a social revolution that would later be crushed by its numerous enemies. Murray Bookchin offers a good overview in his essay After Fifty Years: The Spanish Civil War.