The “Vindication of Natural Society,” first published anonymously in 1756, is the first known literary defense of philosophical Anarchism written in the English language – arguing for a peaceful social order based upon individual conscience and mutual agreement, without legal constraint or political authority.
To prove, that these Sort of policed Societies are a Violation offered to Nature, and a Constraint upon the human Mind, it needs only to look upon the sanguinary Measures, and Instruments of Violence which are every where used to support them. Let us take a Review of the Dungeons, Whips, Chains, Racks, Gibbets, with which every Society is abundantly stored, by which hundreds of Victims are annually offered up to support a dozen or two in Pride and Madness, and Millions in an abject Servitude, and Dependence…. I acknowledge indeed, the Necessity of such a Proceeding in such Institutions; but I must have a very mean Opinion of Institutions where such Proceedings are necessary….
I now plead for Natural Society against Politicians, and for Natural Reason against all…. My Antagonists have already done as much as I could desire…. The Monarchic, Aristocratical, and Popular Partizans have been jointly laying their Axes to the Root of all Government, and have in their Turns proved each other absurd and inconvenient. In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!
The essay was later discovered to have been written by Edmund Burke, then a radical Anglo-Irish journalist. The first edition of the Vindication appeared as in this booklet, anonymously authored and offered with only the argument and no further explanations. In later editions, Burke, who had retreated from his earlier radical views and begun a new career as a member of Parliament, added a new
Preface, disowning his anarchistic conclusion and stating that the argument was originally intended as a satire, as a reductio ad absurdum of Deistic arguments for
Many Anarchist readers, however, point out that the vigorous, coherent argument of the “Vindication” does not read like satire, and some even took Burke’s later disavowal as careerist damage control. In any case, whatever the authorial intent, the “Vindication” went on to become a significant influence on early English-speaking Anarchists, including William Godwin, who recommends the argument in his footnotes, and early English mutualists, who reprinted the essay together with essays on the cooperative economics of Josiah Warren and Stephen Pearl Andrews.