“Living systems do not form hierarchies but rather networks at different levels”
Peter Marshall (1946-) is an anarchist philosopher, historian, biographer and poet.
His broad and inspiring vision also includes ecology, alchemy and archaeology and he has been described by Resurgence magazine as one of the 25 ‘visionary voices’ who shaped the new world view in the last quarter of the 20th century.
In the best organic radical tradition, he stresses the importance of holistic thinking as the basis of any authentic philosophy.
He wrote in the 2000 book Riding the Wind: “Ultimately, holistic thinking recognizes that all things come from the One and proceed to the One. All is One and One is All.
“There is unity in diversity throughout the universe; indeed, the greater the diversity, the more overall the harmony. It comes as no surprise that the Greek word kosmos originally meant both the universe and harmony: they are synonymous”. (1)
Marshall traces the thread of this holistic thinking through Eastern religions to the medieval alchemists’ belief in an anima mundi or world spirit. (2)
Anarchism very much forms part of this philosophical tradition. In his book Demanding the Impossible, Marshall traces anarchism’s roots back to the Taoists of ancient China. (3)
Explaining the later development of anarchist theory, he described how its thinkers had challenged the idea that order and stability had to be imposed on human communities from above.
He wrote: “The State with its coercive apparatus of law, courts, prisons and army came to be seen not as the remedy for but rather the principal cause of social disorder.
“Such unorthodox thinkers went still further to make the outlandish suggestion that a society without rulers would not fall into a condition of chaotic unruliness, but might produce the most desirable form of ordered human existence”. (4)
From this anarchist perspective, the “state of nature” without government would not be Thomas Hobbes’ nightmare of a permanent war of all against all, but a harmonious and peaceable way of living.
Marshall endorses Peter Kropotkin’s nature-based understanding of authentic society when he notes: “Living systems, it is now clear, do not form hierarchies but rather networks at different levels.
“An ecosystem is a network of organisms, in which each organism forms a node, with each node itself a network of organs and so on”. (5)
Video link: No Escape – A Conversation with Anarchist Peter Marshall (55 mins)
Audio link: Anarchism – In Our Time (42 mins)
1. Peter Marshall, Riding the Wind: A New Philosophy for a New Era (London: Continuum, 2000) p. 8.
2. Marshall, Riding the Wind, p. 16.
3. Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (London: Fontana Press, 1993) p. 4.
4. Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p. x.
5. Marshall, Riding the Wind, p. 31.