Department of Communication
Public Address Conference
Merci Decker

Anarchy is Order: Confronting the Definitional Tension in
the Vanguard Group’s Anarchism

After the term “anarchism” gained recognition in the political sphere during the French Revolution, it has since been assigned a number of meanings, ranging from chaos, to a utopian ideal, to destruction, to a form of political philosophy. I plan to use rhetoric to understand the tension that emerges from this definitional multiplicity, and use that understanding to provide insights, not only into anarchist rhetoric, but also rhetorical ways of defining. The economic climate of the thirties, the aftermath of Wilson’s Red Scare, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and the rumors of Nazi concentration camps created a rhetorical context in which anarchists and their critiques adjusted the meaning of the term to meet the demands of the situation. My dissertation will use the Vanguard, an anarchist publication during the thirties, as a means through which to explore the definitional strategies used to negotiate the term “anarchism.” Serving as the only anarchist English language journal, the Vanguard drew upon interpretations of anarchism to offer a concrete plan for revolution, to discuss the current economic conditions and labor movements during the thirties, critique other radical organizations, and to report on the actions of anarchists around the world. I will argue that, in order for the term “anarchism” to be truly comprehended, scholars must acknowledge the rhetorical character that emerges from negotiating the tension of this definition.

Merci Decker
University of Memphis 

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