The Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist

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Ammon Hennacy

223 Chrystic Street, New York 2, N.Y.

In accord with the principles of the author, the publishers, and the printers, none of the material in this book is copyrighted, except the drawings by Ade Bethune and Fritz Eichenberg. Where material is used we would appreciation quoting the source.

The illustrations by Ade Bethune and Fritz Eichenberg are used by permission of The Catholic Worker.

Three thousand copies printed by Libertarian Press, Glen Gardner, New Jersey, U.S.A.

January, 1954
Christian Anarchism

Christian Anarchism is based upon the answer of Jesus to the Pharisees when He said that he without sin was to cast the first stone; and upon the Sermon on the Mount which advises the return of good for evil and the turning of the other cheek. Therefore when we take any part in government by voting for legislative, judicial and executive officials we make these men our arm by which we cast a stone and deny the Sermon of the Mount.

The dictionary definition of a Christian is: one who follows Christ; kind, kindly, Christ-like. Anarchism is voluntary cooperation for good, with the right of secession. A Christian Anarchist is therefore one who turns the other cheek; overturns the tables of the money-changers, and who does not need a cop to tell him how to behave. A Christian Anarchist does not depend upon bullets or ballots to achieve his ideal; he achieves that ideal daily by the One Man Revolution with which he faces a decadent, confused and dying world.

(In this book this message is repeated many times. It is worthwhile repeating and studying. At the Catholic Worker in New York City in 1952 I met a Columbia graduate holding prospects of a fine job; and doing post graduate work. He praised my anti-tax articles. In conversation a few minutes later he said, "why everyone pays taxes; they are withheld; you pay taxes; Dorothy pays taxes." He had read my non-taxpaying articles for years and still didn't know what I was doing. Likewise in Phoenix an educated woman had read my leaflets and articles for years and did not know that I really paid no taxes. So, if I repeat myself time after time please remember that I think it is necessary. I have never paid a federal income tax.)

There are indirect taxes that everyone pays. As I raise nearly all that I need in my garden I do not need to buy much. As the saying goes I live in this man's world and if I am going to travel and do propaganda I have to pay tax on the bus. Perhaps twice in ten years I have been the occasion of a friend paying my way to see a good movie and paying a tax. I do not use tobacco or liquor so pay no taxes. I buy Indian articles from the Indians rather than from stores and thus need not pay a tax. To not pay taxes is not my whole message but is part of the life of a rebel which I choose to act upon. For despite all talk you either pay taxes or you don't.


Feast of St. Matthew, 1953

Father Vincent McNabb, the Great Dominican of England who died a few years ago, said once in an essay which dealt with first principles, that in regard to work, St. Peter could return to his nets and fishing after Good Friday, but St. Matthew, the tax gatherer, could not return to his occupation. It was not an honorable one, this service of Caesar. (St. Hilary said that the less we had of Caesar's the less we would have to render to him.)

It is a good day to write the introduction to this autobiography of Ammon Hennacy, the Catholic anarchist, whose anarchism means that he will also seek to govern himself rather than others, that he "will be subject to every living creature" rather than to the State, that he will so try to abound in goodness and service, love of God and fellows, that for "such there is no law." His is the liberty of the children of God, the brothers of Christ. His love of freedom means that he has put himself in bondage to hard manual labor for a lifetime, not to build up a place for himself in this world where he has no lasting city, but in order to fulfil the law of God, and earn his living by the sweat of his brow rather than the sweat of somebody else's. His love and peace means rejection of the great modern State, and obedience to the needs of his immediate community and to the job. His refusal to pay Federal income tax does not mean disobedience since he is ready and has always proved himself to be ready to go to jail, to accept the alternative for his convictions. He is open and frank in his dealings with all men and far from skulking and hiding in fear, he proclaims his point of view by letter, by article, by picketing, and by public fasting. Many of his "tax statements" appear in this book, and many an account of his picketings. He has done it so often now since the last war, that his fellow workers, Dave Dellinger and I, have begged him to condense, to combine, to shorten, not only to save paper and type, but also to save the reader. He has not done much of it, it is true. The book, from the standpoint of writing, is a sprawling discursive affair, written in spare moments, between hours of hard manual labor, or travelling, or talking to visitors in The Catholic Worker office. But he has the genius of the true teacher. If it is necessary to repeat, he repeats, and perhaps when he has repeated his fast in penance for Hiroshima, repeated his picketing, repeated his statement forty times, forty days, he will have put on Christ to such an extent that people will see more clearly Christ in him, and follow more in his steps. That is our job here, to put on Christ, and to put off the old man, so I am not talking of an excessively religious person, an unbalanced person when I talk of Ammon so living that year by year, he "puts on Christ." We are told by our Lord Jesus, after all, to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, not just as St. Francis, St. Benedict, St. Dominic, are perfect.

Ammon has not always been a Catholic, though there is the Catholic strain a few generations back. Surrounded by upright Protestants from his earliest years, he was struck always by the divergence between belief and practice. He distrusted the emotionalism of religious belief too. So it was his early years that he rejected religious faith. He loved his fellows, he loved this good world which God made, though he was not thinking of it as a created world, then, but as something which had evolved. He loved and longed for the good, and he felt the solidarity of man. He knew that an injury to one is an injury to all, so he early had a sense of the body of Christ, of which we are all a part, potentially, or actually. He served Christ, though he denied him.

This service took him to the Socialist Party, to an opposition to war, which brought him to prison. The story of his prison days will rank, I think, with the great writings of the world of prisons. He had nothing to read there but the Bible, and he turned to that with an anxious, hungry mind, a mind that was tortured by inactivity. Ironically enough, in this so called Christian country, when guards, saw his avid interest in the Bible they replaced the one he had, which had good type, with a small type edition. Prison, after all, is to punish men, not to bring them to penitence.

A penitentiary is a place of darkness, not of light these days of man's cruelty to man. But Ammon saw light, lived in light, those days of his solitary confinement in Atlanta Penitentiary, so great a light, Monsignor Hillenbrand once said to me, that it seemed to blind him. He got no further for the time, than an acceptance of religion and the Sermon of the Mount. He came out of prison a philosophical anarchist like Tolstoi, in rebellion still against Church and State.

I always remember those words of Monsignor Hillenbrand because they were to me encouraging words. Ammon, in his articles, sometimes blasted organized religion, as he called it in such as way as to belabor the Church, Holy Mother Church, and that hurt me as though the blows fell on my own body, as indeed they did. Organized religion was one thing, but the Church was another. I tried to moderate these strong statements of his so that he would be attacking what needed to be attack, the human element in the Church. But if it had not been for Monsignor Hillenbrand's deep understanding and encouragement at the time (and the Monsignor is not a pacifist nor an anarchist by any means, though a great lover of freedom) I would perhaps have discouraged from printing so many of Ammon's articles. For by that time, Ammon was a regular contributor to The Catholic Worker, of which I am the editor. Every month his article came in, and every month I am sure, each of us members of the staff, were shamed by his consistence, his true life of poverty and hard work, his utterly consistent pacifism.

He loved peace, he worked for peace, and he did not do any work which contributed to war. From the time time of the second draft, he worked at the back breaking labor of an agricultural migrant. He worked in dairies, and when the withholding tax meant that he would be contributing, though unwillingly to the war budget, he went farther west and south and did day labor, collecting his pay in advance, so that no Treasury agent could catch up with him.

And with the strange inconsistency of us Americans, army men, tax men, were among those who hired him, and with the understanding that they would help him evade paying income tax.

He has led this life of daily labor for many years now. The community around Phoenix, Arizona has come more and more to accept him. Their hostility has grown into love and friendship. Like Gandhi, he calls all men his brothers, wherever they may be, in castles or hovels, in banks or on skid row. He is, what he attempting to be, a one-man-revolution.

Ammon was baptized on the feast of St. Gregory the Wonder worker, 1952, by Father Marion Casey, of the diocese of St. Paul. He is typically midwestern, tall, lank, long nosed and long faced, thin mouth and warm eyes, enduring rather than strong. He is the average American, and as pioneers before him, he stands pretty much alone. Next year, he will transfer his activities to Denver, the capitol of the west, where the president has his summer White House. He will begin again to picket, to fast, to work at hard labor in his new surroundings, reaching the man in the street by going to the man on the street. He will still be an editor of The Catholic Worker, an editor continually on pilgrimage, a roving editor, doing the work, the speaking and writing that he can do while he earns his living by the sweat of his brow.

And what is he accomplishing, in this one-man-revolution of his? Does he expect to change the world? When asked this last question once he said with characteristic wit, "I may not change the world, but I'll work so the world won't change me."

He told me a story the other day about a Chinese family who were digging a salt mine. The father did not expect to get this done in his life time, the son did not expect to get it done in his, and perhaps the grandson did not expect to get it done in his. But if they kept at it, one day it would be dug.

Ammon is a man of vision, of which there are too few. Sometimes he may seem to be hoping against hope, but I prefer to remember that other quotation of St. Paul's. He has the charity that "rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." Let us pray that he will abound in Charity which "never falleth away, whether prophesies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed." God bless him.

Dorothy Day

The author wishes to express thanks for the use of quotations from Karl Jung, and from the poets Robert Frost, Lillian Spencer and Vachel Lindsay; also for the material quoted in book reviews, as printed originally in the Industrial Worker, from books published by Harpers, Rutgers University Press, and Charles Kerr Co.

Thanks also to the following artists for chapter illustrations[1]: Fritz Eichenberg—cover drawing and chapters 4, 6, 7 & 8; Lowell Naeve—chapter 2; Ade Bethune—chapters 3, 5 & 9–12; and to Rik Anderson for the photograph opposite chapter 1.

"But Peter and the apostles answered and said, 'We must obey God rather than men."'.
(Acts V, 29–30)

"Such problems [our war-torn world] are never solved by legislation or tricks. They are only solved by a general change in attitude. And the change does not begin with propaganda and mass meetings and violence. It begins with a change in individuals. The accumulation of such changes will produce a collective solution."
Carl Jung.

"You see the beauty of my proposal is it needn't wait on general revolution. I bid you to the one man revolution—The only revolution that is coming."
Robert Frost in Build Soil,
A Political Pastoral.

My Mother
Helen Demoskoff


  1. Childhood – Youth 1
  2. Anti-war Agitation 9
  3. Marriage—Travel in 48 States 33
  4. Social Work 43
  5. Life at Hard Labor—Refusal to Pay Income Tax 61
  6. Life at Hard Labor—The Hopi 83
  7. Dorothy Visits Phoenix 128
  8. Working – Fasting – Picketing 179
  10. Work—Fast—Picketing 229
  11. Traveling 272
  12. I Become a Catholic 285
  13. Epilogue 302
The Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist - Ammon Hennacy.png

This work is in the public domain worldwide because it has been so released by the copyright holder.

  1. These are omitted in this reprint due to copyright.