CHRISTIAN ANARCHIST ?

The formation in 1816 of the Society for the Promotion of Permanent & Universal Peace in London also inspired the creation of further societies throughout the country, and in particular Darlington and Newcastle, thus the Newcastle Upon Tyne Peace Society (1817 – 50) was born.

The Newcastle society made up of Quakers, church ministers of various denominations, pacifists, anti-slavery activists, and “even anarchists such as Joseph Barker represented a militant outer fringe of the society”[i]   Locally posted pastor Barker who joined the Newcastle society during the 1830,s began to embrace ideas of other Christian pacifists in that he not only rejected war in all its forms but also the ‘violent existence’ of all human governments, ‘aligning him with the tradition of Christian anarchism’. After his move to Gateshead in 1839, Barker began lecturing and writing on ‘peace, war and human governments’ and his adoption of pacifist non-resistance, later declaring that “governments have no right to command a man to do anything… governments can give us the authority to do nothing but what is right, and we do not need their authority to do that”[ii]

Joseph Barker

“in his preoccupation with the individual (as opposed to collective) scale of non-resistance, Barker aligned more closely with the individualistic anarchism’s of the time rather than any communal (and, not to mention, atheist) branch of the philosophy later espoused by Bakunin or Kropotkin”[iii] After volumes of written work and an eventful life of preaching, Barker eventually settled in Omaha, United States until his death 15 September 1875. The Newcastle Peace Society struggled on until its eventual closing down completely in 1869, but the intersecting strings of its existence were carried on later through Robert Spence-Watson, who was the grandson of the society’s founder Joshua Watson.


[i] The Newcastle Upon Tyne Peace Society (1817-1850), M Scott & N Megoran. University of Leeds dissertation 2017.

[ii] The Life Of Joseph Barker. Barker & Barker (quoted in above).

[iii] M Scott & N Megoran.

A short piece that didn’t quite make it in our forthcoming book.

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