• mikeburtonmoran

Not That You Asked, But... | Anarchists

****DISCLAIMER: This column is, and probably always will be, primarily a series of opinion pieces, and should never be mistaken for, or treated as, Actual Journalism. The following represents the views of the author alone and does not necessarily reflect the opinion or viewpoint of All In Network, its management, or any affiliates.****

One of the biggest roadblocks to anarchy being taken seriously as a movement is the problem of perception: when we say we want anarchy, people picture Rome burning and random murder; when we call ourselves anarchists, people imagine we just want to be able to murder and steal with no consequences.

In response to that misconception, I invite you to consider a more accurate, although completely unintentional, portrayal of anarchists: 2001's A Knight's Tale.

I'm serious.

A Knight's Tale, if you're unfamiliar (and if you are, fix that - NOW), is the story of William Thatcher (Heath Ledger), his friends (comrades) Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk), and the couple people they meet - namely, Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany) and a blacksmith named Christiana (Bérénice Bejo) - on their journey to fortune and glory in the world of medieval jousting. If you haven't watched it so many times you can recite it by heart, I recommend you do - not because of this article, just because it's an amazing film that deserves adoration.

What might surprise you is that, while I'm almost positive it wasn't the intent of the writers, A Knight's Tale is actually a remarkably accurate portrayal of a group of anarchists - specifically, anarcho-communists - living their ideology and sowing the seeds of freedom in the peasantry.


The most obvious aspect of anarchy is the willingness to question laws and disregard them when they're unjust, illogical, or prevent one's survival. I've discussed previously the fact that most of us do this already, but William Thatcher displays this mentality from the beginning of the film, as do Roland and Wat - slightly reluctantly - and later, Chaucer and Christiana.

In the first scene, William is already interested in disregarding the law that only noblemen may participate in the tournaments. He expounds on his reasoning shortly after:

So already, that lines up with common anarchist talking points: The law is nonsense, the ruling class is only in power because they seized it, the only reason it's illegal is to prevent us seizing it from them, and it's not only acceptable, but noble, to disobey such a law - we say these same things about the ruling class in America today.

Later, Chaucer is more than happy to help legitimize their crime:

Now: Moments before this, Chaucer has brought up that he'll forge anything for money, so the assumption is generally that he's just happy to have a project to put some food in his belly. HOWEVER, look at that face. That is not a smile of relief. That is not a smile of opportunity. That is solidly a smile of camaraderie and respect: that is a smile that says, "I like where you're going with this, this is exactly my style." He plays it cool, but Chaucer is clearly a knowledgeable and experienced anarchist who sees a comrade. I say this from experience - my face does the same thing.

After a few battles, they make the acquaintance of Christiana the blacksmith, who fixes and then replaces William's armor and joins the group; it's never explicitly stated, but she knows, almost from the beginning, that they're breaking the law, and at the very least, doesn't care, and joins them anyway.

So we have this group of people who clearly espouse anarchist ideals regarding laws, and band together on that basis. But there are other tenets of anarchist ideology that most non-anarchists aren't in the know about, and those are strongly represented by these characters as well.


First, while communism isn't the basis for all anarchist ideologies - we have anarcho-communists such as myself, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-primitivists, and others (sidenote: there are those who refer to themselves as anarcho-capitalists, and these are not anarchists; that's one of the few things that all actual anarchists agree on; anarchy is impossible under capitalism and the ideals of the two are directly at odds) - but while communism specifically is not embraced by all versions of anarchists, economic equality is central to all denominations.

So the fact that William and his crew divide their spoils evenly is a subtle hint that they're proper anarchists.

They recognize that none of them is more important than the others, and all deserve equal share of the rewards of their collective labor.

And collective labor is completely accurate: each shares in the labor equally, and each has a specific set of responsibilities that they're uniquely equipped to handle, and each is given their due respect for filling that role. That's also a central tenet of anarchist philosophy.

William's responsibilities include front-line battle (the competitions) and, a publically overlooked but internally recognized vital responsibility, morale:

Believe it or not, we talk in our circles pretty often about how important it is to have someone whose passion and talent is encouraging the rest of us (I flatter myself as being that person).

Roland's responsibility is being the voice that slows down and makes sure no one does anything without thinking it through:

He's also highly valued for the fact that he volunteers to take the tasks that others might find distressing or disgusting, like checking for vital signs in the body of someone who has crapped themselves to death:

Roland's levelheadedness and willingness to step up are highly sought-after qualities in a comrade.

Wat's responsibilities, and definitely his passions, are defense - as evidenced by the number of times he tries to attack people for insulting his group:

And, in my opinion, negotiation:

He drives a hard bargain.

Chaucer, for his part, is responsible for public relations, such as the best opening line of any speech ever:

And legal - specifically, knowing how to add an air of legal legitimacy to the group to allow them to pass unnoticed, including forged papers and this:

Very important duties.

Christiana, for her part, brings a valuable trade to the table with her blacksmithing - a field in which she is a major innovator:

But also because she brings a much needed feminine perspective to the team. Now: You may think I'm referring to how she helps the boys learn how to dance, or her help on William's love letter, but I'm not. I'm talking about intersectionality, and about perspectives and voices different from our own experiences as men (or white people, or cis people, etc). It's not just the traditionally feminine things she does that have value to the team; it's how her experiences as a woman influence her perspective, and the fact that she brings that perspective to the table in a way that, while not explicitly explored in the film, clearly has an influence on the character development of the men.

These are all roles and responsibilities that anarchists are very conscious of, and the idea that everyone has strengths and passions that can be directed to filling these roles is crucial to any goal we strive toward - including and especially intersectionality.


This may be a small section, but I feel like it's important: The old anarchist maxim, "No gods, no masters" extends to things like trophies; not "all trophies are bad," by any means, but the mentality embraced by our protagonists very neatly fits into the concept:

It's not so much that there's anything wrong with trophies, it's that they see the utilitarian value of the gold these trophies are made from and value that more than their symbolic value as trophies.


Possibly the biggest focus of our community is on solidarity, and this group has it in spades. I could post screencaps of every example of these people having each other's backs, but it would be quicker just to post the whole movie. Instead, I want to focus on the biggest, but most subtle, example. This speech:

Which was met with this confused, unimpressed silence:

And in that moment, air pregnant with the possibility of either disaster or triumph, his comrade came to the rescue:

And brought the crowd's energy back to a roar.

I bring that up for two reasons, the first of which is that most people will only generally have the option of being Roland, watching someone crash and burn and deciding to back them up. It isn't hard to do, really, so it's easy to feel like it's not a big deal; but having spent most of my life as Chaucer in this scenario, I want to bring attention to the fact that it is very much a big deal. In that moment, Chaucer has brought what he feels like is his A Game, some of his better work, and it has absolutely flopped. The humiliation builds like a tsunami. You feel it building, every millisecond of silence feels like an hour of increasing embarrassment; and when a new friend suddenly comes to your defense like that, it's a rush of relief, validation, and love. It's really impossible to describe the gravity of it. It's easy for those on the Roland side to feel like they haven't done much - or worse, like it's such a not-big-deal that there's no reason to do it - but you probably have very little idea just how huge it is to do that for someone. It's not something we ever forget.

The other reason is to bring up the bigger effect it can have. Here's the thing: that beautiful, eloquent, intelligent speech was very badly received, because the general public, at that time, in that area, didn't talk that way. Those "ten dollar words" weren't in the common vocabulary; they didn't understand, and they felt vaguely inferior and therefore angry - as someone with a huge vocabulary who grew up in the bible belt (and lived a few years in the sundown towns therein), I know how that goes.

But by the end of the movie, this is the crowd's reaction to those same words:

You can't see it because it's a still, but they're all cheering

He didn't suddenly dumb down his words. He spoke the same way he spoke in the beginning. But because - and this is conjecture, but it checks out - because in the beginning, in the public's moment of confusion, someone like them validated his words, taught them that it was cool, that planted a seed. That seed was watered by Chaucer sticking to his style and Roland helping keep the crowd going, and by the end, what they had effectively done was marry the traits behind Chaucer's speeches - namely intelligence, specificity, and beauty - with the traits the public traditionally valued - namely masculinity, victory, and fun. In a nutshell, they used what the public was already interested in to teach them to value a higher level of thinking, and that more than anything else is what anarchists are generally trying (rarely successfully) to do.

So when all is said and done, what I'm trying to say is that when someone tells you they're an anarchist, don't think of the Unabomber; think of William Thatcher. When we talk about anarchy as the ideal of freedom, as the goal we should all be striving for, don't think of letter bombs and burning cities and wanton violence; think of A Knight's Tale.

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