Hit & Run

James J. Martin, RIP

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I am informed by Jason Perry, a young scholar working on a master's thesis on Josiah Warren, that James J. Martin, the foremost scholar of 19th century American individualist anarchism, died in the past week. (Perry had met and befriended Martin recently while researching his Warren thesis.)

Martin's book Men Against The State: The Expositers of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827-1908 (1953) is one of less than a handful, and the most thoughtful and thorough, of accounts of the anti-state thinking of such American individualists as Warren, Ezra Heywood, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Lysander Spooner, and Benjamin Tucker, as well as some of their even lesser known brethren.

While many of these thinkers were looked upon as forefathers by such postwar American libertarians as Murray Rothbard, and more recently Wendy McElroy, they have to a large degree been forgotten by both libertarians and students of American intellectual history in general. Martin's great book is now and will probably for a long time be the place to start in rectifying that neglect.

Martin ran the publishing house Ralph Myles Publisher, which kept in print his own books as well as individualist classics by the likes of Spooner and Etienne de la Boetie.

Martin's other major intellectual interest was the politics and ideology of American warmaking, particularly as they played out in World War II. He wrote a painstakingly detailed account of the shifting attitudes of American liberal intellectuals toward questions of foreign policy and war in the decade leading up to World War II, American Liberalism and World Politics, 1931-1941 (1964), in two volumes. He became a foremost spokesman of the Charles Beard/Harry Elmer Barnes tradition of revisionist history of that war, analysis that looked askance at the motives, conduct, and results of the Allies in World War II. His Ralph Myles-published Revisionist Viewpoints: Essays in a Dissident Historical Tradition (1971) contains fascinating reporting on some largely forgotten anti-war activism in American during World War II, and some tales of less-than-purely-heroic actions on the part of Allied troops and commanders.

In trying to judge the motive and conduct of the Allies more objectively than did nationalist propaganda, Martin did slide distressingly into downplaying the crimes of the Axis. In later years his World War II revisionism shifted into Holocaust revisionism, and he joined the editorial board for the Institute for Historical Review. This sort of unsavory association will in the eyes of many discredit all his work, but it ought not. His historical writings on World War II were viewpoint-driven, of course, but he made that clear. He was also trying to make clear that the standard triumphalist historians of the war were also viewpoint-driven, not purely objective. And putting his World War II writings aside, his research and interpretations of the individualist anarchists were groundbreaking at the time and remain unsurpassed to this day, and helped keep alive a too-often ignored aspect of America's libertarian ideological heritage.