The Anglo-Saxons Were Robbers and Pirates in Their Own Country


Lysander Spooner. Image Source: Volokh

Wipe out, then, these feudal robbers – the whole race of kings, and queens, and nobles, and all their accomplices in every grade of life, and take possession of all the spoils which they and their predecessors have wrung from you and your ancestors. Put an end to their Parliaments and Courts. Blot out forever their statute books. They contain little or nothing else than the records of their villanies. Free England and Ireland, and thus all the rest of the empire, of the tyrants and robbers that are plundering, enslaving, and crushing, and starving you.

Sorry Anglo-Saxons, this post is not for you. It culminates in one of the most cutting anti-Anglo rants I’ve ever read. You can just skip to the last block quote if you are short on time. Its low effort on my behalf because I’m mostly just quoting Spooner, but its worth it. Lysander Spooner wrote this letter entitled Revolution: The Only Remedy for the Oppressed Classes of Ireland, England, and Other Parts of the British Empire. He is one of my favorite Anarchist writers and if you aren’t familiar with him already, well you should be.


Heres the setup: The impetus for the letter is a letter which Spooner received from a certain “Dunraven” apparently defending landlordism in Ireland. It leads him into a polemical rant on empire, revolution, liberty, and history. He initially makes an attack on Dunraven’s position by attacking feudal landlordism in general as the product of thievery:

The whole force of your letter, as a defence of Irish landlords, rests upon the assumption that they are the real and true owners of the lands they now hold. But this assumption is a false one. These lands, largely or mostly, were originally taken by the sword, and have ever since been held by the sword. Neither the original robbers, nor any subsequent holders, have ever had any other than a robber’s title to them. And robbery gives no better title to lands than it does to any other property.

A moment later however, he goes on to extend this criticism to England:

And what is true of the lands in Ireland is equally true of the lands in England. The lands in England, largely or mostly, were originally taken by the sword, and have ever since been held by the sword; and the present holders have no better titles to them than simple, naked robbery has given them.

This is all rather obvious stuff for someone who has even a faint grasp of history (Spooner says as much himself: “It cannot be supposed that you are so stupid as to be ignorant of all this…”) but it leads to a funny conclusion. Namely, that the entire “social structure” of the British Empire (which Dunraven holds in such esteem) is predicated on nothing but robbery, and should therefore be abolished. This leads to the most thrilling passage in the letter, wherein Spooner characterizes the ruling class of England (and indeed, the Anglo-Saxon people in general) as the enemy of humanity, and as a race primarily defined by a proclivity towards robbery and piracy.


One of the forebears of the British Empire. Image Source: Heroes n’ Pirates

This designation – enemies of the human race – has more generally been applied to pirates; to men who committed their crimes upon the sea. But there have been other hostes humani generis; men devoted to plunder, who committed their crimes upon the land and who were equally indifferent, with pirates on the sea, as to the persons on whom their crimes were committed. The ruling classes in England, from the time the Anglo-Saxons first came there, have been hostes humani generis: enemies of the human race. They have had only one motive, viz, plunder. And so long as this motive was gratified, they have cared not whom they plundered, enslaved, or murdered.

The Anglo-Saxons were robbers and pirates in their own country, two thousand years ago; robbers on land, and pirates at sea. Such was their sole business. The men performed no useful labor. Their useful labor was all performed by their women and their slaves. They themselves, as history tells us, scorned to labor for anything they could take by force. They came into England on their usual errand. They seized the country by military power, and reduced the native Britons to slavery. And they have maintained this character ever since. The Normans were equally robbers. The real government of England, the actual ruling power, for more than a thousand years, has been a mere band of robbers; a mere confederacy of villains. And it is nothing else to-day. They have not only plundered and enslaved the great body of the people of England and Ireland, but, as far as possible, the peoples of all other parts of the globe. They have their chains to-day upon more than two hundred millions of people; and their whole purpose is to extort from them everything that oppression, in every form, is capable of extorting.

It then concludes with the passage which I started this off with up top, just beneath the portrait of Spooner.

I love it!

10 comments on “The Anglo-Saxons Were Robbers and Pirates in Their Own Country

  1. […] This guy just made a post about this and I’m just going to steal the last bit of it. Because it is a perfect representation of at least half of the British psyche. It is a quote from Lysander Spooner: […]

  2. R Nanjappa says:

    As we read history, we realise that every country in the world has been plagued by violence in the past- without exception. Why single out Anglo-Saxons? It is unfair.

    If you read the history of the Tamils 2000 years ago, you will find that the three major kings and the petty chieftains under them were constantly engaged in warfare. Tamil kings marching on another and causing wanton destruction to other Tamils is described in graphic detail in the ancient Tamil poems which called it valour! So, the Anglo-Saxons were not exceptional or particularly bad. If you want to judge them, do by the standards of those times, not with today’s ideas.

    The Buddha preached his dhamma and converted most Kshatriya kings to his way; India lost the spirit of self-defence and sense of valour or honour; it fell easy prey to all the invaders subsequently.

    On the whole, the Anglo-Saxons have been instruments for all the good things that we now boast of: parliamentary democracy, rule of law, separation of powers, limited constitutional monarchy, ideas of liberalism, gradual reform in place of violent revolution, etc The Scots might have been the authors of the Enlightenment, but it was the Anglo-Saxon British rule that enabled it to spread worldwide.. Yes they looted India and introduced a system of education which made Indians forget their past and their own strengths and made them mere imitators of foreign ways. But why are foolish Indians continuing it even after Independence? But looting- any imperial power would have done it! But it was the arch-imperialist Anglo Saxon Churchill who understood after World War !! that India, the gem in the crown, had become a liability and it no longer served imperial interests! ( Britain would have to spend to defend India, instead of deriving monetary benefit out of the colony., which is the justification for keeping a colony.)See how hastily they transferred power and ran away from India! He also is reported to have said that they were transferring power to men of straw- which has proved correct! Anglo Saxons looted then. globalisation and WTO do so now. So, what has changed?

    We Indians have also to be thankful for many Anglo-Saxons who supported India: Burke who impeached Warren Hastings, Adam Smith who warned that a group of merchants would never administer a territory for the benefit of the natives; Annie Besant, Sister Nivedita, and numerous others.

    let us not judge anything by bad specimens.

    • if I had found such a vitriolic and passionate remark made about Tamils I probably would post it as well. I don’t really view this as a racist tract, as any group which subjects others to predation is worthy of condemnation in proportion to the level of predation they engaged in.

      But lets not confuse things here. The Anglo-Saxons are unique for several reasons one of which is their unparalleled ability to conquest and loot. There is no really intrinsic reason to single out the Anglo-Saxons for criticism in this respect… beyond the fact that their spate of robbery was arguably the largest and most extractive imperial operation ever conducted by human beings. There is a reason why it is the British Empire who draws the eye of libertarian and anarchist critics of the period, and not the Tamil kingdoms. Sorry, but the Tamils for all their warrior virtue simply cannot compete in this respect.

      True, the Anglo-Saxons are also the architects of much of liberalism But again here, don’t confuse the history. Some of the products of liberalism were garbage (Constructivist utilitarianism, socialism, moral universalism, radical egalitarianism, jacobinism, the willing destruction of The Ancient Constitution, eurocentrism). One of the most damaging things the British ever did to India was to introduce the idea of socialism and liberal social engineering. And on the other hand, the portions of liberalism which are indeed of value, were for the most part either invented by the subjugated Scots, and/or constitute a rejection or limiting of the authority of the Anglo state. Parliament for example was an evil tool of Anglo-Saxon nobility and landlords, to cooperate with royalty in the shared project of exploiting the celtic-blooded slave classes, which was progressively subverted by the slaves until it began in some sense to act in their favor. Rule of Law was (in its original and true sense) the concept that the Anglo-Saxon monarch should be constrained by common law, i.e. the law of the commons, the law which naturally arose between and amongst the subjugated classes of Britain (only now do we hypocritically apply this concept to statutory law). This wasn’t a gift of the Anglo-Saxons, it was wrested from them by the slaves in their own country.

      You will never hear me say a word against the Britishers you mentioned. They were all excellent. But lets just go through that list real quick, shall we? Burke was partially Anglo-Norman by ancestry, true, but he was also an Irish Catholic. Smith was a scotsman as far as I know. Annie Besant was of Irish blood. And Sister Nivedita was Scots Irish. So this list of “the good ones” is again, actually a list of people who emerged from under the Anglo-Saxon heel to enlighten the world nevertheless.

  3. You are getting a reblog, Nick. I had gotten a copy of Spooner’s writings in 1976, I believe, and long since lost; thanks for the reminder!


  4. Reblogged this on We come from dreams ~ and commented:
    Ahh, sweet anarchy!

  5. franklparker says:

    I agree with R Nanjappa. You are being a little unfair to the Anglo-Saxons. Many of them were slaves too. And the ‘original’ Britons and Irish were pretty good at stealing land and/or cattle long before the Vikings and their descendants, the Normans, turned up. And then there are the Dutch, Spanish who built admittedly smaller empires. Not that I approve of what any of the ruling classes did in their empire building days. I call it a lack of empathy. And it still goes on today as R Nanjappa says. The Chinese are getting quite good at it. It’s about taking what you can regardless of the harm it must do to someone else. I think I’ll be cheeky now and point out that it is an Indian businessman who wants to shut down the UK steel industry, putting the few hundred Anglo-Saxons still working in it out of a job. As they say, ‘what goes around comes around’!

    • As this conversation continues, I think it is elucidating one of the fundamental flaws in contemporary discourse. Namely, an inability or unwillingness to correctly parse statements about aggregate populations, or about long term trends. Instead there is an eagerness to interpret such statements as absolute and universal. “X group is does Y” or “X group inclined towards Y” is interpreted as “X group always does Y” and maybe even “X group only does Y, and nobody else does Y.” Very strange that the discourse has devolved to this point.

      In the original post or in my response to Nanjappa’s comment did I say that the Anglo-Saxons were never enslaved in history? Did I say that the Britons and other Celts did not engage in robbery as well? Of course not (and in fact, Spooner repudiates that very notion in the letter I’m referring to). I didn’t refer to those facts because they are outliers relative to the main current of history, i.e. the overall trend of history. The Anglo-Saxons may have been slaves, but probably less frequently than the Celts overall. Likewise the Celts engaged in robbery, but didn’t build a world spanning empire.

      If you cannot bring yourself to examine the full breadth of the history of (for example) the Anglo-Saxons, the Tamils, and the Irish, and rank them relative to one another in respect to how aggressive and warlike they have tended to be, how many resources they’ve extracted by force from neighboring peoples, etc, then you are just choosing to stay in the mindset of radical egalitarian thinking rather than confronting the reality that different ethnic groups have highly divergent patterns of behaviour throughout history.

    • It is easy to lose sight of the thrust of Spooner’s writings, and, for that matter, the other ‘anarchists’ of the era (like Kropotkin). What Spooner says near the end of the quote, vis:

      “The real government of England, the actual ruling power, for more than a thousand years, has been a mere band of robbers; a mere confederacy of villains. And it is nothing else to-day. They have not only plundered and enslaved the great body of the people of England and Ireland, but, as far as possible, the peoples of all other parts of the globe. They have their chains to-day upon more than two hundred millions of people; and their whole purpose is to extort from them everything that oppression, in every form, is capable of extorting.”

      is a symptom of a larger disease. In this context, he’s talking specifically about the British empire, but the principle, or disease, is the imperialism which comes when a few individuals take it upon themselves to “rule” by looting, invasion, pillaging of whomever and whatever they can – until a larger, more powerful demagogue does the same to them. This can be seen today as the Wahabbi heresy within Islam is making its mark by blowing up and killing anyone and anything that its followers can; it’s “merely” one brand of imperialism (which has its roots in Saudi Arabia these days) locking horns with US imperialism. It’s also a reflection of a very large meme: that humans are warlike by nature, we have always BEEN warlike and always WILL be warlike. This kind of thinking is very recent and very Western in terms of human history – and it simply is not true. Again, it is a MEME.

      I find it exasperating on a personal level to attempt to explain this to people whom I encounter in the day-to-day; should I be granted space to make the bare claim of our “warlike nature” being a crock, I’m usually interrupted and shouted down as being naive. Here on the Internet I can at least make my claims in the space of a couple of paragraphs, and anyone is free thereafter to disagree with me. However, the facts, as gleaned from a wide variety of disciplines – anthropology, archaeology, ethnology, ethology, evolutionary psychology among them – show that this is indeed a MEME. There are a number of books which patently illustrate what I’m saying. Science writer John Horgan’s “The End of War” is the most accessible, and it’s probably the best thing that he’s written. Raymond C. Kelly’s “Warless Societies and the Origin of War” is a more scholarly take on the theme. While it is somewhat accessible to lay readers like myself, it seems geared more to other anthropologists; but if you can wade through it, he makes the point clear. A third volume, Douglas P. Fry’s “The Human Potential for Peace,” is the most thoroughgoing one which I’ve read to date. While also scholarly, he makes a lucid presentation which lay people can easily understand.

      If I were to find fault with Spooner, it would lie along the lines of his “kick out the jams” idea. Getting rid of kings and queens simply ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. We’re stuck with presidents, premier, imams and other rulers and there will be no populist uprising that will take them down. In lieu of this it is imperative to spread the idea that we aren’t necessarily condemned to perpetual warfare (such as the US is committed to doing).

      To those who feel it is all hopeless, I would remind you that we have had nuclear weapons since 1945, chemical and biological weapons even longer – but we’re still here. Every day that passes where we haven’t started Armageddon is a plus.

      To round this out, since this blog is devoted particularly to India (from a Westerner’s view), I’d like to recommend a book about the Indus civilization written by Cambridge scholar Rita P. Wright, “The Ancient Indus.” It covers the entire span of this ubiquitous culture and on of the things which became apparent was that they did NOT indulge in warfare, nor does it seem that they had a strong, centralized government presided over by priest or king. This is in stark contrast to the Empires near unto them, whether the earliest Chinese dynasties which arose to the East, or the Elamite, Sumerian and Egyptian cultures to the West – all of which were based upon some form of imperialism.

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