“Anarchist’s Progress”

By Ken Knudson

When I was 12 years old, I shot and killed a wild rabbit with a .22 rifle my parents gave me for my birthday. This so affected me that I resolved never to kill another animal again. Five years later, I carried that idea to what I considered its logical conclusion and became a vegetarian – something unheard of in the ‘fifties in the small Wisconsin town I was raised in.

The following year, in 1959, I became liable for conscription.  By law, at that time, every American male was required to register for the draft when he turned 18, even though Korea was behind us and Vietnam not yet a twinkle in Kennedy’s eye. I refused to register (despite a felony penalty of up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine) and wrote a letter instead to the director of the Selective Service System telling him why. I also sent a copy of that letter to my local newspaper, the Door County ADVOCATE, who printed it, with the inevitable patriotic reaction from furious subscribers.

In that same year, I enrolled as a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The university, being a “Land-Grant College”, required all freshman and sophomore male students to follow a course of ROTC (the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps). I refused to attend these classes, wanting nothing to do with an institution whose ultimate purpose is to kill people. The university’s policy at the time was that if you failed a required course twice, you were automatically expelled. Fortunately, there was a committee established to consider exemptions from ROTC due to conscientious objections.  Up until that time, the criteria used required (1) a refusal to participate in ALL wars, and (2) the belief in a supreme being guiding that principle.  While, as a pacifist, I fulfilled the first requirement, as an atheist, I decidedly did not fulfill the second. Luckily for me, 3 of the 5 members of the exemption committee ignored precedent, bent the rules, and I became the first non-religious male student in the university’s history up until then to be absolved from ROTC for conscientious reasons.

As I entered university, my political ideas were a vague mishmash of “progressive” views, many of them self-contradictory. I decided to put them on a more rational footing and so I set out to look for a system with fewer internal inconsistencies. What I knew for sure was that I was a pacifist, determined to avoid killing other human beings and dedicated to using non-violent means to achieve social change. With that principle in mind, it became obvious to me that I would have to also be an anarchist, since pacifism prohibited the use of armed force. And without police or an army, the state couldn’t exist. Ergo, I must be an anarchist because I was a pacifist. The latter implied the former!

But what sort of anarchist was I?  Clearly the bomb-throwing “propaganda by deed” variety was out of the question. I decided to do a little research at the Memorial Library and came upon a remarkable book: Benjamin Tucker’s INSTEAD OF A BOOK (1893).  This was a real eye-opener for me. Everything he had to say made sense to me and his “plumb-line” logic connected everything together into a system I felt comfortable adopting as my own.  Tucker called his philosophy “Individualist Anarchism”; today one might refer to it as “Voluntaryism”. That was nearly sixty years ago and I still adhere to its basic tenets to this day.

As a student, graduate student and eventually junior faculty member at the university, I was active in the anti-war movement. I was the head of the Student Peace Center, which sponsored lectures by pacifist speakers, demonstrated every Hiroshima Day at the Capitol Square, organized the annual “Anti-Military Ball” (to counter the ROTC’s “Military Ball”), and distributed pacifist literature at our booth in the Student Union.

When the Vietnam war raised its ugly head, we became even more active, spearheading the student rebellions on campus that led to demonstrations against Dow Chemical, an attempt to make a citizen’s arrest for war crimes of the commanding general of nearby Truax air force base, and other activities which were depicted in the Academy Award nominated documentary, “The War at Home”.  (That film opened by showing me being interviewed before the local IRS office to protest the use of taxes to finance the war.)

Tax resistance became an important means of opposition to the war for me. I was determined not to turn over any money to the vultures at the IRS to prosecute the government’s immoral war.  To that end, I had worked several part time jobs, earning an income in each one below the threshold whereby withholding tax would be deducted. But with a family to support, I found that method bothersome, so I devised a scheme whereby I could earn a decent income and not have anything withdrawn from my paycheck. I simply declared I had 12 (non-existent) child dependents on my W-4 withholding tax form, a number high enough to prevent the government from withholding any taxes. Then, when April 15th rolled around, I could thumb my nose at the IRS and tell them they weren’t going to get any money for that war from me.

That worked for a few years, but in 1966 the attention derived from my annual protests caught up with me and it became apparent that I would either have to go to jail or leave the country.  Since I had already experienced a few unpleasant incarcerations for minor offenses and didn’t care for the idea of an extended one, I chose to leave the country.

I managed to land a job at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland), where I was employed as a physicist until my retirement in 2003.  This was fortunate for me on two counts: first, I was only one of three Americans employed by them as a permanent staff member and, second, as an international organization, employees of CERN are considered diplomats and therefore exempt from taxes – thus relieving my conscience in not having to contribute to paying for the many things I object to governments spending money on!

While in Europe, I continued my activities against the war in Vietnam.  I penetrated an American army base in Munich and distributed in the mailboxes of GI’s a leaflet I composed, asking them to resist their deployment to Vietnam.  I was arrested by the MP’s and turned over to the German police, who charged me with “encouraging NATO troops to desert” – an offense I never committed since I didn’t ask them to desert, but rather to stay within the army and sabotage and otherwise resist. But there apparently wasn’t a statute on the books for that, so they charged me with the desertion offense instead.  I was tried a few days later at a trial I couldn’t understand and found guilty and sentenced to two years in jail – thankfully suspended after agreeing to never return to Germany again!

I wrote articles and letters to a variety of anarchist publications in England (“Freedom” and “Anarchy” in particular) and became a foreign correspondent for the New York based pacifist magazine, WIN.  In 1971 the editor of “Anarchy” magazine, Bill Dwyer, asked me to write a full-issue article for them critiquing communist-anarchism and setting forth the individualist-anarchist alternative.  This I did, but unfortunately the magazine folded just before it could publish my essay as its issue number 119.  In 1983 the “Voluntaryist” published the chapter on “means” in its sixth issue. Subsequently, the whole essay was finally brought into print by Kevin Slaughter in 2017 in paperback form under the title “A Critique of Anarchist Communism”.

I have done little in recent years as an activist for “the cause”, although I continue to cling to my anarchist-pacifist beliefs as tenaciously as ever before. I’ve opted more toward the Max Stirner (1806-1856) line of egoism in my daily life than for the activism which seems hopeless to me now in a world where the state holds all the trump cards (no pun intended).

However, my most recent gambit has been my TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN, which appears below. Unfortunately, in today’s world, one needs a passport to travel across borders. Without one, I would not be able to visit my children in England or the United States. Therefore, every ten years I would renew my American passport as an expediency to facilitate travel. But a few years ago, I was so disgusted with the United States that I considered finding another country whose passport I could use instead. Having a French wife for over twenty years and also having been a resident of France for even longer than that, I figured I could qualify for French citizenship, and I took the initial steps to that end. It took a couple years of bureaucratic red tape and jumping through ridiculous hoops (like tracking down my parents’ original birth certificates from over a century ago), but I eventually succeeded in obtaining French nationality. But before finalizing the operation, I had to fill out a form for the French government declaring whether or not I wanted to renounce my American citizenship. I checked the box which said “yes”, but when I looked into how I could legally do this, I was amazed to see that it wasn’t at all easy. It would require at least two trips to the U.S. embassy in Paris and all kinds of bureaucratic forms and personal questions I was unwilling to answer. It also requires a $2,350 renunciation fee – something I would never accept since I do everything I can to keep money out of the hands of those war mongers. So I drafted that statement instead and carry it with me, along with my French passport, whenever I travel abroad.


Henry David Thoreau informed the world in his classic 1849 pamphlet “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”, “Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any incorporated society which I have not joined.”  In particular, Thoreau noted that he had never “joined” the United States and, therefore, he did not feel compelled to obey its laws – which led to his imprisonment for refusing to pay taxes to finance the Mexican war, which he considered immoral.

I, too, have never joined the United States and, despite the accident of being born within what it supposes to be its sovereign borders, I do not consider myself to be a subject of that state.  I therefore make the following declaration:


Kenneth Knudson
Annecy-le-Vieux, France
February 29, 2016

Scroll to Top