The Iron Web is an anarchist novel by Larken Rose. I read it on 2020 May 17. The book is above average, even apart from the refreshingness of the only story I've seen that correctly identifies the US government as illegitimate and terrorist.

Plot issues

The biggest issue plot-wise is that the main characters end up playing little or no role in the fall of the state. About a fourth of the way through, hints are made at a plan that would've taken the story a radically different direction (going to Mexico / Jessica telling her survivor story), but it doesn't end up happening and kind of felt like failed foreshadowing.

I find it unfortunate how much the story stagnates. The siege of the anarchist camp covers pretty much the whole story, meaning there are few plot developments, mostly character ones.

There is another failed foreshadowing; it's not critical, but the goodguys are saved near the end of the book by Willard Hargrove's cellar which was never even hinted at before it was used. It should've been foreshadowed before all the deaths.

Realisticity issues

What I think is the biggest realisticity issue is survivability. A POV character survives a plane being shot down by a missile, apparently without a parachute, is not taken to a real hospital, and is only temporarily injured. Many times, characters survive bullets similarly (in one case, three). I should say I'm no expert on the topic, but I'm pretty sure getting shot - even in the ankle - and then surviving in the wilderness for multiple days with only the most primitive of medical attention is quite unrealistic.

As for the siege that takes most of the story, I think it became unrealistic after a while that the besiegers didn't just flatten the place for real. Once they used tanks to level some buildings, I'm not sure what they were waiting for.

Message failings

While it's beautiful that the book openly portrays the US government for what it is, there are several scenes that mar its didactic purity.

One is when goodguys are arguing about sending a message to federal agents who are sieging their encampment. An excerpt goes:

Jason: "If you think anyone who disagrees with you is a heartless, evil bastard, how are you different from the guys out there who think you're a bunch of terrorists?"

Tasha: "Good point, Jason. ..."

No, it's not a good point because the difference is that one side is the aggressor and the other is not. This same logic could've been used against people who resisted Nazis in WW2 to argue that if they thought all Nazis were heartless, evil bastards, they were somehow no different from the Nazis.

Tasha continues: "I think if we give up on trying to win the rational debate, we've lost already. If we can't win the hearts and minds of people, hopefully including the people who work for the government, then what's the point?"

The point (to be fair, another character argues this reasonably well, but it's jarring that he's alone defending it in a room full of anarchists) is to stop aggression. That's still a good point if you can't win hearts and minds. That's not to say winning hearts and minds isn't important, but it's wholly disconnected from the point of fighting for peace. And Tasha of all people should understand this perfectly well. There were other characters in the room who would've been better to use for this.

In another unfortunate case, the book reinforces the erroneous belief in the special immorality of killing when a character tells the story of how he killed a serial rapist. It acknowledges that his actions were justified, but very weakly; even the character himself says that "killing is always an evil, even when it's a necessary evil", and that it "will always kill some part of you too". This is a false and destructive message.

Another case in when they introduce the term 'lasering', a gun community term for briefly pointing a gun at someone while moving it around. It's said that one of the goodguys "smacked" another the first time he did this, so hard that he almost fell over, and said "a sure consequence trains you better than a hypothetical one". That's called aggression. It's absolutely unacceptable, and is even more out of place in a book critiquing the aggression of the state.

As an extension to that story, when the same aggressive person is teaching a woman to shoot, she asks him about this and he says he "only hits male students". At least he himself correctly identifies this as sexist (in a sort of joking way).

The surprise kiss trope is romanticized.


Of course there are a lot of debates with statist characters about anarchism. In general, they're pretty well-done: the statist characters are never strawmen, the arguments given to them are good, and their reactions and their slow conversion are fairly realistic. In many cases, they're also surprisingly non-preachy: they rarely have an obvious portrayed victor and don't feel like "just spit out all the statist arguments in a line so I can shoot them all down and be done with it".

None of the characters deploy argumentation ethics (even though I'm pretty sure Larken himself believes in that), which is wonderful as that would've only vandalized the image of anarchism and prevented me from recommending it. Some of the conversations take a welcome dive into an angle underrated by libertarians: conscience. In one case, a character is led to almost the same thoughts that led me to Chaos Anarchism, but luckily has better guidance than I did.

There are a couple of points where what I think are blunders in terms of image are made, mostly when the goodguys use "communism", "socialism", and "collectivism" as if they're all already negative ideographs, when the latter two are not guaranteed to be such outside of libertarian communities. "Collectivism" in particular is vague. And to someone who isn't used to seeing all of those words as negative ideographs, there might not be any obvious connection between them and state violence. The ideology labels sound intellectually sophisticated, and it doesn't play well with the emotional leveraging of police brutality.

The most jarring single instance is some of the preachiest dialogue where it's suggested that "the supposed solutions to racism and poverty offered by the collectivists had done even more damage to minority communities than even overt slavery had". Regardless of your ideology, that's completely ridiculous. Has to be the worst sentence in the book.

The book also (by somewhat leaning on the fourth wall) recommends the reader to read Ayn Rand, which I think is a serious mistake (she was not only a NAP purist but a minarchist and arguably the progenitor of the libertarian movement's myopia on corporations).


The best thing about the story is how realistic it is. All of the characters act authentic and several have very deep backgrounds, and Team Good is very diverse: it features a pacifist, a priest, a former marine, and a constitutionalist. It's not like all the goodguys are ideologically perfect anarchists. An ATF agent is a main character who turns good.

In general, Team Good seems like a very realistic sample of the people who would actually be fighting this battle. Most of them exude a similar culture to American constitutionalists - even the ones tho aren't constitutionalist - and that makes a lot of sense since most libertarian anarchists are former minarchists and still occasionally appeal to the constitution, and even not-so-minarchist conservatives often talk about how the second amendment exists so that the people can overthrow a corrupt government. Most real conservatives wouldn't dream of putting their money where their mouth is, but I think if the revolution did happen now, it would contain a lot of conservatives.

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