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Twelve traditions
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Twelve traditions

The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous define the appropriate relationships between an AA group and its members, other groups, AA as a whole, and society at large. In essence, it codifies the type of non-hierarchal social relations that anarchists have advocated since the nineteenth century, or before. (The author of the Twelve Traditions, Bill Wilson, makes passing reference to this linage in one of the essays comprising Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, as well as in AA Comes of Age.)

The Traditions began as a series of articles that Wilson wrote for the AA periodical, The Grapevine. Over a period of about 5 years Wilson “sold” these principles to the membership of AA, culminating in their formal adoption at AA’s First International Convention in 1950. In 1952 Wilson’s book on the subject, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, first saw print. The latter half of this book consists of a series of folksy tales detailing how the traditions were “hammered out on the anvil of experience.” According to Wilson, they were born solely as lessons learned from mistakes made, as the fledgling society of former drunks struggled to find its legs and walk upright in the company of sober citizens and institutions.

There is reason to believe that the origins of Wilson’s Traditions owe more to anarchist theory than is commonly recognized, and that Wilson down-played this influence because of the fears caused by the McCarthyism of the era. The research and analysis supporting this view are detailed in The Anarchist Traditions of Alcoholic Anonymous, by the pseudonymous Prole Cat.

Whatever their origins, the Traditions are widely credited within AA as having provided the fellowship a practical, yet idealistic organizational framework that has served it well. At the present time, there is a segment within AA who thinks that the relationship between that fellowship and the commercial alcoholic-treatment industry is in contradiction to these traditions, and that this state of affairs threatens the on-going viability of AA as an independent entity. The opposing side says that such qualms are overly legalistic, and that violations of AA principle should be overlooked in the name of unity.

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