Friday, May 29, 2009

Clement M. Hammond on "Police Insurance"

Clement Milton Hammond was a significant contributor to Benjamin Tucker's Liberty that you have probably never heard of. It's not surprising if that's true. He contributed one serial novelette, Then and Now, under the pseudonym "Josephine d'Aujourdhui," and Tucker reprinted two other very brief items, a poem and a quotation, along with an obituary after his death. Hammond was a newspaper editor, with whom Tucker had worked, and an anarchist, but, as Tucker tells it in the obituary, he intended to spend the early years of his career becoming wealthy, so that he could later devote himself entirely to anarchism. It didn't, in the end, work out that way. Tucker reports that he died in poverty and broken health. He left a small number of signed articles, a mass of journalism, and a couple of co-authored books.

This is a case, however, where, as much as we might wish he had written more, we can be thankful for the one extended bit of anarchist writing that Hammond did do. Then and Now is an anarchist "utopian" novel, set in the late twenty-first century, where anarchism has become the standard political system. Josephine, an upper-class Bostonian from 1884 is introduced to the anarchist world of 2084-5 by Mr. Paul de Demain, who works his way, chapter by chapter, through a kind of old-school anarchist FAQ. The novel predates Bellamy's Looking Backward, and surpasses it in most ways. Indeed, along with Sidney H. Morse's Liberty and Wealth (which was also originally serialized in Liberty) and Ethics of the Homestead Strike, I think Hammond's novelette may be one of the best introductory texts we possess. All three are now available in Corvus Distribution pamphlets.

Here's an interesting sample, the chapter that deals with private defense organizations, here described as "police insurance:"


BOSTON, June 13, 2085.

My Dear Louise:

Insurance was the subject of a recent conversation between Mr. De Demain and myself, and he told me so many interesting things about it as carried on today that I will tell you briefly what he said.

“Your police system two hundred years ago,” said he, “was but a system of insurance, as were your fire departments, your standing armies, and your navies. Police protection is now furnished by private companies. You pay a certain per cent, on the valuation of your property, real and personal, and the company agrees to pay you for any loss to that property caused by the depredations of others. The company employs policemen, watchmen, and detectives, and there is no collusion between these and would-be criminals for reasons which you can appreciate. Few crimes are committed that are not detected sooner or later, the criminals being brought to justice.

“Suppose that you have in your house two thousand dollars’ worth of valuables. You insure these in some police protection company of good standing. If these valuables are stolen, the company pays you two thousand dollars, and it is for their interest to catch the thief.”

“I should think such a system as this would encourage fraud. What if I should hide or give away my two thousand dollars’ worth of valuables?”

“You may be sure that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred you would be found out, and the penalty which a jury would be likely to inflict in such a case would be heavy, much heavier than for a theft.”

“The officers of these companies also give alarms of fire. They report every day to the office. Anything of a suspicious nature that is observed is carefully investigated by men specially detailed for that purpose. Thus crimes are not only punished, but in a great many cases prevented. A criminal today must be a very bold and a very shrewd man.”

“Under such a system of detective espionage I should think innocent persons would often be arrested and charged with having committed some crime or with criminal intentions.”

“Mistakes are sometimes made, but it is rarely. The utmost caution is used, and none but honest, competent men are employed. Policemen are not appointed today because a friend has a political ‘pull,’ and there is no State and no party to protect them if they do wrong or prove incompetent. I believe this was a most serious fault with your police systems two hundred years ago. It was the State, always the State, that was the root of all evil. You saw the branches and lopped them off occasionally, but beneath the ground, out of ordinary sight, were the roots that gave sustenance to the tree. The Anarchist dug down and found these roots, and pointed them out to the suffering people, but for years they shut their eyes and turned away. We have torn out the noisome plant, root and branch, and burnt it as an offering to Liberty. The ground is no longer cumbered with such a growth to suck its healthy substance and turn it into poison with which to contaminate the life-giving air.

“War having ceased with the State, no insurance against foreign invasion or internal disruption is needed, but I see no reason why private enterprise might not carry on a war with much less loss than a State would sustain. Friends as well as foes were always ready to rob a State in times of war as well as times of peace, and, as the opportunities for robbery were better in a time of war, the plunder was always greater.

“Just two hundred years ago, I am told by history, Boston was very much disturbed because the State interfered in its police system and took away the appointing power. On one hand, the cry was that the police commission was corrupt, and, on the other, that Boston knew better what she wanted than the State. Anarchy would have solved the problem, you see, to the entire satisfaction of nearly every individual. What matter was it whether those intangible, soulless things, the State and the city, were satisfied? What was satisfaction to them? It meant simply the satisfaction of a few scheming politicians and their hangers-on. That was all.”

I was very pleased to learn that the State had stepped in and tried to put an end to the terrible wickedness of Boston. I have long been shocked by the thought that Boston people could not see that their city was in a very bad way. I trust that there will be great improvement made now that the State is to control it.


"A Little Theory" from Malatesta

New translation. Text available here.

Decentralizing power?

I sat down (again actually, after a first attempt on the LL forums was devoured by a feral wi-fi hotspot) to write up some of my responses to what seems to me the central strategic issue in l'Affaire Preston, the question of whether or not breaking up power leads to weakening it, and found that William Gillis has addressed a good deal of what needs to be said. The references to economies of scale is elegant, and ought to be enough to get anyone started on additional analysis.

Arguably, we live in the grip of both micro- and macro-authoritarianisms at the moment, but that's just because even "the state" is not simply a problem of centralized power. State-power owes its persistence to its ability to incorporate more local power mechanisms. I think Will is right that there are certain advantages to living in a situation where micro- and macro-authoritarianisms at least partially cancel each other out.

The trick is to develop a kind of radical come-outerism that ultimately expands the various fields of freedom and opportunity for everyone, rather than letting presumably "irreconcilable" differences simply parcel out oppression. I am naturally sympathetic to some kinds of secession, but want to "come out" of the world of authority into a wider world, not a narrow enclave.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Donate to Infoshop

I just got notice that is in fundraising mode again. Please consider giving something to help keep the site up and running. I just gave my little something.

French mutualism beyond Proudhon

There's been an interesting, if not terribly productive, discussion on Wikipedia, regarding the scope of the entry on Individualist Anarchism. It has been charged, with some justice, that the article overemphasizes Anglophone market anarchism, and virtually ignores a number of other currents that might be included with equal reason and justice. That's one way of thinking about the problem. I'm inclined to beat my usual drum, and suggest that this is another of those cases where Wikipedia simply has no way to resolve what should be in article when essentially all the scholarship has been partial or downright partisan, and where, in the end, there just hasn't been that much scholarship, even if there was some easy way (which there isn't) to include non-English-language sources to the mix. But, setting aside that sort of basic problem, the thing that strikes me about the Wikipedia pages on individualist anarchism is just how thin they are in general. Even the group around Liberty are pretty poorly represented. Anyway, one editor has recently attempted to increase the coverage of French and Italian illegalists, as well as figures like Han Ryner Emile Armand and Renzo Novatore, all figures that I have to admit I have spent less time exploring than perhaps I should have. I've spent parts of the last few weeks remedying some of that, although there is a lot of material that is going to take some tracking down. To be honest, none of what I read caught my fancy particularly, which won't stop me from going back for more as sources become available.

But being confronted with what I don't know about anarchism is always a challenge that pushes me back into Deep Digging Mode, and as I was trying to contextualize what I was reading and attempting to figure out what I thing could or should be done with the article, I decided to dip back into Max Nettlau's 1897 Bibliographie de l'anarchie, which, despite its age and explicitly fragmentary nature, remains a valuable collection of clues for research. My thought was that even the market anarchist traditions were pretty poorly represented, even in my own work, especially when we step beyond the English-language sources. I had stumbled on a couple of nice texts, like Les Nationalités considérées au point de vut de la liberté et de l'autonomie individuelle, par un prolétaire (Bruxelles, 1862, 52 pp) and then subsequently found them mentioned in Nettlau's bibliography. So I took an afternoon a couple of weeks ago to start really digging through it for early anarchists and mutualists. I found a lot of names that require more digging, and I found a couple significant French mutualists hidden in plain site.

Alfred Darimon, for instance, was a collaborator with Proudhon, and his 1856 De la réforme des banques should be read in the light of his contributions to Proudhon's work on mutual credit as the "solution of the social problem." He was also the editor of Idées révolutionnaires, the 1849 collection of Proudhon's journalism, and wrote a series of political histories which include numerous details about Proudhon and the revolution of 1848.

J. A. Langlois, another of Proudhon's collaborators, and literary executor, wrote a two-volume work on L'homme et la Révolution. Huit études, dédiées à P.-J. Proudhon. (1867) It's a careful elaboration and extension of Proudhon's mature work, sometimes unfortunately faithful, and sometimes pleasantly innovative. In a moment that is a little of both, Langlois, while agreeing with Proudhon that women were essentially incapable of work outside the home, argued that this made women the only class of people who could justly collect a "rent," for their household duties. Langlois is known to English readers through his introduction to Proudhon's Correspondence, which Tucker translated for his edition of What is Property? It's really superb, and is one of the things I have used to introduce people to Proudhon. (I'll be bundling it up with William B. Greene's recollections of Proudhon, the Stephen Pearl Andrews/Benjamin R. Tucker debate from The Index, and a couple of other things in a nice, thick Corvus pamphlet real soon now.)

Joseph Perrot was a self-described "disciple of Proudhon" who wrote a number of works attempting to develop mutualist thought. (Click the link for a listing and links to pdf files at Gallica.) Writing in the 1880s, he was working alongside the collectivist and communist traditions, prior to the incorporation of Proudhonian federalism into anarcho-syndicalism, and it is interesting to see the connections he makes in that context. His casual anti-feminism and anti-semitism reminds us that the period was not necessarily one of progress on "thick" issues, but his work will probably reward the trouble of translation in other ways. Biographical information is sparce on some of these figures, but there was a Joseph Parrot killed in a battle with police after deserting from the military, at a time when it might have been our Proudhonian "disciple."

There are others worthy of attention, including Georges Sorel, whose "Essay on the Philosophy of Proudhon" is really a fascinating reading of some of Proudhon's more difficult texts. But let's finish for now with the best title of the bunch, actually a doctoral thesis by Edmond Lagarde, from 1905, La revanche de Proudhon, ou l'avenir du socialisme mutuelliste. Proudhon's Revenge, and it comes as no surprise that it is revenge on old Karl Marx. Lagarde jettisons some of Proudhon's currency and credit reform stuff, and I haven't decided whether that constitutes a problem or not, but, in any event, I think what we see in Lagarde is a different kind of faithfulness than we encounter in folks like Darimon, Langlois or Perrot. Lagarde is comfortable with a set of terms that recall Proudhon's early invocations of "laissez faire" and his suggestion that the way to abolish the robbery of property was to universalize it, but which are certain to still push some buttons. The conclusion of the work is pretty strong stuff, with invocations of reciprocity as the way to justice and the means of neutralizing the state and destroying Marxism. Labor and its rewards is the problem to be solved, and one solution looks a lot like Tucker's universalization of dependence on wage labor, as the elimination of privilege tears down the divide between laborers and capitalists. There are, as Lagarde puts it, "two antagonistic solutions: the one marxist (collectivist), the other mutualist;"

But in the first, under the control of the State, everyone is waged;

While in the second, where labor is independent, everyone is a capitalist.

Let the proletarians judge these two formulas and choose the one that suits them best.

In the name of Liberty, of Morals, of Justice, they will repudiate the first in order to adopt the second.

And that will be the Revenge of Proudhon.
I'll be posting more from all of these writers as I get a chance to do the translation work.