Monday, April 30, 2012

The Gift Economy of Property: Gifting Property

The Gift Economy of Property 
Previous posts
  1. Thesis
  2. From the Self to Property 
  3. From Property to Gifts

For the basic details of the mechanism by which property might be gifted, let me just insert the argument from "What could justify property?"

The Gift Economy of Property: From Property to Gifts

The Gift Economy of Property
  1. Thesis
  2. From the Self to Property
  3. From Property to Gifts
  4. Gifting Property 

I'm obviously not talking about "property" in any of the very narrow senses that it has been given, including the narrower senses given to it by Proudhon. Or, rather, I am seeking a broad, underlying definition, which will allow us to relate those more limited senses of the term to one another. We'll probably find ourselves drowning in specific definitions pretty quickly here, but for a moment or two more, let's stay general and try to clarify just what sort of dynamic is proposed when we talk about basing property on a pair of gifts.

A little background: I came to mutualism from the "social anarchist" side, migrating gradually from anarcho-syndicalism during the years of the debates on Usenet which led to An Anarchist FAQ. As a scholar, I had drifted from lit crit to intellectual history, and on to cultural studies, with a heavy dose of poststructualism in the mix, but I also did my grad work at a university where libertarian property theory was simply unavoidable, particularly in the philosophy department where I did quite a bit of part-time teaching. So, as my personal interest in the question of property increased through my encounter with Proudhon, and I started looking around at the various treatments current in anarchist circles, I found myself in sort of a difficult position. It seemed clear to me that the critiques of property engaged in by early figures like Proudhon and Thomas Skidmore raised real questions about the viability of existing systems of private property. At the same time, the sorts of alternatives posed by social anarchists—relatively flimsy conceptions of "possession" or the increasingly popular notion of a "gift economy"—didn't seem to really address those questions, nor did they seem to engage with the "libertarian" discourse in which private property rights are often considered the only rights that matter. And the neo-lockean accounts didn't quite seem to square up with what I was reading in Locke. As an interdisciplinary scholar, this whole business of trying to get different disciplinary discourses to communicate certainly wasn't new to me, but this arguably central discourse seemed particularly weighed down with incommensurable values and conflicting uses of the same small body of key terms—and, it seems to me, at least its share of fixed ideas and opportunistic arguments.

The "gift economy of property" was the accidental outcome of a kind of thought experiment. I admire libertarian property theory for its ambitious attempts to trace out the various implications of "property," but sometimes feel that the "all rights are property rights" crowd are a little too certain at the outset what "all rights" must look like. If nothing else, the most careful "one right" system is a precarious enterprise, since misidentifying that right, or misunderstanding its aspects and implications, is a kind of error that will almost inevitably snowball. But, taken generally, the notion that property is the basis of rights and liberties makes pretty good sense: it is little more than a restatement of the principle of "natural rights," an assumption that human rights and liberties ought to arise from, or at least closely connect to, whatever is proper to the existence of human beings. And all of those criticism from social anarchist and early socialist circles had convinced me of the need to at least begin by taking things generally and working through things deliberately.

I made an early attempt to work out a notion of "self-ownership" which did not seem question-begging to me, looking for a construction in which it seemed useful to say "I am myself" and "I own myself," without shifting terms, and without simply imposing the notion of ownership as legal control on the self. My concerns, and my more recent conclusions, are probably best expressed in "Responses on mutualist property theory: Self-ownership," but my initial conclusion was that an awful lot of the accounts I was reading of self-ownership most places were, if not fundamentally self-defeating, at least seriously fraught with difficulties.

As I was simultaneously delving deep into Proudhon's works and exploring other theories, the thing that seemed clear to me was that "property" remained, to some extent at least, not a liberty or a right, but simply a problem which we lacked clear criteria to deal with. It seemed to me that I was at a place in my elaboration of property theory where I had to say that none of the contenders had much more to offer than more or less convincing arguments from predicted consequences—with prediction being a hazardous business across the divide of whatever other transformations might bring us within reach of any sort of anarchism. So, in order to come up with any sort of anarchistic principle for dealing with those conflicts of "mine" and "thine" which seem inevitable, it seemed necessary either
  1. To discover some more or less "natural" principle, which would reveal to us the nature of our rights and liberties; or
  2. To invent some practice or establish some convention which would be sufficiently unobjectionable that a lot of other details could just be set aside.
In short, we either had to understand our present situation differently, and adjust our behavior accordingly, or find a means to claim property without a priori permission. Locke's original theory, with the provisos intact, seemed to me—and still seems to me—a relatively elegant attempt to achieve the second sort of solution to our problem, but even the provisos have been subject to plausible interpretations that pull in essentially opposite directions, with regard to key questions like just consumption of appropriation of natural resources. As much as I have drawn from Locke's work, it has always left me with critical questions unanswered.

And, of course, staking out a theoretical claim on proviso-lockean territory is an almost sure-fire way not to be taken seriously by anyone—whether it's a question of social anarchists, neo-lockean market anarchists, or the common-sense "possessitarians" who will settle all the details "after the revolution." The fact that my argument has had certain resonances with Georgism has been a mixed blessing, since I don't accept the logic of land-value taxation.

In any event, it was after some significant attempts to simply find "property" in some principle of natural law, or take it according to some generalizable principle—without much success—that I noticed all that Proudhon had to say about property and "free gifts," that I began to explore the notion that perhaps we could give property to one another.

[Continued in Part 2: "Gifting Property"] 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Gift Economy of Property: From the Self to Property

The Gift Economy of Property
  1. Thesis
  2. From the Self to Property 
  3. From Property to Gifts
  4. Gifting Property 

Having laid out a little more clearly the philosophical moves I'm making with the "gift economy of property," I probably need to clarify again the rationale for such a idiosyncratic approach to the question of property. Because it is explicitly a mutualist anarchist approach, and specifically a neo-Proudhonian approach, there's a whole lot of critique of property at the foundations, a strong sense that, as desirable as the aims of property might be, the available means of founding it appear to be a mess. We start with the sense that untangling "property" and "theft" may not be simple, that certain kinds of property may be "impossible." So we have to address some pretty basic issues.

Having proposed a slightly heretical reading of "self-ownership" as a key-term, let's look a bit at the self. And let me repeat that our adequate, non-simplist, mutualist theory of property will begin with a theory of what is proper to individual human beings, and it will be non-simplist, or two-sided, to account for two aspects of selfhood. Our natural egoism—the product of the gulf between individual consciousnesses and the experience, within every individual consciousness, of a unique and relatively persistent self, apparently above or at least apart from the unbroken flow of the universal circulus—suggests to us a division between our own and, well..., whatever else there is. Reflection and observation suggest a material reality with few if any real separations at all, a social reality where selves refuse to respect bodily boundaries, and an environment rich in idea-forces, which manage, without any sort of body at all, to have their way with things in all sorts of ways. Is it proper for us to persist or to circulate, to be stable or in constant flux? If we're taking our cues from Proudhon—particularly as I have been reading him in recent posts—perhaps we should say that we, in that which is proper to us, are a sort of "synthesis of community and property," that it is as proper to us to circulate and disseminate as it is to persist and accumulate. In their own ways, I suspect both Stirner and Pierre Leroux would have agreed. And Walt Whitman, of course:
I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. 
We may not embrace a vision of self-hood as complicated as Whitman's, but to the extent that we embrace any complexity at with, with regard to the interconnection or overlap of selves, some clarification or convention will be necessary to get us any further down the road to the various forms of "property." This will be as true for more informal system of "possession" or usufruct as it will be for very formal systems built up from axioms.

As soon as the question of the "mine and thine" is raised—as it seems likely to be raised in almost any society at some point—we're in the realm where it seems necessary to have some notion of property. The word "property" refers, of course, to a family of concepts, which we confuse at our peril. Whatever local or specialized definitions exist, property as such need not be exclusive, for example, and whether it is always "individual" depends a great deal on how we limit the meaning of that term. We have Stirner, for instance, emphasizing the "mine"—the my own—with precious little attention to the "thine," beyond assuming that whatever other uniques exists will concern themselves with their own as well, with the possibility wide open for overlap between the mine and thine. And for Proudhon, because individuals are always also organized groups, we have the possibility of "collective" forms of property, but, at least at this stage of the analysis, the "collectives" in question would be better understood as individuals of a different order or on a different scale.

We're taking very small steps here, from a potentially complex self, considered in as much—or as little—isolation as it is capable of, to the simplest sort of property, the distinction of selves necessary to most, if not all, notions of society. We are not yet talking the conventional language of contemporary property theory, since what we're concerning ourselves with at this stage is neither a question of liberties or rights. If we were to stop here, and perhaps work out some sort of purely use-based system, then I suspect we might get along without anything like "self-ownership." We would be ourselves, and we could find conventional means of not "stepping on each other's toes" too much in the process. But the convention would probably end up involving something that looked quite a bit like Locke's provisos: some conventional understanding that we could not, in justice, exploit the overlap between selves, or try to make ourselves whole or full at the expense of others. That is probably one of the basic things that "justice" means.

[Continued in Part 2: "From Property to Gifts"]

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The larger antinomy — II

[Concluded from part I]

I think we can safely posit two very general categories of responses to Proudhon: those which assume that his work, and particularly his work on property, was more complete than consistent, and those which insist that it was more consistent than complete. According to the first approach, the phrase "property is theft," certain proposals in The General Idea of the Revolution, and the general trajectory of The Political Capacity of the Working Classes (or some roughly similar collection) constitute Proudhon's major work—laying the foundation for social anarchism—and the critical task is to clear away all the distracting deviations and contradictions that might lead down other roads. The second approach focuses on the central role of "contradictions" in Proudhon's work, and tends to pay close attention to the recurrence of certain challenging elements of his thought across his entire career, accumulating loose ends and suggestive repetitions, while constantly digging through the works for more data. Both approaches have their associated risks, but I don't think anyone is under any illusions about which one I consider more useful, particularly at this stage of our rediscovery of Proudhon.

In some ways, of course, I think that the first approach is at a severe disadvantage. There are simply too many indications in Proudhon's work that he considered himself engaged in a constant work-in-progress, and, at least in the English-speaking world, most of us are still exploring, trying to determine the extent of his projects—and it's a dangerous business to start trimming limbs when you don't really quite know what sort of tree you're looking at.

If you're not simply starting out with the assumption that the important things in Proudhon's work were the ones that were useful to Bakunin and Kropotkin, some general characteristics of that work become obvious fairly quickly—mostly because they pose such constant and difficult problems for the reader. Proudhon was engaged in a range of types of analysis, with pretty much all of them dependent on some sort of dialectical play between antagonistic, contradictory, or antinomic elements. In the discussions of property, we encounter a couple of different versions of the quasi-historical/developmental narrative, in which Proudhon posits "community" and "property" (1840)—or "property" and "communism" (1846), or "fief" and "allodium" (1861/5)—as "stages" in the development of resource-management norms. We find him opposing "possession" and "property" as principles, respectively, of "fact" and "right," while, in the midst of the same work, also describing them as, respectively, consistent with and against "right." We find him opposing individual and collective forms of property (broadly speaking), while treating any form of organized collectivity worthy of the name as also an individual, describing individuals as always already "groups" or "series," and ultimately making it clear that the property that is "theft" for the human individual would also be theft for the most inclusive collectivity. Property takes its place amidst the play of centralizing and decentralizing institutions. It is "theft," "impossible," and "liberty." And, of course, it is one of the elements of that "synthesis of community and property" that Proudhon believed would produce liberty. There is, for the most part, a complex and gradually developing consistency in all this, but there's nothing easy about following all the threads, particularly as they tend to lead in various directions from any given point in Proudhon's study.

The difficulties of mapping Proudhon's overall project have necessitated a lot of real or apparent repetition in my own writings on the subject, and a lot of isolated articulations of selected elements, with, I hope, some general progress in showing how the various parts of the analysis fit together. But a lot of the headway that I have made has been achieved by bringing Proudhon's work into dialogue with the works of a variety of other figures—Max Stirner, John Locke, Pierre Leroux, and all those other figures I summoned down to the river's edge in the thought-experiment in mock-dramatic form that I hope will be useful as a starting place for gathering various the various partial analyses together. The result was arguably a useful increase in localized clarity, where particular aspects of the various analyses were concerned, but probably also a fairly daunting increase in the complexity of the project as a whole. I certainly haven't been immune to a certain drowning feeling, as the quest for clarity has multiplied questions just as fast as answers.

The light at the end of the long tunnel, for me, has been a strong sense that, behind the daunting and fascinating complexities of Proudhon's various analyses, there were some basic principles or at least a basic dynamic which, if once identified, might substantially simplify the rest of the work, allowing us to more easily connect the various sorts of analysis in Proudhon's writings with one another, and with the work of those other theorists that have entered into the game. (Or it is the proverbial oncoming train.)

For some time, I have been focused on that formula for liberty, "the synthesis of community and property," and the developmental account—in the "third form of society" section of What is Property?—where Proudhon introduced it. Following Proudhon, I've been able to say a lot about "property," and comparatively little about "community," and have been trying to clarify the various sorts of "property" enough to determine just what this elusive other pole of the dialectic of liberty really is. There are influences in Proudhon that make it easy to believe that, in the most abstract sense, the more general antinomy lurking behind oppositions like centralizing/decentralizing, property/community, law/fact, etc., might be related to the "circulus" of Pierre Leroux or the focus on the free flow of the passions in Charles Fourier. But the question of influence is complicated in Proudhon's work. In the memoirs on property, alongside his partisan attacks on Leroux and the followers of Fourier, we find these two rather surprising endorsements.
The disciples of Fourier have long seemed to me the most advanced of all modern socialists, and almost the only ones worthy of the name. If they had understood the nature of their task, spoken to the people, awakened their sympathies, and kept silence when they did not understand; if they had made less extravagant pretensions, and had shown more respect for public intelligence, — perhaps the reform would now, thanks to them, be in progress.—What is Property?
I must here declare freely — in order that I may not be suspected of secret connivance, which is foreign to my nature — that M. Leroux has my full sympathy. Not that I am a believer in his quasi-Pythagorean philosophy (upon this subject I should have more than one observation to submit to him, provided a veteran covered with stripes would not despise the remarks of a conscript); not that I feel bound to this author by any special consideration for his opposition to property. In my opinion, M. Leroux could, and even ought to, state his position more explicitly and logically. But I like, I admire, in M. Leroux, the antagonist of our philosophical demigods, the demolisher of usurped reputations, the pitiless critic of every thing that is respected because of its antiquity. Such is the reason for my high esteem of M. Leroux; such would be the principle of the only literary association which, in this century of coteries, I should care to form. We need men who, like M. Leroux, call in question social principles, — not to diffuse doubt concerning them, but to make them doubly sure; men who excite the mind by bold negations, and make the conscience tremble by doctrines of annihilation.—Letter to M. Blanqui on Property
And Proudhon undoubtedly did, despite some denials, incorporate a good deal of the basic thought of Fourier and Leroux into his own work. The Creation of Order in Humanity is a fascinating reworking of material from The Theory of the Four Movements, but there's no question where the reworked elements originated, as there is not much question where the emphasis on serial analysis, the opposition to simplism, etc., come from. The borrowings from Pierre Leroux are more likely to escape many readers, but mostly because Leroux's work is now almost unknown. We know that Proudhon sincerely rejected the more "utopian" elements of both thinkers, but the question is whether he absorbed any of their shared fascination with natural circulation and passional flows.

The difficulty is that, in most of his writing on property, Proudhon critiqued laws and speculated about historical development. When he was talking about property—and its opposite pole—he avoided the sort of abstract, general discussion that would help us connect to the sort of theory we find in Fourier and Leroux. But if we look at his writings on liberty, on progress, and on the Revolution, we begin to see some fairly persistent patterns, in which the transient and the stable are opposed. And then we run across the discussion of property and theft in The Celebration of Sunday, and perhaps we have our connection to the examination of property.

What I intend to do is to make rather a big deal about that definition of theft that Proudhon proposed in the Celebration: "to divert, to put or turn aside." And perhaps I will make a bit too big a deal of it, from a strictly proudhonological perspective. One way or another, I can't really make the defense here. I'm drawing on lots of material which is unavailable to most of my readers, and to some extent simply drawing on my developing intuitions about the "big picture" in Proudhon's thought. What I can do, however, is to remind skeptics that, for Proudhon, "the problem of property [was], after that of human destiny, the greatest that reason can propose, and the last that it will be able to resolve." So if we find, as it seems we do, that it was precisely in the realm of property that Proudhon's ideas seem to have been tardiest to come together, if it was in that investigation that he left threads dangling for the entire length of his career, perhaps we should not be surprised—at which point I don't think we can be faulted for applying the fairly consistent products of his other investigations to that thorny question.


What if the larger antinomy in Proudhon's work, the dynamic that linked his various more focused analyses, was essentially a dialectical play between "turning or putting aside" and "not turning and putting aside," with the first identified with "property" and the other with an alternative, or series of alternatives, which remains elusive, but which, as "community," Proudhon early on associated with the "spontaneous movement" of "sociability"? And what if we drag that antinomy out onto the largest sort of stage, treating its opposed terms as abstract tendencies to, on the one hand, circulation and dissemination, and, on the other, concentration and persistence? This opposition of the fluid and the firm immediately calls to mind any number of familiar cultural binaries, many of them quite clearly gendered—and we would be kidding ourselves if we thought we were going to avoid some demanding work on the question of gender and property before we're done with Proudhon. It might also call to mind the two "gifts" on which I have proposed as a basis for a mutualist notion of self-ownership, in the context of the "gift economy of property." For those who have tangled with Proudhon's treatment of individualities and collectivities as two faces of serial organization, other bells might ring. Does the notion of the Revolution as both conservative and progressive perhaps answer to much the same guiding dynamic? And the idea that mutualism is necessarily an "anarchism of approximations"?

This is ultimately the intuition on the basis of which I have developed the neo-Proudhonian analysis of property that I've been advancing, in the course of which I have tended to deploy the most uncompromisingly asocial interpretation of Stirner's egoism—understood as a philosophy for the unique as "the only one"—alongside and against the sense of a Pierre Leroux or Joseph Dejacque that we are all in this together, inseparably connected in a universal circulus. I've been content to resort to that qualifier, neo-, while I've explored Proudhon's thought more thoroughly, but perhaps I have really been rather orthodox in my own inventions.

The larger antinomy — I

"When Jesus Christ, explaining to the people the different articles of the Decalogue, taught them that polygamy had been permitted to the ancients because of the rudeness of their intelligence, but that it had not been thus in the beginning; that a bad desire is equal to a fornication consummated; that insult and affront are as reprehensible as murder and blows; that he is a parricide who says to his poor father: “This morning I have prayed to God for you; that will benefit you;” he said nothing of the 8th commandment, which concerned theft, judging the hardness of heart of his audience still too great for the truth that he had to speak. After eighteen centuries, are we worthy to hear it?"—P.-J. Proudhon, The Celebration of Sunday 
While I'm picking up dropped threads and revisiting basic arguments in the property discussion, it's important to incorporate the elements that came out of my work on Proudhon's The Celebration of Sunday. That early work introduced a number of potential twists into the story of Proudhon and "property." Three stand out:
  1. Anticipating a number of other instances where he would describe "property" as perhaps the greatest question that faced humanity, Proudhon described Jesus skipping over a discussion of theft, the notion that would come to define property for Proudhon, because it was, in essence, a topic whose time had not yet come. While this is not a "twist," so much as it is evidence of a consistent emphasis on the difficulties and importance of the question, that is extremely useful, given all the attempts to portray "property is theft" as the one really important element of Proudhon's property theory. The consistent insistence on the difficulties involved has to weigh heavily against any attempt to take Proudhon's bon mot as all that really matters in his analysis.

    (For those unfamiliar with the other statements of this sort, here's another example:
    “The problem of property is, after that of human destiny, the greatest that reason can propose, and the last that it will be able to resolve. Indeed, the theological problem, the enigma of religion, has been explicated; the philosophical problem, which treats the value and legitimacy of knowledge, is resolved: there remains the social problem, which simply joins these two, and the solution of which, as everyone believes, comes essentially from property.”—P.-J. Proudhon, The System of Economic Contradictions.)
  2. In a discussion of the value of the solitude and reflection imposed by the celebration of Sunday for society, Proudhon made it clear that he believed that the development and health of society was dependent on the periodic intervention of a kind of anti-social isolation. Moses imposed a sort of weekly hermitage on the Israelites in order to make them human, to allow them to grow, develop and seek truth.
    If Moses had had the power, he would never have had the thought to transform his farmers into effective hermits; he only wanted to make them men, to accustom them, by reflection, to seek the just and the true in everything. Thus he strove to create around them a solitude which would not destroy the great affluence, and which preserved all the prestige of a true isolation: the solitude of the Sabbath and the feasts.
    One of the objections to much of Proudhon's property theory comes from a resistance to the notion that the road to an anarchist society could pass through an institution, like simple property, which Proudhon characterized as not simply unsocial, but in some sense despotic, even anthropophagous. But there is a thread that runs through Proudhon's work, from The Celebration of Sunday to The Theory of Property, which suggests that a belief in just that sort of route to liberty was one of his fairly constant beliefs. The comments from 1839 are followed  by these remarks:
    “The consequences of Adam’s transgression are inherited by the race; the first is ignorance.” Truly, the race, like the individual, is born ignorant; but, in regard to a multitude of questions, even in the moral and political spheres, this ignorance of the race has been dispelled: who says that it will not depart altogether? Mankind makes continual progress toward truth, and light ever triumphs over darkness. Our disease is not, then, absolutely incurable, and the theory of the theologians is worse than inadequate; it is ridiculous, since it is reducible to this tautology: “Man errs, because he errs.” While the true statement is this: “Man errs, because he learns.” Now, if man arrives at a knowledge of all that he needs to know, it is reasonable to believe that, ceasing to err, he will cease to suffer.
    The notion that human beings might eventually cease to err became gradually less tenable for Proudhon, as he elaborated his philosophy of progress—and it was, arguably, not all that consistent with some of what he wrote in What is Property? in the first place—so we might be inclined to see it as entirely consistent with Proudhon's mature thought that erring is always part of the road to learning, and learning is an endless journey. And when—in between proposing the "universalizing of robbery" in 1842 and suggesting that the unforeseen outcome of a free market might be something like communism—he claimed, in The System of Economic Contradictions, that:
    "By abuse, the legislator has meant that the proprietor has the right to be mistaken in the use of his goods, without ever being subject to investigation for that poor use, without being responsible to anyone for his error.
    it's as if we should have been expecting it right along, and the case is made for a certain sort of property, for as long as human beings continue to err.
  3. The third reference to property is the the discussion of the true meaning of that injunction against "theft" in the Decalogue:
    Equality of conditions is in conformity to reason and an irrefutable right. It is in the spirit of Christianity, and it is the aim of society; the legislation of Moses demonstrates that it can be attained. That sublime dogma, so frightening in our time, has its roots in the most intimate depths of the conscience, where it is mixed up with the very notion of justice and right. Thou shalt not steal, says the Decalogue, which is to say, with the vigor of the original term, lo thignob, you will divert nothing, you will put nothing aside for yourself. The expression is generic like the idea itself: it forbids not only theft committed with violence and by ruse, fraud and brigandage, but also every sort of gain acquired from others without their full agreement. It implies, in short, that every violation of equality of division, every premium arbitrarily demanded, and tyrannically collected, either in exchange, or from the labor of others, is a violation of communicative justice, it is a misappropriation
    Read according to what I have been calling the "energetic" interpretation of the terms, this threatens not just a twist, but an overturning of much of what we have thought we knew about Proudhon and property. If theft is actually prior to property, there are a variety of consequences. Certain facile objections to the phrase "property is theft" lose a great deal of their force, and perhaps we see another instance of the sort of logic I discussed in #2 above. But the possibility which has been most exciting to me is that, in teasing out the specific "varieties of theft and property," we may begin to glimpse an element of Proudhon's theory which has previously been hard to isolate: a general contradiction or antinomy which informs Proudhon's entire project.

The Gift Economy of Property: Thesis

 The Gift Economy of Property
  1. Thesis
  2. From the Self to Property 
  3. From Property to Gifts
  4. Gifting Property 

An adequate, non-simplist, mutualist theory of what is proper to individual human beings, seeking to do justice to the range of things we denominate by the word "property," will have to account for the nearly unbridgeable separateness that we experience in consciousness, as well as the inextricable interconnection which is our material reality. It will have to, in essence, respond to Max Stirner and Pierre Leroux (or any number of other advocates of a roughly ecological universal circulus.) The "gift economy of property" proposal seeks to base a form of "self-ownership" on two generalized "gifts:"
  1. A conscious ceding of all that we might claim of our own in others; and
  2. An affirmation of the right to err in the process of learning to manage one's own.
On this basis, "self-ownership" would actually be an elegantly appropriate phrase, highlighting the ways in which the notion brings together two aspects of property, the "I am..." and the "I own...," without being able to simply merge them. And it would indeed be "property," according to the definitions used by Proudhon, combining the elements of "use" and (socially limited) "abuse."

There might be ethical arguments for denying one another one or both of these "gifts," but I suspect there are very few that would meet any very rigorous standard of mutuality.

[Continued in Part 2: "From the Self to Property"]

Friday, April 20, 2012

Picking up dropped threads

Lots of things have intervened in the discussion of mutualist property theory over the last two years, not the least of which has been a whole lot of additional research and translation. It has, for one reason or another, been a little more than I could manage to pick up where I left the fairly straightforward exploration of the question which was interrupted in the midst of the "property is impossible" series, way back in June 2010. But there's no getting on to the next phase of things without wrapping up this particular discussion, so I'm working on finally pulling together a summary of the analysis I've generated in fits and starts since the 2008 Proudhon Seminar. Fortunately, I had started that summarizing process, before I so rudely interrupted myself, so let me draw attention back to that beginning, in the post "Take me to the river...," which begins:
Let's say we gather the usual suspects, down by the river, in the State of Nature, or thereabouts, for a bit of property theory and a few "good draughts." John Locke says everybody can appropriate some river-water, as long as what they make their own "property" leaves "a whole river of the same water." Now, Locke has a reputation for saying things like "my labor" when maybe he means the labor of someone else, so there's some hesitation, but it seems like a pretty good deal, assuming it's possible. Now, in literal terms, it seems impossible: a quantity of water, X, minus some non-zero "good draught," G, is unlikely to = X.  But, out in the State of Nature, talking about individual-scale "draughts" and a naturally resilient river-system, perhaps it is at least as good as possible. 
 I'll be continuing, in a similar vein, to let the various "usual suspects" have a little more uninterrupted say, and then moving on to spelling out just how the various pieces of the "gift economy of property" fit together. Because I've had a chance to do so much work on the question over the last couple of years, I think even those who followed along pretty closely the first time will find new reasons to smile, shake their heads or gnash their teeth.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Emile Digeon, Rights and Duties in Rational Anarchy (1882)

Let's be honest. I initially took a look at Emile Digeon's Rights and Duties in Rational Anarchy because of its weird title. But it turns out that he was a fascinating individual, who played a key role in one of the other communes that rose with the Paris Commune. So I've already translated a couple of minor texts, and now I can add his most famous work to the file. There remains one major pamphlet to translate, Revolutionary Remarks, and then I'll probably bind an edition of "Selected Works."

Rights and Duties displays an interesting mix of tendencies. Digeon wants to carve out a space for anarchism free from the machinations of the governmentalists, but also from those who believe that anarchy involves no rules. His model is a sort of radical, direct democracy, complete with statute laws and elected representatives, subject to constant revision and recall, with a right of insurrection always present, if the representatives should get too cozy. It's not the sort of thing generally proposed by the major anarchist thinkers or schools, but that's really why it's worth looking at.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Corvus Editions: Spring releases

For this year's Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair, I decided to simplify my selection, and my tabling patter, and focus on the translation side of my project. A number of the pamphlets linked below are also first installments of larger projects. Anyway, here's what you missed if you didn't make the show:
  • Working Translations #1
    "An unsystematic selection of radical writings, translated from the French."In hardcover, Working Translations will be a series of 200+ page omnibus volumes, collecting all of my translation work as it appears. For pamphlet release, I'll be issuing many of the longer texts separately, and assembling these "unsystematic" anthologies to collect shorter works.This issue contains works by Paul Adam, Etienne Cabet, Alfred Darimon, Peter Kropotkin, Multatuli, Claude Pelletier, Han Ryner and Voline, as well as the dramatic parody, "The Feuding Brothers."
  • Black and Red Feminism #2
    Another fairly "unsystematic" assortment, including work by and about Flora Tristan, Eugénie Niboyet, Paule Mink, André Léo, etc. At this stage of the Black and Red Feminism project, my goal is to present representative material, which gives a sense of the richness of the literature, and it is indeed rich. 
  • In Which the Phantoms Reappear
    "Two Early Anarchists, Exiles among the Exiles." This collection brings together various texts by and about Joseph Déjacque and Ernest Coeurderoy, including Coeurderoy's The Barrier of the Combat. It's intended as a "teaser" for the Déjacque and Coeurderoy collections that are in the works, but also as introduction to the exile communities in which the earliest attempts to create the International took place.
  • Mother Earth—An Author Index
    My goal is to develop this author index into a more elaborate research guide to Mother Earth, but this first step in the process should be a real help to anyone researching the magazine. 
  • Emile Armand, A Little Manual of the Individualist Anarchist and other writings
    There are good things in the works, as far as translation of Armand's work is concerned, so my hope is that this collection is rapidly superseded by more extensive ones. In the meantime, here is my revised translation of the "Little Manual," together with two essays on sexual liberty. 
  • Anselme Bellegarrigue, To the Point! To Action!!
    Bellegarrigue attacks the renewal of governmentalism in the wake of the February 1848 revolution.
  • Anselme Bellegarrigue, The Revolution
    The second issue of Anarchy: A Journal of Order focused on the nature of "the Revolution," and elaborated Bellegarrigue's rather no-nonsense, laissez faire approach to anarchism.    
  • Joseph Déjacque, Down with the Bosses! and other writings
    Work on the promised Dejacque anthology progresses gradually, as I untangle the critical borrowings from Charles Fourier, Pierre Leroux, Proudhon, etc., and work to track down some key texts. As a preview of things to come, here is a collection of works from Le Libertaire, including a revised translation of Down with the Bosses!, and essays on exchange and John Brown's raid
  • Jenny d'Hericourt, Proudhon
    Jenny d'Hericourt's two-volume Woman Emancipated was partially translated in the late 19th century, including her response to Proudhon, which collects the majority of their public correspondence. Work is underway to revise and complete that translation, but in the meantime you can get a taste of d'Hericourt's sharp wit and relentless style, as she makes pretty short work of Proudhon's anti-feminism. 
  • Emile Digeon, The Voice of One Hoodwinked
    Digeon is not a famous name among anarchists, and his "rational anarchy" has merited even a footnote in an anarchist history in quite a long time. But in his day he was well-known as one of the prime movers in the Commune of Narbonne, which rose up in support of the Paris Commune, and his attempts to craft a practical theory of anarchism commanded at least respectful comments from a range of commentators. This first selection of Digeon's work is focused on the nuts and bolts of governmentalism, and serves as a background for works such as "Rights and Duties in Rational Anarchy" (coming soon in translation.)
  • Eliphalet Kimball, Thoughts on Natural Principles
    A lost anarchist gem from mid-19th-century America. Kimball's collected writings explain everything from how to bake a healthy loaf of bread to how to have a free society, and the explanations hang together in a fascinating way, all based on a small number of anarchy-friendly "natural principles." There are few works in the anarchist literature more likely to make you laugh out loud, but there's also plenty here to encourage serious reflection. 
  • Dyer Lum, Buddhism Notwithstanding, and other writings from "The Index"
    Lum was nothing if not eclectic in his interests, and this collection assembles most of his writings within the "free religionist" milieu (which is also where Benjamin R. Tucker published some of his first essays and translations.)
  • P.-J. Proudhon, The Celebration of Sunday
    Proudhon's first major work provides important insights into all that would follow. A couple of offhand, but extremely suggestive comments about property and theft made the work of translation all worthwhile, and I think the text will also reward any readers who want to understand Proudhon's work in its totality.
  • P.-J. Proudhon, Explanations Presented to the Public Minister on the Right of Property
    Every one of Proudhon's writings on property adds something important to our understanding of the question, and this early clarification of his position contains a number of suggestive, and sometimes startling, twists on the nature of Proudhon's project and the meaning of "property is theft." 
  • P.-J. Proudhon, The Philosophy of Progress
    I've come to think of The Philosophy of Progress as the key to understanding Proudhon's other works. It bears reading and rereading, if we want to get a handle on the basic logic of Proudhon's analysis.
  • P.-J. Proudhon, Toast to the Revolution
    My first Proudhon translation remains one of my favorite of his short works. And this examination of the nature of "the Revolution" makes a nice compare-and-contrast pair the Bellegarrigue's essay linked above.
I should have a comparable selection of new material ready for the summer fairs, with even more translations and some new collections of material pulled together from the old Corvus Editions catalog.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Felix P....., "The Philosophy of Defiance" (New York, 1854)

I've just posted a translation of selections from The Philosophy of Defiance, an 1854 anarchist pamphlet published in New York and written by a French exile who signed the work "Felix P....." Max Nettlau discovered the text, and published portions of it in La Revue Anarchiste for July, 1922. That's fortunate, because the original text seems to be rare to the point of nonexistence, and because it's a very interesting example of early anarchist thought.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The New Adventure: Bakunin in English

I'm just back from the 2012 Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair, which was, as usual, a lot of fun—and more than a bit exhausting. I took a much narrower slice of the Corvus Editions catalog than usual, focusing on translations and the Eliphalet Kimball collection, and was pleased with the response. Translation was also the focus of a lot of the networking this year, and several great projects should be rolling out over the next couple of months. 

The big project that is mine to announce is the Collected Works of Bakunin in English, which PM Press is finally ready to pursue, with yours truly in the position of organizing editor. It's a rather daunting prospect, given the complexities of dealing with Bakunin's works, but also a very exciting one. Collectivist anarchism is in some ways the anarchist school most in need of translation into English at the moment. We've made a lot of progress on mutualist material, and on the other very early strands of anarchistic thought—and that work continues—but Bakunin's work remains largely unknown in English, or known only in scattered fragments. And other collectivists—James Guillaume, Adhemar Schwitzguébel, César De Paepe, etc.—are even less well-known. We're going to start to remedy that.

As the plan for the Collected Works comes together,  I'll be looking for translators and readers, to assist the usual suspects in making sure this is a resource of lasting value. And I will probably also be looking for some crowd-funding assistance to help compensate translators.

Meanwhile, I'll be continuing my work on various translations, splitting my time in the immediate future primarily between Ernest Coeurderoy, Charles Fourier, Emile Armand and a very leisurely progress through Proudhon's The Creation of Order in Humanity. But since translation has essentially become the focus of my scholarly work for the time being, there will also be lots of little bits and pieces forthcoming, starting with Emile Digeon's Rights and Duties in Rational Anarchy, which I managed to get into rough form on the trip.