Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Proudhonian summary from the manuscript writings

The project of working through Proudhon's works, keyword by keyword, has been rewarding for a variety of reasons. It's been nearly impossible to get a clear sense of the larger patterns in Proudhon's use of those keywords without that kind of survey, but the work has also unearthed some important explanations and summaries in unexpected places. The section of the State in The Theory of Taxation is certainly one of the most interesting, but in searching for the surprisingly scarce references to anarchy, I ran across some very interesting material in Napoleon III, a collection of manuscript writings published in 1900. Based on internal references, the early sections appear to date from about 1858. The first chapter begins with some "general reflections on the principle of command," posing a choice between "Archy or Anarchy," and those reflections begin with this interesting observation:
Anarchy expresses a very reasonable idea, the absence of authority and command, which is the true republican principle. We feign to make this word a synonym of disorder, confusion, chaos: it is in this sense that I myself, speaking in the language of everyone, have used it frequently.
It is sad that some republicans accept that synonymy...
I'm inclined to think that a certain synonymy was probably part of the power of the notion of anarchy from the beginning, and that it is hard to imagine Proudhon not exploiting it, despite his stated early desire to express new ideas with new words. But to the extent that the French republicans considered that synonymy an end to the matter, we know they would have been very far from Proudhon's complex vision. In our examination of Proudhon's development, we can mark another affirmation of anarchy as "the true republican principle" as late as 1858, and we find it alongside a discussion, in the second chapter, of the opposing principles of Liberty and Authority, which resembles the discussion in The Principle of Federation. That 1863 discussion, which treated anarchy as a "perpetual desideratum," is, as we have noted, sometimes taken as an abandonment of anarchy as Proudhon's political ideal. In Napoleon III, however, we find the affirmation of anarchy and we find the claim that "fidelity to principles exists in politics only in the ideal," which is essentially the argument from the work on federation.

I'll translate at least those two chapters as time allows, but for now I want to present another section from the first chapter, which amounts to one of the clearest summaries of Proudhon's political theory in the constructive period. Among the "new developments," in the context of the explorations here, is a constructive use of the term "government." There are a few passages that are perhaps not quite clear. Unfortunately, the manuscript writings sometimes offer fewer clues, and did not get the careful final editing that was one of Proudhon's constant habits. But I think there is a lot here, all in one place, which helps to understand Proudhon's constructive project.

1. — The fundamental principle of society is Justice.
2. — Justice is a faculty immanent in human nature, which unfolds by its own virtue, without any help from grace or supernatural excitation, nor from any impetus from the State.
3. — It is at once a sentiment and an idea. — As a sentiment, Justice is the principle of all legislation; — as an idea, the principle of all logic and all philosophy, the instrument of all certainty, and the guarantee of that truth.
4. — The goal of society is to establish Justice.
5. — To establish Justice is to render to each what naturally and legitimately belongs to them, without distinction of persons, conditions, talents, or aptitudes.
6. — One of the consequences of the establishment of Right is the progressive equivalence of conditions, of occupations, and of fortunes; par consequently the finale equality of well-being and happiness.
7. — Justice presupposes liberty; it is the agreement [pacte] of liberties. So its aim is not to limit liberties by the sacrifices that it imposes on them, with an eye to the augmentation of the State; — but to increase the power of each liberty, by the transaction — which establishes it itself, and which is Right.
8. — The transaction of liberties, from which the expression of their right arises, is not their necessary association. — Association is one of the means of human industry, of economic organization; it is not at all the general, universal, absolute, and necessary form; any more than competition, which is opposed to it, any more than property, which it is impossible to destroy.
9. — The satisfaction of the physical, intellectual and moral needs of each is the business of each; society only assists to the extent that it guarantees to each the respect of their rights, the tendency of which is equivalence, equilibrium.
10. — Justice is satisfied, and the social organization is complete, when the liberty of each leaves nothing to be desired; when the have the use of all their faculties and aptitudes, the free disposition of their person and their product.
H, — Liberty being the first of goods for the individual, save for the respect of Justice, which commands everyone and everything, association must only be employed, like everything that effects liberty, where it is indispensable; where the economic result sought cannot be obtained otherwise.
Industrial association is not the business of the State; it arises exclusively from the free initiative of the citizens; for an even greater reason, the State does not have a mission to create it everywhere, to make of it the chemise of the nation.
12. — The government, in a Society, the Power is neither democratic, nor monarchic, nor aristocratic; these words suppose a mass of questions that we can neither solve nor define. — The government is national, social.
It is the resultant of forces, both corporative and individual; — the expression of their equilibrium and of their synthetic will; consequently the most elevated, the most general application of right.
13. — Universal suffrage is one hypothetical manner of presuming the agreement of the masses, their resultant: in itself it is nothing, no more than the ballot box.
The sovereignty of the people is no more than the sovereignty of the prince, it is nothing. Justice is greater than both, independent of both.
14. — It follows that every popular plebiscite can be attacked in the name of right; that the homeland only exists for each on the condition of respecting right and that where right is collectively violated by the nation each citizen would have the right to oppose themselves to the nation, to repudiate its acts, and to declare themselves free towards it of every duty and commitment.
15. — In society, every citizen has right of government and right of justice. This right is never abdicated; the mandate is not a transfer of sovereignty; it is a commission.
Every election of representatives without a definition of its object is null.
There is no blank commission; that would imply a contradiction.
That is why the election of the representative, of the President, of the Emperor, is null. The mandate to command everything and do everything, in the name of the people, is absurd.
16. — Law results: 1) from public, prolonged, preliminary discussion, for the press, the meetings, etc: — 2) from the discussion of the large associations [corporations]: — 3) from their transaction. The law is not the will of anyone: the people are not infallible.
17. — The transaction is not the vote; the vote is only one means of arriving at a transaction. Every law voted for by 300 deputies, rejected by 150, is unjust.
The transaction is the compromise between the 300 and the 150.
18. — The transaction is the synthetic expression which results from all the opinions, for or against, expressed regarding the law.
19. — Every divergence of opinions leads to a synthesis, which is the general opinion, the actual law.
20. — The law is changing, depending on the state of the opinions, the divergence of which varies, and thus gives rise to a new transaction.
21. — Labor being assured, subsistence guaranteed to each, education partially paid for by the State and the communes, instruction will be obligatory, attendance at the school free.
22. — The aim of Society is the extinction of war: — the government does not presuppose any hostility with other governments, is animated with regard to them by no hostile intention, its greatest efforts will tend to universal disarmament.
23. — The precautions that could demand defense transitorily will be entrusted to a special committee, named by the corporations, revocable by them, with a limited mandate; to which the State will be bound to provide all the means of action that depend on it. — Under a despotic power, the army never represents the homeland (Waterloo).
In short, the ministry of war is outside the government.
24. — The action of the State, is in any case the least possible.
It tends to step aside more and more. Every industrial or commercial initiative is strictly forbidden to it.
24. — The State does not make the bank, nor the exchange; it does not bankroll anyone; it is neither the cashier nor the creditor of the nation.
25. — The State does not owe recognition to anyone, neither to the soldier, nor to the worker.
Every citizen is bound to work for themselves until their last breath. The infirm and maimed are the responsibility of the families, corporations and communes: public assistance does not extend beyond that.
26. — In that assistance, the family has the largest share; the corporation the 2nd, and the commune the 3rd and least.
The budgets, wages, etc., must be regulated in that pension.
This is an entirely different world. Between the program of L. Blanc and this one, there is no compatibility.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Proudhon and the coup d'état of 1851

One of the things that ought to be clear from recent developments here is that sometimes the most interesting, and also the most unexpected, insights into Proudhon's work come from double-checking those things that "everyone knows" about his work. It was, after all, in the context of tracking down how close he came to saying "anarchy is order" that I ran across the dubious translations in The General Idea of the Revolution, and that has led to a general scouring of his work for discussions of "anarchy" and "anarchism," which keeps raising interesting points about the early uses of that term. 

When I started working through what I was finding, I was reminded that some of Proudhon's discussion of anarchy occurred in a work which has, in fact, been partially translated, but which is very seldom consulted, probably because of its unsavory reputation. Proudhon's 1852 work, The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d'Etat of December 2, 1851 was partially published in a 1972 book, December 2, 1851, edited by John Halstead, collecting contemporary writings on the coup. The collection is a bit scarce now, and often not cheap if you can find a copy, but given the very small number of Proudhon translations available, its obscurity is fairly remarkable. It does not appear to be, as it might be under other circumstances, one of the "grails" of the literature. Much of the reason for that is undoubtedly that the work has been treated as one of the great missteps of Proudhon's career, with the common claim being that it was written in support of Louis Napoleon's coup and regime. That's probably a fairly poor reading.

I think the simplest way to approach the work is to think about what Proudhon had already said about the nature of "the Revolution" and the workings of historical change, and to compare the common understanding of this work, which was addressed in some sense to the Emperor, with the widespread enthusiasm for The General Idea of the Revolution, which called upon the bourgeoisie to continue their own revolution. I'm sure for some, these questions of address are sufficient to banish both works, but nobody will be surprised if I'm not convinced. And those who find inspiration in the work that gave us the famous and beloved "to be governed" rant might perhaps find reasons to take a look at the more audacious later work. 

The Social Revolution develops as I think a careful reader of Proudhon might expect. He had been predicting something very much like the coup for some time, and had ended up in prison precisely because he had missed very few chances to oppose Louis Napoleon. For him to argue then that the events of December 1851 had as much to do with broader historical movements than they did with the newly minted Emperor might be easily taken as a new affront, rather than any sort of support. In The General Idea of the Revolution he had spoken of the indifference of the people to governmental forms, so long as their interests were served, and he had called that indifference revolutionary, even while he was attempting to infuse "the Revolution in the 19th century" with an idea (justice, ultimately) which would both serve the interests of the people and avoid the pitfalls of false solutions like the coup. The more familiar you are with Proudhon's conception of progress the fewer surprises there are in the work, I think, but I suspect that for many readers the conclusion, "Anarchy or Caesarism," would come as a pleasant surprise, as he addressed in it, quite directly, whether or not he was, as is sometimes claimed, "rallying" to the new regime. I'm posting here the conclusion of that concluding chapter, which shows off some of Proudhon's infamous "patriotism" (in, I think, a not terribly unpleasant light) but also clarifies not just his posture towards Louis Napoleon, but to government and rulers in general.


Do you believe, I am asked at this moment, by an indiscrete, perhaps malicious curiosity, that the December 2 accepts the revolutionary role in which you confine it, as in the circle of Popilius? Would you have faith in its liberal inclinations? And based on this inevitability, so well demonstrated by you, of the mandate of Louis-Napoléon, would you rally to his government, as to the best or least worst of transitions? That is what we want to know, and where we await you!...
— I will respond to that question, which is a bit suggestive, with another:
Do I have a right to suppose, when the ideas that I have defended for four years have obtained so little success, that the head of the new government will adopt them straightaway and make them his own! Have the taken on, in the eyes of opinion, that character of impersonality, reality, and universality, which would impose them on the State? And if these ideas, all still young, are still hardly anything but the ideas of one man, from whence would come the hope that the December 2, who is also a man, will prefer them to his own ideas!...
I write so that others will reflect in their turn and, if there is cause, so they will contradict me. I write so that truth being manifested, and elaborated by opinion, the revolution, with the government, with the government, or even against government, can be accomplished. As for men, I readily believe their good intentions, but even more in the misfortune of their judgment. It is said in the book of Psalms: Put not your trust in prince, or in the children of Adam, that is to say in those who thought is subjective, because salvation is not in them! So I believe, and unfortunately for us all, that the revolutionary idea, ill defined in the minds of the masses, poorly served by its popularizers, still leaves to the government the full choice of its politics; I believe that power is surrounded with impossibilities that it does not see, contradictions that it does not known, traps that the universal ignorance conceals from it; I believe that any government can endure, if it wishes, by affirming its historical reasons, and placing itself under the direction of the interests that it is called to serve, but I also believe that men change little, and that if Louis XVI, after having launched the revolution, had wanted to withdraw it, if the Emperor, or if Charles X and Louis-Philippe had preferred to be lost [doom it?] than to continue it, it is improbable that those who succeeded them would have made themselves straightaway, and spontaneously, its promoters.
That is why I hold myself apart from government, more inclined to pity it that to make war against it, devoted solely to the homeland, and I join myself body and soul with that elite of workers, head of the proletariat and middle class, the party of labor and progress, of liberty and the idea, which, understanding that authority is nothing, that popular spontaneity is of no use; that liberty which does not act is lost, and that the interests that need to put themselves in relation with an intermediary which represents them are interests sacrificed, accepts for its goal and motto the Education of the People.
O homeland, French homeland, homeland of the bards of the eternal revolution! homeland of liberty, for, despite all your servitudes, in no place on the earth, neither in Europe, nor in America, is the mind, which is all of man, so free as it is with you! homeland that I love with that accumulated love that the growing son bears for his mother, that the father feels grow along with his children! I will see you suffer for a long time yet, suffer not for yourself alone, but for the world which rewards you with its envy and its insults; to suffer innocent, only because you do not know yourself?... It seems to me at every instant that you are at your last ordeal! Awaken, mother: neither can your princes, your barons and your counts do anything for your salvation, nor can your prelates no how to comfort you with their benedictions. Guard, if you wish, the memory of those who have done well, and go sometimes to pray at their monuments: but do not seek their successors. They are finished! Commence your new life, O first of immortals; show yourself in your beauty, Venus Urania; spread your perfumes, flower of humanity!
And humanity will be rejuvenated, and its unity will be created by you: for the unity of the human race is the unity of my homeland, as the spirit of the human race is nothing but the spirit of my homeland.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]