Saturday, April 26, 2014

Advice for Travelers on the Trail of the Anarchic Encounter

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I too have made a sort of transition from critical to constructive concerns, and when one of these half-mad, exploratory jaunts off into the wide-flung realms of intellectual history and theory gets to be a little overwhelming there is a sort of home port to return to. For a long time, the logical working conclusion after pretty much every step in my research was something like: "Okay, but I think there's a bit more to it than that." And it was on with the steady unraveling of received wisdom. Questions multiplied, existing explanations showed a strong tendency to come up short of facts, logic or both, and I didn't have a lot to cling to besides a handful of provocative catch-phrases and general intuitions. Now, I think time and subsequent research has been surprisingly kind to my catch-phrases and intuitions, and over the last year or so I've been able to really begin to build an account of Proudhon's work, of anarchy and of anarchism around the notion of an anarchic encounter between equal uniques. So now when it's time to stop and assess the progress of the work, the logical question is almost always some variation on "Okay, but what happens in the encounter?" 

And I recommend that as a strategy to readers, for whom I have no doubt my dashing back and forth across Proudhon's works and a range of contexts may come across as baroque or simply prolix. There's always a short-cut back to relative sanity and clarity. Just ask yourself: "How does this relate to the anarchic encounter?"

The truth is that I'm trying to make the work as lean and straightforward as possible, given the complexities of the material in question. But it seems like I often have to come at the same questions from a number of different directions before I can make the connections necessary to both untangle them from the received narrative about Proudhon and anarchism and pick out the key elements of Proudhon's philosophy and sociology, despite their shifting names, and finally grasp how they might be applied in a contemporary context. When I sat down yesterday to reread the last three posts, I had a sort of sinking feeling that perhaps I hadn't said much that hadn't already been said in the post "How does property become capitalist?" But I suppose if anarchists stopped talking when they thought they were saying something that had already been said, our propaganda would become considerably less voluminous. And, really, I think that in my case the growing clarity about Proudhon's project, particularly in the 1860s, means that each time we look at the central problems from a slightly different angle, we move one step closer to being able to apply Proudhon's anarchism without constant reference to the enormous body of works we've been exploring. So...

If we focus for the moment on Proudhon's federalist-mutualist-guarantist theory of the practical application of reciprocity, with the understanding that reciprocity is itself more than just an ethical norm, what happens in the encounter?

Let me just leave that there for the moment...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Note on the disposition of products and the role of principles

"[I]f property is a truth, this can only be on one condition: that the principles of Immanent Justice, Individual Sovereignty and Federation are accepted." (Theory of Property)
I get very little feedback on the theoretical posts here, so it's hard to know to what extent the implications of Proudhon's federalist-mutualist-guarantist theory are obvious or, alternately, still pretty uncertain. I know that I frequently get to a point in my own thinking where, having laid out the demands on the application of the theory, I can't get much past "THAT WOULD BE ANARCHY!" But in my calmer moments, it often strikes me that the difficulty is not so much that we couldn't figure out ways to construct our approximations of justice, but that there are a whole heck of a lot of different ways to go about it, and it is most difficult to know how to begin to choose, without very specific needs and interests on the table.

Because I would like to stick fairly close to the question of property at the moment, perhaps the easiest place to start to wrestle with these difficulties is in the context of Proudhon's argument against capitalism and the droit d'aubaine (in What is Property?) If "property is theft," is it largely because the rights of property have naturalized a right to profit (aubaines or "windfalls") based in exploitation. "Property is a man's right to dispose at will of social property." The key concern here is a slide between individual and social, or, as I have suggested before, between individualities of different scales. 

Let's start with a familiar analysis of exploitation. In 1881, Benjamin R. Tucker attempted to answer a related question, posed in the pages of the newspaper Truth:
“Somebody gets the surplus wealth that labor produces and does not consume. Who is the Somebody?”
Tucker's answer is "the usurer," who derives the power to exploit from "monopoly." While this is a fairly common argument, it is, in some ways, is a fairly substantial step back from Proudhon's position, which sees the source of exploitation as built into the notion of property, rather than emerging from interference with free exchange. The differing analyses have significantly different consequences, when we turn to what and how we combat capitalist exploitation.

Let me suggest three conclusions that seem integral to Proudhon's analysis:
  1. There are only individual products, and there is only individual property.
  2. Every individual is a group.
  3. In every well-ordered association, there is a portion of the products most logically attributed to the collective force of the associated individuals, rather than to the labor of the individuals themselves.
The first of the three is probably the most controversial, involving, as it does, a reversal of the explicit claim that "every individual is a group." But we can find numerous examples of Proudhon claiming the reality of social or collective individuals, and his general sense does indeed seem to be that any well-ordered association can be understood as an individual. That brings the notion of property back to its connections to the proper, one's own, etc., and it seems consistent with Proudhon's explicit claims in 1840:
  1. That the laborer acquires at the expense of the idle proprietor;
  2. That all production being necessarily collective, the laborer is entitled to a share of the products and profits commensurate with his labor;
  3. That all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor. 
Of course, looking at things this way doesn't dismiss all our potential questions about the relationships between specific collectivities and either property or products. But it does demonstrate one of the ways in which the individual/collective distinction becomes largely a matter of perspective in Proudhon's sociology.

Now, there are a lot of complicated questions to address when it comes time to estimate how we recognized  "a share of the products and profits commensurate with his labor," but, for the moment, let's continue to address things at a slightly different scale. If we accept that the product of unassociated labor is X, and that there is a collective component that emerges from the division and associated labor, so that the product becomes X + some Y derived from collective force, we can talk a bit about the various "someones" who do and might lay claim to Y under various systems or understandings of the situation. (Proudhon's later understanding of value is such that we're really spared calculations of anything like, say, SNLT, so we're probably safe setting that part of the question to the side for the moment anyway.)

The critique of capitalism, in these terms, runs something like this: Our understanding of property being fundamentally individual at only the human scale, we allow the collective portion of our products to be appropriated by capitalists, who then gain an ever-increasing advantage in terms of bargaining power. The most common rationales for this treatment of the capitalist as claimant of all social products are 1) that the capitalist is actually responsible for the organization and deserves the surplus, or 2) that the market acts to make sure that nobody gets more than they are due. Both look like appeals to some for of external constitution, about which we should naturally be skeptical, but both also simply look sketchy on the logical front. Elevating organizational skills (assuming they actually exist in the capitalist, which is often not the case) above other elements in a divided, associated labor-process, would have to be justified. The notion that a market could maintain equal bargaining power, when one party is siphoning off everything but a subsistence wage, is probably just indefensible. When we look more closely at the way that Proudhon understood collective force, things look even worse. Collective force is increased by the complexity of the association, so as the obvious identifications between a given worker's labor and their product become more tenuous, the quantify of collective product being struggled over increases. As the stakes are raised, the necessity of a different way of thinking about the struggle seems increasingly necessary.

Presumably, any consistent anarchist society ought to be at odds with exploitative property norms, but it isn't entirely clear if that is the case. So we have to ask again, with regard to the various anarchist analyses of property, products, production, and such, "Who is the somebody?"

I'm going to use familiar terms (individualism, collectivism, communism, and mutualism) to lay out a range of possibilities, but what I'm really trying to establish is that range of options, not the specific adherence of any of the people claiming those terms to a particular scheme. The way that we are addressing the problem is specifically rooted in Proudhon's work, and these characterizations are just an attempt to bridge the various analyses.

Let's start with collectivism, which was historically presented, and no doubt with some justification, as an elaboration of Proudhon's thinking about property. That historical collectivism was essentially communist with regard to property and production, but individualist with regard to consumption. It is an appealing position in many ways, corresponding in a fairly uncomplicated way to the economic realities of modern societies, which is probably why we see that a lot of anarchists who consider themselves communists still talk about "personal property" with regard to objects of consumption. I think most of the other positions have to get pretty theoretical in one way or another to dismiss the collectivist position as thoroughly as most of them do. We'll have to see how useful those theoretical differences really are.

Anyway, we see the early Proudhon apparently granting the collectivist positions on property and production ("all production being necessarily collective," "all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor") and then opting for a similar position on consumption ("the laborer is entitled to a share of the products and profits commensurate with his labor.")  At this point, he has a theory of the existence of collective beings, but all we can say about the disposition of the collective products, over and above the commensurate share, is that it doesn't involve exclusive property. But, at this stage of Proudhon's development, we know that the rejection of exclusive proprietorship excludes all potential exclusive proprietors, including those we would think of as collective. At this stage, we have collective possession of the land, associated production and presumably some sort of collective disposition of that quantity Y of the products of association, but we don't have collective or common property, what Proudhon thought of as communism, and dismissed as a just option. As an explicitly collectivist position developed, in the hands of Bakunin and his circle, the collective was emphasized over the individual, despite a lot of attempts at balancing the factors.

So let's loosely define our collectivist position: Collective possession of real property, arising from associated production, with individual possession of objects of individual consumption, and presumably a rather large Y-share, destined to maintain the public sphere, the shared means of production and all those goods that we consume in common. Remuneration for labor is individual, while everything else is at least not exclusively so.

Individualist positions generally just don't acknowledge the collective aspect (although there are exceptions, such as James L. Walker's attempts to shoehorn collectivities into his egoism), so wherever property exists we know it will be individual, and the disposition of the products of collective force has to be fundamentally individual as well, although any number of mechanisms might be developed to divvy things up. Individualist positions might approach some forms of communism by simply refusing to make the distinctions of mine and thine where they are not strongly supported, considering all resources potentially available to all, or they might rely on respect for possession. For the most part, the question of exploitation has to come down to some argument about faulty systems of distribution, as we see in Tucker and in some of the more individualist currents of modern "mutualism."

Among the potential communist positions, we might distinguish those that rely on a notion of common property and those that refuse to acknowledge property at all. In a consistent communist scheme individuals either do or don't have rights to a "commons," but those rights never become exclusively individual. The individual rights exist, if they exist, because of the participation of the individuals in the collectivity. So, we either have a case where we know where the Y goes (to the community), but we have a hard time talking about the X, or we simply have a hard time talking about any of it (and we talk about why we mustn't, and won't have to. make these kinds of distinctions instead.) There are good reasons why mutualism has traditionally had difficulties finding common ground with communism, even when the theoretical concerns weren't so clearly elaborated, but when it is a question of Proudhon's specific sociological concerns, I think alarm bells quite naturally go off, as the community ends up looking more than a bit like a sort of collective capitalist, and the communities concerns look like a form of external constitution. Proudhon's insistence that collectivities were real and had their own interests and rights was, let us recall, accompanied by an acknowledgment that those interests would not always be in harmony with those of human individuals, and could not be substituted for those individual interests without violating the relation of justice.

Now, I'm happy to assume that the real anarchists who embrace any of these positions do so in good faith, even if I find the positions insufficient in a variety of ways. I've drawn inspiration from all of them, in one sense or another, and continue to do so. And to argue for the superiority of an analysis based in Proudhon's thought, two steps are probably necessary: 1) an elaboration of the mutualist position, and 2) a return to the analysis of collective force, in order to argue for the practical advantages of adopting it. There is always still the option of rejecting the analysis of collective force, and approaching the choice of systems with another set of criteria, but I think the Proudhonian position is not so easy to just shrug off.

We have to account for both stages of Proudhon's thought on property, if only because we simply cannot separate them. For Proudhon:

Property can be "liberty" only because it remains "theft"!

We start with the 1840 analysis, in which Proudhon champions possession (as a form of property, if only in the realm of facts), and we're left with something like the options we've associated with communism. Possession as a norm creates a world in which we are something like tenants without a landlord, and that scenario doesn't seem to have been compelling enough for Proudhon to stick with it very long at all. As a representation of the oppressed tenants, it was powerful, but as a model for land distribution it seems to have been much less so. That's probably why, later in his career, Proudhon argued against possession on historical grounds, since there always seem to be landlords of one sort or another. I think that there are ways of pursuing that possessory vision from 1840, but most of them involve fundamentally non-propertarian analyses. We can, for example, simply shift the discussion to the character of interpersonal relations, rather than their material basis. But that pesky question of who gets to do what with this particular bit of stuff is ultimately hard to answer very clearly without some sort of property theory. If we stick to the discourse of property, the 1840 vision doesn't help us much with the question of how to dispose of the Y.

Of course, the "New Theory" of the 1860s doesn't exactly lay things out for us either. There is a great deal about the practical application of The Theory of Property that is left to our imaginations. But we have some strong hints in Proudhon's mature work, and maybe none is stronger than that notion of a "citizen-state" that I've discussed in the context of his critique of governmentalism. (I'll be bold enough to recommend my book-chapter on "Self-Government and the Citizen-State," if you are not familiar with that aspect of Proudhon's thought.) Positing a "State" that is a collectivity created by human individuals, but only has the same standing within society as those individuals, is a bit mind-bending. Examining the notion, we begin to see just what a complex thing Proudhon's federations might be, but when we want to propose something similar for property, our first step towards a better understanding is probably fairly simple: we affirm property as individual, while acknowledging that it will only be in rare cases that it is truly exclusive. This non-exclusive, individual property has been one of my concerns for a long time, of course. The running joke about the "Walt Whitman Theory of Political Economy" has always been a way of gesturing at this problem, which has been looming steadily larger. Whitman's "Song of Myself" is essentially the workbook for thinking through non-exclusive individuality, and I've consistently pulled two phrases from the work to illustrate two key problems we face:
  • I am large, I contain multitudes.
  • [I] am not contain'd between my hat and boots
We're face to face with the "I" as contr'un (counter-one, antinomic one, etc.) and there are some very practical concerns at stake for the mutualist approach to the questions we're pursuing. So, how do we deal with the disposition of the Y?

Maybe we don't, at least as a separate quantity.

Maybe we just sidestep that problem, in order to confront a different one.

What our more-or-less Proudhonian analysis suggests is that there are all the various individual acts of production, and their attendant claims to be recognized in the disposition of products and profits (all the component parts of X) and then there is the the full production of the association and its products (X + Y). No matter how we look at the process (from the perspective of labor, products, profits, property, etc.) we seem likely to find non-exclusive, overlapping portions. So where does that leave us? Is there any sort of practically useful theory of property that can be drawn from this approach?

Let's recall the familiar claim of the propertarians that property rights resolve conflicts. Now, that's only really true in a couple of senses. Obviously, if people agree to a given set of property conventions, or they are forced to agree by some enforcement agency, or they are presumably implied in the the nature of things as natural rights, then conflicts are "resolved" by some existing authority or they don't arise. Beyond certain well-defined limits, legitimate conflict is simply abolished. (Anarchists of the Proudhonian tendency might start to ask questions about "external constitution" about now...) The other common approach seems to acknowledge that conflict will indeed occur, but that shared property conventions will serve to channel conflict towards swift resolutions by establishing fairly uniform costs and incentives. Those aren't really terribly strong arguments for the conflict-reducing power of property rights, but if that's where the bar is set, the mutualist approach can probably at least compete.

If we're not talking about exclusive property, then we are opening the door to a lot of potential conflict. The question is whether lack of conflict is something that anarchists are necessarily in search of. If we're following Proudhon's lead, of course, a very basic sort of conflict is, in his word, a "fundamental law of the universe," as is our tendency to attempt to resolve things. If we want a practical theory of property, it probably has to be able to accommodate the action of both these "laws." Let's look at the opening quote again, with an eye to how Proudhon is attempting to relate property to his other key concepts:
"[I]f property is a truth, this can only be on one condition: that the principles of Immanent Justice, Individual Sovereignty and Federation are accepted."

The principles that we have to account for seem to cover the various aspects of the antinomy internal to property: Sovereignty, which tends to put individuals into conflict with others, with whom they are naturally entangled; Justice, which calls for reconciliation through the balancing of sovereignty-claims; Federation, understood as an approximation or contract formalizing a particular balance. In the most truly anarchist society, perhaps all Federation formulates is the principle of balance, the absolute minimum. But the strength and specificity of any given institution or contract will or will not contribute to anarchy in a practical sense only when it assumes its places in the larger picture, balancing its forces and tendencies against institutions and contracts.

There is a play of principles and consequences here that is necessarily a bit more pragmatic than a lot of anarchist positions. It is hard to imagine an anarchism which is not in large part driven by anarchistic principle. Our reasons for commitment to anarchism are, in general, probably some mix of principled ethical concern and a belief that adhering to the principle brings good results. But whatever drives us to a commitment to anarchism, anarchism drives us to find some specifically applicable criteria for what does and does not fit within the worldview we have adopted. We draw our lines in the sand, against governmentalism, against external constitution of human relations, against authority, etc. and we test them out in practice on the basis of whether or not they guide us well in the world of actual institutions and real consequences. If we're consistent in our application of Proudhon's philosophical approach, however, these principles never become rules in the sense that they could take precedence over our subsequent experimental experience in applying them. They are useful approximations when they work and tools to be reshaped when the don't. Anarchism itself isn't really any of these principles, but is perhaps best understood as the commitment we make to pursue some set of principle generally conducive to anarchy and the good consequences we associate with it.

The Fundamental Laws of the Universe(!) and the Anarchism of Approximation

What would it take to flesh out the federative theory of property hinted at in the last post? What exactly does it mean to say that "property can be understood as an instance of federation"? We're starting from a provocative reading of bits and pieces from Proudhon's later works, and leaning hard, for the moment, on a portion of the title of The Theory of Property that didn't make it out of the manuscript, and we're going to have to go beyond anything explicitly laid out in Proudhon's work. Still, I don't think the extrapolation I'm about to make should strike anyone who has been following the work here as particularly extreme—particularly given the extremities to which we'll see Proudhon go along the way. 

So let's start with the idea of federation. Proudhon's The Federative Principle may have been, as he claimed, a rapid sketch, but it was obviously an important one. In it, we find one of those professions of principle of which Proudhon was so fond:
All my economic ideas, developed over the last twenty-five years, can be defined in three words: agro-industrial federation; all my political views may be reduced to a parallel formula: political federation or decentralization; and since I do not make my ideas the instruments of a party or of personal ambition, all my hopes for the present and future are contained in a third term, a corollary of the first two: progressive federation.
There's not a lot of room left for ambiguity there. The central place of federation in his thought is clear, and if we recall his other claim:
"...transported into the political sphere, what we have previously called mutualism or guarantism takes the name of federalism. In a simple synonymy the revolution, political and economic, is given to us whole..."
we know that mutualism and guarantism essentially occupy the same place. 

As a concept, this mutualism-guarantism-federation is perhaps a little tough to grasp. The synonymy doesn't really seem all that simple. But that not-so-simple synonymy turns out to be a problem with several layers, as we start to look again at the individual synonyms. If we look at the explanation of "the mutualist system" in The Political Capacity of the Working Classes we find a fairly representative example of Proudhon's treatment of mutuality:
The French word mutuel, mutualité, mutuation, which has for synonyms réciproque, réciprocité, comes from the Latin mutuum, which means [a consumer] loan, and in a broader sense, exchange. We know that in the consumer loan the object loaned is consumed by the borrower, who gives the equivalent, either of the same nature or in any other form. Suppose that the lender becomes a borrower on his side, you would have a mutual service, and consequently an exchange: such is the logical link has given the same name to two different operations. Nothing is more elementary than this notion
Mutualism is thus a system of credit, in some sense, but as we look around a bit more it appears that we can't just leap from this family of mutual ideas to, say, the Bank of the People or some understanding of credit that we've brought along with us. In fact, when we go back to the 1848 article on the "Organization of Credit and Circulation," where it quite literally is a question of introducing the first version of the Bank of the People, we find Proudhon grounding his practical proposal in an exploration of the "fundamental laws of the universe," one of which is reciprocity, mutuality's synonym:
We need, however, no great effort of reflection in order to understand that justice, union, accord, harmony, and even fraternity, necessarily suppose two terms and that unless we are to fall in to the absurd system of absolute identity, which is to say absolute nothingness, contradiction is the fundamental law, not only of society, but of the universe!
Such is also the first law that I proclaim, in agreement with religion and philosophy: it is Contradiction. Universal Antagonism.
But, just as life supposes contradiction, contradiction in its turn calls for justice: from this the second of creation and humanity, the mutual penetration of antagonistic elements, RECIPROCITY.
RECIPROCITY, in all creation, is the principle of existence. In the social order, Reciprocity is the principle of social reality, the formula of justice. Its basis is the eternal antagonism of ideas, opinions, passions, capacities, temperaments, and interests. It is even the condition of love.
RECIPROCITY is expressed in the precept: Do unto others what you would have others do unto you; a precept that political economy has translated in its famous formula: Products exchange for products.
Now the evil that devours us comes from the fact that the law of reciprocity is unknown, or violated. The remedy is entirely in the promulgation of that law. The organization of our mutual and reciprocal relations is the entirety of social science. 
This is really pure Proudhon, writing like the best socialist philosophers of his era, swooping from one scale of concerns to another, and back again, so quickly and nimbly that you might miss it if you're not expecting the maneuver. And these are the moments that, from my perspective at least, give us our clearest glimpses of just how much is going on in Proudhon's thought. So, on the way to a practical proposal about credit, we get the first two "fundamental laws of the universe:" universal antagonism and mutual penetration of the antagonistic elements. 

We've tended to see and remember that Proudhon thought reciprocity resembled the Golden Rule, and I've spent some time working out the most robust version of that principle that I can, but it's been harder to incorporate all the other things that Proudhon said about reciprocity into our account of mutualism. What we have generally treated as an ethical principle is also, and perhaps primarily, an observation about how the world works, an observation about ontology. I think some reluctance to tackle the fundamental laws of the universe may be considered simply prudent. But those who have been reading along can perhaps see that I've been trying to pull these various threads together for quite some time, and that for roughly a year now I've had a sort of "Note to self" stuck up at the top of the page here. 

The first law of the universe is Contradiction, Universal Antagonism, and we know it because everything important to us about being in the world seems to rely on something other than, and opposed to, "the absurd system of absolute identity." So now we need to talk about identity (which will, necessarily, carry us back into the vicinity of property.) And, again, we have to recognize that we are not just, and perhaps not even primarily, talking about ethical precepts now. Identity leads us to antagonism because all of the ways that we identify identity seems to depend on something other than simple internal uniformity. Absolute identity is an illusion of authority, and the alternative is a sort of contr'un, which is always to some degree at war with itself (as a simple unity.) We can recall some of the ways that we have marked this non-simple character, in relation to human selves:
  • Proudhon: "Every individual is a group."
  • Whitman: "I am large, I contain multitudes."
The second law is Reciprocity, Mutuality, which we understand is related to credit and exchange, and answers somehow to the provocative formula of "the mutual penetration of antagonistic elements," all without ceasing to also resemble or invoke the Golden Rule. Identity exists between Universal Antagonism and Imminent Justice. (We might say: between War and Peace and Justice in the Revolution and in the Church.) If things are, on the one hand, always coming apart more than our sense of them as unique things easily accounts for, it appears that they are, on the other hand, always more mixed up together than we tend to think. There are comments in The Philosophy of Progress about the impossibility of separating the self and the non-self that undoubtedly speak to this general insight, but there is also the the whole theory of the collective force and collective beings.

The more you chase the references around in Proudhon's work, the more the metaphors of love and war, science and commerce seem to all get mixed up together. But that's often a good sign in his work, suggesting you're closing in on something central. A full explication of all the textual concerns would be demanding, but the general idea isn't terribly difficult. As Whitman said, we are "not contain'd between [our] hat and boots." The business of possessing an individual identity involves us in a sort of constant borrowing and lending, which involves some overlapping, some interpenetrating which is at least antagonistic to the simpler ideas of identity. That naturally means it will have some consequences for any simple notions of property as well.

And this is really a point in the elaboration of Proudhon's thought that we've reached quite a number of times. When we bring in Proudhon theory of collective individuals, with his judgment that we must always encounter other individuals as at least potentially our equals, and then add in his theory of rights:
RIGHT, in general, is the recognition of human dignity in all its faculties, attributes and prerogatives. There are thus as many special rights as humans can raise different claims, owing to the diversity of their faculties and of their exercise. As a consequence, the genealogy of human rights will follow that of the human faculties and their manifestations. 

we end up with a cast of political characters that would be complicated under any circumstances, but which we must account for in ways that acknowledge all sorts of overlap and interpenetration—but without, in the process, retaining or introducing any sort of hierarchy. 

In the next post, I want to retrace some of the same ground, while talking about the disposition of the products of labor, and we'll be able to explore some specific applications of Proudhon's theory, but for now I want to make sure we spend enough time with this notion of mutualism-guarantism-federation to be sure we're really applying the right principle.

The two laws respecting identity give us a subject always in the midst of an antinomic play between various sorts of contradiction and various sorts of justice. And we should probably understand justice as a temporary reconciliation, taking the form of a balancing between interests between which we have no more defensible criterion of choice. With anarchy generalized, external constitution rejected, we have to work things out without recourse to any outside referee, whether that's a state or a notion of what is "natural." We naturally bring lots of experience—and we each bring unique portions of experience—to the encounter, and we equally naturally will not disregard the lessons of that experience, but there is always at least some degree of sheer incommensurability when we're dealing with experience. That means, of course, that our balances will have no externally constituted scales, no predetermined standards of weights and measures. It is, after all, anarchy that we're talking about. Presumably we knew what we might be getting into when we started down this road. But let's let it all sink in. No external criteria means that it is all on us to work things out when there is conflict, and, if Proudhon is to be believed, conflict is the first of the fundamental laws of the universe. So there isn't much room for passivity, at the same time there isn't much chance of absolute certainty. 

Being a subject already seems hard, and rising to the occasion of being an anarchist actor, worthy of the under such uncertain circumstances, that much harder. There is a reason that I started all of this exploration with the notion that a Proudhonian anarchism would necessarily be an "anarchism of approximation." Things get harder when we add in the fact that we apparently have to negotiate approximations of justice with all sorts of actors that are radically different from us: other species, states, ecosystems, etc., etc., etc. And it isn't going to be lost on us that many of those other actors are not what Proudhon called "free absolutes," beings capable of reflection, or that, whatever their capabilities, most of them do not seem to be capable of negotiation. 

From the perspective of the individual human actor, it might begin to look like there was an imbalance developing between rights and responsibilities—an emerging injustice. In federation, human individuals will have to find balance with collectivities of various scales, some of which they will also be "part of" (in the sense of contributing to their collective force) and some of which they will not. Guarantism will involve the development, not just of institutions, but of balances between individuals and institutions, again at a variety of scales. Identity and property theory will always have to deal with an open balance of debits and credits in all the places where we overlap, and the multiplication of individualities means a multiplication of potentially overlapping property claims, always at a variety of scales. I have yet to find anywhere in Proudhon's work where he elaborates how his sense that something like "contract" and "negotiation" applies to our interactions will all sorts of things that can't seem to negotiate and enter into contracts gets put into action. Given the puzzle we're working through at the moment, however, I think we might suspect that had he explicitly expanded his analysis into, say, ecological matters, we probably would have found yet another "synonym" or analogous set of metaphors. But maybe the strongest argument for not simply balking at the difficulties is that the bulk of Proudhon's work—the critiques of absolutism and governmentalism, and then the elaboration of the theories of justice and conflict—don't leave us an awful lot of obvious alternatives to at least exploring a bit farther. Having complicated the question of identity, and thus pushing us towards notions of property that may be individual, but will have a hard time being anything but approximately exclusive, there isn't any very stable ground left to retreat to, without simply chucking an awful lot of what makes up our rationale for anarchism. 

There are, I think, lots of ways to expand the scope of human liberty beyond the status quo which do not involve quite so great a leap into the unknown. 

The question (which we will no doubt return to again and again) is whether any of them are really worth calling anarchism...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Proudhon's "Pologne" and the federative project of the 1860s

"Ma Théorie fédérative est déjà un fragment enlevé à mon travail polonais; la Propriété sera le second..."
"My Federative Theory is already a fragment lifted from my Polish work; the [Theory of] Property will be the second..." (Letter to Grandclément, Nov. 17, 1863)
One of the nearly miraculous effects of the recent manuscript digitization projects at the International Institute of Social History and the Ville de Besançon has been a sudden and dramatic change in the kinds of questions we can wrestle with, with real hope of success, without international travel or expensive duplication of materials. For me, it has really altered my research program and shifted my translation priorities. Honestly, what it has done is throw my routine into a very pleasant chaos. I might not make that million word mark after all, if only because working with manuscript material is much slower going, but several projects have already become much more interesting as a result of taking the time to wade into these newly accessible archives. 

The most dramatic shift has probably taken place in my longstanding love-hate relationship with Proudhon's The Theory of Property. Wrestling with that work has probably been the single most important factor in my development as a Proudhon scholar, and as a scholar with something arguably a bit different, and potentially important, to say about both Proudhon and anarchism. But the marginal nature of the work in the informal anarchist canon—where it has largely been shunted off into the sections reserved for forgeries or betrayals of the cause—had naturally meant that everything built from an engagement with it has been at least a bit suspect. The individual antidote for that is always to know you are right, but that's hard, when the manuscripts are unavailable and the correspondence is still hard to search through. I've had to slowly build up a sense that published text was coherent, and then gradually dig out the contexts, without much help from the literature of the tradition, of course, or much encouragement from the movement, for which the very existence of the work mostly serves as just another strike against poor old Proudhon.

It turns out that many of the materials necessary to substantially adjust the reputation of The Theory of Property were available even before these recent digitization projects, but perhaps the context in which it was easiest to put them together wasn't. The heart of the matter seems to be the relationship of The Theory of Property to a lengthy, unfinished work by Proudhon, Pologne. The work on Poland apparently occupied Proudhon off and on through much of the last years of his life. The manuscript consists of 1448 pages, not including, as far as I have been able to tell, any of the 291 pages identified as "Chapitre VII. Garantisme.—Théorie de la propriété." If we take Proudhon's comments about the place of The Federative Principle seriously, then we have even more to add to the project. In the same letters, it appears that The Literary Majorats may also be a "long footnote" to the work as well.

We've had a hard time dealing with Proudhon's work in the 1860s, at last in the English-speaking world. Part of the problem, of course, is that we haven't done much justice to his work in the 1850s, but I think we have at least had a vague sense that Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, all six volumes of it, was lurking out there, waiting to be accounted for, and a few scholars have placed Justice in the more-or-less central place that it seems to deserve. (Jesse Cohn stands out for me in this regard.) For me, despite a lot of wrestling with Justice, The Philosophy of Progress has been the gateway into the "constructive" work of the 1850s, and it has gradually become the pivot around which I've built a couple of interpretive narratives. In the first, it marks the shift between primarily critical and primarily constructive periods (as I've discussed in "Self-Government and the Citizen-State.) In the second, which I'm still working through, it is the occasion of Proudhon finally beginning answer the question about "the criterion of certainty" that he claims led him to his more familiar work. We might read the work on Justice, which begins with the identification of that criterion with the idea of justice itself, as a kind of resolution of Proudhon's early, philosophical and theological concerns. Despite its occasionally glaring inconsistencies, as in the study on "Love and Marriage," the work manages to be a pretty triumphant answer to the question that he was chiding himself for still pursuing in 1841.

The 1860s look, at the very least, less triumphant, and we don't seem to have any very coherent account of what Proudhon was up to in the last five years of his life. It is actually common, though I think incorrect, to treat the best-known of the late works, The Federative Principle, as marking a shift away from anarchism. And the rest of the works from that period have been hard to come to grips with:
  • War and Peace (1861) — Despite Alex Prichard's work, this two-volume work is still little known, and it simply remains very demanding. There is a lot of complicated treatment of the topic of war to be waded through in order to extract Proudhon's fundamentally peaceful message. The work has been treated as proto-fascist and, to complicate matters, we can find some selective influences in those currents.
  • The Theory of Taxation (1861) — Marx treated the work as the final sign that Proudhon was just a "bourgeois," and anarchists have naturally been slow to warm to a work on taxation. The fact that it contains Proudhon's clearest explanation of what I've called the "citizen-state" is, alas, a circumstance with limited attraction for those who see any discussion of any kind of "state" as a step backward. Like War and Peace, it is a work that looks a lot better if you know and understant the work of the 1850s.
  • Literary Majorats (1862) — Some sections of this work opposing intellectual property have actually be translated, but it remains largely unknown. The truth is that most of our positions on these questions are pretty well solidified.
  • The Political Capacity of the Working Classes (1865) — This is the work that anarchists have shown the most interest in, largely because it was addressed to the workers who would make up the core of the Parisian group in the First International, and because it was the work that Proudhon labored away at on his deathbed. It is a fascinating work, and one with a clear influence in the international working-class movement. Unfortunately, the tale we've told about the International paints the workers most closely associated with it as losers, when they aren't dismissed as traitors.
  • The Theory of Property (1865) — Finally, Proudhon's final work on property has been the subject of hot debate from before its publication right up to the present. For those who want to paint his outside of the mainstream of anarchist thought, or who want to draw strong distinctions between the "property is theft" of 1840 and a "pro-property" position in his last years, the reputation of this work has been useful, however little that reputation corresponded to its contents. Despite years of translation and analysis, I still have people telling me the same unsubstantiated stories about the work: that it was a pieced-together work, abandoned by Proudhon and cobbled together by his followers; that it represented more evidence of Proudhon's abandonment of anarchism; or, alternately, that it really doesn't contain anything that challenges the position of 1840. I feel like my work to date has pretty well dealt with most of the usual responses to the work, demonstrating the continuity of Proudhon's work on property, his consistent pursuit of anarchism, etc. But I would be lying if I said that I was very comfortable with the work. After all, my own work on the "gift economy of property" has really been an attempt to push beyond what I've understood as an instructive, but not always appealing set of arguments in The Theory of Property.
 What the work I've been doing lately has suggested to me is that, while establishing the connections between The Theory of Property and Proudhon's earlier works is obviously important and useful, Proudhon himself really saw the work as part of a larger, ongoing work, which occupied him in the 1860s. The unpublished work, Pologne, is obviously something we have to engage with in order to understand Proudhon's final large-scale project, but we can start by changing our strategy with regard to the late works that we know. Instead of picking and choosing which of the late works we engage, sometimes pitting one work against another, it seems likely that the only way to do justice to those works is to consider them as Proudhon seems to have understood them—as pieces of a larger whole.

Perhaps we need to consider splitting the "constructive" period of Proudhon's career at least one more time. We might characterized his progression something like this:
  1. In an initial, largely critical period, Proudhon began by seeking the criterion of certainty and found himself waging a multi-front war against absolutism. The familiar critiques of property and governmentalism were among the results.
  2. In a first phase of constructive labors, Proudhon found his solution to the question of the criterion of certainty in the idea of an imminent justice, and elaborated how the play of justice operates in contexts ranging from metaphysics to international politics. The elimination of the absolute and the opposition to external constitution of relations are central concerns. There is a lot of history and political economy in this period, but we might say that philosophical concerns are really driving the analysis. Even a work like The General Idea of the Revolution, with all its practical proposals, is still really largely about an idea.
  3. In a second phase of constructive labors, Proudhon shifted his attention to the practical playing-out of the principle of justice. We have probably been right to see that the emphasis on the federative principle marked a transition, but incorrect in identifying it. Having eliminated external constitution (governmentalism, archy) as a model for social organization, there remains the question of how internal constitution (self-government, anarchy) will work. But Proudhon points us to the principle that will unify his labors:
"...transported into the political sphere, what we have previously called mutualism or guarantism takes the name of federalism. In a simple synonymy the revolution, political and economic, is given to us whole..."
The principle has multiple names—the familiar mutualism and federalism, and the less familiar guarantism. The last term is, as I've mentioned elsewhere, a borrowing from Fourier, intended to designate the messy, very approximate stage prior to Harmony. Proudhon, of course, is too consistently progressive a thinker, to certain that "humanity proceeds by approximation," to have much hope for a period of realized Harmony. The quote with which I began the post, as well as some others I have recently noted, ought to inspire some corrections in our thinking about Proudhon's late works. First, the traditional elevation of The Federative Principle over The Theory of Property probably can't hold up. Proudhon's letters suggest that, with regard to their status as finished works, we've had things turned completely around. At the same time, the title from the manuscript suggests an equation between "Guarantism" and "The Theory of Property" that shouldn't surprise us at all, and which quite appropriately subordinates whatever Proudhon has to say about property in that work to a principle we know to think of as a synonym of mutualism or federation. 

That opens a new set of messy questions, including how property can be understood as an instance of federations, but perhaps we've tackled enough for now.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Flora Tristan, Messiah and Pariah

"God will doubtless pardon you, for you know not what you do, but we will not listen to you, for you know not what you say!"
I've just posted a fairly finished translation of Flora Tristan's posthumous work, The Emancipation of Woman, or, The Testament of the Pariah. It's a strange work, probably in part because it was finished by Alphonse Constant (better known as Eliphas Levi), at a time when Constant had moved on from the neo-Christianity of the Saint-Simonians, but had not yet embarked on his more famous career as an occultist. He writes in the text about his struggles to complete the work. But I suspect most of the strangeness of the text came from its primary author, Flora Tristan, who presents herself as at once a social pariah and a sort of spiritual-political messiah. The work, which is fundamentally a series of exhortations in favor of women's emancipation, works through its arguments in terms largely derived from various varieties of Christian heresy, often mixing the elements in rather startling ways. It is, for example, a work encouraging peaceful social change, written in a rather violent sort of prose. It is also often quite beautiful.

This is one of those texts that suggests whole universes of oppositional thought that are not easily accounted for in our schematic understandings of radical history. I would encourage readers to stick with it, taking pleasure in the really lovely moments scattered throughout the text, and not deciding too quickly how to respond to the very complicated, and not always coherent, play of the religious elements.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Rise and Progress of the Great Atercratic Revolution

After wrestling a bit with how best to organize my dedicated anarchist history blog, Dispatches from the Revolution—Atercracy, I have settled on an unorthodox, but hopefully fun way of both wrestling with some of the technical difficulties and keeping the focus on good stories. Those interested in the historical tidbits should make follow developments over there.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

More on Proudhon's "Theory of Property"

I needed a change of pace for a couple of days, and went back to work on the still-daunting task of taking Proudhon's The Theory of Property from the current draft translation to something well-contextualized and publishable. There's a lot of work to do, including revisiting Proudhon's earlier works on property, finishing work on the Appendix, translating more contextual material and consulting Proudhon's manuscripts. Fortunately, more of the relevant manuscript material has become available, and I've been able to take some time away from other tasks to finish translating the "Disagreement Regarding the Posthumous Publication of Unpublished Works by P.-J. Proudhon." The "Disagreement" is interesting in a variety of ways, not the least of which is that it doesn't seem to challenge The Theory of Property in any of the now-conventional ways, down-playing its significance to Proudhon, but really seems to show that the main controversy among Proudhon's friends and followers was over how best to present his thought—and how to honor his own relationships with those various friends, divided as they were politically. I also got a chance to spend a little more time with Proudhon's two letters to Grandclément, who sent Proudhon a manuscript on property just at the moment when he was wrapping up the work that would become The Theory of Property, and confirmed for Proudhon the importance of the distinction between allodium and fief. What is interesting about the second letter is that in it Proudhon pretty well inverts our received sense of the relative importance of some of his later works. Here is the opening of that letter:
______

Passy, February 28, 1863.
To Mr. Grandclément

Sir, I just read all at one go your last, excellent letter of the 25 of this month, and since I have a free moment, I am hurrying to respond to you right away. If I postpone even by two days, the difficulties accumulating, I could no longer do it.
Here is where my book on Poland is, that is to say my new work on Property. I do not have to tell you that property is a veritable ocean (?) to me—an ocean to drink—that its history alone would demand the sacrifice of a lifetime, and that I do not feel sufficiently Benedictine to bury myself thus under one single question. I am in a hurry to know, to comprehend a certain quantity of certain ideas, and, when the erudition does not advance as quickly as I would like, I hardly trouble myself for appealing to a divinatory faculty. — That is what happened to me, for example, with The Federative Principle, of which I just abruptly sketched the theory, or, if you will permit me this ambitious word, the philosophy, in 100 or 200 pages, leaving to others the chore of elaborating the whole system in minute details. That federalism, which boiled for thirty years in my veins, has finally exploded at the combined attacks of the Belgian and French press; the public judges now. What I would permit myself to say to you about it, to you, my master in matters of property, is that I regard that sketch as a fragment detached from the theory of Property itself, a theory that would have already seen the day, if for six months I had not been halted by the tribulations caused me by the Franco-Belgian and Italian Jacobinism, and by the necessity of responding to it. But nothing is lost; I regard even that improvised publication, like the Majorats littéraires, of which I will publish a second and better edition, as a fortunate prelude to my work on Property....

Monday, April 07, 2014

Pruning the Rhizome

Disruptive Elements: The Extremes of French Anarchism
Ardent Press, 2014
available from Little Black Cart
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a review
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"Tant pis pour ceux qui souffrent et n’osent pas prêcher l’extermination et l’incendie!" 

Most history worth bothering with shakes things up. This is particularly true of radical history, and of that branch of radical history that involves rediscovering and re-presenting primary works from various radical currents. Sometimes, the shake-ups are comparatively pleasant, and we find, unexpectedly, that we have inherited marvelous gems, glimpses into the personalities and practices of those who came before us. Sometimes, they seem more like attacks, and we find, perhaps, that our understanding of the past is flawed, in ways that have consequences for our present and future. Often, there is some of both aspects involved, and what arrives like an assault ends up enriching us. I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I have a great deal of interest in, and affection for, those productive disruptions that shake our complacency and force us to come to new terms with the traditions in which we're trying to take our places. 

Those productive disruptions come in a variety of shapes, sizes and degrees of intensity. Sometimes little discoveries shift enormous discourses, though most often slowly, as even radical master narratives tend to shift glacially when they shift at all. Others simply strike us, personally and immediately, with their energy. And energy is important for those of us battling in the trenches—such as they are—of movements like anarchism. There is an awful lot about those battles that can be very, very draining. That means we should treasure the instances where our tradition gives us the occasion to smile, laugh, snarl, show our teeth and our best "we mean it, man" grin. We are fortunate that Disruptive Elements, the new anthology of "extreme" French anarchist writings, includes a lot of those instances.

Let me get the basic pitch out of the way: If you enjoy anarchist history, you should order yourself a copy of the book. There will almost certainly be new material and pleasant surprises. The material ranges from Felix P.'s "Philosophy of Defiance" to assorted texts by and about Ernest Coeurderoy, Joseph Déjacque, Zo d'Axa, George Darien, Emile Armand, Emile Pouget, Octave Mirbeau, Albert Libertad, Emile Pouget, etc., together with some assorted material on egoism, free sexuality, naturism and critiques of "collectivism." The translations include quite a number of new pieces by vincent stone, together with more familiar work by Wolfi Landstreicher, Robert Helms, Paul Sharkey, Michael Shreve, and several by yours truly. Like Enemies of Society, the collection is unabashedly individualist and often explicitly egoist in focus. Unlike Enemies of Society, I expect the selection here will be fairly accessible and interesting to those who are not, or not yet, committed to these "extreme" forms of individualism. I think I would also not be going too far out on a limb to say that the writing in this collection is considerably more accomplished as well. Some of anarchism's finest literary stylists are present in the ranks. Which leads to the second half of the pitch: If you don't think you enjoy anarchist history, you should order yourself a copy of the book. Some of this stuff really is that good.

Unfortunately, while I can recommend buying and reading Disruptive Elements to almost anyone with an interest in the general field, I can't do so without also expressing major reservations about the interpretive elements of the book. For better or worse, all those magnificent texts are put in the service of "a campaign of guerrilla historicism that has as its goal a paradigmal hijacking and a sweeping overhaul of existing, received doctrines about anarchism." The goal of this operation is to find "bona fide, non-diluted anarchist thought." The context is a sort of post-left historiography and, it seems to me, a somewhat avant garde aesthetic.

At this point, I don't suppose that anyone will be surprised to find that Proudhon has been brought in to be the villain of the piece: "the diseased branch of Proudhon needs to be pruned unceremoniously from the anarchist family tree."

Perhaps, on the other hand, people might be surprised to see my first post on "the ungovernability of anarchism" cited, more-or-less in full, as part of the argument for this "pruning."

I'll confess that I was surprised, then amused, and then finally just annoyed, as it became clear that the Proudhon to be "pruned" was pretty obviously not at all the interesting, disruptive Proudhon that readers are likely to find here—right alongside the texts by Déjacque, Coeurderoy, Ravachol, etc. and even central to the discussion of ungovernability—but the Proudhon that "everybody knows," if by "everybody" we mean those with an axe to grind and those who haven't spent much time with Proudhon.

It is clear enough that this is a book that's looking for a fight—most obviously with "the left" and a couple of comparatively successful anarchist publishers. You'll excuse me for being much more interested in whether or not the book, and at least one of its editors, are looking for a fight with me. That is quite simply not clear.  When the introduction talks about "retracing the elusive rhizomes" of anarchist thought, and employing my own work on the difficulties of disciplining the rhizomatic structures of anarchist theory and tradition, naturally I feel right at home. But then there are the moments when things get all arboreal, and all for the purpose it seems of cutting off the very limb that I have climbed so very far out on. The move seems strangely familiar, really. The received doctrine is, after all, that the Proudhonian limb was pruned almost immediately following Proudhon's death. Some of the most significant resistance to that account has come from individualists, even egoists. Who pruned the Proudhon-limb? The collectivists, and then (again) the communists, and then (again) the defenders of various narrow, arboreal models of anarchist history or theory, often with some help from the marxists and various anti-anarchist critics—the anarchist mainstream, those who insist on particular forms of organization or the recognition of particular economic or social systems. I think some people call this "the left." The collectivist victory over the mutualists took the form of the collectivists claiming that they were, in fact, the true heirs of Proudhon's tradition—a fairly straightforward "hijacking," if even there was one. The same process has pretty well pruned Bakunin down to the most unappealing of stumps, and it seldom slow to sacrifice others if it serves present, ideological demands. Now another pruning—and a hijacking, but of what?—is being proposed in favor of an element of the post-left, but it isn't clear to me that the rationale is any more appealing.

Let's look at the "branch of Proudhon." Who has been responsible for the bits of recent green on this allegedly dead and possibly phantom limb? A motley assortment of individuals, both inside and outside of academic circles, all of whom have at least some investment in challenging "existing, received doctrines about anarchism." Hell, some of us even aim at what might be called a "sweeping overhaul" of our sense of anarchist history, theory and tradition. Does there seem to be any particular sign of disease? Of particularly Proudhonian disease? The laundry list of charges against Proudhon in Disruptive Elements is familiar:
  • Awful writing
  • An unappealing description of anarchy (and infrequent use of the word)
  • Participation in the provisional government after the French revolution of 1848
  • Antisemitic passages in his notebooks
  • Misogyny
  • Homophobia
  • Sexual repression
There is also a somewhat jumbled reference to two works from 1851 and 1852, one of which was dedicated "To the Bourgeoisie" and the other of which was addressed to Louis Napoleon after his coup d'état. And the alternative to all of this is supposed to be a consistency (complete with boldface) which Proudhon presumably lacked, but Ernest Coeurderoy apparently possessed. (Hold that particular thought.) Now, I admittedly spend way too much time dealing with this sort of thing, but—and there's really no polite way to say this—if I'm going to be confronted with yet another attempt to dismiss Proudhon as a laughable "fraud," it would be nice to see something that wasn't:
  1. A matter of opinion, like questions about writing style;
  2. A matter of inflated rhetoric, like saying "misogyny" when anti-feminism or sexism is most accurate;
  3. A well-known inconsistency, like the antisemitic journal entry, which is notable as much because it contradicts so much else in Proudhon's work, as it is for its violent prejudice;
  4. A matter of anarchist dogma, like the anti-electoral stance, from before Proudhon himself popularized the dogma;
and it would be particularly nice if the sources cited were not nearly all available either on Wikipedia or in Larry Gambone's old introductory text. Again, there is a much, much fuller picture of Proudhon, and material addressing some of these questions, linked from the very same pages that the translations were drawn from. Anyone who is actually interested in those questions can pretty easily find other or fuller accounts of them, here or elsewhere.

Being uncertain how much of this apparent attack is inadvertent, I won't follow the metaphor of the "branch of Proudhon" much farther. The arboreal model seems, in any event, to be wrong, and a manifestation of sectarian and sometimes authoritarian tendencies within the movement. Anarchism is better understood as a rhizome, and the relationships between currents and schools will almost all have that complex, messy character. You don't really prune rhizomes.

But I want to come back to the question of shaking things up, of disruptive elements. For me, one of the more puzzling aspects of the book's frame, and the use of Proudhon as a foil, is the extent to which it introduces a number of rather domesticating elements into a collection that is supposed to inspire us with wildness, with opposition to civilization, and with passion. When it is a question of writing style, there are certainly more exciting writers among those in the collection, but some of that excitement comes at a price. Déjacque, for example, was a very uneven craftsman with the pen, prone to runaway prose that is likely to be an acquired taste for many. Coeurderoy, who might be the most consistent stylist of the bunch, was certainly capable of purple prose. As the concerns become more serious, the potential dissonance becomes greater. Déjacque's rather masculinist rhetoric and his own peculiar notions about women's proper roles (for which, see the Humanisphere) may be more acceptable to more modern anarchists, but, having raised the issue with regard to Proudhon, it seems far from consistent that he would get a free pass. But by the time we're comparing Proudhon's long-secret diary entry to Coeurderoy's long-standing, public proposal to solve Europe's problems by a full-scale Cossack invasion, Proudhon is receding as a particularly viable villain. And a really difficult problem emerges: If we are to keep feeling feeling (moral?) outrage at Proudhon's private thoughts about extermination by steel and fire, then we have to either treat Coeurderoy's much more sweeping invocation of a similar extermination as just a bit of literary excess, or perhaps he have to consider Proudhon's fault as not desiring extermination in public, and wholesale.

Proudhon simply can't fulfill the role of real villain and milquetoast foil for these other, presumably more vibrant figures. What the really extreme emphasis on Proudhon threatens to do is to detract from the figures who are the main focus of the anthology. Because the attempted dismissal of Proudhon is ultimately not very convincing, Proudhon himself threatens to become one of the most distracting elements present. For me, that only seems right—at least in the general scheme of things. If it is really a rhizome that we are tracing, in search of alternatives to received dogma, then many of our best leads—many of the most disruptive elements—will come from engaging with Proudhon, his circle, and his more-or-less direct successors (as they have in the past.) But it really is unfortunate that an ill-conceived quarrel with Proudhon should disrupt this particular collection.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

More anarchist archives online

The International Institute of Social History has digitized several more of their important collections, as part of a large-scale digitization project. The collections include Max Nettlau's papers, the Bakunin collection, the Louise Michel collection, the Alexander Berkman papers, the Fédération Jurassienne Archives, the Lucien Descaves papers, the Gustave Landauer papers, and several others. Many of the downloadable files are manuscript pages, varying dramatically in legibility, but there are also files of collected pamphlets, periodical issues, fliers, etc. So far, I've run across some issues of Josiah Warren's Periodical Letter, a good scan of J. Wm. Lloyd's "Anarchists' March," the published first section of Louise Michel's Notions encyclopédiques, par ordre attractif, clippings of early poems by Joseph Déjacque, etc. The Nettlau and Descaves collections are particularly rich in longhand copies of published articles, including some early pieces by Ernest Coeurderoy and Déjacque. Together with the Proudhon-related manuscripts still appearing at the Ville de Besançon site, there are whole worlds of radical history opening out there right now. 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Proudhon on the Criterion of Certainty (1841-1858)

I've pulled together some rough translations from Proudhon's The Creation of Order in Humanity with existing translations from the Second Memoir on Property and Justice in the Revolution and in the Church. Together with The Philosophy of Progress, the collected texts cover some of the major stages in Proudhon's treatment of the question of "the criterion of certainty."

I remember really being puzzled, the first time I read the book on Progress, about the extent to which this summary of Proudhon's thought was focused on the question of certainty, and it has taken a long time, even after discovering his claim that the work on property was really a sort of diversion from his primary concern with the criterion of certainty, to come to terms with just how central the question of certainty is to the pursuit of positive anarchy. However, at the same time I was groping towards this understanding of Proudhon's work, I was also approaching the issue of certainty from a number of other directions in my explorations: in my work with the concept of "guaranteeism," in my slow development of Pierre Leroux's idea that it is fear that sends us toward violent extremes, and, of course, in the work on anarchism's "ungovernability." All of the work on the "anarchism of the encounter" really amounts to saying that anarchism, at least as it appears in that Proudhonian "social system," is the means by which we learn to live freely in a world where almost nothing is certain.

The most recent return to the idea of "two-gun mutualism" was another attempt to keep pulling all those various threads a little closer together. If there is a core to my work on anarchism, it is probably pretty close to that oh-so-slowly-developing "two-gun" project.