Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Archiving news

I've transcribed two rather obscure bits by William B. Greene:

I'm in the midst of transporting the texts in the Libertarian Labyrinth and some related collections to a Mediwiki-based archive. New texts will probably appear in the wiki. It will take some time to work through the indexing issues involved, but eventually this ought to be a much more usable resource.

There's some good news on the Liberty archive front as well. Before Christmas, a libertarian affiliated with the Distributed Proofreaders group contacted me about working on transcribing Liberty. That should take care of some of the "heavy lifting" involved with making that collection more usable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

William B. Greene's "A Priori Autobiography"

1849 was a busy year for William Batchelder Greene. In that year, he published at least six articles, under the pseudonym "Omega," in The Worcester Palladium, then collected some of that material and some new work in Equality, the first of his major mutual banking works. He published the first pamphlet edition of his Transcendentalism, which had previously appeared as two articles in The American Review, and he also published Remarks on the Science of History, followed by an A priori Autobiography, a work integrating his apparently wide reading in European philosophies of history with a kind of autobiographical self-evaluation. We have every reason to believe that those were not easy years for Greene. He lost two children during his years as the pastor of the Brookfield Congregational Church. Robert Shaw Greene, born May 15, 1849, died only three days later. His relations in Unitarian circles were strained, thanks to conflicts with Theodore Parker. In a letter dated May 28, 1849, John Weiss (later a contributor to the Radical Review) writes:
The a-priori autobiography is by our friend who knocks the wind out of dying ministers after themanner of Mexican nurses, and doubtless with the same humane intention of putting them out of pain. Part of it was read to the Hook-and-Ladder, and created inextinguishable peals of laughter, which he bore so genially that I thought there was something in his essay.Each one can judge for himself. The introduction seems to be a brisk flirtation with Pythagoras and the science (?) of numbers. The autobiography purported to be a genuine experience of Greene's in Florida, and as such is valuable. . . . Parker does not yet forget his wrongs. That is the worst thing I know about him. He flourishes and has influence; but he begins to complain of his head again. He works too hard. There is no controversy with him now; but the Boston Association does not yet fraternize with him, and the whole matter is in abeyance.
Greene's biography is still largely a matter of mystery. We know that Parker was attached to Greene's wife-to-be, Anna Blake Shaw, and that some mix of philosophical differences, incompatibilities of temperment and personal jealousies boiled out into a conflict involving Greene, Parker, Orestes Brownson, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (who had been rather attached to Greene), and others. It's hard to imagine a more formidable crowd in a controversy that touched both philosophical principles and personal honor.

Greene's sister Mary, having converted to Catholicism, was living in a convent in Maryland, and her letters (published after her death from cholera, crossing the Isthmus of Panama in 1852) give some glimpses into the everyday difficulties of life in the mid-19th century.

Weiss' letter refers to Greene's periodic bouts with illness. In the A Priori Autobiography, Greene marshalls his protrations by remittant fever, his bouts with tropical disease, and the like in the service of a personal narrative which seeks not only to tease out the logical development of his own beliefs, but to show the connections of that development to the development of beliefs in general. Something like the Biogenetic Law finds itself recapitulated in the realm of ideas here, and this seems to have been something of a commonplace in the largely Saint-Simonian philosophy of history in which Greene had obviously immersed himself in the 1840s. But there is also an adaptation of apostolic conversion narratives here: Greene presents himself as struck down on his own personal "road to Damascus."

It would be simple to speculate further about Greene's narrative, his illnesses, his controversies, and about the representative nature of the "autobiography." Greene himself claims he is not to be understood as the "hero" of his story, but it is hard to escape the fact that it is at least based in the details of his experiences. As more biographical details emerge, it will become easier to evaluate the narrative, of course, and it no doubt contains some clues to aid in that discovery process.

For now, though, the work is available at Google Books, and in the Labyrinth, and is worth a look, for those interested in Greene's deeper philosophical interests, or in a glimpse into his personal development.

Meaningful responses from Google Books?

I'm curious if any readers of this blog have actually seen any meaningful change in specific offering at Google Books, as a result of providing feedback. Have you seen a badly scanned book rescanned, or a public domain book in "snippet view" released for full browsing?

After a year of attempting to get some sort of straght answer about the unavailability of the(apparently fully scanned, but only snippet-viewable) Univercoelum and Spiritual Philosopher, I'm beginning to suspect that nothing results from feedback responses other than the dispersal of vague form letters.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Stephen Pearl Andrews Vs. Wendell Phillips, 1847

I've posted an 1847 exchange between Stephen Pearl Andrews and Wendell Phillips on abolitionism and disunion at The Very Idea!

1848 origins of "agro-industrial federation"

We can't say he didn't warn us, but Proudhon, despite his explicit embrace of a certain kind of productive contradiction, challenges readers to keep his antinomies in play, and to follow along as he reasons from the most individualistic of starting positions—complete and absolute insolidarité, the denial of common interests—to something like agro-industrial federation, which involves at least some sort of intense "centralization." In 1840, Proudhon was already concerned with fulfilling the aims of a "communism" that he opposed as resolutely as he did "property." And he was going to do just that, he told us in 1840, by combining and harmonizing "communism and property." At the end of his life, in the 1860s, his vision was more nuanced, but his project hadn't changed much: take what is positive in human institutions, and strengthen those aspects of those elements which opposed what was clearly negative in other (well-intentioned but practically disastrous) institutions, or pit those institutions best points against their worst. Universalize credit and property, so that those institutions are self-neutralizing. Pit property against the state, so that the state gradually withers and the political realm is absorbed by the economic realm.

It is a commonplace that we should not look for a "system" in Proudhon. It is true that we shouldn't look for a description of an anarchist society "after the revolution." Proudhon considered full-blown anarchy an abstraction. What he proposed were a series of transitional programs, more or less well adapted to conditions at the times he was writing. There are no utopias in Proudhon, and what is most systematic in his work has to do primarily with how we view the conditions around us: look for the Revolution immanent in all our activities and institutions, and then add our individual strength to the current. Rather than thinking of revolutionaries as a visionary vanguard, there are indications the Proudhon considered Revolution a matter of that "collective force" that also gave power to industry, that was allied to progress. Individuals, even radical ones, might be sluggards in comparison with the forces building in their own societies. The "Toast to the Revolution" suggests this: there is no Revolution without our active participation, but it is our tardiness, our failure to perceive the potential advances around us, that makes revolutionary change this steeplechase affair. Trot along, rear back, leap—the "great equitations of principles, these enormous shifts in mores."

That is probably both more and less radical than we generally have considered our role. And, honestly, we are all much more comfortable with opposition to a "world" we reject more or less tout court, and with speculations about final states, than we are with transitional programs and possibly interminable revolutionary processes. Be that as it may, we need to read Proudhon according to his own lights, before we can either accept or reject him. And his vision, from What Is Property? through to The Theory of Property and The Political Capacity of the Working Classes, is all messy transitions, mixtures, balancing acts, antinomies.

And, as I suggested at the start of this, none of his "contradictions" are much more important, or much harder to wrap our heads around, than his vision of "centralization" (by which he really means widespread federation) growing out of the most radical individualization of interests. Consider this passage from 1848's "Revolutionary Program:"

I am, as you are well aware, citizens, the man who wrote these words: Property is theft!

I do not come to retract them, heaven forbid! I persist in regarding this provocative definition as the greatest truth of the century. I have no desire to insult your convictions either: all that I ask, is to say to you how I—partisan of the family and the household, and adversary of communism that I am—understand that the negation of property is necessary for the abolition of misery, for the emancipation of the proletariat. It is by its fruits that one must judge a doctrine: judge then my theory by my practice.

When I say, Property is theft! I do not propose a principle; I do nothing but express one conclusion. You will understand the enormous difference presently.However, if the definition of property which I state is only the conclusion, or rather the general formula of the economic system, what is the principle of that system, what is its practice, and what are its forms?

My principle, which will appear astonishing to you, citizens, my principle is yours; it is property itself.

I have no other symbol, no other principle than those of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen: Liberty, equality, security, property.

Like the Declaration of Rights, I define liberty as the right to do anything that does not harm others.

Again, like the Declaration of Rights, I define property, provisionally, as the right to dispose freely of one's income, the fruits of one's labor and industry.

Here is the entirety of my system: liberty of conscience, liberty of the press, liberty of labor, free trade, liberty in education, free competition, free disposition of the fruits of labor and industry, liberty ad infinitum, absolute liberty, liberty for all and always.

It is the system of '89 and '93; the system of Quesnay, of Turgot, of J.-B. Say; the system that is always professed, with more or less intelligence and good faith, by the various organs of the political parties, the system of the Débats, of the Presse, of the Constitutionnel, of the Siècle, of the Nationale, of the Rèforme, of the Gazette; in the end it is your system, voters.

Simple as unity, vast as infinity, this system serves for itself and for others as a criterion. In a word it is understood and compels adhesion; nobody wants a system in which liberty is the least bit undermined. One word identifies and wards off all errors: what could be easier than to say what is or is not liberty?

Liberty then, nothing more, nothing less. Laissez faire, laissez passer, in the broadest and most literal sense; consequently property, as it rises legitimately from this freedom, is my principle. No other solidarity between citizens than that which rises accidentally from force majeur: for all that which relates to free acts, and manifestations of reflective thought, complete and absolute insolidarity.

And, now, another section of the same piece:
Who does not see that the mutualist organization of exchange, of circulation, of credit, of buying and selling, the abolition of taxes and tolls of every nature which place burdens on production and bans on goods, irresistibly push the producers, each following his specialty, towards a centralization analogous with that of the State, but in which no one obeys, no one is dependent, and everyone is free and sovereign? [my translations—shawn.]
Well now! Proudhon goes on to say that there is nothing inevitable about this free organization. It is quite possible to screw things up, to end up with "communism," which he, like Warren, associates with a premature assumption of common interests (not necessarily a fault of our contemporary communist comrades) or "agro-industrial dictatorship"—or any number of other new feudalisms or authoritarian governments. The key to avoiding those pitfalls is the heart of mutualism—reciprocity, the Golden Rule. Opposition to authority in the form of the Absolute, a certain skepticism or papillon restlessness of thought, helps too.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

My NaNoWriMo

Well, I'll admit with no regrets that I did not complete the 50,000 words of fiction necessary to "win" during November's National Novel Writing Month. Some other realities intervened. I wrote a little over 25,000 words on The Distributive Passions, some of which is up on the site. (I may have covered the other half in other writings.) Winner or not, I had a very good time trying, and the pressure of trying to get ready for a month of sustained writing did wonders for my overall sense of where the novel is going. I did manage to write a little nearly every day, and characters and events are becoming more clearly defined all the time.

I recommend the experience, particularly if you've wanted to write a longer piece of fiction, but haven't taken the plunge. Even if, as in my case, there aren't local events to bring writers together, the challenge itself is a good spur.

For me, the chance to play the historical and political "what if?" game has been very useful. There's nothing to make you familiar with a given ideology like trying to imagine a character living it, or raised immersed in it. Anarchistic speculation is one thing on the blog, and another if I'm trying to make readers believe my societies have actually existed.

At a time when my other projects seem to be picking up steam, I think I can promise that The Distributive Passions will emerge slowly. I'm playing around with some related material in short story form, dealing with issues like intellectual property and cooperative public institutions, which may find their way into print a little more quickly. We shall see.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Anarchist-communism, work, and the virtue of selfishness

I've been reading some of the work of Joseph Déjacque—early anarchist, critic of Proudhon, communist, and one of the first to distinguish himself as a libertaire, rather than a libéral . There is a very nice online archive containing much of his work in French. Déjacque shows the influence of Fourier even more strongly than Proudhon. He retains much of the language of Fourier's historical scheme, and emphasizes the positivity of human impulses. A key source of his differences with Proudhon may indeed have been the extent to which, and the manner in which, the two men accepted the notion of the perfectibility of human beings and their institutions. Pierre Leroux also seems to have been an influence on Déjacque. L'Humanisphère—Utopie Anarchique contained much of Déjacque's vision of an anarchist society. There's a lot in it, and not all of it is clear without some serious digging for contexts. It also seems to have been subject to rather piecemeal republication. The version I initially printed out was heavily edited. Another short essay turned out to be part of a chapter missing in that version. That excerpt, on "Authority and Idleness," goes something like this:


In anarchy, consumption feeds itself by production. It would make no more sense to a humanispherean that a man might be forced to work, than that he might be forced to eat. For natural man, the need to work is as pressing as the need to eat. Man is not all stomach: he has arms and a brain, and apparently this is so he might work. Work, whether manual or intellectual, is the food which makes him live. If a man has no needs but those of the mouth and stomach, he is no longer a man, but an oyster, in which case, nature, in place of hands, which are attributes of his intelligence, would have given him, like a mollusk, two shells.—And idleness! Idleness! Do you cry to me, you civilizées?


Idleness is not the daughter of liberty and human genius, but of slavery and civilization; it is something foul and against nature, that one could only encounter in some Sodom, old or new. Idleness is not a pleasure, it is a gangrene and a paralysis. The bygone societies, the old worlds, the corrupt civilizations could only produce and spread the same scourges. Humanisphereans satisfy naturally the need for the exercise of the arm, as well as that of the stomach. It is no more possible to ration the appetite for production that the appetite for consumption. It is up to each to consume and to produce according to their strengths, according to their needs. By bending all beneath a uniform remuneration, one would starve some and cause others to die of indigestion. Only the individual is capable of knowing the proportion of labor that his stomach, his brain, or his hand can digest. One rations a horse at the stable; the master allocates to domestic animal so much food. But in liberty the animal rations itself, and the instincts offer it, better than the master, that which suits its temperament. Wild animals scarcely know disease. Having all in profusion, they do not fight among themselves to pull up a blade of grass. They know the wild meadow produces more pasturage than they are able to graze, and they mow it in peace, one beside the other. Why do men wrest consumption from one another, when production, by mechanical forces, furnishes more than their needs?

—Authority is idleness.
—Liberty is labor.

The slave alone is lazy, rich or poor:—the rich, slave to prejudice, to false science; the poor, slave to ignorance and prejudices,—both slaves of the law, the one to suffer it, the other to impose it. Isn’t it suicide to dedicate its productive faculties to inertia? The inert man is not a man; he is less than a brute, because the brute acts in the measure of its means, and obeys its instinct. Whoever possesses a particle of intelligence could at least obey it. And intelligence is not idleness; it is fertilizing movement. It is progress. The intelligence of man is his instinct, and that instinct says to him without ceasing: Labor; put the hand and the brow to the work; produce and discover; productions and discoveries, these are liberty. Those who do not work, do not enjoy. Work is life.—Idleness is death!

That might not sound all that appealing to the "anti-work" crowd, though it is clear that Déjacque is talking about a kind of "attractive labor" that would not have the character of work within authoritarian institutions. It does give a pretty unequivocal answer to the question often posed about expectations about labor under anarchist-communism. The treatment of the relation between abilities and needs, on the one hand, and production and consumption, on the other, is itself fairly attractive. And Déjacque, at least, was pretty sure that everyone would be busy at their attractive industries. In fine Fourierist fashion, we might extend his claims about "natural man" and laziness, and guess that those who appear naturally lazy are, instead, enslaved by ill-wrought social systems, or perhaps just bored. (Time to exercise the papillon a bit, maybe.)
When I tracked down the installment of L'Humanisphère from which this excerpt was taken, I was a bit surprised to find that it led off with a long passage on l’égoïsme:

L’égoïsme, c’est l’homme : sans l’égoïsme, l’homme n’existerait pas. C’est l’égoïsme qui est le mobile de toutes ses actions, le moteur de toutes ses pensées.

I don't think that's too hard to follow, even if you don't have much French. Egoism is the motive of all human actions, and the motor of all human thoughts. Here is one of those points at which we can explore the original differences between mutualism and anarchist communism, and one of the things that is clear is that individualism per se was not the point of contention.
More about these issues as I work my way through the sources. . .

Friday, November 30, 2007

An excellent resource on Proudhon

I've found very little in the literature on anarchism that does much justice to Proudhon's work. His economic ideas—which were complex, based in a principle of "antinomies," and expressed at different times in significantly different language—are generally treated without much attention to detail. (The anarchist literature is substantially better in this regard than the Marxist literature, which nearly always simply repeats the judgments of Marx.) One very fine exception to the general rule is Rob Knowles' Political Economy from Below: Economic Thought in Communitarian Anarchism, 1840-1914 (Routledge, 1004: ISBN 0415949033). This is, unfortunately, one of those hardcover-only library editions, and it is most definitely not cheap. But if you can get one through your local library, go for it. The treatment is careful, well-documented, and sensitive to the real difficulties of Proudhon's work. It's not the last word, by any means, but it's one of the few secondary sources that will get you an adequate introduction to the work without wading into the original French texts.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mutualism, the Anarchism of Approximations, II

I had thought, in the first installment of this series, and in the draft I circulated to a few friends, that I was going rather too gently. Some feathers still got ruffled. It turns out that, in some circles on the left, or post-left, it still seems necessary to protect the movement from "petit-bourgeois anarchism." The new Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, for example, is about capitalism and anarchist business, and includes a piece by Lawrence Jarach (who, come to think of it, is probably my main critic over at infoshop.org) which endorses Marx's scurrilous attack on Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy as a "correct analysis," and treats us to the following: "The petit bourgeois is stereotypically small-minded, parochial, conformist, acquisitive, stingy, and easily swayed by demagoguery." Apparently, Jarach thinks this is a stereotype anarchists should embrace.

I wish we could, as a movement, at least set some standards for loose talk about Proudhon. It would be nice, for instance, if those who blithely repeated slogans like "property is theft," or "property is an instrument of justice," could refer intelligently to something Proudhon wrote about "property" after 1840. The first volume of The System of Economic Contradictions is available online in English. Reading all the way to the end of What Is Property? should actually prepare anyone to understand that Proudhon's thought will not be reducible to slogans. (Check out the material on the "third form of society, the synthesis of communism and property, [that Proudhon] will call liberty.") But the System is the key to understanding Proudhon's mature thought, including the more formal statements about mutualism. Without it, it's pretty hard to understand why Proudhon continues to believe all the nasty things he's said about "property," (though he changes the way he says them a bit) but also and nevertheless, in his antinomian way, embraces property completely. Part of the answer is, of course, that Proudhon is not driven by his vocabulary, in the way that we seem to be. He's as good a critic of fixed ideas as "spooks" as Stirner, and a much better one than most modern Stirnerites. I know that some folks simply refuse to consider the late Proudhon an anarchist. This neutralization of forces and institutions does not seem radical enough. I want to come back to this question, and to some of the issues raised by Aragorn and Andrew Robinson in that new issue of AJODA, more seriously in a continuation of my "Responses." For now, though, I would like to ask my serious readers for a certain amount of patience. Proudhon's own claims about his "anarchism" remained pretty consistent: he repeatedly stated his preference for an "approximation of an-archism," and he considered "full-blown" anarchism an abstraction. Was he fooling himself, or trying to fool others? Is his position one we can still embrace as meaningfully "anarchist"? I think those are questions for which there are not simple answers floating around, at least in English-speaking anarchist circles. The more complex answers will take time to formulate. Proudhon was always pleading for patience, and counseling against hasty decisions. To understand him, and the political philosophy he inspired, it might make sense to work at something like his own pace. YMMV.

Coming back more directly to the examination of mutualism, I want to tackle the philosophical core of the philosophy. Again, let me emphasize the approximate, experimental, perhaps even tendentious nature of these summary statements. And then let's wade in.



Mutualism: The Anarchism of Approximates, II

Philosophical Observations
Consider the following set of statements as tentative and overlapping, subject to elaboration (which I'll start today), expansions, etc.
  • Mutualism is approximate. It rejects absolutism, fundamentalism, and the promotion of supposedly foolproof blueprints for society. What it seeks to approximate, however, is the fullest sort of human freedom.
  • Mutualism values justice, in the form of reciprocity, perhaps even over liberty.
  • Mutualism is dialectical. (Or “trialectical.” Or serial.)
  • Mutualism recognizes positive power, and looks for liberty in the counterpoise of powers, not in power’s abolition.
  • Mutualism is revolutionary, in Proudhon’s sense. It is both progressive and conservative.
  • Mutualism’s notion of progress is not an acceptance of any fatality or inevitability.
  • Mutualism is individualism
  • Mutualism is socialism
  • Mutualism is market anarchism
  • Mutualism is ???

*****

  1. Mutualism is approximate. It rejects absolutism, fundamentalism, and the promotion of supposedly foolproof blueprints for society. What it seeks to approximate, however, is the fullest sort of human freedom.

In The Theory of Property, Proudhon claimed that "humanity proceeds by approximation," and proceeded to list seven "approximations" that he considered key. One of these was "the approximation of an-archy." Others included approximations of "non-religion or non-mysticism," and of equality in faculties, fortunes, taxation, and property, to be pursued by education, division of labor, and commercial and industrial freedom. The seventh is progress, the "indefinite" pursuit of ever-new and higher approximations.

Mutualism is unafraid of the very active pursuit of practical approximates. It is experimental. If it has at times made excessive claims for its own schemes—and it certainly has—it can at least be held accountable for that failing. Meanwhile, arguments that “true anarchy is impossible,” or even the recognition that property is “impossible” (in some absolute sense) shouldn’t leave the mutualist sobbing in the corner. This is the point at which people begin to work things out, as best they can under the circumstances, with the understanding that that current “best” is a step towards the next best, and so on, “indefinitely.”

  1. Mutualism values justice, in the form of reciprocity, perhaps even over liberty. Liberty, raised to an absolute value, may be just as harmful as any other absolute. Equal liberty, or liberty combined with order, is the goal.

Critics, particularly of the anti-market variety, seem to want to reduce "reciprocity" to an accounting function. It's more appropriate to think of the Golden Rule. For Proudhon, in any event, questions of value and accounting were, at their best, rather mobile. (The French word means much the same thing as the English word. In the passage from the System which critics still insist on using to tie Proudhon to some naive form of labor-time valuation, it has been translated as "inconstant.") We can be certain that consistent mutualists will inevitably search for this very social ideal of justice by subjective, individual means, and that they will recognize that others must also approach it in this way.

[This is the key value, I think, and so I present it here, now, only in its most cursory form. I promise to return to it once some other issues are on the table.]

  1. Mutualism is dialectical. (Or “trialectical.” Or serial.) It works within the realm of antinomies, attempting to unravel the sense of existing contradictions. It is not afraid of courting logical contradiction, if the analysis of existing social relations draws it into those spaces.

Starting even before the publication of his System of Economic Contradictions, Proudhon sensed that the road to a free society would pass through some rather labyrinthine spaces, for instance, that freedom might be “the synthesis of communism and property.”[1] Freedom through the balancing of forces was a commonplace in among reformers of the early 19th century. The Mutualist of 1826, for example, spoke of combination and competition as “the two great balances of labor.” William B. Greene, following Pierre Leroux, proposed a triad or trinity of forces—communism, capitalism, and socialism. “All these systems limit, modify and correct each other; and it is in their union and harmony that the truth is to be found.”[2] The Brook farm colonists, a number of whom play supporting roles in the story of mutualism, traded one scheme of the harmonizing of forces for another, as they changed their alliegance from Swedenborg to Fourier.[3] Among modern mutualists, Kevin Carson is perhaps the best known, and he is best known for his attempt to work in the space between classical socialist economics and the work of the Austrian school.

Mutualism is not “anarchism without adjectives,” which seeks to downplay differences among radical libertarians, for the purposes of movement-building. It is a specific philosophy which has sought the signposts to a free society in those places where conflict was most intractable. As such, it may tend towards intolerance of what it perceives as one-sidedness or unwillingness to engage with other positions, and it may be unreasonably tolerant of tendencies better left to their own devices. (This is not to say that, as a strategy, anarchism without adjectives is not compatible with mutualism. I've tried to suggest something along these lines recently on the On ALLiance blog.)

Proudhon, after the gaffe of attempting to paint Louis Napoleon’s coup as part of the advance of “The Revolution,” acknowledged that the dialectical method poses particular problems for the active radical—not least among them knowing at what point to finally stop, to decide, to take a position, to act. Recent thinkers have described similar dilemmas associated with the careful consideration of extremely complex problems. Jacques Derrida poses the problem as one of “two speeds” of thought required by our most important considerations. We feel a duty to think matters all the way through, and a constant concern with not taking the time required. And, in fact, for most real problems in the modern world, we could never take all the time required, even if there were no urgency. But there is always urgency. The most serious concerns are the ones we should have addressed yesterday. Both demands on us are real. Ultimately, we have to assume personal responsibility for how we respond to them.


[1] What Is Property?, p. 281.
[2] “Communism—Capitalism—Socialism,” Equality, 1849.
[3] Swedenborg claimed that human freedom emerged from the balance of the influence of Heaven and Hell.

[to be continued. . .]

21st-Century Come-Outerism?

I've mentioned my father's essay on "christian anarchism" here before. It turns out some of his more recent writings seem to embrace to a modern, radical form of old-fashioned "come-outerism." I tend to tackle these questions of self-identification and affiliation somewhat differently, more "conservatively," in at least some senses, but I certainly admire the sentiments expressed. One of the nice things about the move west will be a chance to pursue some of these questions in person.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Lesson of the Pear Growers' Series


Given the reputation of "classical" anarchists these days, it might be too much to ask anarchists to consider the lessons of those "utopian" socialists who came before. But I want to do just that. . .

"The Lesson of the Pear Growers' Series," at the Libertarian Labyrinth archive.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Josiah Warren on "Communism"

I've finally posted all ten installments of Josiah Warren's "The Motives for Communism: How It Worked and What It Led To" on the Libertarian Library blog. The series appeared in Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly in 1872. I think it's worth mentioning again that what Warren is most concerned about with regard to "communism" is not a system of economics or property, but the assumption of a community of interests prior to the individual investigation of individual interests. You can compare Warren's account to that of Paul Brown, another New Harmony dissident.

Speaking of Brown, I've been slowly transcribing his Gray Light, which is incomplete in the APS Online archive and almost unreadable in the Greenwood reprint volume. Today, I need to photocopy a couple of pages, so that I could return a volume to the library. I found that there are no coin-operated photocopiers in either of the libraries on campus, and soon apparently there will be none that take anything but the university's debit card. As if loaning the university some sum of my money should be a prerequisite for making a copy. There's been a kind of general clampdown on access to anything without a login identifying you. Right now I'm sure nothing untoward is being done with that very complete record of every search I have made, every book I've checked out, and now, potentially, everything I've photocopied. (Remember the security alerts of not so long ago about photocopier hard-drives?) That doesn't mean it won't happen down the road. Privacy is disappearing even faster than liberty as a value.

Plans and Prospects

As many of you know, I'll be relocating from Ohio to Oregon sometime in the late spring/early summer of 2008. Teaching work has dried up out here, so it seems like time to move. I'll be close to my parents and to a number of friends from Ohio who moved out there. Even if I stay poor, there will be mountains in the background, which is a big consolation for a guy who's been living on an ancient lake bed for eighteen years. All of this has, of course, meant a little shuffling of priorities. I have access to resources right now that I won't have in a few months, so a certain amount of final gleaning is a priority. I'll be doing some local research travel, particularly to pick up some bits and pieces by Josiah Warren and Joshua King Ingalls, and I'll be setting the stage for a few other projects. That work goes well: my most recent dip into The Boston Investigator yielded scarce work by Josiah Warren, Paul Brown, Orestes Brownson, Lewis Masquerier, (equitable commerce advocates) Maria and Thomas Varney, Peter I. Blacker, and William West. I should soon have William B. Greene's "Omega" articles from the Worcester Palladium. (Thanks again, Brady, for the assist!) Almost imperceptibly, we've advanced to a point where the vast majority of known work by Greene, Warren, Ingalls, and Stephen Pearl Andrews are available online, or are waiting in the OCR/transcription queue. And we've added substantially to that category of known works. The job is far from over, but it does seem that now is the time to start seriously thinking about how to use this significant collection of anarchist texts. My plans are these:
  • I'll be attempting to start teaching the "anarchist curriculum" online by sometime in the summer of 2008. Expect more discussion of educational counter-institutions in the interim.
  • I will be doing some sort of face-to-face course/lecture series locally, beginning just after the first of the year, as a wrap-up for my friends and comrades in Ohio, and as a summing-up between my various project here and their continuation after the move.
  • Once I'm settled in Oregon, I hope to get a couple of book projects completed. First priority will be the long-in-the-works scholarly edition of William B. Greene's Equality and 1850 Mutual Banking, together with a "digital variorum" collecting the various states and editions of the mutual bank writings. That project will still require a chunk of translation from Leroux and some picky collation work, but most of that should be done before I leave Ohio. Much of it is already done.
  • I want to follow the Greene edition with a short text on searching digital archives, and, perhaps, another short academic intro to doing intellectual history in the digital age.
  • I'll also be looking to connect with anarchist in the Pacific Nothwest, to enlist additional instructors for our online anarchist school, and to make some decisions about how to pursue the print publication of the public domain works I have accumulated.

The development of the online courses should clarify the shape of the digital archive. In some ways, it already has. There is still a possibility that I will pursue a graduate degree in library science, and make that side of things my job, but, honestly, I'm currently a little too worn out to make big career decisions. I've got a good support system in Oregon, and can take a little time to reinvent myself vocationally.

The question of counter-institutions, and how we support those who contribute to them, remains one of the critical ones. I would love to hear from others with projects that might intersect, support, or draw support from the things that I'm planning and doing. I would particularly love to hear from anarchists outside the market tradition who might be interested in participating in a cost-priced online education effort.

The Honor of the Name, and the Confusion it Breeds

Walking back into the debates at Infoshop.org has affected me in two primary ways. First, and foremost, it's nice that a piece on mutualism was considered appropriate to the site. It's a great site. If the other half of my reaction is heavy on annoyance, I'll admit that I've had much less welcoming experiences over there. Nobody called me a "nazi" this time. And so many of the divisions are still largely semantic. I look forward to a day when we can all really argue over substantive stuff. That day might not be so far off, with all of the attention being given to the problems with labels and buzzwords. Sheldon Richman has a related piece, TGIF, "Individualism, Collectivism, and Other Murky Labels, at the FEE site this week. And the kehlkopfmikrofon blog reminds me of an earlier Infoshop.org comment of my own.

Responses to some objections

Responses to some Objections,
Part I.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, but I have been surprised by the vehement responses to the first part of my mutualist series, particularly when it was posted at Infoshop.org. I had really intended this work as a more-or-less an internal communication, or provocation, to self-proclaimed mutualists, our allies in the Alliance of the Libertarian Left and Agorist Action Alliance, and those other anarchists and fellow-travellers who ordinarily frequent my blog. I welcome the wider audience, but the changed circumstances suggest that maybe it would be worth pushing ahead on a few questions, rather than continuing at my usual leisurely pace.

RECIPROCITY AND JUSTICE: As Kevin Carson remarked in the comment thread here, the most central value of mutualism has probably been Reciprocity (mutuality, mutualité). Reciprocity is frequently invoked as a standard for justice. Certainly, for Proudhon, the two concepts to bound together at the heart of his social philosophy. I raised this part, to correct an impression (on friend and foe alike, apparently) that I was placing issues of economics (narrowly defined) at center-stage. At Infoshop, one commentator responded, "To equate justice with reciprocity is petty; no wonder you concentrate so much on accounting." Weird. I haven't said much of anything about "accounting." But I guess it's easy to imagine that market anarchists will all be sticklers for "getting theirs," or for following precisely the cost-principle, like Josiah Warren making contracts with his kid and timing his service at the Time Store. But, arguably, that sort of obsession with balancing the books is not reciprocity, in the sense of regard for others, but a kind of self-absorption. The standard model of reciprocity is the Golden Rule, and it is likely that the application of the kind of consistent individualization promoted by Warren, Proudhon and others might actually lead to a more demanding standard that simple "do unto others as we would have them do unto us." Take seriously the notion that every individual really is unique, and it's hard to stop at "what would I like" and pretend that that is an adequate standard for justice. One of the basic antinomies of mutualism is individual-community, and one of its goals is to avoid the reductive forms of either individualism or communism. Mutualists get to association by way of radical individualization, careful attention to the singular nature of individuals, and their traditional objection to "communism" was less an objection to property in common than to the assumption of common interests prior to that sort of individualization. As anarchist communists are also concerned with giving freedom to individuals recognized as unique, there is actually plenty of room for agreement here. If "communists," "individualists," and those, like mutualists, who want some from both columns, would all acknowledge that some form of balance is required here, we might save some truly unnecessary conflicts.
The central concern with both reciprocity and respect for individuality mean that mutualists, if they are to stick to their principles, can't simply stop at the ledger book or, possibly, even at some less demandings of the Golden Rule.

CAPITALISM AND COMMERCE: One of the reasons we don't all get along better is the sharp divide over market economics in anarchism. Mutualists agree with other anarchists that there are a lot of things wrong with the markets that most of us much participate in, and most of us are happy to call the current arrangement "capitalism." Mutualists oppose all forms of economic injustice and exploitation. But we believe that injustice in the market comes from force, fraud, and privilege. We make a distinction between capitalism, a form of market economics characterized by state intervention on behalf of a particular class of economic actorsthose who hold socially significant accumulations of real propertyand against the rest of us. Most of the ills that face most of us under present economic conditions come out of our unequal bargaining power under capitalism. Even organized labor has largely found itself unable to hold its position, with the deck so clearly and systematically stacked against it. Mutualism's critique of capitalist markets has been pretty comprehensive: Proudhon, of course, exposed the incoherencies and injustices of existing notions of "property," and called for a transformation of property relations that would eventually bring a near-equality in that realm. Early mutualists were among those who emphasized the social nature of all production, and set the stage for a thorough rethinking of distribution and remunerationa work that remains, unfortunately, largely undone. They uncouple cooperation from combination, and began to work out a plan for associated labor based in individual concerns, brought together in voluntary federations. They opposed profit, rent, and interest (essentially any compensation outside of that due to labor and risk) as usury. They emphasized the convergence of cost and price as a logical outcome of equal exchange, and practiced it as a practical measure for instituting "equitable commerce." The "free market anti-capitalism" of today's mutualists is simply the extension of those critiques." Given all of that, it's always a bit shocking when mutualists are accused of proposing nothing but an improved capitalism. But the criticism invariably comes from those who believe either that exchange of any sort is un-anarchistic, because it involves separate property and some form of quid pro quo "accounting," or those who object to some specific elementcurrency, competition, division of labor, the commodity form, etc.

Mutualists believe that it is privilege, and the inequities of commerce that grow from it, that is the problem, not commerce itself. And we tend, following early examples in Warren and others, to define terms like "commerce" and "markets" fairly broadly. Particularly when the discussion is of "markets," this can cause misunderstanding. But, honestly, in the years since the 1860s, when Proudhon directed attention to all the various specific things veiled by the term "property," (or since Stirner's discussion of "spooks") there has been plenty said about the dangers of fixating on terminology, rather than proposals and practices. With so much having been written recently about the varied meanings within anarchist discourse of terms like "capitalism" and "socialism," much of the misunderstanding we face seems rather wilful. That said, it seems to me that "market anarchism" is an accurate description of one aspect of mutualism. Equitable commerce, with "commerce" taken in its broader meaning, is better. However, mutualism or mutualist anarchism is thoroughly to the point.

DIVISION OF LABOR: One of my Infoshop commentators was rather insistent that "division of labor" had to include hierarchical command structures, instutitionalization of roles, exploitation and the like. None of that seems to me to be inherent in the division of labor, as such, which, as mutualists have recognized right along, has generally been a means of amplifying individual laboreven if laborers have yet to enjoy the full fruits of that amplification. Starting with Proudhon's initial analysis in the 1846 "Economic Contradictions," mutualists have hardly whitewashed the capitalist implementation of the division of labor, but, again, it's really a question of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The development of specialization, the adoption of voluntary structures of instruction and direction, and the development of complex forms of self-management are going to be necessary for anarchists not content to settle for cottage industry. Is there a risk of introducing un-anarchist elements in any large-scale organization. Yup, I reckon there is. Is this any less true of large-scale organizations which reject explicit contracts. Hmmm. I'm not sure it is. Anarchists of any stripe will presumably have to work to achieve and maintain anarchy. We are not utopians, with foolproof, lasting blueprints.

[That's all I have time for today. Coming up: responses on property, cops and courts, currency, and more of the usual on the Anarcho-Word Police.]

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

William Beck's "Money and Banking"

Money and Banking, Or Their Nature and Effects Considered (Cincinnati, 1839), published, and presumably written, by William Beck, was one of the major sources of William B. Greene's mutual bank writings. It has also been the most difficult one to access in its entirety, since the microfilm, which is relatively common, has a number of unreadable pages, thanks to an early era of sloppy reproduction. A quick look suggests that this is one that Google Books got right.

One more piece in place for the critical edition of Equality and Mutual Banking (1850), which will be my top priority, once I relocate to Oregon this summer.

Mutualism, the Anarchism of Approximations, I

Mutualism: The Anarchism of Approximations

I
Inheriting Mutualism

“Well,” [Joseph Warden] said, the smile still lingering in the corners of his mouth, “we are in one sense, my friend, a poverty-stricken people. We haven’t any institutions to speak of. All we can boast are certain outgrowths of our needs, which, for the most part, have taken care of themselves. We have, perhaps, an unwritten law, or general understanding, though no one to my knowledge has tried to state it. We all seem to know it when we meet it, and, as yet, have had no dispute about it. It may be said in a general way, however, as a matter of observation, that we are believers in liberty, in justice, in equality, in fraternity, in peace, progress, and in a state of happiness here on earth for one and all. What we mean by all this defines itself as we go along. It is a practical, working belief, we have. When we find an idea won’t work, we don’t decide against it; we let it rest; perhaps, later on, it will work all right. I don’t know as there is much more to say.”

The man was evidently disappointed. Warden’s talk all seemed trivial to him. It gave him the impression, he said, that the people had not taken hold of the great problem of life in a serious and scientific manner.

Warden replied that, if the gentleman would define what he meant by the terms serious and scientific, they would be better able to determine the matter. If he meant by serious anything sorrowful or agonizing, they would plead guilty; in that sense, they were not serious. If their life was declared not scientific in the sense that it was not cut and dried, planned, laid out in iron grooves, put into constitutions, established in set forms and ceremonies, he was right. They had neither seriousness nor science after those patterns. “But we have,” he said, “a stability of purpose born of our mutual attractions and necessities, and a scientific adjustment, we think, of all our difficulties as well as of our varied enterprises. Always respecting each other’s individuality, we apply common sense to every situation, so far as we are able.”[1]

What is Mutualism? It is a question that even self-proclaimed mutualists may hesitate to answer. Since 1826, when the term mutualist first appeared in print, there have, in fact, been only a handful of attempts to present mutualism in systematic form. The most important of these, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s De la capacité politique des classes ouvrières (1865), has yet to be translated into English. The most accessible, Clarence L. Swartz’ What Is Mutualism? (1927), dates from a period when mutualism had, by most accounts, waned almost to insignificance as a political force.

Proudhon’s mutualism is still enshrined in the histories as “the original anarchism,” though Proudhon, and other key figures commonly associated with the tradition (or traditions)—John Gray, Josiah Warren, the Mutualist of 1826, William Batchelder Greene, Joshua King Ingalls, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Benjamin R. Tucker, Alfred B. Westrup, Dyer Lum, Edward H. Fulton, Clarence L. Swartz, etc.—remain virtually unread.[2] The majority of Proudhon’s work remains untranslated and, until recently, when the creation of digital archives of various sorts changed the equation, nearly all the major works have been unavailable to most readers.

Still, there are mutualists, and lately there seem to be a lot more of us. Mutualism has persisted as “the other anarchism,” drawing those unsatisfied with conventional divisions within anarchism. While nearly all anarchists, whatever their label of choice, have embraced some mixture of individualism with social solidarity and reciprocity, compromise in the economic realm has been tougher sledding. Particularly since the emergence of Rothbardian “anarcho-capitalism,” struggles over the place of market economics in anarchism have been fierce, and polarizing. This has created an increased interest in the historical figures associated with mutualism, but it has not necessarily made it any more acceptable to espouse their ideas. When confronted with, for example, with Proudhon’s lengthy and complex engagement with the notion of “property,” social anarchists tend to emphasize the claim that “Property is theft!” Anarcho-capitalists point to the later association of property with liberty—and, as often as not, treat it as a progressive move, claiming that Proudhon “got over” his initial analysis of property (and the rest of us ought to as well.) Mutualists have tried to work within the space created by the two, apparently contradictory statements. (This attempt, as much as anything, is probably what defines mutualism within the broader realm of anarchism.) Recent formulations, such as the “free-market anti-capitalism” of Kevin Carson, foreground the apparent contradictions, trying to signal that there is really something to be clarified there.

The current interest in mutualism has largely been driven by concerns that were not initially mutualist, and the mutualist and neo-mutualist positions that have emerged have been grounded very loosely in most instances in the historical tradition. While mutualism has never entirely died off as a tendency, there has been very little continuing structure by which specific mutualist doctrines could be passed along. That means that among those who currently call themselves mutualists, there is very little orthodoxy, and more than a bit of inconsistency.

That’s probably entirely consistent with the mutualist tradition as a whole—and, ultimately, I think we can talk about the tradition in that way. Mutualists have tended to reject systemization, and to value experiment. In “Liberty and Wealth,” one of the true “lost classics” of the broad mutualist tradition, Sidney H. Morse engaged in a bit of alternate history, telling how the Owenite colony at New Harmony, Indiana was saved, after an initial failure, by hard work and common sense. Joseph Warden was obviously meant to invoke Josiah Warren, but the philosophy expressed was probably meant in large part as a counter to the various factions who, in the 1880s, questioned whether something more than a commitment to liberty and reciprocity was necessary for radicals. It may, in fact, have been aimed in part at Benjamin R. Tucker, with whom Morse engaged in a series of friendly arguments. Tucker is perhaps better known for his not-so-friendly controversies, for the odd mix of generosity and intolerance with which he interacted with other radicals, and for the “plumb-line,” which led him, despite himself and his own best counsels, at times, towards inflexibility.

Now, everything we could say in this regard about Tucker could, with equal justice, be said of Proudhon, or Greene, or Warren. Whatever our reputation as “neither fish nor flesh,” as the school of compromise within anarchism, controversy has been our heritage nearly as often as conciliation. Morse’s New Harmonists capture one aspect of mutualism, the experimental, “tactical” approach which contemporary critics fail to recognize in “classical” anarchisms. But we should hope that mutualists will continue to send “fine hard shafts among friend and foe” alike. The question remains, though, what is our particular heritage?

Attempting to summarize over one hundred and eighty years of rather disparate history is unquestionably a daunting task. There is no present advantage to downplaying the diversity of the movement. Contemporary mutualists consider themselves such because they found some portion of our rather obscure tradition compelling, whether through direct contact with the original texts, through the earlier historical work done by James J. Martin, Enid Schuster, Joe Peacott and others, through Kevin Carson’s recent work, the commentary in An Anarchist FAQ, or historical spadework such as my own. Anarchist mutualists of the present day hardly need the sanction of an earlier tradition to engage in present-day activism, to carry on our own controversies and make our own alliances. Still, to the extent that we can claim to be part of a modern mutualist movement, or current, much of what has brought mutualists together has been a shared concern with recovering mutualist history.

It’s in this particular, and presentist, context that I offer a series of examinations of the mutualist tradition, summaries and syntheses that I hope do some justice to both past diversities and present needs. Because, like most present-day anarchists, we are inheritors of a tradition which we really know only in part, there are likely to be surprises—not all of them necessarily welcome—in what follows. I have attempted to be very open to such surprises, as I’ve struggled through Proudhon and Pierre Leroux in French, or through the metaphysical concerns of Greene. I’ve tried not to force-fit any of these earlier writers to any present-day model. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been looking for connections to my own concerns, to those of my comrades in the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, or to those of my friends in other anarchist currents. Fortunately, very little fudging of the historical facts, as far as I can ascertain them, has been necessary. It seems that mutualism has always had a basic core of values, and that those values may serve contemporary anarchism well.

I’ll be following this introductory text with a number of different summary texts, addressing consistent philosophical concerns, mutualist keywords, representative figures, and the like. All of these texts, including this one, should be considered rough drafts for a more complete mutualist synthesis, and I welcome any and all suggestions and criticisms.

[1] H [Sidney H. Morse]. “Liberty and Wealth, V.” Liberty, 2, 21 (July 26, 1884), 5. Morse’s story was serialized in eight parts in Liberty, between May 31 and September 6, 1884.

[2] The question of whether all of these figures should be considered part of the mutualist tradition, or whether there have been, in fact, multiple traditions, is one we must face.

Masonic Tribute to William B. Greene

A number of new sources on William Batchelder Greene have recently become available online. The fantastic portrait above comes accompanies a memorial tribute to Greene in the Proceedings of the Council of Deliberation of the Massachusetts Masons (Scottish Rite.) It should not be confused with this other portrait, which the Myspace search engine returned in association with my William B. Greene page there.


The same volume of masonic proceedings contains an obscure essay co-authored by Greene, "The Great Pyramid of Ghizeh, and the Rite of Blue Masonry."

Proudhon and Tucker get psychedelic!


Wow, man! Tucker's edition of Proudhon's The Malthusians, in a very special digital edition. Google Books raises the Art of Screwing Up to the level of, well, ART.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Too much anarchism at Google Books?

Curiouser and curiouser. While doing some research on early appearances of the word "anarchism," prior to 1870, I ran across numerous hits on Google Books for very early texts, many of them in French. Now, given the proof-reading and quality control issues I've blogged about before, it wasn't out of the question that perhaps I was seeing some early use of the French word anarchisme, together with some sloppy OCR work, in, for example, Charles Fourier's Traité de l'association domestique-agricole. But the search engine at Google Books informed me that the word anarchism appeared on thirty different pages in that particular work! That's hardly the sort of thing that previous historians, or my own previous searches would have missed. Scanning the search results a bit more, I satisfied myself pretty quickly that Saint-Simon had not used the English word anarchism hundreds of times, nor had Thomas More used it repeatedly in his Utopia. I did find a very nice 1828 dictionary entry which simply defined anarchism as "confusion." And I found this page. Hmmm. Google Books now makes plain text available for its page images, though its downloadable pdfs are not indexed to the text. I had assumed that this text was what I was searching through.
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Apparently not. I considered the keywords assigned to each book, or keywords embedded in the source. Whatever my searches are bringing up are not at a level accessible to me. OCLC records don't turn up any of the non-anarchist texts, so it is unlikely that these are keywords imported from a MARC record or other existing metadata. The contributing library does not associate the Traité with anarchism in its records.

Add another mystery to add to those surrounding Google Books. Hundreds of pages keyed to the word anarchism somehow, but without anarchist content. The result, of course, is to make searching for actual instances of the word a real chore. A digital archive of the size of Google Books ought to give anyone with a modicum of research skill the ability to easily outdo the Oxford English Dictionary staff, when it comes to word origins and early uses. Instead, we get GIGO.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

An Early Libertarian Communist

Paul Brown, whose Twelve Months in New Harmony I posted some time ago, was, from various indications, a friend of Josiah Warren. He was also the most articulate voice in favor of property-in-common that we have from the New Harmony community. He was the author of a number of books, on a range of subjects, as well as some uncollected writings, under the title "Gray Light," which appeared in the New Harmony Gazette. I'm working on transcribing Gray Light, which is probably one of the five or six most interesting uncollected works I've run across in the last few years. In the meantime, Google Books has made available The Radical and Advocate of Equality, a very interesting collection of papers from 1835. I frequently disagree with Brown, who must have had some lively debates with Warren about property, but I think he is one of the most important voices in that "first mutualist moment" of 1825-7, ranking right up there with Warren, "The Mutualist," and Owen himself.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Onward and upward!

I'm obviously disappointed about the early cancellation of the "Roots of American Anarchism" course, but I've also already done much of the work to make the course possible. I had already started breaking the graduate-level course down into undergrad/continuing education-sized bites.

What I am currently trying to make happen is a 12-week course covering European philosophical roots, Fourier, some early Proudhon, the 1826 Mutualist, John Gray, Paul Brown, Thomas Skidmore and a lot of Josiah Warren.

This would be an expansion of the early phases of the announced course and, if successful, would probably be followed by a similar course covering the colonial land banks, more Proudhon, Saint-Simon and Leroux, Orestes Brownson, The Spirit of the Age, and lots of William B. Greene. If we haven't given up by then, the remaining two "quarters" would cover, first, The Boston Investigator, Calvin Blanchard, Lewis Masquerier, Eliphalet Kimball, Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, Henry Edger and Stephen Pearl Andrews, and, last, the era of The Index, The Word, and The Radical Review. By that point, we might be ready to tackle Liberty and related material, perhaps in a year-long course. There seems to be some consensus that around $100 per "quarter" might be a fair price.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Ah, Well...

I've just been informed that the Spring course on "The Roots of American Anarchism" will not run.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Educational counter-institutions, I

Thanks to those who have responded, either on the blog or through email, to my post on the "Roots of American Anarchism" course. I suspect that our pilot course online will fall somewhere between self-paced instruction and a basic online seminar, or, more likely, that we'll end up offering both options. There is no reason not to offer options tailored to a variety of learning styles and schedules. I'm open, and I think a viable educational counter-institution has to be open, to a great deal of user-customization of the process. That means being willing to provide a bare minimum, as well as being able to imagine versions of the service that can actually compete within or against existing educational environments. Kevin, who is a busy fellow, has expressed interest in self-paced self-instruction. Brad wants a law school curriculum. Absolutely. I want all of the above. Making any of it happen is mostly a matter of working out what we have to offer, what needs we have, and what needs we can meet.

Our online school can't offer state accreditation. It can't, for the moment, take the place of conventional high school or college courses. It can't rely on any of the structures and social forces that prop up accredited public or private institutions. We're not offering certification in some hot software system. On the other hand, we don't have the overhead, or the bureaucratic dead weight of most colleges, and we're not tied to employment trends. An education in liberty is likely to remain equally im/practical, despite considerable changes in the environment. Unfunded university students are probably going to pay something like $1500-2000 for my course. I'll see a minute fraction of what the university takes in. However, thanks to the economies involved, it's likely that a course of comparable size online might net nearly the same salary, at a fraction of the tuition for students.

Pardon me for making these economic calculations in public. I know even market anarchists can be a little sensitive about mixing such mercenary concerns as food, clothing and shelter with our more theoretical concerns about providing a society in which folks can provide themselves with, well, food, clothing and shelter. As someone who has played the "anarchist entrepreneur" role before, I'm aware just what kinds of scrutiny and criticism this kind of loose talk can bring down. Listen, folks: whatever philosophical, theoretical, or simply semantic problems we have with particular economic concepts (and we all seem to have some with some of them), the bottom line is pretty simple. People gotta eat. And useful labor ought to be able to find compensation. Labors of love are lovely, but no serious libertarian movement can be built that does not find the means to support its own labors.

As some of you know, I recently had a pretty serious crisis of energy. I had to withdraw from a couple of projects and rethink my commitments to some others. It was a very bleak week or so during which I tried to figure out if there was anything in the world I really cared enough about to commit myself to. That sort of questioning may seem strange to folks who only know me by my research, or by the various archiving projects I've been involved in. Don't get me wrong: I'm pleased and proud of the work that I've managed to get done. I've managed to add nearly 15,000 pages to the rather dispersed archive of anarchism online. And I'm equally pleased and proud to be part of a community of others laboring with much the same doggedness, and much the same (lack of) compensation. (Iain, Brad, Kevin, Chuck, Jeremy, Charles, Ken, Jeremy, Roderick, Roger, all the A3/ALL crowd, all the anarchy-listers—thanks.) And, finally, the answer to my existential crisis was that I did indeed really care about doing this work that I've spent a lifetime getting good at, despite everything. But that week of soul-searching came with a lot of confirmation from my friends and allies that the sort of despair I was feeling was not just a figment of fatigue or an effect of blood sugar. A very unscientific survey of my libertarian friends suggests that the question of compensating labor for the movement is not merely an academic one.

Does an educational counter-institution, an anarchist counter-curriculum or libertarian educational marketplace, offer any answers to that apparently pressing question? Maybe. I think so. Stuck in the belly of the university beast, but always faced with the threat of not being stuck here, it strikes me that there is an opening for something else, something that puts the needs of instructors and students alike up front, where we might expect them to be in any sort of rational educational system. Faculty commonly complain about how hard it is to actually teach in the university setting. Students complain about how little they actually learn. In picked sections, supposedly made up of the cream of the student body, I've often seen little or no intellectual curiousity and very little sense of responsibility for self-instruction (which is always part of the educational equation.) I remain open with regard to the nature of the "best" educational experiences. I've been a student and a teacher too long to be smug about that kind of stuff. I'm pretty well convinced that the model currently being pushed on me is a failure, or a solution to a "problem" of a very antilibertarian variety, and that we can do better. And we can look out for one another. And put the resources that we have been building, such as our digital archives, to more and better use. And, in the process, hone skills applicable in other areas. . .

[to be continued. . .]

Monday, October 29, 2007

Calculus, Poetry, the two William Batchelder Greenes, etc

As much as I complain, and will continue to complain, about the quality of Google Books' digital archive, their access to materials is remarkable. I have very mixed feelings about that access, given the rather cavalier way in which scanning appears to be done. I worry that scarce, fragile volumes are being subjected to the rigors of the duplication process—without any complete and usable edition resulting! But the other side of the coin is that today I finally have access to a copy of William Batchelder Greene's 1859 An Expository Sketch of a New Theory of the Calculus, the work, published in Paris, which occupied much of Greene's attention in the years he and his family lived in France. And you have access to it as well, though I expect it is one of the least inviting of Greene's works. I have yet to determine if the diagrams are complete, though I already suspect that they are not. Google Books has also added the Explanation of "The Theory of the Calculus" (misidentified as The Theory of the Calculus itself).

If that isn't enough marginal William B. Greene material for you, then you can dip into the poetical works of William Batchelder Greene and William Batchelder Greene, Jr. Of some libertarian interest is the elder Greene's version of The Book of Job, which has some interesting commentary on secular and divine authority tucked away in its footnotes. Three other volumes:

all appear to be the work of the younger William. William, Jr. was an uneven poet, and received a number of poor reviews. Check out the timeline for a few, including one which begins: "Mr Greene's verses are beautifully printed on admirably thick paper. It grieves us not to find anything more hearty to say by way of recommendation of his volume." Of course, his father was prone, at least in youth, to some uncertain productions in verse, such as his "Song of Espousal." But there are some interesting moments, at least. "The Amputation," in The Staunch Express, is worth a look.

John Gray (1799-1883)

John Gray, best known for his Lecture on Human Happiness, is frequently listed among the earliest of mutualists. Certainly, he was an important figure among the more-or-less-Owenite socialists of the mid-1820s. His Lecture was cited by the "Mutualist" of 1826. But we know that at least some of the accounts of this "first mutualist moment" are at least a bit garbled, particularly where Gray is involved. I'm still deciding how to classify Gray's contribution to the history of mutualism, but the work has recently become easier, thanks to the appearance of a number of digital editions of Gray's works.

The following works are by Gray, or were part of the propaganda surrounding his proposals. A couple of notes: 1) The texts at archive.org are a little hard to work with, but they appear to be complete, which is much more than can be said for the versions at Google Books. I have reported a number of texts missing whole chapters, including one of the books by Gray. So far, I have yet to see a single instance of corrective action in that archive. 2) The "rough pdfs" are genuinely rough, though they are readable at proper magnification. They were provided by a friend who probably went to far too much trouble for such marginal material, but to whom I am very grateful. I hope to have clear, plaintext versions completed for those items soon. 3) An electronic version of the Lecture is in the works as well. I would like to include it in a collection of texts related to the spring course.
  • Lecture on Human Happiness. 1825.
  • ---. Philadelphia, 1826. [digital edition in process]
  • The Social System, a Treatise on the Principle of Exchange. Edinburgh: W. Tait, 1831. [archive.org]
  • Production the Cause of Demand. Birmingham: Radcliffe & Co., 1832. [rough pdf]
  • An Efficient Remedy for the Distress of Nations. Edinburgh: A. & C. Black, 1842. [archive.org]
  • The Currency Question. Edinburgh: A. & C. Black, 1847. [rough pdf]
  • Lectures on the Nature and Use of Money. Edinburgh: A. & C. Black, 1848. [archive.org]
  • Committee of Enquiry into the Validity of the Monetary Principle Advocated in Gray's Lectures. A. & C. Black, 1849. [rough pdf]

Friday, October 26, 2007

1919 Mutual Banking online

Henry Cohen published a number of editions of William Batchelder Greene's Mutual Banking in the 20th century. The pieces of that particular bibliographic puzzle have been hard to assemble. Thanks to archive.org, we have at least one more piece: a digital facsimile of the 1919 edition by The Reform League of Denver, Colo. It's available in a number of formats. Cohen's editions closely follow the 1870 edition, with notes and an introduction by Cohen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fall Classic time

Happy World Series Season!
from the LCA Baseball Syndicate

Four by Calvin Blanchard

I've just updated my bibliography of Calvin Blanchard's works to reflect three new pdfs in the Libertarian Labyrinth archive and a scarce text now available at archive.org. The texts are:

and the rather amazing:

Blanchard is a very odd mix of elements: anarchism and positivism, to name the most important ones. His work is well worth the look.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Roots of American Anarchism" course, and Beyond(?)

Well, it looks now like a fairly sure thing that I'll be teaching a graduate-level course on "The Roots of American Anarchism."

This course is really concerned with the roots of the American anarchist traditions, and with their earliest flowerings. I've been half-joking that I would follow the development only up to about the time that the term “anarchism” came into widespread use. In realtity, I'll go a little further than that, but not a lot. The course is for students of American Culture Studies, but we'll also spend quite a bit of time looking at European sources.


I'm pretty excited about the course. It will be a first chance to work in a academic setting on the understanding of mutualism and its history that I've been developing over the last few years. I've been working with a single student this semester, in an unpaid directed reading, and we've been drawing together a lot of threads. There is a lot of material that it would be nice to cover, for which there is no time. A week or two, for instance, on libertarian experiments in the colonial period would be very useful. I could use a few extra weeks to take things up to 1920 or so, and explore the emergence of anarchist-communism in the U. S., and the effects of the rise of anti-communism as an ideology. There's an enormous literature of libertarian schemes which found at least some purchase in anarchist circles, and there are lots of fairly radical libertarians who are such outliers in the history that it is hard to make space for them. All of that is to be expected, since the course has to be at once a kind of high-level survey and an examination-in-depth. I'm happy with what I've pulled together as a first step. The problem is that I am very unlikely to get a chance to do much in the way of subsequent steps in the classroom and at a traditional university.

If anyone is ready to start an Anarchist Studies Program somewhere, and wants a slightly under-credentialled and perhaps over-obsessive intellectual historian, I'm here. . . .

Hmmm. Apparently not.

I suppose that leaves unconventional educational institutions, counter-institutions even, as the place where we might be able to make some space for an Anarchism Curriculum of some breadth and depth. And I've been talking with a number of collaborators in left-libertarian circles about beginning to develop just such a curriculum. Anarchists and radical libertarians have no shortage of concerns, whether historical, theoretical, or practical, which might be addressed by their own educational institutions, and, most certainly, the movements have no lack of expertise and knowledge floating around. We have been building our archives, our think-tanks, our forums, and our media centers online. I want to start exploring the possibility of constructing an online school of sorts, with the hope that it might become part of something bigger, a kind of anti-authoritarian "university," or perhaps pluriversity. As a start to that, there are tentative plans afoot for an online version of the course I'm currently developing. I would love to hear from anyone at all interested in taking such a class online. Tell me:
  • What sort of instruction would you prefer?

Do you want self-paced, programmed study, or some more direct interaction with an instructor. It's not hard to imagine a range of styles and levels of instruction:

  1. Annotated "Readers' Editions" of key texts, downloadable or available from print-on-demand sources.
  2. Programmed self-study courses, allowing students to work through material at their own pace, with quizzes along the way to help them monitor their progress and understanding.
  3. Similar courses, with more direction from, and interaction with, instructors.
  4. Conventional group sections, with active involvement by an instructor or instructors.
  5. Advanced seminars.
  6. Negotiated individual consultations.
  7. etc. . .

Think then about:

  • What sort of evaluation you would want?
  • What sort of tuition would you be willing to pay?
  • What other material would you like to see covered, whether or not this particular history class interests you?
  • etc. . .

In one form or another, I expect that this project will go forward. Any input from potential users of the service would naturally be very, very welcome at the stage where we're wrestling with software choices and course design. for now, though, here is a tentative, slightly unfinished list of readings proposed for the intial version of my course. Any comments on that are, of course, welcome as well.

ROOTS OF AMERICAN ANARCHISM

Week 1: Anarchism and American Traditions

Voltairine de Cleyre, "Anarchism and American Traditions"
The Declaration of Independence

What has been called "native American" anarchism can be seen as merely an extreme manifestation of the "tradition of Paine and Jefferson," a minor expression (in Deleuze's sense) of the most fundamental, hegemonic American discourses. Unsurprisingly, it is sometimes difficult to determine if this anarchism represents the most radical, or perhaps the most conservative, of American political ideologies.

Week 2: The "First Mutualist Moment,” 1825-7 (1/15)

Robert Owen, "Fundamental Laws of Human Nature and of Government"
"Preamble and Constitution of the Friendly Society for Mutual Interests."
Paul Brown, "The Substance of a Lecture delivered at New-Harmony, on Sunday, May 26th, 1826"

Josiah Warren, "From The March of Mind"
---. "The Motives for Communism, and What It Led To"

The period of the Owenite enthusiasm in the United States makes up the immediate pre-history of American anarchism. Josiah Warren, “the first American anarchist,” was initially energized by Owen’s propaganda in favor of a scientific “social system,” by which the problem of poverty and associated social ills could be solved. However, once at Owen’s community at New Harmony, Indiana, Warren found that the “communism” (presumption of joint interests) at the heart of the project doomed it to failure. None of the dozen or so American Owenite communities prospered, but the debate surrounding them set the agenda for much of what followed in radical circles. Most significantly, for our purposes, it was the occasion for a first set of debates about “mutualism,” which in this pre-anarchist context generally meant the more individualized forms of “socialism” (itself an Owenite coinage.)

Week 3: Josiah Warren and Equitable Commerce

Josiah Warren, Equitable Commerce (Utopia, OH, 1849)
---. Practical Details in Equitable Commerce
---. "Letter to Kossuth"
"Report of the Thomas Paine Birthday Celebration at Modern Times, NY"

Josiah Warren is generally considered “the first American anarchist,” and he developed his radically individualistic version of Owenite socialism at one of the earliest moments out of which we might have expected anything like a modern libertarian philosophy to emerge. Warren himself passionately disliked labels, and considered his own theories entirely distinct from the French anarchism of Proudhon. Nevertheless, his principles of “sovereignty of every individual” and “cost the limit of price” remain key concepts for individualist anarchism, even up to the present day.

Week 4: Orestes Brownson (1/29)
Happy Thomas Paine's Birthday!

Orestes Brownson. “Chartism” [38 pages]
---, “The Laboring Classes” [93 pages]
---, “The Mediatorial Life of Jesus” [17 pages]
---, “The People’s Own Book” [11 pages]
Various. [responses to Brownson]

Orestes Brownson eventually became a staunchly conservative Catholic, but his early career spanned most of the radical movements of the time. He was involved with Universalism, with the New York Workingman’s Party, and with Boston’s free thought movement. He was one of those responsible for introducing French socialist thought into New England intellectual circles, and was a friend and mentor to American mutualist William Batchelder Greene.

Paine's Birthday was a popular occasion for celebration among American radicals and freethinkers. Hundreds—probably thousands—of poems were composed and read for the occasion, and toasts were offered to figures considered representative of America's revolutionary tradition.

Week 5: The Second Mutualist Moment—Association, Saint-Simonism and the Spirit of ’48 in America

Henri de Saint-Simon, “The New Christianity”
Charles Fourier, “Note A”
Pierre Leroux, “Aphorisms”
---, Of Humanity [excerpts]
P.-J. Proudhon, “A Toast to the Revolution”
William B. Greene, “The Doctrine of Life”
---, A Priori Autobiography [excerpts]
---, “International Address”

Warren’s experiment at Utopia, OH coincided with the American response to the French revolution of 1848. Papers such as The Spirit of the Age and The Harbinger attempted to adapt the thought of the major French socialist currents to American contexts. William B. Greene, William Henry Channing, Albert Brisbane and the Brook Farm colonists developed their own home-grown responses. “Mutualism” appears in this period as the most libertarian of synthetic, harmonian philosophies, and had in America a much broader base than in Europe.

Week 6: William B. Greene and Mutual Banking

P.-J. Proudhon, [selections on property, etc]
William B. Greene, Equality
---, Mutual Banking (1850)
---, “Communism vs. Mutualism”
Various, [responses to Greene]

William B. Greene attempted to synthesize the thought of Proudhon and Leroux with native currency-reform traditions. His version of Proudhon’s credit currency scheme has been so popular, despite its lack of success (or even trial), that mutualism has come to be largely identified with it. Greene’s early writings, however, suggest a broader program.

Week 7: Joshua King Ingalls

Joshua King Ingalls, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian
---, “Chapters on Rights”
Albert Brisbane, “A Mutualist Township”

Ingalls is now best remembered as an advocate of land-reform, associated with George Henry Evans. He was actually another wide-ranging reformer, author, and inventory. We’ll get a first-hand look at a range of reforms in his autobiography, and also examine his analysis of natural rights, which originally appeared in The Spirit of the Age.

Week 8: Abolitionists and Non-Resistants

William Lloyd Garrison, “Declaration of Sentiments Adopted by the Peace Convention, September 28, 1838”
Ezra H. Heywood, “The War Method of Peace”
Adin Ballou, Christian Non-Resistance
[Lysander Spooner vs. Wendell Phillips in The Liberator]

Although split on the question of whether or not they were “no-government men,” the non-resistant wing of the abolition movement strongly challenged secular government.

Week 9: Calvin Blanchard and the Freethinkers of The Boston Investigator

Calvin Blanchard, “A Crisis Chapter on Government”
---, “My undertaking and Its Auspices”
---, “The Life of Thomas Paine”
Eliphalet Kimball
Lewis Masquerier
Peter I. Blacker

Week 10: Stephen Pearl Andrews, Universology and the Pantarchy

Stephen Pearl Andrews, Organic Basis or Constitution of the Panarchy
---, Constitution of the New Catholic Church
---, [Weekly Bulletins of the Pantarchy]
Various, [responses to Andrews]

Week 11: The Emergence of Individualist Anarchism

[debates from the pages of the free religionist journal, The Index]

Week 12: Benjamin R. Tucker and Liberty

Benjamin R. Tucker, Instead of a Book, by a Man Too Busy to Write One

Week 13: The Twentieth Century, Lucifer the Light-Bearer, Free-Love, and Eugenics

William H. Van Ornum, Mating or Marrying, Which?
Voltairine de Cleyre, “Bastard Born”
---, “Those Who Marry Do Ill”
Lillian Harman
[etc]

Week 14: Social Mutualism, Communism, etc…

Dyer D. Lum
Peter Kropotkin, “Anarchism”
Emma Goldman
Voltairine de Cleyre

Week 15: Wrap-Up

Anarchist Obituaries and Elegies