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.