Friday, May 02, 2008

A new rogue for the gallery

The search for material for LeftLiberty has taken me in some interesting directions. Every time I think I have a pretty good idea of the range of "socialist" positions out there, I run across some new figure who turns out to be significant, even if largely forgotten. In the mid-19th century, of course, there are a lot fewer socialists out there than there were at the end of that century, and it has been in the course of exploring the late 19th and early 20th centuries that I have found some of the greatest surprises, along with some difficult problems of interpretation. The intellectual genealogies get complicated: Ernest Lesigne, for example, had connections with the Comtean positivists, which adds another complicating dimension to his rather idiosyncratic version of socialism. And Comte is one of those factors that we've really hardly begun to deal with, despite his widespread influence, on a range of figures from Stephen Pearl Andrews to Kropotkin.

It was in the process of tracking down some contextual material on Lesigne that I encountered Eugenio Rignano, author of Un socialisme en harmonie avec la doctrine économique libérale (1904). That's A Socialism in Harmony with the Liberal Economic Doctrine, written by someone for whom "socialism" was a matter of "historical materialism" and the like. I've just started to read the work, but what I've read so far is very interesting, as Rignano attempts a fairly audacious synthesis of more-or-less marxian socialism and liberal property theory. Apparently, though, audacious synthesis was Rignano's thing: his other works seem to look for synthetic positions in biological debates of vitalism vs. mechanism, in the debates over the inheritance of acquired characteristics, etc. The biological and evolutionary material was of a sort regularly debated in radical circles, where "voluntaristic" forms of evolutionary theory managed to hold out much longer than they did in the surrounding culture. Rignano may shed some more direct light on the connections between the biological and sociological-political debates.

Perhaps a LeftLiberty issue or supplement down the road can tackle some of these scientific questions.

A Reminder: It would be great to hear from more regular readers of the blog on those definitional questions for LeftLiberty 1-2. You can enter responses directly into the wiki. (Registration is required to edit the page.) The more responses we get, the more useful the collections of texts can be, and the more efficiently I can direct my research in the older material.

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