Friday, June 13, 2008

A minor treasure

Thank goodness we don't all value the same things.

I made my first foray back into Portland on Wednesday, after about a decade's absence. William Gillis suggested a couple of stops, and I had a cup of coffee at the worker-owned Red and Black Cafe while I puttered away at translating some Bellegarrigue. I made the obligatory stop at Powell's as well, still the Imperial Death Star of the used book world, but still useful in its way. They had Flora Tristan's The Workers' Union on the shelf, which I had been itching to read, but they also had a translation of Victor Considerant's Principes du socialisme: manifeste de la démocratie au XIXe siècle, which I have counted among those important texts I probably should read, but probably wouldn't get around to. Principles of Socialism was a manifesto issued at the launch of Démocratie pacifique, the successor journal to La Phalange, the major Fourierist journal of the 1840s. It featured Considerant's rather tame version of Fourierism, free of the whimsy, and the sex, of Fourier's full thought, but still very interesting, and important, as part of the context for the work by Proudhon and Leroux which occupies so much of my time these days. Not my favorite stuff from the period, and chances are that it won't be yours. But thank heaven that somebody cared enough to translate it.

Considerant's manifesto is often cited as a potential source for the Manifesto of Marx and Engels. There are certainly some points of similarity, though Considerant considered himself in many ways a good conservative and opposed revolutionary socialism as "retrograde." There are some chuckles, or head-shakes, here: Considerant attacks the defenders of the current system, but defends the constitutional monarchy as appropriate to "peaceful democracy." He makes some allusions to the notion that "property is theft," always in the context of defending property, though not in a way that is likely to inspire any but the most uncritical of propertarians.

Joan Roelofs' translation appears to be quite good. I haven't done a lot of double-checking, but I also have had any of the usual alarm bells go off as I read the thing. The edition was published by Maisonneuve Press (ISBN 0944624472), and set me back about fifteen bucks. I consider it money well spent, and recommend the volume to anyone who really wants to understand the range of positions surrounding our anarchist and libertarian socialist founders.

And it's a book I will not have to translate, or feel guilty for neglecting.

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