Sunday, October 26, 2008

"It is the shock of ideas that casts the light"

One good Proudhon tidbit deserves another, so here are the first couple of sections from Chapter 6 of the Seventh Study ("Ideas") in Justice in the Revolution and in the Church. The chapter covers "Intellectual discipline, or method of elimination of the Absolute according to the principle of the Revolution. — Constitution of the public reason," and it is here that Proudhon, having proven, to his own satisfaction at least, the existence of "collective beings" corresponding to the "collective force" which was such an important part of his critique of property, tackles the question of "collective reason." Characteristically, he gets to the collective by a radical individualization, so that, despite the extremely important place he assigns to collective beings, he could never be considered a "collectivist" in any of the conventional senses. Taking off from a line in the Encyclopédie, Proudhon insists that the "absolutism" of individuals can only be overcome by allowing it free rein. Only free beings can "justify" themselves and evolve towards full expressions of justice. Premature agreement on "common interests" (the key characteristic of the "communism" opposed by Proudhon, Warren, Greene, etc.) is deadly to intellectual and moral development, damaging to both individuals and society. Human beings are "free absolutes," and both their freedom and their absolutism are necessary to the social "shocks" which provide the material for self-education, self-government, the creation of free relations, etc. It's a fascinating approach to ethics and politics, and you can get a taste on the soon-to-be-launched Collective Reason collaborative translation site. More about Collective Reason soon, but, for now, thanks to Rafael Hotz, Jesse Cohn, Roderick Long, and various friends from the Anarchist Studies Network,, anarchy-list, and Proudhon Seminar for the encouragement.

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