Monday, July 28, 2008

I need a technical assist

I've been pushing ahead with plans to equip one of my wikis for a group transcription/translation of Proudhon's collected works. The tools developed at Wikisource are in many ways pretty slick, and it looks like they will be adaptable to all the needs of the project. My only problem is that they use the djvu format, and I am living in an all-Macintosh house at the moment. If there's anyone out there who has the capability to do some pdf-to-djvu conversion for me, I can do the rest of the work to get the OCR work done and the raw results into the wiki for proofreading.

If we can tackle the first phases of this project, we can probably also find some better ways to tackle the transcription of Liberty, which I would like to resume seriously again in the near future.

If you can help out, let me know. We're probably talking about two dozen pdfs to deal with, for starters.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Is Property? Chapter 2, part 3 notes

Just a bit more on Destutt-Tracy: on page 61-2, there is one of the clearest expressions of Proudhon's argument that a significant amount of property theory rests on a semantic slide, and it comes in the context of one of Proudhon's few direct encounters with the concept of self-ownership. Here's Proudhon:

"Shameful equivocation, not justified by the necessity for generalization! The word property has two meanings: 1. It designates the quality which makes a thing what it is; the attribute which is peculiar to it, and especially distinguishes it. We use it in this sense when we say the properties of the triangle or of numbers; the property of the magnet, &c. 2. It expresses the right of absolute control over a thing by a free and intelligent being. It is used in this sense by writers on jurisprudence. Thus, in the phrase, iron acquires the property of a magnet, the word property does not convey the same idea that it does in this one: I have acquired this magnet as my property. To tell a poor man that he HAS property because he HAS arms and legs, -- that the hunger from which he suffers, and his power to sleep in the open air are his property, -- is to play upon words, and to add insult to injury."

And here is the passage from Destutt-Tracy:

"The sole basis of the idea of property is the idea of personality. As soon as property is born at all, it is born, of necessity, in all its fulness. As soon as an individual knows himself, -- his moral personality, his capacities of enjoyment, suffering, and action, -- he necessarily sees also that this self is exclusive proprietor of the body in which it dwells, its organs, their powers, faculties, &c. . . . Inasmuch as artificial and conventional property exists, there must be natural property also; for nothing can exist in art without its counterpart in Nature."

Man has, as Proudhon puts it, "the property of the property of being proprietor." I'm not convinced that this is the only direction that self-ownership can lead, and I'm not certain that it is a logical outcome of the Lockean references usually cited, but it does strike me that there is plenty of self-ownership-based property theory out there that has pretty much this character. As I have put it before on numerous occasions, if the phrases "I am" and "I own" are going to be brought as close to equivalent as property systems based in self-ownership generally attempt to bring them, there is at least a problem to be solved.

Proudhon follows this rather strong stuff with a particularly weak moment, when he attacks the notion of owning one's faculties. Ownership would certainly not, as he claims, grant to our faculties abilities that they do not otherwise have, just as absolute domain over the land would not grant one the ability to make it more or less fertile, etc. Elsewhere, Proudhon was much better at portraying the individual human subject as the product, not the master, of the "group" of faculties that it in some sense "possesses." This is one of those instances where I think his later theory really strengthens the early critiques, even if, ultimately, it also leads to the other analysis of property "by its aims." (I will try to post some of this material on the sources of human liberty and "free will" soon.)

Page 67 gives us another of Proudhon's periodic summing-up statements, following that analysis of Victor Cousin, which we've already looked at briefly in the last set of notes.

"Man needs to labor in order to live; consequently, he needs tools to work with and materials to work upon. His need to produce constitutes his right to produce. Now, this right is guaranteed him by his fellows, with whom he makes an agreement to that effect. One hundred thousand men settle in a large country like France with no inhabitants: each man has a right to 1/100,000 of the land. If the number of possessors increases, each one's portion diminishes in consequence; so that, if the number of inhabitants rises to thirty-four millions, each one will have a right only to 1/34,000,000. Now, so regulate the police system and the government, labor, exchange, inheritance, &c., that the means of labor shall be shared by all equally, and that each individual shall be free; and then society will be perfect."

All of these summaries represent some stage in Proudhon's analysis, as he sifts through the existing theories. Here, he is emphasizing that an equal right to resources can't just be equal for one generation, or a few, but has to include, to be practicable, some acknowledgment that the pool of rights-holders is dynamic. The issue of inheritance is particularly important here. We know that some radical property theorists, like Orestes Brownson (early on, when he was a radical) and Thomas Skidmore in the U.S., were led to oppose the rights of inheritance pretty much across the board. Skidmore went so far as to suggest periodic redivision of wealth.

Before we're done with Cousin, we get to look at Proudhon's response to a fairly conventional labor-mixing account:

"M. Cousin has sought to base [property] upon the sanctity of the human personality, and the act by which the will assimilates a thing. 'Once touched by man,' says one of M. Cousin's disciples, 'things receive from him a character which transforms and humanizes them.' I confess, for my part, that I have no faith in this magic, and that I know of nothing less holy than the will of man. But this theory, fragile as it seems to psychology as well as jurisprudence, is nevertheless more philosophical and profound than those theories which are based upon labor or the authority of the law."

This looks like Locke, though Proudhon associates it with the eclectics. The "disciple" in question was Jean Lerminier, in "Introduction générale à l'histoire du droit: suivie de la Philosophie du Droit" (1835). The same passage was cited in a number of French texts around the same time as "WIP?" Lammenais, for example, included it in his "Paroles d'un croyant: Le livre du peuple" (which William B. Greene's father translated into English, as "The People's Own Book," while William was still fairly young.)

Proudhon scoffs at the "magic" involved, and considers the psychology "fragile." One might, invoking his own later thought against this earlier one, suggest that, for an individual whose freedom was essentially the collective force of various faculties and aspects of personality in play one with the others, this issue of the mine and thine, of the boundaries of the proper, might well be of considerable psychological significance. Given also the special place of the human individual, the one that can say "moi," the free and mutually responsible absolute, we might guess that the issue would also have considerable political and econonic significance. We should probably be open to these rethinkings of Proudhon, but they shouldn't stop us from seriously considering the extent to which "magic" circulates as theory in our own circles.

Section Three attempts to address the arguments for basing property in civil law. On pages 70-71, Proudhon gives an account of how a civil society arises through a series of mutual agreements on the division of resources and fruits of labor. "Labor gives birth to private possession," Proudhon claims, as individuals agree:

"either formally or tacitly, -- it makes no difference which, -- that the laborer should be sole proprietor of the fruit of his labor; that is, they simply declared the fact that thereafter none could live without working. It necessarily followed that, to obtain equality of products, there must be equality of labor; and that, to obtain equality of labor, there must be equality of facilities for labor. Whoever without labor got possession, by force or by strategy, of another's means of subsistence, destroyed equality, and placed himself above or outside of the law. Whoever monopolized the means of production on the ground of greater industry, also destroyed equality. Equality being then the expression of right, whoever violated it was unjust."

But, he continues, private possession, sanctioned by society, still cannot become property, which does not respect equality:

"The field which I have cleared, which I cultivate, on which I have built my house, which supports myself, my family, and my livestock, I can possess: 1st. As the original occupant; 2d. As a laborer; 3d. By virtue of the social contract which assigns it to me as my share. But none of these titles confer upon me the right of property. For, if I attempt to base it upon occupancy, society can reply, 'I am the original occupant.' If I appeal to my labor, it will say, 'It is only on that condition that you possess.' If I speak of agreements, it will respond, 'These agreements establish only your right of use.' Such, however, are the only titles which proprietors advance. They never have been able to discover any others."

On pages 73-74, Proudhon deals with the arguments that changes to the form of things create property when the changes and the raw material "cannot be separated without destroying the thing itself." His answer: "If the form cannot be separated from the object, nor property from possession, possession must be shared." Besides, the lawmakers apply the principle of a right to appropriation unevenly, never allowing this mechanism for creating property to interfere with existing, legally recognized property, even if the conditions seem to favor appropriation by a laborer against the legal "owner" of materials. Note this comment, in relation to Proudhon's later development:

"The law is intended to protect men's mutual rights, -- that is, the rights of each against each, and each against all; and, as if a proportion could exist with less than four terms, the law-makers always disregard the latter. As long as man is opposed to man, property offsets property, and the two forces balance each other; as soon as man is isolated, that is, opposed to the society which he himself represents, jurisprudence is at fault: Themis has lost one scale of her balance."

The balance, of course, is the model for justice. We have here something close to the later suggestion that property could balance property, as well as balance the society or the state. This is even, Proudhon claims, the aim or intention of the law.

Property and the state are explicitly connected here, in ways that are, I think, consistent with the later writings, which, while they are consistently anarchistic in their opposition to most of the forms of hierarchy and oppression that anarchists generally oppose when we oppose the state, also insist that some form and degree of state or state-like development is inevitable, though it can be fairly consistently neutralized by diligent counterbalancing. There is plenty in this argument for anarchists to worry over. My only caution is to try to avoid simply stumbling over the language, such as Proudhon's willingness to speak of the role of "government" and even the Capital-E "Etat" in his mature anarchist writings. We have good indications of what he means, as early as the 1849 passages from the "Revolutionary Program" that I have cited so often now.

I recommend a careful reading of the rest of the section on civil law, but there isn't a lot more I want to comment on. I do want to make certain that everyone takes a look at the concluding paragraphs of Chapter Two:

"To sum up and conclude: --

"Not only does occupation lead to equality, it prevents property. For, since every man, from the fact of his existence, has the right of occupation, and, in order to live, must have material for cultivation on which he may labor; and since, on the other hand, the number of occupants varies continually with the births and deaths, -- it follows that the quantity of material which each laborer may claim varies with the number of occupants; consequently, that occupation is always subordinate to population. Finally, that, inasmuch as possession, in right, can never remain fixed, it is impossible, in fact, that it can ever become property.

"Every occupant is, then, necessarily a possessor or usufructuary, -- a function which excludes proprietorship. Now, this is the right of the usufructuary: he is responsible for the thing entrusted to him; he must use it in conformity with general utility, with a view to its preservation and development; he has no power to transform it, to diminish it, or to change its nature; he cannot so divide the usufruct that another shall perform the labor while he receives the product. In a word, the usufructuary is under the supervision of society, submitted to the condition of labor and the law of equality.

"Thus is annihilated the Roman definition of property—the right of use and abuse—an immorality born of violence, the most monstrous pretension that the civil laws ever sanctioned. Man receives his usufruct from the hands of society, which alone is the permanent possessor. The individual passes away, society is deathless.

"What a profound disgust fills my soul while discussing such simple truths ! Do we doubt these things to-day? Will it be necessary to again take arms for their triumph? And can force, in default of reason, alone introduce them into our laws?

"All have an equal right of occupancy.

"The amount occupied being measured, not by the will, but by the variable conditions of space and number, property cannot exist.

"This no code has ever expressed; this no constitution can admit! These are axioms which the civil law and the law of nations deny! . . . . .

"But I hear the exclamations of the partisans of another system: "Labor, labor! that is the basis of property!"

"Reader, do not be deceived. This new basis of property is worse than the first, and I shall soon have to ask your pardon for having demonstrated things clearer, and refuted pretensions more unjust, than any which we have yet considered."

The unfinished business of Liberty, III

Just a note on the last post: the addition of the tools for translation will also mean the possibility of more efficient transcription of the pdf files of Liberty. If you can't translate, but can read and type, there might be some of this unfinished business you could help finish.

The unfinished business of Liberty, II

Let's do something big!
A side thread, during a rather distracted week on the Proudhon seminar list, has involved the possibility of tackling the untranslated portions of Proudhon's writings in a collaborative setting. I've bounced this notion off of a few friends and allies, without a lot of response, but having someone else suggest it reminds me how much I really want to get the job done. There are tools for Mediawiki that should make the two-step process of transcribing and then translating the works. The structure of a wiki ought to make it easy for the participants to also develop a collection of pages dedicated to the specific translation problems associated with these older, specialized texts.

I would love to see this effort result in a copy-left Collected Works, in English and perhaps in some other languages (particularly as the ally who suggested it is not a native English speaker). But I would also love to see radicals with no particular knowledge of French get a chance to dip into the parallel world of "Proudhon in the original."

I would love to hear from anyone who would like to participate in any phase of a group translation project. I'll start putting a site together next weekend, assuming life cooperates.

Then again, I would love to hear that readers are doing something entirely different, something big and ambitious, but more in line with their particular passions.

What Is Property? Chapter 2, part 2 notes

I had some unexpected delays of a better sort yesterday, including two rather random encounters with one of my best friends from high school (in California, not Oregon, where I am now), who I haven't seen in about 20 years. A familiar voice in a coffee shop turned out to be just who it sounded like. And then the voice again, from a parking lot I was walking by, hours later, on my way home from the bookstore. Good stuff.

Anyway, we left off at page 54, at the start of section 2, on "Occupation, as the Title to Property." The section begins with a definition of the "right of occupation:"
"The right of occupation, or of the first occupant, is that which results from the actual, physical, real possession of a thing. I occupy a piece of land; the presumption is, that I am the proprietor, until the contrary is proved. We know that originally such a right cannot be legitimate unless it is reciprocal; the jurists say as much."
Proudhon goes immediately from this definition to the analogy of Cicero:
"Cicero compares the earth to a vast theatre:. . . The theatre, says Cicero, is common to all; nevertheless, the place that each one occupies is called his own; that is, it is a place possessed, not a place appropriated. This comparison annihilates property; moreover, it implies equality. Can I, in a theatre, occupy at the same time one place in the pit, another in the boxes, and a third in the gallery?"
Perhaps there is something in the Latin motto that I am missing. ("Quemadmodum theatrum cum commune sit, recte tamen dici potest ejus esse eum locum quem quisque occuparit.") But as Proudhon develops the metaphor of the theatre, it is appears that the "right of occupation" is essentially a right to occupy some place, not necessarily the same place each time. The right is a matter of need, of equal access to resources. There are some confusing aspects of Proudhon's description: when he talks about how the occupier may "beautify and adorn" their place, there is a suggestion of labor-mixing that is perhaps a bit at odds with the picture of simple occupation. But for the most part, Proudhon seems to be using Cicero to paint a picture of possession free from pretty much any of the sorts of "property" we have proposed, let alone the simple property which concerns him. Dugald Stewart used the same passage, in "The Philosophy of the Active and Moral Powers of Man," to illustrate roughly the same distinction:
"In order to think with accuracy on this subject, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the complete right of property which is founded on labor, from the transient right of possession which is acquired by mere priority of occupancy. Thus, before the appropriation of land, if any individual had occupied a particular spot for repose or shade, it would have been unjust to deprive him of the possession of it. This, however, was only a transient right. The spot of ground would again become common the moment the occupier had left it; that is, the right of possession would remain no longer than the act of possession. Cicero illustrates this happily by the similitude of a theatre. 'Quemadmodum theatrum, cum commune sit, recte tamen dici potest ejus esse eum locum quem quisque occuparit.'"
In Stewart, the simple right of occupation is quite clearly transient, and there is no question of property. If this were the only right, than perhaps you could lose your apartment by going out to get groceries, as long as there was a place left for you to prepare dinner and go to sleep. We can think of much worse situations than one governed by a truly mutual, equal right of occupation, and perhaps we live in the midst of one. In any event, if the "right of possession," which remains a little elusive, is essentially the "right of occupation," then the problem of going from possession as fact to possession as right may not be as great as I've suggested: if there is a fact, a need, which pretty obviously suggests a right, the need to occupy some space or other is probably right up there in the running. Still, this right to occupy is obviously not any of the things we call "occupancy and use," which seems to imply a property or near-property relation of some limited duration.

It's not hard to see how this right of occupation can only be an equal right. As the location, etc., of the seats in the theatre don't seem to modify the situation at all, we have a clear case of equal rights to one element in a set of things (seats) which may be rather unequal in other respects. Likewise, the equal need of each for "a seat" doesn't mean everyone will take up the same space. There is no reason to believe that equality necessarily involves procrustean solutions, even when one is speaking, as Grotius was (p. 55) of an "original communism" in which common property predominated. Certainly, this was not Proudhon's notion of equality, however much (fairly or unfairly) he sometimes attributed the notion to "communists." Anyway, Proudhon accepts for the moment Grotius' suggestion that humans began in a state of equality, but it raises questions:
"We never can conceive how the equality of conditions, having once existed, could afterwards have passed away. What was the cause of such degeneration? The instincts of the animals are unchangeable, as well as the differences of species; to suppose original equality in human society is to admit by implication that the present inequality is a degeneration from the nature of this society, -- a thing which the defenders of property cannot explain. But I infer therefrom that, if Providence placed the first human beings in a condition of equality, it was an indication of its desires, a model that it wished them to realize in other forms; just as the religious sentiment, which it planted in their hearts, has developed and manifested itself in various ways. Man has but one nature, constant and unalterable: he pursues it through instinct, he wanders from it through reflection, he returns to it through judgment; who shall say that we are not returning now? According to Grotius, man has abandoned equality; according to me, he will yet return to it."
We see here an early form of Proudhon's doctrine of progress. As harsh a critic as he could be of earlier social forms, he looks in them for evidence of a general trend, mostly towards greater equality and justice. Notice that "wandering...through reflection" is an important part of the process here. Words like "degeneration" have to be understood in this light. To give Bakunin's bon mot a Fourierist twist, we might say that "the retrograde is also a progressive element" (or something like that.)

On pages 56-58, Proudhon turns the question of what one has a right to occupy into a problem of division, literally, dividing the total amount of property by the number of people. Or, rather, he attributes this turn to Reid, and then makes some criticisms that could, I think, have been clearer. In pressing on to criticize Reid for not overtly championing the equal right of occupancy, Proudhon passes rather quickly over the issue of the rights to the "necessary means of life," which is not a trivial concern for modern libertarians. He seems, however, to agree that there is a right of equal access to those resources as well, while he seems (if I am getting the nuances right) to reserve some offhand skepticism about a simple equation of the nature and character of those means. There are some potentially loose ends here that are interesting, I think.

A good deal of Proudhon's treatment of Destutt-Tracy (58-63) goes back to the issue of semantic and logical sloppiness. The fact that I have arms and legs, that they are "my arms and my legs," doesn't really make me a "proprietor," but Destutt-Tracy was of the group that argued against class distinctions precisely on the ground that possessing properties (or limbs) was pretty much like possessing property. I think much self-ownership theory reads the character of (chattel) property back onto our properties, but generally not in so laughable/offensive a manner.

On the other hand, as I've suggested, I read the Lockean property model as exploiting a similar movement across categories, but starting from our properties (that which is most essentially proper to us) and moving out to identify as "property" those things which come into intimate relations with us, become mixed up with our selves. Proudhon, who was very interested in composite beings, in levels and layers of individuality, never seems to have pursued this aspect of the "moi," but I'm not sure I'm too off from the general trend of his thought in my own explorations of the issue.

Back to Proudhon: on pages 59-60, we are treated to his reading of Destutt-Tracy on the origins of contract-based property conventions, and the "state of estrangement" which proceeded them. Readers of Benjamin R. Tucker will appreciate this account of how what we might call the "equal right of might" led naturally to an improved approximation of equality based in contract. Kevin and I have both long argued that thoroughgoing egoism might well lead to a kind of egalitarianism in the realm of rights, citing Tucker as a fellow in this regard. For Proudhon, the argument is really that all roads lead to liberty, and all coherent rights seem to radiate from it.

And that turns out to be enough to digest in one post, so I'll finish Chapter 2 with a third post tomorrow.


Monday, July 21, 2008

D. I. Y. tomfoolery

It's a sign either 1) that I'm settling in and getting a little relaxed after the move, or 2) that I'm finally losing it. It's no secret that baseball comes in somewhere not too far behind liberty on the scale of my obsessions: watching and listening to games accounts for much of the minimal downtime that my attention gets from things like French grammar, the fine points of Proudhon, the economics of infoshops, etc. I inherited the love of baseball and, specifically, of the Boston Red Sox, from my grandmother, who was an avid fan. I catch a couple of games a day, mostly on the radio or web radio, mostly of collegiate summer league or professional minor league teams.

It's also probably not much of a secret that my mind frequently works in half-mad leaps between subjects, at least some of which can eventually be turned into good sense of one sort or another. It was the product of two or three of those mental leaps that produced my own personalized version of the ALL logo, more or less as a joke. Curiously, the post containing the first version of the joke got about twice as many hits as posts usually get. (Put it up there with the notice of my small Lucifer archive, the Stephen Pearl Andrews article about Kant, and the post with the Distributive Passions "FedEx" collage as unlikely hits, for whatever reasons.)

In any event, having blown an hour or two on designing an entirely personal logo, why wouldn't I spend a night stitching it on a baseball cap. My embroidery skills are admittedly rusty, and tidy work on a ball-cap is not the easiest thing in the world, but, hey, I did it, and I have my DIY conversation piece that also keeps the sun off.

It's fun to do this kind of stuff, just to prove to yourself that you can.

No nations but the Red Sox Nation! It ain't plumb-line, but I'll stick with it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

In which I expose my nationalistic side...

Nobody's perfect, I suppose. There is, after all, one nation to which I will confess allegiance.

I really, really want this embroidered on a ballcap. . .

Monday, July 14, 2008

What Is Property? Ch. 2 notes, part 1

These are notes from the ongoing Proudhon seminar. Page numbers refer to the Benjamin R. Tucker translation of What Is Property?

Chapter II covers "PROPERTY CONSIDERED AS A NATURAL RIGHT.—OCCUPATION AND CIVIL LAW AS EFFICIENT BASES OF PROPERTY. DEFINITIONS." Proudhon announced in the first chapter that: "The first of these chapters [Ch. 2] will prove that the right of occupation OBSTRUCTS property; the second [Ch. 3] that the right of labor DESTROYS it." So we know pretty much what to expect.

p. 42: Property is defined as "the right to use and abuse one's own within the limits of the law — jus utendi et abutendi re suâ, quatenus juris ratio patitur." This is going to be Proudhon's definition of simple property throughout his writings. There are those who claim that Proudhon meant something different in the early and late works, but he doesn't leave us much room for doubt. Here's the passage from Theory of Property:

"There is only one thing new for us in our thesis: it is that that same property, the contradictory and abusive principle of which has raised our disapproval, we today accept entirely, along with its equally contradictory qualification: Dominium est just utendi et abutendi re suâ, quatenus juris ratio patur. We have understood finally that the opposition of two absolutes—one of which, alone, would be unpardonably reprehensive, and both of which, together, would be rejected, if they worked separately—is the very cornerstone of social econony and public right: but it falls to us to govern it and to make it act according to the laws of logic." (p. 242-3)

p. 43: Proudhon claims that the limitation of the absolute right by "the limits of the law" is not so much a limitation on the institution as an internal safeguard. What would seem to limit the abolute nature of the right actually, he argues, confirms it and preserves it. This is one of those spots where I'm not entirely certain that I follow Proudhon's logic, or that I agree with it, to the extent that I do follow it. However, you may have noticed that the formula, quoted above, from Theory of Property, pretty closely mirrors the material from What Is Property? What Proudhon comes to embrace is "absolute domain" (and perhaps we should read this "absolute" in the light of his later philosophical discussions, taking it as meaning "tending to absolutism," or something of the same sort, but a little stronger, perhaps "of an absolutist character") limited by the "laws of logic," under conditions of approximate equality of property. If the law in question is logic, and the immanent organizing principle of more-or-less equally distributed property, then we can see, once again, how Proudhon turns his critique into a formula for a free society.

On the same page, we get the important discussion of the "two kinds of property:" domain and possession. Proudhon confuses the issue a bit by then calling one kind of property, domain, by the name of "property," but it's not hard to follow what he means. The division of property and possession along a right/fact divide is a little more complicate, since he will insist later, as we've seen that possession is a matter of right. Inverting the character of the terms in this way is, of course, what I'm doing in my own system, largely inspired by Proudhon, but I don't see Proudhon making the move himself. This is a question I'll try to keep tabs on.

One things seems clear to me: some sort of transformation of "possession" in/into the realm of right seems necessary. Proudhon's examples of possessors are in some cases individuals in rather precarious positions: tenants, for example. Later, in "Theory of Property," Proudhon claimed that: "It is a fact of universal history that land has been no more unequally divided than in places where the system of possession alone has predominated, or where fief has supplanted allodial property; similarly, the states where the most liberty and equality is found are those where property reigns." (p. 142)

"Possession" has be a kind of (potentially under-theorized) left-anarchist ideal. We know the direction that Proudhon went, but I'm also very interested in the possibility that there was another possible road. Those who know the early collectivist tradition better then I do might be able to help.

p. 44: "Those who do not possess today are proprietors by the same title as those who do possess." But the answer is not to generalize property, but to "demand, in the name of general security, its entire abolition." OK. There are a handful of pages where I tend to feel somewhat lost, every time I read through the book. This basic claim, together with the related business about "jus in re" and "jus ad rem," seem to be oddly put together. I can't tell if the writing is unclear or unfortunate (since "those who do possess" have no title, or if they do, it does not seem to be of the same sort as those who have title, but do not possess), or whether I'm just not getting something.

p. 44-5: One of these things is not like the others. It seems to me that this particular argument depends a bit on pushing the definition of "property" in a different direction than some of the others. Given that, however, what Proudhon does with the question of the similarity "property" to "liberty," "equality," and "security" is quite interesting. His treatment of proportional taxes (p. 47) seems to have been his first attempt to think through the justice of taxation, a subject he returned to several times before writing his "Théorie de l'impôt" ("Theory of Taxation," 1861.)

p. 48: Government is a company, but not an insurance company. It should come as no real surprise that when Proudhon worked out what he thought anarchistic "government" should be, it was mostly a big insurance company.

p. 49. "No one is obliged to do more than comply with this injunction: In the exercise of your own rights do not encroach upon the rights of another; an injunction which is the exact definition of liberty."

p. 52: Proudhon sums up his comparison of rights:

"To sum up: liberty is an absolute right, because it is to man what impenetrability is to matter, -- a sine qua non of existence; equality is an absolute right, because without equality there is no society; security is an absolute right, because in the eyes of every man his own liberty and life are as precious as another's. These three rights are absolute; that is, susceptible of neither increase nor diminution; because in society each associate receives as much as he gives, -- liberty for liberty, equality for equality, security for security, body for body, soul for soul, in life and in death."

He is obviously not using "absolute" only in the sense that I have suggested, but we know something has changed in the terms of the argument, since the point is now precisely that property is not an "absolute right."

"But property, in its derivative sense, and by the definitions of law, is a right outside of society; for it is clear that, if the wealth of each was social wealth, the conditions would be equal for all, and it would be a contradiction to say: Property is a man's right to dispose at will of social property. Then if we are associated for the sake of liberty, equality, and security, we are not associated for the sake of property; then if property is a natural right, this natural right is not social, but anti-social. Property and society are utterly irreconcilable institutions. It is as impossible to associate two proprietors as to join two magnets by their opposite poles. Either society must perish, or it must destroy property."

Proudhon seems to be a bit ahead of himself with the argument about "social property." I think he gets there later, and that the argument is fairly strong, but there are some issues here about the construction of the argument.

The material of pages 52-3 about the elusive origins of property is stronger, I think. It's still very hard to find consistent theories of property, coherently addressing both origins and applications. Proudhon, of course, will address the arguments from occupation and from labor for the rest of the chapter. And I'll try to write that stuff up tomorrow.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Small-scale methanol gassifier project

I met one of the participants in the Biomass to Methanol project last week, while I was working at Laughing Horse Books. The project is associated with the Windward Ecovillage, in Washington state. This is a biofuel project at the DIY level, with an open source sensibility. Take a look, and support the project if you can.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What Is Property? Chapter One notes

I don't think there is anything in the first chapter that is terribly difficult, but there's a lot that is interesting.

p. 12: Proudhon claims that property is "an effect without a cause:" none of the justifications given for it hold up. He imagines the objection being aimed at his contradiction of widely-held received wisdom on the subject, and at his *uniting of contraries*.

p.13: "The work of our race is to build the temple of science," "truth reveals itself to all," and "you will find here a series of experiments upon justice and right." Proudhon's social science is fairly consistently envisioned as a way of life, rather than a job for specialists. His emphasis on experiment and observation is also consistent throughout his work. "I build no system," he says on the next page, and in later works he elaborates how the collective reason, another instance of collective force, grows out of individual experience/experiment (Fr. experience). (I'm in the midst of skimming the volumes of "Justice in the Revolution and in the Church," and it's tremendous stuff. Very exciting.)

p. 15: Proudhon downplays his originality, his is "an idea that permeates all minds," which "all men believe." One is reminded of the situationists: "Our ideas are in everyone's heads." Bellegarrigue made similar claims about the general understanding of some rather startling, revolutionary ideas; they are, as in Proudhon, ideas about the balance of forces, interests and tendencies.

p. 17: Proudhon rather nicely describes the problem of fixed ideas.

p. 18-19: Proudhon would return, in "The Theory of Property," to the discussion of confused use of terminology. I'm not quite sure he gets out of "What is Property?" without a confusion or two of his own, but he certainly took some care to clarify what he meant by "property."

p. 24-25: "Man is at war with himself," but the problem is not original sin, it is ignorance. "Man errs because he learns." The clash of ideas, or of the antinomic aspects of ideas, whether within an individual's mind or within society, are what leads to progress in ideas. Error and failure enoble men, at least as long as they are able to move on.

p. 25: "The object of our investigations is the law, the determination of the social principle." Proudhon speaks quite a bit about "law" in this work, and sometimes it is a bit hard to tell exactly what he means. Elsewhere, he claimed that Montesquieu's "The Spirit of the Laws" had marked a revolutionary change in the very meaning of "law."
"Laws, in their most general signification, are the necessary relations arising from the nature of things. In this sense all beings have their laws: the Deity His laws, the material world its laws, the intelligences superior to man their laws, the beasts their laws, man his laws."
The immanent principles that govern the relations between the elements of groups, or of individuals understood as ordered groups, is another of the consistent concerns of the later works. We should probably consider this in reading "What is Property?"

p. 26-27: The ideas of justice and law inform the institutions of the period. But those ideas are formed by people, and they can be "ill-defined." We have to be concerned about this defect at all times. In "Justice," Proudhon declares it something of an article of faith, and prerequisite of progress, that it is never "the best of all possible worlds."

p. 33: "with the most perfect democracy, we cannot be free." I'm not sure that the US was ever "the most perfect democracy," but the exploration of the transformation of sovereignty in the "democratic revolution" is interesting. The question is one which has been recently picked up by Giorgio Agamben, in "Homo Sacer" and "State of Exception," which are both pretty challenging reading, but of potential interest to anarchists.

p. 37: These seem to be the key passages in Ch. 1:
"These, then, are the three fundamental principles of modern society, established one after another by the movements of 1789 and 1830: 1. SOVEREIGNTY OF THE HUMAN WILL; in short, DESPOTISM. 2. INEQUALITY OF WEALTH AND RANK. 3. PROPERTY — above JUSTICE, always invoked as the guardian angel of sovereigns, nobles, and proprietors; JUSTICE, the general, primitive, categorical law of all society.

"We must ascertain whether the ideas of DESPOTISM, CIVIL INEQUALITY and PROPERTY, are in harmony with the primitive notion of JUSTICE, and necessarily follow from it,—assuming various forms according to the condition, position, and relation of persons; or whether they are not rather the illegitimate result of a confusion of different things, a fatal association of ideas. And since justice deals especially with the questions of government, the condition of persons, and the possession of things, we must ascertain under what conditions, judging by universal opinion and the progress of the human mind, government is just, the condition of citizens is just, and the possession of things is just; then, striking out every thing which fails to meet these conditions, the result will at once tell us what legitimate government is, what the legitimate condition of citizens is, and what the legitimate possession of things is; and finally, as the last result of the analysis, what JUSTICE is."
Justice is obviously not just a "primitive notion" that has been confused. There are questions to be answered. Proudhon already has some of his progressive theory, where each era must recreate its own key ideas, according to present needs and conditions. I would be tempted to say that "justice" is the idea of most of Proudhon's revolutions, though it appears in the midst of different clusters of related ideas.

38: "Is the authority of man over man just?" "Everybody answers, 'No; the authority of man is only the authority of the law; which ought to be justice and truth.'" Apparently, "everybody" is a bit of an anarchist. Again, we see Proudhon's faith that something like "common sense" is essentially capable of revolutionary thought.

41: The final passages on equality are fairly remarkable. They're filled with a kind of radical faith, which we see in many of the writings of the 1840s. Pierre Leroux and Anselme Bellegarrigue both express this, while describing the real mess that everyone is in. There is a "darkest before the dawn" character to this pre-1848 radicalism that is interesting:

"A defender of equality, I shall speak without bitterness and without anger; with the independence becoming a philosopher, with the courage and firmness of a free man. May I, in this momentous struggle, carry into all hearts the light with which I am filled; and show, by the success of my argument, that equality failed to conquer by the sword only that it might conquer by the pen!"

I hope these notes are useful.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

"What Is Property?" vs "Theory of Property"?

From the Proudhon-seminar list:

I took a trip into Portland today, to check in at the radical bookstore where I'm volunteering and to look over some untranslated material in a fresh setting. It always seems to clear my head even just to get out on the light-rail and work a bit. And I can be sure of having a cat-free lap, which is not the case in my office at home. As I mentioned, I've been working on the "Summary of my earlier works on property," from Proudhon's posthumously-published "The Theory of Property." In that chapter, Proudhon makes some criticisms of his own of "What Is Property?" which we'll eventually have to look at, and gives a lengthy (51 page) account of the development of his thought. As I mentioned to Erik, the majority of the later works are not translated, so it's very hard to deal very directly with that development in this sort of setting.

But the development of Proudhon's theory always haunts any discussion of it in circles as ideologically diverse as the audience for this seminar. It would be nice if we could clarify the nature of the development and lay that particular ghost for a bit.

And maybe we can. Rafael has already remarked on Proudhon's "Hegelian formula," which leads him to think of liberty as the "synthesis of communism and property." On pages 258-9, Proudhon writes:

"Communism--the first expression of the social nature--is the first term of social development,--the THESIS; property, the reverse of communism, is the second term,--the ANTITHESIS. When we have discovered the third term, the SYNTHESIS, we shall have the required solution. Now, this synthesis necessarily results from the correction of the thesis by the antithesis. Therefore it is necessary, by a final examination of their characteristics, to eliminate those features which are hostile to sociability. The union of the two remainders will give us the true form of human association."

He then goes on to say that:

"The objects of communism and property are good--their results are bad. And why? Because both are exclusive, and each disregards two elements of society. Communism rejects independence and proportionality; property does not satisfy equality and law."

The "hostile feature" of both opposing principles is their partiality. If all four elements are embraced, then we have liberty. "Synthesis," in this case, is an entire remaking of the two antinomic principles. The result is anarchistic because it doesn't require or leave room for "governmentalism," which Proudhon has associated with "communism" (more or less.)

Now, the transformation of Proudhon's thought involved a series of insights and developments. For our purposes, though, the important one is probably the one we see in the "Toast to the Revolution," where Proudhon suggests that individual and collective concerns can't simply be alloyed, that they are not simply opposed, and that a thoroughgoing individualization of interests and pursuits is the road to a legitimate form of non-state centralization.

Leap forward to the formula of "The Theory of Property," where Proudhon embraces simple property, despite its absolutist, egoistic, despotic tendencies (with limitations of term based on occupancy and use). Is this a major change from the position of 1840?

I want to suggest that it is not. We have essentially the same terms, a centralizing tendency and an individual absolutism. The only thing that has really changed is Proudhon's understanding of the "systems of contradictions." In "Justice in the Revolution and in the Church," he came to a realization about "dialectics:"

"L'ANTINOMIE NE SE RÉSOUT PAS : là est le vice fondamental de toute la philosophie hégélienne. Les deux termes dont elle se compose se BALANCENT, soit entre eux, soit avec d'autres termes antinomiques"

That is, "The antinomy does not resolve itself." It is not resolved. "The two terms of which it is composed are balanced, either by one another, or by other antinomic terms."

If Proudhon had approached the question in this way in 1840, wouldn't the logical formula for the "third form of society" be the balance or equilibrium, the counterpoise of property and communism? In 1840 we already have the acknowledgment that "the objects of communism and property are good." Isn't this essentially the acknowledgment that either might be justified according to its "aims"?

It seems to me that very little, other than Proudhon's opinion about whether or not "the antinomy resolves itself," actually changes. And that leaves us with roughly three responses: 1) to prefer the approach of 1840; 2) to prefer the approach of the 1860s; or 3) to feel that the terms are essentially ill-conceived.

Maybe that lays the ghost a bit.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Proudhon's "last word"

I've engaged in what I hope is a helpful reversal here—the reversal of a reversal, actually. In Chapter One of What Is Property? Proudhon wrote, "I think best to place the last thought of my book first," and declared himself within his rights. I, on the other hand, have gone to some trouble to push that "last thought" back a bit. My reasons are simple: the phrase "property is robbery" is the one thing we all "know" about the work, and it is something of a distraction, particularly as there are some difficulties in knowing what it means in the original context. It's for your own good, everybody. Trust me. Whatever use you want to put Proudhon's property to, it's the arguments that make it a useful or useless tool (or set of tools).

Anyway, to complete our last-shall-be-first introduction, we need to look at the rest of the section on "The Determination of the third form of Society," which deals primarily with the nature of "liberty," and contains the suggestion that that liberty will be composed of "the synthesis of communism and property." We'll come back to all of this at the end of the seminar, but let's get an overview: Proudhon starts his book with a startling, potentially paradoxical statement, which he claims everyone, if they only thought about it, already believes. He then spends some time talking about method, and "the idea of a revolution." The Revolution has an idea, or a series of ideas appropriate to the particular stage of development. If, on the one hand, "the idea that we form of justice and right were ill-defined, if it were imperfect or even false, it is clear that all our legislative applications would be wrong, our institutions vicious, our politics erroneous: consequently there would be disorder and social chaos." [p. 27] On the other, such imperfect ideas tend to crumble naturally, and Proudhon senses a new idea, "an idea which permeates all minds, which to-morrow will be proclaimed by another if I fail to announce it to-day."

So what, if you'll pardon me, is the Big Idea? It looks like "property" is a good contender for the role of Old, Imperfect Idea. "Robbery" is the last word on "property," but, interestingly enough, it isn't Proudhon's last word, no matter what he says at the beginning.

The passages where Proudhon most directly addresses the claim that "property is robbery" are on pages 262-271. In them, he lays out fifteen ways in which "we rob," all of them part of an exposition of how property "violates equity by the rights of exclusion and increase." (Read them now or later, according to your taste.) He has, of course, already done a number on the concept of property, disqualifying its various justifications, showing that occupation and labor work against it, that it works against itself, etc. That's the theoretical heart of the book, and occupies most of it. It is not, of course, the part that most of us have read, or read carefully. It is not the part that is most frequently quoted.

Bear with me. After dealing with "robbery," Proudhon still has some analysis of property to do: "The second effect of property is despotism." This leads him to ask about the nature of "legitimate authority," which leads him to one of anarchism's "greatest hits."

What is to be the form of government in the future? I hear some of my younger readers reply: "Why, how can you ask such a question?

You are a republican." "A republican! Yes; but that word specifies nothing. Res publica; that is, the public thing. Now, whoever is interested in public affairs--no matter under what form of government--may call himself a republican. Even kings are republicans."--

"Well! you are a democrat?"--"No."--"What! you would have a monarchy."--"No."--"A constitutionalist?"--"God forbid!"--"You are then an aristocrat?"--"Not at all."--"You want a mixed government?"--"Still less."--"What are you, then?"--"I am an anarchist."

"Oh! I understand you; you speak satirically. This is a hit at the government."--"By no means. I have just given you my serious and well-considered profession of faith. Although a firm friend of order, I am (in the full force of the term) an anarchist. Listen to me."

Proudhon espouses anarchism as "government" here, the right kind, as opposed to the "government of caprice, the reign of libidinous pleasure," which he says property engenders. Thus, it is natural for him to show that property and government (of a "legitimate" sort) are opposed. It comes across as one of those odd anticipations of his later thought which dot his early works. Eventually, self-government among "free absolutes" will ally itself with precisely the despotic property "vanquished" in What Is Property? But that's another tale. . . probably.

We're past the "last word," and on to "anarchy," in a kind of final footnote on property. But anarchy doesn't seem to be the "idea of the Revolution" either. And where have we ended up? Well, about where you thought I was going to start several paragraphs back (probably because I thought I was going to start there), at the beginning of the section on "The Determination of the third form of Society.—Conclusion." And, there, as it turns out, the real last words are "liberty and equality!"

Determination of the third form of Society. Conclusion

Then, no government, no public economy, no administration, is possible, which is based upon property.

Communism seeks EQUALITY and LAW. Property, born of the sovereignty of the reason, and the sense of personal merit, wishes above all things INDEPENDENCE and PROPORTIONALITY.

But communism, mistaking uniformity for law, and levelism for equality, becomes tyrannical and unjust. Property, by its despotism and encroachments, soon proves itself oppressive and anti-social.

The objects of communism and property are good--their results are bad. And why? Because both are exclusive, and each disregards two elements of society. Communism rejects independence and proportionality; property does not satisfy equality and law.

Now, if we imagine a society based upon these four principles,-- equality, law, independence, and proportionality,--we find:--

1. That EQUALITY, consisting only in EQUALITY OF CONDITIONS, that is, OF MEANS, and not in EQUALITY OF COMFORT,-- which it is the business of the laborers to achieve for themselves, when provided with equal means,--in no way violates justice and equite.

2. That LAW, resulting from the knowledge of facts, and consequently based upon necessity itself, never clashes with independence.

3. That individual INDEPENDENCE, or the autonomy of the private reason, originating in the difference in talents and capacities, can exist without danger within the limits of the law.

4. That PROPORTIONALITY, being admitted only in the sphere of intelligence and sentiment, and not as regards material objects, may be observed without violating justice or social equality.

This third form of society, the synthesis of communism and property, we will call LIBERTY. [1]

In determining the nature of liberty, we do not unite communism and property indiscriminately; such a process would be absurd eclecticism. We search by analysis for those elements in each which are true, and in harmony with the laws of Nature and society, disregarding the rest altogether; and the result gives us an adequate expression of the natural form of human society,-- in one word, liberty.

Liberty is equality, because liberty exists only in society; and in the absence of equality there is no society.

Liberty is anarchy, because it does not admit the government of the will, but only the authority of the law; that is, of necessity.

Liberty is infinite variety, because it respects all wills within the limits of the law.

Liberty is proportionality, because it allows the utmost latitude to the ambition for merit, and the emulation of glory.

We can now say, in the words of M. Cousin: "Our principle is true; it is good, it is social; let us not fear to push it to its ultimate."

Man's social nature becoming JUSTICE through reflection, EQUITE through the classification of capacities, and having LIBERTY for its formula, is the true basis of morality,--the principle and regulator of all our actions. This is the universal motor, which philosophy is searching for, which religion strengthens, which egotism supplants, and whose place pure reason never can fill. DUTY and RIGHT are born of NEED, which, when considered in connection with others, is a RIGHT, and when considered in connection with ourselves, a DUTY.

We need to eat and sleep. It is our right to procure those things which are necessary to rest and nourishment. It is our duty to use them when Nature requires it.

We need to labor in order to live. To do so is both our right and our duty.

We need to love our wives and children. It is our duty to protect and support them. It is our right to be loved in preference to all others. Conjugal fidelity is justice. Adultery is high treason against society.

We need to exchange our products for other products. It is our right that this exchange should be one of equivalents; and since we consume before we produce, it would be our duty, if we could control the matter, to see to it that our last product shall follow our last consumption. Suicide is fraudulent bankruptcy.

We need to live our lives according to the dictates of our reason. It is our right to maintain our freedom. It is our duty to respect that of others.

We need to be appreciated by our fellows. It is our duty to deserve their praise. It is our right to be judged by our works.

Liberty is not opposed to the rights of succession and bequest. It contents itself with preventing violations of equality. "Choose," it tells us, "between two legacies, but do not take them both." All our legislation concerning transmissions, entailments, adoptions, and, if I may venture to use such a word, COADJUTORERIES, requires remodelling.

Liberty favors emulation, instead of destroying it. In social equality, emulation consists in accomplishing under like conditions; it is its own reward. No one suffers by the victory.

Liberty applauds self-sacrifice, and honors it with its votes, but it can dispense with it. Justice alone suffices to maintain the social equilibrium. Self-sacrifice is an act of supererogation. Happy, however, the man who can say, "I sacrifice myself." [2]

Liberty is essentially an organizing force. To insure equality between men and peace among nations, agriculture and industry, and the centres of education, business, and storage, must be distributed according to the climate and the geographical position of the country, the nature of the products, the character and natural talents of the inhabitants, &c., in proportions so just, so wise, so harmonious, that in no place shall there ever be either an excess or a lack of population, consumption, and products. There commences the science of public and private right, the true political economy. It is for the writers on jurisprudence, henceforth unembarrassed by the false principle of property, to describe the new laws, and bring peace upon earth. Knowledge and genius they do not lack; the foundation is now laid for them. [3]

[1] libertas, librare, libratio, libra,--liberty, to liberate, libration, balance (pound),--words which have a common derivation. Liberty is the balance of rights and duties. To make a man free is to balance him with others,--that is, to put him or their level.

[2] In a monthly publication, the first number of which has just appeared under the name of "L'Egalitaire," self-sacrifice is laid down as a principle of equality. This is a confusion of ideas. Self-sacrifice, taken alone, is the last degree of inequality. To seek equality in self-sacrifice is to confess that equality is against nature. Equality must be based upon justice, upon strict right, upon the principles invoked by the proprietor himself; otherwise it will never exist. Self-sacrifice is superior to justice; but it cannot be imposed as law, because it is of such a nature as to admit of no reward. It is, indeed, desirable that everybody shall recognize the necessity of self-sacrifice, and the idea of "L'Egalitaire" is an excellent example. Unfortunately, it can have no effect. What would you reply, indeed, to a man who should say to you, "I do not want to sacrifice myself"? Is he to be compelled to do so? When self- sacrifice is forced, it becomes oppression, slavery, the exploitation of man by man. Thus have the proletaires sacrificed themselves to property.

[3] The disciples of Fourier have long seemed to me the most advanced of all modern socialists, and almost the only ones worthy of the name. If they had understood the nature of their task, spoken to the people, awakened their sympathies, and kept silence when they did not understand; if they had made less extravagant pretensions, and had shown more respect for public intelligence,--perhaps the reform would now, thanks to them, be in progress. But why are these earnest reformers continually bowing to power and wealth,--that is, to all that is anti- reformatory? How, in a thinking age, can they fail to see that the world must be converted by DEMONSTRATION, not by myths and allegories? Why do they, the deadly enemies of civilization, borrow from it, nevertheless, its most pernicious fruits,-- property, inequality of fortune and rank, gluttony, concubinage, prostitution, what do I know? theurgy, magic, and sorcery? Why these endless denunciations of morality, metaphysics, and psychology, when the abuse of these sciences, which they do not understand, constitutes their whole system? Why this mania for deifying a man whose principal merit consisted in talking nonsense about things whose names, even, he did not know, in the strongest language ever put upon paper? Whoever admits the infallibility of a man becomes thereby incapable of instructing others. Whoever denies his own reason will soon proscribe free thought. The phalansterians would not fail to do it if they had the power. Let them condescend to reason, let them proceed systematically, let them give us demonstrations instead of revelations, and we will listen willingly. Then let them organize manufactures, agriculture, and commerce; let them make labor attractive, and the most humble functions honorable, and our praise shall be theirs. Above all, let them throw off that Illuminism which gives them the appearance of impostors or dupes, rather than believers and apostles.

I'll pick up from there in the next post.

Proudhon seminar: Onward!

[Links to the main discussion list and project page are now in the sidebar. Please join the list if you want to take advantage of the discussion. -shawn]

Plan of Attack

As I said, I would like to start my discussion of the material with Chapter 5, Part II, Section 3. I intend to deal with that final section in two posts, taking them in reverse order:

1) Proudhon's ten point program (below)
2) The nature of "liberty"

I'll follow that with some discussion of Chapter One, Proudhon's discussion of method, probably on Thursday.

By that time, I hope to have done a little more work on the 1839 "Sunday" text, so we can get a little clearer idea of the philosophical framework Proudhon had already established. That may (or may not) give some clues about how to approach some of the problems Kevin and I have started kicking around.

One thing I can already say about Proudhon in 1840: "equality" was a real keyword for him.

Proudhon's Destination

In 1873 or so, Ezra Heywood asked William B. Greene, an early translator and acquaintance of Proudhon, to explain the "property is robbery" phrase. In the pages of "The Word," Greene provided a translation of the first three and last three pages of "What Is Property?," together with a brief sketch of Proudhon as he had known him and some interpretation of the nature of mutualist institutions. I want to follow Greene's lead to the extent of starting with those last three pages, which contain a sort of "ten point program" which Proudhon felt would follow directly from the abolition of "property."

Here's the text:

I have accomplished my task; property is conquered, never again to arise. Wherever this work is read and discussed, there will be deposited the germ of death to property; there, sooner or later, privilege and servitude will disappear, and the despotism of will will give place to the reign of reason. What sophisms, indeed, what prejudices (however obstinate) can stand before the simplicity of the following propositions:--

I. Individual POSSESSION is the condition of social life; five thousand years of property demonstrate it. PROPERTY is the suicide of society. Possession is a right; property is against right. Suppress property while maintaining possession, and, by this simple modification of the principle, you will revolutionize law, government, economy, and institutions; you will drive evil from the face of the earth.

II. All having an equal right of occupancy, possession varies with the number of possessors; property cannot establish itself.

III. The effect of labor being the same for all, property is lost in the common prosperity.

IV. All human labor being the result of collective force, all property becomes, in consequence, collective and unitary. To speak more exactly, labor destroys property.

V. Every capacity for labor being, like every instrument of labor, an accumulated capital, and a collective property, inequality of wages and fortunes (on the ground of inequality of capacities) is, therefore, injustice and robbery.

VI. The necessary conditions of commerce are the liberty of the contracting parties and the equivalence of the products exchanged. Now, value being expressed by the amount of time and outlay which each product costs, and liberty being inviolable, the wages of laborers (like their rights and duties) should be equal.

VII. Products are bought only by products. Now, the condition of all exchange being equivalence of products, profit is impossible and unjust. Observe this elementary principle of economy, and pauperism, luxury, oppression, vice, crime, and hunger will disappear from our midst.

VIII. Men are associated by the physical and mathematical law of production, before they are voluntarily associated by choice. Therefore, equality of conditions is demanded by justice; that is, by strict social law: esteem, friendship, gratitude, admiration, all fall within the domain of EQUITABLE or PROPORTIONAL law only.

IX. Free association, liberty--whose sole function is to maintain equality in the means of production and equivalence in exchanges--is the only possible, the only just, the only true form of society.

X. Politics is the science of liberty. The government of man by man (under whatever name it be disguised) is oppression. Society finds its highest perfection in the union of order with anarchy.

The old civilization has run its race; a new sun is rising, and will soon renew the face of the earth. Let the present generation perish, let the old prevaricators die in the desert! the holy earth shall not cover their bones. Young man, exasperated by the corruption of the age, and absorbed in your zeal for justice!--if your country is dear to you, and if you have the interests of humanity at heart, have the courage to espouse the cause of liberty! Cast off your old selfishness, and plunge into the rising flood of popular equality! There your regenerate soul will acquire new life and vigor; your enervated genius will recover unconquerable energy; and your heart, perhaps already withered, will be rejuvenated! Every thing will wear a different look to your illuminated vision; new sentiments will engender new ideas within you; religion, morality, poetry, art, language will appear before you in nobler and fairer forms; and thenceforth, sure of your faith, and thoughtfully enthusiastic, you will hail the dawn of universal regeneration!

And you, sad victims of an odious law!--you, whom a jesting world despoils and outrages!--you, whose labor has always been fruitless, and whose rest has been without hope,--take courage! your tears are numbered! The fathers have sown in affliction, the children shall reap in rejoicings!

O God of liberty! God of equality! Thou who didst place in my heart the sentiment of justice, before my reason could comprehend it, hear my ardent prayer! Thou hast dictated all that I have written; Thou hast shaped my thought; Thou hast directed my studies; Thou hast weaned my mind from curiosity and my heart from attachment, that I might publish Thy truth to the master and the slave. I have spoken with what force and talent Thou hast given me: it is Thine to finish the work. Thou knowest whether I seek my welfare or Thy glory, O God of liberty! Ah! perish my memory, and let humanity be free! Let me see from my obscurity the people at last instructed; let noble teachers enlighten them; let generous spirits guide them! Abridge, if possible, the time of our trial; stifle pride and avarice in equality; annihilate this love of glory which enslaves us; teach these poor children that in the bosom of liberty there are neither heroes nor great men! Inspire the powerful man, the rich man, him whose name my lips shall never pronounce in Thy presence, with a horror of his crimes; let him be the first to apply for admission to the redeemed society; let the promptness of his repentance be the ground of his forgiveness! Then, great and small, wise and foolish, rich and poor, will unite in an ineffable fraternity; and, singing in unison a new hymn, will rebuild Thy altar, O God of liberty and equality!

Much of this remained in Proudhon's program for his entire career. Perhaps at some point we can look a bit at "The Political Capacity of the Working Class" to see some of the survivals. Some particular concepts, like "society" and "the collective force," require careful handling. Proudhon's definitions are sometimes largely implicit. In "WIP?" the idea of "society," and what it implies (equality, of a sort, to begin with), is extremely important. The notion of "collective force," essentially that association in production yields more than the sum of individual productions, pretty quickly becomes, for Proudhon, the basis of a theory of "collective persons," "collective reason," etc., which has considerable explanatory power, but which also complicates the notion of "individuality" a great deal. For now, assume Proudhon's definitions are a bit idiosyncratic, and you'll be safer.

I expect we'll have occasion to wrestle particularly with:

* "the right of possession"
* equality of wages
* the nature of the "collective force"
* "association" and/as "law"

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Proudhon seminar: Initial thoughts

Proudhon's What Is Property? poses a variety of interpretive problems, not the least of which is that its careful series of examinations of the various justifications for simple, individual property are frequently overshadowed by the slogan, "Property is robbery!" That phrase remained important to Proudhon, even after he came to his own terms with property. "I do not come to retract," he said in May, 1848, "heaven forbid! I persist in regarding this provocative definition as the greatest truth of the century." However, in the same "Toast to the Revolution," he clarified the nature of the statement: "When I say, Property is theft! I do not propose a principle; I do nothing but express one conclusion." And he goes on to claim as his position: "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."

Not only does the Proudhon of 1848 not claim "property is robbery" as a principle, he claims "property, as it rises legitimately from [liberty]" as principle. Of course, 1848 is on the far side of a kind of philosophical watershed. In the 1843 Creation of Order in Humanity and the 1846 System of Economic Contradictions, Proudhon pursued theoretical and philosophical issues much more seriously than he had in 1840's What Is Property? Having dealt to his own satisfaction with a range of existing explanations of property, he was left to explain its persistence. Having begun to study history more seriously as well, he was also left to explain why property, which still seemed to him unjust, even despotic, at its core, seemed to be productive of individual liberty, at least when compared to possession. He wouldn't pull all these threads together until the 1860s, when he would propose his own justification for simple property, based on its ability to counterbalance the centralizing, state-like forces present in even an anarchist society. And it would take some time for him to explicitly develop and then discard Fourierist serialism, and various forms of dialectic, before proposing harmony and justice as the dynamic equalibrium of free forces, of "free absolutes" in society. But he was always, it seems, this close to that theory: even the 1839 Celebration of Sunday appeals to essentially this same model.

The point here is that What Is Property? should not be subordinated either to its best-known phrase, and its traditional interpretation, or to some isolated interpretation of the later works as "conservative turns" or simple celebrations of property. It is more than a sloganeering work, and it is a necessary step in the development of those later works. Propertarian and anti-propertarian anarchists alike would benefit from taking the time to treat its arguments, and the arguments it opposes, seriously, if only so they know what it is that the in/famous catchphrase meant to Proudhon. Mutualists, of course, have little excuse for not wrestling with Proudhon.

Still to come this evening: A plan of attack