Friday, December 04, 2009

Reality intervenes

My position as an aging, underemployed, uninsured part-time worker in a deskilled industry, in an economy where even the "jobless recovery" is in the hands of rather hapless politicians and stock-market gamblers, doesn't leave a lot of time or energy for the sort of activism by public scholarship that I've been pursuing for some years. And I find myself with less and less in common with most of my anarchist and libertarian comrades. So if the work on mutualism is going to go forward, I have to find other methods and motivations. At this point, I'll leave readers with this little bit (from my FB page), which seems to me the practical kernel of the kind of mutualism I have been pursuing:
The Principle of Mutuality

In every person to person encounter, either the actors recognize enough of themselves in one another to build a basic relation of mutuality (what Proudhon called "society" in his early works), which implies the reciprocal "gift" of a rough and ready equality, or they do without. This stuff stacks and scales up, and every failure to establish society is rot in the foundations of whatever we are trying to build.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Edualc Reitellep defines "Quarry"

New York, 1874: Claude Pelletier, who liked to sign his books backwards, was developing his system of Atercratie—anarchy by a name with none of the baggage of the original—in a series of French-language texts, drawing heavily on familiar figures like Proudhon and Pierre Leroux. His Socialist Soirees of New York lays out the basics of atercratie, but he also wrote a long play about the Hussites which included quite a bit of commentary on 19th century socialists. And he compiled one of the various socialist dictionaries which were produced in the period. The project of producing a political program by defining keywords is one with a long history. Daniel Colson's Petit lexique philosophique de l'anarchisme: de Proudhon à Deleuze is a modern example. The Belgian "rational socialists" produced a fascinating dictionary in which many of their critiques of Proudhon were incorporated into the definitions. There is something illuminating, and frequently delightful, in dipping into some potentially innocuous entry, and finding what deep political implications it raised for the compilers. This entry, from the single volume (Vol. 2) of Pelletier's dictionary that I have been able to track down, is fairly pedestrian stuff, compared to some entries, but is probably useful to those who have yet to encounter this particular form of political tome. Here, for you edification, is the definition of "quarry:"
QUARRY. Location dug in the ground, where on extracts by means of shafts and galleries, or even from a single level, stone, coal and other minerals, such as lead, copper, gold, silver, etc...

Today the quarries which should belong to the nation, are abandoned to capitalists who exploit them for their own personal interests; and their private interest drives them to convert them into a monopoly in order to reap enormous profits, by augmenting, as it says in the entry for MONOPOLIZATION, the sale price of their product, and reducing the wages of their workers. It follows that they become millionaires in a few years and that against the discomfort and misery into which they cast the laborers gives rise to strikes, jealousies, hatred, and recriminations which sooner or later lead to hateful disputes and bloody conflicts: witness the coal miners’ societies of Pennsylvania and the vengeances of the Molly-Maguires.

All this would not occur if we were willing to recognize that what nature has produced and given freely to all, should not be the exclusive property of a man or of a small society of capitalists.

It is said that many of the things have been discovered only because private interests were in play and that many quarries, shafts and mines would not have been exploited, if the companies had not obtained some advantages which come to reassure them a bit about the random threats to their capital.

This is true; but it is true only because industry and its transactions rest on private credit instead of revolving on a social credit, as described in the entries BANK, CAPITAL, CREDIT and others in this Dictionary.

As long as Societies do not furnish the instruments of labor and the substratum of the products to the citizens whose industrial function will be to extract or transform them, the natural riches of the globe, which are the patrimony of all, will belong to a few of the rich and will serve to separate the people into different classes. This is obvious.

The people will be happy and free only when the oligarchs of capital, the idlers, soldiers, priests, spies and other parasites have disappeared from our midst, not as a result of a violent revolution; but by that of a new economic arrangement of the productive forces of society.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Dyer Lum on Mutualism, and a note on Proudhon

I'm working on gathering the pieces for a series of pamphlets documenting the mutualist tradition, and ran across this rather strange, but very interesting piece, by the frequently strange, but always interesting Dyer D. Lum. Tucker's translation of the first volume of The System of Economical Contradictions was published in 1888, and Lum's 1892 piece seems to be a fairly idiosyncratic commentary on it.

[I admit that I have tended to treat the Contradictions as a sort of badly flawed middle-step between the initial critique of property in 1840 and the realization that "the antinomy does not resolve itself" in 1858, but I have been spending a lot of time with it recently, translating the study on property for the forthcoming Proudhon reader, and working through some of the rest of it to establish contexts--and I have become rather enthusiastic about the work. Proudhon's suggestion that institutions had to be grappled with in the context of the political and economic "series" of which they formed only a part (the fruit of his engagement with Fourier's thought in The Creation of Order in Mankind (1842)) is key to understanding the ways that he continued to evaluate institutions, and particularly the institution of property, in his later works. Proudhon himself created a series of commentaries on property: the truth of property--or at least the truth of Proudhon's conception of property--is in the series, and in the additional steps implied, rather than in any of the particular, decidedly approximate, analyses that Proudhon made.]

The Twentieth Century. May 19, 1892. 7-10.



We often derive a coign of vantage in reviewing old scenes through the lens of a different word; though the field of vision be a familiar one, the various word-lenses we use often bring out in bolder or less relief the features of the picture. The triune formula of Hegel, used so effectively by Proudhon in his analysis of industrial relations, may here offer us such an instrument for the survey of history in the same field; for, after all, history is but the biography of the race-soul in its effort to construct a cosmos from the chaotic web of events in which it finds itself immersed. In fact, it is the ceaseless transformation and flux of social relations which create the various vestments of humanity, which we ticket in the race-wardrobe as religion, poetry, philosophy, science, politics, etc. A never-ending process which actually is "the roaring loom of time which weaves for God in the garment we see him by."
In Hegel's thought, which he applied to all knowledge, from the two contradictions, is, and is not, the "roaring loom of time" weaves for us a neutral point in becoming. Without accepting his ontology, his dialectical method remains a most exhaustive instrument for synthetic generalization. Nor is this neutral point by any means a compromise between opposites, for the notion returns enriched by the process, becomes the substantial union of both its terms, richer in scope and harmony. Though the writer differs widely from his logic, his method opens rich fields when applied to the philosophy of history, of which one such is my present purpose.
In the biography of the race we see this exemplified in the evolution of industrialism. From the crude, disjointed efforts of the savage, we find industrial relations marked by two opposing characterizations of human activity: the rule of personal and impersonal will. Let us briefly scan these:
1. Slavery, the first step towards the solidarite of effort, was the cradle of industry. It was in this subordination to the personal rule of others that the first lever of civilization, division of labor, lifted mankind out of the animal phase of "each scratching for himself." Less barbarous than the slaughter of the captive, it made possible the development of the softer, or human, feelings which now are asserting mastery over the brute in man.
Excess in products became possible, and pari passu increased socialization. Through the first capital was born, and by this and the second slavery became modified to serfdom. But the advantage resulting rested mainly with the master. National wealth augmented, in which it is true all share somewhat, but the essential feature of this phase, personal rule, still dominated if but indirectly.
2. Capital supplants personal rule. It required the electric spark of the French Revolution to end the transitional agony, but since then capital has assumed a more mobile character; it has become impersonal, in itself, though confined yet by the leading strings of legalization to personal guidance in a large measure.
Labor has by this change become organized under capital. The essential spirit of this regime is free capital, but as it nears its maturity, to provide for the increasing surplus of labor, a surplusage dangerous to it, the economic struggle for existence finds manifestation in seeking new markets in new lands, Asia, Africa, South America. But this is but a struggle for breathing room only, and indicates that the world's activity is in another transition period; the issue being less how to doctor up a moribund system than to more clearly discern the phase toward which it leads and for which it is preparing the ground.
The rule of capital having been based, in itself, on freedom, it has only resulted to the benefit of those who could "corner" capital; further, that the impersonal rule of capital has too often degraded the labor it organized; that the capitalist as such is exempt from labor, and the laborer is doomed to crave as a favor the permission to use his muscles productively; all points inevitably to the conclusion that greater freedom can alone be in harmony with evolution, can meet the idea which has dominated past phases and prepared the way for each transitional change.
3. We may therefore find the third phase, the synthetic unity of the preceding ones, in free association, combining the necessity to labor of the first and the broader generalization of the second.
Both the personal rule of the one and the impersonal rule of the other, centered in the widened Self of social evolution, find the spirit of each materialized in mutual accord. The rivalry of excess of products and increased socialization merges self-will into the higher selfhood of interrelated humanity. And it is precisely because of this contradiction between the narrow self-will seen in slavery, and the broadened free-will to which capital aspires, that free association for mutual interests alone presents synthetic unity. Macaulay said that the remedy for the evils of capitalism will find their remedy in greater freedom to capital, which in turn preserves the economic benefit of slavery in the transformation of the egoistic self into the higher self of human interrelations.
We may again consider these phases under other terms. 1. Authority, the genius of the past, manifesting itself in priestcraft, statecraft, wherein "divine right" becomes personal rule intrenched in position. 2. Freedom, manifesting itself in rebellion, insubordination, the rebound to egoistic will: the negation not only of authority, but order as well. Activity, from the evils of a false cosmos, endeavoring to return to chaos, opposition. 3. Mutualism, or free association, is the synthesis wherein the race returns to enrich the union of thesis and antithesis with their harmonization in the higher self.
In other words, to use Hegel's, the formula is Position, Opposition, Composition. The position once intrenched in law, custom, tradition, etc., is negatived by opposition, of which illustrations are seen on every hand; but find their composition, or synthesis, in the order which invariably follows rather than precedes progress.
As in relogion the race has swung between the position of Faith, and the opposition of Doubt, Denial, so we may even now see philosophy seeking their composition in a reconciliating Conviction. So in the clearer consciousness of the Greater Self, the consensus of all past activity and the Over Soul of present endeavor, the ever increasing interweaving of higher and broader thought into the warp and woof of existence, the condition of social life--we may already discern reason harmonizing personal and impersonal will in the richer and fuller outgrowth and ingrowth--mutual will.
Thus through the lens, Mutualism, we view the scene of human activity, and lo! the relations which constitute it are seen to be the same we had already grown familiar with as scanned through the lens--Anarchy!
Northampton, Mass.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

James Guillaume on Federation

In the second issue of Solidarité, dated April 1871, James Guillaume contributed this piece on the federative principle, in the context of the Paris Commune. Note the use of Proudhon's concept of "collective force." I'm working on translating a series of texts on nationality and the federative principle, to go with forthcoming issues of LeftLiberty.


The true character of the revolution that was accomplished at Paris commence has been outlined in so marked a fashion that you, even the minds most unfamiliar with political theories, can now perceive it clearly.

The revolution of Paris is federalist.

The Parisian people want to have the liberty to organize themselves as they intend, without the rest of France having to mix in Parisian affairs; and at the same time, they renounce on their side all interference in the affairs of the departments, by urging them each to organize as their please, in the fullness of communal autonomy.

The different organizations which would be in this way freely constituted could then freely federate in order to mutually guarantee their rights and their independence.

It is important not to confuse federalism as it is understood by the Paris Commune with the so-called federalism which exists in Switzerland and in the United States of America.

Switzerland is simply a federative State, and that word alone already expresses all the differences between these two systems. Switzerland is a State, that is, it is a national unity; and, as a result, despite the federative appearance, sovereignty there is attributed to the nation in its ensemble. The cantons, instead of being considered as distinct individualities and absolute sovereigns, are supposed to be only fractions of a whole which is called the Swiss nation. A canton does not have the free disposition of itself: it can indeed, to a certain degree, manage its own affairs; but it does not possess true autonomy, its legislative faculties are limited by the federal constitution; and that federal constitution is not a contract, in the true sense of the word; it has not been accepted individually by each of the parties: it has been imposed on the cantons by the vote of a majority. A canton does not have the right to terminate the federal contract; it is forbidden from leaving the federation; it is even forbidden, as we see at this moment in the affairs of the Tessin, to divide in order to form new cantons. The least political or socialist movement, a strike for example, can bring federal troops into the canton.

Thus, federation, in Switzerland, is only in the words. It is not federation which is the true name of the Swiss system, it is decentralization. Switzerland realizes closely the system that had been established in France by the constitution of 1791, and that the Assembly of Versailles, “inspired by the great principles of 1789,” proposes to restore in order to seem to give in to federalist aspirations.

Federalism, in the sense given to it by the Paris Commune, and that was given to it many years ago by the great socialist Proudhon, who first scientifically outlined the theory,—federalism is above all the negation of the nation and the State.

For federalism, there is no more nation, no more national or territorial unity. There is only an agglomeration of federated communes, an agglomeration which has for its determining principle only the interests of the contracting parties, and which consequently has no regard for the questions of nationalism or of territory.

There is equally no more State, no more central power superior to the groups and imposing it them its authority: there is only the collective force resulting from the federation of the groups, and that collective force, which acts to maintenance and guarantee of the federal contract,—a true synallagmatic contract this time, stipulated individually by each of the parties,—this collective force, we say, can never become something prior and superior to the federated groups, something analogous to what the State is today to society and to the communes. The centralized and national State thus no longer exists, and the Communes enjoying the fullness of their independence, there is truly an-archy, absence of central authority.

But let us not believe that after having suppressed the States and nationalism, federalism leads to absolute individualism, to isolation, to egoism. No, federalism is socialist, and for it solidarity is inseparable from liberty. The communes, while remaining absolutely autonomous, feel themselves, by the force of things, in solidarity; and, without sacrificing any of their liberty, or, to put it better, to better assure their liberty, they unite themselves tightly by federative contracts, where they stipulate all that which touches their common interests: the large public services, the exchange of products, the guarantee of individual rights, and mutual aid in case of any aggression.

Let the French people, awakened finally by their misfortune, open their eyes to the light of truth: let them be in 1871 the initiators of the Federalist and Social Republic, as they were in 1793 the proclaimers of the rights of men; and in Europe, preserved from the gothic restoration with which the German Empire threatens it, will shine in a near future the days of liberty and equality.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The other "Equitable Commerce" of 1846

1846 was the year that Josiah Warren published Equitable Commerce at New Harmony, Indiana. He had previously published a number of magazines and newsletters about the system of equitable commerce. He had debated it in the papers of Cincinnati in the late 1820s, and had introduced the notion to members of the Workingman's Party in New York in 1830. Starting in 1849, he would be a regular lecturer in Boston, and his writings on equitable commerce would be regularly featured in the Boston Investigator, but prior to 1846, Warren and equitable commerce were relative unknowns in his native Massachusetts. Warren does not seem to have contributed to the Investigator until 1849, when he was lecturing in the city, but the spring of 1846 saw three articles with the title "Equitable Commerce; or, Association without Combination." The first two were by Maria L. Varney, and the third was by her husband, Thomas Varney. One response to Maria's essays was also published. Maria Varney shows up a contributor to the Cincinnati Herald of Truth in 1847, and as an advocate of women's rights in Connecticut in 1850. Samuel Byron Brittan (J. K. Ingalls' friend and sometimes publisher) reprinted part of letter sent by her from San Francisco in 1853. Thomas Varney is described in some sources as an inventor. In 1847, he published John Pickering's The Working Man's Political Economy, "stereotyped in [Josiah] Warren's new patent method," which is notable for its final chapter, which consists of an attack on Warren's equitable commerce. The Varneys appear repeatedly in the radical literature, but only briefly in Warren's orbit, mostly during that year of 1846.

But in 1846, the Varneys were doing heavy lifting for the cause of equitable commerce. Aside from the three essays in the Boston Investigator, now available online and soon to appear in a Corvus Edition pamphlet, they published a periodical, The Problem Solved, which Warren listed among the more or less "official" publications of the equitable commerce movement.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kevin Carson on Corvus, and an update

Kevin Carson's latest post talks about my micropublishing project, Corvus Editions, as an example of "household and informal microenterprise." It includes some details about operating costs and such, taken from a mailing list exchange, which will be new to readers of this blog.

I'll be producing a report on the first three months of operations, in the first issue of M. Corbeau's Blackbird, sometime around October 1. I expect to have about 100 titles in the catalog at that point, including a third issue of LeftLiberty, a collection of mutualist, proto-mutualist, and near-mutualist texts from the Owenite "high tide" of 1825-7, the first issue of M. Coulicou’s Aviary of Wild, Rare and Frequently Odd Birds, a thick collection of radical social science from back in the day, and the first batch of a new line of facsimile reprints, including some IWW-related material. With a little luck, the first issue of Mme. Oscine's Songbird will also appear yet this month, but my focus really has to be on ironing out some operational concerns. One of the disadvantages of "household and informal microenterprise" is that it often takes place in spaces also used for other purposes. I'm still developing a physical organization and workflow which let's me do Corvus stuff efficiently, without Corvus stuff crowding out the rest of my life.

As a business, Corvus Editions is limping along somewhere at the fixed-cost level, and a number of developing partnerships have had the entirely predictable effect of putting extra stresses on operations. With a large, but rather obscure catalog, an unsuccessful bookfair or tabling event can drain a lot of resources. When a very unsuccessful event was followed by a flukey supply delay and some pokey bookstore payments, I ended up being pretty slow filling orders in August. Live and learn. I've dealt with some of the potential issues by whittling away at operating costs, and by starting to build more of a standing stock of key titles—to the extent that my limited business lets me identify those titles. All in all, things are about where I expected them to be at this stage of the game, with the difference that it is almost entirely four or five folks who have accounted for most of the retail sales and the feedback on the catalog, which makes it harder to evaluate and plan than it would be with a broader base. Ultimately, this is a business that will run, if it runs, on nickels, dimes, and informative thank-yous.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Instead of a Translation - Proudhon on the clubs

Some 19th century "translations" end up being little more than summaries, and some summaries end up being haphazard translations of bits and pieces. A number of the pieces that introduced Americans to Proudhon and Leroux fit one of these two categories. A series of summaries of chapters from Proudhon's Confessions appeared in The Spirit of the Age in 1849-50. This is certainly a work that needs full translation, but the summaries are interesting, both for the information they contain and as an example of how many Americans first encountered Proudhon.





Reaction made another step, from the republicans of the morrow to the doctrinaires; but one more false move of the democrats, and we fell into the hands of the Jesuits. Step by step we advanced towards the completion of the revolution, the annihilation of authority. It was necessary first that government should show itself incapable of existing either with the constitution, with free institutions, with principles or classes; the first was attacked by Odillon Barrot, the second by Leon Faucher, in his bill against the clubs, the others would come afterwards, under the government of Louis Bonaparte, who was destined to lead governmental authority to the final act of its suicidal course; and this was done with a consistency and strictness that belong to no other country; for the French are the most logical people in the world.

The attack upon the clubs was an attack upon all the institutions established and confirmed by the revolution; it was, as M. Cremieux loudly declared on the 21st March, a direct violation of the constitution. Henceforth there were two classes in the country; a majority and a minority, the oppressors and the oppressed; for everywhere the socialists were hunted down, and those who were only suspected of opinions then looked upon as aggravating circumstances, were treated as common malefactors,

The right of insurrection can only exist under an absolute government, where the people have no voice in the constitution; but in the present case, universal suffrage remaining to us, our only legitimate mode of defeating our adversaries was by legal resistance; and the plan proposed by Le Peuple, namely, an organized refusal to pay the taxes all over the country, would have been a most effectual instrument. Since the 13th June, however, this is no longer practicable or necessary; my proposition was received with distrust by the radicals: if the people refuse to pay taxes once, said these slavish advocates of government, they will refuse them altogether, and then government will be impossible: and my reward was a fine of 10,000 francs and ten years' imprisonment.

But to my shame, I must confess, we were all blind to our own real interest, and the event has proved that radicalism was better served by its own incapacity than it could have been by the means I proposed. Since the 13th June, we have done with parties and governments; and that is much better than to have established the mountain in the room of the doctrinaires and Jesuits. The revolution has left us nothing further to do. II mondo va da se! The world moves of itself.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mutualism is Approximate (from LeftLiberty 2)

Mutualism: The Anarchism of Approximations
[continued from Part II]

  • Mutualism is approximate.
  • Mutualism values justice, in the form of reciprocity.
  • Mutualism is dialectical. (Or “trialectical.” Or serial.)
  • Mutualism is individualism and socialism—or it is neither.
  • Mutualism recognizes positive power.
  • Mutualism is progressive and conservative.
  • Mutualism is market anarchism.


Philosophical Observations (continued)

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:

1st. The approximation of the equality of faculties through education, the division of labor, and the development of aptitudes;

2nd. The approximation of the equality of fortunes through industrial and commercial freedom.

3rd. The approximation of the equality of taxes;

4th. The approximation of the equality of property;

5th. The approximation of an-archy;

6th. The approximation of non-religion, or non-mysticism;

7th. Indefinite progress in the science, law, liberty, honor, justice.
This “indefinite” progress “is proof,” he said:
…that fate does not govern society; that geometry and arithmetic proportions do not regulate its movements, as in minerology or chemistry; that there is a life, a soul, a liberty which escapes from the precise, fixed measures governing matter. Materialism, in that which touches society, is absurd.

Thus, on this great question, our critique remains at base the same, and our conclusions are always the same: we want equality, more and more fully approximated, of conditions and fortunes, as we want, more and more, the equalization of responsibilities.
Here is the first of mutualism’s basic principles.

I imagine I can hear the murmurs already. This sounds like “settling for less,” and perhaps less than anarchism. It’s too uncertain for much of the natural rights crowd, and probably comes off as downright defeatist to the revolutionaries. But Proudhon was, of course, a partisan of “the Revolution,” as he understood it, every bit as much as he was engaged in the project of grounding right in a scientific understanding of the individual and society. And he was the inheritor of notions that were both anti-utopian and perfectionist. While he rejected the “patent office” schemes of the Fourierist phalanx and of Leroux’s “ternary order,” he embraced the portions of Fourier’s passional analysis and Leroux’s “doctrine of Humanity” which emphasized a constant, restless, progressive movement—the work, as he put it, of “a life, a soul, a liberty which escapes….” So Proudhon declared that he wanted “equality,” but also—and this is at least as important—that he wanted “more and more.”

Following that lead—or, if you prefer, following the “blazing star” of William B. Greene—mutualism is unafraid of the very active pursuit of practical approximates. It is experimental. If it has at times made excessive claims for its particular schemes—and it certainly has—it can at least be held accountable for that failing. Meanwhile, arguments that “true anarchy,” “property,” or the conditions under which an individual could safely say “I am just,” are “impossible” (in some absolute sense) shouldn’t leave the mutualist sobbing in the corner. If we can’t reach perfection at a leap, even if we can’t ultimately reach it at all we can always at least try to take another step forward—and then another step forward, always—and 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.”

The acknowledgment that progress is a matter of approximation—or the corollary acknowledgment that “there are degrees in everything,” including justice and right—does not lend itself to an “ah well, anything goes” sort of attitude. Indeed, the best-developed aspect of mutualist philosophy has probably been its analysis of how progress is, in general, not made. In that same passage from The Theory of Property, Proudhon continued:
We reject, along with governmentalism, communism in all its forms; we want the definition of official functions and individual functions; of public services and of free services.
Notice that in this case “communism” is not—or rather is not solely—an approach to property. Like Josiah Warren, Proudhon seems to have intended by the term a subordination of individual concerns to the collective, but the thing that seems most objectionable about “communism” in this context is that it leaves important things undefined. Proudhon wanted “definition.” And it’s a thing that any good experimentalist should want—and mutualism is nothing if not essentially experimental. To move on—and on—we need to know what we’ve got going, what we are involved with and connected to, and we need to know all of that in fairly fine detail, and then we need to rearrange things according to out best understanding of the context and the tools at hand. We need to put our understanding of our condition and our options to the test. And then we need to do it again, because we have inevitably left something—more likely someone—out of our calculations. I know… “Calculation” is one of those words likely to press some buttons. But the social problem posed by “calculation” is really most serious where the calculators and experimenters fail to carry the costs of their own experiments. Indeed, developing an ethic for mutualist experiment is undoubtedly one of those experimental processes that we will have to take very seriously—and it is there that the history of mutualist experiment may really serve us best.

I don’t know if a Warrenite, or Andrusian, labor-dollar is going to be of particular use to contemporary mutualism. And I suspect that mutualists pursued the mutual bank much longer than that pursuit made much sense. But I suspect that the story of Josiah Warren’s various experiments—of their successes and failures, and of the specific ways that their pursuit developed according to the circumstances—is probably still a gold mine. Similarly, I think the history of land-banks, mutual banks, banks of the people, etc., and of the propaganda in support of them, still has practical secrets to offer up to our continued exploration.

Our best tools will probably be a grasp of these specific experimental histories, and a general concern with avoiding what Proudhon called simplism. Indeed, that second concern may be the real heart of mutualist method. Approximation is incompletion in the sense of being “not there yet, but on the road,” but simplism is incompletion as a failure to even get a proper start. Proudhon seems to have borrowed the term from Fourier, and a Fourierist, Hippolyte Renaud, defined it in these terms:
One of the inherent characteristics of Civilization is simplism. Simplism is the fault of viewing a complex question from only one side, of advancing on one side by retreating on the other, so that the real progress is null or negative.
It should come as no surprise that mutualism, a political philosophy rooted in reciprocity and balance, would find one-sidedness to be a problem. And all of Proudhon’s various philosophical stages—from the early emphasis on synthesis, to the final emphasis on antinomies that “do not resolve”—involved a concern that social problems be addressed from multiple perspectives. For example, Proudhon changed his mind about the precise problem with the various existing understandings of “property,” but he seems to have consistently consider simplism a part of the problem. In The Theory of Property—in the passage immediately following the one on “definition”—he wrote:
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 economy and public right: but it falls to us to govern it and to make it act according to the laws of logic.
Let’s be clear about Proudhon’s final approach to “property:” alone it was “unpardonably reprehensible,” and it would be the same if it operated alongside some alternative or alternatives. It appears as a tool for justice and right only when it enters into a dynamic relation with other principles which would be equally objectionable if alone or acting in parallel. In terms of methodology, the dynamic relation only appears when Proudhon begins to complicate his analysis of property—adding an analysis of “aims” to his analysis of philosophical justifications, and in that adding an analysis of the workings of “collective reason” to his individual analyses.

Proudhon barely began that expanded analysis. “Property” itself never really appears as anything but a simplist, or one-sided, concept. Its incorporation in a non-simplist property-state antinomy is some sort of advance—perhaps a necessary step towards something more useful—but inevitably one which tends to focus us on one part of a complex problem, to the exclusion of other parts. If we take that approach, then we have the option of attempting to focus on some higher-order concept, such as social justice or mutuality, which incorporates property as one of its aspects, or of attempting to rethink property in some other way. Proudhon attempted the first approach, with somewhat mixed results, but he explicitly suggested the possibility of the second. In the “New Approximation” which begins in this issue, I’m pursuing the other course, starting to address individual property in its “collective” aspects, in order to avoid some confusions that seem “built in” with Proudhon’s approach.

In this way, breaking with the founders is an act of fidelity to the tradition. We don’t encounter the originators of the mutualist tradition as masters, but as fellows, and the task put to us is to do the next thing, and advance the tradition in ways which respond at once to the general spirit of the thing we have inherited and to the specific conditions we face. What part or parts of the current mutualist movement will contribute most significantly to increasing liberty and clarifying the task for those who undertake the next set of approximations, is something that we can’t know until we put them to the test.

[to be continued in Issue Three…]

Sunday, August 16, 2009

LeftLiberty 2 - The Gift Economy of Property

The second issue of LeftLiberty, "The Gift Economy of Property," is now available. It's 100 pages of mutualism, new and old, fiction and non-fiction. It feels to me like a considerable step forward from the first issue. I hope others will find it useful, or at least provocative.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I would say "mark your calendars"...

...but some critical details are lacking. The Canadian Magazine, in 1902, included a short item on the origins of anarchism, which included these details: "The professional anarchist is a loafer and an idler, a gambler and a lover of dark living. Once a year a great anarchist gathering is held on Long Island, New York. The leading sport at the latest gathering there was shooting with rifles at targets made to represent the crowned heads of Europe."

Friday, August 07, 2009

Corvine Call #4 - LeftLiberty #2

I spent our week of record heat digging around in various archives, when I would much rather have been concentrating on writing, as well as getting a few things ready for my weekend of tabling. And then I've spent the last week playing catch-up on the writing and attempting to process the lessons of the weekend. In the end, it's made for a very productive few days, as all of that came together. Even after splitting the issue, LeftLiberty #2 will be at least twenty pages longer than the first issue, and it should also be far superior in almost every way. You can check out the contents at the Corvus store, and pre-order a print copy if you so desire. The release date is August 15, and this time I have done all the hard formatting stuff up front, and can spend the next week fine-tuning the text and adding on to the chapter of The Distributive Passions (which has naturally been the hardest thing to produce on demand. The section of "The Anarchist of Approximations" deals in some depth with that notion of "approximation." "Mutualist Musings on Property" draws together some of my blog and forum posts with new framing and connective sections, and sets the scene for the "New Approximation" that begins in issue #4. This issue's "on alliance" is a look back at my early posts on the blog of the same name, as I try to come to productive terms with my recent secession from the ALL. The Distributive Passions chapter is mostly set in the 305th Century, AD, when the world has been perfected, roughly on Fourier's timeline, and it's all downhill from there. Playing Julian West in this Looking Backward-and-then-some is Kali, a damaged and thoroughly disgruntled cyborg soldier, whose suicide attempt 28,000+ years ago seems to have had world-historical consequences. For her, picking up the pieces will require finding out what happened in the interim, which will take us back to 2005, and so on. I hope all of the issue will be as fun to read as it has been to write.

I've added eighteen new pamphlets to the Corvus Editions archive and shop today. After doing a little organizing of my in-progress stuff, I find I have thirty more titles just about ready to go, and I will probably post a list of those here, with the thought that I'll finish them as they are requested (since "just about ready" means, "couldn't be bothered to write back-cover copy" in a number of cases, and the rest are nearly that close.) The new titles include labor fiction, syndicalist and anarchist-communist theory, quite a number of essays reprinted from Benjamin R. Tucker's "Radical Review," including several of those he himself pamphleted. I'm working to reprint a number of key pamphlet "libraries," including those published by Mother Earth, Free Society, and the anarchist-communist Liberty, and raiding Charles H. Kerr's socialist periodicals for the most libertarian material. It's been exciting to work back through material I haven't looked at in years, and digging into some that I've never had a chance to look at.

I've started to add bundles of the free pamphlets for tabling and distribution, in quantities of 50 or more, roughly at cost, starting with a pamplet of Tucker's "Who is the Somebody?" put together by James for the Tulsa ALL. More of that sort of thing soon...

Sunday, August 02, 2009

LeftLiberty - Best-laid plans, hopefully improved

Just a heads-up for those waiting for LeftLiberty 2. With the launch of Corvus, some unexpected breakthroughs in the "new approximation" writing, and the little shifts in my emphases and affiliations, the issue started to balloon well beyond the capacity of my zine stapler, so it has now officially split into two issues: 2 - "The Gift Economy of Property," which will pull together and revise the blog and forum posts that have been the basis for the "new approximation," and 3 - "A Doctrine of Life and Humanity," which can expand a little to address some new material from Leroux that I'm translating now, which puts his triadic socialism in dialogue with De la Boetie's "Contr'un" (Discourse on Voluntary Servitude.) I expect the issues to follow that will be: 4 - "What is Property? A neo-Proudhonian Approximation;" 5 - "The General Idea of Revolution," with material on Proudhon and Bellegarrigue," and 6 - "Simplism and the Composite Order," tackling the Fourierist contribution to both historical mutualism and the "new approximation." And I expect I'll be pretty close to a monthly schedule soon, but translation and new research may throw us new curves. Issue 2 is, however, about 2/3 completed, and will be one of my primary tasks for the next week or so (along with one last chunk of Proudhon for Iain's AK anthology.)

A little practical application

I spent the last three days, reunited with my friends at Laughing Horse Books, tabling the Western States Center's "Community Strategic Training Initiative" conference, an event that brings together broadly "progressive" community organizers from all over the western US for workshops and networking. It's always an odd weekend for me. It takes place at Reed College, site of my first, disastrous year of college (but a really beautiful site for that sort of thing), and the crowd is generally involved in a different set of struggles than I am. But it's a wonderfully diverse, and genuinely nice crowd, with lots of activists in from small cities in Idaho or Wyoming who are really eager to exchange ideas, so there are always great conversations in amid the bookselling. I brought along most of the Corvus catalog, including a dozen or so things that haven't even been added to the website yet, figuring (correctly) that most of the material would be unfamiliar and a little alien to most of the participants, but that I could start to gauge what sorts of materials were needed by that particular crowd.

In the end, I had a chance to introduce some new folks to the resource, and there are a number of educators that I hope to be able to provide with specialized material (on child labor, Chinese exclusion, etc.) for their teaching needs, and I got a couple of invitations to collaborate with groups. But the most fun I had all weekend came in the midst of a long talk between Laughing Horse collective members and Mala from Creative Collaborations, a start-up non-profit attempting to provide shared infrastructure, and some economies of scale, to other non-profits and collectives. We got talking about how to apply radical principles to the institutions we're building, and I was talking a bit about how I was trying to build Corvus on a theoretical basis that took into account the principles in the anarchist literature that's at the center of the catalog, and Mala tossed out a question about how mutualist economic theory would address some pay-scale questions.

As it happened, the question was a very familiar one about how to factor in talent, previous labor in education, the intensity of the labor performed, "affirmative" concerns about countering existing structures of privilege, etc. And I had just put together a pamphlet of Stephen Pearl Andrews' "The Labor Dollar," which, while I certainly didn't answer all the questions, certainly gave some very useful hints on how to elaborate them.

I'll talk more about what we came up with another time, probably both here and in LeftLiberty, where I'm starting to lay out a "new approximation," teasing out the present-day implications of a lot of the "good old stuff." But it seems worth marking the event, where the mad old Pantarch provided the key to opening up a very practical discussion on pay scales and institutional culture. If I didn't think there were lots more of those moments possible, in the relatively near term, I would probably just quit all of the work I do. But I believe that the theories that we have inherited are good for more than just low-intensity flamewars on this or that forum. Still, confirmations of that belief are relatively rare these days, so allow me to bask a bit in this one.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Orestes Brownson and Pierre Leroux

Pierre Leroux was the other half, along with P.-J. Proudhon, of the mutualist mix, as formulated by William B. Greene. Greene was introduced to Leroux's work by Orestes A. Brownson, and adopted a number of Brownson's criticisms of Leroux's works. Greene's first major writings were, in fact, attempts to come to terms with the thought of Leroux and Brownson. From this perspective, Brownson's most important works were a review of Leroux's Humanity and "The Mediatorial Life of Jesus," both from 1842 - and they're both available now in Corvus Editions.

If you want to understand Greene's mutualism, or want another avenue of approach to the "collective force" stuff that appears in Proudhon, give these essays by Brownson a look. They will feature prominently in the essays in LeftLiberty #2 as well.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Emergency mutual aid

Roderick Long has been blindsided by Alabama's tax authorities. Help out if you can.

Benjamin R. Tucker and Gertrude B. Kelly on Education

It's a rare pleasure these days to stumble on something by Benjamin R. Tucker that I didn't know was out there to find. When these items surface, it usually means some obscure radical journal or paper has surfaced. In this case, however, the source was the decidedly mainstream Educational Review, which dedicated half an issue in 1898 to "Some Socialist and Anarchist Views on Education." Two of the contributors were political candidates of the Socialistic Labor Party, but the other two were figures familiar to readers of Tucker's Liberty: Tucker himself and Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly. For the details, download the pdf or pick one up from the Corvus Shop.

Of course, more obscure periodicals are surfacing regularly, and in the pages of the Free Thought Magazine I ran across Moses Harman's "Free Lover's Creed." Also, for the real anarcho-completists, Clement Milton Hammond's "Prolongation of Human Life" is also now available in pamphlet form. (Hammond was the author of Then and Now, which ran serially in Liberty.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

JUSTICE: Program - Conclusion

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Volume I, "Program," section XIII.


The papacy having been broken, Catholicism is brought low: there is no more religion in the civilized world.

The Protestant churches, a sort of middle term between religious thought and philosophical thought, that remained in opposition to the Roman Church, perish in their turn, obliged as they will be either to decisively adopt philosophy, and consequently to consummate their abjuration, or to undergo a restoration of unity, and consequently to contradict themselves.

Eclecticism itself no longer has any raison d'être; of what could it remain composed? Willy-nilly, it must join the revolutionary antithesis, unless it is to dissolve into pure skepticism. Isn't it already towards the latter sad alternative that minds are inclining in France and in all of Europe? Before December 2, the governments, by a kind of tacit pact, pursued a moderate course in politics; they tended to balance themselves, and followed one another in the application of the constitutional system. Now, all political and social development is suspended; the reason of State, which had been in the process of reconciling itself with the rationality of law, floats randomly, free from any suggestion of fear, mistrust, and ancient antagonism. International relations are disturbed; there are no more principles; the despair of minds pushes them toward war.

Has England, which first, out of hatred of democracy, applauded December 2, any principles? The question has become almost laughable. For some years, England has astonished the world by its contempt for divine and human law... I am mistaken: yes, England has one principle, to destroy, one by the others, the powers of the continent.

Does Russia have principles? — If Russia had principles, if for example it believed in the inviolability of nations, then either it would restore Poland, or else it would not permit this so-called emancipation of the Italians. If Russia had principles, it would understand that there is no transition between the immorality of servitude and the recognition of the rights of man and citizen; it would be its night of August 4; instead of haggling over the liberty of its peasants, it would free them straightaway, in a revolutionary manner.

Does Austria have principles? How then is it perpetually at odds with its peoples, suspect to its neighbors, unfaithful to its allies, ungrateful to its benefactors, odious to all?

Does Germany have principles? Let us hope so. Germany is the land of philosophy, as France is the land of the Revolution. Now, a German has said that Revolution and philosophy are one and the same thing. But, since December 2, that connection has been broken: Germany, which fears a new Tugendbund perhaps more than a new Napoleon, dreams of centralization, which could well mean, one day, denationalization. With Germany centralized, there would be five empires in Europe: four military empires, the French, Austrian, German and Russian; and one mercantile, the British. These five empires, when they did not battle one another, would form a holy alliance by which they would reciprocally guarantee the obedience of their subjects and the exploitation of their plebs. But then there would be no more nations in Europe, nothing being more destructive of nationalities than military and malthusian mores.

Does Italy have principles? Is Italy imperial, pontifical, royal or federal? It does not know itself. Poor Italy! In place of the Revolution, we have brought it revolt; it has hurled back at us the tempest.

There are no more principles: Europe has descended into the chaos of December 2, and we advance through the void, per inania régna. What is sad is that we know it, we speak of it everywhere, and we accept it. We take our part in it as a natural thing, as an inevitable phase. "France has fallen; the times of the Late Empire have come for it:" this is the talk in the cafes of Paris. As one said in 93, France is revolutionary; in 1814, France is liberal; in 1830, France is conservative; in 1848, France is republican. A little while longer, and we will say with the same carelessness: France is rotten; and we will record its moral death.

Let Napoleon III now do as he wishes: the papacy struck down, nothing can call it back to life. The faith of the peoples no longer sustains it. The judgment is without appeal: neither restrictions, nor amendments will do a thing. The pope can absolve the emperor, the emperor, confessed, reconciled, will not save the pope. And as there is not a nation in Europe of which one could not note, proofs in hand, the intellectual and moral decadence, the fall of the papacy becomes the signal of the debacle.

Now, the time of the initiating races is past. The movement will not be reborn in Europe, neither in the east, nor the west, nor the center; today, regeneration can be neither Greek, nor Latin, nor Germanic. It can only come, as eighteen centuries ago, from a cosmopolitan propaganda, sustained by all people who, after having renounced the ancient gods, protest, without distinction of race nor of language, against corruption.

What will be their flag? They can have only one: the Revolution, Philosophy, Justice.

The Revolution is the French name for the new idea; Philosophy is its German name;

Let Justice become its cosmopolitan name.

  1. The coming of the people to philosophy
  2. The definition of philosophy
  3. On the quality of the philosophical mind
  4. The origin of ideas
  5. That metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction
  6. That philosophy must be essentially practical
  7. The character that must be presented by the guarantee of our judgments and the rule of our actions.--Conversion from speculative to practical reason: determination of the criterion.
  8. Justice, universal reason of things: science and conscience.
  9. Supremacy of Justice.
  10. Conditions for a philosophical propaganda.
  11. Law of Progress. Social destination.
  12. A word about the situation.
  13. Conclusion.
And that concludes the "Program," from Justice in the Revolution and in the Church. This working translation is a Collective Reason effort, by Jesse Cohn and Shawn P. Wilbur. At this point, however, the imperfections and incompletions should be considered mine. Now, I need to turn my attention to Pierre Leroux for a few days.

JUSTICE: A word about the situation

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Volume I, "Program," section XII.

§ XII. — A word about the situation.

It is by their principles, religious or philosophical, that societies live.

Before 89, France was Christian: its monarchy was of divine right, its economic constitution established on feudality. Christian, monarchical and feudal, the French nation could be said to be as well disciplined in its thought as it was in its government. She had principles, doctrines, a tradition, a morals; she had rights. Under Louis XIV it arrived, using its principles, at the highest degree of power and glory. No nation disputed its precedence: elder child of the Church, it walked at the head of one hundred million catholics.

The Revolution of 89 changed this position, but did not reduce it. From the Christian, monarchical, and feudal nation that had been emerged one that was philosophical, republican, and egalitarian. Then too, and more than before, it could be praised for having principles, rights, and morals. Its tradition, which up to that point had been confounded with its religion, was displaced: it was the tradition of free reason, older than catholic feudality, more imprescriptible than divine right. One moment, by this abrupt conversion, France could believe itself isolated in the midst of the peoples. But it had become initiator; soon it could judge that its word was accommodated everywhere. An incalculable future opened before it; it had only to wait until philosophy had brought minds to a state of maturity.

The revolutionary whirlwind lasted ten years.

In 1799, a thought of conciliation emerged and seized the government. Minds were divided; the country aspired to rest. It was believed that it was possible, through mutual concessions, to make an accord between the conquests of '89 and the old religious and monarchical tradition: this was the whole intent behind the consular restoration. All in good faith, and because it was in any case impossible for it to do better, France was at the same time Christian and philosophical, monarchical and democratic, propertarian and egalitarian.

Was this eclecticism founded in reason as it appeared to be founded, for more than half a century, in fact? We cannot believe it. The reception given in 1814 to the Bourbons, the bearers of the Charter, the revolution of 1830, that of 1848, proved that this system of conciliation was only a work of circumstance, and that as the nation was permeated by the new right, the Revolution took on an increasingly decisive preponderance. In any case, it is at least certain that eclectic and liberal France, just like that of ‘89 and ‘93, just like feudal France, had principles, ideas, and that its internal and external policy was the expression of these. Principles! It seemed, in its moderation, to confound the antagonistic thoughts of two modes: many intelligent people, it must be said, were seduced by it. Also, after ‘99, French power experienced an extraordinary development: Europe followed, dragged along rather than overcome, and we shall never know what would have happened if the genius of the emperor and of the governments that succeeded him, had been equal to their aspirations.

Was this system, which, following the revolutionary period as it did, had certainly had its raison d'être, exhausted when, at the end of 1851, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, president of the Republic, seized power?

We are strongly inclined to believe so: this is even, we maintain, what explains the success of the coup d'état. December 2nd, and the regime that has been in place since then, are not the work of one man, nor an incident of history: it is a situation. An impure generation, partly born since the restoration, which of liberalism understood only libertinage, of the philosophy of the eighteenth century only impiety, of the Revolution only dissolution, of eclecticism only skepticism, of the parliamentary system only intrigue, and of eloquence only verbosity; a greedy generation, as coarse as its own native soil, without dignity, started to dominate in the country: it still dominates there. It is this generation that inaugurated, under cover of an imperial restoration, the reign of impudent mediocrity, official advertisements, open swindle. It is this generation which dishonors France and poisons it ...

Whatever the causes that so abruptly brought about the end of the middle course [juste-milieu], republican and monarchical, there is one unquestionable fact: it is, on one side, that the fear of falling into an extreme of revolution or counter-revolution drove the masses to accept the coup d’état, and that however, since this fatal date of December 2nd, France, which was once catholic, monarchical and feudal, then philosophical and democratic, finally eclectic, conciliatory and moderate—I will not use the ill-sounding epithet doctrinaire—France no longer had principles, public spirit, tradition, nor ideas, not even morals.

The France of December 2nd follows neither the Gospel, nor the Declaration of the Rights of Man; it is neither a divine-right monarchy, nor a democracy according to the Revolution, nor a government of the middle classes, with balanced powers, as the Charters of 1814 and 1830 wished to establish. A purely arbitrary despotism, a thing from a fantasy,—without precedent in the national tradition nor in the first empire, which, in spite of its military exigencies, still followed principles, nor in the dictatorship of ‘93, which certainly also had its principles, nor in the monarchy of Louis XIV, who cannot be reproached for having lacked any,—more arbitrary, finally, than Machiavelli had dreamed of, for if Machiavelli did not recoil before despotism, at least he placed it in the service of an idea: that is the France of December 2nd.

One will, I expect, cry calumny: one will quote the constitution of 1852, renewed from that of 1804; the Napoleonic idea, which served Prince Louis as a program, and this multitude of declarations, messages, decrees, circulars, professions of faith, brochures, etc, that the imperial government never stops producing. Why doesn't one add to it the reports of the limited-liability societies and their advertisements? . . . Oh! if words were a guarantee of principles, there would be few governments so well-founded in theory as the empire of the past eight years. But it is by facts, by acts, that a government reveals its essence and proclaims its thought: in this respect, and without at all wishing to reduce my criticisms to a critique of persons, I dare state that the government of Napoleon III, to his misfortune and to ours, has no principles, or, if it has principles, that it has not yet revealed them. Testimonies abound close at hand: since December 2nd, I have recorded them each day. Let us cite the latest, which is at the same time the most serious.

The middle course charted by the first Consul, which had its apogee under Louis-Philippe, recognized that the existence of Catholicism is indissolubly related to that of the papacy, and that the papacy itself, after the abrogation of the pact of Charlemagne, has only the prestige that that it draws from its temporal sovereignty. Under the Caesars, and later under the Ostrogoths, the Lombards, the Franks, and the Germans, the Pope could do without the title and power of prince: religion made him the vicar of God on earth. Charlemagne consecrated this vicariate, not by separating the two powers in the manner that this is understood today, but by opposing them and binding them to one another in a system which embraced the world. As for the gifts of land that accompanied this imperial and papal constitution, it was initially, like the three crowns that ornament the tiara, only a jewel, a badge, a kind of glorification of the pontificate. It is not what made the power of Gregory VII, of Urban II, of Innocent III, of Boniface VIII.—After the papacy, rebuffed by Philip the Fair, had been transported to Avignon, the State having broken with the church on all points and dissolved the old pact, the papacy was still supported, and Catholicism remained standing, thanks to the temporal sovereignty that the popes had gained, in part through the lands donated, and in part by force of arms. But one soon saw how powerless this sovereignty was to preserve Catholic unity. First, there was the great schism caused by the removal of the papal seat; then the Reformation, which removed half of Christendom from the Holy See. Consequently, the authority of the sovereign pontiff, of the Catholics themselves, has been steadily decreasing: the severities of Louis XIV, the legal concordat of 1802, and the capture of Savone, are the signs of this decline. Destroy the temporal holdings of the popes, and Catholicism degenerates into Protestantism, the religion of Christ falls into the dust. Those who say that the pope will never be better understood than when he deals exclusively with the affairs of heaven are either speaking in political bad faith, endeavoring to disguise atrocious deeds behind devout words, or foolish Catholics, incapable of understanding that in the affairs of life, the temporal and the spiritual, just like the soul and the body, are interdependent.

However, in the presence of this tottering papacy, what was the line of conduct taken by the French moderates?

The moderates had as their principle the reconciliation of religion and philosophy, monarchy and democracy, Church and Revolution. They were therefore very careful not to touch the papacy; they would not have dared to assume the responsibility for this great ruin, first of all, because they did not feel able to substitute their own teaching for the religious ideas, and secondly, because the hour of Protestantism seemed to them, with good reason, to have passed, there was, according to them, no longer enough faith in France to be worth the costs of a Reformation, and they would have been ashamed to indenture the conscience of the country any more to Anglican hypocrisy than to German theology; because, finally, in this serious state of uncertainty, it could neither renounce the legitimate influence exerted by France over 130 million Catholics spread across the surface of the glove nor support the formation of an Italian State whose area would have proportionally reduced the French prepotency. It is, indeed, not a matter of burning the old papacy on the furnace bridge of philosophy; it is necessary that the temporal not have to suffer from this decapitation of the spiritual.

The government of Napoléon III has had none of these scruples. Would this be an indication of change of policy on its part, the sign of a return to principles? ... After having showered the clergy with his favors, restored the religious communities, recalled the Jesuits, returned control to the Church over its teaching, and given, on all occasions, evidence of his piety; after having disputed the protectorate of the Holy See in Austria for ten years, as had Louis-Philippe, how is it that suddenly, under pretext that the events that he himself has caused are beyond his control, that their logic is inexorable, he tells the Sovereign pontiff that his royalty is no longer for this century, that consequently he has to resign himself to leaving the government of his States in lay hands and condescend to accept from Catholic nations, in compensation for their temporal treasure, a revenue! ...

For my part, I applaud the crucifixion of the Church, but on one condition, that the new chief of France should tell us what spirit he intends to substitute for the Catholic spirit: does he propose, after the example of the kings of England and the tsars of Russia, to seize the princedom and the pontificate, or to return purely and simply to the Revolution?

Alas! I am quite afraid that Napoleon III does not even suspect that one can address such questions to him. As the expression of his time, carried to the crest of power by an imbroglio, he constantly testifies, like all of his supporters, to his horror of ideas; he believes only in matter and force. He does not want a Revolution: he proved that by his public safety laws in 1851 and 1852; since then, he has never stopped proclaiming this in all of his acts, both official and unofficial or pseudonymous; he has just repeated this in his letter to the pope of December 31, 1859. He no longer wants the bourgeois moderates: he broke with them irreconcilably with his coup d'etat, and he will take care not to be exposed to their criticism. Through the fault of his situation much more than of his will, Napoleon III does not and cannot want any principle, any guarantee, any freedom. If he sacrifices the pope, it is, as he himself says, because events have forced him to this pass; because he does not have in him what he would require in order to control events, i.e., principles, ideas, a faith, a law. But at the same time that he pronounces the forfeiture of the Holy Father, that he intercepts the bishops’ mandates, that he threatens the Jesuits and bombards the catholic newspapers with warnings, he removes speech from the democracy, and condemns in his courts the philosophers, accused of insult to public and religious morals.

Therefore, neither Christian nor revolutionist, nor anything in between, in a word, nothing: this is the France, not made, but revealed at this point in time by the government of December 2.

The vulgar had not seen this character of the imperial policy initially, not to have not principles and to walk blindly. According to the habit of the French spirit all to pay to the master, one said of Napoleon III: See how happy he is! Everything succeeds to him. The ones rented its spirit of conciliation: it said itself which it was the end of the old parties. The Church greeted in him a new Constantine, while the plebs recommended it, as it had made her uncle, the herald of the Revolution. Maintaining all is discovered: the imperial government is a government without principles, and the emperor cannot about it but; as for its alleged successes, still a little time, and, the things remaining what they are, one will see only calamities there.

No, I tell you, no principles, no true successes: to support the opposite would be to grant to a man a power that the philosophers refuse even to God, that of making something of nothing.

Of what use was the expedition to the Crimea? We prided ourselves on relieving the Ottoman Empire: the peace having been made, we abandoned it like a corpse.—We wanted to halt Russian encroachment: Russia has just conquered the Caucasus, no less important, as the future will show, than Constantinople. Russia has Armenia; its colonists extend over the southernmost coast from the Black Sea to the front door of the sultans’ palace. And France does not have even a foothold in Asia Minor.—Is it the English alliance, or the European equilibrium, that profited from the capture of Sebastopol? The Malakoff’s dead were not buried before Napoleon III, disgusted with the English, signed a peace with the tsar, and contemplated an alliance posing a different threat to the freedoms of the world than the protectorate of Russia on the East. At this moment, admittedly, there is a cooling of the Russian alliance, and a reheating of the English alliance. Protestant England applauds the failure of Catholicism; it reasons, from its point of view, exactly like the French centrists. To strike at the papacy, the Revolution not being there, it is to break the catholic faisceau, it is to lessen France. It proclaims the author of the booklet the La Pape et le Congrès as great a theologian and statesman as Jacques I and Henri VIII, and perhaps will condescend she to sign with him a commercial treaty. How long that will that last? As long as any alliance formed without principles: and England does not trust it.

The empire,—the body of a society that has abandoned the idea,—the empire is agitated, burns powder, makes a din; its glory is not kindled. It could not, or did not know how to preserve the Ottoman empire from its dissolution; it did not put up a barrier to the incursions of Russia; it did not dare to advance to the Adriatic and it left the Austrians in the Peninsula; it does not have even courage to keep its promises to Villafranca; now it lets fall the pope which it wanted to make the federal president of Italy, and which for ten years it had supported. Let us suppose that after the annexation of the duchies and Romagnes in Piedmont comes, with the aid of British diplomacy and the party of unity, that of Venice and Naples; would Napoleon III prevent it? He could not, committed as he is by his own words, bound by his raging hunger for alliance with the English. He would only dare to claim that the will of the people is sacred, as long as nothing is at stake but the sovereignty of the Holy Father, but the annexation of the insurgent territory in the Sardinian States is another thing. The only fruit of the Italian campaign would thus have been used as instrument of the policy of Monsieurs Cavour, Garibaldi, Mazzini, Orsini; to have aroused a powerful neighbor, who cannot love us, who has never loved us, and to have consumed the investment of France.—Can we, say the policies of December 2, prevent Italy from realizing its unity? How would we have the right? Doesn't the Revolution itself make a principle of respecting nationalities?—Thus Make it then, I will answer them, make the Revolution; attach yourself to it, to its Right, its maxims; and, superior to the world by the power of your principles, and you will not have anything to fear from the expansion of your neighbors… I do not want Prussia at midday, said General Cavaignac. He was right a thousand times, since he was an eclectic. On December 2 he renounced this policy: for the little that the Italians wanted to be there to lend, we would have at our doors an empire of twenty-six million men. Is this the county of Nice or Savoy which would compensate us?

A government without principles is a science without method, a philosophy without a criterion, a religion without a God. We have just seen which sad fruits the policy of December 2 produced outside of France; the results not happier at home. Its balance sheet can be summarized in eight articles:

The tax has been raised from 1,500 to 1,800 million;

The national debt increased by three billion;

Conscription raised from 80 to 100, 120 and 140 thousands of men;

Failure of the middle class and proportional increase in the proletariat;

Reduction of the population;

Depravity of national manners;

Decline of literature and the arts;

Failure of all enterprises of the government.

To speak only about this last article, the litany of the disappointments of the imperial government would be long.

In 1852, the government reduced the government stock from 5 p.c. to 4½. And everyone applauded. We know what purely artificial rise reigned, during that first year, over all values. But the continuation by no means responded to these hopes; the Bank did not decrease its discount; more than once even it raised it up to 6 and 7 p.c., and in last analysis the 4 1/2 remained fixed at 90, which means that, in spite of the reduction, 5 p.c. is always the normal rate of the interest. Any tax, any reduction of assessed income on the property, to be just, must be general. The conversion having remained an isolated measurement, it is as if the government had declared bankruptcy to the shareholders of ½ p.c. Was this a success? The imperial government claimed to create a land-bank: it did not succeed;—to make a credit mobilier: its credit mobilier is a work of agiotage;—to establish docks: the Society of the Docks was finished by the police;—to put the rents at a cheap rate, and half of the Parisian population is driven out of the capital. It had prided itself on relieving the merchant marine; and in spite of the granted or promised subsidies, nothing is done. It had accepted the protectorate of the excavation of the isthmus of Suez; it gives up it today; is this because the business appears bad to it, or in consequence of its change of policy? What to say of the Palace of Industry, the hackney carriages, and so many other things in which the imperial government had a hand? By its commercial treaty with England, it just took the first step in a career of the free trade, i.e., of the permission of all foreign businessmen, disinterested in the question, to ensure, in the French market, and in French waters, the preponderance of England. Free trade, thanks to its name, is one of fantasies of contemporary democracy, which has never shone, as we know, by the light of economic science. There is no need, however, to be a great economist to see only the free trade, which is nothing only than the each by himself, each for himself [chacun chez soi , chacun pour soi], held in such contempt by this same democracy, is not a principle, and that without principles, i.e. without Justice, without guarantees, without reciprocity, political economy, just like politics, is fertile only in disaster. I would only like the small lesson of political economy which appealed to His Majesty to be given to France via its minister of State, to prophesy that it will be with the customs reform issued by Napoleon III as it was with that of Robert Peel: perhaps the price of imported food products will drop, but the people will be more exhausted than before. It is thus so difficult to understand, for example, that if the French wines obtain a considerable outlet in England, the price will raise, and that the French people will drink less of it than before; that it will be the same for meat, butter, vegetables, and fruit; that if, in addition, irons and wrought cottons from England arrive to us at cheaper prices, the wages of the French workers will drop by as much; as a result, that the improvements of price, on the two sides of the strait, will benefit with the shareholders, the owners, with some intermediaries, brokers, merchants; that there will be displacement of businesses and fortunes, but that all in all, industrial competition and capitalist absorption being exerted on a greater scale, the fate of the masses will worsen? … Free exchange has as a condition the exemption from payment of the discount: is one able to carry out, in these terms, the balance of trade?—The imperial government will have the honor of completing the railroads, and even of having built far too many: but it will be able to be also to boast of having delivered the country to the financial aristocracy; to have restored in favor of its creatures the contemptible regime of the pot-de-vin, and to have caused the nation to contract the habit, unknown before, of gambling. Completion of the railroads by the imperial government and its intervention in all businesses, will mark for France the ruin of the middle class, which is to say the disorganization of French society.

The government of the emperor conceived the thought, worthy of praise, to be the restorer of manners, as it had had the ambition to be the founder of the credit. There is to this end an office of propaganda to the ministry for the interior. However, see as this government moralist plays of misfortune! A Mr. Giblain, stockbroker, is accused of embezzlement in the exercise of his charge and of diversion of funds. The facts are noted by experts; the offence is obvious; 1,800 diversions and as many forgeries. The judgment appears inevitable. But no. The jury returns a verdict of not guilty: do you know why? It was determined from the debates, by the jury as well as the Court, that the facts complained of to Mr. Giblain were common with all the corporations of stockbrokers, and declared honourable by the magistrates. This is at the moment when the Court of Cassation, by its confirmative decree against the unofficial brokers, granted to the stockbrokers the privilege of the futures market, that the prosecution pursued a stockbroker accused 1° of having traded in futures, like all his fellows; 2° to have done so on his own account, like all his fellows; 3° to this end to have kept an account of the aforesaid deals, like all his fellows; 4° finally, to have profited, sometimes lost—all is not profit in this trade—on the deals which he made, like all his fellows! … Obviously, the court of appeal and the prosecution did not go in agreement. The judgment was impossible. Do you believe that if the imperial prosecutor had announced his resolution to push the investigation until the end, and to bring before the bench, if it were needed, the swindlers from all the corporations of stockbrokers; if at the same time the court of appeal had withered the aforesaid corporation, by declaring it inadmissible in its request against the unofficial brokers, do you believe, I ask, that the jury would have dared to answer: Not guilt? But the corporation is one of the pillars of the State, for this reason considered holy and inviolable. Under Louis-Philippe, the Testes and Cubières, were the exception, and the jury condemned them. Today, they are the rule, and the jury discharges them. To a power without principles, virtue itself does not succeed. In the absence of the jury, the stones would shout: Hypocrisy!

Let us be fair, however. Undoubtedly, since December 2, a lowering of public morality has taken place in France; the nation lost its self-regard; it feels its own unworthiness, and, as is habitual, it blames the government for it. That is the principle that will bring down the empire, if its unworthiness can likewise be translated into indignation. But the government is in this, like everywhere, merely the expression of the conscience of the country; and if one can only say of it that, for the fidelity with which it expresses the perdition of their hearts, it deserves the recognition of its citizens, then one cannot say that it has deserved their hatred. The humiliation of France begins to reach farther than the coup d'état; Napoleon III, if it were possible to summon him before a jury, would have only a rather small share in that. Does one think by chance that, if the dynasty of Bonaparte had suddenly disappeared, the situation of the country would have changed? That would be a serious error. France can remake itself only through the Revolution; it is not there. After rejoicings such as those which followed the death of Commodius, there would be the biddings of Didius Julianus. This is why we declare, hand on our heart: between us and Napoleon III there is neither envy nor hatred; he neither misled us nor supplanted us; we have upheld him in nothing, we do not aspire to become his successors. He is the official representative, not the personification, of an era of misfortune: that is all. Apart from the acts of Strasbourg, Boulogne and December 2, his complicity does not extend. We will allow ourselves however to recall to him, without any threat, the word of the Gospel: Voe autem homini illi per quem scandalum venit. Which means, in military language: Sentinel, guard yourself!

  1. The coming of the people to philosophy
  2. The definition of philosophy
  3. On the quality of the philosophical mind
  4. The origin of ideas
  5. That metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction
  6. That philosophy must be essentially practical
  7. The character that must be presented by the guarantee of our judgments and the rule of our actions.--Conversion from speculative to practical reason: determination of the criterion.
  8. Justice, universal reason of things: science and conscience.
  9. Supremacy of Justice.
  10. Conditions for a philosophical propaganda.
  11. Law of Progress. Social destination.
  12. A word about the situation.
  13. Conclusion. (next)

Corvine Call #3 - Nuts & Bolts and $1 pamphlets

It's all about nuts and bolts right now, in terms of getting Corvus Distribution up and really running. One of the obvious needs was a catalog to give to potential customers, and particularly potential retailers, so here's Catalog #1 (available in booklet and 2-up formats, along with a checklist/mailorder sheet.) Working up a set of discounts, incentives, sustainer packages and the like is hard work, and after doing a lot of thinking about the issues, I decided to make things as simple, and as personal, as I could manage. After all, one of the worst things about the corporate retail world is all of the contrived "deals" and incentives that make shopping so much like threading a brightly colored minefield. And, at base, Corvus specializes in free stuff that I would like you to pay a little bit for, sometimes, if that's in the cards, one place or another, so that there will be more of it next week, and next year, and so that the people who make it their business to distribute this ultimately free stuff can afford to do so as well.

People have been asking about discounts and about subscriptions. The ultimate answer to all of these questions is: email me and we'll work something out. But here's the basics, from the catalog:


There are 3 ways to claim your resale discount:

  1. Download pdfs from, print yourself, and send us a donation to keep the flow of pamphlets coming.
  2. Order individual titles in bulk:
    5-9 copies: 40% off
    10-19 copies: 50% off
    20+ copies: 60% off and the shopping cart system at will figure your discounts automatically.
    Put together an order of 10 or more items, send it via email to shawn (at) corvusdistribution (dot) org, and we’ll work out a discount rate (40% and up in most instances.)


Send an email to shawn (at) corvusdistribution (dot) org and we’ll work out a discount scheme.


Email me at, yes,
shawn (at) corvusdistribution (dot) org with some idea of what you would like to contribute, and we’ll figure out how to get you your money’s worth in Corvus Editions.


Get in touch, and we’ll make something happen.
As of today, the Friends of Corvus Distribution has its first sustaining member, who has opted for $20 of donated support per month, with no discount claimed, but the option of changing his mind. I'll get a formal sign-up page up soon, but the deal for sustainers is simple: You pick the amount; you pick the frequency; you pick any reasonable discount, commensurate with the support you intend to give; and chances are we've got a deal.

Anyway, on to the new stuff. I've been a little distracted lately, so I've been churning out short, cheap pamphlets:

There are five new titles in the catalog today, covering a range of topics: 1) Edward Carpenter's 1911 An Unknown People, on gender roles and same-sex relationships; 2) Dyer Lum's debate-in-fiction with Rabbi Solomon Schindler on Edward Bellamy's Looking Backwards, the 1890 "A Journalist's Confession;" 3) "The Shay's Rebellion as a Political Aftermath," by land-bank historian Andrew Macfarland Davis; "Roadtown: A Mecca for Physical Culturists," an article on Edgar Chambless' radical city-planning model by Milo Hastings, himself the author of some interesting writings on urban reform; and a dual-language edition of Emile Armand's "Mini-Manual of the Individualist Anarchist."

Almost finished: works by Moses Harman, Ernest Crosby, Morrison Swift, William B. Greene, Orestes Brownson, J. K. Ingalls, Ernst Steile and Orestes Brownson.