Saturday, February 27, 2010

Two-Gun Mutualism? - Part 2

“TWO-GUN” MUTUALISM
and the
GOLDEN RULE
 

[continued from Part 1]

INDIVIDUALISM vs SOCIALISM

It is clear that, in all of this writing, it is necessary to understand by socialism, socialism as we define it in this work itself, which is as the exaggeration of the idea of association, or of society. For a number of years, we have been accustomed to call socialists all the thinkers who occupy themselves with social reforms, all those who critique and reprove individualism, all those who speak, in different terms, of social providence, and of the solidarity which unites together not only the members of a State, but the entire Human Species; and, by this title, ourselves, who have always battled absolute socialism, we are today designated as socialist. We are undoubtedly socialist, but in this sense: we are socialist, if you mean by socialism the Doctrine which will sacrifice none of the terms of the formula: Liberty, Fraternity, Equality, Unity, but which reconciles them all. (1847.) — I can only repeat here, with regard to the use of the word Socialism in all of this extract, what I said previously (pages 121 and 160 of this Volume). When I invented the term Socialism in order to oppose it to the term Individualism, I did not expect that, ten years later, that term would be used to express, in a general fashion, religious Democracy. What I attacked under that name, were the false systems advanced by the alleged disciples of Saint-Simon and by the alleged disciples of Rousseau led astray following Robespierre and Babœuf, without speaking of those who amalgamated at once Saint-Simon and Robespierre with de Maistre and Bonald. I refer the reader to the Histoire du Socialisme (which they will find in one of the following volumes of this edition), contenting myself to protest against those who have taken occasion from this to find me in contradiction with myself.—PIERRE LEROUX, “INDIVIDUALISM AND SOCIALISM.” (Note from 1850 COLLECTED WORKS.)

The debates over who coined what term are of largely antiquarian interest. We know that by 1843, some form of the word “socialism” already existed in English, in Owenite circles. But we also know that Leroux’s claim is not too far off the mark, in any language. And we do not seem to have any earlier treatment of the two terms—socialism and individualism—together.

Individualism and Socialism—these are the two rival solutions to the problem of “material interests,” and once they have been loosed on the field, their opposition threatens to become practically the whole of politics. Leroux identifies them in order to reject them both—at least individually. When Proudhon adopted roughly the same dynamic, the terms were “property” and “community,” but little else changed. Both look forward to a moment when the two tendencies will be “harmonized” or “synthesized.” Later, both would adopt a more dynamic sort of solution. Greene, tackling the problem in a different context and at a slightly later date, was able to name his third term more directly: “socialism” becomes, for him, the third, relational term, completing a triad with individualistic “capitalism” and “communism.” In some ways, of course, all of this is simply reinventing the wheel, since the three terms all seem to correspond to Fourier’s three “distributive passions:” centralizing Composite, decentralizing Cabalist, and alternating Papillion. And the target of the dynamic is the error Fourierists called simplism, “the fault of viewing a complex question from only one side, of advancing on one side by retreating on the other, so that real progress is null or negative.”

Leroux opens the debate between individualism and socialism in order to be done with it, to focus attention on a broader, more complete dynamic, which he sees as the key to solving the problem of “material interests.” But he is not prepared to offer much more than a statement of the problem, and the vaguest sketch of the solution. His analysis of individualism and socialism leads him to an affirmation of relation:
We are all responsible to one another. We are united by an invisible link, it is true, but that link is more clear and more evident to the intelligence than matter is to the eyes of the body.
But he can’t move far past the intuitive rejection of social simplism—a double rejection, coupled with a double affirmation. He has the outline of the triad, which he will come to see as the “true contr’un,” the key to a libertarian politics which should not simply fall prey to the internecine warfare between visions of freedom, and his general project is launched, but he has also named these two principles, in a more definite fashion that has been done before—and this conjuration is no small matter.
These two principles once named, you cannot prevent yourself from recognizing them, for you sense their legitimacy in your heart; but you sense at the same time that, both born from justice, they will make a dreadful war.
As we know, in the intervening years, individualism and socialism have “made a dreadful war.” And the libertarian movement which Leroux inherited and influenced has been split every bit as decisively as the cultures surrounding it, by that warfare. In some ways, we have made very little progress from the situation described by Leroux and Proudhon: the exhaustion of ideas, the wars in the service of commercial profit, the complicity of competing visions of liberty in the continuing misery and slaughter—all of these are familiar to us. What is perhaps least familiar to us is the notion that there is an alternative, the possibility of a “synthesis of community and property” (as Proudhon put it) in a liberty which would extend to all, and would harmonize and socialize the conflict of interests without sacrificing individuality. Where that notion has appeared, in those intervening years, it has often been called mutualism. But mutualism, too, has often proclaimed its philosophy, without being able to push very far towards its realization.

If the goal of mutualism, Proudhon’s “third form of society” or some timelier approximation, is our goal, then it’s up to us to trace its history back to the roots, strengthening and clarifying where we can. If mutualism is to be more than just an indistinct third option, a constant compromise, then it is necessary to take up the tradition precisely where it is most strongly “charged”—and most potentially dangerous. What better place to start, then, than Leroux’s description of those “two pistols charged one against the other”?

THE STAND-OFF

The passage, quoted at the beginning of the essay, is striking. Individualism and socialism first appear as “two opposite attractors,” equally attractive and repellant,” but as a magnet might attract or repulse. “Liberty and Society,” Leroux claims elsewhere in the essay, “are the two equal poles of social science.” The individual, all individuals, remains “in perplexity and uncertainty,” held in a complex field of forces, which pushes and pulls us in every direction at once. Drawing on Leroux’s work on the nature of “life,” we can conclude that our magnetic uncertainty is as much related to ourselves as to our attractors. Indeed, the “objective and subjective” nature of life makes such a distinction difficult at best. We, too, are “charged,” and bear at the very heart of our nature as living beings “two opposite attractors.” We, too, are a sort of magnet.

Leroux moves quickly through his exposition: the disposition of charges and forces moves things quickly to crisis. Uncertainty leads to increased tension, as forces attempt to align in one direction or another. This leads rapidly to “horror.” And it is fear, after all, that leads to the “base” violence of the Rue Transnonain, and all the violent uncertainty of the present age.

It has all happened before, Leroux assures us, citing the example of the French Revolution. And suddenly the charged poles are charged pistols—and they have been fired, putting an end to the promise of the Revolution.

And “we are still at the same point”—Leroux and his contemporaries, but also, it seems, ourselves in the present—but that “same point” seems to get richer and more highly charged every time Leroux returns to it. “We are still at the same point, with two pistols charged and pointed in opposite directions.” When the pistols appeared, in the midst of the discussion of magnetic uncertainty, they were in the hands of Robespierre and the Convention. Now “we” possess them, “pointed in opposite directions.”

Is that “we” a matter of opposed individuals? One stands with the pistol of individualism, and another with the pistol of socialism, while we reenact the standoff of the last revolution? Or is it somehow our general condition that we, each individually, bear both pistols, “pointed in opposite directions,” in order to fend off multiple foes? “Our soul is the prey of two powers,” Leroux says, but that hardly resolves things—particularly when examined in the light of Leroux’s other works. In that light, there is probably no choosing between interpretations. The individual is already social, already “prey” to two absolutist tendencies, even in conditions of relative isolation. We carry the potential for “dreadful war” in our “soul,” as we recognize the legitimacy of the antagonists in our heart, just as soon as they are named. And all of this seems entirely natural, as soon as human beings begin to seriously pursue their liberty.
____________

[continued in Part 3]

"Two-Gun" Mutualism? - Part 1

“TWO-GUN” MUTUALISM
and the
GOLDEN RULE

Thus one remains in perplexity and uncertainty, equally attracted and repulsed by two opposite attractors. Yes, the sympathies of our era are equally lively, equally energetic, whether it is a question of liberty or equality, of individuality or association. The faith in society is complete, but the faith in individuality is equally complete. From this results an equal impulse towards these two desired ends and an equal increase of the exclusive exaggeration of one or the other, an equal horror of either individualism or of socialism.

That disposition, moreover, is not new. It already existed in the Revolution. The most progressive men felt it. Take the Declaration of Rights of Robespierre: you will find formulated there, in the most energetic and absolute manner, the principle of society, with a view to the equality of all; but, two lines higher, you will find, also formulated in the most energetic and absolute manner, the principle of the individuality of each. And nothing which would unite, which harmonizes these two principles, placed thus both on the altar; nothing which reconciles these two equally infinite and limitless rights, these two adversaries which threaten, these two absolute and sovereign powers which both [together] rise to heaven and which each [separately] overrun the whole earth. These two principles once named, you cannot prevent yourself from recognizing them, for you sense their legitimacy in your heart; but you sense at the same time that, both born from justice, they will make a dreadful war. So Robespierre and the Convention were only able to proclaim them both, and as a result the Revolution has been the bloody theater of their struggle: the two pistols charged one against the other have fired.

We are still at the same point, with two pistols charged and [pointed] in opposite directions. Our soul is the prey of two powers that are equal and, in appearance, contrary. Our perplexity will only cease when social science will manage to harmonize these two principles, when our two tendencies will be satisfied. Then an immense contentment will take the place of that anguish.—PIERRE LEROUX, “INDIVIDUALISM AND SOCIALISM.” (1834)


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.—PIERRE-JOSEPH PROUDHON, THE THEORY OF PROPERTY. (1864)




MÊLÉE

In 1834, when Pierre Leroux wrote “Individualism and Socialism,” the immediate occasion was “the massacres on the Rue Transnonain,” a particularly brutal and senseless slaughter of civilians by soldiers during a brief insurrection against the July Monarchy in Paris. After a soldier was killed by sniper fire in the street, members of the guard killed nearly all the inhabitants of No. 14 Rue Transnonain, in a room-to-room spree.

“Madame d’Aubigny: At five o’clock the soldiers came from the Rue de Montmorency; after a sustained fire they got possession of the barricade.

“A short time after another party of voltigeurs came down the Rue Transnonain, preceded by sappers; they endeavoured, but in vain, to break open the door of our house, which is unusually solid.

“‘It is the line!’ exclaimed the people in the house; ‘Ah, there are our liberators! We are saved!’

“M. Guitard, my husband, and myself went downstairs, in all haste, to open the door. Being quicker than the two gentlemen, I ran before them to the porter’s lodge, pulled the rope, and the door opened. The soldiers rushed into the passage, and, turning half round to the right, shot my husband and M. Guitard, at the moment they had reached the last step of the staircase. They fell amidst a shower of balls. The explosion was so great that the windows of the lodge, which I had not had time to shut before the soldiers ran in, were all broken to pieces. A giddiness seized me for a moment, and when I came to myself, it was to see the lifeless body of my husband stretched near that of M. Guitard, whose head was nearly separated from the neck by the numerous shots he had received. Quick as lightning the soldiers, headed by an officer, ran up to the second floor. A folding door soon gave way before them; a second door, one with glass windows, presented itself; they knocked at it furiously, and it was immediately opened by an old man, M. Breffort, senior. ‘We are,’ he said to the officer, ‘peaceable people here; we have no arms of any sort. Do not assassinate us.’ The words had scarcely passed his lips ere he fell, pierced with three bayonet wounds. He uttered a cry: ‘You old ragamuffin,’ exclaimed the officer, ‘if you don’t hold your tongue, I’ll finish you.’ Annette Besson rushed from an adjacent room to assist him. A soldier turned round, plunged his bayonet into her neck just beneath the jaw, and then, firing his musket at her, blew her head to pieces, the fragments sticking against ‘he opposite wall. A young man, Henry Larivière, was following her. He was fired upon so close that the powder set his clothes in flames; the ball was buried deep in his lungs. As he was falling, mortally wounded, a bayonet stroke cut open his forehead deeply, and exposed the skull; twenty other wounds were added to dispatch him. The room was already a mere pool of blood; M. Breffort, senior, notwithstanding his wounds, had managed to crawl to an alcove; he was pursued by soldiers, when Madame Bonneville came forward, and covering him with her body, her feet in the blood on the floor, her hands raised to Heaven, exclaimed: ‘All my family are stretched at my feet, there remains only myself to kill, only myself” And five bayonet wounds cut open her hands. On the fourth floor, the soldiers who had just killed M. Lepere and M. Robiquet, said to their wives: ‘My poor souls you are sadly to be pitied, as well as your husbands. But we are ordered to do this, we are compelled to obey, though it makes us as wretched as you can be.’—from LOUIS BLANC, THE HISTORY OF TEN YEARS, pp. 279-280.


The incident is now perhaps best remembered because of Daumier’s depiction of it, but for many years, until more horrifying massacres displaced it, it occupied a very important place in the catalog of crimes by authority against the people.

Leroux’s response to the events was interesting. The horror of the crime was not that it is in any way unprecedented. For from it—history has witnessed no shortage of massacres. Human beings have murdered one another for any number of reasons, not least because they believed it was the will of some god or gods, or of some god’s earthly representative. Such killing is criminal, but, Leroux suggests, it may at least retain a certain “grandeur.”
Our century is, it seems, quite vile, and we have degenerated even from the crimes of our fathers. To kill in the manner of Charles IX or Torquemada, in the name of faith, in the name of the Church, because one believes that God desires it, because one has a fanatic spirit, exalted by the fear of hell and the hope of paradise, this is still to have in one's crime some grandeur and some generosity. But to be afraid, and by dint of cowardice, to become cruel; to be full of solicitude for material goods that after all death will carry away from you, and to become ferocious from avarice; to have no belief in eternal things, no certainty of the difference between the just and the unjust, and, in absolute doubt, to cling to one's lucre with an intensity rivaling the most heated fanaticism, and to gain from these petty sentiments energy sufficient to equal in a day the bloodiest days of our religious wars—this is what we have seen and what was never seen before.
Crime, murderous crime, may even be “generous,” by Leroux’s reading—at least by comparison to the sort of petty, senseless murder which took place in the Rue Transnonain. “[W]e are ordered to do this, we are compelled to obey, though it makes us as wretched as you…” And what is it that is behind the “pitiless orders” that the soldiers are compelled to follow? “Business is bad, and it is the innovators, it is said, that stand in its way: war then against the innovators.” The rationale for slaughter is “neither an idea nor a principle,” but simply “material interests.” This is a “base” motivation—Leroux makes his opinion in this regard quite clear. Like so many other radicals of his time, he was a strong believer in progress, not just in the perfectibility of humanity, but of a strong impulse, knit within the very fabric of human history, towards ever-increasing perfection. William B. Greene would describe that impulse in terms of a “Blazing Star,” always shining in the distance, and always calling attentive human beings on to increasingly ideal projects and states. Proudhon would come to think of “the Revolution” as embodying it, not as an inevitability, but as a sort of immanent justice, with a tendency to shake up human affairs when it was ignored or thwarted. For progressives and perfectionists, the apparent senselessness or “baseness” of their age was potentially a rebuke. Strong critics of the absolutisms of the past, they were still drawn strongly to ideas and principles, and to the belief that, ultimately, there was some order to “universal history,” even if the responsibility for making that order real fell more and more squarely on human, rather than divine, shoulders.

It’s no great surprise, then, that a radical of Leroux’s type would end up seeing in the apparent disarray and exhaustion of his era, not just the end or the failure of something, but an indication of progress-to-come. If everything now revolves around “the shops,” if we make war and sacrifices for the sake of the day’s profits, it is because all of society’s forces are focused on a problem of overwhelming importance—“if the social question presents itself in our time primarily as a question of material wealth, it is because the human sciences are very close to finding the solution.”

In 1851, Proudhon’s Philosophy of Progress began with a similar denunciation of French society: “France has exhausted the principles that once sustained it. Its conscience is vacant, just like its reason.” It ended by asserting the primacy of revolutionary progress against all forms of absolutism, and it pointed to the extreme disarray of the present as evidence of a potential reorganization in progress. Despite some heated debates and significant differences between them, Proudhon and Leroux shared a good deal, with regard to their philosophies of history. Their relationship was nothing if not complex. Proudhon spoke highly of Leroux, even in the midst of their conflicts, using language which one suspects he would not have been unhappy to have had addressed to himself:
We need men who, like M. Leroux, call in question social principles,— not to diffuse doubt concerning them, but to make them doubly sure; men who excite the mind by bold negations, and make the conscience tremble by doctrines of annihilation. (WHAT IS PROPERTY? p. 401.)
Proudhon undoubtedly also learned a great deal from Leroux, although he made those lessons his own, incorporating them into a body of work in many ways superior to Leroux’s. Once the heat had died down in the debates of 1848-49, and particularly after the coup d’état, there were fewer reasons, either personal or practical, for Proudhon to distance himself from political rivals, fewer open debates, and with both men in exile for much of the remainder of Proudhon’s life, fewer opportunities for conflict. While he was never one to give too much credit to his influences, it seems fairly clear that his mature work benefited from a broader range of them.

It is possible that Leroux’s influence may have been pressed on him as well. We know very little about his relations to the other anarchists of his time, but we know that Leroux’s thought had a decisive influence on both the American mutualist William B. Greene and the libertarian communist Joseph Déjacque. And we know that Greene and Proudhon were at least acquainted. Greene had forged his own variety of mutualism by joining the work of Proudhon and Leroux. While he was among the most prominent advocates of Proudhon’s system of “mutual banking” and free credit, he had obviously followed the French debates on the subject with some care, and seems to have taken Leroux’s side when it came to the question of joining the mutual bank to producer and consumer cooperatives. Greene was known for his tendency to speak his mind, even when it drew ridicule from his peers in New England. If he did indeed converse with Proudhon, would he have remained silent on those questions? They were certainly potential sore points: it is quite possible that the insistence by others on a “triad” of reforms was among the factors that led Proudhon to entirely separate from the project of the Bank of the People, when his erstwhile partners attempted to revive it as the “Laborers’ Mutuality.” At this point, we can only speculate. In any event, the later works certainly seem more open to the idea of supplementing credit reforms with other sorts of association.

But the relationship is really more complicated than the example of Greene, or even Déjacque, suggests. From our vantage point in the present, Leroux appears not just as an influence on various anarchists, but as himself a worker in the field of libertarian radicalism—and perhaps a fairly unique one. Leroux is famous, or infamous, for the notions of the circulus,—a sort of proto-ecological answer to Malthus, emphasizing the re-cycling character of natural system,—the triad,—an adaptation of Trinitarian thought to social science,—and the twin doctrines of life and humanity—which emphasized the interdependence of individuals and characterized all living beings as both objective and subjective, acting as agents and as a social environment (and source of social subsistence, even nutrition!) for other agents. The third set of notions was adopted in one form or another by Greene, Déjacque, and Proudhon, and enjoyed a short vogue in New England radical circles, thanks to Orestes Brownson. Its origins were in Christianity, and in Saint-Simonian neo-Christianity. The first tied Leroux to the early anarchist, or proto-anarchist, William Godwin, in the battle against Malthus. And the second, while it also had theological origins, was at the same time a response to the thought of another proto-anarchist figure, Étienne de La Boétie.

De La Boétie’s youthful anti-authoritarian tract, De la Servitude Volontaire (known in English as The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, Slaves to Duty, or Slaves by Choice), was subtitled “Le Contr'un.” One translation attempts to render the phrase as “The Anti-Dictator,” which gets the gist of things, if it lacks the elegance of the original. “Contr’un” is apparently a rare construction, and it’s an enormously suggestive one in many ways. It’s tempting to survey all the ways in which one might be “against one” or the “counter-one,” from Proudhon’s theory of offsetting absolutisms to Derrida’s play with the intertwined notions of “(no more one/more than one) voice.” For our immediate purposes, however, it is enough to know that Leroux took this notion of the “contr’un” very seriously, making it one of the key elements of his 1846 “Discourse on the Doctrine of Humanity.” Given his other preoccupations, it will perhaps come as no surprise that he believed the counter-one could be found in another number, in the three of the triad.

Leroux never claimed to be an anarchist, and there is no particular reason to claim him for the tradition at this point. He probably falls fairly comfortably into the category of “mutualist,” which has always had connotations broader than, say, “Proudhonian” and which, in its most general form, has always, I think, leaned towards anarchism, but has never been precisely identical with it. (Even Proudhon considered the “approximation of an-archy” just one of the projects of mutualism.) What we probably can do, with some real present benefit, is to examine Leroux’s thought a little more closely, specifically in the context of other early anarchists, acknowledging his unusually direct connections to figures like Godwin and de la Boétie, as well as his equally direct influence on early mutualism and libertarian communism. In particular, we can look more closely at the moment where he made the other terminological contributions for which he is remembered—the invention of the terms “individualisme” and “socialisme.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

Paul Adam's "Eulogy for Ravachol"


EULOGY FOR RAVACHOL

Paul Adam


In these times, miracles and saints seem set to disappear. We can easily believe that the souls of contemporaries lack the spirit of sacrifice. The martyrs of this century have always been obscure citizens, maddened by the din of political words, and then gunned down without mercy, in 1830, 1848, and 1871, for the benefit of certain parliamentary situations arranged by a few violent and shifty advocates. And it would even be imprudent to claim that no wish of individual interest committed these unfortunate combatants themselves to seek some electoral profit, arms in hand.

The parades of the two chambers with their daily scandals, their syndicates of sugar-makers, of distillers, of beer venders, of winemakers, of grain brokers and livestock breeders, reveal to us, time and again, the motives of universal suffrage. There were Méline and Morelli, senator Le Guay... Also all these battles of the Parisian streets, all the histories of the rue Transnonain or of Satory end up appearing to us as simple quarrels of merchants in fierce competition.

Our souls, lacking complexity, would probably still be displeased to follow the brusque plays of these marionettes; and politics would have been banished completely from our preoccupations, had not the legend of sacrifice, of the gift of a life for the happiness of humanity, suddenly reappeared in our epoch, with the martyrdom of Ravachol.

Whatever the invective of the bourgeois press and the tenacity of the magistrates have been able to do to blacken the act of the victim, they have not succeeded in persuading us of its falsehood. After all the judiciary debates, chronicles, and appeals to legal murder, Ravachol properly remains the proponent of the great idea of the ancient religions which would advocate seeking individual death for the good of the world, the denial of self, and the sacrifice of life and reputation for the exaltation of the poor and humble. He is plainly the restorer of the essential sacrifice.

To have affirmed the right of existence at the risk of allowing himself to be contemned by the herd of the civic slaves and to bring on himself the ignominy of the scaffold, to have conceived as a technique the suppression of the useless in order to sustain an idea of liberation, to have had that audacity to conceive this, and the devotion to accomplish it, is that not sufficient to merit the title of Redeemer?

Of all the acts of Ravachol, there is one perhaps most symbolic in itself. In opening the sepulcher of that old man and by going to seek on the cadaver, groping on sticky hands, a jewel capable of sparing a family of paupers from hunger for some months, he demonstrated the shame of a society which adorns its carrion sumptuously while, in one year alone, 91,000 individuals die of starvation within the frontiers of the rich country of France, without anyone thinking anything of it—except him and us.

Precisely because his attempt was useless, and the cadaver was found stripped of adornment, the meaning of the act becomes more important still. It is stripped of all real profit; it takes the abstract form of a logical and deductive idea. From that affirmation that nothing is owed to those who have no immediate need, it is proven that for every need a satisfaction must respond. It is the very formula of Christ: To each according to their needs, so marvelously conveyed in the parable of the father who paid at the same price the workers who entered his vineyard at dawn, those who came at noon, and those who hired on at night. The work does not merit a wage; but the need demands satiety. You must not give in the hope of a lucrative recognition, or of a labor useful to you, but for the love of your fellow alone, in order to satisfy your hunger for altruism, your thirst for the good and the beautiful, your passion for harmony and universal happiness.

If one reproaches Ravachol for the murder of the hermit, is there not, each day, an argument to gather among the various facts of the gazette? Is he, indeed, more guilty in this than society, which allows to perish in the solitude of the garrets beings as useful as the student of the Beaux-Arts recently found dead in Paris, lacking bread. Society kills more than assassins, and when a man brought to bay by the greatest misery arms his despair and strikes, in order not to succumb, isn’t he the legitimate defender of a life for which could be charged some careless parents and an instant of pleasure? So long as men exist in the world to suffer slow starvation, to the final exhaustion of life, theft and murder will remain natural. No justice can logically oppose and punish it, unless it expresses honestly, and without other reasons, Force crushing Weakness. But if a new strength is raised before its own, it must not blacken the adversary. It must accept the duel and deal with the enemy so that in the days of its own defeat, it may find mercy in the New Force.

Ravachol was the champion of that New Force. First he explained the theory of his acts and the logic of his crimes; and there is no public declamation capable of convincing him of straying or of error. His act was the consequence of his ideas, and his ideas were born of the lamentable state of barbarity or stagnant humanity.

Ravachol saw sorrow around him, and he has exalted the sorrow of others by offering himself in sacrifice. His incontestable charity and disinterestedness, the vigor of his acts, and his courage before inevitable death raise him up to the splendors of legend. In this time of cynicism and irony, a Saint is born to us.

His blood will be an example from which will spring new courage and new martyrs. The great idea of universal altruism will flower in the red pool at the foot of the guillotine.

A fruitful death has been accomplished. An event of human history is marked in the annals of the people. The legal murder of Ravachol opens a new era.

And you artists who, with an eloquent brush, recount on the canvas your mystic dreams, a grand subject is offered here for your work. If you have understood your era, if you have recognized and kissed the threshold of the future, it is for you to trace out in a pious triptych the Life of the Saint, and his demise. For a time will come when in the temples of Real Fraternity, we will place your stained glass window in the loveliest place, in order that the light of the sun passing through the halo of the martyr will light up the gratitude of men free of selfishness on a planet free from property.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised 2/26/1012]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

William B. Greene, "Plutocracy"

Here's one of William B. Greene's letters to the Worcester Palladium which was not incorporated into either Equality or the 1850 Mutual Banking. Thanks again to Brady Campbell for the research assist on these. A number of my questions from two years ago remain, but I'm back at the work of transcribing and collating the mutual bank writings, so perhaps we can clear most of them up soon.

PLUTOCRACY

The term Plutocracy occurs in the Democratic State Address: it is derived from the words Plutus (the god of wealth, mammon) and krateo, (to hold, or govern); and signifies a government of wealth. An aristocracy is a government by a privileged class; a democracy is a government by the people; a plutocracy is an organization of society in which the government is administered by, and for the advantage of, the wealthy classes of the community. A Plutocracy is a Mammonocracy.

On the bureau of the English house of Commons, there is a sacramental book, a political Gospel, which expresses the thought upon which the whole governmental policy of England is founded: that book is the "Spirit of the Laws," by Montesquieu. Why have the English adopted this French book for their political Gospel? Let us open the book, and read!

"There are always"--says Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, liv. XI, ch.6--"in a State, certain persons distinguished by birth, wealth, or honors. But if they are confounded among the people, and if they have only the same vote which other men possess, the common liberty would be their slavery; and they would have no interest to defend this liberty, because the greater portion of the resolutions would be against them. The part therefore which they have in the legislation, ought to be in proportion to the other advantages they have in the State; which will happen if they form a body having the right to arrest the enterprises of the people, as the people has the right to arrest theirs. Thus the legislative power will be confided to the body of the Nobles, and to the body which will be chosen to represent the people, and these bodies will assemble apart, and have separate views, and interests." This is Montesquieu's formula of the government of England, a formula whose accuracy is acknowledged by the English themselves.

The government of England is not built up on the idea of right, but on the fact of the unjust distribution of rank, wealth, and honor, which now obtains; and it has for aim and purpose, the perpetuation of the present injustice though all coming generations:--the government of England is therefore an aristocracy.

The English constitution does not recognise equality, but, on the contrary, consecrates inequality; it does not recognise virtue, but consecrates privilege:--the government of England is therefore, an tyranny.

The principle of the English Constitution organises the national power in favor of money, and not in favor of money, and not in favor of man:--the government of England is, therefore, a Plutocracy.

The English government is founded on privilege and on inequality; and its artifice consists in giving to the privileged classes a part in legislation proportionate to the other privileges they possess in the State.

The English government may be defined as being a Tyranny--Aristocracy--Plutocracy; one and indivisible, and yet triple: it is three in one, and one in three, and they mystery of iniquity.

If our Constitution ever degenerates, it will be by becoming gradually conformed to that of England. It will become first Plutocratic, and then Aristocratic; for Plutocracy paves the way for Aristocracy, even as Aristocracy paves the way for Tyranny.

The Plutocrats are they who desire to see the right of voting guarded (as they say) by a property qualification, in order that holders of property may have a part in legislation proportionate to the other advantages they possess in the State. The Plutocrats are they who are opposed to the Secret Ballot, because the secret ballot would take from them the power of intimidating dependent voters, and thus take from them the part in legislation proportionate to the other advantages in the State, which they now possess.

A rich man, even if he possesses millions of dollars, is not for that reason a Plutocrat; but he becomes a Plutocrat so soon as he endeavors to seize upon political power proportionate to the advantages he possesses in other respects.

("Plutocracy," by OMEGA [William Batchelder Greene]. Worcester Palladium. Wednesday, 7 November 1849.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Inheriting Proudhon

2010 is likely to be a good year for mutualism. Last I heard, Crispin Sartwell's Josiah Warren collection was on its way to the publisher. Kevin Carson's third book, The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low Overhead Manifesto, is available in rough form. It looks like I'll get to do the traveling necessary to put together a first edition of my own Descriptive Bibliography of Equitable Commerce (though several months later than originally planned), and, barring any catastrophic changes in my currently precarious economic situation, the first issue of The Mutualist (successor to LeftLiberty) ought to be available in time for the Bay Area bookfair. With a little luck, I might even have The Anarchism of Approximations and Other Essays finished by the year's end. Arguably, however, the biggest mutualism-related event of the year is likely to be the release of Property is Theft!, the anthology of Proudhon's work, edited by Iain McKay and due to be published by AK Press in November. Iain has begun to post the contents online. I've also begun to set up a new Proudhon Library archive, which will eventually take the place of the current Libertarian Labyrinth site, as that site becomes explicitly a workspace dedicated to bibliographic projects.

The new anthology is going to be a real event, bringing together a larger, better, and better organized collection of Proudhon's work than has ever been presented in English. Kevin Carson described the previous best attempt, Stewart's Selected Writings, as "a sort of anarchistic Bartlett's Familiar Quotations." But imagine a collection of that sort where the entries were "organized" with no consideration for sequence, and no real attempt to make connections or map development — and consider how much Proudhon's work really begs for some attention to the development of his ideas. What Iain has done with the new anthology is to present larger slices — mostly full essays or chapters — in roughly chronological order. He has included a useful glossary of obscure terms, events and persons mentioned in the texts. And if there is still not much in the way of a guiding overview included, there are at least quite a few less misconceptions repeated in what we get. The selection is a political one, relatively weak on philosophy and social science — but clearly ahead of the curve in acknowledging Proudhon's later works. It is also pretty clearly a communist's-eye-view, so the critique of property is emphasized in its earliest forms — but, significantly, the concluding chapter from The Theory of Property is also included as an appendix.

Iain has posted the introduction to the collection on the associated blog. Nobody will be surprised to find that I disagree, in some cases fairly strongly, with the analysis of Proudhon's ideas contained in it. But if I think that Iain is a bit wrong about Proudhon, I also think he is wrong in pretty much the same way as many of the very best anarchist commentators have been. It's not a matter of damning with faint praise: This is a very good book, assembled pretty much as a labor of love and respect, and you should support AK's willingness to publish it with a purchase (or three) when it becomes available in November.

It's just that, for a mutualist, there is no question of stopping here.

During the online seminar on What is Property? I posted a comparison of the theory in that work with the approach in The Theory of Property. At that point — over a year and a half ago — it seemed 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." At that point, I was just exploring the material from the 1860s and had yet to read much of "Justice in the Revolution and in the Church," the central work from 1858. Since then, having filled in quite a few of the gaps in my reading, my sense of the options has changed a little. While the 1860s approach is certainly one approximation of that "third form of society" Proudhon began to pursue in 1840, now conceived (as I suggested last year) as a "counterpoise of property and communism," it is far from the only such approximation possible, and it is, significantly, not one which gets us very far towards one of Proudhon's other consistent goals, the transformation of the property relation itself, and the development of a positive theory of property. The Option #4 which I have actually been pursuing has been to treat the obviously incomplete and inconsistent work of the 1860s in the same way that Proudhon treated his own obviously incomplete and inconsistent work from the earlier decades, by attempting to work through the insufficiencies and inconsistencies. The notion of the "gift economy of property" — derived almost entirely from Proudhon's own property writings — is an attempt to push beyond some of the undesirable aspects of his "final" approximation, taking his "positive" treatment of liberty (in the 1858 Justice...) as a working model.

(From my perspective, this is also the way to deal with Proudhon's cultural failings — including his anti-feminism and racism — which we can and should address head-on. It seems obvious to most contemporary anarchists that these elements are inconsistent with the core of anarchist beliefs, but we haven't, for the most part, got close enough to Proudhon to demonstrate that they were inconsistent with his own best thoughts on anarchism. I think, however, that this is indeed something that we will be able to show, without in any way whitewashing the serious consequences of prejudice.)

So 2010 should also be a good year for controversy over mutualism — hopefully controversy productive of better understanding. A lot of the controversy will arise from the fact that none of the various ways to inherit Proudhon's work is self-evidently more likely to promote the goals of anarchism than any other. I obviously have some fairly strong feelings about the directions in which the greatest advantages lie. But the arguments for the "gift economy of property" and "anarchism of approximations" involve choices of emphasis and presumptions about the essence and aims of historical mutualism. Since it has been suggested recently that part of my strategy is to treat the "good old stuff" as "pure" and beyond critique, let's get that possibility right off the table. I expect to present a good deal of good intellectual history, and to derive from it a good deal of interesting, and I think useful, theory. But all of that will involve some very explicit choices, and when I feel the need to disagree with my friends and comrades — if I embrace, to some extent, the Proudhonian maxim that peace is the perfection of conflict — it isn't from any imagined shelter of historical or theoretical objectivity. I am ultimately a Derridean on the question of intellectual inheritance — we always choose between inheritances, and are responsible for those choices.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way... (1)

Nobody who knows me or my work will be surprised if I admit to working primarily on a large — and sometimes over-large — scale. There are obvious disadvantages to the approach: I have certainly not published as much as I might have, in any of the various fields where I've gained some expertise, and much of the writing I have done has been in the form of theoretical "feelers" and thought experiments scattered in a wide variety of forums. The more definitive statements that I have started have been slow to develop. The logistics of serious interdisciplinary study are a monster, in any case. Keeping all the balls in the air at once is not always possible, so one is forced to constantly revisit and relearn in order to incorporate old insights into new approaches. The upside to all of that is that, if you stick with it, you can gradually pull together some pretty good stuff. But the moments of pulling-together can be rather traumatic, as the obvious hazard of trying to think about damn-near-everything is that sometimes you're going to discover that everything you know is at least a tad-bit wrong.

I've been going through one of those traumatic consolidations recently, as the lessons of my increasingly precarious life as a retail wage-worker and those of my increasingly intense exploration of some very early anarchist and proto-anarchist writings have set off ripples across what I thought I knew about libertarian social theory large enough to capsize quite a bit of stuff.

It's funny how things combine, and how changing one's position in the social scheme can revolutionize one's perspective. Certain realizations are probably only possible when the wolf is not (or not quite) at the door; others don't come until it is. Different kinds of clarity arise from different situations, and the resulting contrasts are useful, if not always nice to deal with.

A certain degree of personal and political messiness has accompanied the most recent set of epiphanies. Having worked for much of the last ten years in the twilight zone between mainstream social anarchism and what we've come to call left-libertarian market anarchism, I now find myself somewhat adrift — in large part because my encounter with the first, and largely forgotten, stage of anarchist history suggest that the two factions with which I have been associated, where most of my friends and allies still labor away, are, perhaps, unfortunate mutilations of something much more comprehensive and promising.

This is, of course, a fight I have been picking (albeit somewhat quietly) for some time. In "Unexpected dangers of the free market?,"and in the various posts collected in the two issues of LeftLiberty, I raised the question of "one-sidedness" (or "simplism," as the Fourier-influenced have put it). Proudhon, I said, "seems to call consistently for an analysis more "two-sided" than anything we have been able to put together in a divided anarchist movement. Maybe it's time to realize his ambitions." In the year+ since that comment, I've been working to provide the background texts necessary to grapple with "two-sidedness" in this context — the first step in recognizing a number of "funny things" that have happened on our way to anarchism in its current forms. One of the most important of those texts is Pierre Leroux's "Individualism and Socialism," which I recently posted in translation. [Part 1, Part 2]

What's the "funny thing" there? Nothing but the possibility of essentially having ended the "individualism" vs. "socialism" debates in the same moment as coining the terms.

If you haven't read the piece, and have any interest in following the next phases of my work on mutualism — a more direct and definitive sort of work, explicitly "Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth," if perhaps into a whole new set of libertarian difficulties — I encourage you to take a look.

Next up: Genealogical thoughts

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Pierre Leroux, "Individualism and Socialism" (part 2)


INDIVIDUALISM AND SOCIALISM.

By Pierre Leroux

[continued from previous post...]

III.

One can paint a portrait equally hideous and true of man in the state of absolute individuality and of man in the state of absolute obedience. The principle of authority, even disguised under the good name of devotion, is no better than the principle of egoism, hiding itself under the good name of liberty.

We also reject with all the forces of our soul Catholicism under all its disguises and in all its forms, whether it attaches itself again, by I know not what puerile hopes, to the old debris which are at Rome with the ruins of so many centuries, or whether, by who knows what jesuitism [escobarderie], it pretends to incarnate itself anew in Robespierre, become the legitimate successor of Gregory VII and the inquisition. And at the same time we regard as a scourge, no less fatal than papistry, the present form of individualism, the individualism of English political economy, which, in the name of liberty, makes men rapacious wolves among themselves, and reduces society to atoms, leaving moreover everything to arrange itself at random, as Epicurus said the world is arranged. For us, the papal theories of every sort and the individualist theories of every species are equally false. They could be fatal, if they were not equally powerless; but papistry, dead for some many centuries, will not prevail against the entire modern era, and the modern era, as we have demonstrated elsewhere, carries in itself the promise and the seed of a society, and is not the destruction and negation of every society.

Liberty and Society are the two equal poles of social science. Do not say that society is only the result, the ensemble, the aggregation of individuals; for we will arrive at what we have today, a dreadful pell-mell with poverty for the greatest number. Theoretically you would have still worse; for, society no longer existing, the individuality of each has no limits, and the reason of each has no rule: you would arrive at moral skepticism, at general, absolute doubt, and in politics at the exploitation of the good by the malicious, and of the people by some rascals and some tyrants.

But do not say any more that society is everything and that the individual is nothing, or that society comes before the individuals, or that the citizens are not anything but some devoted subjects of society, functionaries of society who must find, for good or ill, their satisfaction in all that which contributes to the social aim; do not make of society a sort of large animal of which we would be the molecules, the parts, or the members, of which some would be the head, the others the stomach, the others the feet, the hands, the nails or the hair. Instead of society being the result of a free and spontaneous life for all those who compose it, will not want the life of each man to be a function of the social life that you would have imagined: for you will arrive by that path only at brutalization and despotism; you would arrest, you would immobilize the human spirit, all while pretending to lead it.

Do not attempt to bring back to us the government of the Church; for it is not in vain that the human spirit for six centuries against that government, and has abolished it.

Do not attempt to apply to our era that which was suitable in previous eras, the principle of authority and sacrifice; for the authority and self-sacrifice of the previous life of Humanity aimed precisely to arrive at individuality, at personality, at liberty. That was good in the past, but it was good precisely on the condition that it would lead to a goal, and that once Humanity arrived at that goal, it would cease to be, and that this government of the world would make place for another.

We are even today the prey of these two exclusive systems of individualism and socialism, pushed back as we are from liberty by that which claims to make it reign, and from association by that which preaches it.

Some have posited the principle that every government must one day disappear, and have concluded from it that every government must from now on be confined to the narrowest dimensions: they have made of government a simple gendarme charged with responding to the complaints of the citizens. Moreover, they have declared the law atheist in any case, and have limited it to ruling the disagreements of individuals with regard to material things and the distribution of goods according to the present constitution of property and inheritance. Property thus formed has become the basis of that which remains of society among men. Each, retired on his bit of land, became absolute and independent sovereign; and all social action is reduced to making each remain master of the plot of land that inheritance, labor, chance, or crime had obtained for him: Each by himself, each for himself. Sadly, the result of such a renunciation of all social providence is that each does not have his bit of land, and that the portion of some tends always to increase, and that of the others to diminish; the well-demonstrated result is the absurd and shameful slavery of twenty-five million men over thirty.

Others, on the contrary, seeing evil, have wanted to cure it by an entirely different process. Government, that imperceptible dwarf in the first system, becomes in this one a giant hydra which embraces in its coils the entire society. The individual, on the contrary, absolute sovereign and without control in the first, is no longer anything by a humble and submissive subject: he was once independent, he could think and live according to the inspirations of nature; he became a functionary, and only a functionary; he is regimented, he has an official doctrine to believe, and the inquisition at its door. Man is no longer a free and spontaneous being, he is an instrument who obeys in spite of himself, or who, fascinated, responds mechanically to the social action, as the shadow follows the body.

While the partisans of individualism rejoice or console themselves on the ruins of society, refugees that they are in their egoism, the partisans of socialism, (2) marching bravely to what they call an organic era, strive to discover how they will bury every liberty, all spontaneity under what they call organization.

The first, entirely in the present and without future, have come as well to have no tradition, no past. For them the previous life of Humanity is only a dream without consequence. The others, carrying in the study of the past their ideas of the future, have taken up with pride the line of the catholic orthodoxy of the Middle Ages, and they have said anathema to all of the modern era, to Protestantism and to Philosophy.

Ask the partisans of individualism what they think of the equality of men: certainly, they will keep themselves from denying it, but it is for them a chimera without importance; they have no means of realizing it. Their system, on the contrary, has for consequence only the most unspeakable inequality. From this point their liberty is a lie, for it is only the smallest number who enjoy it; and society becomes, as a result of inequality, a den of rascals and dupes, a sewer of vice, suffering, immorality and crime.

Ask the partisans of absolute socialism how they reconcile the liberty of men with authority, and what they make, for example, of the liberty to think and to write: they will respond to you that society is a grand being of which nothing can disturb the functions.

We are thus between Charybdis and Scylla, between the hypothesis of a government concentrating in itself all the lights and all human morality, and that of a government deprived by its very mandate of all light and all morality; between an infallible pope on ones side and and a vile gendarme on the other.

The first call liberty their individualism, they will gladly call it a fraternity: the others call their despotism a family. Preserve us from a fraternity so little charitable, and let us avoid a family so intrusive.

Never, it is necessary to avow it, have the very bases of society been more controversial. If one speaks of equality today, if one shows the misery and absurdity of the present mercantilism, let one blacken a society where the disassociated men are not only strangers among themselves, but necessarily rivals and enemies, and all those who have in their heart the love of men, the love of the people, all those who are children of Christianity, Philosophy and the Revolution, become inflamed and approve. But let the partisans of absolute socialism come to outline their tyrannical theories, let them speak of organizing us in regiments of scientists and regiments of industrials, let them go as far as declaring against the liberty of thought, at that same instant you feel yourself repulsed, your enthusiasm freeze, your feelings of individuality and liberty rebel, you start back sadly to the present from dread of that new papacy, weighty and absorbent, which will transform Humanity into a machine, where the true living natures, the individuals, will no longer be anything by a useful matter, instead of being themselves the arbiters of their destiny.

Thus one remains in perplexity and uncertainty, equally attracted and repulsed by two opposite attractors. Yes, the sympathies of our era are equally lively, equally energetic, whether it is a question of liberty or equality, of individuality or association. The faith in society is complete, but the faith in individuality individuality is equally complete. From this results an equal impulse towards these two desired ends and an equal increase of the exclusive exaggeration of one or the other, an equal horror of either individualism or of socialism.

That disposition, moreover, is not new; it already existed in the Revolution; the most progressive men felt it. Take the Declaration of Rights of Robespierre: you will find formulated there the most energetic and absolute manner the principle of society, with a view to the equality of all; but, two lines higher, you will find equally formulated in the most energetic and absolute manner the principle of the individuality of each. And nothing which would unite, which harmonizes these two principles, placed thus both on the altar; nothing which reconciles these two equally infinite and limitless rights, these two adversaries which threaten, these two absolute and sovereign powers which both [together] rise to heaven and which each [separately] overrun the whole earth. These two principles once named, you cannot prevent yourself from recognizing them, for you sense their legitimacy in your heart; but you sense at the same time that, both born from justice, the will make a dreadful war. So Robespierre and the Convention were only able to proclaim them both, and as a result the Revolution has been the bloody theater of their struggle: the two pistols charged one against the other have fired.

We are still at the same point, with two pistols charged and [pointed] in opposite directions. Our soul is the prey of two powers that are equal and, in appearance, contrary. Our perplexity will only cease when social science will manage to harmonize these two principles, when our two tendencies will be satisfied. Then an immense contentment will take the place of that anguish.

IV.

 

In waiting for that desired moment, if one asks us for our profession of faith, we have just made it, and we are ready to repeat it; here it is: we are neither individualists nor socialists, taking these words in their absolute sense. We believe in individuality, in personality, in liberty; but we also believe in society.

Society is not the result of a contract. For the sole reason that men exist, and have relations between themselves, society exists. A man does not make an act or a thought which does not concern more or less the lot of other men. Thus, there is necessarily and divinely communion between men.

Yes, society is a body, but it is a mystical body, and we are not its members, but we live in it. Yes, each man is a fruit on the tree of Humanity; but the fruit, in order to be the product of the tree, is no less complete and perfect in itself; he contains in germ the tree which has engendered him; he becomes himself the tree, when the other will fall from old age under the shock of the winds, and it will be him who will bring new blood to nature. Thus each man reflects in his breast all of society; each man is in a certain manner the manifestation of his century, of his people and of his generation; each man is Humanity; each man is a sovereignty; each man is a law, for whom the law is made, and against which no law can prevail.

Because I live bodily in the atmosphere, and I cannot live an instant without breathing, am I a portion of the atmosphere? Because I cannot live in any way without being in relation and in communion with the external world, an I a portion of that world? No; I live with this world and in this world: that is all.

And just so, because I live in the society of men and by that society, am I a portion, a dependency of that society? No, I am a liberty destined to live in a society.

Absolute individuality has been the belief of the majority of the philosophers of the Nineteenth Century. It was an axiom in metaphysics, that there existed only individuals, and that all the alleged collective or universal beings, such as Society, Homeland, Humanity, etc., were only abstractions of our mind. These philosophers were in a grave error. They did not understand what is tangible by the senses; they did not comprehend the invisible. Because after a certain amount of time has passed, the mother is separate from the fruit that she carried in her womb, and because the mother and her child form then two distinct and separate beings, do you deny the relation which exists between them; do you deny what nature shows you even by the testimony of your senses, to know that that mother and that child are without one another beings that are incomplete, sick, and threatened with death, and that the mutual need, as well as the love, make from them one being composed of two? It is the same for Society and Humanity. Far from being independent of all society and all tradition, man takes his life in tradition and in society. He only lives because he as at one in a certain present and in a certain past. Each man, like each generation of men, draws his sap and his life from Humanity. But each man draws his life there by virtue of the faculties that he has in him, by virtue of his own spontaneity. Thus, he remains free, though associated. He is divinely united to Humanity; but Humanity, instead of absorbing him, is revealed in him.

If there are still in the world so many miserable and vicious men, of we are all affected by vice and misery, that reveals to us the ignorance and immorality which still afflicts Humanity. If Humanity was less ignorant and more moral, there would no longer be so many miserable and vicious beings in the world.

We are all responsible to one another. We are united by an invisible link, it is true, but that link is more clear and more evident to the intelligence than matter is to the eyes of the body.

From which it follows that mutual charity is a duty.

From which it follows that the intervention of man for man is a duty.

From which follows finally a condemnation of individualism.

But from that follows as well, and with an equal force, the condemnation of absolute socialism.

If God had desire that men should be parts of Humanity, he would have enchained them to one another in one great body, as the members of our body are connected to one another. To desire to enchain men thus, would have been as if, having recognized the invisible link that unites the mother and child, and which makes only one being of the two, you would desire to deny, because of that, their personality and enchain them to one another. You would return them by this to the previous state where they made strictly only one being; and, by reason of what they are now, you would constitute a state that is monstrous and as abnormal the state of absolute separation where you would have first desired to hold them. They are two, but they are united; there is relation and communion between them, but not identity. The one being who reunites them is God, who lives at once in the one and the other; and if he has separated them, it is in order that they should each have their individual life, even though they are connected to one another, and that under the relation that unites them they make only one single being. What is more, it is clear that the common life which unites them will be as much more energetic, as their individual lives are more grand. If the mother is happy, the child will be happy; and if the soul of the child is opened to enthusiasm and to virtue, the love of the mother will be will be exalted in it. Thus the social body will be made more happy and more powerful by the individuality of all its members, than if all men had been enchained to one another.

We arrive thus at that law, as evident and as certain as the laws of gravitation: "The perfection of society is the result of the liberty of each and all."

At the end of the day, to adopt either individualism or socialism, is to not understand life. Life consists essentially in the divine and necessary relation of individual and free beings. Individualism does not comprehend life, for it denies that relation. Absolute socialism does not comprehend it better; for, by distorting that relation, it destroys it. To deny life or to destroy it, these are the alternatives of these two systems, of which one, consequently, is no better than the other.

----------

(2) It is clear that, in all of this writing, it is necessary to understand by socialism, socialism as we define it in this work itself, which is as the exaggeration of the idea of association, or of society. For a number of years, we have been accustomed to call socialists all the thinkers who who occupy themselves with social reforms, all those who critique and reprove individualism, all those who speak, in different terms, of social providence, and of the solidarity which units together not only the members of a State, but the entire Human Species; and, by this title, ourselves, who have always battled absolute socialism, we are today designated as socialist. We are undoubtedly socialist, but in this sense: we are socialist, if you mean by socialism the Doctrine which will sacrifice none of the terms of the formula: Liberty, Fraternity, Equality, Unity, but which reconciles them all. (1847.) — I can only repeat here, with regard to the use of the word Socialism in all of this extract, what I said previously (pages 121 and 160 of this Volume). When I invented the term Socialism in order to oppose it to the term Individualism, I did not expect that, ten years later, that term would be used to express, in a general fashion, religious Democracy. What I attacked under that name, were the false systems advanced by the alleged disciples of Saint-Simon and by the alleged disciples of Rousseau led astray following Robespierre and Babœuf, without speaking of those who amalgamated at once Saint-Simon and Robespierre with de Maistre and Bonald. I refer the reader to the Histoire du Socialisme (which they will find in one of the following volumes of this edition), contenting myself to protest against those who have taken occasion from this to find me in contradiction with myself. (1850.)

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]]

Pierre Leroux, "Individualism and Socialism" (part 1)


INDIVIDUALISM AND SOCIALISM.

By Pierre Leroux

(1834.—After the massacres on the Rue Transnonain.)

At times, even the most resolute hearts, those most firmly fixed on the sacred belief of progress, come to lose courage and to feel full of disgust at the present. In the 16th century, when one murdered in our civil wars, it was in the name of God and with a crucifix in the hand; it was a question of the most sacred things, of things which, when once they have procured our conviction and our faith so legitimately dominate our nature that it has nothing to do but obey, and even its most beautiful appanage disappears thus voluntarily before the divine will. In the name of what principle does one today send off, by telegraph, pitiless orders, and transform proletarian soldiers into the executioners of their own class? Why has our epoch seen cruelties which recall St. Bartholemew? Why have men been fanaticized to the point of making them coldly slaughter the elderly, women, and children? Why has the Seine rolled with murders which recalls the arquebuscades of window of the Louvre? It is not in the name of God and eternal salvation that it is done. It is in the name of material interests.

Our century is, it seems, quite vile, and we have degenerated even from the crimes of our fathers. To kill in the manner of Charles IX or Torquemada, in the name of faith, in the name of the Church, because one believes that God desires it, because one has a fanatic spirit, exalted by the fear of hell and the hope of paradise, this is still to have in one's crime some grandeur and some generosity. But to be afraid, and by dint of cowardice, to become cruel; to be full of solicitude for material goods that after all death will carry away from you, and to become ferocious from avarice; to have no belief in eternal things, no certainty of the difference between the just and the unjust, and, in absolute doubt, to cling to one's lucre with an intensity rivaling the most heated fanaticism, and to gain from these petty sentiments energy sufficient to equal in a day the bloodiest days of our religious wars, this is what we have seen and what was never seen before.

What indeed is the principle conquerors of the day have put forward? In the name of what idea have they declared in advance that they would bequeath to posterity the example of a decimated generation? And what is the drive that they have made play to gain that victory? It is neither an idea nor a principle. Everyone knows it. It is not a secret for anyone that the great words order and justice today only conceal the interests of the shops. Business is bad, and it is the innovators, it is said, that stand in its way: war then against the innovators. The workers of Lyon associate in order in order to maintain the rate of their salary: war, then, and war to the death, against the works of Lyon. Always, at the bottom of all of this, are the interests of the shops. In the days of mourning, so often renewed these past three years, the people have been told: here is a holy, just, legitimate idea, by virtue of which you can kill men. It is not so. But on the eve of each riot one cries to the people: Tomorrow your profit will be diminished, your daily receipts will be less, your material satisfaction will be compromised And that has been enough, and we have seen the shopkeepers in hunting gear, armed with double-barreled rifles, to aim more accurately and to kill two instead of one, go merrily to hunt among the blocks. Is there in such a spectacle something to trouble our convictions, and to make us doubt progress; and, since we are condemned to civil war, must we long for civil war as our ancestors knew it, atrocious but religious, deliberately bathing itself in blood, but with eyes lifted towards heaven? In that fury which, according to Bonald, often sent the innocent and the guilty, pell-mell, before their eternal judge, because it deliberately sacrificed the earth to heaven, we must regret the presence of the monster egoism, which has nothing of God, which, like the harpies, has only the hunger of its belly!

In past times, there was the nobility, and there was the clergy: the nobility had a maxim not to occupy itself with lucre; the clergy condemned usury, and regarded as inferior the condition of merchants. There were certainly men then who knew no other morality than their own selfish interests, and no other reason for things than their calculating tables; but they had not set the tone and did not lay down the law for society; they were not the arbiters and legislators. If they wished to rise that far, and to apply their narrow rules to things in general, they were ridiculous, and the poets availed themselves gladly of the comedy and satire, where they came immediately below the lackeys. Today these men enjoy the leading role; the very same society has no other law, no other basis nor end, than the satisfaction of their affairs. Humanity has not lived and suffered to bring about the reign of the merchants. Jesus Christ once chased the merchants from the temple: there are today no other temples than those of the merchants. The palace of the Bourse has replaced Notre Dame; and we know no other blazon than the double-entry cash-books. One passes from a boutique to the Chamber of Deputies, and one carries in public affairs the spirit of the sales counter. Our ancestors made crusades: we, we wisely calculate that that cost the bourgeois the conquest of Algiers, and we will gladly abandon to the English the civilization of Africa, if it gets a little expensive. The zeal of St. Vincent de Paul appears stupid to the general councils: is it not a revolting iniquity to charge the rich for the upkeep of the children that the poor abandon! Since money is everything, and the order of the bourgeois has replaced nobles and priests, is it astonishing that the blood of one bourgeois does not appear to us overpaid by the blood of a thousand proletarians, and is it not completely natural put the interests of the shops on a level with the blood of men? I kill, says the merchant, because I have been disturbed in my affairs: it is a compensation that is due to me for the loss that I feel. By this account, Shylock was right to want to carve human flesh: had it not been purchased?

Seen in this way, our century could not be more base. Material interests, there is the great watchword of society; and many innovators have themselves ignominiously eliminated from their mottoes the moral and intellectual amelioration of the people, in order to preserve only their material betterment.

Is it the case that we will sink more and more in this way, and that the shame may be reserved for France that, having proclaimed to the world the brotherhood of man, it transforms itself into what Napoleon has called with scorn a nation of shopkeepers, supported in their avaricious domination by the facile courage of an army of stipendiaries?

We know of noble hearts, of high intelligences, which fear it. We fall back, they cry, into Roman corruption and into the moral of the barbarians: of what use to us are eighteen hundred years of Christianity, and the conquests of science and industry?

It is to these generous, but discouraged, hearts, that I intend to respond, in occupying myself with political economy, that is, with the material aspect of society. I will attempt first, today, to expose for them the sense of that greediness which shows itself, it is true, among all the classes, but which, among men of power, struts about so hideously, sheltered by the bayonets of our soldiers; and in the subsequent articles, I will attempt to demonstrate that if the social question presents itself in our time primarily as a question of material wealth, it is because the human sciences are very close to finding the solution.

II

We say, then, that that exclusive preoccupation with material things which reigns today, that species of domination by egoism and the material, is nothing which must surprise or discourage us. In all periods of renewal, the renovation of material things has been one of the forms of progress. Every great human evolution is at once material, moral, and intellectual, and cannot not have these three aspects. To imagine that Christianity, for example, or any other great religious revolution, has related solely in its principles what is called heaven and not to the things of the earth, to morals or ideas, and not to interests, would be an absurd illusion, conceivable only by those who know the foundation of Christianity only by the sermons of their priest, but impossible for whoever has glanced at history. Christianity has been able to say: "My kingdom is not of this world; but by doing so it has powerfully altered the material constitution of that world, out of which it would direct the contemplation of men, towards a mysterious future. In the presence of pagan society, founded on individualism and slavery, Christianity posed the Essene way of life and the community of good; and from that new form given to material life resulted the dissolution of pagan society, the overthrow of the Roman world, and, as a result, the uselessness of slavery and its abolition. In the Protestant era, wasn't something analogous seen? Didn't we then see Christianity, attempting to regenerate itself, struggle for earthly goods against the Church, holder of those goods? Material interests played a huge role in the Reformation. The Reformation began in the 14th century with a violent and general struggle in Europe against the religious orders. It was the religious orders, that society in community without women and children, which, consequently, was only an exception and allowed to subsist outside of it the great, the true society, had however amassed such an enormous portion of the property, that the other society could no longer live; it was necessary then to recapture from it the land and all the instruments of labor that it had monopolized. Thus in the greatest and most exalted epochs, one finds again the question of material life.



But today it is evident that that which was only a secondary characteristic of previous revolutions must become a principle characteristic. Indeed, what do we want and where do we tend, on the faith of all the prophecies? The one who truly follows Jesus Christ with an intelligent heart, and not as a copyist without intelligence, does not say so absolutely that the kingdom of God is not on earth.(1) He understands that the epoch of realization approaches more and more. The stoicism of Zeno and the Christian stoicism are with reason relegated to their place in history. These two doctrines, or rather that doctrine, is today without social value. That was the debut of an immense career that Humanity has had to follow up to us. But where we have arrived today, heaven and earth begin to be without connection and without relation; and, instead of returning us toward the point of departure, towards the detachment and the retreat into ourselves of Jesus Christ and of Zeno, we must, by the efforts of our thought and the energy of our soul, transform the earth in such a way that the justice of heaven reigns there, in order one day to find that heaven so promised to our wishes.

The idea has been elaborated and preached by Christianity to all men, of a better world than the one which existed, of a world of equality and fraternity, of a world without despots and without slaves. Christianity has raised up humanity by hope; it has mystically announced its destiny; it has connected to the memories of its cradle, to its primitive and natural liberty, to its traditions of a past golden age, of Eden and of the native parade, the firm and assured sentiment of a golden age to come, of a paradise on earth, where the good will reign after the defeat of evil, and where man, redeemed by the divine word, will again find happiness, and enjoy an unalterable felicity. And, at that prophecy, one sees human society divide itself in two: the religious society, indifferent to the present enjoyments of the earth, or only using them in order to practice complete equality, community, individual non-property, as symbol of what will one day be the justice of heaven; and the secular society, which continua, under the teachings of the other and under its spiritual government, human life such as one had known it previously. Now, by Protestantism and by Philosophy, the religious society has been destroyed, and there is today only one society. The consequence, I repeat, isn't it clear and evident? Isn't it obvious that the principles of the world prophesied and awaited for so many centuries by the religious society must be realized more and more in the only society that exists today? Or else Humanity would have declined and degenerated, Christianity would have been an imposture and a chimera, and everything, in the eighteen hundred years which have passed, would only be comedy and deception. The earth, then, is promised to justice and equality.

Christianity, Reform, Philosophy, follow one another like the acts of a drama which approaches its dénouement. Those who consider history on in a casual manner, and page by page, must often find contradictory and incoherent that which is harmonic and continuous. Seeing the Reformation succeed Catholicism, and Philosophy succeed the Reformation, how many people are shocked, and see there only negation, discord and uncertainty! It is because they do not understand the series and the generation of things. So for them, there is death, there is nothingness, in these alternations and these contrasts, while for us, it is life. Their eyes offended by deep darkness, there where a dazzling light shines in ours. For what contradiction is there between the successive of a single drama, between the connected and coherent phases of a single evolution? It is only necessary to rise up enough to grasp and contemplate all at once the spirit of evolution in its entirety; and for anyone who is enlightened, that effort is not difficult. That alleged anarchy of Catholic Christianity, of the Reformation, and of Philosophy, succeeding and combating each other by turns, is not a very obscure enigma, the sense of which would be difficult to discover. We see Christianity first raise above the world its mystical paradise, like the seed which begins to form in the air, and which then waits until the winds spill it on the ground. The Reformation came after, which spread the promise to all of society, and, by laying waste to all pious retreats where the spiritual life had been concentrated, made only one single people, that it raises to spiritual dignity. Then in its turn comes Philosophy, which further extends this level, and which finally, explaining the prophecy, interprets the reign of God on earth as perfectibility. Christianity, Protestantism, and Philosophy, have thus driven towards the same end, and accomplished by various phases one single work. We are the last wave that the hand of God has pushed up to here on the shore of time: but the consequence of all the previous progress has not escaped us, and that obvious competition of three great phases which divided the centuries which preceded us is the token of all the progress to come.

Thus the earth, I repeat, is promised to justice and equality. Material goods are in themselves neither good nor bad. All the metaphysicians have come to see in matter and in body the limit of forces, the place where finite intelligences meet and are mutually revealed. Bodies and matter are the field of our faculties, the necessary means of their exercise, the milieu in which they are manifested. That there is in us, and in each of us, a force, created or uncreated, which animates us, constitutes us, and survives the destruction of what we call our body, is for me an obvious truth; but it is always the case that the force, either in this life, or in our previous or future lives, exerts itself only through the intermediary of bodies, precisely because it has limits and it is finite. The Christians, in the good days of Christianity, and even during the history of Christianity, have never understood the activity of the soul at the end of time without the resurrection of the body; and it has always been of the belief that man is, according to the expression of Bossuet, a soul and a body united together, an intelligence destined to live in a body. The Manicheans alone, exaggerating and distorting spiritualism, have entered into the error of regarding matter as absolute evil; and, by that same error, they fell inevitably under the empire of evil, in wanting to escape it.

Thus, whether we appeal to religious traditions and to the previous life of Humanity, or whether we consult only modern reason and the general agreement of the men of our era; far from condemning the use of material goods, we must see that none of our most noble faculties can be exercised without the mediation of these goods.

From this is follows that, all having been called to the spiritual life and to the dignity of men by the words of the philosophers, all must soar, and that legitimately, towards the conquest of material goods.

It is his dignity, it is his capacity as a man, it is his liberty, it is his independence, that the proletarian demands, when he aspires to possess material goods; for he knows that without these goods he is only an inferior, and that engaged, as he is, in the labors of the body, he partakes more of the condition of the domestic animals than that of man.

It is the same sentiment which pushes those who these goods to preserve them. Of course, we are not the apologists of the wealthy classes, we are with the people, and we will always be for the poor against the privileges of the wealthy; but we know that, whatever the softness and the egoism which reign in these classes, men absolutely corrupted and bad are the exception. In the present struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, that is of those who do not possess the instruments of labor against those who possess them, the bourgeoisie represents even, at first glance, more obviously than the proletarians, the sentiment of individuality and liberty. The wealthy possess that liberty, and they defend it, while the proletarians are so unhappy and so deprived of it, that a tyrant who promised to free them by enriching them could perhaps, in their ignorance, make of them for some time his slaves.

We find then good and legitimate that tendency of those who possess liberty and individuality to preserve it; but couldn't they find equally just and legitimate the demands of those who do not possess them, and want to?

There is, we say, the sense and the justification of that struggle for material goods, which seems, at first glance, the dominant character of our era, and which would dishonor it if one did not consider what it reveals, and if one had not studied the religious necessity scope of it. That demand for material goods is not at all immoral: very far from that, it is the result and the consequence of all the previous progress of Humanity.

Certainly, the philosophers who only hold as good, in human nature, the side of devotion, must find our era deplorable in all regards. For pure devotion, where will they find it? In their hearts, doubtless, and in the hearts of a certain number of generous men who take up the cause of the people. But society, viewed en masse, and in its truest aspect, did not meet their expectations. Devotion, as they sanctify it, they will find it neither in the wealthy classes nor among the poor, neither in the bourgeoisie nor among the proletarians. The first want to preserve, and the others to acquire: where is the devotion?

It is that pure devotion, however noble it may be, is only an individual passion, or, if you wish, a particular virtue of human nature, but is not human nature in its entirety. A man who, in all his life, will be posed from the standpoint of devotion, would be an insane being; and a society of men for whom the single rule would be devotion, and who would regard as bad every individual act, would be an absurd society. Thus, every theory which would found itself on devotion as on the most general formula of society, and who would deduce then from that expression some laws and institutions that is would have a hope of applying with force to society, would be false and dangerous.

But, on the contrary, a general principle which represents and expresses complete human nature, is the principle of liberty and individuality.

Our fathers put on their flag: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Let their motto still be our own. They did not conclude from I know not what social system to the individual; they did not say: Society must inevitably be organized in such and such a manner, and we are going to chain the citizen to that organization. They said: Society owes satisfaction to the individuality of all, it is the means of liberty for all.

The sentiment of liberty, as the Eighteenth Century and the French Revolution have felt and promulgated them, is an immense progress over the devotion or devoutness of Christianity, and it would be a regression to desire today to despotically organize society according to the particular views that one may have, instead of founding it on the principles of individuality and liberty.

Proclaim the system that will best satisfy the individuality and liberty of all, and do not fear that the devotion of the people would be lacking for you; for such an aim will be felt by all, and it is the only one which could excite devotion today. But devotion for its own sake would be as absurd a theory as the art for art's sake of certain litterateurs.

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(1) Jesus, in the Gospel, did not say, "My kingdom is not of this world; that was the bad translators who, by suppressing three words in one phrase of St. John, have made it say this. Jesus said literally, "My kingdom is not yet of these times." And as his kingdom, as it is explained in the same passage, is the reign of justice and truth, and as it adds that this kingdom will come on the earth, it follows that, very far from have prophesied that the principles of equality will never be realized on earth, Jesus on the contrary prophesied their realization, their reign, their arrival.

 [Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Note: Thanks to buermann for the proofreading assist.