Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Responses on Locke's proviso

In my initial thoughts on Locke's proviso, I wasn't doing much more than testing the waters, so to speak, or getting some new cards on the table. I had been wrestling, semi-unsuccessfully, with a follow-up post to my recent piece on markets, government and the environment, and decided it would make as much sense to tackle some key property issues head-on, as to wade any deeper, right now, into a debate that doesn't seem to be going anywhere very useful. The responses so far suggest that maybe this stuff isn't going anywhere either — at least without some real care in the exposition. David Ellerman suggests I read his book, and Iain McKay points me to Ellerman, Rothbard, and the importance of freedom, which I have presumably slighted in some way. James is concerned that a property theory that applies only to non-rivalrous goods doesn't accomplish the things (autonomy, conflict resolution, stability, stewardship, etc.) that we expect a property system to accomplish, and says we "need a way of universalising property rights without destroying the grounds for them."

In case it wasn't clear, I agree that Locke was inconsistent. I also agree that the points raised by Ellerman about how Locke defines "the individual's labor" are important, particularly as they open the door to exploitation. When Ellerman criticizes property theory for neglecting acquisition, I'm right there. It seems to me, indeed, that it may well be the non-proviso propertarians who are most vulnerable to the charge of having destroyed the grounds for property rights, by that neglect of the question of legitimate acquisition. Locke muddied the waters considerably, as I have noted, by positing an initial property-in-common. It essentially places the private-propertarian in the position of having to solve the resource-apportionment problem faced by communism, while also presenting a coherent theory of "property" which accounts for transformations from common to private property, as well as from private property appropriated by mixing to "unmixed" commodity-property susceptible to transmission by exchange. That's a fairly tall order, and one which I am not sure any of the competing property theories actually fill. But, as I have noted before, my interest in Locke's theory comes from the fact that he appears to have at least made a solid, relatively elegant start at covering the required ground. Allow me to repeat my earlier summary:
It seems to me that the strength of the model is that it gives us a clear mechanism for appropriation (labor mixing), a rationale for that appropriation (extension of the self), and a rule for avoiding the monopolization of property (the provisos.) That’s pretty elegant. Add an active, “unmixing” nature to the picture, and apply some attention and ingenuity to how expropriation will adjust property claims to fit the demands of the provisos, and you have some pretty simple, and fairly sustainable, guidelines. The provisos make the whole apparatus explicitly social in nature; changes of various sorts will require adjustments, expropriations and reappropriations (all of a voluntary sort, if folks are following the “rules.”) What puzzles me is that non-proviso Lockeans don’t seem to admire any of that except the fact that the rule of labor-mixing seems simple. It’s precisely all the dynamic potential, and the elegance of the rationale (the fact that self-ownership and the ownership of chattel or real property don’t have to be treated as separate) that they seem to oppose. What non-proviso Lockeans draw from Locke seems to be a ritual of appropriation with little or no logical connection to even the principles — like self-ownership — that they appeal to. Occupancy and use is certainly a lot less cut-and-dried, but compared to the “correct position” it certainly seems a lot more robust and complete.
I've very sympathetic to the concerns of both Iain and James. On the one hand, private property in rivalrous goods seems as much like a privilege as a self-evident and universal right. And the supposed ability of such a right to reduce conflict is really primarily a matter of reducing recourse. And when that reduced recourse is attached to the right to defensive or retaliatory force, it would be nice to have a better elaborated notion of justice that "first come, first served." If the things that we expect private property systems to do can't actually be done consistently by them, there's no reason to keep flogging that dead horse; and if the things presented as universal, self-evident rights appear to be privileges granted in an arbitrary and unequal manner, then we should probably look elsewhere. On the other hand, the sorts of things that we would like private property systems to fix are certainly often worth fixing, and much of the progress toward the fixes has come out of the struggle over what should constitute socially-recognized, individual or private property.

Unfortunately, I frequently feel that, despite the importance attributed to questions of property, we seldom approach them with the sort of seriousness that critically important questions really deserve. In particular, I'm afraid that anarchist discussions of property seldom escape mild variations on either a communism which does not want to wrestle with the problem of property (although common property presumably needs a coherent theory just as much as private property), and a propertarianism that does not want to think of property as a problem. The dichotomy has even been read back onto Proudhon, via the famous Hagbard Celine "property-1/property-2/property-3" distinction. While Wilson/Celine acknowledges Proudhon's three characterizations of property ("theft," "impossible," "liberty"), he reduces them down to two, and treats those two as separate concepts sharing a name. But Proudhon, critically, did not treat "property as theft" and "property as liberty" as different things. He never explicitly worked through the permutations of the connections he set up, but his work makes it clear that if property manages to accomplish its "aim" of liberty, it is not by ceasing to be "theft" (an exclusive form of appropriation rooted in individual absolutism, an over-reaching that denies the basic interconnectedness of individuals), but (as he said in 1842) by balancing and universalizing that over-reaching, which is necessary for the development of the individual. The three aspects of property exist simultaneously, and the key to understanding Proudhon's theory probably comes from working out the details of their general equivalence, as a step towards firmly establishing the grounds on which they might be universalized. There is a sense in which "liberty is theft" or "liberty is impossible," but also perhaps that "theft is impossible" (or even that "impossibility is theft.") This undoubtedly isn't the place to attempt to sketch out all the permutations, but I think that such a sketch is possible, without straying too many steps from Proudhon's explicit statements on property. Some of this is already laid out in my posts on the "gift economy of property." The one thing I would add or emphasize here is that the aspect of property which contributes most importantly to the continued, progressive liberty of the individual is not that of "use" (though that is necessary), but rather the aspect of "abuse" (by which Proudhon meant a certain socially-sanctioned leeway to experiment — and sometimes err — in the application of resources.)

It is in order to clarify that point, which probably needs a lot of clarification for many readers, that I want to focus on the details of some simple acts of appropriation, starting with a drink of water from a river, and explore the ways in which "property," in its various aspects, might or might not enter into the question. I'll probably take it pretty slowly, emphasizing the somewhat-neglected question of property's "im/possibility."

[to be continued...]

Friday, June 25, 2010

Some thoughts on Locke's proviso

Nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land, by improving it, any prejudice to any other man, since there was still enough, and as good left; and more than the yet unprovided could use. So that, in effect, there was never the less left for others because of his enclosure for himself: for he that leaves as much as another can make use of, does as good as take nothing at all. No body could think himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draught, who had a whole river of the same water left him to quench his thirst: and the case of land and water, where there is enough of both, is perfectly the same.—John Locke, Second Treatise on Government.
Locke's "enough and as good" proviso is, of course, rejected by most propertarians who call themselves "Lockeans." It's not hard to imagine why, given how high it may set the bar for legitimate appropriation. If the individual appropriation of private property really was the equivalent of taking "nothing at all," if it was a "good draught," by individual standards, which still left "a whole river," then we would obviously have a whole lot less to fight about.

It's interesting to see property limited to what are essentially non-rivalrous goods. That's certainly not the picture we get from those latter-day "Lockean" propertarians who consider the proviso either unimportant, meaningless outside of "the state of nature," or necessarily fulfilled by pretty much any kind of free exchange. Indeed, in those circles the norm seems to be to most closely associate private property with rivalrous goods. The market solution is inevitably to put key resources under private control.

I think there are pretty good reasons to suspect that propertarians have pretty well abandoned Locke's principles, at least with regard to appropriation. The language of the original proviso seems to say: "Sure, you can have private property, as long as it doesn't matter." Private property is fine, as long as it does not diminish the store of original resources/common property. I'm sure most of us would be happy to concede an individual right which has neither social costs nor costs to other individuals. That seems like a pretty good selling point for a universal and self-evident right. For those appropriable resources, there is no question of forced "equality:" everyone can take "a good draught" that suits them, as long of the definition of a "draught" and the means of taking it remain roughly "human scale."

Of course, we don't need to insist on resources being "common property" prior to appropriation, and there are probably good reasons not to. Very little about this original "common property" and "individual property" seems to indicate a common character, and Locke's scheme is probably strengthened by not confusing the issue unnecessarily. We have a relatively clear mechanism for individual appropriation in labor-mixing. Nothing is made clearer by assuming an "original mixing" by some collective person (society, humanity, etc.) and much is potentially obscured, since individual appropriation would then appear to be a form of unilateral expropriation, and the claims of the individual to property would be a violation of that previous property in a pretty literal manner: at best we would have a differend between competing property regimes; at worst, (individual) "property is theft," in a pretty straightforward way. There are certainly potential uses of the notion of "common property" that would not simply involved positing a completely different system under a similar name, but, again, there's not much about the way Locke poses the issue that helps us think them through, so I'm content to treat resources as initially unowned. This helps salvage the consistency of Locke's system, and gives the derivative systems at least a fighting chance.

Most contemporary propertarians will probably have already pretty well written off this sort of analysis, since we are, presumably, no longer "in the state of nature," and all this stuff about appropriation is old news anyway. Labor-mixing and all that stuff are just an origin story. The exchange of properties is justified by the very act of exchange. And, face it, nobody in their right mind is going to drink water from a river anyway.

I'm honestly pretty unimpressed with the tendency of propertarians to assert the supreme importance of a principled belief in property rights, while playing, it seems to me, pretty fast and loose with the details. A proviso is, after all, a condition or restriction--and in the case of Lockean property theory, it seems to be the condition or restriction which makes the right of property self-evident and capable of being universalized. That's no little thing. The difference between a system of property that seems to apply only to essentially non-rivalrous goods, and one which associates property with rivalry is no little thing. To go from a system which leaves "the whole river" after each appropriation to one which can hardly imagine anything unowned is a pretty remarkable journey. Perhaps I can be forgiven for wishing to linger awhile at the proverbial river's edge, particularly as it seems to me that this deceptively simple business of taking a drink of water is perhaps not as simple as all that.

Three years ago, almost to the day, I wrote this bit about individualist anarchism and ecology, asking:
"how, given the involvement of the individual in complex, far-flung economic and social networks, is it possible to act as an individual in an ecological sense? What would than entail? Individualists who wish to act only at their own cost can't stop exploring the costs when they find their "footprint" extends, in however dispersed a fashion, over the horizon."
I ended the post with a hope of returning to the questions soon. Better late, I suppose, than never.  Over the next week or so, I hope to pick up those threads again, in the context of Locke's proviso, Leroux's circulus, Proudhon's claim that "property is impossible," and the questions raised by the Gulf oil spill. I want to look closely at the individual taking a drink from a river, and explore some hard questions about ecological footprints, the nature of "individual" action in western societies, and the possibility of a proviso-Lockean property within mutualism.

[to be continued...]

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Newly translated commentary on Stirner

Check out the Vagabond Theorist blog for a translation of the "Introduction" to the 2001 edition of the Italian version of Max Stirner's Der Einzige und sein Eigentum. The translation is obviously approximate in a couple of places, but Massimo Passamani's provocative reading of Stirner is sufficiently clear. Thanks to the Vagabond Theorist himself for making this available.

Markets, Government and the Environment

I stand by my previous observation that without some practical acknowledgment of ecological realities, no institution can properly address a problem like the Gulf oil spill. It seems clear that the freedom-to-function of a market is a separate issue from the various forces, ideologies and knowledge-sets that shape the activity and perceived interests of the economic actors involved. That means, of course, that a "market" can freely function towards quite a number of specific ends, depending on how the economic actors understand their interests.  It may also complicate the sorts of simple oppositions between free market function and governmental intervention that drive so much market anarchist thought.

In the left-libertarian responses, there is a lot of emphasis on regulatory capture—which amounts to the ability of certain economic actors to determine how "common goods" will be defined and protected—and the ways in which the intervention of the (captured) regulatory state have distorted the market incentives for everyone. When you compare a captured governmental apparatus to a free market, one would certainly expect the free contender to look pretty good—so I'm not sure how fair the comparisons really are. But there are, it seems to me, other and quite serious objections to the sort of claims being made for the free market's ability to deal with environmental concerns. The most troubling of these may be a sort of variation on the problem of "conflation"—its flip-side, perhaps—where the workings of the unfree market are presumed to be radically different, at least where it counts, from their free workings. To my progressive friends, regulatory capture looks like interference in the free functioning of a democratic government by "the market." You can say to them, "Well, it's not a free market," but the obvious comeback is, "Well, neither is it a free government."

Kevin Carson points to the obvious shortcomings of the existing regulatory state:
Think:  this is the most “progressive” president, with the largest Democratic majority, likely to be elected in a generation.  If this guy lacks the political will to make full use of the powers available to him in holding a dirtbag like Hayward accountable in a smoking gun case like this, what good’s a regulatory state?
A regulatory state that works properly only when completely staffed with Dudley Do-Rights, who never sleep on the job (especially with the people they’re supposed to be regulating) is a regulatory state that will never work.  In the real world, government is a lot more apt to protect the corporations against you than vice versa.
And maybe he's right that this is as good as it's likely to get for the progressives for awhile. But we don't have to look very far back to find presumably more conservative regimes that showed more willingness to act in the interests of the people. Obama and the Democrats would certainly be unable to pass legislation like the Endangered Species Act, let alone something like the National Park Service Act. But I'm not sure that tells us anything except that the most progressive government likely to be elected in a generation falls somewhere to the right of Richard Nixon or Teddy Roosevelt on some critical issues. The current regulatory state is what is left after decades of dismantling. In the realm of environmental protection, we've seen three decades of general retreat, with a few high-profile battles standing in for an environmental policy. Reagan-era agencies like the MMS were captured from the beginning.

What seems obvious is that the current government is "progressive" in the same way that our actually-existing market is "free"—that is, it's not progressive in any meaningful sense, and it is not at all what real progressives would think of as a functioning regulatory state. To the extent that we want to move from criticism of the current regime to comparison with market alternatives, I would want to know: 1) what is the free-est market we are likely to see in the next generation; and/or 2) what would a freely-functioning regulatory state look like. If we're going to talk tough about "the real world," there's no escaping some very hard questions about how much of the capture of the state has been in accord with market strategies that would make just as much sense in a free market as they presumably do under actually-existing capitalism.

In the battles over logging old-growth timber, for instance, short-term profits repeatedly trumped long-term industry sustainability, and there's not much reason to believe that a free market would have made much of a difference. As willing as some federal agencies were to put public land to private uses, and as blatantly political as the "science" of some of the most use-oriented agencies became, it's hard to imagine what private enterprise would have concerned itself with questions like biodiversity and endangered species or ecosystems in the first place.

There's clearly much more to say, but that's about all I have the energy to tackle at the moment...

Friday, June 04, 2010

Proudhon on Property (1846) - Conclusion

Here is the final section of Proudhon's study on property, from the Contradictions. The other sections I posted recently will appear, in full or part, in the forthcoming AK Press anthology, but this section didn't make the cut for various reasons, not the least of which was its difficulty. The translation is still considerably rougher than the others in a few places, but I think most of it is clear and very interesting. 


As of today, I have officially begun a revision and annotation of Benjamin R. Tucker's translations of the first two memoirs on property. Since the translations are generally quite good, this should be a fairly straightforward project, at the end of which I will turn my attention to the third memoir, the Warning to Proprietors, and the Literary Majorats, which deals with intellectual property. With a little luck, I should have the texts for a much expanded Proudhon Seminar prepared by late summer or fall.


THE SYSTEM OF ECONOMIC CONTRADICTIONS
CHAPTER XI

EIGHTH EPOCH.—PROPERTY

[concluded from Part 4]

§ IV. — Demonstration of the hypothesis of God by property.

If God didn’t exist, there would be no proprietors: that is the conclusion of political economy.

And the conclusion of social science is this: Property is the crime of the Supreme Being. There is for man only one duty, only one religion, it is to renounce God. Hoc est primum and maximum mandatum.

It is proven that the establishment of property among men has not been a matter of choice and philosophy: its origin, like that of royalty, like that of languages and forms of worship, is entirely spontaneous, mystical, in a word, divine. Property belongs to the great family of instinctive beliefs, which, under the mantle of religion and authority, still reigns everywhere over our overproud species. Property, in a word, is itself a religion: it has its theology, political economy; its casuistics, jurisprudence; its mythology and its symbols, in the external forms of justice and of contracts. The historical origin of property, like that of every religion, is hidden in the shadows. Asked about itself, it responds with the fact of its existence; it explains itself with legends, and give allegories for truths. Finally, property, like every religion once more, is subject to the law of development. Thus one sees it by turns as simple right of and habitation, as among the Germans and the Arabs; patrimonial possession, inalienable in perpetuity, as among the Jews; feudal and emphyteutic as in the Middle Ages; absolute and circulable at the will of the proprietor, pretty much as the Romans knew it, and as we have it today. But already property, come to its apogee, turns towards its decline: attacked by commandité, by the new laws of mortgage, by expropriation for reasons of public utility, by the innovations of the crédit agricole, by the new theories on rental [louage], etc., the moment approaches when it will no longer be anything but the shadow of itself.

By these general traits, we cannot mistake the religious character of property.

That mystique and progressive character shows itself especially in the singular illusion that property causes its own theoreticians, and which consists in this that the plus one develops, reforms and ameliorates property, the more one advances its ruin, and that one always believes it more when in reality one believes it less: an illusion which, moreover, is common to all religions.

It is thus that the Christianity of Saint Paul, the most philosophical of the apostles, is already no longer the Christianity of Saint Jean; the theology of Thomas Aquinas is not the same as that of Augustine and Athanasius; and the Catholicism of MM. Bautain, Bûchez and Lacordaire is not the Catholicism of Bourdaloue and Bossuet. Religion, for the modern mystics, who imagine they enlarge the old ideas while they strangle them, hardly anything more than human fraternity, the unity of the peoples, the solidarity and harmony in the management of the globe. Religion is above all love, always love. Pascal would have been scandalized by the erotic aspirations of the devout of our time. God, to the nineteenth century, is the most pure love; religion is love; morality is still love. While for Bossuet the dogma was everything, because from dogma must arise charity and the works of charity; charity is placed by the moderns at the first rank, and the dogma is reduced to a formula insignificant by itself and which takes all its value from its content, namely, love, or, more properly, morality.

That is why the true enemies of religion, those who at all times will work most for its ruin, were always those who interpreted it with the most zeal, seeking in it a philosophical sense, striving to make it reasonable, according to the vow/wish of Saint Paul, one of the first who gave himself up to that impossible work of the agreement of reason with faith. The true enemies of religion, I say, are these quasi-rationalists who claim to reduce it to what they call its principles, without realizing that they drive it to the tomb, and who, under pretext of freeing religion from the letter that kills, that is, from the symbolism which is its essence, and to teach it according to the spirit that gives life, in other words, according to reason which doubts and science which demonstrates, revising the tradition ceaselessly, to distort the faith, twisting the sense of the scriptures, arrives, by an insensible degradation of the dogma, to the formal negation of the dogma. Religion, say these false logicians on the basis of an etymology of Cicero, religion is the bond of humanity; while they should say: religion is the sign, the emblem of the social law. Now, that emblem fades everyday from the friction of critique, there remains only the expectation of a reality that positive science alone can determine and reach.

So property, once one has ceased to defend it in its original brutality, and one speaks of disciplining it, of subjecting it to morals, of subordinating it to the state, in a word of socializing it, property collapses, it perishes. It perishes, I say, because it is progressive; because its idea is incomplete and its nature is not at all final; because it is the principle moment of a series of which only the ensemble can give a true idea, in a word because it is a religion. What one looks to preserver, and that in reality on pursues under the name of property, is no longer property; it is a new form of possession, without example in the past, and that one strives to deduce from the principles or presumed motives of property, en suite de that illusion of logic which always makes us suppose at the origin or the end a thing that which it is necessary to seek in the thing itself, namely, its meanings and its scope.

But if the property is a religion, and, like every religion, it is progressive, it has, like every religion as well, its own specific object. Christianity and Buddhism are religions of penance, or of the education of humanity; Mohammedanism is the religion of fate; monarchy and democracy are one and the same religion, the religion of authority; philosophy itself is the religion of reason. What is this particular religion, the most persistent of the religions, which must lead all the others in his fall and yet only perish the last, to which already its sectarians no longer believe, property?

Since property manifests itself by occupation and use, since it aims to strengthen and extend monopoly by domain and heredity, since by means of the rent it gathers without labor, and by mortgages compromised without caution, since it is resistant to society, since its rule is good pleasure, and since it must perish by justice, property is the religion of FORCE.

The religious fables give testimony to it. Cain, the proprietor, according to Genesis, captured the land with his lance, surrounded it with stakes, makes a property of it, and kills Abel, the poor, the proletarian, son like him of Adam, man, but of inferior caste, of servile condition. These etymologies are instructive: they say more by their naïveté than all the commentaries. Men have always spoken the same language; the problem of the unity of language is demonstrated by the identity of the ideas that they express: it is ridiculous to argue about some variants of sounds and characters.

Thus, according to grammar, as according to fable and according to analysis, property, religion of force, is at the same time the religion of servitude. Depending on whether it takes over at gunpoint, or whether it proceeds by exclusion and monopoly, it engenders two sorts of servitudes: the one, the ancient proletariat, result of the primitive fact of conquest or from the violent division of Adam, humanity, into Cain and Able, patricians and plebeians; the other, the modern proletariat, the working class of the economists, caused by the development of the economic phases, which are all summed up, as one has seen, in the capital fact of the consecration of monopoly by domain, heredity and rent.

Now, property, that is to say, in its most simple expression, the right of force, could not long guard its original coarseness; from the first day, it began to compose its physiognomy, to counterfeit itself, to conceal itself under a multitude of disguises. That was at the point that the name of proprietor, synonym, in principle, for brigand and thief, became in the end, by the insensible transformation of property, and by one of those anticipations of the future so frequent in the religious style, precisely the opposite of the thief and brigand. I have recounted in another work that degradation of property: I will reproduce it with some developments.

The rapine of the goods of others is practiced by an infinity of means, that the legislators have meticulously distinguished and classified, according to their degree of brutality or fineness, as if they had sometimes wanted to punish, sometimes to encourage petty theft. Thus the one robs by murdering on the public roads, alone or in bands, by breaking and entering, cat-burglary, etc., by simple subtraction, by public or private falsifications, by fabrication of false money

This sort includes all the robbers who exercised no other means than overt force or fraud: bandits, brigands, pirates, scum of land and sea. The ancient heroes were glorified with these honorable names, and regarded their profession as noble as well as lucrative. Nimrod, Theseus, Jason and his Argonauts, Japheth, David, Cacus, Romulus, Clovis and his Merovingian successors, Robert Guiscard, Tancredo of Hauteville, Bohémond and the majority of the Norman adventurers, were brigands and thieves. Brigandage was the only occupation, the sole means of existence for the nobles of the Middle Ages; it is to it that England owes all its colonies. One knew the hated of the savage peoples for labor; honor, in their eyes was not to produce, but to take. You could cultivate a field! they said among them as a form of malediction. The heroic character of the robber is expressed in this verse from Horace, speaking of Achilles: Jura neget sibi nala, nihil non arroget armis; and by these words from the testament of Jacob, that the Jews apply to David, and the Christians mystically to Christ: Manus ejus contra omnes. That disposition to rapine has been at all times inherent in the profession of arms, and if Napoleon has succumbed at Waterloo, one can say that justice was done by him for the brigandage of his heroes. I have gold, wine and women, with my lance and my buckler, said even quite recently the general of Brossard.

Today the robber, the well-armed of the Bible, is pursued like the wolves and hyenas; the police have killed his noble industry; by the terms of the Code he is liable, according to his specialty and skills, to penalties severe and infamous, from imprisonment to the scaffold. The right of conquest, sung by Voltaire, is no longer tolerated: the nations have become towards one another, in that regard, of an extreme touchiness. As to individual occupation, made outside of a concession or the help of the State, one no longer sees examples of it.

One steals by fraud, abuse of trust, lottery and gambling.

This second sort of theft was esteemed in Sparta and approved of by Lycurgus, in view of sharpening the fineness of mind, and of arousing the spirit of invention among the young people. It is the category of Solon, of Sinon, of Ulysses, of the Jews, both ancient and modern, from Jacob up to Deutz, of the Bohemians; of the Arabs and of all the savages. The savage steals without shame and without remorse, not because he is depraved, but because he is naive. Under Louis XIII and Louis XIV one was not dishonored by cheating at games: that was part of the rules, and honest men had no qualms about correcting, by an adroit artifice, the outrages of fortune. Today still, and by all countries, there is a sort of merit highly regarded among the peasants in high or petty commerce, of knowing how to make a deal, which means to deceive his man. The first virtue of the mother of the family is to know how to rob those who sells to her or those that she hires, by constantly holding back on the wages or the price; and if we are not all sons of coquettes, as Paul-Louis said, we are at least all sons of rascals.

We know with what pain the government has resigned itself to the abolition of the lotteries: it had just lost one of its most precious properties. It was not yet sixty years since confiscation has ceased to dishonor our laws: at all times the first thought of the magistrate who punishes, like that of the brigand who murders, was to despoil his victim. All our taxes, all our laws of customs, have theft as their point of departure.

The crook, the fraud, the charlatan, those who speak in the name of God or who represent society, like those who sell charms, above all makes use of the dexterity of his hands, of the subtlety of his minds, of the prestige of eloquence and of a great fecundity of imagination. His talent consists in knowing the right moment to excite cupidity. The legislator as well, wanting to show his esteem for talent and kindness, has created below the category of crimes, where one only makes use of force and ambushes, and which leads to the most terrible punishments, the category of misdemeanors, liable only to correctional, not to ignominious, punishments. How droll of spiritualism!

One robs by usury.

This species of robbery, so odious formerly in the Church and still so severely punished in our times, does not distinguish itself from the loan at interest, one of the most energetic springs of production, and forms the transition between forbidden and authorized robbery. Also it gives place, by its equivocal nature, to a mass of contradictions in the laws and in morals, contradictions very simply exploited by the men of the palace, of finance and of commerce.

Thus the usurer who loans at 10 percent on a mortgage incurs an enormous fine, if he is caught; the banker who receives the same interest, not, it is true, from a loan, but as a commission, is protected by royal privilege. It would take too long to enumerate all the sorts of robbery which are committed by finance: let it suffice to say that among all the ancient peoples the profession of money-changer, banker, publican or traitant were not reputed very honorable. Today the capitalists who place their funds either on the State, or in commerce, at a perpetual interest of 3, 4, or 5 percent, that is to say those who receive on top of the legitimate price of the loan an interest less than that received by the bankers and usurers, are the flower of society. It is always the same system: moderation in robbery makes our virtue.

One robs by the constitution of rent, farm-rent, house-rent, and leases.

Rent, considered in his principle and its aim, is the agrarian law by which all men must become guaranteed and irremovable proprietors of the soil; as for its importance, it represents the portion of the fruits which exceeds the wage of the producer, and which belongs to the community. During the period of organization, that rent in paid, in the name of society which is always manifested by the individualization as it is explained by the facts, to the proprietor. But the proprietor does more than receive the rent, he alone enjoys it; he renders nothing to the community, he does not divide with his fellows, he devours, putting himself into it, the product of the collective labor. Thus there is robbery, legal robbery if you wish, but real robbery.

There is theft, in commerce and industry, every time the entrepreneur holds back from the worker some part of his wages, or receives a bonus on top of that which comes back to him.

I have proven, in dealing with value, that every labor must leave a surplus; so that in supposing the consumption of the laborer to be always the same, his labor should create, on top of his subsistence, a capital always greater. Under the regime of property, the excess of labor, essentially collective, passes entirely, like the rent, to the proprietor: now, between that disguised appropriation and the fraudulent usurpation of a communal good, where is the difference?

The consequence of that usurpation is that the laborer, whose share of the collective is constantly confiscated by the entrepreneur, is always on his uppers, while the capitalist is always in profit; that commerce, the exchange of essentially equal values, is no more than the art of buying for 3 fr. what is worth 6, and of selling or 6 fr. that which is worth 3; and that political economy, that upholds and advocates that regime, is the theory of robbery, as property, the respect of which maintains a similar state of things, is the religion of force. It is just, M. Blanqui said recently to the Academy of Moral Sciences in a speech on the coalitions, that labor participate in the wealth that it produces. If then he does not participate, it is unjust; and if it is unjust, it is robbery, and the proprietors are robbers. Speak plainly then, economists!...

Justice, at the end of the negative community, called by the ancient poets the golden age, is thus the right of force. In a society which becomes organized, the inequality of faculties awakens the idea of value; that leads to the idea of proportion between merit and fortune; and as the first and only merit thus recognized is force, it is the strongest, the aristos (superlative A'arés, fort, proper name of the god Mars), who, being the most deserving, the best, aristos, have a right to the largest portion; and if that portion is refused to them, tout naturellement il s'en empare. De là à s'arroger the right of property over all things, that is only a step.

Such was justice in the heroic age, preserved, at least by tradition, among the Greeks and Romans down to the last days of their republics. Plato, in the “Gorgias,” introduces a character named Callicles, who spiritedly defends the right of the strongest, which Socrates, the advocate of equality, tou isou, seriously refutes. It is related of the great Pompey, that he blushed easily, and, nevertheless, these words once escaped his lips: “Why should I respect the laws, when I have arms in my hand?” This shows him to have been a man in whom the moral sense and ambition were struggling for the mastery, and who sought to justify his violence by the motto of the hero and the brigand.

The right of force was succeeded by the right of cunning, which was only a degradation of the first, and a new manifestation of justice: detested right of the heroes, which did not shine there and wasted too much. The well-known story of Oedipus and the Sphinx is an allusion to that right of cunning, according to which the victor was master, as in war, of the life of the vanquished. Skill in deceiving an enemy by treacherous propositions seemed deserving of reward; but by a reaction which revealed already the true sentiments of the just, and which was however only an inconsequence, the strong always boasted of good faith and simplicity, while the skilled despised the strong, calling them brutal and barbaric.

In those days, respect for one’s word and observation of oaths was of a rigor literal rather than logical: Uti lingua nuncupassit, ita jus esto, — “As the tongue has spoken, so must the right be,” says the law of the Twelve Tables. Nascent raison attaches itself less to the substance than to the form; it senses from instinct that it is the form, the method, which makes all its certainty. Artifice, or rather perfidy, was nearly all of politics of ancient Rome. Among other examples, Vico cites this one, also related by Montesquieu: The Romans had had guaranteed to Carthaginians the preservation of their goods and their city, using by design the word civitas, which means society, State. The Carthaginians, on the contrary, understanding them to mean the material city, urbs, and accordingly beginning to rebuild their walls, were attacked for the infraction of the treaty by the Romans, who, acting on the heroic idea of right, did not believe it sinful, having deceived their enemies with an equivocation, to sustain an unjust war. Modern diplomacy has changed nothing of these antiques habits.

In theft, as it is forbidden by law, force and fraud are used alone and without accessories. In authorized theft they are disguised under some utility, of which they serve as a vehicle for despoiling their victim.

The direct recourse to violence and to guile has been recently, and in a unanimous voice, rejected; it is that agreement of the peoples to renounce force which constitutes and distinguishes civilization. No nation has yet managed to deliver itself from robbery disguised by labor, talent and possession.

The right of force and the right of cunning, celebrated by rhapsodies in the poems of the Iliad and the Odyssey, inspired the Greek republics, and filled with their spirit the Roman laws, from which it has passed into our mores and our codes. Christianity has changed nothing in this regard: Christianity, having arisen, in religion, hostile from the beginning to philosophy and contemptuous of science, could not fail to accommodate all that which was in essence religious. It is thus that after having made profession of equality and common sense in Saint Matthew and Saint Paul, it mustered little by little around it the superstitions that it had at first proscribed: polytheism, dualism, trinitarianism, magic, necromancy, hierarchy, monarchy, property, all the religions and abominations of the earth.

The ignorance of the pontiffs and the councils, on all that which relates to morals, has equaled that of the forum and of the lenders; and that profound ignorance of society and of right/law is what has misled the Church and which dishonors forever its teaching. Moreover, the infidelity has been general; all the Christian sects have misunderstood the precept of Christ; all have erred in morals, because they erred in doctrine: all are guilty of false propositions, full of iniquity and homicide. Let it ask pardon of society, that Church which called itself infallible, and which has not been able to preserve the deposit; let its so-called reformed sisters be humiliated/abased... and the people, disillusioned, but clement, will decide.

Thus property, the conventional right, as different from justice as eclecticism is from truth, and value from the mercurial, is constituted by a series of oscillations between the two extremes of injustice, violent force and perfidious cunning, between which the contenders stop always at a convention. But justice comes following compromise; the convention will sooner or later express the reality; the true right frees itself incessantly from the sophistical and arbitrary right; the reform will come about by the struggle of intelligence and force; and it is to this vast movement, whose point of departure is in the darkness of savagery, and which expires the day when society rises to the synthetic idea of possession and of value; it is that ensemble of transformations and of revolutions instinctively accomplishes and which seeks its scientific and definitive solution, that I call the religion of property.

But if property, spontaneous and progressive, is a religion, it is, like monarchy and priesthood, of divine right. Similarly, the inequality of conditions and fortunes, poverty, is of divine right; perjury and robbery are of divine institution; the exploitation of man by man is the affirmation, I almost said the manifestation of God. The true theists are the proprietors; the defenders of property are all God-fearing men; the sentences to death and poverty, that they carry out on one another as a result of their misunderstandings of property, are human sacrifices offered to the god of force. Those, on the contrary, who proclaim the imminent end of property, who evoke with Jesus Christ and Saint Paul the abolition of property; who think about production, consumption and distribution of wealth, are the anarchists and the atheists; and society, which advances visibly to equality and science, society is the incessant negation of God.

Demonstration of the hypothesis of God by property, and necessity of atheism for the physical, moral and intellectual improvement of man, such is the strange problem remains for us to resolve. A few words will suffice: the facts are known, our proof is mad.

The dominant idea of the century, the most ordinary and most authentic idea today is the idea of Progress. Since Lessing, progress, become the basis of social beliefs, enjoys in minds the same role as revelation did in times past, that one says that it denies, while in reality it only translates it. The Latin revelatio, like the Greek apokulupsis, means literally unfurling, progress: but religious antiquity saw that unfurling in a history recounted, before the event, by God himself, while the philosophical reason of the moderns sees it in the succession of facts accomplished. Prophecy is not the opposite, it is the myth of the philosophy of history.

The development of humanity, such is them, but with a larger and larger consciousness, our idea the most profound and most comprehensive: development of language and laws; development of religions and philosophies; economic and industrial development; development of justice, by force, cunning, and conventions; development of the sciences and arts. And Christianity, which embraces every religion, which is opposed to every philosophy, which relies on one side on revelation, on the other on penitence, that is to say which believes in the education of man by reason and experience, Christianity, in its entirety, is the symbolization of progress.

In light of that sublime, fertile and highly rational idea of progress, persists and seems to revive yet another idea, gigantic, enigmatic, as impenetrable to our dialectical instruments as are to the telescope the depths of the firmament: it is the idea of God.

What is God?

God is, hypothetically, the eternal, the all powerful, the infallible, the immutable, the spontaneous, in a word, the infinite in all faculties, properties and manifestations. God is the being in whom intelligence and activity, elevated to an Infinite power, becomes adequate and identical to fatality itself: Summa lex, summa libertas, summa necessitas. God is thus by essence anti-progressive and anti-providential: Dictum factum, there is his motto, his single and unique law. And as in him eternity excludes Providence, just so infallibility excludes the apperception of error, and as a consequence the apperception of evil: sanctus in omnibus operibus suis. But God, by his quality of infinity in all senses, acquires a specification of his own, and consequently a possibility of existence resulting from his opposition to the finite being, progressive and providential, whom he conceives as his antagonist. God, in a word, having nothing contradictory in his concept, is possible, and there is place to verify this involuntary hypothesis of our reason.

All these notions have been furnished to us by the analysis of human being, considered in its moral and intellectual constitution; they are presented to us, à la suite of an irrefutable dialectic, as the necessary postulate of our contingent nature and of our function on the globe.

Later, that which we have first conceived as only a simple possibility of existence, is raised by the theory, from irreducible dualism and the progression of beings, importance of a probability. We have noted that the fact, acquired from now on by science, of a progressive creation, which unfurls on a dualistic substance, and of which the reason and the last term are already given to us, involved at its origin another fact, that of an essence infinite in spontaneity, effectiveness and certainty, of which all the attributes, as a consequence, would be the opposite of those of man.

It remains then to bring into the light that probable fact, that existence sine qua non that reason demands, that observation suggests, but that nothing yet demonstrates, and that, in any case, its infinity and is solitude dares us to hope to understand. It remains to demonstrate the indemonstrable, to penetrate the inaccessible, to place, in short, under the regard of mortal man, the infinite.

This problem, insoluble at first glance, contradictory in its terms, is reduced, if one takes the trouble to reflect on it, to the following theorem, in which every contradiction disappears: To equate inevitability and progress, in such a manner that infinite existence and progressive existence,—adequate to one another, but not identical, and, on the contrary, opposite, penetrating each other, but not merging, serving mutually as expression and law,—appear to us in turn, as the mind and matter which constitute them, but on another dimension, like the two inseparable and irreducible faces of the being.

One has seen, and we have had care to note on more than one occasion, that in social science the ideas are all equally eternal and evolving, simple and complex, aphoristic and subordinate. For a transcendent intelligence, there is in the economic system neither principle, nor consequence, nor demonstration, nor deduction: the truth is one and self-same, without condition of sequence, because it is truth everywhere, under an infinite number of aspects, and in an infinity of theories and systems. It is only by the didactic exposition that the series of propositions are manifested. Society is like a scientist who, having science lodged in his brain, embraces it in its ensemble, conceives it without beginning or end, grasps it simultaneously and distinctly in all its parts, and find for each of them evidence and equal priority. But does that same man want to produce science? He is forced to unwind it in successive words, propositions and discourses, that is, to present as a progression that which appears to him as an indivisible whole.

Thus, the ideas of liberty, of equality, of mine and thine, of merit and demerit, of credit and debit, of servant and master, of proportion, of value, of competition, of monopoly, of taxation, of exchange, of division of labor, of machines, of customs, of rent, of inheritance, etc., etc., all the categories, all the oppositions, all the syntheses named from the origin of the world in the economic vocabulary, are contemporary in reason. And yet, in order to constitute a science which is accessible to us, these ideas must be graded according to a theory which shows them to us engendering one another, and which has its beginning, middle and end. In order to enter into human practice and realize itself in an efficacious manner, these same ideas must se poser in a series of oscillating institutions, accompanied by a thousand unforeseen accidents and long experiments by trial and error. In short, as in science there is the absolute and transcendental truth, and the theoretical truth, so in society there is at once both inevitability and providence, spontaneity and reflection, the second of these two powers laboring constantly to supplant the first, but making always in reality only the same drudgery.

Inevitability is thus a form of being and of the idea; deduction, progress, is another form.

But inevitability, progress, these are abstractions of language that do not know nature, in which all is realized or is not. There is, then, in humanity, inevitable being and progressive being, inseparables, but distinct; opposed, antagonistic, but never irreducible.

As creatures endowed with an unreflective and involuntary spontaneity, subject to the laws of a physique and social organism, ordained for all eternity, immutable in its terms, irresistible in its ensemble, and which fulfilled and realized by development and belief; as we live, grow and die, as we labor, exchange, love, etc., we are the inevitable being, in quo vivimus, movemur and sumus. We are its substance, its soul, its body, its face, by the same title and neither less nor more than the animals, plants and stones.

Bust as we observe, reflect, learn and act in consequence; as we submit ourselves to nature and become masters of ourselves, we are the progressive being; we are men. God, natura naturans, is the base, the eternal substance of society; and society, natura naturata, is the inevitable being in perpetual emission of itself. Physiology represents, somewhat imperfectly, that duality, in its well-known distinction between organic life and the life of relation. God does not exist solely in society, he is in all nature: but it is only in society that God is glimpsed, by his opposition with the progressive being; it is society, it is man who by his evolution made the original pantheism cease, and that is why the natural scientist who buries himself and is absorbed in physiology and matter, without ever studying society or man, loses little by little the sense of divinity. Everything is God for him, which is to say, there is no God.

God and man, divers de nature, are thus distinguished by their ideas and their acts, in short, by their language.

The world is the consciousness of God. The ideas or of consciousness in God are attraction, movement, life, number, measure, unity, opposition, progression, series, equilibrium: all the ideas conceived and produced eternally, consequently without succession, foresight or error. The language of God, the signs of his ideas, are all the beings and their phenomena.

The ideas or facts of consciousness in man are attention, comparison, memory, judgment, reasoning, imagination, time, space, causality, the beautiful and the sublime, love and hate, sadness and sensuality. These ideas, man produces them outside by some specific signs: speech, industry, agriculture, sciences and arts, religions, philosophies, laws, governments, wars, conquests, joyous and gloomy ceremonies, revolutions, progress.

The ideas de God are common to men, which comes from God like nature; which is only even the consciousness of nature; which takes the ideas of God for principles and materials for all of his, and converts in his being and assimilates incessantly the divine substance. But the ideas of the man are strangers to God, who does not understand our progress, and for whom all the products of our imagination are monsters, or voids. That is why man speaks the language of God as his own, while God is powerless to speak the language of man; and no conversation, no pact between them is possible. That is why all that which in humanity comes from God, focuses on God or returns to God, is hostile to man, harmful to his development and to his perfection.

God creates the world, and drives, so to speak, man from himself, because he is infinite power, and his essence is to engender progress eternally: Pater ab œvo se videns parem sibi gignit natum, says the Catholic theology. God and man are necessary to one another, and one of the two cannot be denied without the other disappearing at the same time. What would progress be without an absolute and immutable law? What would necessity be, if it did not unfold outside? Let us suppose, against all reason, that the activity in God suddenly ceased: creation would return to a chaotic existence; it returns to the state of matter without forms, mind without ideas, unintelligible necessity. If God ceases to act, then God is no longer.

But God and man, despite the necessity which enchains them, are irreducible; what the moralists have called, by a pious calumny, the war of man with himself, and who is at base only the war of man against God, the war of reflection against instinct, the war of the reason which prepares, chooses and temporizes, against the impetuous and fatal passion, is its unimpeachable proof. The existence of God and man is proven by their eternal antagonism: here is what explains the contradiction of the cults, who sometimes plead with God to spare man, to not deliver him to temptation, like Phaedra begging Venus to uproot from his heart the love of Hippolytus; sometimes ask God for wisdom and intelligence, like the sons of David in mounting to the throne, as we still make in our masses of Saint-Esprit. There is what explains, finally, the majority of civil and religious wars, the persecution made to ideas, the fanaticism of customs, the hatred of science, and the horror of progress, premiere causes of all the evils that afflict our species.

Man, as man, can never be found in contradiction with himself; he senses trouble and suffering only by the resistance of God that is in him. In man is brought together all the spontaneities of nature, all the instigations of inevitable Being, all the gods and demons of the universe. In order to subdue this powers, to discipline that anarchy, man has only his reason, his progressive thought: and this is what makes up the sublime drama of which the incidents form, by their ensemble, the last reason of all the existences. The destiny of nature and of man is the metamorphosis of God: but God is inexhaustible, and our struggle eternal.

Let us not be surprised then if everything that professes to mysticism and religion, everything that raises or claims to represent God, all that which endeavors to retrogress towards primitive ignorance, all that which advocates the satisfaction of the flesh and the worship of the passions, shows itself a partisan of property, enemy of equality and of justice. We are on the verge of a battle where all the enemies of man will be summoned against him, the senses, the heart, the imagination, pride, sloth, doubt: Astiterunt reges terrœ adversus Christum!... The cause of property is the cause of dynasties and of priesthoods, of demagoguery and of sophism, of the unproductive and of the parasites. No hypocrisy, no seduction will be spared to defend it. In order to lead the people, one will begin by feeling pity for its misery; one will excite in them love and tenderness, everything that can weaken courage and relax the will; one will raise above philosophical reflection and science its pleasant instincts. Then one will preach the national glories; one will stir up their patriotism; one will speak to them of their great men, and bit by bit, to the worship of Reason, always proscribed, one will substitute the cult of the exploiters, idolatry of the aristocrats.

For the people, like nature, loves to fulfill its ideas: to theoretical questions, the prefer questions of persons. If it revolts against Ferdinand, it is in order to obey Mazaniello. It requires a Lafayette, a Mirabeau, a Napoleon, a demi-god. It will not accept its salvation from the hands of a delegate, unless he dresses it up generally. And see how the worship of idols prospers! See the fanatics of Fourier and of good Icaria, great men who want to organize society, and have never been able to establish a kitchen; see the democrats, making greatness and virtue consist in a grandstand victory, always ready to race on the Rhine, like the Athenians at Chaeronea, at the voice of some Demosthenes who the day before would have received the gold of Philippe, and will cast his shield into the battle.

Nobody is occupied with ideas, principles, knowledge of accomplished facts: it seems that we already have too much ancient wisdom. Democracy is Rousseau; the dynastics and legitimists dream of Louis XIV; the bourgeois go back to Louis the Fat; the priests stop only at Gregory VII, and the socialists at Jesus: it is a question of who will go back the farthest. In this universal subsidence, study is no longer, like fragmented labor, anything but a manner of exhausting oneself; critique is reduced to some insipid farces; all philosophy expires.

Isn’t it there that we have seen, some months ago, when, in order to cite a single example of it, a scientist, friend of the people, professing to teach history and progress, across a flood of elegiac and dithyrambic phrases, was able to express on the social question only this pitiful judgment:

“As for communism, a word suffices. The last country where property will be abolished, it is precisely France. If, as someone of that school said, property is robbery, there are twenty-five million proprietors who will not part with it tomorrow.”

The author of that mockery is M. Michelet, professor at the College of France, member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences; and the someone to whom he alluded, is me. M. Michelet could name me without causing me to blush: the definition of property is mine, and my only ambition is to prove that I have understood its sense and range. Property, it is robbery! He has not said, in a thousand years, two words like those. I have no other goods on the earth than that definition of property: but I hold it more precious than the millions of the Rothschilds, and I dare say that it will be the most significant event of the government of Louis-Philippe.

But who then has said to M. Michelet that the negation of property necessarily implies communism? How does he know that France is the last country in the world where property will be abolished? Why, instead of twenty-five millions proprietors, hasn’t he said thirty-four? Where has he seen that we have accused persons, as we blame the institutions? And when he adds that the twenty-five millions of proprietors who possess France will not relinquish tomorrow, who gives him the right to suppose that one had need for that of their consent? In five lines M. Michelet has managed to be absurd five times: he intends doubtless to fulfill the prediction that I had formerly made against whoever should attempt in the future to defend property. But what to respond to a man who, after forty years of the study of history, has come, despite all science, to preach to the nineteenth century emancipation by instinct?... Let another debate with M. Michelet: as for me, I refer him to the chronology.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Responding to the Deepwater Horizon disaster

Kevin Carson has a new piece up at the Center for a Stateless Society, In a Truly Free Market, BP Would Be Toast, which argues that without federal regulation limiting liability BP would not only be facing liabilities that "stack up pretty tall against BP’s total equity," but also that in a genuinely free market the demands of insurers would force companies like BP to take adequate precautions.

Kevin is absolutely right in saying that the Gulf spill is not the product of an "unregulated market." It's one of the great wonders of the modern world that, with news of the latest attempt to tweak the economy by this or that incentive a daily staple, the phrase "unregulated economy" still exists in the language. Of course, in this regard, the shenanigans of the the government look a lot like the daily shenanigans of the market. Clearly, an unhealthy fusion has taken place, but it's hard to decide whether it's more troubling that the market has been governmentalized or that the government is on the market. In any event, if we are going to include that "unregulated market" among the possible alternatives to the present debacle, it's probably only fair to also consider the possibility of an "unmarketed regulation." If it is obvious that the current economy is something of a botched job with regard to freedom, it should be equally obvious that the regulatory state is not fulfilling its functions in any coherent manner. If "the system is working" through this particular sort of malfunction, then that "system" is not government per se, but the bastard love-child of corrupt government and corrupt market, which is nothing other than the dominant present form of privilege.

I would like to think that in a "truly free market" it would indeed be easier to sue the pants off those who recklessly endanger the lives and livelihood of others. I would hope that in such an economy, where "all economic actors do business on their own nickel," the process of accumulating enough nickles to dig a deepwater well would build in a certain amount of responsibility, long before we got to the stage of insuring the thing. But the problem with markets is that there are many kinds of value and interest which have a hard to finding representation. After all, sea turtles and brown pelicans don't get any more of a vote in the market than they do in elections or campaign contributions. Private property conventions tend to establish a separation of interests not reflected in, or respected by, the circulatory systems of the biosphere—and while there are, arguably, very good reasons to construct a certain kind of property-privilege around each and every human subject, we play a dangerous game when we mistake the legal and/or conventional systems of property for a map of our actual degree of interdependence on one another and on non-human nature.

As I read western intellectual history, the revolutionary trend is more and more towards the recognition of universal interconnectedness as an objective condition, and the checkered career of modern individualism has been determined by the fact that it is not immediately clear how we should deal with our undeniable experience of separate being, in the face of a whole lot of pretty persuasive evidence that the human subject is not, objectively, much more than a calm pool in the flow of everything everywhere. Faced with this basic and very thorny problem, the individual has had to shrink considerably, expand just as dramatically, or find some way to split the difference. Unfortunately, as often as not, we've remained sort of betwixt and between solutions to the dilemma, either stuck with pretty wishy-washy non-solutions or turning defiant. The defiance of ecological concerns has had a helpful, if hapless, ally in various sorts of naive anti-humanisms and primitivisms, in shallow "environmentalism," and in the tendency of half-baked attempts at environmental legislation to regulatory capture. Those who deny the last several centuries of natural science point to the failure to sell adequate regulation to the oil companies, and pretend that the failure of junk legislation is the vindication of their junk science. When they want to sway the base, they appeal to false populism and junk religion. Faced with the need to confront all the consequences of our advancing knowledge of the universe—both those that emphasize our individuality and those that pull in a very different direction—we're seeing denials of reality that would make flat-earth enthusiasts blush. Now, I don't expect everyone to be convinced of the need for a "gift economy of property," or to accept the sort of ecological ethics that I think are implied by pretty much all the best thought of the last couple of hundred years. But I do think that anyone who believes the market alone, or government alone, or any combination of market and government will solve he problems posed by the Deepwater Horizon spill—without there first being a profound examination of the problems in precisely ecological terms, and with all the sacred cows of both market and government banished to other pastures—probably needs to go back to the drawing board.

To be frank, the problem with something like Lew Rockwell's anti-environmentalism is that it is quite simply stupid to act like ecosystems are some sort of left-wing plot. You can't be a very useful "hero" for human liberty if you decide you "hate" the basic life support system of the human race. The problem with the back and forth around Rockwell's stupid statements is that it's quite clear that the "libertarian" defenders are absolutely married to their dubious principles, no matter how far they may be removed from reality.

For those who are not in a "til death do us part" relation with a particular vision of private property, the disaster (of still unknown and largely unknowable proportions) that has started in the Gulf poses a lot of hard questions about how a free and sustainable society can function—and it poses them in a way that is hard to ignore. Personally, I don't think there are any easy points to be scored for free markets, free governments, or their lack. All free institutions will be as wise and good—or foolish and bad—as the individuals that make them up and the internal connections that they forge. We're obviously faced with broken markets and corrupt regulatory regimes at the moment, but there wouldn't be much improvement from free-but-dumb alternatives. There's no substitute, when it comes to engaging ecological concerns, for ecological thinking, and there are plenty of indications that we are collectively resisting that engagement with every means available to us. It seems to me that there are promising routes toward a solution beginning from virtually all of the usual anarchist starting points. In the next couple of issues of The Mutualist, I'll be looking at how the most expansive sorts of anarchist egoism and the most collectivist sorts of anarchist communism ultimately point to the need of at least some "two-gun," non-simplist, and essentially ecological balancing act.