Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lysander Spooner in "Liberty"

I've added a number of Lysander Spooner's anonymous or pseudonymous contributions (as "O") to Liberty to the Libertarian Labyrinth archive.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Archive upgrades

I am gradually bringing some long-term bibliographic projects up to the point where it will make sense to publish them. While I'm still a long way from having tracked down all the work by Josiah Warren, or Joshua King Ingalls—or even William Batchelder Greene—I have reached the point where I feel like the major works are located, and I can give some useful indications of what remains to be unearthed. The goal is a series of annotated reader's guides, ranging in scale from extremely modest to quite extensive, and one important step towards the goal is to transform the Libertarian Labyrinth—which has always, and mostly explicitly, had more the character of an online filing cabinet than a scholarly archive—into something substantially more useful and user-friendly. Part of the disarray has been the results of my ongoing search for a platform and toolset that served my needs as a writer and researcher. The rest, of course, has been the fallout of years of underemployment, moves, the distractions of entrepreneurship, the associated bouts of crippling depression, etc., etc. There have been days—and months, and years—when it made sense to keep piling up texts and data, whether or not I had the wherewithal to tidy them up for anyone else.

I haven't really wanted to take the time to do the tidying—standardizing and completing citations, triple-checking formatting, adding interpretive apparatus, etc.—until I was pretty sure the changes were going to be really useful enough to justify the labor. But over the last six months or so, I've been zeroing in a bundle of improvements that seem well worth it. I'm still moving pieces around—both online and in my head—trying to work out the best combination of platforms to bring out the real value of the material in, or destined for, the archive, but quite a few of the pieces are in place.

The first significant improvement is the addition of simple metadata to the wiki pages at the Libertarian Labyrinth site. I've started using Zotero for reference-management—and I'm pretty happy with it, as a means of grabbing citations—and adding metadata in the COinS (ContextObjects in Spans) format (which works with both Zotero and Omeka, the library/museum platform on which I'm building a new version/extension of the Labyrinth archive.) COinS metadata is fairly limited, but it is sufficient for most citations. The addition of Zotero and COinS to my workflow will simplify certain steps in the archive renovation, but it will also allow anyone else using COinS-friendly reference-management software to pull citations right off their browser on upgraded pages.

The experiment is quite literally still in its first day, but the majority of the pages linked from my recently updated (though still very incomplete) Voltairine de Cleyre bibliography are now COinS-equipped.

For those interested in experimenting with COinS metadata, there is a handy online generator.

And even if you aren't interested in reference-management schemes, you might be interested in a number of texts by Voltairine de Cleyre that I have recently added to the archive. I've worked through the material from The Open Court and should be able, with an overnight research trip, to finish up the contributions to Mother Earth and The Rebel later this week.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Jacques Bonhomme's Vision," a short story by Dyer D. Lum




Through one of the narrow streets of old Paris late one evening a man was carefully picking his way. Pavements, sidewalks, gutters, street-lamps were then unknown, save to the few who had penetrated into Moslem Spain. Save from the dim light-shadows which occasionally flickered in the darkness before some open wine shop, there was no visible guide for a stranger, which evidently he was not, for he moved swiftly, passing the noisy mirth which came with the sound of clinking glasses, and only pausing to hug the wall when some carriage or cavalcade came rushing past, and then resuming his way in the street as if to avoid open cellarways near the houses. At the open coach gate of a courtyard he passed in and entered a building, where we will follow him up the stairs to a room which he entered without knocking. By the light of the fireplace an aged couple were to be seen in the room and evening meal in course of preparation, while the table seemed to indicate the expected arrival of a third person. From his cordial greeting it was apparent they were his parents. Carefully standing a somewhat long but not bulky package in a corner he cried out:
"Ah, mother! but I am hungry tonight. Long hours and hard work gives one the appetite of two."
"Well, Jacques," answered his mother, "you should be thankful you have them, else your appetite would prove but a sorry companion to you."
"I am, mother, so I am, and, Our Blessed Lady be thanked, the times bid fair to keep me busy early and late for a long while yet. But even then," he added smilingly, "I mustn't eat up all I earn, for there is other need for my earnings."
"Yes; Lisette was. here today," said his father with a kindly glance on his stalwart son.
"The Saints protect her!" cried the young man with brightening features; "and if all goes well before next Lady's Day, my dear mother, you shall have a rest."
"So soon?" asked the old lady.
"How so?" queried the father.
"The master-armorer," replied Jacques, "likes me and my work and has given me some plans to draw out which, if I succeed, will secure me a higher position; and I know I will succeed for I have already nearly worked out the problem."
In the meantime the old man had lighted a dip and moved over to the table where his wife had already placed a large platter of hot stew from which all three at once proceeded to partake of supper.
Jacques Bonhomme, the younger, was a young man of apparently twenty-five years, with a bright, frank expression and dark hazel eyes which sparkled with intelligence and good nature. A dark moustache and beard, carefully trimmed, together with a high forehead and a certain delicacy of features gave to him the appearance of being above the artisan class, which his dress plainly indicated. His robust health and fine physique showed him to be an artisan of no mean class and, young as he was, "Jacques the artisan" had already won recognition for his skill and ability. The warlike temper of the age kept him at the forge or bench from early morning till late at night, his only recreation being on Sunday, when with his bethrothed, Lisette, the daughter of a fellow craftsman, the toil of the week was forgotten.
The e table cleared, he placed his package upon it and removed the wraps, displaying that early kind of firearm known as an arquebuse, at which he looked long and intently.
His father approached the table and said inquiringly: "What is that piece of mechanism, Jacques?"
"It's an arqueouse. the new fire-gun now being brought into use in our armies."
"Sacre nom de dieu!" ejaculated the old man, "is that one? How does it work?"
Jacques explained the mechanism, relieving his mother's look of anxiety by assuring her that in its then unloaded state it was as harmless as a sword or pike in time of peace.
"With these," said Jacques, with all the enthusiasm of an artist, "the whole science of warfare is being transformed. The peasant becomes the equal of the mailed knight; the ball from this is more deadly and potent than the noble's battle axe, for ere axe or sword can strike, the hand which wields it may be nerveless in death. The dainty lordling who boasts of his feats of arms in the tourney to win a fair lady's smile, high as his lineage may be, will find his peer in the humblest vassal who with this knows well its power and use."
"In the name of Our Lady, Jacques;" nervously acclaimed his mother, "mind your words: they savor strongly of irreligion. Did I not know you better my son, I should tremble for your soul's repose. Ah! it is an uncanny thing and might well be called the Devil's Own, for if all we hear of it be true the horrors of war will be intensified. and the mercy of our Lord can alone save the race from extermination."
"Nay, nay, mother," answered Jacques cheerily, "to the discerning eye this is one of the resources given by Providence to further civilization. It is difficult for anyone to forecast its full effect, but to my mind there arise far other visions than those you presage."
"Tell me, Jacques," earnestly pleaded the old man, "for dark as are the fears of your mother, I think them hardly blacker than the present reality. If there be a lighter shade that this deadly thing will impart to the cloudy future, turn the silver lining toward me, for I own it is to me, too, a gruesome weapon of destruction."
Jacques remained silent for a few minutes, but still intently inspecting the weapon in his hands. "Let me first state," he finally began, "that this has been intrusted to me to study out some improvements which I suggested might be made. To my mind it is at present a rather clumsy arm, but the improved form which I already dimly see, the mechanism of ddail which I have yet to work out, will surpass this as this does a cross-bow Yet even with increased destructive power the lining of the cloud loses none of its silvery hue."
"By increasmg the destructiveness of the combatants?" queried Bonhomme père.
"Notwithstanding that, rather," answered Jacques thoughtfully, "I do not believe that increased destructiveness necessarily includes increased aggressiveness. Muscle will count less and and discipline more. Now let us see what this involves. First; that armed peasants and hired mercenaries must give place to a regular soldiery, trained as to a profession and thereby become adept at it. Nor is this all; for second, the peasant and the artisan will be left in greater freedom to follow industrial pursuits; this in turn brings, third, higher sociality, which involves less warlike manners, a broader civtlization, and a more all-inclusive ethical code."
"That may be," rejoined the old man, "but still the employment of this soldiery will be in the hands of those of whose rapacity we may not speak and to whom your 'sociality and broader civilization' are but meaningless words. With more destructive weapons will the haughty baron become less warlike? Will your walled cities become surer havens for skilled artisans?"
"Nay, nay, father, do not multiply objections," responded Jacques; "suppose that in the new order of things gunpowder is even now introducing there should come a time when neither your haughty noble nor your walled city will remain a necessity. Think you the 'haughty noble' alone can command the use of an arquebus? What of the brawny arms which make them, and which will improve them? He who makes the weapon I now dimly see in vision can use it as well, even if he be not a menial retained by another."
"Jacques! Jacques!" cried his mother in alarm, "What heresy is this? Would you fly in the face of those to whom God hath given authority? That those who rule over us should commission such as thee to make these dread weapons is right, for they have God's warrant, but when you hint at arming yourself by your own authority, you make me tremble for your soul's salvation."
"Nay, mother, I was but drawing upon my imagination for possibilities which lurk in the future of this new explosive. If the weapon itself can be vastly improved, as by God's will it shall be shortly, why may not the power of the explosive be also, when the explosive ball may be used without barrel, fuse, or clockwork, and yet timed with perfect accuracy? Then there will come a time, not only when man shall not dare to arm others against their fellows, but will not dare the acts of rank injustice which make industrial life a continual martyrdom."
"Jacques," replied his father WIth a sigh, "I am afraid your mother is nearer right. If with your new arms and new explosives each may be his own soldier, wage his own war, what would become of our social order? Without that your own skill as an armorer would be as naught. Leave to God's vicegerents the ordering of these arms, for against that no Christian may protest, but let not thy young blood lead thee to devise a weapon for thy own hands to sacrilegiously pit thyself against them; for God, not the Devil, rules."
The young armorer drew himself up to his full height, and with the arquebuse in one hand and the other raised to heaven exclaimed:
"Greed and tyranny may direct the use of these weapons by man against his fellow; power may add tower to tower and dungeon to dungeon to repress thought, but the time will come when with a general knowledge of gunpowder tower and dungeon will be razed and the haughty humbled. The time will come, though long after I am dead, when the gospel of destruction will end destruction; when the skill now relied upon to sustain rapacity and injustice will in self-defense turn against such allegiance; and while I shall weld my soul into a new arquebuse now, I doubt not that others coming after me will profit from my labors and carry on the work until at last the resources of civilization shall be such that hoary-headed injustice, however clothed or crowned, will tremble as Belshazzar at the unknown hand writing his sentence upon the palace wall."
"Peace, peace, Jacques," cried out his weeping mother, "you know not what you say. Oh! my son, I beg thee see the curé and confess thyself, as I shall most certainly do for my soul's sake. Think, too, of Lisette"—
"Lisette! Nay, mother, it is because of my great love for her that I love to picture to myself a happier future for our descendants."
"My son, I can listen no more; I already feel that I cannot sleep, though the Holy Virgin knows that I do not believe that thou meanest harm. Shrive thyself, my son, and try to forget such heretical crotchets."
* * * * * * *
Jacques's plans were soon draughted and submitted, but also soon there came a Sunday when he and Lisette took no walk, and on the evening before the aged couple waited in vain for his footstep. All they could learn by the most diligent inquiry was, that on that evening, he had been met at the door of the armorer's shop by two ecclesiastics, with whom he went on his way. The aged couple mourned him as dead, and, bereft of his support, sank through penury and want into the grave. Lisette lived, mourned, and—married.
But though Jacques Bonhomme walk.ed no more with his fellow-men, he had indeed "welded his soul" into the new weapon, and his vision, partly realized in 1789, looms daily in clearer form, for "his soul is marching on!"
Brooklyn, N. Y.

Source: The Twentieth Century. December 19, 1892. 12.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Emile Armand on Sensual Pleasure

This short piece by Emile Armand appeared with his essay "On Sexual Liberty."


I know that sensual pleasure is a subject about which you do not like people to speak or to write. Dealing with it shocks you. Or it provokes a joke in bad taste among you. You have books in your libraries which embrace nearly all the branches of human activity. You possess dictionaries and encyclopedias. You count perhaps a hundred volumes on one specialty of manual production. And I do not speak of political or sociological books. But there is not on your shelves a single work consecrated to sensual pleasure. There are some journals concerned with numismatics, philately, heraldry, angling or lawn bowling. The least of the poetic or artistic tendencies has its organ. The tiniest chapel of an ism has its bulletin. The novels of love abound. And we find brochures and books concerned with free love or sexual hygiene. But not one periodical devoted to sensual pleasure frankly considered, without insinuations. As one of the sources of the effort to live. As a felicity. As a stimulant in the struggle for existence. Long studies unroll on the techniques of painting, and sculpture—on the working of wood, stone, and metals. But I search in vain for documented articles which consider sensual pleasure as an art—which exhibit its ancient refinements—which propose novel ones. It is not that pleasure leaves you indifferent. But it is only clandestinely, in the shadows, behind closed doors that you discuss or debate it. As if nature was not truly voluptuous. As if the heat of the sun and the scent of the meadows did not invite sensual pleasure?
I am not unaware, certainly, of the reasons for your attitude. And I know its origin. The Christian poison flows in your veins. The Christian virus infects you cerebrally. The kingdom of your Master is not of this world. And you are his subjects. Yes, you, socialists, revolutionaries, anarchists, who swallow without batting an eye a hundred columns of estimates for demolition or social construction, but that two hundred lines of appeal to voluptuous experience “obsess”—that is to say “scandalize.”
Oh, slaves! 

 [Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised 3/17/2012]

Emile Armand, "On Sexual Liberty"

In the past, I've translated a number of short essays by Emile Armand, and thoroughly enjoyed reading several more, without entirely convincing myself that Armand is an important anarchist figure. The brand of Nietzschean individualism featured in the "Mini-Manual of the Individualist Anarchist" is interesting and sometimes suggestive. His writings on naturism and "amorous camaraderie" really do illuminate aspects of European individualist anarchism that are largely unknown to American anarchists. When I ran across his "De la liberté sexuelle" (published in 1916 in the corrected 2nd edition I worked from), it struck me as a useful bit of anarchist theory, but as I began to check some possible errors in my copy of the French text, I found something a lot more exciting—a version of the essay incorporated into Armand's L'Initiation individualiste anarchiste, a lengthy 1923 account of individualist anarchism in all its facets. I spent part of today reading through chapters on reciprocity, contract, guarantyism, and equal liberty. On the basis of a quick survey, I'm inclined to think the this Individualist-Anarchist Initiation may well be a rather important text from the individualist anarchist tradition. I'll start presenting some other sections in translation soon. For now, here is Armand's essay:


Before explaining our notion of “sexual liberty,” I think it is necessary to define liberty itself. We all know that liberty could not be an end, for there is no absolute liberty. Just as there is no general truth, practically speaking, except what exists in particular verities, there is no general liberty. There are only particular, individual liberties. It is not possible to escape certain contingencies. One cannot be free, for example, to not breathe or digest... Liberty is only a abstraction, like Truth, Purity, Goodness, Equality, etc. And an abstraction cannot be an end.
Considered, instead, from the particular point of view, liberty ceases to be an abstraction, and becomes a way, a means, and will be understood. It is thus that we call for the freedom of thought, which is to say the power, without external hindrance, to express thoughts in speech or in writing, in the manner in which they present themselves in the mind. It is the complete expression of thought which is the goal we pursue, and not liberty.
It is precisely because there are only particular liberties that we can, departing from the realm of the abstract, place ourselves on solid ground and affirm “our needs and our desires”—much better than “our rights,” which is an abstract and arbitrary expression—stifled, mangled or distorted by various sorts of authorities.
Intellectual life, artistic life, economic life, sexual life—we demand for all these the liberty to manifest themselves freely, in individuals, with an eye to the liberty of individuals, apart from the legalistic conceptions and prejudices of religious or civil order. We demand for them, these great rivers where human activity flows, the freedom to run without obstacles,—without the locks of “moralityism” or the dams of “traditionalism” troubling or miring their course. All in all, it is better to have the liberties, with their impetuous errors, their nervous jolts, their impulsive “lack of perspective,” than the authorities, immobile façades, frozen gates before which we wilt and die. Between life out of doors and life in the cellar, we choose the outdoor life.
*    *
When we call for “sexual liberty”—what do we mean? Do we mean “freedom to rape” or debauchery? Do we desire the annihilation of sentiment in love-lives, the disappearance of attachment, tenderness and affection? Do we glorify unthinking promiscuity or animalistic sexual satisfaction, at any time and place? Not at all. In calling for sexual liberty, we simply demand the possibility for every individual to dispose, as they wish and in all the circumstances of their sexual lifeaccording to the variations of temperament, sentiment, and reason which are peculiar to them.
Thus we do not demand the liberty to “rape.” Attention: their sexual life does not imply the sexual life of another. Neither do we demand a liberty of sexual life which would precede any sexual education. On the contrary, we believe that, gradually, in the period preceding puberty, the human being should be left ignorant of nothing that concerns sexual life,—the inevitable attraction of the sexes—whether that sexual life is considered from the sentimental, emotional or physiological point of view. We believe that advanced minds should take it to heart to recommend and propagate that education, to never let an occasion escape to engage in it; we think that from the moment that we have just indicated, not only should the human being know what delights—sentimental, emotional, and physical—the sexual life holds, but also what responsibilities it leads to. Both sexes should be led to understand, for example, that it is up to the woman to choose the hour of conception. And neither sex should be ignorant of the means of contraception. Following my thought to its logical conclusions, I would say that in a society which had not made it possible for its female constituents to refuse or avert an undesired pregnancy, those constituents would be perfectly justified in leaving their progeny to the care of the collectivity.
We do not separate the “liberty of the sexual life” from “sexual education.”
*    *
Contrary to the prejudices of the religious or civil orders, we treat the sexual question like the intellectual question, like all the questions raised by human activity. Just as the experiences of life, taken as a whole, appear necessary to us, so do experiences in that particular phase of life that is sexual life seem indispensible. We declare it an “absurdity” for a young boy or girl of sixteen years to be bound for life in marriage, and yet nothing appears more natural than a being of that age maintaining sexual relations with another, of the emotional or physical sort. Moreover, the sexual life from fifteen to twenty years of age differs from the sexual life consider at thirty-five or in the autumn of life. Sexual life is so complicated that the existence of multiple simultaneous experiences of sexual life is easily comprehensible, since in each experience, sometimes it is the sentimental or emotional side which dominates, sometimes the emotional or sensual side, and sometimes is the element of pure physical satisfaction. From experience to experience, the degrees of moral, emotional or voluptuous sensations vary so strangely that we can conclude from it that no experience resembles that which preceded it, or is pursued similarly.
We do not normally pursue identical experiences.
We do not exclude intense, voluptuous, sensual pleasure from those experiences; we put it on the same plane as intense intellectual pleasure (artistic, literary, etc.), moral pleasure, and economic pleasure. We consider those who place it on some lesser plane to be paltry moralists, morally mutilated. None of the experiences of life are inferior, except those caused by the fear of life or the imbalance of the will. Now, normal voluptuousness—whether it is the enjoyment of a splendid landscape or an intensely lived sensual experience—engenders, on the contrary, love of life and exercise of the will.
*    *
Thus “liberty of sexual life” is not synonymous with “debauchery,” otherwise known as “loss of moral equilibrium.” Sexual liberty is exclusively of the individual order. It presupposes an education of the will, which permits each to determine for themselves the point where they will cease to be master of their passions or penchants, an education perhaps much more instinctive than it appears at first look. Like all liberties, that of the sexual life involves an effort, not of abstinence—(in fact, abstention from the experiences of life is a mark of moral insufficiency, as debauchery is a sign of moral weakness)—but of judgment, discernment, and classification. In other words, it is not so much a question of the quantity or number of experiments as of the quality of the experimenter. To conclude, liberty of the sexual life remains united, in our mind, with a preparatory sexual education and a power of individual determination.
Liberty of sexual life in all circumstances, of course: in or out of union... If it is true that sexual experiences differ from one another, how can jealousy—a morbid attitude of love—exist? Can an individual, subject or object of an experience, reasonably bemoan the lack of necessary qualifications which makes one of their fellows the subject or object of another experience? Sentimental experience is one thing, sensual experience another, and the choice of a procreator yet another. It could be that the individual that a woman chooses as a procreator would not be the one for whom she feels the most affection, and that she seeks in the one certain physical qualities to which she is indifferent in the other. Could the one be reasonably jealous of the other?...
*    *
Let’s finish. By replacing the emotional phenomena among the experiences of ordinary life, we do not at all wish to diminish the importance of the factor “love” in human existence. We think that an experience can be experienced seriously, profoundly, intensely, but that we would be spared many disenchantments and sufferings if a number of the facts of life, instead of being considered as definitive, appeared as temporary, modifiable, revisable— essentially variable. This is accepted from the scientific point of view—from the intellectual point of view—from all points of view,—and we can’t comprehend how it would be otherwise from the sentimental, emotional or sexual point of view. It is not enough for us that this idea be adopted hypocritically and practiced clandestinely. We demand for the research and practice of sexual liberty the same broad daylight as for those of other liberties, persuaded that its development and evolution are linked not only to the increase of individual and collective happiness, but also in large part to the disappearance of the present state of things.
Moreover, we do not declare ourselves more in favor of unicity or plurality in love than we are against either; and it could well be that, in a given couple, one of the partners will practice unicity while the other practices plurality. And it could be that, after some time, unicity could appear preferable to plurality or vice-versa. These are individual questions. What we are asking is that we cease to qualify experience as more or less legitimate, depending on whether it is simple or unique. We also ask that we instruct all individuals on these things, and that fathers, mothers, or partners not profit from their privileged situation, to keep their knowledge hidden from those who are obliged to trust them. To each then, education, to determine their sexual life as they intend, to vary its experiences or to hold themselves to one alone: in a word, to proceed “at will.”

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised 3/17/2012]

Friday, September 09, 2011

Dyer D. Lum, "The Fiction of Natural Rights"

The Fiction of Natural Rights.

[Dyer D. Lum in Pittsburg Truth.]

The very corner-stone of Anarchistic philosophy is often supposed to be a paraphrase of Herbert Spencer's "First Principle" of equal freedom, that: "Every person has a natural right to do what he wills, provided that in the doing thereof he infringes not the equal rights of any other person." Yet there lurks in the expression a fallacy that correct thought must repudiate, or we must carry with us a diagram explaining the meaning of the words we use.

What are "natural rights?" In the middle ages school-men believed that they had solved a problem in physics by asserting that "nature abhors a vacuum"; but a very little study sufficed to convince thinkers that "the web of events" we group as "nature" neither abhors nor likes. With the growth of the conception of law as a term descriptive of a mode of being rather than a fiat imposed upon events, the term "natural" has lost much of its old teleological meaning. Still it is often used in that sense and too often implies it.

Blackstone defined "the law of nature" as "the will of man's maker." Mackintosh calls it "a supreme, invariable and uncontrollable rule of conduct to all men." Sir Henry Maine also speaks of "a determinable law of nature" for the guidance of human conduct. Kent defines it as that "which the creator has prescribed to man." F. Q. Stuart, in his "Natural Rights," says expressly: "A natural right is a privilege vouchsafed by natural law to man to exercise his faculties," and his whole work teems with expressions implying the fixity of "real law."

The correct position is, I maintain, that what we term "natural rights" are evolved, not conferred, and if so they are not fixed and unalterable. Nature conferred no more "privilege" upon us than upon dogs to exercise our faculties or functions. In fact, to my mind, the very assumption of "natural rights" is at war with evolution. Even if we no longer personalize nature as their giver, the term still carries with it the implication of rigidity, when, in fact, not even that mythical "right reason" with which we are supposed to he endowed can prove them historically so characterized. Every man is supposed to have a "natural right" to life. Is this co-eternal with man? Did it exist, though unrecognized, among our prognathus ancestors? If the savage transcended "natural right" in disposing at will of the life of a captive, where was it inscribed? It was not incarnated in the semi-brute. If the Roman law was based upon "a type of perfect law" in nature, was the recognition of the "natural right" of a father over the lives of his family contrary to the "right reason" of the time? And to this query convictions founded upon nineteenth century convictions are not pertinent.

Is woman's "natural right" as a "person" the same in all countries under polyandry, polygamy, and monogamy? or are those relations of the sexes, so important to the "well-being and good conduct," ignored by beneficent nature? It has been conclusively shown by sociologist that human progress (and there is no other) consists in passing from the militant régime toward an industrial one. Yet the time was when the lex talionis sanctified revenge as the highest virtue. Time was when not a human being on the face of the earth differed from Aristotle's opinion of slavery as a natural condition. Where was this "privilege vouchsafed by natural law" then inscribed? The question whether society would not have been far more conducive to happiness if such right had been recognized, is as idle as whether eyes behind our heads would not have been equally so. If the "Principle" was not discoverable then, but has been now, are we to conclude that it is the final synthesis of "right reason"? or that its Incarnation is only now visible?

Having thus shown a few of the queries which arise to puzzle one who seeks for evidence of the immutability of "natural rights," let us examine closer into the nature of "rights" themselves. The human sphere is a province conquered from nature, and believe its relations cannot be termed "natural." It would be equally as permissible to call them moral or religious, for the qualifying adjective being given to imply the highest validity, it would be so understood by all to whom either of these words conveyed such meaning. Equally permissible, but equally indefensible in evolutionary thought when implying fixity. But do there exist any such inherent predicates of human nature as "rights?" The same theological bias which characterized "rights" as "natural" also regards their assertion as positive. On the contrary, every assertion of a right purely human, paradoxical as it may seem, is negative. The assertion of a "right" is but a protest against iniquitous conditions. Social evolution ever tends to the equalization of the exercise of our faculties. That is, social intercourse has slowly evolved the Ideal that peace, happiness and security are best attained by equal freedom to each and all; consequently, I can lay no claim in equity to a privilege, for that which all alike may enjoy ceases to be privileged. The important deduction from social evolution is that as militancy has weakened and industrialism widened its boundaries, liberty has ever tended toward such equalization, Privilege finds sanction in equity as right, because it violates the ideal of social progress—equality of opportunities.

Therefore it is that, as social relations have become more complex and integrated, the Ideal of "a more perfect form of liberty" rises in the form of protest against what only then are discernible as socially wrong, though ostensibly as assertions, such as "rights of women," "rights of labor," "rights" of children and sailors against flogging, the right to the soil, etc. They are fierce and burning assertions just so far as they emphasize a growing protest against inequitable conditions. In this sense they are Anarchistic, inasmuch as only by the extension, in other words, the abolition of restrictions, is the wrong righted. Our specific "rights" are thus dependent upon our ability to discern wrongs, or the violation of the ever-evolving industrial ideal—equality of opportunities, and exist but as protests. Abolish vested wrongs, and there will be no vested rights, natural or otherwise. Precisely as water flows to a level when obstructions are removed, just so will social relations flow to equitable conditions when restrictions are swept away. And precisely also as liberty comes in does the assertion of "rights" go out.

Source: Liberty. VI, 25 (February 15, 1890) 1.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Claude Pelletier - "A Clear-Headed Socialist"

Readers of this blog and The Mutualist should already know the name Claude Pelletier from my in-progress translation of The Socialist Soirées of New York (1873) and some mentions of his Socialist Dictionary. (I've also started a translation of his 1848 Solution of the Problem of Poverty.) Pelletier was one of that small, but important group of French anarchists who published much of their work while in America, and, like Joseph Dejacque, he was a member of the International Association of 1855-59. He was essentially a mutualist anarchist in his politics, though he preferred a series of terms of his own choosing, including adjuvantism and atercracy. He was not, in some ways, the sort of anarchist who is particularly pleasing to modern sentiments, because he did not hold to (and largely came before) the particular programs which we have come to expect. But he's a fascinating figure, and one associated with aspects of our history that remain largely unexplored. For that reason, I was very pleased to find this account of his life in New York, during the period when he was writing his major works.




The foreign notabilities resident in New York if gathered together in one room would make a most interesting assemblage. In the recent articles published in THE WORLD on the French Communistic and German Socialistic elements in the population of this city, some account was given of notorious foreigners who had been concerned in revolutionary movements in the Old World and who are still seeking to create revolutionary movements in the New World. Something remains to be said of men formerly active in political affairs abroad, but now settled down in New York quietly pursuing their business avocations. Perhaps the most remarkable of this class is Claude Pelletier, at one time a well-known Socialist and politician of the extreme Radical wing in France, and a member of the Corps Legislatif from 1848 to 1851. He was born in 1816, at Arbresle, in the Department of the Rhone, the son of an innkeeper, he went to Paris while very young, and lived in great poverty until after the revolution of 1848, when he went home and became a candidate for the Assembly, to which he was elected by 45,000 votes. He was a strong partisan of La Montagne and an active worker in the Radical cause. He was reelected in 1850 by 71,000 votes, and was still in office when, on December 2, 1851, he was arrested by the order of Louis Napoleon and subsequently banished by the decree of January 9, 1852, as “dangerous to the public peace.” So much Vapereau's Dictionnaire des Contemporains tells us; for the rest let Pelletier speak for himself.

M. Pelletier lives in Wooster street, near Canal, in a little three story building, where he has for many years carried on the business of a manufacturer of artificial leaves and flowers. His office is in the back room on the first floor, and there he superintends the work of a dozen girls engaged in folding the leaves and flowers. The adjoining front room is used as a sitting room and library; it is comfortably but plainly furnished, and much space is occupied by bookcases containing the works of Voltaire, Moliere, Rossi, Washington Irving, Kant, Comte and others. The walls are hung with photographs of Garibaldi and Mazzini, bearing the autographs of those distinguished men. There are a few oil paintings of merit and several line engravings of classical subjects. In this room M. Pelletier, in the dress of a French artisan, received the writer. He is a distinguished looking old gentleman, with white hair and beard, a face denoting great intelligence and the most polished manners. He readily consented to speak of his past life and present views, adding, however, that he must “long since have ceased to be of interest to the public.”

It appears from M. Pelletier's story that he first imbibed his Socialistic theories while living at the inn kept by his father, where, as he remembers, in 1829, he saw King Louis-Philippe on his way to Lyons. At the inn he came in contact with people of all sorts and all opinions, and as he became impressed with the cruel misery of the vast majority of the people, was filled with a desire, amounting to a mania, to aid them. Full of this desire, he went, to Paris, where, however, he was unable to get work, and had to sell his books and his clothes and to rely upon the goodwill of his acquaintances to get the means of bare subsistence. But, during this time, his discontent with the prevailing social system and his ambitious projects of contributing towards its reform grew stronger every day. Then came the revolution of 1848, which he speaks of as “a terrible showing of the frightful effects of the cowardice of the people.” The revolution produced a great effect upon him; “to this day,” he said to the writer, “I cannot drive out of my mind or from before my eyes the horrible doings of that period; it opened my eyes wide to the terrible nature of men made mad with grief and trouble, of men made beasts in time of danger by cowardice.” He continued, as though thinking aloud: “Oh, my God those scenes back of the Hotel de Ville! Talk of the Commune of '71! It was child's play compared to that. I tell you the most terrible thing to see is a man thoroughly a coward. Be rather afraid of a cowardly friend than of a bold enemy in times of revolution! How I saw men killing each other in perfect frenzy, how I saw crowds behind the Hotel de Ville crazy with fear, trampling the dead and dying, stabbing at corpses and wallowing in the blood of comrades they knew not why! Ah! I have never forgotten those scenes from hell; they come to me again and again, and I ask, What has become of the manliness of men?”

In the election following the revolution M. Pelletier was elected to represent the. Department of the Rhone and the great city of Lyons, and for two years that followed he labored in time and out of time, with men whose names have since become famous, to put into practice his theories for the alleviation of the distress of his fellow men. But the coup d’état that carried Louis Napoleon into power proved the death-blow to his schemes; he was arrested and imprisoned, and, as Victor Hugo relates in his “Histoire d’un Crime,” he was with sixty-two other Deputies sentenced to banishment. His fellow exiles included Victor Hugo himself; Lafon, now or recently in New-Orleans, and Jules Leroux, now settled in Corning County, Iowa. Of these sixty-three exiles only about twenty are now living.

After leaving France Pelletier went to England, as he says, “with a heart heavy with the feeling that the alleviation of the distress of the French people and of humanity was further off than ever, since in the shadow of the Bonapartist republic we had the substance of a worse despotism than France had yet seen. How my views proved to be prophetic all the world knows.” In 1855 M. Pelletier came to the United States, poor and friendless. It occurred to him, as he says, that he should prove himself more competent to aid others, when occasion served, if he could now manage to aid himself. He therefore sought and obtained employment as a vender of artificial flowers, and became half a canvasser, half a peddler.

His industry and intelligence were a help to him and he prospered. In a short time he was enabled to open a store of his own; then he became a manufacturer, and is reputed today to be one of the most successful men in his business. One of his business rivals said to the writer recently, "How does Pelletier stand? Why, he stands like the Bank of England; his word is good for all he will ever ask for!” But, engrossed in business as he has been. M. Pelletier has not at all given up his Socialistic views: all his leisure for a dozen years has been devoted to the writing of a Socialist dictionary for the instruction of the masses in the practical methods of enforcing Socialist views. This work is entitled “Dictionnaire Socialiste—Indiquant les Voies et Moyens de Résoudre le Problème Sociale.” (Socialist Dictionary, Indicating the Ways and Means to Solve the Social Problem.) up to this time two volumes have been printed, and constitute a clear, concise and judicial exposition of Socialist theories. M. Pelletier will not publish the work until it is complete. He hopes to leave it finished at his death, as he says, “for a legacy to the people and for the cause to which I was so willing to consecrate my life but so little able to serve.”

Since he has been in America M. Pelletier has studiously avoided all publicity and refrained from taking part in any of the so-called Socialistic movements of other foreigners in this country. He explained the reason of this by saying: "I am not conversant with the English language and therefore I could not, if I would, take part in politics here. I have often been solicited to do so by countrymen of mine who make a practice of interfering in matters that they do not understand, and if I consented I might, perhaps, have much influence with them. But I think that the politics of America should be left to people who understand the American people. From what I see of American Socialism, I am afraid it has started in the wrong way. The American Socialists want to work less and to be paid more, forgetting that men will not employ labor if it does not serve them, and that there is nothing to be gained by increasing the antagonism between labor and capital which already exists. There is no doubt that the workmen here are greatly distressed, but there is a relief for them. Just as the politicians insure against crime, fire, &c., let them insure against involuntary idleness, which is a still greater evil. Let all men work and eat. In a republic like this we should have Government workshops in the large cities to give work to those who want it: let the Government advance men wages on their labor to meet their necessities as the commission merchant advances moneys to the producer on his produce to meet his expenses. Communism sounds terrible, and Socialism sounds little better, but worse than either is a country where the few feast and the many starve, and the Government cannot relieve the distress and can only wait expectantly for an outbreak and suppress it at a cost much larger than would have been required to prevent it.”

As to Mégy and his fellow Communists, M. Pelletier said: “Mégy means well, but he is young, he is younger than his age. He has a good heart that has suffered, and he has become an extremist. But these people have no influence with the American working-man—the French Commune has no place here. If a revolution broke out here tomorrow you would not even hear of Mégy. These people are the apostles of ideas only, very honest and sincere, but having no business with the present state of labor affairs in America. “In regard to the state of American politics, M. Pelletier said: “Corruption is its name and its blame. In Europe the politicians are honest at least; if they are wrong they are conscientiously wrong. Corruption has no access to them; they are proud to be honest rather than rich. Our justice in Europe is honest, too, until it touches political matters, and then it is worse than it is here. Your trouble in the United States is with an aristocracy of office-holders apparently elected by the people, not to serve them but to grow rich at their expense. While one sees suffering all around and one asks in vain for its relief we see two or three men invested with absolute power of imposing heavy taxes, regardless of the general distress, because to regard that distress would be to decrease the taxes, and to decrease the taxes would be to decrease the official salaries which alone make office-holding desirable. These views are common among thinking men, and the danger of this country lies not in the Commune nor in Socialism, but in the arrogance and greed of the public officials, who are slowly but surely breeding a revolution of which they may be the first victims. For myself, I take no active part in public affairs; the memories of the past and my present work in behalf of humanity in the future occupy all my time.”

In conclusion M. Pelletier spoke of Mazzini and Garibaldi, with whom he was formerly well-acquainted. He said that Mazzini's dream had been fulfilled in the unity of Italy and that Garibaldi had lived to see the realization of many of his hopes. As to Church matters he would not speak; he was of opinion “that the Socialists and the Communists make too much of the Church in their abuse of it. They could not harm it more than by leaving it severely alone.”

Source: New York World. April 30, 1878. 7.