Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Working Translation revisions

As I've mentioned, I'm in the midst of a thorough revision of all my working translations. I'll be making announcements of the major milestones, but I've also been marking the links in the side column here in bold as I complete the work. I've signed onto a couple of big, exciting translation projects (about which more soon) and turned a couple of important corners in my own work, and want to square away all of this exploratory material, as I start to tackle material in a considerably more systematic manner. And the revised translations will make up the heart of the new Corvus Editions catalog, at this year's bookfairs and on the new site (soon now.) 

I still encourage people to treat the revised translations as working translations, since many of the difficulties are matters of context, rather than language, and there are undoubtedly still surprises and new insights to come from the process of translating still more material. But some of the revisions are substantial, and the improvements and corrections significant. Keep an eye on that side column if the translations are part of what brings you to the blog.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Feuding Brothers (1850)

I ran across this one-act parody of French socialism in the January 5, 1850 issue of La Mode, a popular magazine, and was nearly finished with this (rough) translation before I realized that most of the dialogue was lifted straight from the debates between Proudhon, Blanc and Leroux. Indeed, most of the details may have come from a single source, a pamphlet, Actes de la Révolution: Résistance, which reprinted Proudhon's essays "What is Government? What is God?" and "Resistance to the Revolution." The second installment of the latter essay is, of course, the source of two partial translations, by William Batchelder Greene and Benjamin R. Tucker, under the title "The State." This is one of Proudhon's best-known essays, but it's context, a far-flung debate launched by Proudhon's treatment of the questions of government and God, is much less well known. The appearance of Blanc's Le Nouveau monde; journal historique et politique in digital archives has provided access to some of the missing pieces, but Leroux's responses in La Republique remain elusive (and more so since the Association des Amis de Pierre Leroux site went down.) I had dipped into all of this several years back, and have a partial translation of Leroux's "Response to Proudhon" in my files, but at that point it looked like a big job to bring all the pieces together. But when I discovered that the dialogue I was translating for "The Feuding Brothers" was actually taken from parts of "Resistance to the Revolution" which Tucker had not translated, I got interested in the project again, and this time, having found a relatively affordable collection of the Proudhon-Leroux debate that I could order from France, I'm fairly certain I have most of the essays either in hand or in the mail. Perhaps this spring I can start to wade in and get the translating done. For now, however, here is:


Democratic and social reckoning for the year 1849.

A Terrible and Jovial Drama in One Act


The stage represents a newspaper office. — To the right, on the mantelpiece, sits a red cap perched on a mushroom; to the left, a library, on the shelves of which sprawl the works of Vadé and a copy of the Billingsgate Catechism, bound in red Moroccan leather; in the foreground, close to the door, a sturdy broom-handle.


Brother Louis BLANC.
Brother Pierre LEROUX.

(The scene takes place under the Republic.)


Brother CONSIDERANT (making a pince-nez with the eye at the end of his tail, and looking down his nose at brother Proudhon in an impertinent manner.)

I would be done with you, Mr. Proudhon. You are mad, my good man, mad with one of those follies which inspires a legitimate disgust. It is that sad sickness of the mind which gives to your writings the odor of hatred and that tawny color that characterizes them... Your life has been nothing but denigration and wounds; you have made a name for yourself only by detracting from the very people whose ideas you exploit. There is nothing, nothing, you understand, nothing serious about you, not a shred of an idea, not a wisp of thought. A zero—very large and bloated, full of noise and venom, I admit—but the numeral zero, and nothing else, that is your score... You have spoiled everything, burned everything, Mr. Proudhon, to make a name for yourself... If your outward, historical name is Erostratus, your private name is more sinister still: you call yourself destruction... I find in you, in a word, in the sphere of principles and ideas, that mysterious and sacrosanct character, that de Maistre found in the ancient and quasi-pontifical conception of the executioner.

(He lets his pince-nez fall and crosses his arms in a attitude defiant stance.)

Brother PROUDHON (steadying his glasses on his nose and taking two steps back, like a man who wants to pull a pistol from his pocket to fire on his adversary.)

I will be done with you, Mr. Considerant! It is necessary to have your mind dazed, for twenty-five years, by the mephitic vapors of the phalanstery, to conduct oneself in a manner as vacuous as Mr. Considerant. The Démocratie Pacifique, daily organ of the so-called societary school, is a sort of spillway for all the mad absurdities and impurities of the human mind. That spillway has for a symbol the name of the greatest hoaxer of modern times: Fourier. For real aim, it has a speculation of unprincipled schemers... There is no theory of Fourier, no social science according to Fourier; consequently, no phalansterian socialism. There is only a collection of charlatans, of which you (you, the subscribers of the Démocratie!) are the miserable dupes... Your inability, monsieur Considerant, shines out despite you... Your speech is like a horn coated with lead, a cracked cymbal. You are dead, dead to democracy and to socialism... What speaks, what writes, what jargonizes, what rattles on under the name of Victor Considerant, is only a shadow, the soul of a dead man who returns to demand prayers from the living. Go, poor soul, I will recite for you a de profundis and give you 15 sols to say a mass.

(He leaps for the broomstick, and, with a blow as deft as treacherous, pierces the eye on the tail of Considérant, who loses his name Victor in the battle.)


Brother Pierre LEROUX (making a comb with the five stiffened fingers of his left hand, and with the other anxiously twisting the middle button of his beaver coat at the proprietor).

You are a Malthusian, an eclectic, a liberal, an individualist, a bourgeois, an atheist, a proprietor.

(He lets out a plaintive Oh! Oh!, and signs himself with a charm, an offering of filial devotion from citizens Pauline Roland and Jeanne Deroin.)

Brother PROUDHON, (having let out a roar of laughter as mocking as it is satanic).

Listen, dear Theogloss, I will spare you today all the follies and absurdities that you have spread against me. I would make you suffer too much by noting them. You may characterize my ideas, as is your right; but I forbid you from characterizing my intentions, or else I will characterize you yourself, and mark you so aggressively and so hotly, that it will be remembered in the future generations. That will be a more certain means for you of being reaching posterity than the triad, the circulus and the doctrine.

(He takes him by the ears. Scene of hair-pulling.)


Brother LOUIS BLANC (waddling and finishing a sandwich spread with his favorite democratic delicacy, a filet of venison with pineapple puree.)

You are a gladiator by profession, a flesh-ripper renowned among the people, a panegyrist of tyrants (redoubling the volubility of his language); a juggler, a tender of limes, a sower of doubts (he nearly chokes in rage); a prompter of discord, a snuffer of light, a calumniator of the people (he lets his sandwich fall); a sort of Thrasymachus, of Lysander, of Tallien (he stamps on his sandwich); a sophist, a Philippist, a Hellenist, a Galimafron, a giant, a proud, vain, rude, brutal idolater of yourself, a Satan, a schoolboy, a Herostratus, an enragé, and finally a free student of the College of Besançon.

(He pretends he wants to pick up his sandwich and darts between the legs of his interlocutor, to make him, in the way kids do, fall backwards at full length.)

PROUDHON, (solemnly taking brother Louis Blanc by the ears and setting him back on his feet in front of him).

Child, child, you are only a pseudo-socialist and a pseudo-democrat, the stunted shadow of Robespierre, a puny nibbler of political crusts, a crass ignoramus, the vainest, most vacuous, most impudent, and most nauseating rhetorician, produced, in the most garrulous of centuries, by the loosest of literatures... But I excuse you, seeing your extreme youth.

(He gives him a little pat on the cheek; but the child pokes him in the eyes.
Radical boxing.)


We no longer see anything on the field of battle but a punctured eye, a pair of shattered spectacles, a fistful of hair and a slice of buttered bread.

We hear, as the curtain falls, a strident voice which murmurs: They have devoured one another with a truly brotherly appetite. That is all that remain of the Vadiuses of demagogy and the Trissottiuses of socialism! requiescant in pace!!
La Mode. Vol. 22 (January 5, 1850) 43-45. 

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised March, 2012.]

Sunday, February 19, 2012

La Barrière du Combat

The title of La Barrière du Combat, a short 1852 work by Ernest Coeurderoy and Octave Vauthier, at first appeared a bit of a mystery to me. It is an attack on various figures associated with the radical left in the French Revolution of 1848, an account of "the last great assault which has just been engaged between the citoyens Mazzini, Ledru-Rollin, Louis Blanc, Étienne Cabet, Pierre Leroux, Martin Nadaud, Malarmet, A. Bianchi (de Lille) and other Hercules of the north." It was apparently written before many of those figures, and the authors, ended up in exile in England, following the coup of Louis Napoleon:

This was written long ago. The slight impact made by the manifestos of Mazzini, Ledru, L. Blanc and their companions had at first discouraged us from publishing it.
After the meeting of the outcasts of the Seine, who had taken refuge in London, which took place on June 13, we could no longer hush up what we believed it useful to say.
It's pretty scathing stuff, apparently inspired by the inability of the promoters of the various "socialist unions" to engage in much unity. There seems to have been enough frustration to go around, since Leroux, one of the targets of La Barrière du Combat, had similar things to say about the exiled "phantoms" in The Beach at Samarez. Max Nettlau began his biographical sketch of Coeurderoy with a brief mention of La Barrière and Dejacque's funeral oration for Louise Julien as "two events, quickly covered with a veil of silence," which "keenly struck the exile community in London."

But what about that name? The Barrière du Combat is one of several names for the Pantin barrière, a toll gate in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, which was ultimately ruined during the siege of the Paris Commune. The title suggests more general readings, perhaps, although I haven't found any that seem likely as legitimate translations. But I did find some interesting material about "the Combat," which seems to explain things. Until 1833, the Pantin barrière was the site of les combats des animaux, a sort of Roman circus where Parisians could see animal battles and other bloody amusements. I was even able to find an early 19th century English account of the spectacle that gave Couerderoy and Vauthier their title.



Our neighbours in France occasionally rate us, and not wholly without reason, for our passion for animal combats; but, in reality, these things take place as frequently at their side of the Channel as ours. We shall translate one out of five hundred bills of this description, and leave it to our readers to decide between the polished Parisians and the unpolished men of the Fives Court:—


"The Sieur Gerot, successor to the Sieur Mouroy, proprietor of the establishment hitherto known under the denomination of the Combat des Animaux, has the honour of informing the public, that his exercises will take place every Sunday and holiday.—To please the public, to promise little, to keep what is promised, and to surprise agreeably.
"To-morrow, Sunday, the 8th of May, 1825, will be a grand combat of a young and vigorous bull. This furious animal, without equal for agility and ferocity, will be attacked vigorously by dogs of the greatest force and first-rate shape, who will relieve one another turn about. Messieurs the amateurs, and also the bourgeois, will have the liberty of letting loose their dogs against the indomitable animal.
"The hear of Poland, lately arrived at the menagerie of the Combat du Taureau, and who has never appeared or fought in the arena. This young and vigorous animal will fight for the first time.
"The famous wild boar of the Black Forest will be hunted and pursued by dogs trained to this kind of exercise.
"The wolf of the forest of Ardennes will fight, and be hunted and pursued, in an astonishing manner.
"The combat will be concluded by the raising of the famous bull, dog (in the original Bouldogue) 'Maroquin,' so well known for the force of his jaw, to more than fifty feet high, in a brilliant firework of a new and very extraordinary nature.
"Les Fanfares, sporting airs suitable to this kind of amusement, will be performed turn about.
"Price of admission.—Pit 75c. (7 1/2 d.);
Amphitheatre, 1 fr.; Boxes, 2 fr. The office will be opened at two o'clock, and the diversions will commence at five. In case of bad weather the whole place is covered. Bear's grease is sold for the cure of rheumatic pains, freckles, and other complaints. Sieur Gerot sells and buys all sorts of dogs for the protection of country and town houses, cures them of sickness and wounds, and takes them to keep. Tickets once taken, the money will not be returned. Children under seven years of age will only pay half price. A great battle every Monday."
The delicacy and humanity of all this is quite "refreshing;" and the day on which it was to take place, Sunday, is equally laudable. In another of these bills we find the following assurance, which must be highly satisfactory to Messieurs the amateurs—"Nothing shall be neglected to render the combat obstinate."

The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction. VI (1825) 359-360.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Ungovernability of Anarchism

There is a lesson about anarchism that seems extraordinarily hard to learn, even though we are constantly confronted with it: As a tradition and as an idea, anarchism is essentially ungovernable. As an idea, it is too basic and logical a response to the statist status quo to remain the exclusive domain of any particular class or faction of dissenters. As a tradition, it emerged alongside many of the categories we presently use to distinguish those classes and factions, positing itself, at its origins, as much as an alternative to those classificatory schemes as fodder for their work.

When it is a question of a choice between more-or-less anarchist approaches, we should certainly expect everyone to proclaim the overwhelming advantages of their particular theory or strategy—and if there are certain rhetorical advantages to "no true Scotsman" sorts of arguments, they will be used, and their use may help us to focus on what the real essence of anarchism might be. But let's be clear when we're being rhetorically clever or expedient, and acknowledge that there is no question of forcing any fraction of the thought that has a legitimate claim to the title of "anarchism" into the little ideological boxes that most of us favor. That ship has sailed. Anarchism hardly had a name before it had an internal diversity that no amount of spinning is ever going to reduce to a single orthodoxy.

And the more of our history that we uncover, the more irrevocably irreducible it will appear. 

From my notebooks

[This may, or may not, end up being part of "Owning Up," the next issue of The Mutualist, but it seems useful enough to share at this point.]

I certainly never anticipated spending years wrestling with property theory, let alone the sort of detailed work that I’ve ended up doing on Proudhon’s property writings, but it has ultimately been a lot of fun, as well as a lot of preconception-stretching, difficult work. My hope, however, is that, thanks to a couple of fortuitous turns in the research recently, pretty much all of the pieces of the puzzle—the elements of a neo-Proudhon mutualist property theory—have now at least made their appearance on the blog, and perhaps I can start to wrap up this phase of things. The trick, of course, is to pull together years worth of hints and experiments into something coherent. Let’s see what can be done in that direction....

Property is theft! — No serious social anarchist property theory can really have any other point of departure. Proudhon’s 1840 bombshell, What is Property?, posed a serious challenge to all existing theories of “simple property” in land, challenging all the conventional derivations of exclusive, individual ownership of natural resources, and applying not just one, but a series of critical approaches (including those showing that “property is impossible”) to refute the claims of the propertarians of Proudhon’s day. The in/famous phrase is one that Proudhon never retracted, nor did he reject the analysis upon which it was based, despite almost twenty-five more years active engagement with the question. He had occasion, as he bolstered his original treatment of property law with historical and philosophical analysis, to reevaluate a good deal of what he had perhaps thought he knew about the historical functioning of various property regimes, but his principled rejection of simple property in land—precisely because it was “theft,” a necessarily absolutist, even despotic form of land tenure—formed the stable baseline for virtually his entire adult career.

That baseline is not, however, the only line that we can trace through the whole of Proudhon’s career. From 1840—and likely before, as I’ve suggested in my posts on his 1839 work, The Celebration of Sunday—Proudhon’s property had its antithesis in the domain of land-tenure. In 1840, working with an explicitly, if not rigorously Hegelian model, Proudhon proposed a literal thesis-antithesis relationship between “property” and “community,” with community being something like what we think of as “primitive communism,” and something like the ill-defined “simple possession” which was Proudhon’s alternative to “simple property.” Careful students of Proudhon will have to work out for themselves the precise relationship between:

1.  “Community,” the first form of sociality, which predates (historically, or at least developmentally) “property,” which would appear as its dialectical antithesis;
2.    “Simple possession,” defined as a “matter of fact” (while “property” was a “matter of right”), but which he also said was “a right” (while “property is against right”); and,
3. The results of “not putting away,” as Proudhon suggests that Moses defines “theft” in the Decalogue—a definition that may have implications in the context of Proudhon’s declaration that “property is theft.”

Proudhon himself said, in The Theory of Property, that he had not properly defined “possession” previously, and the definition he supplied at the end of his life made “possession” sound very much like the primitive “community” which he posited as a pre-propertarian state, but rejected as a regime of freedom. But by that time his ideas about the history of land-tenure were much more developed than they had been at the beginning of his career, and his hopes for successfully organizing land tenure solely in the realm of “fact” had dwindled, so it is possible (I would even say probable) that equating the two terms in 1840 might be bowing a little too much to Proudhon’s desire to seem orderly in his development. 

My educated guess at this point is that Proudhon was so focused on the “vanquishing” of simple property that the other terms never assumed the same sort of crystalline clearness for him as “property,” narrowly defined as “the right of use and abuse.” Working with a dialectical model over which he arguably did not have the most perfect control, it was fairly easy for him, focused as he was on the thing that must be defeated, to make “community” little more than that which came (historically or developmentally) before property, to which property poses an antithesis, and “possession” roughly land-tenure without the sanction of the various ill-made justifications for simple property. The fact that possession is not “theft” is not a not a terribly ringing endorsement, but it’s something. When Proudhon let his terms slip and declared that “possession is a right,” he had quite clearly shifted terrain, and he was talking about what was for him the most essential of truths: the basic equality of individuals, and their equal right to enjoy what came to all—if it could be said to come to anyone—as a “free gift.” But, as important as that assertion of a particular kind of equality is, it doesn’t move us much close to an actual Proudhonian property theory. 

The much-vaunted vanquishing of property was also somewhat undercut by the fact that the culminating chapters of What is Property?, those dealing with the “third form of society,” which Proudhon identified as “liberty,” treated property as something of a historically necessary evil, which, though vanquished, would provide half the impetus in the “synthesis of community and property” in the era of “liberty.” (Those inclined to separate Proudhon from the “utopian” socialists around him, or to take too seriously Proudhon’s little digs at their division of history into developmental epochs, should probably note that Proudhon engaged in the same sort of epochal division—and more than once. He even applied Fourier’s divisions to his own work, referring to mutualism as “guaranteeism”—the era between Civilization and Harmony in Fourier’s scheme—on several occasions.) 

Even with all the vague definitions and open questions about the relationships between terms, What is Property? holds together wonderfully as a critique of property, coupled with a plea for the “society,” based in equality, which property constantly threatens to destroy. But all around the edges of that fairly straightforward narrative, we have elements that threaten to muddy the waters, or even overturn the basic argument. The formulation of liberty as the “synthesis of community and property” points us back toward the vanquished institution, and the institution it vanquished, for the elements of a free society. It demands that we treat both property and community positively, according to their historical and developmental merits, rather than merely dealing with their logical, philosophical and legal shortcomings. They demand as much of Proudhon, as well, and the brief historical treatment in What is Property? is a bit disorienting, coming as it does smack-dab between the multiple onslaughts on all existing theories of simple property and the exuberant declaration of victory. That historical account, and the introduction of the “third form of society” as a kind of anarchist desideratum, open up possibilities that the 1840 text simply cannot deal with. A similar “problem” is created by some rather clumsy back and forth by Proudhon on the existence of forms of “property” besides the “simple property” whose existence as “a matter of right” he so thoroughly assailed. The work begins by dividing the realm of “property” into “simple property” (henceforth known simply as “property”) and “simple possession.” This opens the door to a “property” that would not be theft,” and to a range of “properties” beyond his opposed pair. Eventually, Proudhon was careful to explain that there was indeed a wide range of possible property regimes, although he eventually came to believe that his initial division was very close to the most important logical distinction among them. (He began with “simple property” and “simple possession.” He ended with “allodial property” and “fief.”) But he really hadn’t left himself much choice. When he tried, in the introduction to the second edition of What is Property?, to explain that—contrary to the approaches of others—he considered “property” to amount to “the sum of its abuses,” he threatened to seriously undercut his own analysis (since “abuse of property is theft” doesn’t pack a lot of punch.”)

Those who want the work of 1840 to be the last word on “property” ought at least to be sensitive to the aspects of that work that seem to pull in other directions. Proudhon himself may have been a little disappointed at the fact that he had not actually put property down for the count in the first battle. But he should hardly have been surprised. After all, he was the one who had written, just the year before, that the problem of property was so demanding that even Jesus Christ had avoided speaking about it on at least some occasions, feeling that “hearts were still too hard” in his day.

We know where Proudhon eventually went, in his search for that theory. As early as 1842, he began to experiment with the notion that the equality which was so important to him could be the tool to legitimate property. Testifying in court on his own behalf, during one of the trials sparked by his writings, he declared that he would universalize the theft of property as a means of neutralizing its ill effects. Over the next few years, he developed as a social philosopher, attempting to adapt Charles Fourier’s serial method to his ends, and then developing—on a methodological base owing something to both Hegel and Fourier—his 1846 System of Economic Contradictions, in which he began to abandon the apparatus of “utopian” universal history and construct a more strictly logical and developmental account of the emergence and progress of institutions, including, naturally, those relating to land tenure. The 1846 work is, by turns, both brilliant and cringe-worthy, but his growing awareness that given institutions amounted to pivotal approximations, embodying positive and negative tendencies, elements destined to be abandoned and elements only just appearing in germ, was a significant step forward. His work in the years surrounding the French Revolution of 1848 is fascinating, but also often baffling. It seems clear that Proudhon was experimenting with ideas and rhetoric alike, and we find him rejecting and endorsing the most unlikely things, in the most unlikely combinations (as when, in “The Revolutionary Program,” he embraces property and “complete insolidarity,” and then goes on, a bit later, to suggest how those commitments will lead to something that sounds rather like anarchist-communism by market means.)
The 1850s brought a different sort of notoriety to Proudhon, whose name might still be useful to frighten children—and the more timid among the bourgeoisie—in at least some quarters, but who had also established himself as a thinker to be reckoned with in others. In 1853 he was asked to explain himself, as a thinker, and he did so rather brilliantly in The Philosophy of Progress, the work which arguably opened the era of Proudhon’s mature work. The elements of the 1853 work are all present in the earlier works. Reading back from The Philosophy of Progress one gets a sense of just how much of the work of the 1850s and 1860s was already suggested by the troubling elements in the work of 1840. But there is also a tremendous amount of material on philosophy and method that is simply not hinted at by most of the earlier work. From that point on, he pushed out books at a tremendous rate, while keeping up a voluminous correspondence, and, of course, dealing with all of the complications of life as a marked man with a family to feed, and just his brains and his pen to do it with—when the censors and courts would let him. And while property did not play quite as prominent a role in these later works as it had in the earlier ones, that was largely because Proudhon was now writing about everything. In The Theory of Property, Proudhon, objecting to those who still considered him a destructive force, made a list of the positive contributions he had made to philosophy and social science:

  • A theory of force: the metaphysics of the group (this, as well as the theory of nationalities, will be especially demonstrated in a book to be published);
  • A dialectical theory: formation of genera and species by the serial method; expansion of the syllogism, which is good only when the premises are allowed;
  • A theory of law and morality (doctrine of immanence);
  • A theory of freedom;
  • A theory of the Fall, i.e. the origin of moral evil: idealism;
  • A theory of the right of force: the right of war and the rights of peoples;
  • A theory of contract: federation, public or constitutional law;
  • A theory of nationalities, derived from the collective force: citizenship, autonomy;
  • A theory of the division of powers, correlate with the collective force;
  • A theory of property;
  • A theory of credit: mutuality, correlate with federation;
  • A theory of literary property;
  • A theory of taxation;
  • A theory of the balance of trade;
  • A theory of population;
  • A theory of the family and marriage;
  • As well as a host of incidental truths.” 

It was equally important to him that people understood that all of this was closely connected to that initial critique of property, but obviously some parts were going to be more directly connected than others.

Those later years are marked by an enormous development of his thinking about “collective force” and “collective beings.” Having finally really made Fourier’s analysis of series and groups his own, he began to conduct an analysis that combined historical research and a roughly analytic social science. He had always been bold, but as both his historical knowledge and his critical toolkit grew, his boldness gained a new scope. At the same time, Proudhon seems to have grown into all that was implied by his early embrace of dialectic, contradiction—and scandal. His critics often claimed that he took crazy positions to get attention, even if the attention was largely negative (and involved quite a bit of jail time, exile, poverty, etc.) But there is, I think, plenty of evidence that, while Proudhon was perhaps gaining some basic intellectual flexibility, when it came to ideas, or combinations of ideas, likely to send most into a speedy retreat, he still took the positions that he embraced quite seriously. Even when he’s being pretty thoroughly stupid about women in Justice in the Revolution and the Church, he also seems completely (frustratingly and somewhat inexplicably, in this particular case) earnest. Some of this most uncomfortable writing on current political events, such as his writings on the American Civil War and the institution of slavery, bear the marks of a mind accustomed to finding himself in disagreement with those around him, but also accustomed to careful analysis and to following that analysis wherever it led. (He was, of course, capable of pettiness, and of some really ghastly stuff in the privacy of his journals, but the petty, hateful stuff seems to have been very much the exception, rather than the rule.)

Proudhon must have felt his own tolerance for contradiction and productive tension put to some real tests as he began to move towards the “New Theory” of property, worked out (according to his correspondence) in 1861, but published posthumously in The Theory of Property in 1865. He had, throughout his career, stayed true to the logical and philosophical analysis of 1840, holding simple property to be equivalent to theft and the absence of simple property rights—a vaguely defined regime of usufruct, in which equality and society could exist—a superior alternative. But the theory around his theory of property had developed: specifically the theory that explained how individuals were formed from order groups, and enjoyed a freedom commensurate with a certain degree of internal conflict. Mapped onto the human individual, it was a prescription for whole-body health; but mapped onto the social realm it seemed to connect social freedom with the intensification of the absolute qualities of human individuals, limited only by conditions of equality and reciprocity. It isn’t clear to me if Proudhon ever explicitly worked through those implications, but it does seem clear that the New Theory speaks rather directly to the dynamic implied by them. 

In 1861/5, Proudhon retained his two key-terms, “property” and “possession,” now thoroughly historicized as “allodial property” and “fief.” At this point, I think we can safely say that possession/fief pretty closely resembled the “community” of 1840, mixing that quality of not being property with some off-putting qualities subordinating the individual possessor to a ruler or collective. Property is still theft, but the historical work has suggested to Proudhon that this very character—the absolutism inherent in property—gives property a power to fend off the abolutisms of other individuals, and of institutions. What he never quite seems to say is that allodial property will guarantee a certain space in which the individual can grow and exercise its personal absolutism, without being threatened or being a threat to others. All the pieces of the arguments are there: the importance of “erring” in the process of learning; the association of the “right of abuse” of property to a right to err; the early invocation of “a certain distances” as a condition of making ourselves human; etc. Given all that Proudhon had written about the dynamics of individual being, an explicit gathering of those elements might have been the best argument he could have made in favor of the New Theory. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pierre Leroux on Joseph Déjacque

 "... one day Déjacque harangued the crowd in the Faubourg Saint-Honore, where he lived, claiming to be a new reincarnation of Christ..." from an account of Déjacque last days, before he died "mad from poverty."
The biographical details on Joseph Déjacque are scattered, though slowly but surely they're coming together. And they have surfaced in some interesting places. One of the most interesting, especially for me, is Pierre Leroux's The Beach at Samarez: A Philosophical Poem, a two-volume work combining a philosophical poem with reminiscences of life among the French exiles in the colony on the isle of Jersey. Victor Hugo and Déjacque were both among that group, and both are featured in Leroux's work. I had actually paid very little attention to this particular work by Leroux—nothing about a two-volume poem is particularly inviting as a translation project, but once I realized the Déjacque connection I decided to give it a closer look. The work is both fascinating, and a particular nice bit of writing for Leroux, so perhaps I'll give it even more attention at some point, but for now, here is a working translation of two chapters from the final section of the work, "The Phantoms," which begins with an account of the funeral Louise Julien, at which both Hugo and Déjacque gave funeral orations. The selection picks up in the midst of a conversation between Leroux and Hugo.

from Pierre Leroux, The Beach at Samarez 



I was going to continue, but the Phantoms had reappeared.

— “Oh! Do you imagine that you are alone! You thought we did not hear you! We heard it all...”

Then there came a confusion of words, laughter and shouts, mixed with some whistles and cat-calls. In the midst of the brouhaha, I distinguished two interlocutors:

— “I too am a painter,” said one, in a hushed voice.

— “Dr. Lelut has just proven that Socrates was mad,” cried the other, in a loud voice.

It was Déjacques and Seigneuret again: I had ample time to consider them.



Why does Déjacques always remind me of André Chénier? Is it because he is also a poet... it is certain that his verse could sometimes make the greatest poets jealous. There is something reminiscent of Burns in the work.

But it is also because he reminds me of perhaps the most beautiful piece by André Chénier, his Mendicant:

All pale, half-naked, with beard a-bristling,
He barely moved one frozen lip,
Implored the aid of men and Gods,
And in the forest wandered for two days.

Except that he invoke neither gods nor men. The other day, Seigneuret found him close to expiring. He had condemned himself to die of hunger. It was forty-eight hours since he had eaten. He was lying fully clothed on a chest, for he had no bed, and he remained there cold and stiff, resolved to watch himself die. This was when Seigneuret happened upon him.

With what zeal, with what ardor, with what tenderness that atheist Seigneuret rescued him, and forced him to live!

There he is! How sad he looks! He is elegant and noble in this person. His voice is soft, his speech calm, and his tone penetrating; he seems to have taken as a model, physically, Christ on the cross; seeing him, you would thing about the times

When on the holy altar the ivory crucifixes
Opened their spotless, milk-white arms.

But what bitterness in his word, and what disorder in his ideas!

How did the proletarian poet come to this black misanthropy, to this savage despair

Ah! Perhaps, as a child, he read, in that same piece of which he reminded me:

……..The indigent waits in vain for fate,
By waiting always, he arrives at death.
Devoured by needs, projects, insomnia,
He grows old in disgrace and ignominy.
Disgusted with humans, hard, envious, ungrateful,
He turns to the Gods, who do not hear him.

Why turn to the Gods, if they do not hear us? he would say to himself, and why be an object of contempt among men, if they are so hard?

This his how he would have absorbed the poison which gave him life, for poison, as Byron said, also has its vitality: the vitality of poison.

And today, when someone says to him:

Man is born to suffer

He responds, with André Chénier:

He is born to change.

To change! He apparently believed that everything would change, at the Revolution; but he found that men were the same after it as they had been before: hard, envious, and ungrateful. He became hard, envious, and ungrateful himself. The flood carried him to England, and then onto this rock. He apparently thought he would find equality in exile. He found some rich and some poor, and there he is, bearing his wretchedness with a threat on his lips.

Oh, the spleen of the Renés and the Obermanns, I pity you, when I think of that despair! I take from Obermann the wealth that permits him, in exile, to breathe his calm and melancholy lament on the shores from which the ships depart and to which the wreckage returns. I take from René his name, the memory of his family and his chateau, and his traditional Christianity, and the hope of seeing return a regime [ ] possible since it had already lasted so long. I put the ambition of the one, the daydreams of the others, in a man who dies of hunger, and I have absolute impotence and hell. I cannot even console myself by saying with Gray, in his Country Churchyard:

“Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast… some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.”

No! For those Gray spoke of did not awake!

The noise that the Phantoms made continued always.

I say again, what a contrast between Déjacques and Seigneuret, and yet what similarities! At base it is the same torment. We must reverse the thought of Gray, and say:

“Science unrolled before their eyes its vast archives, rich with the spoils of time: the breath of indigence froze their nobles transports, and dried for them the sources of genius.”

Seigneuret is, as a savant, what Déjacques is as an artist. What is the use of having studied law and medicine! The ruses of legal quibbling, the prostituted eloquence of the lawyers, have made him a sophist; the science of the chemists, the lessons of the physiologists, have made him an ally. He has heard Auguste Comte say: “Today it is a question of organizing without God.” That formula has become his own. He is possessed by a rage for atheism which resembles fanaticism.

What war they often made on the other Phantoms! They are demons, you say: see if you yourselves are not demons!

What ingenuity, what flexibility in that man! He works every trade: he sews his own clothes, and makes his own shoes; he is physician, mechanic, printer, author. Ask him his profession, and he will tell you: I am a revolutionary.

Déjacques lives without family. He probably did not say to Ophelia: “Get thee to a nunnery;” I don’t know what he said to her. Seigneuret is married, and loves his children tenderly. I saw him, the other day, rock his charming little girl in a garden. How he beamed at her!

Go on! They would both go to wander in America. One would be lost in the desert of nature, the other in the desert of Civilization. While the question of negro slavery was debated, he, the white maroon slave, would pass through the streets of New York! He will perhaps not even leave the “Adieux à la Vie” of a Gilbert

[Working translations by Shawn P. Wilbur]