Sunday, January 27, 2013

Anarchy is order! (Wait! What?)

I have often seen the phrase "anarchy is order" attributed to Proudhon—and to Bakunin, and Bellarrigue, and Elisee Reclus, and a French singer-songwriter named Leo Ferre. Often the phrase is actually Bellegarrigue's ("Anarchy is order; government is civil war") or the phrase "Anarchy is order without power," cited as appearing in the Confessions of a Revolutionary. That latter phrase does not seem to appear in that book (and I've searched pretty carefully) and it doesn't really sound all that much like Proudhon. There are a number of places where he talked about the relationship between anarchy and order, and lots of places where he talked about the fact that liberty is the principle (or "mother," in the famous phrase) of order. Curiously, though, the closest I could come to the actual phrase so often cited was this passage from The General Idea of the Revolution:
Croit-on qu'on lieu de rétablir les justices seigneuriales et les parlements sous d'autres noms et d'autres formes, de refaire l'absolutisme en le baptisant du nom de Constitution, d'esservir les provinces comme auparavant, sous prétexte d'unité et de centralisation; de sacrifier de nouveau toutes les libertés, en leur donnant pour compagnon inséparable un prétendu ordre public, qui n'est qu'anarchie, corruption et force brutale; croit-on, dis-je, qu'ils n'eussent acclamé le nouveau régime, achevé la révolution, si leur regard avait pénétré dans cet organisme que leur instinct cherchait, mais que l'état des connaissances et les préoccupations du moment ne leur permettaient pas de deviner?...
The passage has been translated as:
Can it be believed that, instead of reestablishing the seignorial courts and the parliaments under other names and other forms, of re-erecting abolutism after baptising it with the name of the Constitution, of enslaving the provinces as before, under the pretext of unity and centralization, of sacrificing all liberties, by giving them for an inseparable companion a pretended public order, which is but confusion, corruption and brute force—can it be believed, I say, that they would not have welcomed the new order, and completed the Revolution, if their sight had penetrated the organism which their instinct sought, but the state of knowledge and the distractions of the moment did not permit them to conceive? 
The French reminds us that even as late as 1851, Proudhon often still used the word "anarchie" to describe disorder, so here we have a claim that "order... is only anarchy," but it is a "so-called public order" which is "only anarchy, corruption and brutal force." John Beverley Robinson, in his translation, chose to render "anarchie" as "confusion" in this case, and the title of the section in which the passage appears, "Anarchie des forces économiques," as "Chaos of Economic Forces."

Robinson may have rendered a service at the time, but it's one of a number of similar decisions that probably trip up us a bit now, when arguably it would be nice not to be shielded from all the tensions in Proudhon's work. I think that The General Idea, which is, I think, generally considered one of Proudhon's least controversial works, but which comes from a period where he was certainly not averse to bold, complex statements (such as the infamous The Revolution as Demonstrated by the Coup d'Etat of December 2), might read rather differently as an anarchist text in which "anarchy" as often as not means disorder.

Unpacking this sort of potential contradiction in arguably "foundational" texts is, of course, a sort of high-risk enterprise, for a variety of reasons. But my sense is that we have every opportunity to gain from the encounter. Our current sense of the significance of these texts, however well or ill-founded is already a string to our bow. Nothing says that the understanding we have built is worthless, even if it turns out it wasn't quite what Proudhon had in mind. And nothing commits us to whatever else we find in a rereading and rethinking. I think it is probably inevitable that our readings of historical texts will tend to have a double character anyway, with a present-oriented interpretation working alongside whatever we are able to glean about the contexts of composition and original composition. A text like The General Idea is fairly comfortably ensconced in the anarchist literature at this point, despite the many strange elements it contains. Perhaps our understanding would be opened up by treating it as it appears to have been originally presented: a work in which two visions of "anarchy" must almost certainly have been in play. I wouldn't be surprised if there was another antinomy—another of those productive contradictions Proudhon was so fond of—to be grasped in the play of anarchies and order.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

From Proudhon's study on the State ("Justice," 1858)

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[These passages are taken from the Fourth Study, on “The State,” in Proudhon’s Justice in the Revolution and in the Church.]

[From CHAPTER I.]

V. — I will not make my readers wait for the solution. As you have just seen, I reduce all of political science to a single question, that of Stability.
Why is it that from ancient times until the present, the constitution of the states has been so fragile, that all the publicists, without exception, have declared them essentially instable? How are we to bestow stability and duration on them?
It is from this specific side that I tackled the political problem; it is on this terrain, still unexplored, that I pose the question.
And this is my response:
What we must consider above all in government is not the origin (divine right, popular right or right of conquest); nor is it the form (democracy, aristocracy, monarchy, simple or mixed government); it I not even the organization (division of powers, representative or parliamentary system, centralization, federalism, etc.): all these things are the material of government. what we must consider is the spirit that animates it, its thought, its soul, its Idea.
It is by their idea that governments live or die. So let the idea become true, and the state, however blameworthy its origin, however defective it appears in its organization, correcting itself according to its secret thought, will be sheltered from all outside attack, as from all internal corruption. It will radiate its thought around it, and constantly increase in scope, depth and strength. On the contrary, let the idea remain false, then legitimacy, popularity, organization, military power cannot maintain it: it must fall.
Now, as the idea, avowed or not, of the governments, has thus far been a prejudice radically opposed to Justice, a false political hypothesis; as from another side the succession of states in history is an ascending march towards Justice, we can, from this double point of view of theory and history, classify them all according to three different ideas, which we will examine one after the other:
1. The idea of Necessity, which is that of pagan antiquity;
2. The idea of Providence, which is that of the Church:
These two ideas, antitheses of one another, are the opposite extremes of an antinomy which ecompasses the world religious age;
3. The idea of Justice, which is that of the Revolution and which constitutes, in opposition to religious government, human government.
Thus, it is with government as with property, with the division of labor, and with all the economic forces: taken by themselves, and not considering the more or less legal thought which determines them, it is a stranger to right, indifferent to every moral idea; it is an instrument of force. As long as government has not welcomed Justice, it remains established on the idea of fatality and providence, it tends to inorganism, it oscillates from catastrophe to catastrophe. The problem is thus, after having prepared the economic terrain, to apply Justice to government, by freeing it from inevitability and arbitrariness. Such is the object of the Revolution.

____

CHAPTER VII

Government according to Justice. — Actuality of power; collective force; constitution of the Republic.

XLIV. — What makes the life of a state, we said at the outset, what determines its stability or its caducity, is its idea. If that idea expresses a relation of justice, the state will be, internally, sheltered from all dissolution; from the outside, no power will be able to prevail against it. If, on the contrary, the idea that rules the stat is false and iniquitous, even though universal prejudice is on its side, the state, in contradiction with itself, will perish sooner or later.
It seems that after that, the law of equality being demonstrated, we do not have to concern ourselves with government any longer. Let government rule itself according to the law of equality, and, whatever its form, from the moment that it only exists for Justice, it is assured of living; its constitution becomes a secondary thing, that one can abandon without inconvenience to the popular fancy or local tradition.
However, such a conclusion would only be true within certain limits: that is to say that, the balance of services, products and fortunes being accomplished, one can entrust to Justice the care of securing the state, and to give the definitive form to government. Apart from that, one would make a grave error, if one supposed that, economic equilibrium established, the government can preserve the organization that it was previously given according to its idea of inequality. The indifference of the economic science, in matters of government, does not go so far.
The idea of government given, the form follows: those two terms are linked with one another, as the organization of the animal is to its destiny. We know what the form of states has been up to the present, after the idea of the exploitation of man by man: despotic centralization, feudal hierarchy, patricians with followers, military democracy, mercantile oligarchy, finally constitutional monarchy. What is the proper form of republican government, organized by and for equality? That is a question from which it is impossible for us to shrink. Justice, without that, would lie to itself; it would not be Justice, having less creative force than its contrary, iniquity.
That is not all. Thus far we have only considered in government a form of action: we have not asked ourselves if that form covered something real; if we must see there a combination of the human brain, or the manifestation of a positive nature. Now, the state having its idea, which is its conscience, and then its form, in other words its organism, which is its body, we are led necessarily to believe that this word, state, power, government, indicates a veritable being, since that which unites the two attributes of existence, idea and form, soul and body, cannot be reduced to a nonentity. What is the actuality of the state? What does it consist of? Where is it found? — I will explain.
XLV. — From the beginning of these studies, we have posed to ourselves the question: What is Justice?
And the result of our research has been to demonstrate that religion made of Justice a divine commandment, and philosophy [made it] a simple relation, a necessity of reason, Justice, according to both, was reduced for the conscience to an abstraction; that thus right lacked reality in the heart of hearts, all of reality was a pure prejudice, a voluntary submissiveness, in no way obligatory, to certain proprieties themselves deprived of foundation. In such a case, atheism was right to maintain that Justice is a word, and good and evil just words; that there is no other right that strength, and that all that theology and metaphysics delivers in that regard is pure fantasy, logomachy, superstition.
However, we see Justice draw humanity along, produce civilization by its development, raise up high the nations that observe it, and doom, on the contrary, those that forget it. How would we attribute such powerful, real effects to an idea without subject, to a chimera?
To account for history and save morality, to explain religion itself, it was thus to demonstrate that Justice is anything but a commandment and a relation; that it is still a positive faculty of the soul, a power of the same order as love, superior even to love, a reality, finally: and that is what we have set about in these Studies.
Another question.
After have recognized Justice in its essence and its reality, we asked ourselves, passing from persons to things: what is the law of production and distribution of wealth, in other words, what is the economy? Does there really exist, can there exist a science of that name, having for object a determinable reality, possessing some principles of its own, some definitions, and a method; or must we see in that would-be science only the acts of a mercantilism without principle and without law, some caprices of the imagination, some zigzags of the will, in which it would be illogical to seek a shadow of reason, and which only falls under the good pleasure of the government?
In this latter case, it is clear that political economy, summarizing itself in a word, liberty, save for the exceptions that the state imposes, is not by itself a science: it is a negation, and the conclusions of socialism are without foundation.
For us, on the contrary, economics is a science in the most rigorous sense of the word; science having for aim to study the order of phenomena which, although produced under the initiative of liberty, and infinitely variable, still obey some constant laws, whose certainty is equal to that of all the laws which rule the universe. Some forces and laws, that is what makes up the reality of economics: there is nothing else in physics itself. Thanks to this actuality of Justice and of economics, society is no longer an arbitrary phantasmagoria, a transient figure; it is a creation, a world.
Now I continue:
What is the power in society? What produces the government, and gives rise to the state? Does the political idea correspond, like the legal idea and the economic idea, to a reality sui gêneris, or is it still only a fiction, a word?
According to the Church and all the mythologies, the social power does not have its base in humanity: it is of divine constitution. According to the philosophers, who will try to determine its conditions, government would result from the abandonment that each citizen makes of a part of his liberty; it would be the product of a voluntary renunciation, a sort of joint stock company, nothing in itself.
Some men, in recent times, appear to have sensed the radical insufficiency of all these conceptions. "Without the individual,” they have said, “without liberty, government, society itself, is certainly nothing. But can one not also say that, society once formed, it is another thing than the individual, an organism which impose its laws on the latter?...” it is thus that is formed the hypothesis of social being, real, positive and true.
But that is only one hypothesis: who vouches for that reality to us? What does it consist of? Where to grasp it? How to analyze its parts? Here everything is still to be done, and if the Revolution does not inspire us, there is no longer anything for us but to confess our powerlessness: there is no government.
I reason thus about government as I reason about economics and Justice. The government is a thing in which, despite all the disappointments, humanity perseveres, and which neither violence, nor subterfuge, nor superstition, nor fear, suffice to explain. A priori, that the political institution expresses, not a convention or an act of faith, but a reality.
That will be the subject of the last section. [The "last section" is the "Little Political Catechism," which appears in an English translation by Jesse Cohn in Property is Theft!]

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Friday, January 25, 2013

Notes on the Notes: "They've a temper, some of them..."

Talking about the "Notes," there really does seem to be a certain amount of fear that if we don't couch our anarchism in a specific language of "anti-statism" we may somehow slide into the embrace of something we ought to oppose. Now, any set of terms or concepts can almost certainly lead us astray, if we let the terms do the leading, and not our principles. That, of course, includes those honored by time and tradition, if they have become fixed ideas. Recall that Proudhon's assault on "property" began with a pre-Stirner warning about such things—and then recall Stirner. And if that doesn't do it, recall the words of Humpty-Dumpty:
"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' " Alice said.
    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't—till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!' "
    "But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.
    "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
    "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
    "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master      that's all."

Notes on the Notes: Another thought on the relation between states and conflict

One of the common responses to my recent writing about Proudhon's theory of "the state" has revolved around the opposition of his definitions of "state" with the "territorial monopoly on force" stuff that is so common in our circles. I think the action is elsewhere.

It doesn't look like any of the socialists in the 1849 debate were very concerned with "monopoly on force." When Proudhon complains that "the state is external constitution of the social power," he's probably just agreeing with Louis Blanc (and possibly Pierre Leroux as well) about the definition of the "state," and differing on whether or not an external constitution of social power is a good thing.

One of the things I haven't addressed particularly well yet is the objection that Proudhon made to Blanc's apparent contention that society was always characterized by a sort of state of war, which required that externalization of social power to take a policing role, interposing everyone's power between everyone, in a sense, to protect those in need of defense. In 1849, Proudhon questioned whether or not such a warlike sort of interaction would create a policeman that could be trusted to keep the peace.

It's a good question, but it becomes more interesting in the context of Proudhon's mature theory, when he had developed his own theory of society as made up of a balancing of potentially antagonistic "absolutes." The approach that sees peace as the perfection/balancing of conflict still isn't Blanc's position, since it is unclear that the balancing could actually take place if the collective force mediated all these individual interactions (at least in the way that a policeman-state would likely structure that mediation.)

Instead we have a horizontal working-out of conflict, but within that context we also have the various "persistences* that make up the state. And these latter have no particular authority, no power to rule, but they are obviously going to be important players in that working-out process.

It seems possible and perhaps even most consistent, given the other elements that are present in contemporary mutualism, to pursue the same strategy we have sometimes taken with "the market" and champion some sort of "free/d state" strategy ("real democracy" for anarchists, or some such....) But one of the other potential lessons of Proudhon's sociology is, as I *did* suggest in the "Notes," that we need to look a little more closely at both how we think about the relation between the interests of "the market" an our own interests, and that we need to be careful that we have not replaced "the state" with "the market" as that external constitution of social power.

Presumably, the Proudhonian sociology doesn't really let us deny persistences like "state" and "market," and they are key actors (though not free absolutes, like the human actors, and thus unable to reflect and adapt by themselves) that constantly confront us in the course of our "individual interactions." So what should we see when we see these "collective beings," beyond the extent to which they may currently be hijacked by individual interests? I rather provocatively suggested "an inheritance" and "our children" in the "Notes," but I'm struggling to say something even stronger, since it appears to me that these problematic collectivities are the most "present" manifestations of justice that will remain on our anarchistically-leveled playing field, and that they will be a far better barometer of just how successfully we have "perfected" our conflicts.

It's not a question of changing in any way our opposition to social, political or economic hierarchy and rule, but of how we think about what persists in our societies. It seems to me that in our circles we have often fairly simply damned one sort of persistence, and pretended it was a conqueror, while praising another, only lamenting the extent to which it has been conquered. And I am fairly certain we need to escape from that particular interpretive apparatus, not just to make sense of the Proudhonian sociology, but to make sense of "the state" and "the market."

Which isn't to say it's an easy task...

Notes on the Notes: Three (+1) Proudhon Periods?

There's a lot to unpack and clarify in the "Notes on Proudhon's changing notion of the state," but one of the simplest elements to clarify may be the notion that Proudhon's development can be roughly broken into three periods:
  1. 1839-1846: an early exploratory period, marked by early insights and some provocative statements, but also by inconsistent or non-existent definitions of key terms ("possession," for example;)
  2. 1848-1852: a period when much of Proudhon's focus was on the 1848 Revolution and its aftermath in the Second Republic, marked by more occasional writings, many of them related to political events and rivals, and also marked by some rather dramatic variations in the strong claims Proudhon was willing to make at any given moment; and
  3. 1853-1865: a mature period, beginning with The Philosophy of Progress and the clarification of Proudhon's project that took place in that work, marked by a much more consistent approach to keywords (property, etc.) and the development of an increasingly complex, consistent, and powerful social science. 
(We might also add a sort of virtual "fourth" period, indicated to us by the trajectory of Proudhon's unfinished work.)

There's no point in leaning too heavily on this scheme, since there is a considerable amount of useful work in every period of Proudhon's career, but as a matter of emphasis, it may help to recognize that the work in the period of the Second Republic may not be Proudhon's most consistent or least distracted—however interesting that period, and Proudhon's responses to it, may be in other terms.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Notes on Proudhon's changing notion of the state (3 of 3)



The Republic is the organization by which, all opinions and all activities remaining free, the People, by the very divergence of opinions and will, think and act as a single man. In the Republic, every citizen, by doing what they want and nothing but what they want, participates directly in the legislation and in the government, as they participate in the production and circulation of wealth. There, every citizen is king; for he has the fullness of power; he reigns and governs. The Republic is a positive anarchy. It is neither liberty subjected to order, as in the constitutional monarchy, nor liberty imprisoned in order, as the Provisional Government intends. It is liberty delivered from all its shackles: superstition, prejudice, sophistry, stock-jobbing, authority. It is reciprocal liberty, and not the liberty which restricts; liberty, not the daughter of order, but the mother of order.—P.-J. Proudhon, Solution of the Social Problem

I think that a couple of things should be fairly clear from the sketch I’ve given of Proudhon’s development:
1) It took a while for Proudhon to make a consistent social theory out of the insights of his earliest work.
2) The revolutionary period of 1848-1851, when Proudhon mixed his writing with periods in government, in exile and in prison, was a period when his ideas were in a considerable amount of flux, and his statements, while they were frequently as penetrating as they were bold, were not necessarily definitive—and were sometimes mixed with the sort of interpersonal tension we might expect among reluctant politicians.
3) The theory of collective force—so key to the critique of property—was a driving force in making Proudhon reconsider the necessary connection between “the state” and governmentalism.

Let’s step away from Proudhon for a moment and see if this sort of uncoupling of an institution and the despotic elements which seem to dominate it is really alien to our thought (however strange it may seem in the context of “the state.”) What Proudhon ultimately says about “the state” is very similar to at least part of what market anarchists say about “the market:” There is an emergent order, with logics different from those of the individual economic actors, which is captured or distorted by privilege—and which can be freed by disconnecting the market from the structures and relations of privilege (“government” chief among them) which distort its function. Of course, market anarchists tend to be among the strongest opponents of “the state,” tending to reduce anarchism towards mere anti-statism. For market-oriented mutualists, the project seems to be the one Proudhon laid out near the beginning of The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (1851):

“To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system, by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State.”

But the question remains whether this simple identification of “the Government or the State” is adequate to the analysis of the real manifestations of collective force. My strong suspicion is that many market-mutualists simply define “the market” in terms of those institutions which would remain after the governmental principle had been taken out of the equation, including some that revolve around the cash nexus, but others which do not. There would thus be “unregulated markets” in a particular sense, since governmental regulation would be eliminated more or less by definition, but also “unmarketed regulation” by other means, in the sense that economic customs and norms would not only be suspect to that cash nexus. I suspect that many market anarchists have accepted Proudhon’s non-governmental state without accepting his argument, and while clinging to an anti-statism which might well benefit from a little unpacking and clarifying along Proudhonian lines. What is uncertain is whether or not at least some market anarchists have actually transferred that “external constitution of the social power,” and the governmental principle, from “the state” (or “the gods”) to “the market.” This is a question of considerable importance, which hinges on the relationship between “individual” and “collective” reason (using those terms with the individual human being as a reference), and the way we imagine mutualistic justice—which is always essentially a question of “balance”—playing out.
So let’s get right down to it.
______

We have the elements of our social science pretty well identified:
1) We have a level “field of play” where the beings we are accustomed to consider “individual” and a range of organized collectivities can actually only claim “individual” status by the same title, their status as groups organized according to an internal law which gives them unity. People, families, workshops, cities, nations and “humanity”—as well, perhaps as animals, natural systems, and even individual human capacities—occupy non-hierarchical relationship with one another, despite differences in scale and complexity, and despite the participation of individuals at one scale in collective-individualities at another. This is key, I think. Without a governmental principle to elevate any of these individuals “above the fray” in any way, mutuality becomes absolutely vital—and dizzyingly tough to come to terms with.
2) We have “rights” manifested by nothing more than the manifestation of capacities—which means we have rights that are going to conflict and clash, and which are to be balanced by some sort of (broadly defined) commutative justice.
3) We also have a theory of freedom (although I’ve neglected to introduce it directly, along with at least one other key elements, in these notes so far) which is not primarily concerned with permissions and prohibitions, but with the strength and activity (the play) of the elements that make up the individual, and the complexity of their relations. Again, this is key, giving us another important justification for the kinds of moves Proudhon made with regard to the question of the state. In all of these elements so far, we see a move away from a legal understanding of individuals and society towards a much more material one (despite all the charges from our more Marxian comrades.)
4) Bound up with these other notions, we have the idea of the human being as a “free absolute,” which is essentially the completion and redemption of the notion that “property is theft.” When Proudhon did get around to talking about what I’ve been calling “ownness” (which is something close to “property in person” or the material material aspect of “self-ownership”) it is in 1858, in the work on Justice, in the context of an explanation of the origins of legal property. Allow me one more long quotation:

"Let us consider what occurs in the human multitude, placed under the empire of absolutist reason, so long as the struggle of interests and the controversy of opinions does not bring out the social reason.
"In his capacity as absolute and free absolute, man not only imagines the absolute in things and names it, which first creates for him, in the exactitude of his thoughts, grave embarrassment. He does more: by the usurpation of things that he believes he has a right to make, that objective absolute becomes internalized; he assimilates it, becomes interdependent (solidaire) with it, and pretends to respect it as himself in the use that he makes of it and in the interpretations that it pleases him to make of it. Each, in petto, reasoning the same, it results, in the first moment, that the public reason, formed from the sum of particular reasons, differs from those in nothing, neither in basis nor in form; so that the world of nature and of society is nothing more than a deduction of the individual self (moi), a belonging of his absolutism.
"All the constitutions and beliefs of humanity are formed thus; at the very hour that I write, the collective reason hardly exists except in potential, and the absolute holds the high ground.
"Thus, by virtue of his absolute moi, secretly posed as center and universal principle, man affirms his domain over things; all the members of the State making the same affirmation, the principle of societary absolutism becomes, by unanimity, the law of the State, and all the theories of the jurists on the possession, acquisition, transmission, and exploitation of goods, are deduced from it. In vain logic demonstrates that this doctrine is incompatible with the data of the social order; in vain, in its turn, experience proves that it is a cause of extermination for persons and ruin for States: nothing knows how to change a practice established on the similarity of egoisms. The concept remains; it is in all minds: every intelligence, every interest, conspires to defend it. The collective reason is dismissed, Justice vanquished, and economic science declared impossible." (Justice, Tome III, pp 99-100)

This is another side of the claim that all individuals claim their individuality by the same title. In order to claim any sort of property—to claim that anything is proper to themselves as individuals, that anything is their own—there is a necessary resource to absolutism, a bowing to the continuous demands of an evolving force, a demand for a separation that can only come through a denial of material interconnection. Property is necessarily despotic, and Proudhon finally made it clear how his early bon mot reached far beyond the mere critique of existing property relations. But, in the process, he posed some very significant problems for the constitution of a free society. Not the least of these is that, while all beings seem to manifest themselves to some extent as absolutes, not all of those absolutes are “free,” in the sense of being able to reflect on their natural absolutism or to modify their behavior accordingly.
5) That’s where mutualism comes in, with its complex mix of individualistic and socialistic elements, and its notion that each ethical actor—each free absolute—could carry with them a basic principle for encountering, recognizing and engaging with others, our beefed-up and extremely demanding version of the Golden Rule. However complex our social interaction may be, the mutual principle suggests that the first thing to do is to identify the other as an individual, and then to address them as such, specifically. Perhaps it’s not immediately clear how one practices an anarchic encounter with a non-human manifestation of collective force, but I think Proudhon gives us some very useful clues—not the least of which is proposing a basis on which we can at least begin to relate to any individual. That theory of the individual’s “title” is at least a common structure on which to build more substantive common ground. The identification of human beings as “free absolutes” at least makes it clear to us that if there is to be change in accordance with a conscious mutualistic ethic, it’s going to have to come from beings like us.
6) And we only underline that special responsibility, and the difficulties faced by human ethical actors, when we remind ourselves that, according to Proudhon—and we can probably point to confirmations in our own experience—the collective reason of the collective beings is not necessarily that of individual human beings, nor are the interests of those beings our own, or even necessarily in harmony with our own. Just as it would be a failure of mutuality to simply project our desires onto other human beings, we’ll have to go very carefully in any engagement with these collective beings, which are not themselves “free” in the sense we are. And it is unlikely that anything is made any easier by the fact that part of what we encounter in collective beings is our own force arranged in some larger assemblage according to a new law.

It’s the sort of stuff to make you head spin, and it flies in the face of an awful lot of conventional anarchist and philosophical terminology and theory. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a powerful body of analytic tools for anarchists. The radical leveling of the analysis encourages us to find other means to talk about whatever is not simply governmental rule or systematic privilege in the realm of “hierarchy” and “authority.” What the plumber, or the educator, or the workplace logistics expert, brings to a given interaction is an organization of resources and a quantity of force usefully applicable in particular contexts—and perhaps that’s the best way to talk about that stuff in an anarchist context. The head-on confrontation with the fact that we appear to be hardwired in a way which creates both potentially antagonistic separation the possibility of reflective change in our social relations, and the identification of increasing freedom with increasing intensity in our attempts to work out those evolving balances, strikes me as a very promising direction—and one which provides one more rationale for the sort of complex, decentralizing, federative societies mutualists tend to lean towards. The possibility of demystifying the state, as we have worked to demystify religion and economics, is appealing.
But his business of encountering the state, or the market, or any number of other collective individuals on that radically leveled playing field isn’t likely to lose its more daunting aspects any time soon.
The best indications that Proudhon gave us of how this might play out are probably in War and Peace, a two-volume study as difficult as anything Proudhon wrote, and already subject to many misunderstandings. Rather than attempt to do justice to that analysis, perhaps, for now at least, we can tackle things a bit more simply.

If we set aside all the hot-button terminology, what are we talking about? In the case we have been examining most closely, it is a question of an encounter between a human individual and a collectivity emerging from the actions of human individuals, so that in that encounter we come face to face with the effects of the force we have exerted, organized together with the effects of the actions of others. We encounter ourselves, but not just ourselves, and the encounter is mediated by processes which are more or less “social.” We also encounter some manifestation of persistence (and probably complex, evolving persistence), with the result that, among other things, we probably don’t have any means of simply reducing this encounter to a mass of encounters with specific individuals.
These social persistences, not having bodies of their own, persist—or don’t persist—through us, through physical structures that we build or tear down, through practices and norms that we do or do not honor, maintain and modify. But their persistence means that often the building, maintaining and shaping is not a one-way street. Through customs, norms, languages, etc., they shape us as well—sometimes in ways that increase our health and freedom, and sometimes in quite opposite ways. The possibility that our actions contribute to persistent influences on other human beings, and perhaps on those not yet born, is something that anarchists—and particularly mutualists—probably ought to take into account.
The “how” is the more difficult question here, since this “encounter” with collective beings is never literal. We act in particular ways, and that adds force to particular organizational forms in particular realms of society. Obviously, part of the problem is addressed by simply taking our ethic of mutuality seriously, taking into account the “downstream effects” of our actions and the sorts of collectivities that they seem likely to strengthen. But then we are faced with all of the problems of planning and prediction. Collective beings are interesting to us in large part because they have their own reason and interest, whether we intend to celebrate that fact (as market anarchists often do with the emergent logic of “the market” and social anarchists sometimes do with “society”) or damn it (in which case you can pretty much just switch the terms.)
There’s a lot here to be teased out—and it seems we are still just posing the question in some ways—but if we take seriously the arguments we find in Proudhon for recognizing these collective beings the first consequence has to be to acknowledge that perhaps even our most rigorous application of the principle of mutuality on a more narrowly interpersonal basis will necessarily lead directly towards our goals of social justice. Given that, there are certainly reasons to question whether we can count on any institutions to guarantee justice if we fail to apply that ethic to our individual actions.
I’m inclined to think of these collective beings as some combination of social “collective tissue,” inherited resources, and products of our collective production—and to think of the process of incorporating them into the complex counterbalancing act of mutualist justice as a matter of figuring out how to best balance careful stewardship of the resources, care for our fellows being both directly and indirectly through those connecting institutions, and care in what we produce and maintain. In order to strike that balance we probably need to be practicing the sort of sociology that Proudhon began to elaborate, incorporating its lessons into the institutions it creates, and using all of that as a guide to extending existing mutualist theory beyond it’s traditional bounds. The “cost principle,” for example, may have a lot to teach us that has very little to do with “labor notes,” as our opposition to any “right of increase” may strike more fertile ground as we distance ourselves a bit from the traditional concerns with specific forms of “usury.”
Lacking anything but just a sense that there is a potentially useful sort of analysis here, it’s hard to pursue the details too far. But perhaps there’s one more interesting indication we can make. Having rejected the governmental principle, there is no question of respecting any sort of manifestation of collective force which presents itself or is presented as a ruler, judge or arbiter. The market-arbiter is probably as lost to us as Louis Blanc’s state-policeman. Looking around for other ways to think about these abstract beings which seem at once to shape and be shaped by us, and acknowledging that perhaps this Proudhonian analysis will lead us to a fundamentally antinomian “solution,” let me suggest two passages from Proudhon as potential windows into the terms of one possible antinomy.
In the “Toast to the Revolution,” Proudhon argued that The Revolution (which was, for him, a sort of ongoing process) was both conservative and revolutionary. So, while we are committed to change in the direction of ever-great justice, both in our individual interactions and our institutions, we are probably also logically committed to a sort of stewardship role. If we are to go so far as suppressing any of these collective beings, we certainly need to do so with a clear understanding of the effects and their relation to the ethics of mutuality. Embedded, as we are, in a context in which governmentalism and destructive forms of absolutism are woven into the social fabric on almost all sides, we are undoubtedly doomed to some very tough choices—but that just means we need to bring our most powerful tools to bear on those problematic choices.
The passage with which I opened this particular section of the notes—the source of Liberty’s masthead slogan, “Liberty not the daughter but the mother of order”—suggests another way to approach our relationship with these collective beings. Arguably, one of the problems we have with them is a confusion about who is the child and who is the parent in the relationship—a natural confusion, given their evolving persistence. But these collective beings are in part defined by the fact that they are not “free absolutes,” that they cannot enter into relations with us except through the mediation of individuals, and therefore are fairly poor candidates for the parental role, even assuming that role was the relatively horizontal one of guidance and stewardship that anti-authoritarians generally expect from parents. In his early writings on the state, Proudhon explicitly associated the state with the infancy of humanity, and anarchy with its maturity. Perhaps, to the extent that the state will persist as an active actor in anarchist societies, we should be treating it as a sort of powerful child. As we free ourselves from governmental tutelage, perhaps it is precisely a parent’s role, or a role of tutelage, that we ought to adopt towards these children of liberty.

Notes on Proudhon's changing notion of the state (2 of 3)

[These notes are connected to a book chapter I am writing on Proudhon’s theory of the state, some parts of which will undoubtedly end up in TGM: Rearmed. They wander somewhat far afield from that specific question, as I trace out some similarities between various aspects of Proudhon’s thought. And because that wandering became a little more extensive than I had anticipated, I am stretching the series out to three posts.—Shawn.]
[part 1][part 3
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I’m aware that readers who have followed the argument this far are likely to be resistant to the interpretation I’m presenting, and for a number of reasons. I’m entirely sympathetic, since the most likely resistances are likely to be ones which I faced myself as I worked through Proudhon’s thought.
1) Anti-statism is generally considered an essential part of anarchism—so essential, in fact, that some anarchists consider anti-statism nearly the entirety of anarchism. This is particularly the case among market anarchists, but social anarchists generally have some investment in the Bakunin-style opposition to the state. At the same time, a perception of Proudhon’s thought on the subject has been established on the basis of the portion of “Resistance to the Revolution” that was translated (multiple times, by William B. Greene and Benjamin R. Tucker) as “The State.” To suggest that anarchist theory ought to find a place for a state in its schemes, even “after the revolution,” certainly goes against much of the grain of anarchist thought—so there should presumably be very good reasons for pursuing this other analysis.
2) The whole question emerges in the context of a mutualist renaissance which doesn’t just come with a few potentially topsy-turvy new ideas, but with a radical rereading of anarchism’s early history, which has arguably been neglected by the tradition. As a movement, we’ve tended to boil Proudhon’s thought down to some slogans, a few dubious generalizations, and a selection of his worst missteps—more than fifty volumes of works reduced down to something that could be scrawled on a cocktail napkin. Now, however, we’ve seen a lot of new translation and analysis, not just of Proudhon but of a number of early figures who complicate the origin story of anarchism. Even if all this new material does not threaten any of our closely-held notions about what anarchism is all about, it’s still a lot of new, challenging material.
3) And it is not easy material to take in. There’s not much doubt that one of the reasons that some of the early forms of anarchism did not have more impact was that they were more closely connected in their forms and assumptions to the “utopian” socialisms that predated them than to the forms which survived the battles in the First International and the major cultural transitions of the mid-19th century. But the “utopian” label was ultimately a weapon wielded by Marx’s faction in the battle to define what would count as “social science” and could be recognized as revolutionary theory, and some of those old socialists may now look quite a bit more contemporary. There is, for example, a great deal of Fourier in Deleuze, and we might be inclined to summarize a lot of Derrida’s work with the phrase “property is theft.” But the fact that there are presentist reasons to take a good look at anarchist theory which has been neglected, doesn’t make that theory any simpler—and the need to address the debts to “utopian” socialist thought only increases the amount of material we need to deal with.

Ultimately, though, my own experience is that none of these reasons to proceed carefully comes anywhere close to being a reason not to proceed. On the contrary, a careful reading of Proudhon’s theory seems to lead us towards a radical sociology that is not only more consistent than the napkin’s-worth of Proudhon we’ve inherited, but is also arguably both more powerful than virtually any of the theory provided by the “classical” anarchists and more consistently anarchistic.

Let’s return to the similarities between the development of Proudhon’s thought on property and that of his theory of the state. The general trajectory of Proudhon’s property theory is as follows:

1839—Proudhon makes a few statements about the true meaning of the commandment against theft, which suggest that any system of “private” property might be built on theft (“putting aside”), rather than theft being an abuse of property.
1840—He makes the bold claims that “property is theft” and “property is impossible” in What is Property? But he also proposes an anarchist form of liberty which he defines in terms of a “synthesis of community and property.” He makes a distinction between “simple possession” (a “matter of fact”) and “simple property” (a right of “use and abuse”), but is not entirely consistent in his definitions. Then, an introduction to the second edition of the book, he defines “property” in terms of “the sum of its abuses,” threatening the strength of his critique. Two more memoirs on property follow.
1842—In a response given in court, where he was defending the publication of his memoirs, he proposes to eliminate or neutralize property by universalizing the “theft” that it represents.
1846—In his System of Economic Contradictions, property is given an antinomic character, within which both positive and negative characteristics battle, and he describes property as a problem second only to “human destiny” in importance, and one not likely to be solved soon.

This is the point at which Proudhon declared the problem of religion solved, and it’s worth noting here what Proudhon thought that solution was—particularly because it bears a close resemblance to his analysis of the state.
Proudhon’s claim is that what humans have sought in the form of gods is, in fact, their own collective capacities, which they did not recognize in the collective being which they confronted, and that this failure to understand the nature of their own powers allowed those powers to be harnessed against them by individuals claiming divine right and inspiration. As in the critique of the state, it is a question of the external manifestation of social power being understood as necessarily performing a governmental function, and thus existing above individual human beings.

1848—Pursuing his theory of property through the revolutionary period and into his brief involvement with the Provisional Government, Proudhon wrote a series of analyses of property and its relations to labor and credit, and his conclusions, often tied to particular occasions and arguments, cover a tremendous amount of ground. In “The Revolutionary Program,” for example, he made a series of rather startling declarations:

I am, as you are well aware, citizens, the man who wrote these words: Property is theft!
I do not come to retract them, heaven forbid! I persist in regarding this provocative definition as the greatest truth of the century. I have no desire to insult your convictions either: all that I ask, is to say to you how, partisan of the family and of the household, adversary of communism, I understand that the negation of property is necessary for the abolition of misery, for the emancipation of the proletariat. It is by its fruits that one must judge a doctrine: judge then my theory by my practice.
When I say, Property is theft! I do not propose a principle; I do nothing but express one conclusion. You will understand the enormous difference presently.
However, if the definition of property which I state is only the conclusion, or rather the general formula of the economic system, what is the principle of that system, what is its practice, and what are its forms?
My principle, which will appear astonishing to you, citizens, my principle is yours; it is property itself.
I have no other symbol, no other principle than those of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen: Liberty, equality, security, property.
Like the Declaration of Rights, I define liberty as the right to do anything that does not harm others.
Again, like the Declaration of Rights, I define property, provisionally, as the right to dispose freely of one's income, the fruits of one's labor and industry.
Here is the entirety of my system: liberty of conscience, liberty of the press, liberty of labor, free trade, liberty in education, free competition, free disposition of the fruits of labor and industry, liberty ad infinitum, absolute liberty, liberty for all and always?
It is the system of '89 and '93; the system of Quesnay, of Turgot, of J.-B. Say; the system that is always professed, with more or less intelligence and good faith, by the various organs of the political parties, the system of the Débats, of the Presse, of the Constitutionnel, of the Siècle, of the Nationale, of the Rèforme, of the Gazette; in the end it is your system, voters.
Simple as unity, vast as infinity, this system serves for itself and for others as a criterion. In a word it is understood and compels adhesion; nobody wants a system in which liberty is the least bit undermined. One word identifies and wards off all errors: what could be easier than to say what is or is not liberty? Liberty then, nothing more, nothing less. Laissez faire, laissez passer, in the broadest and most literal sense; consequently property, as it rises legitimately from this freedom, is my principle. No other solidarity between the citizens than that accidents resulting from chance. . .

Then he proceeded to claim that this sort of laissez faire will lead to a sort of anarchic “centralization:”

Who does not see that the mutualist organization of exchange, of circulation, of credit, of buying and selling, the abolition of taxes and tolls of every nature which place burdens on production and bans on goods, irresistibly push the producers, each following his specialty, towards a centralization analogous with that of the State, but in which no one obeys, no one is dependent, and everyone is free and sovereign?

And we can see that this idea of a state unconnected to the governmental principle was already part of his theoretical repertoire, well before the major shifts in his approach, and that his ideas on both property and the state seem to have gone through significant oscillations during the revolutionary period. It is in this period that he finally describes property as “liberty,” while still maintaining that it is also “theft.”

1853—This year marked his decision to allow concepts like “religion, government, and property” their “patronymic names.” In practice, he did not often use the terms “property” and “government” in ways that differ too dramatically from his earlier uses. In the case of property, it was enough to begin to talk about it both in terms of its logics and its social aims. He doesn’t seem to have had much interest in making a similar argument about government, although there are a few nods in that direction, but he did once and for all detach the notion of the state from any necessary connection to the governmental principle.

Let’s stop again and think about the moves Proudhon is making. Although he claimed in 1849 that the problems of property were solved, but those of government were hardly touched, it appears that the problem of government—the misrecognition of the collective force embodied in the state as a kind of secular god—was really the problem for which he had at least the solid beginnings of an answer, while property continued to pose significant problems for him.
We can speculate on why these two analyses played out differently. I’ve noted on a number of occasions that Proudhon did not ground his theory of property particular well in a theory of the subject and its ownness (of the sort that we might find in Locke or Stirner, who, despite significant differences, both start from the self in order to talk about appropriation.) Proudhon seems to have taken something of that sort for granted, and even to have assumed some sorts of rights which were closely connected to possession. By 1861, in War and Peace, Proudhon had an interesting theory of rights elaborated:

Right, in general, is the recognition of human dignity is all its faculties, attributes and prerogatives. There are thus as many special rights as humans can raise different claims, owing to the diversity of their faculties and of their exercise. As a consequence, the genealogy of human rights will follow that of the human faculties and their manifestations.

And subsequent elaboration would suggest that we might, in justice, require ourselves to recognize these rights at scale both larger and smaller than that of the unified individual human being. We have at least hints that perhaps the who range of scales, from the infinitesimal to the universal (so familiar from the writings of Fourier and Dejacque), might come into play. Given this, and the claim that rights are simply raised along with potential claims, some of the apparent inconsistencies of the early writings (like the uncertainty whether “possession” is a matter of mere fact or also one of possessory right) seem to be provided with solutions (as Proudhon’s growing tendency to associate property in all its forms with absolutism, and his rethinking of the “right of abuse” salvage his 1840 arguments from the undercutting he gave them in the preface.)
A key difference between the arguments regarding property and those regarding the state is it probably never occurred to Proudhon to question the reality of the human being or its possession of at least some rights, while it is quite likely that he may have dreamt of simply denying or eradicating the state. That, after all, has become the standard anarchist position, to characterize the state as artificial or illegitimate or even imaginary in some key aspects, and to proceed in terms of simply suppressing any form of state.

1858—By the time Proudhon had published Justice in the Revolution and in the Church he had committed himself to a theory of beings according to which all beings recognizable as individuals were also recognizable as organized groups.

“[T]he beings to which we accord individuality do not enjoy it by any title other than that of the collective beings: they are always groups formed according to a law of relation and in which force, proportional to the arrangement at least as much as to the mass, is the principle of unity.”

That notion that human individuals and collectivities, including the state, are accorded individuality by the same title makes it very hard simply sidestep the question of the reality of the state as a manifestation of collective force—an individual. Another great realization of 1858, that “the antinomy does not resolve itself,” undoubtedly took the wind out of some of the bolder proclamations of Proudhon’s earlier works—or represented the failure of those claims to manifest themselves. And to these we should also add some elaboration of the theory of federation which would become one of Proudhon’s primary concerns in the final phase of his career: “this federation, where the city is equal to the province, the province equal to the empire, the empire equal to the continent, where all groups are politically equal…” The leveling of the playing field is the consequence of denying the governmental principle, which, unlike the manifestation of collective force in the state, seems to be primarily an artefact of our inability to recognize our own strength when it confronts us in collective form.

1861—We can stop our timeline here, not because Proudhon was finished, but because his elaboration of the various forms of rights in War and Peace, and the “New Theory” of property which he had apparently completed by then, ultimately brought the analyses of property and the state together, as countervailing forces which would work together to create spaces within which liberty—and free beings of various scales—could emerge and develop.

At this point, there has been a fairly radical transformation of Proudhon’s analysis, but no great reversals in his thought—except for his recognition of the non-governmental state as an individual actor which must be accounted for. But what would it mean to account for the state in relations of mutuality? What are the implications of this leveling of the field? And what does adopting all of this rather peculiar theory gain us?
That’s still the work of one more section, where we can look at the possible role of the state within anarchism—but also speculate about other potential collective beings, such as “the market.”

Friday, January 18, 2013

Notes on Proudhon's changing notion of the state (1 of 3)

[part 2][part3

The most incredible confusion is that between the government and the State. I am an anarchist, as Proudhon was, for like him I want to abolish government, the principle of authority in the State, in order to replace it by an responsible and controllable administration of the public interests; but I do not want, with Bakunin, to abolish the State. The word State comes from stare, to hold, to persist; the State is thus the organized collectivity. Just as the commune is the local collectivity, the State is the national collectivity which has lasted, lasts and will last as long as the nation itself. Even if society ever succeeds in realizing the ideal of the universal Republic, that Republic will still be composed of distinct States, in solidarity with one another, but each living its own life.— Frédéric Tufferd, "Unity in Socialism" (1887)

Although it is something of a commonplace that Proudhon expected some form of “state” to persist within anarchism, and to take its place in a complex balancing of forces with individual absolutisms, property, etc., statements like Tufferd’s are still a bit startling, in part because we have seldom tried to take the theory from works like The Theory of Property and explore what these vague notions of “countervailing forces” would amount to in practice. To do so, of course, requires confronting a number of other key elements in Proudhon’s social theory which threaten to complicate matters rather dramatically.
We know that Proudhon held two different perspectives on “the state,” and that they seem radically different—even opposed. In the debates of 1849, with Louis Blanc and Pierre Leroux, Proudhon made his famous analysis of “the state” in “Resistance the Revolution” and some connected essays (best known in English through the section published separately as “The State.”) In that analysis he identifies “the state” with the manifestation of “the governmental principle,” and opposes both to the “social revolution.”
Given those assumptions, his critique of “the state” follows naturally:

The State is the external constitution of the social power.
The constitution supposes, in principle, that society is a creature of the mind, destitute of spontaneity, providence, unity, needing for its action to be fictitiously represented by one or more elected or hereditary commissioners: an hypothesis the falsity of which the economic development of society and the organization of universal suffrage agree in demonstrating.
The constitution of the State supposes further, as to its object, that antagonism or a state of war is the essential and irrevocable condition of humanity, a condition which necessitates, between the weak and the strong, the intervention of a coercive power to put an end to their struggles by universal oppression We maintain that, in this respect, the mission of the State is ended; that, by the division of labor, industrial solidarity, the desire for well-being, and the equal distribution of capital and taxation, liberty and justice obtain surer guarantees than any that ever were afforded them by religion and the State.
As for utilitarian transformation of the State, we consider it as a utopia contradicted at once by governmental tradition, and the revolutionary tendency, and the spirit of the henceforth admitted economic reforms. In any case, we say that to liberty alone it would belong to reorganize power, which is equivalent at present to the complete exclusion of power.
As a result, either no social revolution, or no more government; such is our solution of the political problem.

But ten years later, as he writes the works of his mature period, Proudhon seems to have changed his position completely, and his discussions of “justice in the revolution” and the dynamics of an anarchist society include a role for state, and even a defense of its “rights.”
This has been taken as an indication that Proudhon abandoned anarchism, that the emphasis on “federalism” in his later works marked some sort of retreat from his early, radical conclusions about government. This interpretation closely parallels the reading of Proudhon’s work on property which opposes Proudhon’s later embrace of individual property to his early claim that “property is theft,” and takes the former as evidence of backsliding. Both interpretations are, I would argue, completely wrong, but there are undoubtedly clues in the development of his thoughts on property—which has been much more extensively documented—which give us clues about how to understand the shift in his thoughts about “the state.”
Proudhon connected the two analyses in “Resistance to the Revolution:” “The Revolution of February raised two leading questions: one economic, the question of labor and property; the other political, the question of government or the State.” The first question, he claims, has been answered by “free credit” and the proposal for a “single tax on capital.”

“The economic problem, then, may be considered solved.
It is far from being the same with the political problem,—that is, with the disposal to be made in the future, of government and the State. On this point the question is not even stated;…”

If Proudhon’s own development is any indication, he was probably speaking more truly when, in 1846 in The System of Economic Contradictions, he made a similar pronouncement about property:

“The problem of property is, after that of human destiny, the greatest that reason can propose, and the last that it will be able to resolve. Indeed, the theological problem, the enigma of religion, has been explicated; the philosophical problem, which treats the value and legitimacy of knowledge, is resolved: there remains the social problem, which simply joins these two, and the solution of which, as everyone believes, comes essentially from property.”

In 1849, Proudhon’s thoughts about these economic questions were ultimately doomed to further transition. The “free credit” projects were still playing themselves out, although Proudhon had already distanced himself both physically and organizationally from them. His thinking on taxation would also develop substantially.
____

Arguably, Proudhon did not change his ideas dramatically in the later writings, but he did change the way he talked about almost all of his major concerns. In the case of his analysis of “the state,” his apparent reversal occurred because, as Tufferd claimed, he uncoupled the notion of “the state” from that of “government,” and the governmental principle.
But why did he do that? There are a number of reasons why Proudhon’s developing thought might have led him in that direction:
1) The debate with Louis Blanc and Pierre Leroux was perhaps not Proudhon’s, or French socialism’s, finest hour. When Blanc reprinted his contributions, he made a point of saying that he had removed some remarks of a purely personal nature—and the work certainly benefited from it. The exchange is an example of three very intelligent, talented writers on something very close to their worst behavior. The exchange between Proudhon and Leroux is particularly strange, as even Proudhon insists that they agree on most of the important issues. The period between the Revolution of February 1848 and the coup d’état of 1851 was one where Proudhon was focused more narrowly on the practical questions facing the presumably revolutionary government, and on his political rivalries. And, ultimately, he was not prevailing in his attempts to steer policy. The project of starting the Bank of the People had been interrupted by new legal attacks on him, and had been succeeded by the Mutuality of Laborers, with which he was ultimately unwilling to ally himself. His tax proposal was not accepted. And his battles with fellow socialists were attracting more ridicule than anything else, as works like The Feuding Brothers demonstrate. It must have been a frustrating period for Proudhon, and perhaps he sensed, as it is hard not to sense reading the controversies of that period now, that he was not entirely on the right track. There are certainly still significant, interesting tensions in the theoretical work he did do in that period, including some of his most provocative moments, but they seem to be largely exploratory. It will only be after the coup d’état that he begins to really move beyond the confident claims that this or that critically important question is now closed, to embrace the more nuanced, progressive elements of his analysis.
2) Embracing the notion of “progress” is key to the development of Proudhon’s thought. Once he has determined to his own satisfaction that change is a constant, there can no longer be a question of closing any of the important questions—which we can certainly say in retrospect were not closed by his attempted interventions in the 1840s, and probably couldn’t have been. 
3) But the embrace of progress also influences his choice of keywords and the way that he treats concepts. In his early work on “property,” he had differed with Pierre Leroux over Leroux’s decision to use the same word, “property,” to designate both the abusive present forms and possible future forms which would be in accordance with justice. He was rather insistent on the matter, choosing to define “property” in his own work as “a right of use and abuse,” but really only wishing to address, as he made clear in the preface to the second edition of What is Property?, “the sum of [property’s] abuses.” That was a dangerous move, since it is not so impressive a claim to say that “the abuse of property is theft.” And we know that Proudhon fairly rapidly shifted ground. The shift is made explicit in The Philosophy of Progress, published in 1853:

I will retain, with the common folk, these three words: religion, government, property, for reasons of which I am not the master, which partake of the general theory of Progress, and for that reason seem to me decisive: first, it is not my place to create new words for new things and I am forced to speak the language of everyone; second, there is no progress without tradition, and the new order having for its immediate antecedents religion, government and property, it is convenient, for the very guarantee of that evolution, to preserve for the new institutions their patronymic names, in the phases of civilization, because there are never well-defined lines, and to want to accomplish the revolution by a jump, that would be beyond our means.

4) Finally, this new clarity about the nature of social evolution was accompanied by a more sophisticated notion of how “collective force,” which was so important in his analysis of “property,” manifests itself in the form of collective beings—or rather how all beings worthy of the title are always already collectivities, organized according to a law of unity and development. That notion led him to reconsider the status of “the state,” apart from its connection to the principle of government, and to rank some sort of non-governmental state alongside families, workshops, and other collective beings which must somehow be accounted for in his sociology.

The consequences of positing this “organized collectivity” (to use Tufferd’s phrase) as a being, with its own organization, interests and reason, operating alongside human beings and other collective beings (when not itself subordinated to other interests by governmentalism) require careful elaboration, and threaten to take us some very strange and interesting places. 

That will be the task in the second part of this analysis.