Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Stammering Century

My review of Gilbert Seldes' The Stammering Century is now online at the Reason site. Check it out!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Proudhon on the State in 1861

You might expect that Proudhon's theory of the state would be most succinctly expressed in one of his essays on the subject of the state, like "Resistance to the Revolution" of the "Small Political Catechism." There are certainly key elements of the theory there, and more in The Theory of Property, but the clearest explanation appears to be tucked away in Proudhon's book on taxation. These are the relevant passages, and it is truly striking stuff:

from The Theory of Taxation (1861)

Relation of the State and Liberty, according to modern right.

Modern right, by introducing itself in the place of the ancient right, has done one new thing: it has put in the presence of one another, on the same line, two powers which until now had been in a relation of subordination. These two powers are the State and the Individual, in other words Government and Liberty.
The Revolution, indeed, has not suppressed that occult, mystical presence, that one called the sovereign, and that we name more willingly the State; it has not reduced society to lone individuals, compromising, contracting between them, and of their free transaction making for themselves a common law, as the Social Contract of J.-J. Rousseau gave us to understand.
No, Government, Power, State, as on wishes to call it, is found again, under the ruins of the ancien régime, complete, perfectly intact, and stronger than before. What is new since the Revolution, is Liberty, I mean the condition made of Liberty, its civil and political state.
Let us note, besides, that the State, as the Revolution conceived it, is not a purely abstract thing, as some, Rousseau among others, have supposed, a sort of legal fiction; it is a reality as positive as society itself, as the individual even. The State is the power of collectivity which results, in every agglomeration of human beings, from their mutual relations, from the solidarity of their interests, from their community of action, from the practice of their opinions and passions. The State does not exist without the citizens, doubtless; it is not prior nor superior to them; but it exists for the very reason that they exist, distinguishing itself from each and all by special faculties and attributes. And liberty is no longer a fictive power, consisting of a simple faculty to choose between doing and not doing: it is a positive faculty, sui generis, which is to the individual, assemblage of diverse passions and faculties, what the State is to the collectivity of citizens, the highest power of conception and of creation of being (D).
This is why the reason of the State is not the same thing as individual reason; why the interest of the State is not the same as private interest, even if that was identical in the majority or the totality of citizens; why the acts of government are of a different nature than the acts of the simple individual. The faculties, attributes, interests, differ between the citizen and the State as the individual and the collective differ between them: we have seen a beautiful example of it, when we have posed that principle that the law of exchange is not the same for the individual and for the State.
Under the regime of divine right, the reason of State being confused with the dynastic, aristocratic or clerical reason, could not always be in conformity with justice; that is what has cause the banishment, by modern right, of the abusive principle of the reason of State. Just so, the interest of the State, being confused with the interest of dynasty or of caste, was not in complete conformity with Justice; and it is that which makes every society transformed by the Revolution tend to republican government.
Under the new regime, on the contrary, the reason of State must in complete conformity with Justice, the true expression of right, reason essentially general and synthetic, distinct consequently from the reason of the citizen, always more or less specialized and individual (E). Similarly, the interest of the State is purged of all aristocratic and dynastic pretension; the interest of the State is above all an interest of noble right, which implies that its nature is other than that of individual interest.
The author of the Social Contract a claimed, and those who follow him have repeated after him, that the true sovereign is the citizen; that the prince, organ of the State, is only the agent of the citizen; consequently that the State is the chose of the citizen: all that would be bon à dire while it was a question of claiming the rights of man and of the citizen and of inaugurating liberty against despotism. Presently the Revolution no longer encounters obstacles, at least from the side of the ancien régime: it is a question of rightly knowing its thought and of putting it into execution. From this point of view the language of Rousseau has become incorrect, I would even say that it is false and dangerous.

Determination of the functions, attributes and prerogatives of the State,
according to modern right.

The State, a power of collectivity, having its own and specific reason, its eminent interest, its outstanding functions, the State, as such, has rights too, rights that it is impossible to misunderstand without putting immediately in peril the right, the fortune and the liberty of the citizens themselves.
The State is the protector of the liberty and property of the citizens, not only of those who are born, but of those who are to be born. Its guardianship embraces the present and future, and extends to the future generations: thus the State has rights proportionate to its obligations; without that, what would its foresight serve?
The state oversees the execution of the laws; it is the guardian of the public faith and the guarantor of the observation of contracts. These attributions imply new rights in the State, as much over persons as things, that one could not deny it without destroying it, without breaking the social bond.
The State is the justice-bringer par excellence; it alone is charged with the execution of judgments. De ce chef encore, the State has its rights, without which its own guarantee, its justice, would become null.
All of that, you say, existed before in the State. The principle then and its corollaries, the theory and the application remain at base the same, nothing has changed? The Revolution has been a useless work.
This has changed between the ancient and the new regime, the in the past the State was incarnated in a man: “L'Ètat c'est moi;” while today it finds its reality in itself, as a power of collectivity; — that in the past, that State made man, that State-King was absolute, while now it is subject to justice, and subject as a consequence to the control of the citizens; — that in the past the reason of the State was infected by aristocratic and princely reason, while today, exposed to all the critiques, to all the protests, it has strength only from Right and Truth; — that in the past, the interest of the State was confused with the interest of the princes, which distorted the administration and caused justice to stumble, which today a similar confusion of interests establishes the crime of misappropriation and prevarication; — that finally, in the past, the subject only appeared on its knees before it sovereign, as we saw it in the Estates General, while since the Revolution the citizen deals with the State as equal to equal, which is precisely what allows us to define tax as an exchange, and to consider the State, in the administration of the public funds, as a simple trader.
The State has preserved its power, its strength, which alone renders it respectable, constitutes its credit, creates awards and prerogatives for it, but it has lost its authority. It no longer has anything but Rights, guaranteed by the rights and interests of the citizens themselves. It is itself, if we can put it this way, a species of citizen; it is a civil person, like families, commercial societies, corporations, and communes. Just as there is no sovereign, there is no longer a servant, as it has been said, that would be to remake the tyrant: he is the first among his peers.
Thus liberty, which counts for nothing in the State, subordinated, absorbed was it was by the good pleasure of the sovereign, liberty has become a power equal in dignity to the State. Its definition with regard to the State is the same as with regard to the citizens: Liberty, in the man, is the power to create, innovate, reform, modify, in a word to do everything that exceeds the power of nature and that of the State, and which does no harm to the rights of others, whether that other is a simple citizen or the State. It is according to this principle that the State must abstain from everything that does not absolutely require its initiative, in order to leave a vaster field to individual liberty.
Ancient society, established on absolutism, thus tended to concentration and immobility.
The new society, established on the dualism of liberty and the State, tends to decentralization and movement. The idea of human perfectibility, or progress, has revealed itself in humanity at the same time as the new right.

Note D, Page 65.

Liberty and the State. — The antithesis of the State and of Liberty, presented here as the foundation and principle of modern society, by replacement of the supremacy of the State and the subordination of Liberty, which made the base of ancient society, that antithesis, eminently organic, will not be admitted by the publicists and partisans of the principle of authority, of the eminent domain of the State, of governmental initiative and of the subordination of the citizen or rather subject; it will not be understood by those who, formed by the lessons of the old scholasticism, are accustomed to see in the State and free will only abstractions. Those, just like the old partisans of divine right, are born enemies of self-government, invariable adversaries of true democracy, and condemned to the eternal arbitrariness of the reason of State and of taxation. For them the State is a mystical entity, before which every individuality must bow; Liberty is not a power, and taxation is not an exchange; principles are fictions of which the man of State makes what he wants, justice a convention and politics a bascule. These doctrinaires, as they are called, the skepticism and misanthropy of which today governs Europe, are as far beneath the ancient monarchists and feudalists, as arbitrary will is beneath faith, Machiavelli beneath the Bible. Europe owes to this school of pestilence the confusion of ideas and the dissolution of morals by which it is beset: the slack maxims Jesuits could produce nothing comparable.
This is not the place to open a discussion of the actuality of the State and of Liberty: I will content myself with referring provisionally to my work Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Fourth and Eighth Studies of the Belgian edition.

Note E, Page 66.

Opposition of collective and individual reason. See, on this curious subject, the work indicated in the preceding note, Sixth Study of the Belgian edition.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

If I had to guess...

...what was the single most important reason for "statism" becoming as prominent an anarchist keyword as it became in the early 20th century, I would have to go with Marxism. The term emerged as part of Bakunin's account of the struggles within the First International, and seems to have finally gained prominence in in anarchist circles the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution. In the informal searching I've done in various digital archives the sudden increases in the use of the term line up very closely with the events.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Statism: It's not just for dentists anymore...

The story of anarchist anti-statism turns out to have an unexpected wrinkle, in which that tale crosses another story of anarchists and terminology that is rather bizarre. In attempting to clarify Proudhon's treatment of "government" and "the state," it has been necessary to follow those terms through a rather large number of texts and context, which add up to a rather dizzying number of uses, in order to draw some general conclusions about the shift in Proudhon's thought from what we might now think of as an anti-statist position to an analysis in which we find room for an anarchist state, but none for any governmental principle. Part of the difficulty has, of course, been the close association of anarchism with anti-statism in the present, which leads us to believe that Proudhon should have been an anti-statist, and leads us to take his strong critiques of the state, in texts like "Resistance to the Revolution," as evidence that he was a foe of statism at first, and then changed his mind.

The problem is that statism (étatisme) was not only not a keyword for Proudhon, but it does not seem to have been a keyword for much of anyone—in the sense generally given to it by anarchists—until the 1890s or so. Proudhon was among those who spoke of governmentalism (gouvernementalisme) as early as the 1840s, but statism does not seem to have become a common term among anarchists until the twentieth century, probably as much as a result of discussion of Bakunin's Statism and Anarchy as anything else (although that book was apparently not translated into either French or English until relatively late in the century.)

Among non-anarchists, statism appears as in the nineteenth century as another word for statecraft or state's rights, and statist appears as a synonym for statistician.

Statism also appears as a word meaning something like a tendency to immobility. For example, in The Dental Cosmos in 1882, we find that:  
"Every atom has a side of energy and a side of statism. When we find it awakened into energy we do not know the immediate cause of its awakening." 
Here, however, we are not dealing with an origin in English or French, but with a word from Alwato, coined by Stephen Pearl Andrews and included in his serialized essay on "The Science of Universology" in The Index in the 1870s—and our tale has come back around to an anarchist's use of the term statism, but hardly the one we might expect. The connection to dentistry is an interesting one, and traces to a brief and very local enthusiasm for Alwato and universology among a couple of dentists prominent in the debates about dental nomenclature in the late nineteenth century. Among my nearly-completed pamphlets is a surprisingly large collection of articles from the dental journals relating to the adoption of Andrews' terminology....

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Notice and an Invitation

I'm finishing up my layman's introduction to Proudhon's theory of the state, for a book to be published in German, and it has been very interesting, demanding work. It has reconfirmed for me the fascinating depths of Proudhon's work, and the extent to which I've still really only begun to sound the most profound of them. It's a pleasant sort of hard work, but I admit I won't be sorry when I can put this part of it away. I suspect I will feel much the same about rest of the work for the Two-Gun Mutualism: Rearmed book. It will be a certain kind of pleasure to account for my thought in the still-conventional scholarly form (a bit of irony not lost on this unemployed bookseller) but it should be clear that what I've drawn up is the plan not just for the theoretical edifice I intend to build, but also for the fire-escape by which I fully intend to escape it when it's built. While I hope I'll be able to find a publisher for the work, and perhaps stir things up a bit on the infoshop/bookfair circuit, it's hard to ignore the fact that, so far, you all have refused pretty resolutely to be stirred, even when the work has taken me some provocative places. 

The work has, of course, been the occasion for a profound transformation of my personal understanding of a range of topics, but that's not really a reason to continue my role as reluctant anarchist sect-builder—particularly as what I've learned in becoming a "two-gun mutualism" has only deepened my distrust of the politics of political identity which seems to drive the feuds between sects (including the sects who think we should all just be one sect.)

So my expectation is that a year or so from now—however soon I can wrap up TGM: Rearmed—I'll be essentially wrapping up this blog as well, and probably transforming mutualism.info into something a little bit more organized and FAQ-like. I've had another project gradually developing for quite awhile now, dealing with revolutionary mythologies, political violence, ethics outside the context of presumed prohibition and permissibility, and the question of whether anarchism presents some new "Good News" or is purely concerned with destroying and burying the old world of authority. The first phases of that will probably begin to appear fairly soon, under the title "Dancing with Saint Ravachol," starting with a serious examination of this question:
If Ravachol could appear as anarchism's "violent Christ," then which of our sins did he die for, and what new dispensation did his execution mark?
After all, Proudhon was far from the only figure who could pose provocative questions about anarchism's key concerns, and arguably the literature surrounding "Saint Ravachol" is a fine site to begin to dig into them again in a more overtly revolutionary context. 

Part of what all of this means is that I will be in the midst of a transition, and at some point not too far down the line I will no doubt still be a "two-gun mutualist," but the focus of my research, writing and my passion in general will probably be elsewhere, in this continuation of the work to which I've committed much of the last 5+ years. So sooner, rather than later, is probably the time to come out and play, if you want to engage with the details of "the gift economy of property" and "anarchism of approximations" before they're just details relating to "my old project."

Monday, February 04, 2013

Collective force and the problem of authority

God, philosophy says finally, is, from the ontological point of view, a conception of the human mind, the reality of which it is impossible to deny or affirm authentically;—from the point of view of humanity, a fantastic representation of the human soul raised to the infinite. — Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church
In Proudhon's writings we encounter the notion that what lies behind the most durable examples of authority—chief among them the famous pair, God and the State—is, in fact, collective force. It is our own force, the force of society or humanity, to which we attribute a "higher" power and authority when we encounter it.

This notion has two important elements:
  1. We really do encounter something, for which we need to account, since it is tied up with ourselves;
  2. We are mistaken in associating these manifestations of collective force with a higher realm than our own, and attributing authority to them.
But having recognized manifestations of collective force as such, we would also be mistaken to assume that these organized collective beings have interests and reasons which are necessarily similar to, or compatible with, our own individual interests and reasons.

If we try to think about what anti-authoritarianism looks like in the context of this analysis, perhaps the majority of our concerns can be addressed by adjusting what actors we recognize and how we recognize them. We need to demystify notions like God and State, but we can't deny the organized bodies of collective force that do in fact exist. We need to be rid of the real "spooks," and learn to confront our own power when we find it coming around to meet us in slightly alien form—without elevating it as either a god or a demon. We need to learn how to benefit from the "collective reason" of these collective beings, and we need to learn how to come together differently when that reason, and the interests that go with it, are inimical to our own, and to the principles of justice and equality. There are lots of ways to approach this complicated set of tasks, some of which would answer to familiar names like "anti-statism," but probably not in the ways they do at present. The temptation to elevate Humanity in the place of God has largely passed us, but maybe not so with Society, or Nature, or the Market. And perhaps we still engage in a bit of idolatry in the ways we demonize the State. 

For those who like clarity, without fundamentalist reduction, there may be some appeal in this focus on correctly identifying forces, on demystification, and on the leveling/horizontalizing of our critical framework—even if it runs counter to a lot of our current critical language and logic. There's nothing simple about the practical integration of these mute-but-powerful collective actors into our anarchism, but perhaps the difficulties will seem less as we really grapple with the theoretical problem.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Louise Michel, "Today or Tomorrow" (on Ravachol, 1892)

[Here's another of the articles written shortly after Ravachol's execution, in which Louise Michel added her bit to the Ravachol myth. There was a good deal of reference between the various contributions to L'Endehors. Michel began her article with a line from an article by Zo d'Axa and references Gustave Mathieu's "The Little Ravachols will Grow." This working translation is a little rough, but I'll be finishing these as a group.]

Today or Tomorrow.

Louise Michel

Everything is good which strikes or stings.[1]

So much the better if these bandits have finished their work. The scaffold has started the party, and the fire will beat its wings over the apotheosis.
The blood of Ravachol splashes, from his false collar to his cuffs, the cold man of the Élysée.
The Élysée! That’s the spot that draws the looks! From it the grand finale, the final bouquet will rise into the air, and the cross of Our Lady of the Slaughter will be the streetlamp.[2]
The sun has risen red in the prologue, and red it will set.
Yes, so much the better. It is necessary that this be finished, that we plow these accursed institutions like a field, in order to dry up the blood.
Let the slaves, more debased than ever, shout some Marseillaises. An instant is enough to change these docile dogs into wolves, and the winds blow liberty.
Pompeii danced when Vesuvius opened.
The trails of blood left by Deibler[3] from one city to another indicate the road of the executioners, all the way to Montbrison where they slaughtered the dynamiter, the rebel, the anarchist who sang at the guillotine.
That is what is truly beautiful, the vision of those who die for justice; on the hideous trunk of the gallows, on the block, their necks clasped by the garrote or engaged in the infamous half-moon of the scaffold, they show that they are equal to the punishment that is offered by singing through the ordeal.
In the luminous bay that cuts into the night of death, isn’t there beyond the free unknown, the taking possession of the world by humanity, the new dawn illuminating new times;
Like a magnet, limitless progress attracting men from ideal to ideal, as if from milestone to milestone, towards the future;
On the earth washed as after the rainstorms, an intense life germinating on the buried past;
Some still uncertain dawns covering in the infinite distance, some eras of harmony, science and love which, glimpsed, are worth eternity; isn’t that enough to reason laugh at the torments?
It is fortunate that under the current circumstances pity is cowardly, or we would always have them.
It is better this way. They have wished for it. The merciless verdicts demand as a response: Everything is good that strikes or stings!
The crumbs thrown to the crowd in these provocative celebrations are covered with Ravachol’s blood; in this way, on the nights of the hunt, they throw to the dogs bread soaked in the blood of the quarry.
He, dreaming of the happiness of all, has passionately thrown his life in the  faces of the executioners.
So much the better if the anger mounts. The intensity of the battle will be short; there will be no more small means, no more foolish qualms!
The Deiblers of the Élysée, by the way, will prevent nothing. Let it be in just a little while or tomorrow, what does it matter!
When so many implacable wills have the same aim, so many convinced men have the same untiring patience, the same scorn for death, then the moment is imminent.
Each one, doing their work in their turn, will be worth a thousand, and the little Ravachols will not have time to grow much before the deliverance.
The streets, by then, will no longer be changed into slaughterhouses. It is the slaughterhouses which will be blown up.
It is not with wishes that the man of the stone age seized the cavern where the big cats peacefully devoured their prey.
Let each, like Ravachol, act according to his conscience, deploring the unwitting victims without letting themselves be diminished by hesitation; it is a lofty thought: the deliverance of the world.
Salute to the next flash of lightning thundering over the palaces, to the  immense blaze that will end the orgy!
Nothing gives more to the struggle than the torture of a proud, brave man—it is no longer the time to cry for the dead; they must be avenged—this time it will be vengeance for all and always.
This is the battle without mercy where the lost children of liberty offer themselves joyfully.

L’Endehors, No. 63, 17 juillet 1892.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur ; revised July 26, 2013.]

[1] The line appears in Zo d’Axa’s article, “14 juillet sanglant,” L’Endehors N°62, 10 juillet 1892
[2] For hanging.
[3] Anatole Deibler, French executioner from 1885 to 1939, responsible for the executions of Ravachol, Auguste Vaillant, Emile Henry, Sante Caserio, three members of the Bonnot Gang, and a total of 395 men.