Friday, May 17, 2013

Proudhon on method, and the "system" of society

[The bolded section is a great bit of clarification by Proudhon.]

Justice in the Revolution and in the Church
from the Study on Ideas

LVIII. — System of public reason, or social system.
How many times have I heard addressed this compliment that the jealous critic would undertake, for the honor of the century, to withdraw, if he comprehended its scope: You are an admirable destroyer, but you do not build anything. You throw people in the road, and you do not offer them the least assistance. What do you put in the place of religion? What do you put in place of government? What do you put in place of property? One says to me now: What are you putting in place of this individual reason, which, for the need of your cause, you are reduced to deny the sufficiency? 
Nothing, my good man, for I intend to suppress none of the things of which I have made such a resolute critique. I flatter myself that I do only two things: that is, first, to teach you put each thing in its place, after having purged it of the absolute and balanced it with other things; then, to show you that the things that you know, and that you have such fear of losing, are not the only ones that exist, and that there are considerably more of which you still must take account. Of this order is the collective reason. 
One asks what is the true system, the natural, rational, legitimate system of society, since none of those previously tested were resistant to the secret action that disrupts them. This has been the constant preoccupation of socialist philosophers, from the mythological Minos to the director of the Icarians. As we had no positive idea of Justice, nor of the economic order, nor of social dynamics, nor of the conditions of philosophical certainty, a monstrous idea has been made of the social being: it has been compared to a large organization, created according to a formula of hierarchy which, prior to Justice, was his own law and the very condition of its existence; it was like an animal of a species mysterious, but which, following the example of all animals known, should have a head, heart, nerves, teeth, feet, etc. From this chimera of an organism, which all have tried their best to discover, Justice was then deduced, that is to say that one attempted to make morality emerge from physiology or, as they say today, right from duty, so that Justice was still placed outside of conscience, freedom subject to fatalism, and humanity fallen. 
I have refuted in advance all these imaginations, by exposing the facts and principles which exclude them forever. 
With respect to the substantiality and organization of the social being, I have shown the first in that surplus of effective power which is proper to the group, which exceeds the sum of individual forces that comprise it; I gave the law of the second, showing that it reduces itself to a series of the weightings of forces, services and products, which makes the social system a general equation, a balance. That organism, society, the moral being par excellence, differs essentially so much from living beings, in which the subordination of organs is the law of existence. That is why society is averse to any notion of hierarchy, and thus made the formula: All men are equal in dignity by nature and must become equivalent in conditions through work and Justice. 
Now, as a being is organized, such will be its reason: that is why, while the reason of the individual affects the form of a genesis, as can be seen by all the theogonies, gnoses , political constitutions, syllogistics; collective reason reduces itself, like algebra, by the elimination of the absolute, to a series of resolutions and equations, which means that there is really not, for society, a system. 
It is not a system, indeed, in the sense that usually attaches to this word, but an order in which all relations are relations of equality, where there exists neither rule nor obedience, neither center of gravity nor of direction; where the only law is that everyone abide by Justice, i.e., balance. 
Does mathematics constitute a system? It does not fall into anyone’s mind to say so. If, in a treatise of mathematics, some trace of systematization is detected, it is due to the author, not at all the science. It is thus in the social reason. 
Two men meet, recognize their dignity, state the additional benefit that would result for both from the concert of their industries, and consequently guarantee equality, which means economy. There is the whole social system: an equation, and then a power of collectivity.
Two families, two cities, two provinces, contract on the same footing: there is always only these two things, an equation and power of collectivity. It would involve a contradiction, a violation of Justice, if there were anything else.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"Ireland!" A serialized novel from Tucker's "Liberty"

I've finally posted the complete text of Georges Sauton's novel, Ireland! Translated from the French by Sarah E. Holmes, it originally appeared serially in Liberty, but has not, as far as I can tell, been collected. It was one of the longest-running features in the paper, which often had several serials in progress, beginning November 14, 1885 and not ending until March 10, 1888. It is a rather typical political novel in the feuilleton style, with lots of characters and complications, and a substantial body count. Set during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, its English oppressors couldn't be more corrupt and brutal, and its United Irishman couldn't be more proud and doomed. It's a nice example of the type, and Holmes' translation is quite readable. 

I've also recently posted the full text of Sidney H. Morse's "The Senator and the Editor," another, considerably shorter story serialized in Liberty. Like Morse's "Liberty and Wealth" (which ran in Liberty and seems to feature an alternate reality in which Josiah Warren's ideas dominated at New Harmony) and "Ethics of the Homestead Strike" (a serial from The Conservator), it plays some interesting games with current events.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Everything in the Balance

I've had a chance recently to reread some old and in-progress translations from Proudhon's writings about philosophy, and naturally the impact of those writings changes as my understanding of Proudhon's larger project grows. But I'm honestly a little embarrassed that the material from the opening sections of Justice in the Revolution and in the Church hasn't made a stronger impression on me before now. Those sections, which discuss the nature and purpose of philosophy, the role of metaphysics, the accessibility of philosophical thought to the masses, and the relation of philosophy to justice, make a fairly remarkable set of arguments, many of which are what we would now probably call anti-foundationalist in character. In The Philosophy of Progress, Proudhon described his project in terms of an opposition to the absolute and an affirmation of progress, and challenged the idea of a criterion of certainty. In Justice, he asserts his criterion for, well, just about everything, and it turns out to be justice, understood as balance—and specifically as a balance between terms assumed to be equal in standing. The "anarchic encounter between equally unique individuals" turns out to be form of even the most basic exercises in gathering knowledge.

I encourage anyone interested in Proudhon's thought to read that material, and apologize in advance for some minor, but nearly all obvious, defects in the current form of the translation. More specifically, I encourage anyone who does read it to be open to the more extreme implications of this business of taking balance as the criterion—as the closest thing to a foundation that perhaps we have. If we understand the mature, post-coup d'état Proudhon as starting by placing everything in the balance of justice, then I think that while the difficult, later works do not become any easier to grapple with, we can at least more easily eliminate some of the preconceptions which hinder our engagement with them.