A Fourierist account of property

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I’ve been ranging through my personal archives, and through pretty much everything else I can get my hands on lately, looking for material to help fill gaps in the general analysis of property that I’m writing for The Mutualist #2: “Owning Up.” The plan is to dedicate the whole issue to a fleshed-out summary of the property theory I’ve been developing over the last 3-4 years (hopefully in time for the Bay Area Bookfair), and finish up a radically-rewritten version of “The Anarchism of Approximations,” so I can focus much of my attention in 2011 on “The Wing,” the practical micro-enterprise zine I’ve been slowly putting together for about a year now. Issue 3 of The Mutualist will be about circulation—currencies, ecosystems, markets, in/alienability, Pierre Leroux’s circulus, etc.—and looks to be as big and against-the-grain as the work on property has been, so we’ll see the finished product when the product is finished—though I’ll be presenting the pieces on the blog along the way. In preparation for completing this issue, I’ve pulled together several hundred pages of my “along the way” commentary on various issues relating to mutualism—on mailing lists, forums, blogs, etc.—and will eventually be publishing a thick, annotated, “Instead of a Book”/”Fragments”-style collection of that material. In emphasizing the experimental, approximate nature of mutualism, it seems useful to publish more than just the stuff that made the “final cut” for inclusion in The Mutualist. It’s been an interesting experience to retrace the theoretical and organization ground I’ve covered in the last four years. That volume will probably come out at the same time as The Mutualist #2, since it is, in effect, my notes for “Owning Up.”

Anyway, as I’ve been working to pull together the various threads of the “gift economy of property” analysis, I’ve spent a lot of time with sources that approach the question of “property” from perspectives that are pretty much outside the current envelope, in part because of their ability to “make strange” a question which all too often is addressed with tired talking points, but also because sometimes the outliers go the extra mile in explaining what they’re really on about.

Last week, a typical round of footnote-chasing and archive-dredging led me back to the files of The Harbinger, the paper of the Brook Farm Fourierists—several of whom went on to play more or less significant roles in the history of individualist anarchism and the New England radical leagues. The specific reference I was chasing (Marx Edgeworth Lazarus, with a Fourierist account of cannibalism, among other things) is a story for another day, beyond the fact that it reminded me of just how much material the Brook Farmers managed to translate and reprint. As I mentioned awhile back, in the context of translations of Proudhon, there are a lot of reasons to be interested in these early translations, and it had been some time since I looked at The Harbinger, so I prepared myself to be distracted for awhile—and immediately found a fairly remarkable essay by Gabriel-Desire Laverdant, translated by John S. Dwight, “Of Property, and the Various Legitimate Modes of Acquiring It.”  It appeared in three installments and amounts to about 32 pages of material in pamphlet form. One of the things I like very much about it is that it takes Laverdant about 10 pages to even start talking about property, since he takes the time to clarify Fourier’s theory, as he understands it, and to fill in some blanks left by Fourier. And then, when he turns to exploring the various legitimate modes of acquiring property, corresponding to the various social passions, he does so with care (and a couple of tables.)

Down the road, I intend to do a collection of translations from The Harbinger—and maybe talk about where cannibalism fits in the serial order—but for now I want to suggest this essay by Laverdant, both as a fine introduction to Fourierist analysis and as a well-reasoned (if somewhat eccentric) example of “natural rights”-style argumentation.


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2649 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.