I would hope by now that the practical application of Proudhon’s theory of the State, or more precisely of the theory of society underlying it, would be clearer than perhaps they were when I first published the chapter. But it can’t hurt to clarify things.
Clarifying the history of anarchist anti-State thought is arguably useful, and probably even important, given the current struggles over the scope of anarchism’s critique. The sole focus on the State is a tool of entryists of various sorts, and while there is nothing in Proudhon’s development that suggests we should be any friendlier to any existing State, the clarifications about what the early anarchists actually opposed in the State point to the heart of the broader anti-authoritarian critique. And that gives us some clearer points of comparison, when the would-be suitors come knocking.
So what’s the heart of the critique? It looks to me like “authority” is always connected to something like “external constitution.” The chapter on the State and the writings since its publication should give some sense of the consistency of Proudhon’s thought. With justice identified as the sole criterion for a whole range of projects, and balance the mechanism of justice, we can start to grasp the ways in which all of Proudhon’s various criticisms and constructions revolved around a single logic.
When we look at the anarchist encounter, with its formula of equality plus collective power, there is no question of an external force or entity “realizing” the tiny society present, as the State was presumed to do in the broader society, and very little room even for a unifying principle to regulate the association or lack thereof. Equality, as Proudhon presented it, is a principle which arguably pulls in the opposite direction.
If the “authority” that anarchist anti-authoritarians oppose is then any sort of governance, any attempt to assert an outside force or principle as the source of organization, then it becomes a question of examining the forces, principles, assumptions, axioms, utopias, and forms of common sense that we bring to our anarchism, in order to determine which can be rendered compatible with the limited social system and which must be treated as incompatible with it. In the rest of this series of posts on the encounter, I’ll start by doing my best to banish everything that seems even potentially banishable, and then see if at least some of those elements, having been, as Proudhon put it, “rid of absolutism,” can be reincorporated in some balanced manner. As a bonus, I think I’ll also be able to finally spell out in fairly specific terms, just what I think “mutualism” means, and how I think it might be best to use the notion moving forward.