Advice for Travelers on the Trail of the Anarchic Encounter

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I too have made a sort of transition from critical to constructive concerns, and when one of these half-mad, exploratory jaunts off into the wide-flung realms of intellectual history and theory gets to be a little overwhelming there is a sort of home port to return to. For a long time, the logical working conclusion after pretty much every step in my research was something like: “Okay, but I think there’s a bit more to it than that.” And it was on with the steady unraveling of received wisdom. Questions multiplied, existing explanations showed a strong tendency to come up short of facts, logic or both, and I didn’t have a lot to cling to besides a handful of provocative catch-phrases and general intuitions. Now, I think time and subsequent research has been surprisingly kind to my catch-phrases and intuitions, and over the last year or so I’ve been able to really begin to build an account of Proudhon’s work, of anarchy and of anarchism around the notion of an anarchic encounter between equal uniques. So now when it’s time to stop and assess the progress of the work, the logical question is almost always some variation on “Okay, but what happens in the encounter?”
And I recommend that as a strategy to readers, for whom I have no doubt my dashing back and forth across Proudhon’s works and a range of contexts may come across as baroque or simply prolix. There’s always a short-cut back to relative sanity and clarity. Just ask yourself: “How does this relate to the anarchic encounter?”
The truth is that I’m trying to make the work as lean and straightforward as possible, given the complexities of the material in question. But it seems like I often have to come at the same questions from a number of different directions before I can make the connections necessary to both untangle them from the received narrative about Proudhon and anarchism and pick out the key elements of Proudhon’s philosophy and sociology, despite their shifting names, and finally grasp how they might be applied in a contemporary context. When I sat down yesterday to reread the last three posts, I had a sort of sinking feeling that perhaps I hadn’t said much that hadn’t already been said in the post “How does property become capitalist?” But I suppose if anarchists stopped talking when they thought they were saying something that had already been said, our propaganda would become considerably less voluminous. And, really, I think that in my case the growing clarity about Proudhon’s project, particularly in the 1860s, means that each time we look at the central problems from a slightly different angle, we move one step closer to being able to apply Proudhon’s anarchism without constant reference to the enormous body of works we’ve been exploring. So…

If we focus for the moment on Proudhon’s federalist-mutualist-guarantist theory of the practical application of reciprocity, with the understanding that reciprocity is itself more than just an ethical norm, what happens in the encounter?

Let me just leave that there for the moment…

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.