The Anarchic Encounter: Economic and/or Erotic?

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It seemed appropriate to break off the previous post mid-encounter, if you will, in order to highlight even more emphatically the fundamentally fecund nature of the interactions I’ve been describing. The sort of anarchy that I have been starting to describe is not just without rulers, without any legitimate hierarchy, whether governmental or invested in other institutions, but largely without rules as well. It is not without history, if by that we mean an accumulation of experience and experiment, on the basis of which each new experiment is not a from-scratch affair, but might be assumed to take its place in a trial-and-error sort of progress. And that history may provide sufficient guidance for many, even most of our encounters, but there is probably no point in talking about anarchy if ever encounter is not also informed by the notion that, as we have put it, “another world is possible.”

Another world is possible at every moment, and we should expect our commitment to an ungovernable anarchism to confront us with unforeseen possibilities on a pretty frequent basis. We will always build on a foundation composed of equal parts accumulated historical experience and consciousness of radical possibilities. At every encounter, it will be up to us to decide what sort of world it is we are building towards at that very moment.

And every moment, every association, every decision to build in a particular manner will have its consequences—its offspring. If we understand the social world as Proudhon did, as inhabited by “any number of individuals, on any number of scales and creating any number of associations,” with all of the “collective individuals” brought into the world by our encounters and associations figuring in the justice-balance, then we’re going to have to find the means to negotiate a new range of possibilities and responsibilities (or at least a new set of terms with which to negotiate it.)

Unfortunately, Proudhon, who has given us so much in the way of social scientific apparatus for approaching the clearly economic side of these questions, is considerably less help in tackling other aspects. As much as he has had to say about anarchistic commerce, he is not the person we would expect to enlighten us much on the subject of intercourse.

There are, of course, some approaches even to these other concerns in Proudhon’s writings. In his critical phase, he was certainly not above adding some sexy bits to his analysis of “property.” [See “Varieties of Proprietors: Lovers, Husbands, and Mother Hens,” and the linked material, for an introduction to this side of Proudhon’s discourse.] Over and over again, we find him referring to the infertile nature of proprietorship, but I have yet to find equally engaging treatments of the fecundity of the alternatives.

Fortunately, Proudhon’s work is far from the only reference point I’ve identified for the analysis of property on the blog, and for some of the other figures I’ve had occasion to invoke the fecund was something of a preoccupation. Let’s consider, for example, what our old friend Walt Whitman might have to add at this stage of our review.

What if we understood this economic formulation by Proudhon:

Two men meet, recognize one another’s dignity, state the additional benefit that would result for both from the concert of their industries, and consequently guarantee equality, which means economy. That is the whole social system: an equation, and then a collective power.

Two families, two cities, two provinces, contract on the same footing: there is always only these two things, an equation and a collective power. It would involve a contradiction, a violation of Justice, if there were anything else.

as in many regards equivalent to this overtly erotic formulation by Walt Whitman:

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex,
Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life.
To elaborate is no avail, learn’d and unlearn’d feel that it is so.


When we’ve had a chance to wrap up the review of the work thus far, this problem of integrating the economic and erotic aspects of the anarchic encounter will be one of our preoccupations.

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