Contr’un Revisited: If we were being precise, the “Contr’un Revisited” phase would start here, with the name change at the beginning of 2011. But, just as some posts are being imported that were not originally posted on this blog and some posts that were posted here are now migrating to other collections, all of the theoretical writing from the earlier period is explicitly becoming what it, in fact, eventually became: part of the Contr’un project.
This blog has gone through two previous phases, under two other names: The first was exploratory, a series of rambles “In the Libertarian Labyrinth,” with a primary goal of demonstrating that our tradition is far richer than we are accustomed to think; the second was also exploratory, but, having demonstrated to my own satisfaction the complexity and extent of the “libertarian labyrinth,” it seemed to me high time to find a way out—to gather together the best discoveries from my wanderings and start to piece them together into something a little more programmatic. That something—which I’ve referred to at various times as “the anarchism of approximation,” “the spirit of ’58,” ‘the Walt Whitman theory of political economy,” and, most recently, “Two-Gun Mutualism”—has been gradually taking shape—on this blog, in forum discussions, in the pages of LeftLiberty and The Mutualist, and over coffee and beer in various states—for a couple of years. And, to tell the truth, it has been met, more often than not, with some variety of silence.
Ah, well. That’s how it goes sometimes. I will persist—for awhile at least—in believing that my enthusiasm for a full-featured neo-Proudhonian mutualism is simply still well ahead of the curve. The whole “gift economy of property” thing, and the strategy of enlisting Locke and Stirner to help push Proudhon’s thought further than he could take it, undoubtedly requires a little time to sink in. Still, for better of worse, 2011 is going to be a big year for Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, with the release of the AK Press anthology and a number of Proudhon-related projects from Corvus Editions, included at least a couple of new translations. (I’m currently working on the 3rd memoir on property and a revision and annotation of Tucker’s translation of “What is Property?”) And more Proudhon widely available is going to mean even more debate about just what the limits of his thought actually were—and, I suspect, more of the tug-of-war over mutualism.
There is, after all, a tug-of-war over mutualism. That hasn’t changed since the good old days when we were fighting on Usenet, “An Anarchist FAQ” hadn’t been started and Spunk Library was the cutting edge of internet anarchism. I expect we’ll continue to see attempts, from both right and left, to expel mutualism (as “pre-anarchist” or “a philosophy for thieves”) or to subordinate it to some other school (“proto-communist,” “agorist, with the LTV,” etc.) We’re generally pretty certain that something hatched 170+ years ago can’t possibly be as clever as we are now. And, of course, we’re probably right about that—in some ways. We’re almost certainly wrong in some other ways—potentially really important ways. And it will be hard not to be wrong about Proudhon and mutualism. Property is Theft! will fill in a number of important blanks in our knowledge, but it will leave plenty to be filled as well. Most of Proudhon’s mature work remains untranslated, along with virtually all of the other works by French mutualists and a tremendous amount of the material documenting the rise of collectivism.
Plenty of anarchists will say, “So what?” Unfortunately, some of those same anarchists will keep talking about Proudhon and mutualism as if they knew what they were talking about. So what? After all, even most present-day mutualists don’t have much time for Proudhon’s antinomic method and philosophy of progress, his sense that “peace is the perfection of war,” and his theories of collective force and collective reason.
I think they’re wrong. (And nobody really expects me to be bashful about it.) And I think that by failing to grapple with all that weird stuff, they risk creating a mutualism that really is an embryonic anarchist-communism or Agorism Lite. YMMV, but that’s not going to get me where I want to go.
Two-Gun Mutualism. Picking up threads from Proudhon’s early works—”the synthesis of community and property”—and his mature works—”the antinomy does not resolve itself”—and the wonderful image of the two pistols from Pierre Leroux’s “Individualism and Socialism,” we get a silly name for a fairly heady, potentially risky project: to pick up both individualism and socialism—two ill-kept old old implements indeed—and to try to make them serve the needs of an anarchism that slights neither individualities (at a dizzying range of scales) nor collectivities (ditto), when it’s all too obvious that neither one is quite the tool for the job. It’s a tactical, transitional project, couched in a repositioning language—as “market anarchism” and “left-libertarianism” served early phases (but, alas, no more…)
And if you’ve been reading this blog, neither its method nor its general outlines ought to be no surprise. Proudhon pursued property according to its logics and then according to its aims. I’ll do a little of both—dealing with property, exchange, the gift, the state, etc.—and more than a little “deconstructive” reading of various more-or-less libertarian traditions, teasing out various possibilities for a neo-Proudhonian, but thoroughly modern mutualism, separate from—and at times opposed to—other contemporary claimants of the name. In some ways, the work won’t change much. There’s still translation to do, and analysis of the great works of the tradition. But there’s also a tremendous amount of updating and extrapolation that has to be done, and that will in center stage. Anyway, the spirit and intent behind all this has been in transition for some time now, and I want to make explicit my own declaration of independence from “big tents” and “agreements” that paper over the most significant sorts of disputes. Enough with that. The stakes are simply too high.
I look forward to reading your efforts.
Plenty of anarchists will say, “So what?”
That is, sadly, all too true! It is as if the birth and evolution of anarchism is unimportant to some anarchists…. In reponse to “So what?” type of replies, I would ask “do you think the Paris Commune is important?” If they answer yes (as they should), then that is why Proudhon is important!
Unfortunately, some of those same anarchists will keep talking about Proudhon and mutualism as if they knew what they were talking about.
Again, oh so true! Some even think Marx’s “Poverty of Philosophy” demolished his ideas… hopefully the new anthology will help combat that.
Obviously, if there is anything I can do to help your work then let me know!
Also, have you thought about contacting AK Press about publishing all three memiors on property? If “Property is Theft!” is successful, they may be interested in a new, modern, translation of all three books.
Persist, Mr. Wilbur! You are doing wonderful work and I very much enjoy stopping by to see what you are working on.
Shawn, I wish you well in your mission. I have much to read in this area, but I do want to get started. I’m happy to see that you’re doing the heavy lifting. I’ll be back.