My notebooks are full of leading, if perhaps unanswerable, questions and what-if‘s regarding radical history. At one time, when my focus was on the tag-end of antebellum utopian socialism movements in the postbellum era, I began to work out some of my ideas in the form of speculative fiction: The Old Dispensation is a story of socialism in decay and disrepute, following a rag-tag caravan of old school radicals, who probably should have found new tricks, off to Oregon, where they ride their hobby-horses into an obscure and unexpected glory. I’ll be dusting off my accounts of Lanquist’s Exodus, Solly’s Town, and Vobo, the Alwaso Boy sometime soon for a new project, The Distributive Passions, which will rework episodes from radical history. Butterfly Labor, the chronologically first set of episodes, begins with this conceit:
Imagine that, in the early 19th century, the various libertarian currents, particularly mutualism, had met with just a little less resistance, that co-operation had dug its roots in just a bit deeper, particularly in American soil. Imagine there was a bit more to the ubiquitous social-sciences-of-everything than just hyperbole and wild metaphysical speculation. . .
and begins to run with it. It is essentially a one-sided epistolatory novel, consisting of letters from “Cabalist” to a number of the usual suspects of individualist anarchism. The first two sections are Sovereigns and Doctrines of Life. A bridging narrative, Across Golden Seas, set during the 2010 Intergalactic Encuentro, mixes Fourierist fantasy with more topical stuff.
This will undoubtedly be a fits and starts affair, but I intend to work on it fairly steadily, incorporating into it much of my current speculation about radical history. Much of the fiction will be keyed fairly closely to the material I’m posting here, to the more general intellectual history work at The Very Idea!, and to the material on Christian social justice that I’m working up for my new church gig. Ultimately, it’s all a tribute to the sometimes astounding ambition and range of interests of figures like Fourier, Proudhon, Greene and Andrews, written for the comrades and colleagues most likely to get the jokes. You know who you are.