The Dilemma

I’ve hardly started, and there are already some criticisms and concerns about what is is and isn’t going to get covered here. My hope is to eventually cover a wide range of historical, theoretical and practical questions—and, where appropriate, to deal with elements of the traditions both historically (to get us on a firm footing) and critically. It’s useful, for example, to know how William B. Greene adapted Proudhon’s proposals, and the colonial land bank model, to the needs of his audience in 19th century New England. But most of my readers are probably, like me, not in a position to make much use of a mutual banking association—at least this side of The Revolution. It’s useful to understand the various things that Proudhon meant when he talked about “property” and “possession,” but mostly so that we can work intelligently toward models of resource distribution and use that don’t lag far behind present day pressures, ecological science, etc. It’s interesting, and frequently fun, to learn a bit about the various people who assumed the label and tested out the ideas of mutualism long before we came along. And then there are a lot of very pressing questions about how some basic mutualist principles might apply to present and future conditions. All of those need to be addressed.

But we are in the midst of a wide-ranging network of conversations and conflicts right now, with a rather protean “mutualism” at their center. And because of the difficulties of coming to specific grips with the mutualism suspended between a half-unknown past and an obscure future, it is perhaps becoming more protean, rather than less.

So, what will get addressed here will undoubtedly be a sort of triage list of particularly embattled bits of mutualist history and theory. In some cases, it is possible to simply supply answers to historical questions. In others, it will at least be possible to clarify options and conflicts. And where things seem to be just a mess, well, it will probably useful to say so.

Even that much is a rather daunting task, but I’m driven by a strong sense that there is in “classical” mutualism a really powerful body of theory, with potential for fairly immediate practical application in the present—if some fraction of us are able and willing to distill the good stuff from the tradition.