Mini-Seminar on Mutualism

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The "mini-seminar" took place in Bowling Green, OH in 2008.

Handout #1

[The "Anarchism of Approximations" and responses...]

Handout #2

The Historical Character of Mutualism (FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2005)

I talk blithely sometimes about a "mutualist tradition," but it's worth asking whether mutualism isn't more like a tendency that asserts itself here and there, usually while something else is happening.

I remember the day i was finally able to email Kevin Carson with an unbroken chain of personal and political connections linking Josiah Warren more or less to the present. We hadn't been sure it could be done. The story told in so many of the histories of anarchism was that the individualist and mutualist forms pretty well died off. This is one of the few things you can find anarchist communists and anarcho-capitalists agreeing on with some frequency. Individualist libertarian socialism shows up as the Neanderthal of the anarchist evolutionary accounts. The real history looks a little different. There's really no shortage of mutual aid and counter-economics in the historical record. But mutualism has a tendency to show up on the edges - fringe or silver lining, as you prefer - of other movements and traditions. It has had very little organizational continuity - little infrastructure of its own. Finding a direct line of descent and transmission of ideas is valuable, for a variety of reasons. If nothing else, it gives us one fairly strong thread around which to weave the rest of our historical tapestry. And, as i think i'll be able to show gradually, there are multiple strong threads. But we mustn't overestimate the importance of any of them.

Mutualism shows up early at the edges of Owenism and Unitarianism. It might actually have been the core of the First International, had Marx & Co. not pushed it aside. It's a radical tendency among agrarians and land-reformers, as well as the refuge of rogue single-taxers. It's one of the more consistent expressions of progressive social gospel Christian reformism, as in the case of Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones.

I want to float some speculative stuff here: in the early 19th century, the folks we honor as early mutualists were part of an extremely complex culture of reformers, most driven by a sense that some "science of society" could orient practical social change. We see "scientific" approaches to language, to dress, to music notation (Warren), etc, and we see lots of amateur social scientists working away at their own little bit of "the social problem." We see a few folks who are generalists - and many of the struggles within socialism amount to "science wars" between the more agressive generalizers. The general emphasis on "science" is important, particularly since even anarchist history has been colored by Engels' assertions about the differences between "scientific" and "utopian socialism." Fourier doesn't differ from Marx because he's not "scientific" in his orientation. Granted, Fourier's science is pretty odd stuff, with his taxonomy of passions and predictions that the seas will turn to lemonade. It's probably not "as scientific" by contemporary standards as the work of Marx. But that's a different issue. We won't get a handle on this stuff if we don't acknowledge that mutualism rises out of a period of optimism about human potential, before the American Civil War, before the splintering of the International, before Haymarket and propaganda by the deed. It is, therefore, associated in its origins with a kind of scientism, but, again, there are different kinds - and the mutualist variety seems to be practical and experimental. At some point, i'll post some of the results of a study i've been doing on libertarian socialists who were also inventors. There have been a lot of them. We understand Engels better when we realize that what he is objecting to in the "utopian" is precisely its practical, experimental character - its blueprints. The criticism has its points, as i've said, but the elevation of "history" and "dialectical processes" over the socialism of communes and technologies ought to at least give us a moment's pause.

I'm leaning towards a characterization of early mutualism as the most open and experimental of the early socialist "sciences" - one without a master plan, open as a marketplace of small, practical solutions - linked to the rest of the broad socialist movement, and to much of the culture around it, by a shared faith and optimism. We shouldn't overstate this. We're talking about the ante-bellum era, rather than the prelapserian one. But we can probably usefully contrast this earlier orientation, and the mutualism that grew out of it as one of its more consistent expressions, to the kinds of radical political expressions that characterized later eras. There's a long story to tell, involving the changing status of "socialism" and "science," but the first thing we can say is that the status of those things keeps changing. One of the questions for a mutualist historian is whether or not mutualists change as well.

The recuperation of mutualism has to meet the criticism that it is simply obsolete, born from and only useful in contexts which no longer exists. Tucker was essentially defeated by his sense that mutualism, as he understood it, could not move forward without recourse to violent struggle. One of the questions we face is whether Tucker's understanding was sufficient. Is it enough to be a "consistent Manchesterian," or do we need to rethink things a bit. My tendency to emphasize the early stages of mutualism comes from a sense that we have lots of other options when it comes to inheriting mutualism.

THURSDAY, JUNE 30, 2005

Varieties of Mutualist History

In response to the previous post, Kevin Carson and Larry Gambone raise a useful distinction between "mutual practices and mutualism as an ideology." I was gesturing at the presence of that distinction as well, when i observed that "there's really no shortage of mutual aid and counter-economics in the historical record." But it's something we should really come to careful grips with, as it complicates everything we have to say about mutualism. The Mutualist FAQ makes a distinction between mutualist theory and mutualist organization, giving separate, overlapping accounts of their origins, and suggesting, in the context of the cooperative movement:

. . . mutualism is a set of general principles and the co-ops are one of the practical forms that these principles have taken. Historically, the practical forms were developed by the working class before the general principles were propounded by political philosophers. The problem today is the loss of consciousness of cooperatives as the embodiment of a form of mutualist practice.

One of the things i was suggesting in the last post was that this process of generalizing mutualism from practical experiment appears to have happened again and again, in different contexts, though we can find enough continuity between ideological mutualist episodes to talk about a movement.

We're really dealing with several connected histories here, including at least:

  • A general practical history of voluntary cooperative practices and instances of mutual aid, some of which come from specific political commitments, but many of which come out of a direct response to current shared needs. We know that many practices consistent with anarchism continue to take place even under capitalism and the rule of the state, and the persistence of this sort of piecemeal mutualism is both an encouragement and a caution to us. This history reaches back much farther than the histories of anarchism or mutualism as conscious ideologies.
  • A specific institutional history of specific mutualist experiments, ranging from friendly societies to modern mutual banks. Along with this, there are also histories of personal connections and influences, such as the connections we have drawn from the 19th century individualists anarchists towards the present. It's in these histories that we find the stability and continuity (such as it is) that those who dismiss mutualism have missed or denied.
  • An ideological and philosophical history, inseparable from the rest, of the expressions of mutualist theory that have accompanied mutualist practice.

And, last but surely not least, we have:

  • A set of presentist accounts, through which we assert our various claims to membership in a living movement, and within which we construct a tradition.

We're also forced to deal with any number of contextual histories. Nobody has had anything to say about my characterization of (some) mutualism as "experimental social science," but it seems to me that the struggles over broadly scientific issues, and the changes wrought in what could count as science, are probably as important as issues related to political economy. Mutualism seems to be a bit more visible and respectable these days, with the result that we're probably more free to explore this stuff in a range of forums. But that also means we have a little extra pressure on us to clarify just what it is we've been going on about for so long. I suppose it's a good thing the process is so appealing.

THURSDAY, APRIL 20, 2006 What Mutualism Was - II: The Kernel(?) of the Problem(?) This is the second in a series of explorations of the mutualist tradition—or, perhaps more appropriately, traditions. The particular perspective they present is, as I've said, somewhat revisionist. It is also a work in progress, so if anyone out there thinks they can set me straight, I would welcome the attempt. To continue...

Wikipedia is my current touchstone for contemplating everything that can go wrong (and, to be fair, a handful of things that can go right) on the way to a definition, or a history. I got started doing some editing there when I found that the William Batchelder Greene page (as it then appeared) was full of incorrect facts and included a long quotation, attributed to Greene, that was actually by the editors of the 1946 Indian edition of Mutual Banking (later reprinted by Gordon Press.) There was not a single error on the page that I couldn't source by Wikipedia standards, and some of you have been around long enough to remember when I had the widely-reported-but-incorrect birth-year of 1818 (not, correctly, 1819) prominently displayed in the URL for my main Greene page. It's not that Wikipedia is subject to more problems than most other kinds of scholarly work. It's just that it always seems to be subject to all of them, all of the time, if the entry is of any interest at all. If you can stand it, that fact makes for a very interesting, and occasionally rewarding experience, although I'm inclined to think it's more likely to sharpen the skills of individuals than it is to result in particular solid, profound entries. Anyway, as a way of highlighting some of the questions that an analysis of mutualism needs to address, it might be worth looking at the page at Wikipedia for Mutualism (economic theory).

I guess the first question to ask is: Is mutualism an "economic theory"? On Wikipedia, it's important to distinguish between the biological term and the one related to anarchism. The OED describes mutualism simply as a "doctrine" based on "mutual dependence," and then cites Proudhon and the Lyons weavers, emphasizing practical projects such as the Bank of the People. Clarence Lee Swartz, in What Is Mutualism? (1927), describes mutualism in this way: MUTUALISM — A Social System Based on Equal Freedom, Reciprocity, and the Sovereignty of the Individual Over Himself, His Affairs, and His Products; Realized Through Individual Initiative, Free Contract, Cooperation, Competition, and Voluntary Association for Defense Against the Invasive and for the Protection of Life, Liberty and Property of the Non-invasive.

Perhaps the Wikipedia entry should be "Mutualism (social theory)." Or, perhaps, given the tendency of market anarchists to pull damn near everything into the economic realm, the distinction is not all that important. But, to be honest, I can't ever read the first line of that Wikipedia entry without flinching just a little. Bear with me, as I work down towards what seem to be some critical questions facing anyone attempting to pick up the standard of mutualism at this late date.

In the first entry in this series, I ended with the observation that "there appear to be a series of discontinuities in anarchist history, as the "original anarchism" of mutualism has been repeatedly redefined by successors among both individualist and collectivist anarchists." Let me get my cards on the table: it appears to me that the mutualism of Proudhon and Greene (who had differences, but shared a general philosophical orientation) differed substantially from the individual sovereigntyism of Josiah Warren. While I admire Warren immensely, and while my particular (neo-)mutualism undoubtedly inherits from all three of these figures, I suspect that there is something very basically wrong about treating Proudhon, Warren, and Greene together as mutualists in their own time. It seems to me that we can treat mutualism in a relatively presentist sense, working from our own concerns, and retrospectively incorporate all of these figures into a tradition we then choose to inherit. But such an approach tempts us with the kind of broad-brush treatment that we see on Wikipedia. All of the interesting, potentially troubling, differences and details get wiped out.

Long-time readers will see me circling back here to some of the very earliest posts I made on this blog, almost a year ago: "The Historical Character of Mutualism" and "Varieties of Mutualist History," where I began to argue for a "mutualist history" as plural and frequently discontinuous.

I'm leaning towards a characterization of early mutualism as the most open and experimental of the early socialist "sciences" - one without a master plan, open as a marketplace of small, practical solutions - linked to the rest of the broad socialist movement, and to much of the culture around it, by a shared faith and optimism. We shouldn't overstate this. We're talking about the ante-bellum era, rather than the prelapserian one. But we can probably usefully contrast this earlier orientation, and the mutualism that grew out of it as one of its more consistent expressions, to the kinds of radical political expressions that characterized later eras. There's a long story to tell, involving the changing status of "socialism" and "science," but the first thing we can say is that the status of those things keeps changing. One of the questions for a mutualist historian is whether or not mutualists change as well.

and:

One of the things i was suggesting in the last post was that this process of generalizing mutualism from practical experiment appears to have happened again and again, in different contexts, though we can find enough continuity between ideological mutualist episodes to talk about a movement.

I stand by most of this. but one of the things that a years' work on these questions has done is refocused my concerns, at least for the time being, on the particular rethinking that occured in the late 19th century, as anarchist came into common use and the mutualist baton was handed from the generation of Greene, Proudhon and Warren to that of Tucker.

As I said in Part I: "It isn't clear. . . if the economic projects of a William B. Greene can be married to egoism. . . without rendering those projects in some ways unrecognizable. Nor is it clear that the antinomic system of Proudhon, particularly in its final form of ultimately unsynthesizable dialectics, can be reconciled to the "plumb-line."" If the mutualism of Proudhon and Greene was, like the system of Warren, based on the notion that "Disconnection, division, individuality [is] the principle of order, harmony, and progress" [see Equitable Commerce], then perhaps there wouldn't be a problem, but Greene and Proudhon, no matter how "sacred" the principle of individualism may be to them, are essentially dialectical thinkers, and both are fundamentally concerned with "solidarity" and "humanity." In Equality, Greene writes:

INDIVIDUALISM is, therefore, a holy doctrine. The individual man is a mysterious and holy force—placed on the earth in accordance with the mysterious designs of a holy Providence—touch him not, therefore, seek not to guide him by indirect influence, for he is holy! Man is the temple of God, and his heart is the altar from which the Almighty deigns to reveal his presence. He that contends against the right of an individual man, contends against God; for it is the indwelling of God in every individual soul, that is the origin and foundation of all human rights.

Which sounds a bit like a Christianized Warren, but Mutual banking gives us the other side of the coin:

. . . the human race advances like a single man in its joint life and experience—dispensation follows dispensation; each dispensation being adapted to its peculiar stage of human progress. New light will soon break forth from the Gospel, and the NEW CHRISTIANITY will establish itself in the world—a Christianity as much transcending the one now known in the Churches, as this last transcends the religion of types and shadows revealed through Moses.

This is the order of the dispensations:—the Covenant with Noah; the Covenant with Abraham; Mosaic dispensation; CHRISTIANITY; Christian Mutualism.

Influenced by Pierre Leroux, and a Baptist-turned-Unitarian, Greene is prone to balancing "trinities" (as in the piece "COMMUNISM—CAPITALISM—SOCIALISM," which I introduced here.) Proudhon, as we'll see in the next few parts of this series, grew more and more convinced that philosophy and politics alike were based in balancing ultimately unreconcilable opposites. In that regard, these thinkers seem very contemporary, very "postmodern," at least until you dip into Greene's Bible-based racial history or try to follow Proudhon's explanation of "the Revolution of the 19th century." From the perspective of Tucker, however, things probably looked different, as they did for Swartz decades later. Tucker, trying to build common ground around simple principles, wasn't likely to have had much patience for the fuzzier aspects of his predecessors' thought. As he moved towards egoism, the attractiveness of much of Greene and Proudhon's work must have diminished sharply. It's probably no coincidence that English-speaking anarchists have simply never got around to translating much of Proudhon's work, despite Tucker's announced intention to translate all of it, or to dig up the earlier versions of Greene's mutual bank writings. They pose problems. . .

We can see the problems, or an avoidance of them, in the mutualism entry. The Wikipedia understanding of mutualism sees common practical ground, and doesn't fuss too much about the philosophical underpinnings. Anyone who has been in a philosophical discussion on a Wikipedia talk page can probably sympathize with the approach. In another context, on the comments page for a mostly unrelated blog post, Kevin Carson, Ken Gregg, and I got into a brief discussion of the problem. Kevin commented:

I've instinctively avoided much dealing with metaphysical and epistemological theory—perhaps an overreaction to the vulgar Marxists' cartoonish use of "dialectics."

and I responded:

There's a reason none of the folks writing about the mutualists and individualists have pursued their philosophical and psychological underpinning much—the stuff can be nightmarishly hard, and flat out weird.

Ken said:

one of the problems that I have had with following too deeply into the more metaphysical aspects of Andrews is my own personal dislike for the failed spiritualist movement which he followed. He took it far too seriously for my taste. And there's one "kernel" of the "problem" of mutualist history. It takes a lot of slogging through odd sources, dated arguments, contexts (like 19th-century Christian theology) that are unfamiliar or unwelcome, translation tasks, old journals, neologisms and such, to get a handle on philosophical and scientific "foundations" that may be as good an argument for abandoning these old systems as it is for understanding and sustaining them. Every few months, I dip into either Stephen Pearl Andrews' "universology" or the sources of Greene's "science of history." Slowly but surely, I'm learning to distinguish the races descended from Noah's three sons, and I know the difference between the ARTISMUS ("the Domain or Realm of Being, Evolution, or Progress, in which the Spirit or Principle of Art, or of that which is Cognate or Analogical with Art, predominates or prevails") and the NATURISMUS ("the Domain or Realm of Being, Evolution, or Progress, in which Naturism, the Spirit or Principle of Nature, or of that which is cognate or analogical with Nature, predominates or prevails.") And it helps, at least a bit, when I'm trying to figure out the fine points in "Mutual Banking" or "The Science of Society." In a certain sense, I think these texts are almost unreadable without at least some awareness of this "metaphysical" stuff. But maybe awareness is something we can share without all of us learning exactly which racial culture dominates in modern marriage customs or which Alwato syllable denotes sharpness (and, of course, its opposite.)

In the rest of the posts in this series, I'm going to wade, with whatever good speed I can manage, through work by Proudhon, Greene, their sources and some of those they influenced, trying to paint a general picture of the character of this early mutualism that was as obsessive about "the collective Adam" as it was the "holy principle" of individualism. I'll try, in the process, to clarify the progression of Proudhon's thought—and rhetoric—on "property." I'll be finishing up the scanning of Greene's Fragments, and assembling a MutualSchool course on Greene's relation to Orestes Brownson and William Ellery Channing, and we'll see if we can pick out what in Greene's theological writings is essential to understanding mutual banks. Some of my aims will be those of a historian, setting things straight as much as possible, but others are more activist and presentist. I want to argue, for example, that Greene's "doctrine of life" is a naturally "ecological" philosophy, and perhaps one preferable, in a number of ways, to Tucker's egoism, if we're looking for values to bring to a free market society.


Outline on self-ownership

"The problem of property is, after that of human destiny, the greatest that could suggest itself to our reason, the last that we will succeed in resolving. Indeed, the theological problem, the enigma of religion, is explained, the problem of philosophy, which has for its object the value and the legitimacy of knowledge, is resolved: there remains the social problem,. . . of which the solution, as everyone knows, is essentially that of property."—Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, The System of Economic Contradictions.

Tonight's exercise is to see how much of an economic system—and specifically of a system of property—we can derive from some more-or-less self-evident observations about human being and selfhood.

OWNNESS (Property, Type 1)

  • We know that there are individual selves, more or less distinguishable from each other, which, nonetheless, never exist outside of nature and society.

We all experience the phenomenological "fact" of separate being, and any system which accepts that "fact" and is concerned with causes and effects, must be concerned with the individual as a locus of agency and responsibility.

Before we get to the question of "mine and thine," there is the question of "me and thee" (or of "I and thou," to use Buber's terms.) Property, in this first analysis, simply refers to "what is proper to" the individual, and "proper to the individual" means essentially "the individual's own." If we have two people in a wilderness, unencumbered by chattel property, then this little world will divide up roughly into three parts: Person A, Person B, and some wilderness. What falls within the boundaries of each subdomain can be considered "proper" to it. Characteristics—properties—of the individuals, and perhaps also of non-human nature, can be considered among those things which are proper to the individual's beings, and the more essential they seem to be to that being, then the stronger our common sense case for counting them as (type 1) "property."


Things are, however, messy. We know that, physically, our bodies, which seem to be proper to us,—indeed, a most essential property,—renew themselves by a constant circulation of matter. Human being is, then, more of a matter of continuity than of persistent self-similarity. The same is true of our non-material, mental and/or spiritual life. We evolve in a variety of ways.

Following the suggestions of Pierre Leroux, William B. Greene chose to treat these two processes, the renewal of the body and the renewal of our intangible life, as analogous. We live in and on society, deriving nutrition (or its lack), in much the same way that we live in and on nature. This is a mutual process:

1st. All life is at once subjective and objective. (Here we have three terms, the subject, the object, and the fact of life. For it is not enough that we have the subject and object, they must be in relation; we must have the life, which is at once subjective and objective.)

To see the theory of society as nutrition played out, here is a reading of The Fall:

We shall waive, for the present, the question of the origin of evil, and assume at once, on the same historical authority, that this first pair sinned. To explain the effect of this sin upon their posterity, let us apply the doctrine of life, as already stated. After the first pair had sinned, and were expelled from paradise, children were born to them. The parents, who were sinners, became the objects of the lives of these children; and all the life which the children lived in humanity, was lived in their parents—for, beside them, there were no men and women. The lives of the children, being depraved in its objective portion, at once became sinful.
These children became, in their turn, the objects in which their children lived; and, as they themselves were sinners, the lives of their children became also depraved. This impaired life was again transmitted by these last, and thus was communicated to the race from generation to generation. It is absolutely impossible for any one to escape the flood of sin which was thus infused into the world. No one has absolute control over the object of his life; and, whether that object be good or evil, he must live in it before he can know whether to choose or reject it.

Perhaps the metaphor is a little strange, but, then again, maybe not so strange, at least in context. We might argue that it is proper to the individual to take in food, and to seek shelter. If we grant this, how plausible is it to say that it is not proper to the be influenced and exert influence socially?

In any event, what we're specifically interested in is the emerging "messiness." The difference between me and thee is a little more complicated than it might at first appear. The more strongly we emphasize mutual independence as intrinsic to human being, the messier the question becomes. We're looking, in this messiness, both for elements that might complicate any notion of property beyond this first sense, and for elements which make that extension plausible in the first place.

On the one hand, let's acknowledge that Type 1 property has fuzzy edges and may not lead to the sorts of clear and clean distinctions we might be looking for at other levels of analysis.

On the other, let's acknowledge that there are various reasons for us to feel, at a fairly instinctual level, that what is proper to us might be divisible and alienable, that it might expand and contract. Every act of self-reflection involves processes that may help to smooth over elements of property systems at other levels that might simply seem bizarre.

PROSTHESIS

Why would I characterize property systems as "bizarre"? Well, let's look at John Locke's account of the origins of property, from his 2nd Treatise on Civil Government.

"Sect. 27. Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others."

This is the theory of labor-mixing, or "homesteading" where it applies to property in land. Human beings have property in themselves, and by mixing themselves with nature, they shape and mark materials with the imprint of their personality, essentially annexing those material to themselves, like a kind of prosthesis. Property here (Type 2) means that which we bring into virtually the same state as our inherent characteristics, which we integrate into the wholeness of our self. Invasion of (type 2) property, then, is virtually the same as aggression against one's person.

There are some weird notions involved here. Some of this looks more like sympathetic magic than economics. We might ask why "mixing" means that natural material becomes part of us, but presumably none of us seems to mix the other way. After all, we have rather important cultural narratives, Turner's frontier thesis, for instance, which depend on a two-way mixing for their explanatory power. In virtually every other economic circulation, we engage in both give and take: waste/nutriment cycles, mutual influence in society, etc. But in strong "sticky" property rights regimes, mixing appears to be a one-way affair, and its effects essentially permanent.

There is a basic issue here involving the move from literal to figurative terrain. There are certainly similarities between what we have been calling ownness, understood as "self-ownership," and the relations of private property as we encounter it in modern society. But the analogy is hardly perfect. To jump ahead of ourselves, we might suspect that "self-ownership" as a concept is less derived from inherent characteristics of human being (which ought to be the foundation of any strong "natural rights" system), than from a retrospective reading of some of the qualities of existing rights in chattel and real property back onto ownness.

Just a little more on self-ownership, which is generally taken to be part of the Lockean scheme we're looking at: it's worth asking whether everything can be owned. Specifically, we need to know if "the self" is something that can be owned. Historically, we know that self-ownership was a progressive assertion against institutions like chattel slavery and involuntary servitude. But, philosophically, how satisfactory is a system which makes the phrases "I own myself" and "I am myself" roughly equivalent?

There's more discussion of self-ownership, in the context of an assignment I used to use in "Great Ideas."

Anyway, back to the second type of property, in land or in moveable goods, which I've described as "prosthetic." We're working the hinterland between the me-thee and mine-thine distinctions, and still working prior to any system of rights. This is where the game begins to get interesting, since for anarchists—and to some degree, for other stripes of radical—the move to any system of rights beyond truly axiomatic, self-evident natural rights, heralds a new set of problems, associated with enforcement, which may require a state or state-like functions and institutions. If we can stay in the realm of mutually recognizable "common sense"—intersubjective recognizability—we can avoid some potential problems.

RECOGNIZABILITY

Furrows and fences. "Posted: No Hunting. Keep out." The characteristic motions and products of an artist or artisan. A signature. Simple possession or consumption—9/10 (or 10/10) of the law, we're told. "She followed in your footsteps." "He's got your eyes." There are any number of kinds of potential "property," based in the various ways in which we can become mixed with the world. Most of the basic ones, however, involve some kind of real marking of materials. Legal property is a matter of abstract right, and legal property systems evolved to deal with complex commerce, involving, among other things: alienation and trade of individual services and individually manufactured goods; goods produced under conditions which involve very little personal imprinted, due to the division of labor and the replacement of artisanal labor with machine-tending; expansion of service industries and emergence of intellectual property as a critical issue; plus all the ways in which capitalist production tends to abstract process of production and valuation, elevating exchange value over all other values. It is an open question whether the basic intuitions of something like Lockean property can cope with these issues.

How far can we take the principle of intersubjective recognizability in the realm of modern economics?

If we take mutuality as a value—for any of the reasons we have already explored—central to the right resolution of the me-thee and mine-thine questions, how does that condition our recognition process?


[Let's take the opportunity here to actually explore these issues…]


Now, I started us out with an illustration with three parties: two individuals and a wilderness. We've pursued the claims of the two individuals to elements of nature, but have only barely raised the question of claims by nature itself.

THE PASSIVE ELEMENT?

Can "nature" have active standing in our discussion? The separation of human actors from the realm of non-human nature is obviously an artificial one. We may, through our inventions and exertions, buffer ourselves from natural forces, but we are still a part of nature's systems. Are there elements obviously proper to us which call for particular responses to questions of ecology or resource management? Does our interconnectedness through the environment influence what we can consider as just appropriation or transformation of the environment?

[? ? ?]

This apparently newfangled notion of including nature as a party deserving compensation from production actually dates back at least to Joshua King Ingalls, a libertarian land reformer and anti-authoritarian. While trying to determine if capital was deserving of a share, along with labor, of the proceeds of production (a standard question of the day) addressed as well the claim of landlords to their share, as representatives of nature, the "passive element."

The action, in accordance with these principles, results in products. The right of the man to these can surely not be questioned. And yet many of the confused notions entertained on the subject of remuneration to capital, arise here. It is regarded as an open question among Associationists, whether the passive agent is entitled to compensation, and upon the decision of this, is supposed to rest the other question, whether capital shall be paid a premium. They are regarded, indeed, one and the same thing. The one, however, has no more connexion with the other, than it has with how many wives a man may have, nor so much. For the appreciation of a part to the passive agent, would be giving back to the soil, and to the elements, what we have drawn from them in some form or another. This is evidently a law of nature which is seen everywhere to indicate itself, when the products of labor are exchanged for gold, to pay rent and interest; the passive agent being denied its due, fails to yield, as readily, its reproductive qualities responsive to he labor or man. To set up a man as representative of the passive agent, is to confound all classification.

His answer: maybe the land should be compensated, but why the landlord? What sorts of evolution in our common sense about economics would be necessary to take this suggestion somewhere fruitful?

RIGHTS?

The question, ultimately, is whether we need them, and in what form. Can we evolve a set of principles that do the work of "natural rights," thus limiting the need for legal and political rights?

[Your handouts for the week (#3, below) include a number of other texts on property, production and rights, which might be helpful for further exploration.]

Handout #3

Excerpts from William Batchelder Greene, Mutual Banking (1850)

Social Unity.

The books of grammar teach us that collective nouns, the names of kinds and sorts, do not designate realities; but the books of grammar are not always good authority in matters of philosophy and social economy. We must endeavor to divest ourselves of the prejudice which causes us to see in society nothing but a being of the mind, or rather an abstract name, serving to designate a collection of men. The doctrine of ultra individualism is philosophically false. Let the reader not be alarmed: we do not propose to tax his patience, at this time, with a discussion of the questions agitated during the middle ages, by the realists and nominalists. To the true philosopher and economist, society is a LIVING BEING, endowed with an intelligence and an activity of its own, governed by special laws, which are discoverable by observation, and by observation only, and whose existence is manifested, not under a material aspect, but by the concert, and by the close mutual dependence, of all the members of the social body. Labor, in becoming divided, gives rise to the phenomena of exchange and social circulation. The movement of money is the realisation, the concrete and material expression, of the—as it were mystical—inter-dependence of men on each other When there shall exist, in the community, a perfect circulation, that is, an exact and regular exchange of products for products, the mutual dependence of man upon man will be organised; labor will be definitively regulated; and just wages, the only legitimate revenue, will be guaranteed. If the reader will meditate on the laws of labor and exchange, the reality—we dare not say, the personality—of the collective man, will be as evident to him, as is now the reality and personality, of the individual man.—But, as this discussion threatens to take metaphysical turn, we divert it, at once, into a plainer and more practical channel

An Illustration (aka “Solidarity”)

Let us suppose a man to own a gold watch. Let us listen to him while he endeavors to justify himself in retaining possession of it. He says:—

The gold in this watch was dug out of the ground by the miners of Peru—those miners have labored for me: the gold was carried on mules across the mountains to the sea shore—the muleteers have labored for me: it was carried to Liverpool in a ship—the captain and sailors have labored for me: the watch-maker bought the gold, and made the watch—the watchmaker have labored for me. Again, the miners of Peru could not have labored without tools: therefore the tool maker in Birmingham, the English miner who produced the iron for the tools, the carpenter who fitted the handles, the boatman who transported them to Liverpool, and the sailors who manned the ship which carried them to Peru, the merchant who sold the tools to the gold diggers, all these have labored for me. But where shall I stop? The ship-builder has worked for me also, as well as the captain and the sailors—the man who made his tools, and the man who clothed and fed this last man, and the man whose [55 ] labor enabled this last man to feed and clothe the last but one, and all who made tools for all these, and all who dug iron that these tools might be made all these have labored for me. But what shall I say of the canvass of the ships, of the hemp of which the ropes are made?—and as yet I have spoken of the production of the gold only: what shall I say when I come to render an account of the brass, the steel springs, the jewels, and the glass crystal, which go to make up the watch? But I will not parody the history of "the house that Jack built." What do I know about it?—Perhaps the whole human race, including Adam and Eve, Julius Caesar, and the great Mogul, have labored together in order that I might have this watch as my property in fee simple.

It is evident that no man produces anything by his own unassisted labor. When a man produces anything, the whole of society works with him. But, when a thing is produced by two working together, each of the workers has a right to a share in the product of the labor. No man can produce anything, therefore, which shall be absolutely his own; for society has always a just and righteous claim to an undetermined portion of the value produced. But now I am puzzled! How could I have paid for this watch? My account is squared with the watch-maker as an individual man, but is it squared with him as a member of society? I earned the money with which I paid for the watch; but I earned it in partnership with society. Have I ever paid for my education, for my support while I was a child? My father indeed paid the school-master, and settled the bills of the butcher, baker, and tailor; and thus the question is settled so far as those individuals are concerned. But my father stands to me in a social relation; through him I have received values from society; and what have I given in return? I am certainly in debt; and the worst of it is that I do not see how I shall ever be able to pay off this debt. I labor indeed for society, but what does my labor amount to? My unassisted labor, which is all for which I have a right to draw pay, (for the assistance claims its own pay) amounts to little or nothing. If I were cast away on a desolate island, I might make myself perhaps tolerably comfortable; at any rate, I should have an opportunity of learning how much value I am able to create by my own unassisted strength, and therefore how much value I have a right to draw from society as an equivalent for my labor. Verily it appears to be evident that if I receive from society a support in the alms house, I am more than paid for all I can do. Nay more, in this desolate island, I should still be indebted to society. Where did I obtain the skill which enables me to weave my bower of leaves, to make my cave comfortable? If I should really restore to society all I have received from it beyond what I have returned as an equivalent, I should be, after making the restoration, but one grade superior to the ourang outang. Where then is the pride of man! Inventors, men of science, men of wealth, flatter themselves that they have conferred benefits upon society: they do not remember that society has had the principal hand in their inventions and improvements! What would Galileo have invented if he had been born among the Patagonians? What becomes then of the absolute right of property? I own this watch, not because I have any absolute right to it, but because my title to it is better than that of any other person. Society gives me the proprietorship of it, because it is for its own interest so to do: my right to my watch is not a natural, but a social right. I own it, not because I earned it, for I have not earned it, but by the free grace and favor of society. Here we interrupt our soliloquist, and ask him if his ancestors did not earn the property he holds, or if it is not the result of his own labor added to that of his forefathers? We ask him if he does not receive it by inheritance, and own it absolutely, because he receives it by gift from those who had in it an absolute proprietorship founded in actual production? Our watch owner shakes his head mournfully, and answers:—I have thought of all that; but it is some other person's ancestors who have produced this value. My grandfather came into this town with six and a quarter cents in his pocket;—no matter what he produced, he labored in partnership with society, and, if the town had given him a living in the poor house, it would have overpaid him: how then could he transmit absolute proprietorship in any thing to his descendants? There are very few men in this country whose great-grand-fathers were men of wealth: the principle of inheritance, therefore, though just in itself, solves no difficult question of social justice.

From “The Cherubim”

The Cherubim were symbols of the collective man. Let us explain: Everything that a man does, produces its precise and necessary influence upon every person with whom he comes into communication. When a man has performed an action, it is no longer his: it belongs to nature. As soon as an action goes forth, it gives birth to another action, which last gives birth to still another, and so on through all eternity. The little that we do, appears insignificant when compared with the motion of the universe; but that little has its precise effect; and will continue to produce and reproduce itself forever. All that has been done before our time has left effects to serve us as motives; all that we do, and all that nature does in our time, will serve as motives to those that come after us. Each generation sums up the life and the motion of the generations that preceded it. Had the conduct of any one of the old Egyptian kings, whose history has been forgotten for ages, been other than it was, the difference would have perpetuated itself through an uninterrupted chain of causes and effects, producing and reproducing itself to the present day. That difference might indeed have been unperceived by us; but it would not have failed to produce its precise effect on our conduct. There is a chain of causes and effects which proceeds from the eternity of the past, and passes link by link through our dominion of time, thence stretching onward till it is lost in the dim eternity to come: the description of this chain is the history of the human race. The motion of a straw alters the centre of gravity of the universe. The individuals of the human family exist therefore in relations of mutual inter-dependence. There are three great powers that govern the world: Providence, Destiny, and the Will of Man. Man by his free will, acts from native spontaneity, receiving the impressions of nature, and impressing nature in his turn, by planting in it seeds which destiny brings to maturity. On one side, men are free forces, individuals standing in the subsisting might of their own spontaneity; on the other side, they are whirled on the ever-revolving wheel of nature, mingled with each other in a common and inseparable life. The human race subsists therefore in the mutual inter-dependence of its members upon each other and all, and of all upon each: and thus it is co-ordinated into a Living Organism, or, to use the language of Scripture—into a Living Creature.


MAN AND HIS RIGHTS. BY J. K. INGALLS

Joshua King Ingalls, "Man and His Rights," The Spirit of the Age, I, 9 (September 1, 1849), 130-131.

Man is the rightful lord of this lower world. He is not arbitrarily placed at the head of creation, but by a law of nature, which causes all bodies to gravitate to their true positions, and take rank and order, according to their essential elements. He embraces, in himself, the perfection of all forms and kingdoms; and whatever may be believed in reference to superior agency and influence, it is through his intellectual and more power, chiefly, that all change of rule, all amelioration of conditions, all improvement in the relations of men and things, is to be effected. It is not necessary at present to consider the comparative claims of the different races or castes of men to superiority. It may be that some are, and must be greater than the rest; but this does not prove that one has all the rights and the other none; that one may become property of another. It may be contended that some, we deem of the human race, are not men at all. This will invalidate no position we assume, for we are talking of men, not brutes. Neither will it affect materially the practical result; because capacities, rights, and duties, are co-extensive. The is no necessity for pleading the right of the beast to be taught reading and writing, he has no capacity, and hence no right and no duty in this respect.

And since this broad ground is taken, it is unnecessary to go into farther detail with regard to what man is, or who are men. No person, in asserting his freedom, will claim the right to exercise powers that he does not possess; how should any right be guaranteed him by society, without exacting the discharge of correspondent duties. And let not this proposition be misconceived. Society is no compact, where rights and duties are compromised and cancelled. The true order is organized of God, is natural, and as a consequence, asks no yielding up of natural rights, as both monarchists and democrats oft contend. When considered collectively, and it is only inn this way he can be considered truly, man must be seen to possess rights commensurate with his powers, bound, in duty, only to act in proportion as these are enjoyed. Hence they must never be defined so as to come in collision, or cause one man to suffer oppression from another. The natural rights of men are indicated by their capacities and their needs, they are morally confirmed by requirements. Existence itself presupposes time and space for its enjoyment. But no extension of this right can destroy itself; that is, no right of life in you, can destroy the right of life in me. No right of life in society can destroy the right of life in the individual. The only ground for justification, in the deprivation of human life, is the extreme necessity for self-preservation from some one violating this right. The moral duty, even in this case is not discussed; but, on the lowest ground of natural justice, there is no conflict or compromise required of this primary right of man, from which all others flow. If this is kept in mind it will save from much confusion, when we come to consider more complicated rights, rendered obscure and contradictory by the present antagonistic system. For upon this common ground all will agree; and no scientific person, with judgment unbiased, would receive a system that involved a conflict of interest, rights, or duties.

From the right of life flows naturally the right of action, involving the right of possession to that which must be acted on. The distinction now made may be deemed unimportant; but let it be employed, if for nothing but convenience. These possessions shall be termed natural, in contradistinction from those which are acquired. It will be seen that they have a prior existence, since all possessions we have acquired, must have proceeded from the exercise of our natural rights and powers upon possessions previously accorded to our control. The right under consideration indicates a right of possession in our person, in so much as the earth's surface, the air, the sunshine and the water, as are necessary to the sustenance and development of our beings. To make natural right to signify less than this than this, is to throw open all again to chance and conjecture. To talk of general rights, and yet in or manifesto, refuse to descend and particularize these, and indeed many more, is but to attempt a repetition of those tyrannies, which, in the name of order, have perpetrated every injustice, and, with great pretensions of regard for freedom, have sanctioned slavery, monopoly, and the worst species of gambling. This right of possession in the passive agent, without which the right of action is nugatory, is first in order, and cannot, of course, justly be made to yield to those more collateral. However circumstances my affect the expediency of asserting these rights, they are inherent in man, inalienable and indefeasible. As there is no conflict in the great right of life, when understood in the catholic sense, so there is none in this right of possession, when duly defined. There has been created a great abundance of soil, of wood, stone, metals, minerals, and all materials suited to man's needs and the employment of his energies; enough, thrice told, for all the race, were their highest wants satisfied, and their powers carried to the highest degree of activity. This right, like the other is self-limiting; it can bestow no power on one to possess, while it takes from another a corresponding power. It must then be set down as an inflexible law: that right of possession in the passive agent, which we term a natural possession, is second only to the right of life, and can neither sanction the deprivation, of a single human being, of place and means to live and labor, nor in any case be made secondary, to the right over acquired possessions. The principle in our civil systems, which subjects the natural to the acquired right, is an inversion of the order of nature and of God, and has wrought out such results as we see. Another scheme for upholding the inverted pyramid is scarcely worth the trying.

The action, in accordance with these principles, results in products. The right of the man to these can surely not be questioned. And yet many of the confused notions entertained on the subject of remuneration to capital, arise here. It is regarded as an open question among Associationists, whether the passive agent is entitled to compensation, and upon the decision of this, is supposed to rest the other question, whether capital shall be paid a premium. They are regarded, indeed, one and the same thing. The one, however, has no more connexion with the other, than it has with how many wives a man may have, nor so much. For the appreciation of a part to the passive agent, would be giving back to the soil, and to the elements, what we have drawn from them in some form or another. This is evidently a law of nature which is seen everywhere to indicate itself, when the products of labor are exchanged for gold, to pay rent and interest; the passive agent being denied its due, fails to yield, as readily, its reproductive qualities responsive to he labor or man. To set up a man as representative of the passive agent, is to confound all classification. An absentee landlord of Ireland, is allowed by this ignorance or violation of the first elements of right, to represent the passive agent, upon which some hundreds and thousands of the active agents are employed. A few roots and herbs go to the active agent, and all the grain and more valuable productions go to the passive agent, i. e. the landlord! An irresponsible parasite of the active species here receives all that is claimed as belonging to the passive elements. What a ridiculous aspect does this assumption and action present, toward the principle of nature, on which it professes to be based! But the subject is too serious for ridicule. What horrible results have attended the working of the falsehood? Both the active and passive agents have been reduced to poverty, by its operation, to maintain an excrescence unnecessary to either. The fruitful properties of the soil, the vital energies of the man, have been exhausted by this unnatural scheme; and the barrenness of the one, and destitution of the other, must follow every attempt at such violation of the prime laws of nature. It needs not, that the right of society to regulate the award between the active and passive agents, be denied. We must protest, however, once for all, against any right of society, to allow these agents to represent each other, so as to make property or man, or enable one man, in the name of property, to share the products of another man's labor. The first right established, and there would arise none of this confusion; for even if it was proposed to reward the owner of the passive agent, it would amount to nothing as it would be the producer himself; since the thing requisite to be acted on, is, by natural rights, the possession of the actor. Were the rights of man properly understood and guarded, nature would vindicate her own, and secure the proper award to the earth and its spontaneous production.

Thus far we have come, and arrived at Fourier's conception of the right of property, which is simply this, that to each one belongs of right, whatever is the fruit of his activity. This is styled property, by which is signified acquired possessions. And if the reader please, the terms property and possessions, will be employed hereafter, to distinguish between acquisitions, and what belongs to us by natural rights. This right of property then, is second to that of possessions, as that is to the right of life. It is more conditional; because, if necessity demand, it must be waived to secure the enjoyment of either of the others. As we do not believe in the conflict of rights, however, we will only designate its proper place in the natural order. In another number we shall farther define property, and determine the nature and order of its rights. It is only referred to now, for the purpose of clearly exhibiting what is appropriate to man. Although of a lower order, this is one of the rights of man, and depends not on having a place in our "bill of rights," or in Fourier's or Proudhon's system of socialism. The mark of the man is stamped on that which his activity has created; though the law says it belongs to another, though the communist says it belongs to society, this fact, neither can change. If he is compelled, or moved from choice, to yield it to the master, the miser, or the general fund, or bestow it on a suffering brother, it makes no difference, and the credit, honor, or gratitude accruing from it justly are his due. The very law of society which forces it from him, the very demand of the community, would be a tacit admission of this right, which they seek to destroy. Unquestionably the time will come, when a perfect regard of human rights and the holy dictates of brotherhood, will leave no cause for distinctive individual property, as now held; but this will result from the operation of just and equitable sentiments, pervading the whole body, which will enable every one to be estimated at his just importance, without attending to long columns of figures, or length of purse. General plenty of all needed things, and an industry, rendered attractive to all, will also banish in a measure, that selfish avarice and disposition to shrink from equitable toil, which is at once cause and effect of our social inequalities. But it will be, because the essential principles of justice are observed, and no one is disposed to appropriate that to himself which another has produced, that indifference of the individual will be induced to a constant personal care and control of his productions. Whenever society or individuals attempt to make that appropriation of them, which belongs to him alone, his assertion of the prerogative must follow.

Freedom of exchange for the products of his labor is another right of man, considered in reference to his fraternal relations and rests upon this ground. If he has not an equal, in the measure of natural justice, he can not claim the right of free trade. But between those equals, no power under heaven, may justly prevent fraternal exchanges. The whole system of revenue, derived from exchange of products, for whatever pretence; all prohibition of trade between man and man; and all legal impediments to an equitable system of commerce, of whatever nature, are clear and undisguised infringements of human rights, plain violations of every dictate of fraternal sentiment. This is not the highest of man's rights, to be sure. It is secondary, even to the right of property; but still it is a right, and need be brought into conflict, with no other, in a well regulated society. With regard to the expediency of asserting this right under existing institutions, nothing requires to be said. We are not discussing political policy, which is the lowest form of subserviency of the man to the thing; but natural right in a society organized on scientific and Christian principles; with the first we have nothing to do; with the last everything.

What is necessary to our subject, then, is the acknowledgment of this trinity of Rights—of possessions, of property, and of exchange. Any scheme of organization which shall bring them into antagonism is unworthy of man's attention. It is not necessary to mystify our meaning to the common mind, by the employment of empty technicalities. What is right can be easily comprehended, where the interested feelings, engendered by existing injustice, are brought into subjection to the voice of conscience. Were the disposition, to abide by the decision of inflexible justice, generally felt, there would be little difficulty in convincing men that nature's order is far better than all the experiments of the empiric. We are called to contemplate an entire subversion of all the elements of human rights, in present civil and social institutions; made subservient as they all are to a thing which, to man bears the relation of creature to the creator, effect to the cause. This thing is property, capital, a monopoly of the products of labor, wrested from the producer by force or craft, a monopoly of the common bounties of nature, in other words, the passive agent, and even of the active agent, man himself. We need no scheme of half-way compromise, between these wrongs and indubitable right. Any system that does not boldly propose for its aim the entire abolition of the one, and the establishment of the other on indestructible foundations, is unworthy a moment's thought, for an intelligent workingman, or a love or his race. Because the time, the wisdom, the men, the means, are here to form an organization, which shall not only exclude these evils in its own form, but gradually and surely, effect their peaceful overturn in all human society. When the subject of property, its rights, and the relation it sustains naturally to man, have been discussed, there may be an outline given of a translatory association, the aim of which shall be to unite the efforts of all friends of the race, who look with hope to the future, all friends of industrial reform, all oppressed producers, who feel the injustice of their position, into a general system of co-operation, to be carried out in practical association as fast as wisdom shall direct.

Pierre Leroux, THE NATURE AND DESTINY OF MAN.

MAN, by nature and essentially is sensation—sentiment—intelligence, indissolubly united. Such is the psychological definition of man. His life then consists in the exercise and employment of these three faces of his nature, and his normal life consists in never, separating them in any act. By means of these man holds relations with other men and with the world. It is other men then and the world which, uniting with this nature, determine and reveal the man, or enable him to reveal himself; they constitute his objective life, without which his subjective life remains latent and unmanifested.

The life of man then, and of every man, by the will of his Creator, is dependent upon an incessant communication with his fellow beings, and with the universe. That which we call his life, does not appertain entirely to him, and does not reside in him alone; it is at once within him and out of him; it resides partially, and jointly, so to speak, in his fellows and the surrounding world. In a certain point of view therefore it may be said, that his fellow beings and the world appertain also to him. For, as his life resides in them, that portion of it which he controls, and which he calls Me, has virtually a right to that other portion, which he cannot so sovereignly dispose of, and which he calls Not Me.

Hence arise two relations, between man and his fellow beings, and man and the universe, relations which may be productive of good or of evil. Man places himself in communion and society with his fellow men which is peace; or be seeks by violence to use them for his own purposes, which is war. Again when cultivated he establishes communication with the existences different from himself in kind, which make up the universe, by studying their qualities and laws; or as a savage he makes them his prey, and lives in hostility with a nature that he does not comprehend, which in turn resists and often subdues him. Man at his nearest approximation to the brute lives in perpetual war with all creatures and with his kind. But notwithstanding this, so strong is his need of peaceful relations with surrounding existences, that it is impossible to conceive of him as being without family, nation, and property For it is absolutely necessary to his existence, and to his consciousness of existence, that he should have grouped harmoniously around him other beings, so that the Me which constitutes him, by incarnating itself in them may appear objectively and be present to him at every moment.

Property, the Family, the Nation, correspond, in part, to the three terms, Sensation, Sentiment, Intelligence, of the psychological definition of man, already given. Man manifests himself to himself and to others in this triplicity, because his nature is triple. The trinity of his spiritual nature, when sensation is predominant, gives rise to property; when sentiment is predominant to family; when intelligence is predominant to the city or state.

And now observe the immediate result of this condition, which makes man necessarily dependent upon family, nation, and property. He needs the family; but in a family there are parents and children; the parent may be a tyrant, and then the child is a slave. The duality of good and evil, of peace and war, re-appears here. Vainly would man, at war with nature and society, intrench himself within his family, there at least to live at peace; the family in giving too much power to the father robs of his rights the son. The Patriarch indeed, the chief of the family finds his Me, his personality, impressed on all about him, in the obedient group which responds to every wish. But the mother, the younger brethren, the children are lost and sacrificed to him. It is the same with the nation. Man allies himself with his fellows; families united make a state. But a state cannot exist without there being chiefs and simple citizens. That which leads a man to wish for a nation, is his need of being sensible of himself in other men, of recognizing his Me in those who constitute his society. But if those, who have most energetically acting in themselves this sentiment, became despots, all other citizens become slaves. Thus here again recurs the duality of good and of evil, of peace and of war, of liberty and slavery.

Finally, it is the same with property; where man, by an illusion, imagines that slavery cannot touch him. As his relation here has for its object inferior existences, he believes that he shall always have power over them, and that property will result only in good. But he deceives himself when he regards property as thus productive only of good, for this property may be either increased or diminished, and so prove insufficient. In wishing property for his own sake too, man creates the desire of property in others. There are then impassable limits which he sets up for himself; in becoming a proprietor, he becomes a slave; for by that act, he abdicates his right to the enjoyment of all things which do not belong to him. His property becomes thus, the representative sign of his power, and his power thus represented by his property, depends upon it, and is limited by it, and so is he the slave of the beings which he owns.

Shawn P. Wilbur, “Questions on anarchism and ecology, roughly. . .”

I had a rare chance to sit and talk with my father face to face a couple of weeks ago. He's a retired civil servant, who in a career with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked on a range of environmental issues from game management to endangered species recovery. We were talking about the weakening of endangered species protection and about the environmental damage likely to be done in the Rio Grande Valley by the immigration "fence," and he challenged me a bit about how anarchism of the individualist, market-centered variety could respond to problems that are really ecological in nature. While decentralization and individualization of interests may reduce environmental impacts in some ways, it is certainly not guaranteed to solve problems where a big-picture approach and some degree of coordination seem called for.

I'm sympathetic to the concern, however much talk of "coordination" rubs my individualism the wrong way, and however little faith I have in "resource management" on current governmental models. I don't think that any form of anarchism has really explained how it will deal with these sorts of problems. Primitivism seems like a denial of present realities at best, and at worst to harbor a nasty assumption that maybe the best thing to hope for is a massive human die-off. It probably is an anti-humanism in a way that even a good poststructuralist mutualist like myself can object to, in that primitivism seems to deny the ability of the human species to solve its own problems. I'm not for recklessly plunging ahead; there really do seem to be environmental crises facing us. But I'm guessing we can do better than a retreat to the "primitive." Bioregionalism still seems like not much more than a slogan in anarchist circles. Market-anarchist denials of the need to concern ourselves too much, since presumably the market will sort things out, don't convince me much. There's just too much we don't have a clear picture of. We don't know what we're losing with the loss of biodiversity, except in a general (generally disturbing) sense. Maybe global climate change is significantly impacted by human factors, and maybe not. The difficulties in that debate shouldn't blind us to all the ways in which human action obviously is shaping our enviroment.

So many cans, full of so many worms. I don't want to deal with much of that mess right now. I don't have answers, and I'm guessing you don't either. I do, however, have a few questions which strike me, right now, as of some interest.

On the leftlibertarian2 list, in another context, J. Neil Schulman raised the question of how individualists are to behave as individualists in the midst of conflicts, like the "war on terror," where the actors seem to be collectivities, particularly where actors seem to be immersing their identities in these collective entities. It seems to me that, for individualists, it's no easy task, but that, for individualists, there also isn't any escape hatch. If we're committed to the principles of individual liberty and responsibility, then we just have to do the best we can to uphold in individualist ethics, and this is perhaps most important where it is most difficult.

In the context of some writing I have been doing on mutualist economic theory, something like this same question resurfaced, and my answer, which had seemed relatively simple in the first context, came back to haunt me. The notion of the individual is not necessarily simple in mutualist theory. The mutualist agnosticism about property begins with some thorny questions about he degree to which the self is separable from other selves, from solidarity. William B. Greene wrote persuasively about what we might now call the social construction of the self, and borrowed from Pierre Leroux the notion that life itself involved relations with others. But the essentially prosthetic theory of property in Locke had already complicated the notion of the inside and the outside of the self in ways that we might not be faulted for considering ecological, even if the treatment of nature as "the passive element" in much liberal and libertarian property theory does not exactly lend itself to environmental concern. Anyway. . .

The question I've been wrestling with is this: how, given the involvement of the individual in complex, far-flung economic and social networks, is it possible to act as an individual in an ecological sense? What would than entail? Individualists who wish to act only at their own cost can't stop exploring the costs when they find their "footprint" extends, in however dispersed a fashion, over the horizon. Michel Serres, in The Natural Contract, has asserted that human beings now act upon the planet in the form of a collective actor, call it Humanity, and that this has forced upon us the question of the rights, if there are any, of an-other, Nature or Environment, equally unsatisfactory from the perspective of libertarian philosophy, but perhaps equally real in its impacts.

It is a point of pride among individualist anarchists not to be "collectivist," not to allow oneself to be submerged in mass-actors, to be driven by abstractions and spooks. But it isn't always clear how, from this perspective, we account for those parts of our individualities that are at the very least strongly conditioned by external actors and forces, by others human and nonhuman, abstract and concrete. We're not so good at accounting for our social contexts, for solidarity, for ecology. But unless these notions are simply fictions, our ideological and ethical commitments seem to call for some serious engagement with these broadly ecological concerns.