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You get the general idea

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 18 years ago, in 2006, on the World Wide Web.

Quick anarchist history quiz. Who said this?

I have proved … that commerce, independently of the service rendered by the material fact of transportation, is in itself a direct spur to consumption, and therefore a cause of further production, a principle of the creation of values.

At first this may seem paradoxical, but it has been demonstrated by economic analysis: the metaphysical act of exchange, in addition to labor, but by a different method from labor, is a producer of real value and of wealth. Furthermore, this assertion will astonish nobody who reflects that production or creation signifies only change of form, and that therefore creative forces, labor itself, are immaterial. So that the merchant who has enriched himself by real speculation, without usurious profit, enjoys the fortune which he has acquired by a perfectly just title: his fortune is as legitimate as that which labor has produced. And pagan antiquity, as well as the Church, has unjustly aspersed commerce, upon the pretext that its rewards were not the remuneration of real services. Once again, Exchange, an entirely immaterial operation, which is accomplished by the reciprocal consent of the parties, cost and distance of transportation being allowed for, is not merely a transposition or substitution, it is also a creation.

Commerce, then, being in itself a producer of wealth, men have engaged in it with ardor in all ages; no need for the legislator to preach its advantages and to recommend the practice of it. Let us suppose, what is not an absolutely absurd supposition, that commerce did not exist, that with our vast means of industrial execution, we had no idea of exchange: it is easy to see that if some one should come to teach men to exchange their products and trade among themselves, he would be rendering them an immense service. The history of humanity mentions no revolutionary who could compare with such an one. The remarkable men who invented the plough, the vine, wheat, did not rank above him who first invented commerce.

… Do you have it yet? If not, here’s another clue. It’s the same author who said this, later in the same work:

You say that you will make but few laws; that you will make them simple and good. That is indeed an admission. The Government is indeed culpable, if it avows thus its faults. No doubt the Government will have engraved on the front of the legislative hall, for the instruction of the legislator and the edification of the people, this Latin verse, which a priest of Boulogne had written over the door to his cellar, as a warning to his Bacchic zeal:

Pastor, ne noceant, bibe pauca sed optima vina. [Pastor, for your health, drink but little wine, but of the best.]

Few laws! Excellent laws! It is impossible. Must not the Government regulate all interests, and judge all disputes; and are not interests, by the nature of society, innumerable; are not relations infinitely variable and changeable? How then is it possible to make few laws? How can they be simple? How can the best law be anything but detestable?

You talk of simplification. But if you can simplify in one point, you can simplify in all. Instead of a million laws, a single law will suffice. What shall this law be? Do not to others what you would not they should do to you: do to others as you would they should do to you. That is the law and the prophets.

But it is evident that this is not a law; it is the elementary formula of justice, the rule of all transactions. Legislative simplification then leads us to the idea of contract, and consequently to the denial of authority. In fact, if there is but a single law, if it solves all the contradictions of society, if it is admitted and acceptedby everybody, it is sufficient for the social contract. In promulgating it you announce the end of government. What prevents you then from making this simplification at once?

One more clue? Later in the same work, the same author wrote:

To be GOVERNED is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so…. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality. And to think that there are democrats among us who pretend that there is any good in government; Socialists who support this ignominy, in the name of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity; proletarians who proclaim their candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic!

The author is Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), the French mutualist and revolutionary socialist, and the first political theorist to describe himself as an Anarchist. The work is his 1851 treatise, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (as translated by John Beverly Robinson in 1923), in which Proudhon argued that the abolition of all coercive government and the emergence of a decentralized, mutualist economic order were the tacit principles underlying the French Revolution. The completion of the Revolution in the nineteenth century would mean an explicit struggle for these principles and an end to the half-way measures of constitutionalism, liberal republicanism, and representative government: the point was not to constrain authority, or put it under the control of the majority, but rather to end it.

From both an anarchist standpoint and a feminist standpoint, it’s an interesting and maddening work — like a strobe light alternating flashes of brilliance with utter darkness from one section to the next, and sometimes from one sentence to the next. But in any case, it’s interesting, and if you can avoid cognitive seizures, it’s well worth a careful reading.

The reason that I mention all this — other than the interest of the quotations themselves — is that (as Roderick was vexed to find out a couple months ago), you couldn’t find General Idea of the Revolution online for love or money. Until now: I’m pleased to announce that a complete online edition of General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, in Robinson’s English translation, is now available at the Fair Use Repository. (In case you’re wondering, you can find the first quotation in the Third Study, ¶Â¶ 37–39, the second in the Fourth Study, § 2.2 ¶Â¶ 6–10, and the final quotation in the Epilogue, ¶ 39.)

Read, and enjoy!

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Anticopyright. This was written in 2006 by Rad Geek. Feel free to reprint if you like it. This machine kills intellectual monopolists.