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Posts tagged Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

You get the general idea

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, ¶¶ 37–39, the second in the Fourth Study, § 2.2 ¶¶ 6–10, and the final quotation in the Epilogue, ¶ 39.)

Read, and enjoy!

As sterile as it is absorbing

Depending on how you follow the posts here, you may or may not have noticed the box at the top of the front page, which features a randomly-selected, rotating epigraph. Well, in any case, I have a new one to put into heavy rotation. This one is thanks to Roderick’s belated Bastille Day oration; it’s from Proudhon’s General Idea of the Revolution:

[W]e must understand that outside the sphere of parliamentarism, as sterile as it is absorbing, there is another field incomparably vaster, in which our destiny is worked out; that beyond these political phantoms, whose forms capture our imagination, there are the phenomena of social economy, which, by their harmony or discord, produce all the good and ill of society. … Know well that there is nothing more counter-revolutionary than the Government. Whatever liberalism it pretends, whatever name it assumes, the Revolution repudiates it: its fate is to be absorbed in the industrial organization.

–Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1851), The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, Second Study § 1 ¶ 27 and First Study § 3 ¶ 48

Uncle Sam is your ISP

There aren’t many technologies that have come along recently that have as much disruptive potential for democratizing the infrastructure of the Internet as widespread wireless networking. Broadband Internet access is, currently, the more-or-less exclusive domain of behemoth telecommunications and cable companies — the Ma Bells and Comcasts of the world. It’s expensive, the providers are abusive and controlling, and the service sucks. But if we work at developing technologies that are available as we speak, all that can change; free wireless Internet access is becoming more and more available in businesses and public places, so that fewer people even need an ISP to provide a residential line; and with a co-operative provider, some technical know-how, and a small investment in networking equipment, you can easily form wireless community networks between yourself and your neighbors, effectively running a low-cost cooperative ISP out of your garage. It’s exciting, heady stuff, and a lot could change within a few years. And the growing availability of voice services and online content could mean that soon, cooperative neighborhood associations could provide your Internet, phone service, and television all in one low-cost package. (To get a glimmer of the potential, see Robert X. Cringley 2001-08-23: Roll Your Own; for the technical details, read Rob Flickenger’s Building Wireless Community Networks: Implementing the Wireless Web.)

So how are leading lights of the State going to respond to this potential revolution in people-first, grassroots network communications? Of course, it’s to bring it under the control of the regulatory State as quickly as possible. Item 1: earlier this month, the government of Winchester County decided to set a precedent by proposing that the government knows how to set up your wireless network better than you do. Item 2: House Democrats unveil an innovation agenda; one of the chief innovations that they hope for is a centralized, government-directed Nationwide deployment of high-speed, always-on broadband Internet and mobile communications. This will, of course, be attained by means of expanding federal telecom regulations, and providing tax-funded subsidies to large telecom companies.

Because Uncle Sam knows better than you do what kind of Internet service you want. There’s no greater expert on ever-changing network technology than a sclerotic, centralized bureaucracy. And there’s nowhere you can get better service than your local, accountable-to-the-people government-run municipal utility.

Or, as M. Proudhon put it:

To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, 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, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.

P.-J. Proudhon (1851): General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (trans. John Beverly Robinson), Epilogue ¶ 39

Further reading

Airport! 2004

One more thing before I go. Thanks to Max, I’ve learned that Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport is so abominably congested that it made the international news.

ATLANTA (AP) – Thousands of frustrated travelers waited in two-hour-long lines to pass through security Tuesday morning at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, slowed by a rush of business and post-holiday passengers.

Until the crush cleared up by early afternoon, departing travelers at the country’s busiest airport stood in a labyrinthine line that wound through ticketing and baggage claim areas and the food court before even nearing the security gate. … Lines also have spilled outside at least twice in the last month. …

By early afternoon, travelers’ waiting time was down to about 10 minutes, but airport officials say people should expect more long lines on busy travel mornings throughout the summer.

from The Guardian 2004-06-01

What is causing such insane bottlenecks? Federal bureaucracy, of course–did you really have to ask?

Hartsfield-Jackson officials have warned for months they could not handle the summer travel crush without extra help from the federal Transportation Security Administration. … The airport has asked for more security lanes but the four additional lanes now being built haven’t been completed. All 18 security lanes were in use Tuesday.

Airport managers are also waiting for 59 more screeners promised by federal authorities. …

Travelers wondered whether security measures should be loosened now that air travel has bounced back to pre-9-11 levels.

Quincy Osborne, who was headed to the Cayman Islands for a vacation, expected to miss his flight even though he arrived at the airport three hours early.

Not everyone should be considered a threat, he said. Look, you see the elderly, little kids, expectant mothers. They should think of another way to do this.

from The Guardian 2004-06-01

Your thought for the day comes courtesy of M. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon; this one goes out to all the folks waiting in line in Atlanta:

To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, 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, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.

P.-J. Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (trans. John Beverly Robinson), Epilogue ¶ 39

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