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Proudhon’s "Pologne" and the federative project of the 1860s

"Ma Théorie fédérative est déjà un fragment enlevé à mon travail polonais; la Propriété sera le second..."
"My Federative Theory is already a fragment lifted from my Polish work; the [Theory of] Property will be the second..." (Letter to Grandclément, Nov. 17, 1863)
One of the nearly miraculous effects of the recent manuscript digitization projects at the International Institute of Social History and the Ville de Besançon has been a sudden and dramatic change in the kinds of questions we can wrestle with, with real hope of success, without international travel or expensive duplication of materials. For me, it has really altered my research program and shifted my translation priorities. Honestly, what it has done is throw my routine into a very pleasant chaos. I might not make that million word mark after all, if only because working with manuscript material is much slower going, but several projects have already become much more interesting as a result of taking the time to wade into these newly accessible archives. 

The most dramatic shift has probably taken place in my longstanding love-hate relationship with Proudhon's The Theory of Property. Wrestling with that work has probably been the single most important factor in my development as a Proudhon scholar, and as a scholar with something arguably a bit different, and potentially important, to say about both Proudhon and anarchism. But the marginal nature of the work in the informal anarchist canon—where it has largely been shunted off into the sections reserved for forgeries or betrayals of the cause—had naturally meant that everything built from an engagement with it has been at least a bit suspect. The individual antidote for that is always to know you are right, but that's hard, when the manuscripts are unavailable and the correspondence is still hard to search through. I've had to slowly build up a sense that published text was coherent, and then gradually dig out the contexts, without much help from the literature of the tradition, of course, or much encouragement from the movement, for which the very existence of the work mostly serves as just another strike against poor old Proudhon.

It turns out that many of the materials necessary to substantially adjust the reputation of The Theory of Property were available even before these recent digitization projects, but perhaps the context in which it was easiest to put them together wasn't. The heart of the matter seems to be the relationship of The Theory of Property to a lengthy, unfinished work by Proudhon, Pologne. The work on Poland apparently occupied Proudhon off and on through much of the last years of his life. The manuscript consists of 1448 pages, not including, as far as I have been able to tell, any of the 291 pages identified as "Chapitre VII. Garantisme.—Théorie de la propriété." If we take Proudhon's comments about the place of The Federative Principle seriously, then we have even more to add to the project. In the same letters, it appears that The Literary Majorats may also be a "long footnote" to the work as well.

We've had a hard time dealing with Proudhon's work in the 1860s, at last in the English-speaking world. Part of the problem, of course, is that we haven't done much justice to his work in the 1850s, but I think we have at least had a vague sense that Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, all six volumes of it, was lurking out there, waiting to be accounted for, and a few scholars have placed Justice in the more-or-less central place that it seems to deserve. (Jesse Cohn stands out for me in this regard.) For me, despite a lot of wrestling with Justice, The Philosophy of Progress has been the gateway into the "constructive" work of the 1850s, and it has gradually become the pivot around which I've built a couple of interpretive narratives. In the first, it marks the shift between primarily critical and primarily constructive periods (as I've discussed in "Self-Government and the Citizen-State.) In the second, which I'm still working through, it is the occasion of Proudhon finally beginning answer the question about "the criterion of certainty" that he claims led him to his more familiar work. We might read the work on Justice, which begins with the identification of that criterion with the idea of justice itself, as a kind of resolution of Proudhon's early, philosophical and theological concerns. Despite its occasionally glaring inconsistencies, as in the study on "Love and Marriage," the work manages to be a pretty triumphant answer to the question that he was chiding himself for still pursuing in 1841.

The 1860s look, at the very least, less triumphant, and we don't seem to have any very coherent account of what Proudhon was up to in the last five years of his life. It is actually common, though I think incorrect, to treat the best-known of the late works, The Federative Principle, as marking a shift away from anarchism. And the rest of the works from that period have been hard to come to grips with:
  • War and Peace (1861) — Despite Alex Prichard's work, this two-volume work is still little known, and it simply remains very demanding. There is a lot of complicated treatment of the topic of war to be waded through in order to extract Proudhon's fundamentally peaceful message. The work has been treated as proto-fascist and, to complicate matters, we can find some selective influences in those currents.
  • The Theory of Taxation (1861) — Marx treated the work as the final sign that Proudhon was just a "bourgeois," and anarchists have naturally been slow to warm to a work on taxation. The fact that it contains Proudhon's clearest explanation of what I've called the "citizen-state" is, alas, a circumstance with limited attraction for those who see any discussion of any kind of "state" as a step backward. Like War and Peace, it is a work that looks a lot better if you know and understant the work of the 1850s.
  • Literary Majorats (1862) — Some sections of this work opposing intellectual property have actually be translated, but it remains largely unknown. The truth is that most of our positions on these questions are pretty well solidified.
  • The Political Capacity of the Working Classes (1865) — This is the work that anarchists have shown the most interest in, largely because it was addressed to the workers who would make up the core of the Parisian group in the First International, and because it was the work that Proudhon labored away at on his deathbed. It is a fascinating work, and one with a clear influence in the international working-class movement. Unfortunately, the tale we've told about the International paints the workers most closely associated with it as losers, when they aren't dismissed as traitors.
  • The Theory of Property (1865) — Finally, Proudhon's final work on property has been the subject of hot debate from before its publication right up to the present. For those who want to paint his outside of the mainstream of anarchist thought, or who want to draw strong distinctions between the "property is theft" of 1840 and a "pro-property" position in his last years, the reputation of this work has been useful, however little that reputation corresponded to its contents. Despite years of translation and analysis, I still have people telling me the same unsubstantiated stories about the work: that it was a pieced-together work, abandoned by Proudhon and cobbled together by his followers; that it represented more evidence of Proudhon's abandonment of anarchism; or, alternately, that it really doesn't contain anything that challenges the position of 1840. I feel like my work to date has pretty well dealt with most of the usual responses to the work, demonstrating the continuity of Proudhon's work on property, his consistent pursuit of anarchism, etc. But I would be lying if I said that I was very comfortable with the work. After all, my own work on the "gift economy of property" has really been an attempt to push beyond what I've understood as an instructive, but not always appealing set of arguments in The Theory of Property.
 What the work I've been doing lately has suggested to me is that, while establishing the connections between The Theory of Property and Proudhon's earlier works is obviously important and useful, Proudhon himself really saw the work as part of a larger, ongoing work, which occupied him in the 1860s. The unpublished work, Pologne, is obviously something we have to engage with in order to understand Proudhon's final large-scale project, but we can start by changing our strategy with regard to the late works that we know. Instead of picking and choosing which of the late works we engage, sometimes pitting one work against another, it seems likely that the only way to do justice to those works is to consider them as Proudhon seems to have understood them—as pieces of a larger whole.

Perhaps we need to consider splitting the "constructive" period of Proudhon's career at least one more time. We might characterized his progression something like this:
  1. In an initial, largely critical period, Proudhon began by seeking the criterion of certainty and found himself waging a multi-front war against absolutism. The familiar critiques of property and governmentalism were among the results.
  2. In a first phase of constructive labors, Proudhon found his solution to the question of the criterion of certainty in the idea of an imminent justice, and elaborated how the play of justice operates in contexts ranging from metaphysics to international politics. The elimination of the absolute and the opposition to external constitution of relations are central concerns. There is a lot of history and political economy in this period, but we might say that philosophical concerns are really driving the analysis. Even a work like The General Idea of the Revolution, with all its practical proposals, is still really largely about an idea.
  3. In a second phase of constructive labors, Proudhon shifted his attention to the practical playing-out of the principle of justice. We have probably been right to see that the emphasis on the federative principle marked a transition, but incorrect in identifying it. Having eliminated external constitution (governmentalism, archy) as a model for social organization, there remains the question of how internal constitution (self-government, anarchy) will work. But Proudhon points us to the principle that will unify his labors:
"...transported into the political sphere, what we have previously called mutualism or guarantism takes the name of federalism. In a simple synonymy the revolution, political and economic, is given to us whole..."
The principle has multiple names—the familiar mutualism and federalism, and the less familiar guarantism. The last term is, as I've mentioned elsewhere, a borrowing from Fourier, intended to designate the messy, very approximate stage prior to Harmony. Proudhon, of course, is too consistently progressive a thinker, to certain that "humanity proceeds by approximation," to have much hope for a period of realized Harmony. The quote with which I began the post, as well as some others I have recently noted, ought to inspire some corrections in our thinking about Proudhon's late works. First, the traditional elevation of The Federative Principle over The Theory of Property probably can't hold up. Proudhon's letters suggest that, with regard to their status as finished works, we've had things turned completely around. At the same time, the title from the manuscript suggests an equation between "Guarantism" and "The Theory of Property" that shouldn't surprise us at all, and which quite appropriately subordinates whatever Proudhon has to say about property in that work to a principle we know to think of as a synonym of mutualism or federation. 

That opens a new set of messy questions, including how property can be understood as an instance of federations, but perhaps we've tackled enough for now.

The connection between Bowie and punk

It's something that looks unlikely at first glance. After all, part of punk is about being your own hero and not living vicariously through others, about getting beyond the notion of big stars dominating everything, and Bowie appears at first glance to embody that totally and completely. However, the link between Bowie and Iggy Pop, one of the god fathers of punk, sheds more light on the situation.

Why exactly would Bowie, who depended on presenting himself as sophisticated and arty, take Iggy Pop, a guy who wasn't sophisticated, at least initially, and who wasn't particularly art inclined, under his wing? If you look at Bowie's creative output, even from Space Oddity but particularly from Ziggy Stardust onward, much of it has to do with figures who are literally alienated from everything by being, well, aliens, or something similar as in the Halloween Jack character from "Diamond Dogs", a leader of a post-apocalyptic mutant gang. Bowie's characters may have a big presence on the stage, but in and of themselves they speak of individuals being personally alienated from the society they live in, of being out of place, awkward, not privileged, to use a loaded word. Bowie's sexuality is another great example of this, and it's striking that on the same record where the Halloween Jack character is introduced there's a long, over ten minute, ode to anonymous gay sex, in one of the most explicit terms ever recorded by a major artist.

Bowie comes, and came, at things not only from the perspective of a star who enjoys being on stage, but as an artist who's alienated from the rest of society for a variety of reasons who is expressing that alienation and presenting it on stage, dramatizing it in the character of Ziggy Stardust and others. Bowie performs stories of personal alienation on the stage, inviting people to identify their own alienation with it.

Iggy Pop coming from a poor background, being creative and having to fight against the system to get his place in society has much in common with this perspective. Although from different social backgrounds, Bowie being middle class and into the art scene, they must have been kindred spirits to a certain degree. Bowie helped Iggy Pop to get the cultural background that he never got a chance to acquire, teaching him about art and culture, presenting him to the European scene, getting him up to speed on things.

From Iggy Pop and his "Raw Power", and stories of alienation came punk and the punk movement to a large degree. Pop as a transitional figure was and is a star on the stage but engages in anti-star behavior, attacking the notion of stardom and of big figures on stage, and instead trying to include the audience in the show. It's a small step from that to the Ramones, for instance, who dispensed with the star motif altogether and said get a guitar, learn three chords, and start a band.

The claim that false rape allegations are common is a lie.


Rape: speak up, you lose, don’t speak up, you lose.

There is a commonly held belief amongst anti-feminists that false rape allegations are very common, and that a man being falsely accused of rape goes through as much suffering as a woman who was raped.

I think the self-victimization process I discussed in my previous entry explains why they believe this, to some extent. We know that it is mostly men who rape women. In order to prevent themselves from being portrayed as the persecutors, men’s advocates have to either redefine “rape” or show in some way that women are the “real” persecutors. But this would still be out of proportion unless they can also make people believe that being falsely accused of rape is anywhere near as bad as being raped; otherwise a high rate of false rape allegations would still not prove that men are the victims.

The belief that false rape allegations are as bad as getting raped is so bizarre that there’s really nothing to refute there. But I do think that the belief that false rape allegations are common does need to be refuted, because it can be shown that the claims are simply false.

The Holy Grail for the genderists is a study made by Eugene Kanin from 1978 to 1987, which reported a rate of false rape allegations of 41%. This study is quoted by everyone from Wendy McElroy to the scummiest Internet MRAs, and seems to be their number one source. There’s only one little problem: the Kanin study did not measure the rate of false rape allegations in the first place.

First, Kanin’s study relies on data which has not been made available to the public, so it can’t be verified or replicated. This fact alone disqualifies it as “scientific.”

Second, Kanin’s study does not measure false reports, but reports which were recanted by the victim:

[T]he declaration of a false allegation follows a highly institutionalized procedure. The investigation of all rape complaints always involves a serious offer to polygraph the complainants and the suspects. Additionally, for a declaration of false charge to be made, the complainant must admit that no rape had occurred.

You will have noted the use of the polygraph, which is a fraudulent device and which serves the sole purpose of intimidating suspects. There is no doubt that browbeating a rape victim into submitting to a polygraph would have the same intimidation effect:

In his published journal article, Kanin (1994) admitted that “A possible objection to these recantations concerns their validity… rather than proceed with the real charge of rape, the argument goes, these women withdrew their accusations to avoid the trauma of police investigation.”

And indeed, the Kanin study has been criticized for the department’s use of polygraph testing in every case, a process that has been rejected by many police departments because of its intimidating impact on victims. The International Association of Chiefs of Police disapproves of requiring polygraph tests during rape investigations because “victims often feel confused and ashamed, and experience a great deal of self-blame because of something they did or did not do in relation to the sexual assault. These feelings may compromise the reliability of the results of such interrogation techniques. The use of these interrogation techniques can also compound these feelings and prolong the trauma of a sexual assault” (Lisak, 2007, p.6).

The process measured by the Kanin study is a perfect storm of bullshit. The use of the polygraph is designed to scare rape victims into desisting, and victims who desist are counted as having made false allegations. The end result of this process is a figure which cannot, in any way, be verified. This is about as scientific as examining a bird’s entrails to predict the weather.

The Kanin study is not unusual in the fact that it does not seek to measure the percentage of actual false allegations, but an inflated number based on recantations. Many studies used by the anti-feminist side have this same flaw. But it doesn’t take much intelligence to realize that a rape victim might recant her testimony for many reasons which have nothing to do with the testimony being false. To claim otherwise is pure hypocrisy, but either way, it is imbecilic to use a study as proof of something it does not even try to measure.

One obvious reason why a rape victim might recant is the hostility of loved ones, responsible authorities, or law enforcement officials. Every new rape story in the media brings with it a vibrant demonstration of the hostility of the public against rape victims. People hate women and are never afraid to show it.

But even people who do not act out of explicit woman-hatred may still attempt to invalidate a rape victim’s testimony by using what we could call the skeptic’s gambit. Skeptics tell us that claims require “credible evidence.” I have already examined how skepticism serves to maintain the political status quo, which includes anti-feminism.

The “credible evidence” line used against rape victims is another example of this. What could it possibly mean for a rape victim to present “credible evidence” of their rape? I am not talking here from a legal standpoint, but from a simple verbal perspective, which is what skeptics jump on. They will readily invalidate any claim of rape and close ranks around the accused. They are the ones who, for instance, have closed rank against Rebecca Watson, who protect Michael Shermer despite multiple testimonies against him, and so on. These people really are scum and deserve to be attacked and ridiculed.

So what is the actual rate of false rape allegations? The percentage given to us by studies which actually seek to measure false allegations, not recantations, is somewhere below 3%, which is in line with false allegations for other categories of crimes (see for instance Against Our Will by Susan Brownmiller; St. John’s Law Review, 66, 979-1045; Kelly, Lovett, & Regan, 2005). There is nothing more significant to false rape allegations than to any other false crime allegation. A study calculated that 2.3% of people on death row have been exonerated from 1973 to 2007 (“Frequency and Predictors of False Conviction,” by Samuel Gross). This is a strong indication of the general accuracy of rape allegations.


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Cracked.com deals with the concept of “happiness.”

Optimists and natalists like to harp on the concept of happiness as the cornerstone of their objections to our attacks. Cracked.com, on the other hand, provides a more historically grounded and cynical look at this concept of “happiness.”

As it turns out, the human brain is equipped with “hedonic set points” which not only establish where our base mood is (optimistic, pessimistic or indifferent); but also adapts rather quickly to our surroundings and returns to our base frame of mind. Basically, we all have a built-in buzzkill app.

In 1978, a research group studied lottery winners, regular assholes and those who had suffered injuries rendering them paraplegic or quadriplegic. All groups reported a similar number of good days versus bad days, with no clear victor in the happiness race.

On the bright side, these studies show that people adapt better than they think they would to devastating situations. The triumph of the human spirit, etc. But on the flip side, if you’re completely miserable now, achieving your goals will probably only result in a slight surge on the happiness meter and then you’ll be right back to your crotchety old self.


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Cracked.com deals with the concept of “happiness.”

Optimists and natalists like to harp on the concept of happiness as the cornerstone of their objections to our attacks. Cracked.com, on the other hand, provides a more historically grounded and cynical look at this concept of “happiness.”

As it turns out, the human brain is equipped with “hedonic set points” which not only establish where our base mood is (optimistic, pessimistic or indifferent); but also adapts rather quickly to our surroundings and returns to our base frame of mind. Basically, we all have a built-in buzzkill app.

In 1978, a research group studied lottery winners, regular assholes and those who had suffered injuries rendering them paraplegic or quadriplegic. All groups reported a similar number of good days versus bad days, with no clear victor in the happiness race.

On the bright side, these studies show that people adapt better than they think they would to devastating situations. The triumph of the human spirit, etc. But on the flip side, if you’re completely miserable now, achieving your goals will probably only result in a slight surge on the happiness meter and then you’ll be right back to your crotchety old self.


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Physicists Confirm They Have Found And Killed The ‘God Particle’


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Physicists Confirm They Have Found And Killed The ‘God Particle’


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Scalia disagrees with freedom of the press ruling

That made it possible for people to criticize public officials without fear of libel. Here. He says that it's not what the "Founders" intended. I've got a thought: what about what's right and wrong? The "Founders" thought slavery was okay too, does that mean that we should put it back on the books? 

Hiding behind the Constitution does not absolve one of moral responsibility. Right and wrong, what's just and unjust, transcends a simple document--and should be what that document is in conformance with anyways. If it's not, the document should be changed.

One tyrannosaurus = 460 gallons of petrol.

Something for you to think about while you refuel your car.


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