Saturday, May 21, 2016

Rand, Proudhon and The Anarchists


When you hear the word "Anarchism" and your mind leads you to understand it as chaos, it's possible you are subject to myth.  Well I've got a list, it's a long list, it's not like a top fifty list, it's not a particularly well tutored list, it's not a Cathedral list and maybe it's just me, but given the current apparent influence of Rand, near the top of that list would be the question "Is it worth considering Proudhon as one of Ayn Rand's  mentors?" She of course only ever admitted to having one influence in her thinking and that was Aristotle, a bold claim on her part and it's a claim no one should really ever boast about. It makes them sound just a little narcissistic, I'd argue.  But why connect Rand to the Anarchist and Revolutionary Proudhon, I hear the cry of outrage and shock. And possibly too, some might be aware that Proudhon is quotably quoted as the man who said, "Property is Theft." Not a popular position except amongst the angry, even if it were true in the sense that many might understand the sound bite "Property is Theft" outside of the context Proudhon gave to it. In my understanding, misaligned as it often is, Proudhon was big into property. His claim was that men were entitled to property so long as that property was conceived of as a product of their own work and not ownership of the land or the work of others though capital. Hence his idea that "Property is Freedom." And to this end Proudhon did his best to establish a People's Bank, it was like a credit union. It didn't work because not enough people signed up, and back then labor was also in the maw of the power the Merchant Class had over a politics which had to constantly resort to its military paid for by taxes, a demand side economics that predates Keynes by five, maybe twenty thousand years, it's put food on the table of many a poor man, given them opportunity, but it's never built a bridge or a road in a National Park except perhaps in China.  


An interesting man Proudhon. The son of a craftsman, he trained as a printer and through chance, misfortune and reading he won a bursary that enabled him to feed his family while he studied ideas at a school in the town of Bresancon, it's over there near Switzerland and there's an accent under the C in Bresancon which I don't know how to do on a technical device. Proudhon had quarreled with materialism, the historical and predictable inevitability of a mechanical future, Proudhon insisted that Hegel hadn't been all wrong, and Marx had naturally stopped talking to him. But Proudhon reckoned that society didn't actually have to be changed, it had a top and bottom probably always would, but it just had to understand itself in a more useful, more egalitarian, less destructive and more revolutionary ways. The problem of course was how might such a revolution happen. He had answers, he went into politics through journalism and activism. In 1848 Proudhon was engaged in organizing make work projects for the unemployed, he regarded it as sort of charity but it was better than the alternative, which was abject poverty. When the make work projects lost their funding the streets ran to rioting, all the same the Revolution of 1848 came as a big surprise to Proudhon, he witnessed the blood, the gore, the ferocity of the state and of the angry, and he was quickly arrested for insulting Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew who was the new Emperor of the Second Republic, a man who'd been put there by the conservatives. Proudhon was sent to jail, and when he came out of jail he had to go into exile until the Second Republic fell. Proudhon died in Passy, a part of Paris where a good few years before, fellow printer Benjamin Franklin had lived for a while.  By Anarchism Proudhon simply meant - without a master or sovereign and how such a society might function to the benefit of the many. Worth noting Democracy has been one attempt to answer that question. Tomorrow, if it doesn't stop raining, I'm going to try to talk about another Frenchman called George Sorel. And you're right this is a most interesting list, it includes De Tocqueville, Mussolini and the working gangs who dug the network of canals in the British Isles. 

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