Tag Archives | Industriels

Molinari and Proudhon: Mutual(ist) Influence?

While Molinari and Proudhon were certainly aware of each other (both published in the Journal des Économistes, for example), neither of them, to my knowledge, ever acknowledged being influenced by the other. Nor is that surprising; they belonged to rival libertarian traditions that had grown increasingly hostile to each other, and the debate between Proudhon and Molinari’s mentor Bastiat in 1849-50, while beginning in a cautiously friendly fashion, had ended in a flurry of insult and acrimony. Nevertheless, I think there is good reason to suspect mutual influence.

While Proudhon declared his opposition to the state as early as in his 1840 work What is Property?, he at that time offered little in the way of detail as to what sorts of social or economic mechanisms might replace state functions.

Then, in 1849, Molinari published both his article “The Production of Security” (in the Journal des Économistes) and his book Soirées on the Rue Saint-Lazare, in both of which he described how private enterprise could take over the functions of the state. (Molinari’s ideas were subsequently discussed in the Journal; see here and here.)

Two years later, in 1851, Proudhon published his General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century, in which he now discussed, in more detail than ever before, his ideas (in part similar, in part different) as to how private enterprise could take over the functions of the state. This is where I suspect Molinari’s influence on Proudhon.

In that same work, Proudhon described the process of transition as the “dissolution of government in the economic organism.” Over three decades later, in his Political Evolution and the Revolution (1884), Molinari used almost the same phrase to describe the transition to a stateless society – the “diffusion of the state within society” – although he somewhat disingenuously suggested that this approach was in contrast to anarchism: “The future thus belongs neither to the absorption of society by the state, as the communists and collectivists suppose, nor to the suppression of the state, as the anarchists and nihilists dream, but to the diffusion of the state within society.” (pp. 393-94; cf. p. 482, where he speaks of the “diffusion of government within society” rather than of the state.)* This is where I suspect Proudhon’s influence on Molinari.


[* Cf. Benjamin Tucker in 1890: “Anarchists work for the abolition of the State, but by this they mean not its overthrow, but, as Proudhon put it, its dissolution in the economic organism.” Tucker was certainly aware of some of Molinari’s later work – see here and here – but whether he had read the particular works by Molinari here named is unclear. Certainly Tucker’s idea for competing security agencies resembles Molinari’s, but Tucker had also read, e.g., Spooner’s similar proposal from 1851, and I doubt that Spooner would have read Molinari.]

I Get Ink

[cross-posted at BHL, POT, and Facebook (1, 2, 3)]

A good thing just arrived by mail – a first edition of Francis Dashwood Tandy’s 1896 free-market anarchist classic Voluntary Socialism, autographed by the author. And for only $25! Usually those go for over $400, even if not autographed. I’ve grossly exploited some online bookseller, and I’m fine with that.

Full disclosure: I’d intended this as a gift (I won’t say for whom) but I’ve selfishly decided to keep it. (Tandy, as a Tuckerite egoist, would no doubt approve.)

“W. Irving Way” might be Washington Irving Way, founder of Way and Williams Publishers. (And he has an Oz connection.)

This Tandy volume is now one of my three favourite autographed-libertarian-classics-by-dead-authors in my possession. (I specify “dead authors” because if I own an autographed copy of one of YOUR works, dear reader, then naturally I cherish it far more. Possibly.)

The other two are this very pro-mercantile mediaeval-era historical novel by Isabel Paterson …

(The “John Farrar” to whom Paterson signs the book is presumably the one mentioned here.)

… and this copy of Gustave de Molinari’s book on compulsory education:

(It’s not by Napoleon III. It’s just bound together with Molinari’s book on Napoleon III, for no obvious reason. But the autograph occurs at the opening of the education book – a debate with Frederic Passy, who is incidentally useful as an answer to the trick trivia question “who was the first libertarian economist to win a Nobel Prize?” – a trick question because it wasn’t the economics prize.) (I don’t think the seller noticed it was autographed, since it’s not at the beginning.)

I can’t quite make out to whom Molinari has signed the book. First name Henry, but what is that last name? Logh?

(Sorry for title page blurring, but at least no autograph blurring.)

Conscience of a Conservative

The full original French title of arch-conservative Joseph de Maistre’s 1821 Soirées, often translated as St. Petersburg Dialogues, is Les Soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg; ou, Entretiens sur le Gouvernement Temporel de la Providence.

The full original French title of arch-liberal Gustave de Molinari’s 1849 Soirées, recently translated as Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street, is Les Soirées de la Rue Saint-Lazare: Entretiens sur les Lois Économiques et Défense de la Propriété.

That the similarity in titles is intended as a reply rather than an homage is obvious from the fact that all the hostile references to de Maistre are assigned to the Economist (Molinari’s spokesman in the dialogue), while all the favourable references are assigned to the Conservative (one of the Economist’s two opponents).

The following quotation from de Maistre’s Soirées will give a sense as to why Molinari picked him out as the antithesis of the liberal vision of society that Molinari’s book sets out to defend:

[T]his divine and terrible prerogative of sovereigns: the punishment of the guilty … results in the necessary existence of a man destined to administer the punishments adjudged for crimes by human justice. This man is, in effect, found everywhere, without there being any means of explaining how; for reason cannot discover in human nature any motive capable of explaining this choice of profession. I believe you too accustomed to reflection, gentlemen, not to have thought often about the executioner.

So who is this inexplicable being who, when there are so many pleasant, lucrative, honest and even honourable professions in which he could exercise his strength or dexterity to choose among, has chosen that of torturing and putting to death his own kind? Are this head and this heart made like our own? Do they contain anything that is peculiar and alien to our nature?

For myself, I have no doubt about this. In outward appearance he is made like us; he is born like us. But he is an extraordinary being, and for him to be brought into existence as a member of the human family a particular decree was required, a FIAT of creative power. He is created as a law unto himself. …

Scarcely have the authorities assigned his dwelling, scarcely has he taken possession of it, when other men move their houses elsewhere so they no longer have to see his. … A dismal signal is given. An abject minister of justice knocks on his door to warn him that he is needed. He sets out. He arrives at a public square packed with a pressing and panting crowd. He is thrown a poisoner, a parricide, a blasphemer. He seizes him, stretches him out, ties him to a horizontal cross, and raises his arms. Then there is a horrible silence; there is no sound but the crack of bones breaking under the crossbar and the howls of the victim. He unties him and carries him to a wheel. The broken limbs are bound to the spokes, the head hangs down, the hair stands on end, and the mouth gaping like a furnace occasionally emits a few bloody words begging for death. He has finished; his heart is pounding, but it is with joy. He congratulates himself. He says in his heart, No one can break men on the wheel better than I. He steps down; he holds out his blood-stained hand, and justice throws him from afar a few gold coins, which he carries away through a double row of men drawing back in horror. He sits down to table and eats; then he goes to bed and sleeps. Awakening on the morrow, he thinks of something quite different from what he did the day before. …

Is this a man? Yes. God receives him in his shrines and allows him to pray. He is not a criminal, and yet no tongue would content to say, for example, that he is virtuous, that he is an honest man, that he is admirable, etc. No moral praise seems appropriate for him, since this supposes relationships with human beings, and he has none.

And yet all greatness, all power, all subordination rests on the executioner; he is both the horror and the bond of human association. Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world, and in a moment order gives way to chaos, thrones fall, and society disappears.

Class Act

[cross-posted at BHL]

Karl Marx once wrote:

I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was

1. to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production;

2. that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat;

3. that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.

Marx is certainly right that class analysis was a central feature of classical liberalism long before he picked it up. He’s fibbing a bit, though, about (1) and (3); many of his bourgeois predecessors (for example, the Censeur triumvirate of Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and Augustin Thierry) most emphatically thought that class society as they understood it was a temporary phenomenon destined to be displaced. Thierry, for example, announces:

Federations will replace states; the loose but indissoluble chains of interest will replace the despotism of men and of laws; the tendency towards government, the first passion of the human race, will cede to the free community. The era of empire is over, the era of association begins.

The main difference between Marx and the liberals was that Marx took the differentiation between ruling and ruled classes to be grounded in differential access to the means of production, whereas the liberals took the differentiation between ruling and ruled classes to be grounded in differential access to predatory power, and in particular to the power of the state. (To be sure, Marx acknowledged and indeed insisted on the important role of the state in maintaining class division when examining the details of history or current events; but the state quickly receded in importance when he turned to abstract theory.)

All this is by way of noting that I just received in the mail my author’s copy of Social Class and State Power: Exploring an Alternative Radical Tradition, an anthology of libertarian and classical liberal writings on class analysis that I co-edited with David Hart, Gary Chartier, and Ross Kenyon.

The volume includes material by a rather heterogeneous collection of authors:

  • from the 17th century, Richard Overton;
  • from the 18th century, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Vicesimus Knox, and William Godwin;
  • from the 19th century, Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, Thomas Hodgskin, John Wade, William Leggett, Richard Cobden, John C. Calhoun, Adolphe Blanqui, Frédéric Bastiat, Charles Renouard, Augustin Thierry, Gustave de Molinari, Herbert Spencer, William Graham Sumner, Lysander Spooner, and Benjamin Tucker;
  • and from the 20th century, Franz Oppenheimer, Albert J. Nock, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Roy Childs, Walter Grinder, John Hagel, Hans Hoppe, and your humble correspondent.

I would urge you to go out and buy a copy; but in light of the book’s $100 pricetag, I’ll just urge you to go out and suggest to your local research library that they buy a copy.

Two New Publications

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

My chapter on “Anarchism and Libertarianism” is forthcoming in Nathan Jun, ed., Brill’s Companion to Anarchism and Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2017), at the usual insane Brill price. In the chapter I explore the relationship between libertarianism (in the free-market sense) and the anarchist movement, including the question whether anarcho-capitalism counts as a genuine form of anarchism. (My C4SS colleague Kevin Carson has a chapter in the book as well.)

According to the publisher, I’m only allowed to make 25 hard copies of the chapter – but I’m also allowed to post a copy online, so long as it’s on my personal website. That seems to me a bit like saying “No smoking allowed in this room, but it’s okay to set the bed on fire.” But okay, here’s a link to the chapter.

(My reference to capitalist labour markets as “oligopolistic” was supposed to be “oligopsonistic.” The editors changed it to “oligopolistic,” which of course has the opposite meaning; I changed it back in galleys, but it ended up “oligopolistic” in the final published text nonetheless. Sigh.)

I also have a chapter on “Minarchism on Seasteads” in Victor Tiberius, ed., Seasteads: Opportunities and Challenges for Small New Societies (Zurich: VDF, 2017). I explore options for constraining a seastead minarchy (essentially by incorporating as many anarchist features as possible; those who remember my articles from the FNF/LNF days will find my proposals familiar). Here’s the link.

(The version I’ve posted is the galley proofs with my corrections. No, of course the corrections did not make it into the final published text. Sigh again.)

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