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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Thursday, January 27, 2005

R. A. Wilson on Property

This quote comes from BK Marcus, although Brad Spangler drew my attention to it.

"Property is theft." -- P.J. Proudhon

"Property is liberty." -- P.J. Proudhon

"Property is impossible." -- P.J. Proudhon

"Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Proudhon, by piling up his contradictions this way, was not merely being French; he was trying to indicate that the abstraction "property" covers a variety of phenomena, some pernicious and some beneficial. Let us borrow a device from the semanticists and examine his triad with the subscripts attached for maximum clarity.

"Property1 is theft" means that property1 created by the artificial laws of feudal, capitalist, and other authoritarian societies, is based on armed robbery. Land titles, for instance, are clear examples of property1; swords and shot were the original coins of transaction.

"Property2 is liberty" means that property2, that which will be voluntarily honored in a voluntary (anarchist) society, is the foundation of the liberty in that society. The more people's interests are co-mingled and confused, as in collectivism, the more they will be stepping on each other's toes; only when the rules of the game declare clearly "This is mine and this is thine," and the game is voluntarily accepted as worthwhile by the parties to it, can true independence be achieved.

"Property3 is impossible" means that property3 (=property1) creates so much conflict of interest that society is in perpetual undeclared civil war and must eventually devour itself (and properties 1 and 3 as well). In short, Proudhon, in his own way, foresaw the Snafu Principle. He also foresaw that communism would only perpetuate and aggravate the conflicts, and that anarchy is the only viable alternative to this chaos.

It is averred, of course, that property2 will come into existence only in a totally voluntary society; many forms of it already exist. The error of most alleged libertarians -- especially the followers (!) of the egregious Ayn Rand -- is to assume that all property1 is property2. The distinction can be made by any IQ above 70 and is absurdly simple. The test is to ask, of any title of ownership you are asked to accept or which you ask others to accept, "Would this be honored in a free society of rationalists, or does it require the armed might of a State to force people to honor it?" If it be the former, it is property2 and represents liberty; if it be the latter, it is property1 and represents theft.

-- The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Hagbard Celine


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to confess that I have only read 'The Fountainhead' but on the assumption in her case, that unlike with most writers of fiction, we can assume the philosphy she presents as admirable is her own, it is the most appalling and downright nasty piece of work I have come across in 50+ years.


January 28, 2005 9:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I've seen some nuggets of genuinely good thought in Atlas Shrugged, but mixed in with a lot of predictable apologetics for big business (the kind of stuff that's seized on by every James Taggart-style CEO who wants to be John Galt). And the style is incredibly turgid.

January 28, 2005 4:14 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

There's a difference between original property claims and present title, though. I don't dispute for a moment that there were original property rights founded on labor. In fact, just about anywhere we see large-scale absentee landlordism or tenant farming, it's pretty likely that the original owners-cultivators were turned into tenants by the power of the state.

February 03, 2005 11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Property2 is liberty" means that property2, that which will be voluntarily honored in a voluntary (anarchist) society, is the foundation of the liberty in that society.

Does this form of property preclude the privatized police state? You know as urged by Murray Rothbard and the like. I fail to understand would much meaningful difference would exist between a private enforcement agencies and a public one. The most meaningful difference, perhaps, would be the terrifying efficiency of the former over the latter. Consider that public law enforcement intentionally operates inefficiently as society deems other values more important, e.g. privacy.

January 14, 2007 1:04 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Another, countervailing, difference is that private law enforcement would be unable to externalize its costs on non-beneficiaries. Actually, it might be able to do this to a small extent through asset seizures against the victims of trumped up charges. But any attempt to do so on a sufficient scale to finance its operations would surely provoke all those *not* affiliated with it to unite in support of retaliation.

The territorial state possesses one supreme advantage for the ruling classes--an INefficiency from the standpoint of market rationality, but quite efficient for their purposes: its ability to externalize costs on the population at large. Generally speaking, agency costs that exceed the benefits of enforcement cause a given form of organization to wither away because "it costs more than it comes to." If the enforcement of certain kinds of property rights is what welfare economists call "exogenous"--that is, provided on a "public good" basis by some outside party without regard to cost apportionment--it encourages forms of ownership with high agency costs of enforcement relative to the returns. If enforcement becomes "endogenous" (financed by the owner himself on his own nickel), he may well find that occupancy-and-use becomes the default model for large tracts of vacant land outside of built-up areas--regardless of the nominal local ideology--just because the cost of excluding homesteaders outweighs the potential returns on the land.

And absent other forms of cost externalization made possible by a territorial state with taxing power--assorted subsidies and privileges that make possible the concentration of wealth and the centralization of production--there will be considerably fewer people wealthy enough to constitute a market for such private sector Gestapo in the first place.

January 14, 2007 3:59 PM  

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