Readings about Individualist Anarchism and Mutualism

Home Forums Coffee Shop Readings about Individualist Anarchism and Mutualism

This topic contains 2 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Hogeye 2 months ago.

  • Author
  • #719


    Some stuff I’ve been reading:

    “Liberal Anarchism” chapter from “THE CONQUEST OF POWER” by Albert Weisbord (1937). Interesting history of American Individualist anarchism from a Marxist commie’s point of view. Benjamin Tucker is a “capitalist” to this guy.

    What is Mutualism? by Clarence Lee Swartz, A 1927 book about mutualism. It sounds a whole lot like voluntaryism or anarcho-capitalism. The author denies that mutualism is socialism.

    An excerpt:

    The best known of the radical movements for a different social order is Socialism. There are a number of schools of this movement, differing on minor points of doctrine and tactics. But they all agree on the proposition that all capital and all land should be owned and managed collectively by the whole people.

    Would Socialism give larger individual freedom?

    There are many Socialists who claim that this is indeed one of the purposes of Socialism. Yet there is the famous pronunciamento of one of its high priests – Lenin – that “liberty is merely a bourgeois conception.”

    It is noteworthy that the great Italian dictator, Mussolini, holds the same view!

    The amount of control and regimentation that would be necessary to make the Socialist plan work would leave very little personal liberty to the individual.

    Indeed, by a queer quirk of thinking, most Socialists would, on general principles, subordinate the individual to the State. Socialism rests admittedly on compulsion; but it would be a compulsion so far-reaching that if it could ever be made to work, personal initiative would be eliminated. It is true that this is an ideal which appeals to many persons. There are some who are temperamentally fearful of having to look out for themselves. A life of freedom, with its resulting responsibility, does not appeal to the timid.

    • This topic was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by  Hogeye.
  • #721


    Thanks for posting, Hogeye! Since you also posted about this on facebook and I responded there, I wanted to repost my reply and your reply to me here as well. Me first:

    I’m going to have to step up my game, you’re going to get through What is Mutualism? before me at this rate!

    Shawn Wilbur, a prominent mutualist writer, at least on the mutualism subreddit, characterizes Benjamin Tucker’s position as a watered down or moderated capitalism, rather than mutualism as he thinks of it. So hearing that a Marxist thinks something similar doesn’t surprise me too much. Someone once asked in the mutualist subreddit about Clarence Lee Swartz’s book, and Shawn replied, quote:

    “It’s a very interesting book, but it is a late attempt to systematize something pretty close to Tucker’s approach, so just don’t expect to get a lot of perspective on the earlier forms of mutualism.”

    The opening poster then responded:

    “Thanks for the response. I’m mainly looking into earlier forms at the moment (currently reading Proudhon). Now knowing what you said, I think that I’m going to avoid it for now.”

    To which Shawn gave no reply.

    This, and other discussions I’ve read and participated in, lead me to think that there is at least one big fracture, possibly more, among modern self-identified mutualists. Neo-proudhonians, like Shawn Wilbur, have a more radical, and less inclusive, vision of what anarchism consists of. In a debate over occupancy-and-use property norms on C4SS, in which both Kevin Carson and Shawn Wilbur participated, Carson expressed views that seem similar to your own, (Bill Orton,) characterizing communist, syndicalist, collectivist, mutualist, and individualist anarchisms as all having some kind of property norms. Even though their views differed, Carson argued that some version of property would be necessary in any society, regardless of what it was called. Shawn Wilbur then responded by questioning this premise. Quoting Shawn:

    “At base, Kevin and I disagree about the possibility of, as I put it, “a truly anarchic space, outside the legal order and beyond the realm of permissions and prohibitions.” That’s a serious disagreement, since it amounts, for me, to a disagreement about the possibility of anarchy. If I was, as Kevin suggests, implicitly acknowledging any “set of rules” governing property, it would amount to a complete failure of my project. ”

    This gives, I think, a fair, if inadequate, summary of the schism. Some self-identified mutualists, inspired by Carson and Tucker, are ok with a polycentric legal system and think of occupancy-and-use style property norms as a form of property norms. Others, like Shawn Wilbur and those heavily influenced by him, (to the point where they’re no longer interested in reading a book by a self-proclaimed mutualist because of something Shawn says about it,) think of anarchism as requiring abolition of law and property. I think you, (Bill Orton,) are more familiar with the Tuckerite school. I’m not sure what views are most prominent among those who think of themselves as mutualists today.

    Now, if you want to know the details of how Shawn Wilbur imagines people cooperating and settling disputes without anything like law or property, I am afraid you may have to go onto Reddit and ask him. The best I can figure out is that he advocates for a society of purely informal social order, where disputes are settled on a case-by-case basis in whatever way people can do so, and individuals are guided by their own conscience and what they regard as prudent, without having any recourse to formal principles adopted by groups or institutions.

    I personally admire Shawn for questioning the necessity of law and property and making me think, but at present I am both unsure what exactly he would condone or consider anarchic, and my best guess at the sort of program that might appeal to him is one I consider impractical, at least today outside a group of a few hundred people living in isolation from the rest of the world. Perhaps if we ever get a polycentric legal system then we can move towards Shawn’s ideals from there, though, using a polycentric law society as a sort of stepping stone to what he would consider “full anarchism.”

    Anyway, my point in this whole comment was just to let you know that you will encounter people, more specifically self-identified mutualists, who regard Benjamin Tucker and Clarence Lee Swartz as too close to capitalism and as poor representatives of anarchism and of mutualism. You will probably also encounter some self-identified mutualists who regard Tucker and Swartz as good representatives of what they believe and value. Your mileage my vary.

    You second:

    [Hogeye says:] Wow! I am inclined to dismiss Shawn Wilber as utopian, from what you say. He seems one of those people who think anarchism mean ‘no rules’ rather than ‘no rulers’. Or maybe he’s just claiming that coercive law is unnecessary, which also involves a utopian view of man. I would say that anyone who wishes away human criminality (the need for coercive law), or scarcity (the need for property) is a utopian.

    From the excerpt you provide of Swartz’s book, it sounds like he thought that the word “socialism” had become too connected in the minds of ordinary people with state socialism to be useful anymore. This may still be the case, but on the other hand it may also be useful to try and get people to associate the word more with libertarian socialism in an attempt to show that state and society, or state and community, are not the same, and that advocating for cooperation and being part of a community does not entail advocating for government.

    Regarding Shawn Wilbur, Kevin Carson also had the following to say in the same debate I mentioned:

    [Kevin Carson:] Aside from the points of contention between us in this debate, Shawn’s exegesis of Proudhon in the last two pages or so of his response is one of the most remarkable things I’ve read, and certainly cements his preeminence as a Proudhon scholar. I would recommend it to anyone seeking an account of the evolution of Proudhon’s thought on possession and property.

    Above this Carson also calls Shawn “a Proudhon scholar of the first rank.”

    This is high praise from the author of Studies in Mutualist Political Economy and the main person known among anarchists of all varieties as responsible for revitalizing mutualism as a philosophy and system of thought. Reading Wilbur’s writings myself, I do at least find his ideas interesting, and to my knowledge he has studied Proudhon’s work more deeply than almost any other person alive today.

    Since I think of anarcho-capitalists as anarchists, and since Shawn has expressed rather negative feelings about my work, (a couple of the articles and such that I’ve written for our site here, including the cross-ideology survey which he characterized as dishonest and “entryist,”) and because of how he interacts with people on facebook and Reddit and various other things, I have immense trouble getting along with him and thus tend to avoid mutualist groups rather more than I otherwise would.

    This, however, is a mere personal squabble. If he is really as knowledgeable about Proudhon and other early anarchist authors as Kevin Carson and others paint him to be then I think it would we counter-productive to dismiss him. Working with him or asking for his help may not be a productive path to pursue, as he wants nothing to do with us evil capitalists. (a tounge-in-cheek description of us of course.) But responding to some of his writings and, at least, reading his writings seems like a good idea to me.

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by  Jacob. Reason: fixed a broken link
    • This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by  Jacob.
    • This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by  Jacob.
    • This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by  Jacob.
  • #730


    After our discussion on Facebook, it is pretty clear that Shawn Wilber is a good scholar and translator, but rather weak philosophically. He can certainly parrot what Proudhon and other early 19th century anarchists and communists say – he translated them! But he cannot explain

    1. What he means by “law”. Or “rules”.
    2. What he means by “hierarchy”.

    I am less patient than you, Jacob. I think “This guy is lame!” and you very politely say that after his last answer you understand his position even less.

    My impression is that he is an anarcho-communist entryist into mutualism circles, attempting to turn mutualists into commies. This is particularly evident with his pushing of the ancom notion of hierarchy onto mutualism and individualist anarchism, which historically has opposed such nonsense in favor of contract and non-aggression. (See the Wendy McElroy article I posted Individualist Anarchism vs. Communist Anarchism & Libertarianism).

    So my take: Wilber is an anarcho-communist sympathetic to mutualism. You are a mutualist with anarcho-capitalist tendencies. And I am an anarcho-capitalist sympathetic to mutualism.

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.