neomutualists reach out for their weapons
mutualism stared and mostly remained an open concern about progress: serialized changes with a certain dominant teleology. it investigated such series initially in the economic realms of property, labour and production. in his later life, Proudhon veered into sociological analyses of the church and war. whatever else could be said of mutualism, its notion of progress drives in a lane little related to the mainstream meaning the term acquired in political currency. the trends tracked by Proudhon and its meagre followers, both in America and Europe, talked about mechanization, labour organization, decentralization and, even at its most social, still focused on the miracle of modernity. progress was the progress of intelligence towards its ever-greater expansion, the mastering of technique. what took over the term in the latter half of the 19th century was anything but.
two facts, then, need immediate recognition. first, mutualism lost progress, even as it remained its most fundamental concern. more generally, mutualism has been forsaken to the fringe of the fringes of political radicalism. its leading names after Proudhon are known to a few thousand people worldwide, at most. its theory is not entirely clear even to adherents, and its significant works have most remained untranslated. wherever social progress has taken, it has left mutualism behind.
secondly, progressivism – as it’s currently understood – mostly definitely won over the world. the current crop, directly descending from 19th-century social reformers, holds offices everywhere in the most powerful high places of the world. even its supposedly most ardent opponents are still committed to one or another of its doctrines. there’s nowhere in the world where being anti-progress would pay high dividends socially, and nowhere an anti-progressive could be safe for sure (maybe in Russia, but who knows). doesn’t all this undeniable success mean they grasped progress way more firmly than any mutualist ever could?
the triumphant stance of Proudhon, therefore, needs revisiting and serious revision: progress isn’t what it used to be. a recuperation is pressing if mutualism is to remain at all relevant. our enemies have taken power, and they barely even know they are our enemies. acquiring some fangs would constitute a reaction from the left, and as such, it invites paradoxical commitments. the most pressing question, now, is what the hell went wrong?
how was progress lost for mutualism? naïvité. like classical mechanics (and possibly classical liberalism), Proudhon’s rationalism expected time to be linear, a simple progression from A to B. what the social turmoils since his age spelt, on the other hand, were waves, and maybe even whirlpools. up to the point where regressive progress could not only make sense but be entirely necessary to keep with the trend.
mutualism’s own "ultraviolet catastrophe" was the practical demonstration, beginning in the 1920s, that fascist-style command-economies could not only work but effectively mobilize multitudes. federated unions had no chance of autonomy if they were effectively integrated into a framework of state-managed negotiations. mutual contractual obligations could not withstand extensive state regulation. absent unbounded competition, prices could never be reduced to costs. but, perhaps most consequentially, localized organization was rendered impossible in the hysteria of neo-tribal identities. the black-body of all-for-the-state absorbed all possible light.
even Proudhon already demonstrated some scepticism concerning mass politics.
"If monarchy is the hammer which crushes the People, democracy is the axe which divides it: the one and the other equally conclude in the death of liberty…"
so, in the wake of the 1848 revolution, his support for popular movements was hesitant. his proposals revolved around "economic" rather than "political" democracy, and the succession of events in the middle decades of 19th-century France led him ever deeper into a purely economic understanding of freedom – voluntary contracts and nothing else. still, even at his most economistic, Proudhon didn’t feel that popular movements could degenerate into state maximalism. and in the 19th century, there was possibly still reason for that.
Proudhon’s American heirs, the individualist anarchists of Boston, started from that economic view and – in what could be seen as a deviation from Stirner-style European individualism – imagined the economy unleashed from state grips as positively social. Their prolific and vibrant movement lasted a few decades, but just like proudhonism in Europe, was devoured by the rise of communistic strains of anarchism. at the dawn of the 20th century, Benjamin Tucker was hopeless and gloomy about the future of liberty.
the earlier half of the 20th saw the decimation of even the communistic side of anarchism, and the absorption of whatever remained into the capitalist/socialist duopoly. The revival of American individualists in the late 60s by Rothbard was made without any reference whatsoever to their mutualist side. it took the 21st century – and especially the Internet – for mutualism to reemerge.
the works of Shawn Wilbur and Kevin Carson finally thawed the ice that entrapped mutualism and drove into new directions: decentralized industrialism was once again out of the box, and maybe more than ever. Carson’s analysis of early 20th-century progressivism and the New Class it brought to power also provided a much-needed explanation for over 100 years of cryogenic suspended animation.
"Twentieth-century politics was dominated by the ideology of the professional and managerial classes that ran the new large organizations. "Progressivism," especially—the direct ancestor of the mid-20th century model of liberalism that was ascendant from the New Deal to the Great Society—was the ideology of the New Middle Class. As Christopher Lasch put it, it was the ideology of the "intellectual caste," in a future which "belonged to the manager, the technician, the bureaucrat, the expert."
Carson’s analysis – inevitably limited (where did this centralist bug come from?) – dovetails nicely with those of a writer that claims no mutualist ancestry whatsoever, and that immediately justifies the "dark" appendage in the title here. Moldbug’s analysis of the Cathedral is eerily similar to Carson’s about the New Class – with one crucial difference: the Cathedral is not only a dominant class with a peculiar taste for technocratic dominion, but rather an expanded opinion-control networked system, amounting to a secular church based on the creed of egalitarian humanism:
I am not a theist, so I don’t care much for theology. Paranormal beliefs are not beliefs about the real world, and cannot directly motivate real-world action. As a result, they are usually of no adaptive significance, tend to mutate frequently, and are a dangerous basis for classification.
And when we look at the real-world beliefs of ultracalvinists, we see that ultracalvinism is anything but content-free. By my count, the ultracalvinist creed has four main points:
First, ultracalvinists believe in the universal brotherhood of man. As an Ideal (an undefined universal) this might be called Equality. ("All men and women are born equal.") If we wanted to attach an "ism" to this, we could call it fraternalism.
Second, ultracalvinists believe in the futility of violence. The corresponding ideal is of course Peace. ("Violence only causes more violence.") This is well-known as pacifism.
Third, ultracalvinists believe in the fair distribution of goods. The ideal is Social Justice, which is a fine name as long as we remember that it has nothing to do with justice in the dictionary sense of the word, that is, the accurate application of the law. ("From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.") To avoid hot-button words, we will ride on a name and call this belief Rawlsianism.
Fourth, ultracalvinists believe in the managed society. The ideal is Community, and a community by definition is led by benevolent experts, or public servants. ("Public servants should be professional and socially responsible.") After their counterparts east of the Himalaya, we can call this belief mandarism.
…and that is where mutualism’s ultimate Achille’s heel is located: mutualism has been so far a very egalitarian humanist endeavour, much to its own demise.
egalitarian humanism ultimately begets demotism – if all humans are holy ("ends in themselves") and fundamentally, originally equal, then it follows that only unbounded franchise is justified. if the government is made by public opinion, the wheels of power have to revolve around managed minds. the rule in the name of the People is ultimately a cryptocalvinist global theocracy.
some may object: if egalitarian humanism kills mutualism, and mutualism is from the beginning complicit with it, so much worse for mutualism, right? up till now, i cannot but give a resounding yes. But things may have begun to change.
what this series will try to show – by following the main themes of mutualism – is how this profoundly pious sect of Protestantism that dominates the world is yet another misguided idealism; how it is slowly being unravelled by the forces that mutualism began (but never quite concluded) examining; and how mutualism can only secure itself by aligning with those forces – which will inevitably imply a dark turn away from humanity and substantial equality, and towards a "crowned anarchy" of synthetic beings.