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Archive for October, 2009

“I have a need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice around me to melt.” William Lloyd Garrison on rhetoric and polarization, from Henry Mayer (1998), All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery

William Lloyd Garrison was famous for his uncompromising, strident, and deliberately polarizing moral tone when writing about the sin of slavery and the call for immediate abolition. One of his most famous statements on the matter was a comment to his friend and fellow abolitionist Samuel May — a comment that has been often quoted but also often difficult to track down sources for, because the conversation was not recorded in the pages of Garrison’s paper The Liberator, but only in May’s memoirs. This passage is from Henry Mayer’s 1998 biography of William Lloyd Garrison, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: St. Martin’s Press) discusses Garrison’s rhetorical choices, and recounts the conversation with May.

Unlike the self-effacing Lundy, Garrison had deliberately chosen to make himself an issue. There shall be no neutrals; men shall either like or dislike me, he announced. The editor–and the newspaper as an extension of himself–would draw energy, like a lightning rod, to galvanize the cause. His statements poured forth with an intensity that seemed more like a spontaneous eruption than a composed literary style, which was precisely the effect Garrison wanted. He could have been as smooth and politic as anyone, the editor once observed, but declared that he much preferred nature to art. It was nonetheless a deliberate decision, not an irresistible impulse, that led him to write as he did. He chose his words, one close friend said, with the care of a pharmacist weighing out a prescription.

Nearly every visitor commented upon the surprising contrast between the private Garrison and the public firebrand. People walked in expecting to find a stout, rugged, dark-visaged desperado, as one guest put it, and found instead a pale, delicate, and apparently over-tasked gentleman scurrying from desk to case to imposing stone, making light of the work with an unending series of hymn tunes and jokes, and stopping occasionally to stroke the pussycat stretched out affectionately on the periphery of the work space. Never too busy to talk, it seemed, Garrison stimulated an unending flow of conversation–copious, strong-minded, and fervent–that often turned the printing office into a seminar or Sunday school. The self-effacing Knapp formeda silent backdrop to conversation, as he struggled with the ledgers, the slips of paper containing fragments of subscription information, and the stack of bills. Knapp worked hard, spoke little, and quietly nursed the petty resentments that would one day rupture the bond with his more exuberant partner.

Each week Garrison took a perverse delight in reprinting the jibes of editors who called him everything from an officious and pestiferous fanatic to a mawkish sentimentalist who wept over imaginary suffering like boarding school misses and antiquated spinsters. The insults, he said, are like oil to the flame of my zeal. When New York’s Mordecai Noah, one of the most caustic editors in the country, dismissed Garrison as a printer by trade and a reformer of empires by profession, he accepted the sneer as a compliment. He had less patience, however, with people who professed sympathy for the cause but insisted that he moderate his conduct before committing themselves. Such demands came, significantly, from well-to-do whites; the editor’s black constituents seldom found his language too harsh or angry. A pinch of practical help–donations, subscribers, a supply of larger paper–would do more for the cause than all the admonitions to reform the reformers, Garrison said. It was not his language that caused offense, for virtually every editor engaged in the freewheeling style that seemed the essenec of a bumptious and aggressive free press, but rather the subject to which Garrison applied his words.

Yet even Samuel May, who understood more than most the dramaturgy of Garrison’s editorship, once entreated him to be more temperate. While out for a walk in early spring, Garrison listened patiently and tenderly, May recalled, as the older man rehearsed the concerns of their more timorous friends. Then, however, Garrison exploded, insisting that he would only soften his language when the poor downtrodden slaves tell me that I am too harsh.

O, my friend, urged May, do try to moderate your indignation, and keep more cool; why, you are all on fire.

Garrison stopped walking and looked straight at his beloved friend. He laid his hand upon May’s shoulder with a kind but emphatic pressure and, speaking slowly, with deep emotion, said:

Brother May, I have a need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice around me to melt.

The two friends stood there in the street, silent for a moment, and May could feel the pressure on his shoulder long after Garrison had withdrawn his hand. From that hour, May wrote forty years later, I have never said a word to Mr. Garrison in complaint of his style.

Henry Mayer (1998), All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 118-120

In the reference notes, on page 645, Mayer notes that the source for the all on fire conversation is Samuel Joseph May, Some Recollections of Our Anti-Slavery Conflict (Boston, 1869), pp. 36-37.

Edualc Reitellep defines "Quarry"

Now available thanks to Shawn P. Wilbur at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth:

New York, 1874: Claude Pelletier, who liked to sign his books backwards, was developing his system of Atercratie—anarchy by a name with none of the baggage of the original—in a series of French-language texts, drawing heavily on familiar figures like Proudhon and Pierre Leroux. His Socialist Soirees of New York lays out the basics of atercratie, but he also wrote a long play about the Hussites which included quite a bit of commentary on 19th century socialists. And he compiled one of the various socialist dictionaries which were produced in the period. The project of producing a political program by defining keywords is one with a long history. Daniel Colson's Petit lexique philosophique de l'anarchisme: de Proudhon à Deleuze is a modern example. The Belgian "rational socialists" produced a fascinating dictionary in which many of their critiques of Proudhon were incorporated into the definitions. There is something illuminating, and frequently delightful, in dipping into some potentially innocuous entry, and finding what deep political implications it raised for the compilers. This entry, from the single volume (Vol. 2) of Pelletier's dictionary that I have been able to track down, is fairly pedestrian stuff, compared to some entries, but is probably useful to those who have yet to encounter this particular form of political tome. Here, for you edification, is the definition of "quarry:"
QUARRY. Location dug in the ground, where on extracts by means of shafts and galleries, or even from a single level, stone, coal and other minerals, such as lead, copper, gold, silver, etc...

Today the quarries which should belong to the nation, are abandoned to capitalists who exploit them for their own personal interests; and their private interest drives them to convert them into a monopoly in order to reap enormous profits, by augmenting, as it says in the entry for MONOPOLIZATION, the sale price of their product, and reducing the wages of their workers. It follows that they become millionaires in a few years and that against the discomfort and misery into which they cast the laborers gives rise to strikes, jealousies, hatred, and recriminations which sooner or later lead to hateful disputes and bloody conflicts: witness the coal miners’ societies of Pennsylvania and the vengeances of the Molly-Maguires.

All this would not occur if we were willing to recognize that what nature has produced and given freely to all, should not be the exclusive property of a man or of a small society of capitalists.

It is said that many of the things have been discovered only because private interests were in play and that many quarries, shafts and mines would not have been exploited, if the companies had not obtained some advantages which come to reassure them a bit about the random threats to their capital.

This is true; but it is true only because industry and its transactions rest on private credit instead of revolving on a social credit, as described in the entries BANK, CAPITAL, CREDIT and others in this Dictionary.

As long as Societies do not furnish the instruments of labor and the substratum of the products to the citizens whose industrial function will be to extract or transform them, the natural riches of the globe, which are the patrimony of all, will belong to a few of the rich and will serve to separate the people into different classes. This is obvious.

The people will be happy and free only when the oligarchs of capital, the idlers, soldiers, priests, spies and other parasites have disappeared from our midst, not as a result of a violent revolution; but by that of a new economic arrangement of the productive forces of society.

Read the whole thing at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth.

Dyer Lum on Mutualism, and a note on Proudhon

Now available thanks to Shawn P. Wilbur at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth:

I'm working on gathering the pieces for a series of pamphlets documenting the mutualist tradition, and ran across this rather strange, but very interesting piece, but the frequently strange, but always interesting Dyer D. Lum. Tucker's translation of the first volume of The System of Economical Contradictions was published in 1888, and Lum's 1892 piece seems to be a fairly idiosyncratic commentary on it.

[I admit that I have tended to treat the Contradictions as a sort of badly flawed middle-step between the initial critique of property in 1840 and the realization that "the antinomy does not resolve itself" in 1858, but I have been spending a lot of time with it recently, translating the study on property for the forthcoming Proudhon reader, and working through some of the rest of it to establish contexts--and I have become rather enthusiastic about the work. Proudhon's suggestion that institutions had to be grappled with in the context of the political and economic "series" of which they formed only a part (the fruit of his engagement with Fourier's thought in The Creation of Order in Mankind (1842)) is key to understanding the ways that he continued to evaluate institutions, and particularly the institution of property, in his later works. Proudhon himself created a series of commentaries on property: the truth of property--or at least the truth of Proudhon's conception of property--is in the series, and in the additional steps implied, rather than in any of the particular, decidedly approximate, analyses that Proudhon made.]

The Twentieth Century. May 19, 1892. 7-10.



We often derive a coign of vantage in reviewing old scenes through the lens of a different word; though the field of vision be a familiar one, the various word-lenses we use often bring out in bolder or less relief the features of the picture. The triune formula of Hegel, used so effectively by Proudhon in his analysis of industrial relations, may here offer us such an instrument for the survey of history in the same field; for, after all, history is but the biography of the race-soul in its effort to construct a cosmos from the chaotic web of events in which it finds itself immersed. In fact, it is the ceaseless transformation and flux of social relations which create the various vestments of humanity, which we ticket in the race-wardrobe as religion, poetry, philosophy, science, politics, etc. A never-ending process which actually is "the roaring loom of time which weaves for God in the garment we see him by."

In Hegel's thought, which he applied to all knowledge, from the two contradictions, is, and is not, the "roaring loom of time" weaves for us a neutral point in becoming. Without accepting his ontology, his dialectical method remains a most exhaustive instrument for synthetic generalization. Nor is this neutral point by any means a compromise between opposites, for the notion returns enriched by the process, becomes the substantial union of both its terms, richer in scope and harmony. Though the writer differs widely from his logic, his method opens rich fields when applied to the philosophy of history, of which one such is my present purpose.

In the biography of the race we see this exemplified in the evolution of industrialism. From the crude, disjointed efforts of the savage, we find industrial relations marked by two opposing characterizations of human activity: the rule of personal and impersonal will. Let us briefly scan these:

1. Slavery, the first step towards the solidarite of effort, was the cradle of industry. It was in this subordination to the personal rule of others that the first lever of civilization, division of labor, lifted mankind out of the animal phase of "each scratching for himself." Less barbarous than the slaughter of the captive, it made possible the development of the softer, or human, feelings which now are asserting mastery over the brute in man.

Excess in products became possible, and pari passu increased socialization. Through the first capital was born, and by this and the second slavery became modified to serfdom. But the advantage resulting rested mainly with the master. National wealth augmented, in which it is true all share somewhat, but the essential feature of this phase, personal rule, still dominated if but indirectly.

2. Capital supplants personal rule. It required the electric spark of the French Revolution to end the transitional agony, but since then capital has assumed a more mobile character; it has become impersonal, in itself, though confined yet by the leading strings of legalization to personal guidance in a large measure.

Labor has by this change become organized under capital. The essential spirit of this regime is free capital, but as it nears its maturity, to provide for the increasing surplus of labor, a surplusage dangerous to it, the economic struggle for existence finds manifestation in seeking new markets in new lands, Asia, Africa, South America. But this is but a struggle for breathing room only, and indicates that the world's activity is in another transition period; the issue being less how to doctor up a moribund system than to more clearly discern the phase toward which it leads and for which it is preparing the ground.

The rule of capital having been based, in itself, on freedom, it has only resulted to the benefit of those who could "corner" capital; further, that the impersonal rule of capital has too often degraded the labor it organized; that the capitalist as such is exempt from labor, and the laborer is doomed to crave as a favor the permission to use his muscles productively; all points inevitably to the conclusion that greater freedom can alone be in harmony with evolution, can meet the idea which has dominated past phases and prepared the way for each transitional change.

3. We may therefore find the third phase, the synthetic unity of the preceding ones, in free association, combining the necessity to labor of the first and the broader generalization of the second.

Both the personal rule of the one and the impersonal rule of the other, centered in the widened Self of social evolution, find the spirit of each materialized in mutual accord. The rivalry of excess of products and increased socialization merges self-will into the higher selfhood of interrelated humanity. And it is precisely because of this contradiction between the narrow self-will seen in slavery, and the broadened free-will to which capital aspires, that free association for mutual interests alone presents synthetic unity. Macaulay said that the remedy for the evils of capitalism will find their remedy in greater freedom to capital, which in turn preserves the economic benefit of slavery in the transformation of the egoistic self into the higher self of human interrelations.

We may again consider these phases under other terms. 1. Authority, the genius of the past, manifesting itself in priestcraft, statecraft, wherein "divine right" becomes personal rule intrenched in position. 2. Freedom, manifesting itself in rebellion, insubordination, the rebound to egoistic will: the negation not only of authority, but order as well. Activity, from the evils of a false cosmos, endeavoring to return to chaos, opposition. 3. Mutualism, or free association, is the synthesis wherein the race returns to enrich the union of thesis and antithesis with their harmonization in the higher self.

In other words, to use Hegel's, the formula is Position, Opposition, Composition. The position once intrenched in law, custom, tradition, etc., is negatived by opposition, of which illustrations are seen on every hand; but find their composition, or synthesis, in the order which invariably follows rather than precedes progress.

As in relogion the race has swung between the position of Faith, and the opposition of Doubt, Denial, so we may even now see philosophy seeking their composition in a reconciliating Conviction. So in the clearer consciousness of the Greater Self, the consensus of all past activity and the Over Soul of present endeavor, the ever increasing interweaving of higher and broader thought into the warp and woof of existence, the condition of social life--we may already discern reason harmonizing personal and impersonal will in the richer and fuller outgrowth and ingrowth--mutual will.

Thus through the lens, Mutualism, we view the scene of human activity, and lo! the relations which constitute it are seen to be the same we had already grown familiar with as scanned through the lens--Anarchy!

Northampton, Mass.

Read the whole thing at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth.