Panarchy Flourishes Under Geo-Mutualism
William Schnack’s Response to Carson’s Arbitrary Occupancy-and-Use Doctrine
My position on occupancy and use is a little different than Kevin’s, and I dare suggest that it is the position nearest Proudhon’s original intentions. Though I do believe it is a component of the original mutualism, I have branded my stance “geo-mutualism,” both in order to differentiate it from common understandings of occupancy and use and to pay tribute to the clarity of Henry George, who saw himself as a student of Proudhon’s. I eventually came to this position after having wrestled with the arbitrariness of common understandings of occupancy and use, especially as it relates to rules regarding traveling, but also after having been confronted in discussions with Georgists about economic rent. Upon adopting geo-mutualism, I thought I had (under principles of mutualism, such as the cost principle) forsaken the mutualist plan in regards to land. Later, I came to find that the community capture of economic rent was a part of Proudhon’s plan all along. I came to mutualism largely through Benjamin Tucker, like Kevin — so this was not expected. This is why it is neither surprising nor anticipated that Kevin would dismiss Georgism so readily.
At the heart of Kevin’s essay, he asks, “Are We All Mutualists?” In this, he takes a transcendental approach, in which he tries to view mutualism from outside of its own body, looking at its conflicts with other ideologies more objectively. In doing so, he acknowledges, with a supporting quote from Bill Orton, that mutualism and neo-Lockeanism may exist on a spectrum in regard to conventions relating to abandonment and community reclamation. It is implied that capitalists and mutualists may simply diverge in how long one may leave one’s property unattended, with mutualists favoring continual use, with short periods of abandonment, and capitalists being more lenient in regards to disuse. While I see this as a stretch, I do agree that occupancy and use, as Kevin defines it, can be looked at in a very general sense — as existing on a spectrum with neo-Lockeanism, however differing in some important and irreconcilable ways in the specifics (particularly in areas such as rental property and wage labor). In its theoretical extremes, occupancy-and-use represents collectively shared communal possessions, and neo-Lockeanism represents unhampered, undisputed, and perpetual property.
Being that Kevin supports the privatization of economic rent in his version of occupancy and use, I would have to place him — to his anticipated protest — right of center on the issue of land. Not because his position is not preferable to the current regime, but because it would leave something still to be revolted against. Further, I would suggest that this variety of occupancy-and-use is not true occupancy-and-use as envisioned by Proudhon, but that of Ingalls. It is itself a watered-down variety of American neo-Lockeanism, making it easy for Kevin to make the spectral connection, while ignoring the social anarchist discussion of possession in which occupancy-and-use is taken to its most immediate extreme. Without fully acknowledging the communist adaptation of usufruct-possession — in which as soon as an item is unattended it is up for grabs — and without reconciling this in the same manner as he does with capitalism,  Carson tacitly paints a picture in which occupancy and use extends from the center rightward, existing within the realm of private property, but not in the realm of communism. The original occupancy and use was intended to balance communism and capitalism, through personal use and social benefit, while Carson’s occupancy and use is simply capitalism-lite, maintaining personal use, but for private benefit.
Stated another way, I am suggesting that Kevin Carson is using terminology which is meant to reflect the centrist beliefs of Proudhon’s mutualism. It is most commonly associated with the left by way of anarcho-communists, but is historically applied on the right by individualist anarchists, most commonly. Once more, Kevin’s variety of occupancy and use is softly rightist in nature, because it allows for the privatization of rent, though the pure idea — which goes a little further — originates as a centrist position, and is commonly associated with the left. Proudhon’s dialectical centrism has lent itself to a large amount of misunderstanding, as it is easy to mistake one side of a balanced equation for balance itself, when it is not viewed in its entirety. This has led to claims of Proudhon by both the left and the right. Proudhon’s centrist position regarding land, however, was essentially proto-Georgism, in which one’s possession was granted by society after its indemnification. This was to secure one the right of occupancy and use. Proudhon certainly speaks at times of the right of first occupancy, but this right was to be continually secured through rent payments, lest the landholder acquire aubaine — surplus-value — in private.
Communities or their agents are necessary for the protection of property. It’s important to remember that no matter the property system set into place, the system will be maintained through judicial enforcement springing from norms and customs of a given community, often after having practiced under the guidance of an entrepreneur or founding group. Without rough community agreement on an issue, whether innate or guided by uncommon but respected foresight, property norms are unenforceable. However, both the neo-Lockean perspective and Kevin Carson’s flavor of occupancy and use must admit some degree of arbitrariness as it relates to the line of demarcation between absentee-ownership and abandonment, leaving communities with little means of reaching an intersubjective understanding of the situation. Lacking a means of explicit agreement, communities cannot enforce dictates, and jurisprudence becomes a matter of private interpretation and tacit consent. That is, lacking agreed-upon laws — and leaving a vacuum of collective irresponsibility and lack of mutual understanding in their stead. Non-agreed upon laws will be enacted by the personally responsible until they are overturned by collective responsibility. The rich will dominate the poor, the strong the weak, until the latter unite as a class. Suggesting the arbitrariness of two positions of conflict does little to suggest a means by which the arbitrariness — the most conducive element to conflict — may itself be eliminated.
The two positions balanced in Kevin’s proposal — his flavor of occupancy and use and neo-Lockeanism — are left without a resolution. One is left with the opinion that the groups can get along, without addressing the mechanics of how. We can understand that each group has its customs that present a framework in which differences are addressed, but we are left with the question of what kind of framework would allow neo-Lockeanism and Carson’s occupancy and use to co-exist, particularly when it regards spaces of high value which may be under dispute. What happens when a Carsonian mutualist homesteads the absentee acreage of a neo-Lockean? Ultimately, a dispute arises, either between the two groups when each comes to defend its members’ expressions of their customs, or between a member and their community, upon the picking of sides. Arbitrariness is conflict in the making.
While Carson suggests that a Georgist community can exist within the framework of mutualism, in my program for geo-mutualist panarchism I suggest the opposite is more appropriate, and that geo-mutualism would provide the means for any style of community to exist at its own costs. This cannot be said of Carsonian occupancy-and-use, nor of neo-Lockean property norms, as both assume the consent of the community toward the privatization of economic rent as a matter of “common sense.” Let us not forget that it is considered common sense to be patriotic, that the mob’s torches and pitchforks are guided by common sense. What is to be done when common sense to one says that property is for claiming, while another suggests that it’s to be retained?
In order to resolve the issue more objectively, a generalized and non-arbitrary set of rules regarding the value of land must be established, and a lease presented to the highest bidder. One’s lease demonstrates right of possession. Under such a contract, one’s lease can be maintained only so long as one is occupying and using the land in a productive manner. In other words, when one is granted a lease, one has proof of possession reinforced by community protection. Trespassers are not to be tolerated, even when the lessee is on vacation. However, in order to maintain possession of one’s leased property, one must occupy and use that property for productive or consumptive purposes. If land is to be allocated according to an open bid, it will naturally follow that a common standard of living will be reflected in the bids, and that one will not be inclined to bid on a piece of land if it means one will not be able to have time off for a vacation or other non-essential forms of leisure. However, one will not win the bid by taking more time off than one’s competition. Some land will require jobs too demanding for those with family, but there will always be free land for homesteading. Bids allow the price mechanism to do its job, and require no central planning, while allowing for the benefits of common ownership, and the socialization of rent. Within the framework of geo-mutualism, a panarchy can flourish, until the internalization of costs forces a stable equilibrium across society.
Transcending the boundaries of mutualism by subsuming other ideologies into it is understandble. But it won’t be successful by siding with capitalism. A more thoroughly mutualist position must be adopted which reconciles the differences not of right and center (surplus and equilibrium), but of right and left (surplus and deficiency).
1. I understand the mention of “People’s Machine Shop 37,” but this was not a thorough investigation or differentiation of the communist position, which both defines their view and distinguishes it from mutualist/individualist positions on occupancy and use.