Proudhon and Authority: Federalism and Mutualism

Robert Nisbet says in The Social Philosophers: Community and Conflict in Western Thought (Crowell, 1973), 371,

To the growing bigness of things economic and political, Proudhon opposed the necessity of a society based upon small groups and communities. These would be only loosely connected in a commune, which would be the next-highest level of organization. Each group – whether a family or a local or work association – would be sovereign over all matters affecting it alone. There would be no masses of individuals each directly related by a potentially tyrannous conception of citizenship to the all-powerful central state. Federalism and mutualism would be the keys to the good society. From mutualism would proceed the groups and communities made desirable by human nature and social function, with a maximum of autonomy in each. From federalism would proceed the necessary political structure of that autonomy to be found in each form of group and association. Thus would be achieved, not direct rule through centralized bureaucracy, but indirect rule, with a high premium placed upon decentralization and division of powers.

To me, this sounds quite close to Althusius, and rather far from (anything I have seen of) Schmitt. Proudhon’s vision of human society is certainly attractive; on the other hand, against the forces of global neoliberalism, the New Left, a nation’s defence requires the power to marshal the œconomic and military and cultural forces strong enough to withstand warring aggressors on every front – in a word, autarky. This is something that perhaps Althusius can supply in theory if Proudhon cannot:

The communion of right (jus) is the process by which the symbiotes live and are ruled by just laws in a common life among themselves. This communion of right is called the law of association and symbiosis (lex consociationis et symbiosis), or the symbiotic right (jus symbioticum), and consists especially of self-sufficiency (αὐταρκείᾳ), good order (εὐνομίᾳ), and proper discipline (ἑὐταξίᾳ).

Thomas O. Hueglin has brought the two in dialogue. I should read more. What do you think?

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