A new Proudhon Library: looking forward

There are some discussions going on about perhaps attempting a Proudhon Library comparable to the Bakunin Library publishing project currently underway. It has taken four years to move from the decision to publish the Bakunin works to the point where we are now, with two volumes nearing completion and a fairly clear plan for the rest. Given the much greater extent and complexity of Proudhon’s work, the planning stage is likely to be at least as lengthy. But there are other difficulties as well. There is more than a bit of resistance to be overcome if we’re going to have an audience for a really ambitious publishing program. At the moment, I’m not sure that we’ve entirely convinced ourselves how ambitious a Proudhon Library ought to be. However, I have a chance to test the waters and set the table a bit, through a tentative agreement to publish expanded versions of some familiar Corvus Editions, as well as some other works-in-progress. I’m moving forward with that project, in the hope that some of our long-term questions will be answered. None of these projects has been officially accepted by the publisher, but all are under serious consideration. It’s likely that any that are rejected will end up as Corvus Editions print-on-demand titles.

These are the works at the top of the Proudhon Library pile:

P.-J. PROUDHON: BETWEEN SCIENCE AND VENGEANCE: I’ve wanted to supplement the new translations with a new introduction to Proudhon. There are some very basic contextual issues (key terminology, a full and accurate chronology of works, attention to collaborators, etc.) that should probably be established sooner, rather than later. And I have wanted to start, as quickly as possible, to incorporate the aspects of Proudhon’s personality that shine in works like “My Testament” and the Carnets, but were consciously downplayed in the published works, into our shared portrait of him. As it stands, we know the more “extreme” side of Proudhon almost entirely through the infamous prejudiced bits, without knowing his revolutionary, even insurrectionary side. At the same time, Proudhon the social scientist is largely overshadowed by Marx. So my goal for the short Proudhon Library intro volume is to combine a sett of useful references with an entertaining collection of bits from the notebooks, correspondence and manuscripts that fill out our picture of Proudhon a bit. There are certainly plenty of notes and fugitive pieces that might otherwise never see print.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF PROGRESS: I’ve come to think of this as one of the easiest entry points for understanding Proudhon’s thought. It’s a trial run for some of the central ideas in “Justice,” but also a summary of a lot of material from the earlier works, much of which does not, perhaps, appear as important as it should unless you know where Proudhon was headed. The central question of “the criterion of certainty” was extremely important to Proudhon. In the Carnets we can find an outline where he imagined his various early works as chapters in a larger study on the question of certainty. The “Economie” manuscripts also include a work on the “Principles of the Philosophy of Progress,” focused on the question of “collective force,” and the plan for this volume is to combine the text of the 1853 work with that essay from “Economie” and an introduction addressing Proudhon’s method and the long shift from “critical” to “constructive” work most clearly marked by “The Philosophy of Progress.”

THE CELEBRATION OF SUNDAY: This book was a very pleasant surprise when I finally got around to really spending time with it. I’m planning on pairing it with Proudhon’s application for the Suard Pension, correspondence regarding Proudhon’s relationship with the Académie de Besançon, and an introduction discussing Proudhon in the late 183s and the relationship between “Celebration of Sunday” and the later works.

ARGUMENTS PRESENTED TO THE PUBLIC PROSECUTOR ON THE RIGHT OF PROPERTY: The first order of business here to is restore the sections on religion not originally delivered by Proudhon at his defense. The introduction will address Proudhon’s various brushes with the courts and censors, but also the development of his thinking, and rhetoric, concerning property. This text contains the provocative claim that Proudhon wished to universalize property-theft, which is an important step on the road between “What is Property?” and “Theory of Property,” and I think I have some new things to say about that development.

THE GENERAL IDEA OF THE REVOLUTION IN THE 19TH CENTURY: I’m in the midst of retranslating “The General Idea.” The problems with the translation of “anarchie” were critical enough to get me started, but I’m finding more that needs to be addressed. The introduction will place the work in the context of Proudhon’s various attempts, starting as early as 1847, to produce a practical application of the “Economic Contradictions,” deal with the fact that this was, despite its subsequent popularity among radicals, a work addressed to the bourgeoisie, and perhaps begin the long-overdue redemption of “The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d’État of December 2.”

My translation of “The Theory of Property” is, of course, finished in rough-draft form, and I have spend enough time with the manuscripts to be confident about the faithfulness of the published version. But I probably won’t try to do much more with it until I can transcribe and translate “Political Geography and Nationality” and Proudhon’s correspondence with Grandclément. I expect the latter will be too specialized for our prospective publisher, but is of enough interest that I’ll probably do some sort of print-on-demand edition.

There are various other odds and ends that might muscle their way into the line. I have assembled the three Cham collections that feature Proudhon and would like to produce an English translation of the bunch at some point. I’ve assembled notes for a volume collecting Proudhon’s polemics with Pierre Leroux, Louis Blanc and Victor Considerant, with “The Feuding Brothers” and some of the other short satirical pieces covering the conflicts in the Second Republic.

None of these works are necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Proudhon, but in each case I think strong connections can be made either to the elements that anarchists think they have inherited from Proudhon (“property is theft,” “I am an anarchist,” etc.) or to elements that are perhaps missing in contemporary anarchist theory (“collective force,” etc.) And I think that Proudhon can fairly easily be presented as both more radical and more entertaining than most readers will expect. Whether that is likely to gain us the audience that would ever make a Collected Works make sense is another question, of course.

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Proudhon and the coup d’état of 1851

One of the things that ought to be clear from recent developments here is that sometimes the most interesting, and also the most unexpected, insights into Proudhon’s work come from double-checking those things that “everyone knows” about his work. It was, after all, in the context of tracking down how close he came to saying “anarchy is order” that I ran across the dubious translations in The General Idea of the Revolution, and that has led to a general scouring of his work for discussions of “anarchy” and “anarchism,” which keeps raising interesting points about the early uses of that term.

When I started working through what I was finding, I was reminded that some of Proudhon’s discussion of anarchy occurred in a work which has, in fact, been partially translated, but which is very seldom consulted, probably because of its unsavory reputation. Proudhon’s 1852 work, The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d’Etat of December 2, 1851 was partially published in a 1972 book, December 2, 1851, edited by John Halstead, collecting contemporary writings on the coup. The collection is a bit scarce now, and often not cheap if you can find a copy, but given the very small number of Proudhon translations available, its obscurity is fairly remarkable. It does not appear to be, as it might be under other circumstances, one of the “grails” of the literature. Much of the reason for that is undoubtedly that the work has been treated as one of the great missteps of Proudhon’s career, with the common claim being that it was written in support of Louis Napoleon’s coup and regime. That’s probably a fairly poor reading.

I think the simplest way to approach the work is to think about what Proudhon had already said about the nature of “the Revolution” and the workings of historical change, and to compare the common understanding of this work, which was addressed in some sense to the Emperor, with the widespread enthusiasm for The General Idea of the Revolution, which called upon the bourgeoisie to continue their own revolution. I’m sure for some, these questions of address are sufficient to banish both works, but nobody will be surprised if I’m not convinced. And those who find inspiration in the work that gave us the famous and beloved “to be governed” rant might perhaps find reasons to take a look at the more audacious later work.

The Social Revolution develops as I think a careful reader of Proudhon might expect. He had been predicting something very much like the coup for some time, and had ended up in prison precisely because he had missed very few chances to oppose Louis Napoleon. For him to argue then that the events of December 1851 had as much to do with broader historical movements than they did with the newly minted Emperor might be easily taken as a new affront, rather than any sort of support. In The General Idea of the Revolution he had spoken of the indifference of the people to governmental forms, so long as their interests were served, and he had called that indifference revolutionary, even while he was attempting to infuse “the Revolution in the 19th century” with an idea (justice, ultimately) which would both serve the interests of the people and avoid the pitfalls of false solutions like the coup. The more familiar you are with Proudhon’s conception of progress the fewer surprises there are in the work, I think, but I suspect that for many readers the conclusion, “Anarchy or Caesarism,” would come as a pleasant surprise, as he addressed in it, quite directly, whether or not he was, as is sometimes claimed, “rallying” to the new regime. I’m posting here the conclusion of that concluding chapter, which shows off some of Proudhon’s infamous “patriotism” (in, I think, a not terribly unpleasant light) but also clarifies not just his posture towards Louis Napoleon, but to government and rulers in general.


Do you believe, I am asked at this moment, by an indiscreet, perhaps malicious curiosity, that the December 2 accepts the revolutionary role in which you confine it, as in the circle of Popilius? Would you have faith in its liberal inclinations? And based on this inevitability, so well demonstrated by you, of the mandate of Louis-Napoléon, would you rally to his government, as to the best or least worst of transitions? That is what we want to know, and where we await you!…

— I will respond to that question, which is a bit suggestive, with another:

Do I have a right to suppose, when the ideas that I have defended for four years have obtained so little success, that the head of the new government will adopt them straightaway and make them his own! Have the taken on, in the eyes of opinion, that character of impersonality, reality, and universality, which would impose them on the State? And if these ideas, all still young, are still hardly anything but the ideas of one man, from whence would come the hope that the December 2, who is also a man, will prefer them to his own ideas!…

I write so that others will reflect in their turn and, if there is cause, so they will contradict me. I write so that truth being manifested, and elaborated by opinion, the revolution, with the government, with the government, or even against government, can be accomplished. As for men, I readily believe their good intentions, but even more in the misfortune of their judgment. It is said in the book of Psalms: Put not your trust in prince, or in the children of Adam, that is to say in those who thought is subjective, because salvation is not in them! So I believe, and unfortunately for us all, that the revolutionary idea, ill defined in the minds of the masses, poorly served by its popularizers, still leaves to the government the full choice of its politics; I believe that power is surrounded with impossibilities that it does not see, contradictions that it does not known, traps that the universal ignorance conceals from it; I believe that any government can endure, if it wishes, by affirming its historical reasons, and placing itself under the direction of the interests that it is called to serve, but I also believe that men change little, and that if Louis XVI, after having launched the revolution, had wanted to withdraw it, if the Emperor, or if Charles X and Louis-Philippe had preferred to be lost [doom it?] than to continue it, it is improbable that those who succeeded them would have made themselves straightaway, and spontaneously, its promoters.

That is why I hold myself apart from government, more inclined to pity it that to make war against it, devoted solely to the homeland, and I join myself body and soul with that elite of workers, head of the proletariat and middle class, the party of labor and progress, of liberty and the idea, which, understanding that authority is nothing, that popular spontaneity is of no use; that liberty which does not act is lost, and that the interests that need to put themselves in relation with an intermediary which represents them are interests sacrificed, accepts for its goal and motto the Education of the People.

O homeland, French homeland, homeland of the bards of the eternal revolution! homeland of liberty, for, despite all your servitudes, in no place on the earth, neither in Europe, nor in America, is the mind, which is all of man, so free as it is with you! homeland that I love with that accumulated love that the growing son bears for his mother, that the father feels grow along with his children! I will see you suffer for a long time yet, suffer not for yourself alone, but for the world which rewards you with its envy and its insults; to suffer innocent, only because you do not know yourself?… It seems to me at every instant that you are at your last ordeal! Awaken, mother: neither can your princes, your barons and your counts do anything for your salvation, nor can your prelates no how to comfort you with their benedictions. Guard, if you wish, the memory of those who have done well, and go sometimes to pray at their monuments: but do not seek their successors. They are finished! Commence your new life, O first of immortals; show yourself in your beauty, Venus Urania; spread your perfumes, flower of humanity!

And humanity will be rejuvenated, and its unity will be created by you: for the unity of the human race is the unity of my homeland, as the spirit of the human race is nothing but the spirit of my homeland.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Notes on “La Pornocratie”

The manuscript carries the “Nouvelles de la Révolution” header, like the sections in the expanded “Justice,” and we know that Proudhon intended it as a follow-up to the studies on “Love and Marriage.”


In a letter to Garnier Frères, December 12, 1860, Proudhon wrote:

“At this moment I am studying our young literature. I have read, for example, all the novels of Mr. [Edmonde] About: you can be sure that I do not intend to have wasted my time. But I cannot thus leap from one order of ideas to another without transition; and the transitions for me are in the ideas themselves.

“I can, however, if that would suit you, send you an opuscule of forty-eight or one hundred pages. It is a response to Mmes Jenny d’Héricourt and Juliette Lamessine on Free Love. That response will appear after the eleventh volume of my book “De La Justice,” which, as you know, is being reprinted by Lebègue. If the subject of Free Love tempts you, you have only to speak: for the next fortnight I could, I presume, send you the proofs, with some hand-written notes that I would add.

“But that is all trifles. It is necessary to return to serious things, apart from which there is no salvation.”

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Notes on “Comment les affaires vont en France et pourquoi nous aurons la guerre”

Comment les affaires vont en France et pourquoi nous aurons la guerre

NOTES:

___________________

Les cinq sous l’Empire

By Alfred Darimon

226-227

Today I received the visit of G. [1], who has come on the part of Proudhon to make me a rather original proposition.

Proudhon is in the course of composing a booklet that bears this title: Comment les affaires vont en France et pourquoi nous aurons la guerre.

Several sheets of that booklet are already composed; it will be put on sale in a few days. It is a question of getting it into France and here is the means that Proudhon has invented:

The deputies of the opposition would address to the publisher in Brussels a request for 267 copies, destined to be distributed to the 267 members of the legislative body.

It is unlikely, according to Proudhon, that the interior minister would dare stop at the border and prevent from arriving at the address of the deputies a booklet with the character of a historical document. If he took such a measure, one of the deputies would appeal to the government and demand the reason for that arbitrary act. From that, uproar, scandal, etc.

I responded to G. that, for my part, I was ready to do what Proudhon asked; that if I could judge by the dispositions of the majority, his booklet would be well received; but that very certainly the 267 copies would be confiscated at the border and that they would not even do me the honor of informing me of the sending and the seizure.

That if I was notified in good time, there was not any opening in the rules of the legislative body for a public complaint. The right of interpellation does not exist, and to have a complaint heard, we would be obliged to await a late occasion, the discussion of the budget of the Ministry of the Interior, for example.

The deputies, in fact, enjoy no privilege. Booklets addressed to them are subject to all the police regulations. They would not hesitate to apply them to us in all their rigor.

I have spoke of the proposition to our colleagues on the left. They are inclined to accept it; but they fear, like me, that the parcel would not reach them.

[1] Perhaps Georges Dûchene, who was involved in the composition of the work in question.

___________________

Letter to Gouvernet, January 22, 1859

In eight days, the Belgian press will announce, by way of a reply to the imperial court, the following booklet:

Comment les affaires vont en France, et pourquoi nous aurons la guerre.

What do you think of that title? It seems to me of a nature to pique the curiosity. Say nothing of it yet. I have not spoken of it to my friend Chaudey, or to anyone. If the English and Austrians only acknowledge me as a utopia, the democracy also wants nothing to do with me; it has written that I would be a prophetess Cassandra.

Nevertheless, my booklet will appear in Germany almost as soon as in France, and I will write to London for a translator. I give you my hand,

P.-J. Proudhon.

___________________

The title “Comment les affaires vont en France” also appears as a section title in Napoléon III, Chapter XVI.

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The Incomplete Proudhon (draft)

[This is a first draft of a first section of a strategy document for the consideration of other Proudhon scholars and students of anarchist studies. It is every bit as preliminary as that sounds, but everything has to start somewhere. With the Bakunin Library and Proudhon Library projects both moving steadily towards publication, a good deal of what I have been doing behind the scenes lately has been this kind of assessment of available resources and strategizing about how best to present relatively large bodies of work in print. For those who have not read the draft outline for Proudhon: Between Science and Vengeance, that document may add some useful context to this one.]

THE INCOMPLETE PROUDHON:
A PROBLEM FOR ANARCHIST STUDIES

These are arguably good days for the study of anarchist history and theory, but some old and relatively fundamental problems remain, including the place of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in the anarchist tradition. Neither effectively integrated nor convincingly dismissed, Proudhon’s extensive body of work remains largely unknown, a fact that poses real difficulties for the field, whether we think of him as a foil or a foundation for the anarchist movement (or movements) that emerged in the late 19th century. Certainly, Proudhon Studies has had its own good days of late, with exciting developments on a variety of fronts, but there is arguably still a lot of work to be done before we can safely treat Proudhon as something other than unfinished business.

The scope of the task of “completing” Proudhon for English scholars and readers, together with that of dislodging the “incomplete” Proudhon from his established place in the tradition, means that it is unlikely that our business will really be finished by any heroic attempt by a few scholars, however dedicated and well-supported. But if those of us currently involved in Proudhon Studies will ultimately have to rely on reinforcements, we can certainly prepare the ground for them and coordinate our own efforts more effectively than we have previously. These notes, the first of several exploratory pieces, are an attempt to kick-start that process a bit.

In this first installment, I want to survey some of the ways in which our picture of Proudhon remains incomplete.

ACCESS TO PRIMARY TEXTS

The digitizations of manuscripts, and their availability on the Ville de Besançon site and Gallica, has radically transformed what Proudhon scholars can do, even without institutional support. We already had ready online access to all of the published texts in the public-domain era. That leaves the published Carnets as the only published texts unavailable online (unless there is something in the volume of philological writings not available in manuscript.)

To my knowledge, the only major writings not available in either book form or digital scan are the later Carnets (long-since announced, but still not available) and some articles contributed to periodicals. The periodicals that Proudhon was involved with also remain difficult to access, which has contributed to a loss of contextual material.

We also know that our access to the Correspondence and some of the articles in the Mélanges volumes is imperfect, given censorship constraints and editorial choices. The mass of correspondence now available through the Besançon site, together with the letters published outside Langlois’ edition, should help us to restore the Correspondence. The digitizations of many of the letters addressed to Proudhon offers other important research opportunities.

With regard to the texts critiquing Proudhon’s work during his lifetime and those produced by his collaborators and early followers, the situation is not quite as promising. I’ve been trying to link texts as they become available on my “Responses to Proudhon” page, but that’s a continuing labor.

TRANSLATION

We’re obviously still in the early stages of assembling the Proudhon Library that Benjamin R. Tucker proposed so many years ago. But we are fortunate that, apart from a few instances, we have inherited some well-executed translations. While works like What is Property? and The General Idea of the Revolution need a bit of revision and scholarly introduction, those will not be arduous labors. And the existing translations provide us with at least the beginnings of the sort of shared lexicon that could guide subsequent work. There are texts that are probably waiting for their translators. I can’t imagine, for example, doing justice to the works on canals and railroads. But my sense is that we can probably do useful work now, inventorying texts, suggesting possible future volumes, documenting terminological issues, etc. that can provide some continuity within the library, despite piecemeal production. [I’ll tackle some of these questions in another set of notes.]

INTRODUCTORY MATERIALS AND OVERVIEWS

Obviously, the appearance of Iain McKay’s anthology, Property is Theft!, was an important step forward. Where Edward’s Selected Writings gave a provocative, but relatively decontextualized mass of thoughts, the new anthology gives us substantial chunks of Proudhon’s arguments. But Proudhon’s mature works are still underrepresented in translation and neither anthology could take advantage of the significant digitizations efforts that have taken place since its publication. My proposed introduction to the Proudhon Library, Between Science and Vengeance, can’t do much more than split the difference between the previous volumes, attempting to better contextualize it’s fragments and fugitive pieces with various helps. There is still plenty of room for introductory material.

[to be continued…]

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Proudhon: Between Science and Vengeance (rough outline)

[The Proudhon Library publishing project will be entering its second phase in the next couple of years, with some conventionally published volumes. The first entries planned for the series have been revisions and expansion of the Corvus Editions volumes, but I’ve also been feeling the need for an introductory volume. Rather than compete with Iain McKay’s anthology, Property is Theft!, I’ve opted for a small volume that combines a simple reader’s guide with a selection of shorter material from Proudhon’s notebooks, correspondence and manuscripts. This is a very, very rough attempt to describe the volume, provided here in the hope of gaining some feedback.]

PROUDHON LIBRARY

PIERRE-JOSEPH PROUDHON: BETWEEN SCIENCE AND VENGEANCE

AN INTRODUCTION AND READER

Shawn P. Wilbur, Editor


“I flatter myself that I do only two things: that is, first, to teach you put each thing in its place, after having purged it of the absolute and balanced it with other things; then, to show you that the things that you know, and that you have such fear of losing, are not the only ones that exist, and that there are considerably more of which you still must take account.” — Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church

Proudhon’s place in the anarchist tradition has been surprisingly difficult to establish, with most accounts torn, often to the point of indecision, between declaring him “the father of anarchism” and relegating him to a fairly marginal role, if not excommunicating him entirely. His thought, to the extent that it figures at all, is often treated as some sort of compromise between more radical (or at least extreme) positions. But if we were honest with ourselves, we would probably have to acknowledge that very little of Proudhon’s thought figures in our understanding of anarchism and that his place has been established as much through the claims of his adversaries and competitors as through any real understanding of his own work. This has been particularly true in the English-speaking world, where only a small number of his many works have been translated.

There has been a recent revival in interest in Proudhon, with new scholarship and new translations appearing. But we have a long way to go to reclaim what might be useful to a 21st century anarchist movement, as well as a good deal of resistance to overcome. This volume is intended as a companion to the forthcoming Proudhon Library translations, but also as a simple corrective to much of what anarchists and non-anarchists alike have told ourselves about Proudhon and his thought.

INTRODUCTION: SITUATING PROUDHON

In order to properly place Proudhon in relation to the anarchist tradition, we need to first establish his place apart from it, in a period when the declaration that “I am an anarchist” could appear truly unprecedented. We need to understand the context in which being an anarchist made him the most solitary sort of figure, separated by that identification from most of his peers and potential allies, and without any of the familiar ideological apparatus of anarchism to draw on. And then we need to understand the sometimes violent oscillations of his thought within that context. We been inclined to echo Déjacque’s charge that Proudhon was an “anarchiste juste-milieu,” an anarchist of the middle ground, stuck between some revolutionary position and mere liberalism, but when we look at his work—and at the private notebooks in particular—it appears that he was at least as inclined to swing to the extremes as he was to settle between them. This oscillation is, in fact, the sort of motion that Proudhon’s work leads us to expect from society.

PART 1: AN INTRODUCTION TO PROUDHON

  1. PROUDHON’S BARBARIC YAWP

Proudhon is best remembered for two provocative declarations: “I am an anarchist” and “property is theft.” The anarchist tradition has fully embraced the spirit of those provocations, however indifferent it has been at times to the rationale behind them. But when we place those declarations back into their original context, 35-40 years before anarchism was a movement–or even a word used with any frequency–even their spirit may look rather different, without being any less radical. This opening section attempts to give a basic context for the appearance of What is Property? in 1840, and then discuss the various possibilities opened by Proudhon’s early work, not all of which have found expression in either the anarchist movement or any of the other movement that have taken inspiration from his work.

  1. CHRONOLOGICAL NARRATIVE

One of the most difficult aspects of Proudhon’s work is its sheer volume. He produced more than fifty volumes worth of material, published and unpublished, in a period of roughly twenty-five years. In addition, he proposed or began work on a significant number of projects that never developed beyond the planning stages. Among the works left unfinished or barely commenced are some key pieces to the larger puzzle, without knowledge of which our understanding of Proudhon’s thought remains seriously incomplete. Those active years were also marked by trials, imprisonments and exiles, as Proudhon attempted to negotiate the changing conditions in France, before, during and after the 1848 revolution. The ambitious nature of his projects and the difficult circumstances under which he pursued them had effects on his published output and public declarations that are not always clear from the published work itself. This chronological narrative will attempt to provide a fairly complete account of Proudhon’s major works, whether finished or unfinished, and major life-events.

  1. PROFESSIONS OF FAITH

On several occasions, Proudhon attempted to condense his complex thought into the form of a “profession of faith.” These summaries appear throughout his active years and a survey of them provides useful insights into the development of his thought, as both his ideas and the terminology he used to expressed them changed to suit new contexts.

  1. KEYWORDS

Proudhon’s use of terminology was complex, as anyone aware of the three declarations about property will undoubtedly be aware. But he was also very conscious of the choices involved, so an examination of his keywords, not only helps us understand his key ideas, but also his emerging strategy. This glossary will cover perhaps two dozen of the most important keywords in Proudhon’s work, with attention to changes in their use and their relation to other terms. Excerpts from his writings will be included. This section is intended both as a reference to be used with the other Proudhon Library volumes, but also as a kind of review of the general summary presented in this volume.

PART 2: COLLABORATORS, CONTINUATORS AND ANTAGONISTS

While Proudhon was distant in some ways from his contemporaries and from the anarchist tradition, he was certainly not alone and his direct influence was felt in the tradition in a variety of ways. This section will briefly introduce Proudhon’s collaborators, his main antagonists and a selection of the individuals who carried on a specifically Proudhonian tradition within the anarchist and labor movements, the mutual bank agitation, etc.

PART 3: A SELECTION FROM THE NOTEBOOKS AND MANUSCRIPTS

The short texts collected here have been selected with the aim of demonstrating the breadth of Proudhon’s interests, the general character of his ideas and the sometimes violent fervor of his private thoughts. It is assumed that they will generate at least as many questions as answers, but hoped that they will prepare readers to approach Proudhon’s longer and more carefully crafted works with a greater sense of the range of his interests and the general character of his concerns.

CONCLUSION: “IF I COULD LIVE A THOUSAND YEARS”

Proudhon’s work, even when restored to its full depth and breadth, certainly poses plenty of difficulties for modern readers and users. There are elements that reflect different eras of radical thought and elements that were never radical at all. The fact that there has been no real proudhonian school to attempt gradual development of his ideas means that we have a lot to do, but also that our engagements with the work are necessarily quite direct. We are fortunate that Proudhon laid out some criteria by which he believed his work could be judged, and his conclusions anticipated, even if he “could live a thousand years.” This conclusion will attempt to make the case for sufficient consistency in Proudhon’s work to apply that self-imposed standard and then suggest some applications of it.

APPENDIX: BIBLIOGRAPHIES

Primary and selected secondary bibliographies, with listing of major French editions, digitized manuscripts, etc.

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“I am a sans-culotte” (Justice, Study on Moral Sanction)

TWELFTH STUDY

ON MORAL SANCTION

____

FRAGMENTS

Monsignor,

I have come here to the end of this long labor.

Accused as it has been for seventy years, the Revolution finally becomes, through my mouth and in my person, the accuser. It proves to you today—to all of you, priests, mystics, worshipers of the ideal, apostles of natural religion, conservators and restorers of the principle of authority, privileged of capital and industry, partisans of divine right in property and the State, representatives of all the fictions of the exhausted age—that you do not know what Justice and order are; that the principles of that moral code, which you are so fond of claiming, are not within you; that you do not know yourselves, and that that certainty of right after which the world, demoralized by you, sighs, can be given by the Revolution alone.

One last question remains for me to address, the most serious of all and the most sublime. Sadly, I can only give it a small number of pages: I wish to speak of the moral sanction.

But I need to say one more word to you beforehand, Monsignor, regarding yourself and my biography: otherwise you might believe that I hold a grudge. Good accounts, says the proverb, make good friends.

What is it, finally, that inspires in you that holy terror of the Revolution? Ah! I willingly grant your account of it, and that is why, despite the abyss that separates us, I feel ready to hold out my hand: what animates you against us is the sacred interest of that moral law the conditions and principles of which you accuse us of misunderstanding, while I, on my side, reproach you for ignoring it, from alpha to omega. You say, and you have been known to repeat it to philosophers as well as to women and children, that where religious faith is lacking morals is without guarantee as it is without basis, and that, if the doubt is logical, that must inevitably a villainy.

Such was, I am sure of it, the thought that animated you, when you wrote to that correspondent whose name, by respect for your own, will not fall any more from my pen:

The heart of his character is irritation and bitterness against society, from which he believes himself banished by the distress of his family. Having been able, by the force of his spirit/mind, to make some studies, truncated on one side, profound on the other, he has raised for himself a pedestal, on which he would receive the homage of the universe to the detriment of God, who is for him a rival. Proudhon is not an atheist; he is an enemy of God.

Enemy of God, enemy of society, enemy of all order, all law, all morals, in your thought it is the same thing. And why? I have just told you: because, in the system of the revolution, according to you irreligious in essence, as there does not and cannot exist a moral sanction, there no longer exists, there cannot exist a system of morals.

It is that which made to say equally, six weeks ago, the honorable president of the legislative body, M. de Morny, with regard to the law of general security:

Those that the law aims to intimidate and disperse, they are the implacable enemies of society, who detest every regime, anything that resembles any authority whatsoever. For, even in the era when some torrents of public liberty have overflowed in France, when equality is created by the debasement of everything that had been raised up, when popular interests were, not best defended, but flattered in the most servile manner, who still stood up against that tearful society, against that semblance of organization? Them, always the same, the socialists.

I will not do them the honor of discussing their theories; I say only that no excess of liberty can satisfy them, that no pardon appeases them, that they have wrapped France in a secret web whose aim can only be criminal, and that to leave them to conspire in the shadows would be a weakness full of perils. — The hard-working and honest laborers loathe them more than anyone. They know well that the socialist theories, outside of right and of morals, are stupid and impracticable; that by taking the surplus from some, we will never furnish even the necessities to the others; that this would be the ruin of credit, the complete destruction of social capital, and ultimately abjection and misery for all. They know well that it is only free labor, protected by a strong and just government, which can develop property and spread well-being among a greater mass of individuals. — The government must put an end to this work of corruption; it is necessary, come what may that the red party know well that it will find us in its path, before it can strike French society to the heart.

Outside of all right and all morals, which defines itself theologically, according to monsignor Matthieu, [as] enemy of god: such is, it seems to us, the refrain of the frightened souls of the counter-revolution. Outside of law, consequently: that, concludes the head of the third power of the empire, and come what may, that is to say no matter what dynasty is named to govern France, that is how we must act with regard to the red party, to socialism.

There exists in our revolutionary language one name which sums up all these horrors, and it astonishes me that is has not been brought to your mind: it is the name of sans-culotte.

The sans-culotte, that strange creation of the Revolution, who has not been seen again since Robespierre led him to the guillotine was, like your servant, poor, dissatisfied with the social state, never satiated with liberty. He adored Reason with all his heart and soul, affirmed the morality proper to man, the immanence of Justice, and, to prove his claim, permitted himself, as you have so kindly, Monsignor, given me the certificate, to remain honest.

So I am a sans-culotte: it is long since that, seeking my tradition in history, I glimpsed it there; but, before our Jacobin democracy, I dared not boast of it. For some weeks, in 1848, circumstances made me the heir of Clootz, of Chaumette, of Marat, of Momoro (a native of Besançon, I note in passing), of Jacques Roux, of Varlet, of Hébert himself, for I must name them all, I have no right to pick my forebears, circumstances, I say, made me the Epimenides of sans-culottism; perhaps, in another era, I would have been its Spartacus. But to each day its work; to each individual their mission. Mine, all in the realm of ideas, is still not fulfilled; and as long as it is not completed, I can say, on the example of Napoléon III, that the plots and intrigues, from whatever quarter they come, can do nothing to me. Others will realize what I have defined: Exoriare aliquis! . ..

Well, Monseigneur, if the sans-culotte was such that in your senseless terrors you trace his image; if I myself, in this hour of political and social distress, had neither faith, nor law, nor guts, do you know what vengeance would dictate to me and what I would do?

I would have abstained from writing; I would above all have avoided making a book of principles, because principles bear within them the salvation of societies and governments; I would have let the emperor claim, in the universal silence, some principles abominated since 89, and I would have laughed, without fear of spies, in my ideologue’s beard.

Or else, if I could not resist the temptation to set my thoughts down in type [me faire coucher en lettre moulée], I would shut away my thoughts within the bounds of an implacable opposition; instead of a work of philosophy, I would make a work of vengeance. Do you believe, Monseigneur, that even with the law that regulates that press that would have impossible? No, no: there are always means, for an expert pen, to stir up discord; always means, for a sophisticated and spiteful genius, to drive consciences to despair, to aggravate hatred, to excite the people against the bourgeois, even to applaud regicide and obtain the smiles of the du parquet. And listen, without departing from these Studies, I would only need, to satisfy my rage, to follow roughly this program: Delete the exposition of principles; dismiss above all the considerations regarding sanction [sanctionnelles] into which I am about to enter; return to my indignation and my claws; lock myself away in a cold and learned critique; to do for ethics in general what Doctor Strauss has done for the life of Jesus; to show, which is not difficult, that, Justice having foundations neither in religion, which places its subject apart from humanity, nor in philosophy, which reduces it to a notion; conscience being substantiated by no organism, right and duty are reduced to a pure convention, crime to a hazard of war, the social order to an insurance premium, as Mr. de Girardin has said; that done, to end with a disdainful irony [aimed] at liberty, equality, authority and virtue. The Church, and with it all the religious sects, from eclecticism to positivism, would remain crushed, convicted of contradiction and hypocrisy; and, what would put the icing on my misanthropic joy, that Revolution, which since 89, while separating definitively from you where it is a question of the temporal, has retained you to witness the spiritual, the Revolution, struck in the carotid, would shed its blood and give its death-rattle.

That is, Monseigneur, and my readers will say if I am boasting, what I could have done, but what I did not want to do. I have preferred, in my dreadful sans-culottism, to speak to the public as it had a right to be spoken to, according to the independence of my reason and the vigor of my moral sense; I said to myself that the moment had come either for the Revolution to fade away forever, or else to recreate Justice in it, to hold out to a failing society that saving branch [branche de salut] that it cannot expect you, Catholic clergy, to hold out yet; and, certain of the doctrine that I stand for, while I do not hold it because of my genius, I have obeyed my convictions as a philosopher and an honest man, at the risk of compromising my liberty once more: for you are capable, or I know you very little, of denouncing me, in the naïveté of your zeal, for outrage to morals.

Moreover, I am ready; I have long contemplated what I complete today, and, apart from the peccadilloes inseparables from every work of discussion, I dare to say, before heaven and earth, that I have done my duty.

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On Hatred (1847)

Carnets, Vol. 2 (Carnet No. 5, 111-114): 166-167.

— All the reformers preach charity: me, I preach hatred. Hatred is nothing other than the zeal for justice, for vengeance.

Hatred has contributed as much to the progress of the good as love…

Hatred, in the conditions of existence of man, is as necessary, as legitimate, as devotion. — It is the admission of our imperfection, the sentiment of our ugliness, the consciousness of our innate iniquity:… the reaction of our soul against its perverse inclinations and aberrations.

Hatred has its excesses, its materialism, its blindness and its outbursts, like love, like all the passions. It varies in its expressions and its [112] forms, in man and in the brutes, in the savage, the barbarian and the civilized; among the devout and the impious; in the man of the people and the rich man, etc., etc. etc.

It is still with hatred, from the point of view of opinion and conventional morality, as with love.

Everything that is said, written or taught, for or against hatred, is of no use: the same amount of hatred persists among men. So we declaim in turn against, for or about love: love remains what it is and our railing does not change its measure. To reason about love is to extinguish it, to make it insipid; to rail against it is to make it interesting. That is particularly apparent with regard to marriage, the most complete form of love. What weakens the tendency to marriage is less libertinage than avarice or poverty: we content ourselves with less love in order to have more well-being, or more variety in our amorous relationships. That is all. In Rome, marriage perished from the poverty of the proletarians, much more than from the luxury of the great: it is property that killed the family, not anything else. Everything that religion and philosophy have done to uproot the hatred of the neighbor from the heart of man has remained perfectly useless: hatred has only been denied, slandered even: negation, powerless slander. Hatred is eternal… [113]

Hatred is just or unjust, clear-sighted or blind, fortunate or unfortunate, like love. Far from thinking of destroying it, we must only dream of justifying it, limiting ourselves to sweeping it aside when it appears without motives.

We know the hatreds of a man when we know his interests, his ambitions, his rivalries, his prejudice, his mind.

We hate, involuntarily and inevitably, that which seems false, vicious and ugly to us, and consequently all that does not seem like us, that does not resemble use. — If we suppose a man so revisited with every privilege, a man skilled at seeing ugliness, vice and falseness everywhere, that man would be capable of the greatest and most universal hatred: misanthropy is the daughter of saphirisme [?].

So every man has his enemies, some people that he hates or who hate him, or whom he hates and is hated by at the same time. It is enough that all are made different from one another, that some are what we call virtuous and others vicious.

Even in the Christian, hate exists: whatever care he takes to disguise it, it is no less real. The dogma of eternal salvation, for a single mortal sin, says enough on the matter.

The omission, already noted by me, of this passion in the catalog of Fourier would alone be enough to overturn his theory.

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Note on Revolutionary Practice (March, 1851)

[These notes appear to refer to Ms. 2857 in the Besançon archives, “De la Pratique des révolutions,” a draft for a work abandoned in favor of The General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century. This is, of course, just one of the places where Proudhon uses “Destruam et ædificabo” as a kind of motto, but it is interesting to find it here, close to the “watershed” between Proudhon’s “critical” and “constructive” projects.]

P.-J. Proudhon, Carnets, Vol. 4 (Carnet no. 9, 27-28; March 1851): 215.

Revolutionary practice. — Book I, chapter I. — If I start with cannibalism, it is not as a vain show of horrors. It is necessary to show that great truth that is everything in man, Progress. The state of nature is the bestial state, from which we have first drawn fetishist, polytheist religion; the path that we have made, we have made with reason and liberty.

Crude, savage reason at first, ferocious and jealous, which sanctified and purged itself every day. [28]

It is a new religion that we will establish, a social, human religion, which we must draw out more and more.

Rousseau gave its prelude in the Emile, attempting in turn to make it metaphysics, dogma and morals: a task beyond his powers.

We begin anew, with more powerful materials and a new insight.

We have achieved a methodical critique, destruam; we begin the edifice of the new faith: aedificabo.

Revolutionary practice should be nothing but that. — Do not forget it.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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On the Absolute (1851)

P.-J. Proudhon, Carnets, Vol. 4 (Carnet no. 9, 112-115): 287-290

[112] July 26 [1851]. — On the Absolute. —

All the religions, all the old metaphysics, are based on the notion of the absolute, on the concepts of Substance-Cause, indivisibly united.

Now, that conception is nothing other than a datum or hypothesis of the understanding, according to the first experience. It is soon contradicted by a more attentive observation of phenomena and their laws. Enlightened by the sequence and series of natural and human facts, the mind soon abandons this inexact, chimerical point of view, full of obscurities and contradictions, and substitutes for it the facts of laws and Progress.

That leads it to a complete renewal of natural and social philosophy.

Ontologically, instead of thinking of substances, [or] a single substance, and then seeking its transmutations, etc., it only thinks of groups, at all degrees of Being. For it, a germ [in a seed] is a group and, at the same time, a center or focus [foyer], capable of evolution. — In this system, fall the hypotheses of Spinoza and Malebranche.

The most elementary group is a polarity [between the] self and non-self, [which is] irreducible. That polarity is the very principle of life, since it establishes the movement of the idea and of the elements. Destroy that polarity through thought, and there is no more movement, no more life and no more existence. Then substance, if it could still be conceived, would be nothing more than the caput mortuum of Being, the cadaver of nature; and what is more, it cannot lead to the absolute, [it cannot] give itself.

That argument is decisive against the theory of the absolute and, consequently, against all pantheism.

[113] What would a non-living absolute be? Ashes. Now, if life is opposition, if it is the play of two contrary forces, inseparable and irreducible, as in electricity, if it necessarily results from the conflict of two terms, it is clear that the Absolute, which must encompass Life and Reason, at the same time as Substance, is at least not an indivisible, identical absolute, the One, eternal and indistinct, [but] is a group.

In this regard as well, everywhere that you create group, life and movement, you have yourself created the absolute from scratch, which is, in the sense of the pantheists, the negation of the absolute, the ruin of their system.

So, [say that] some men are gathered. Create among them a sovereign authority that you then divide into two powers: immediately, political movement would appear, and if one did not take care, the struggle could perhaps lead to an absorption. Sic 1814-1838 and 1848. — Under the emperor, no life.

So, again, [say that] some men work, divide their functions, exchange their products and place themselves in competition: immediately, an industrial movement is established that will lead to the progressive absorption of Humanity in the central capitalism. Labor subordinated in France, etc., and Anglo-America on the way to devouring the globe. An equilibrium is necessary.

The absolute thus refuted, destroyed, what remains of the theological notion? – Nothing, absolutely nothing.

Either God is the absolute itself, in which case we have just demonstrated the contradiction.

Or there is no absolute. In this case what can God be? The absolute is the summit of being. Whatever is not the summit is a degree: it is no longer God. [114]

Is God a group, a Trinity, Decade, etc., like a crystal, a plant, a man or a society? In this case, he must appear to the senses, manifesting himself somewhere, speaking acting, showing himself, etc. Where is he?

But, what! If God is a group, that fact alone establishes that he is only a particular being in the immense series of beings. He is not God.

So what we must substitute for the notion of God is that of the social and humanitary group,  […], just as to the metaphysical notion of substance-causes we have substituted that of law; to the notion of the absolute, that of the group; to the notion of Eternity, that of progress.

Death, in man, animals, etc. is the rupture of the group and the cessation of conflict: social revolutions make this phenomenon perfectly intelligible to us.

In 1814, a political movement, a governmental life was created: it endured until 1830, when it was shattered for a moment by the lack of equilibrium. The group was dissolved; and after a few days, repaired. The political movement was preserved until 1848, when it perished all at once, to give place to a more profound, more intimate movement, the economic movement.

Now that movement, which has existed for several centuries in England, lacking equilibrium, without opposition, has only lead to the status quo, to death. Labor is subordinated; the social forces are in anarchy. There is no group. The English people have hardly anything but a negative liberty, seasoned with all the condiments of selfishness.

Thus, the Being is the group.

Life is movement, the result of an opposition in the group.

Death is the dissolution of the group.

Substance, conceived to separately from life, is the caput mortuum of being.

The absolute, or indistinction, is equivalent of nothingness. [115]

Every dissolution of the group, return[s] the elements that constituted it, under [the influence of] other attractions, other links, ipso facto, to other groups; in which an opposition suffices to determine a spontaneous movement, [a] life.

It is thus that life and movement are indestructible in the universe, although every group must break up, every life be extinguished, every existence returned to its elements, the suns like the woodworms and toadstools, Man and humanity.

Perpetuity consists of this: and it is thus that death commences for all beings, reconciling [themselves] with the indestructibility of the universe.

The notion of an end of the world, which brings time to a close and returns all of creation into the bosom of the creator, is neither more nor less than that of the absolute itself: it is its corollary.

Death, arriving regularly, is a good for man, like life. It is made desirable by the weariness of existence and the difficulty of being. When man no longer has the strength to eat, to go, to reason, to love, or even to desire, when universal ennui overwhelms him, when he seeks sleep, why should he dread death? It is only to the young, to those living well, the vigorous, that it is bitter.

To [know] pleasure is to feel life. But by exalting this feeling, we exhaust its principle, and pleasure turns to sadness; rest is required from the action of the senses, from work and enjoyment. Well-being is equilibrium in the faculties, in labor, pleasure, love, etc., etc.

Well-being for the individual is inseparable from the well-being of the species: it finds its principle, its guarantee and it sanction there.

The necessity for man to balance his functions, on pain of suicide, brings him back to modesty and mediocrity, makes labor precious to him, tempers his ambition, and, at the same time, excites and develops his benevolent passions. It requires so little to be happy, and the love of one’s fellows adds so much to one’s happiness that the spiteful are more than criminal; they are mad. –

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