are reduced to two: the announcement or publication, and the celebration. Society
is involved in these, is the first rank, in the person of the magistrate and
witnesses; the families of the couples form the second line, in the person of
Ms. 18255—Économie. [Gallica]
Avoid the extremes, and seek the happy medium, says the Wisdom of the Nations.
That aphorism, of course, is very true: but it must be well understood.
It is up to philosophy to look into it and demonstrate it.
I say that every extreme, in itself, is false and implies a contradiction; but by extreme I mean the element constitutive of every synthesis, an element to which it does not [ ], which constitutes it [i.e. synthesis] that much better as it is found employed more energetically.
Thus, the proprietor is a constitutive element of the social order, necessary, indispensable.
To deny it implies a contradiction.
In the common language we say: Property must be curbed, not pushed to the extreme.
I will correct that language, which lacks scientific exactitude, and say: property, in itself, strong or weak, powerful or controlled, as you like, is exclusive, fraudulent, sinful, selfish, and wrong; it contains within it, theft.
However, that same property, such as it is, is indispensable to human order; and it is even because of this that it is necessary. Remove that individualist character, and [ ] you render it powerless….
It is not the extreme, [ ] property, that is to be avoided: that extreme always exists, since it is the very principle….
Here, all the happy mediums in the world are lies, pure arbitrariness.
It is necessary to balance property with a contrary principle, which is, as you prefer, collectivity or community.
(There is no moderate community: community in itself is as bad as property…. It calls, not for a corrective, shears, a gardener to fight it, a [ ] to geld it: it needs a balance.
The two principles must be joined, married, mutually penetrating, in a manner to form a [ ]…. Thus:
Theory: Everything that can be appropriated must be appropriated; everything that can be grouped, even among the things appropriated, must be grouped.
(Similarly with Competition, Credit, Government, etc.; division of labor, collectivity.)
Other antinomies are subject to a different law, for example, that of Dead weight—live weight. It is certain that we tend, and will constantly tend, to reduce one and increase the other: that is the law of Progress. Cf. [ ] Dead weight, live weight, pages 11-12.
[Undated fragment from Ms. 2971, Ville de Besançon]
I always see the fathers of families, sufficiently enlightened regarding the value of religious fables, worry nonetheless about the Education to give their children, and ask on what the moral principles that they will be taught will rest.
Morals and superstition have been so thoroughly mixed together that the majority of men do not manage to separate them, and, for them, to destroy the latter it is always a matter of compromising the former.
I am an honest man, says a father, and I know where I stand on the question of the cults. I do not need religion to lead me as a man of honor. But my children must be educated, and I know what that costs. It disgusts me to preach superstition to them. We must speak to them of morals, but on what basis?…
Voltaire was of that opinion: he dismissed his servants and closed the door when his friends debated religion.
That difficulty, however childish it is when we examine it up close, is serious, and I know a lot of people whom it torments and troubles.—I have been myself, like everyone, brought up short by it. We absolutely desire an external sanction for the law, a mark of dignity, something that astonishes, that conquers wills and prostrates consciences.
However, it is not in this way that things occur. The capital error here, which comes from a lack of observation, is that we have not studied the march of human conscience in its ascent towards moral law.
We have not seen that the moral law only penetrates the soul slowly, that it requires that long education and a sustained practice in order for it to be saturated and impregnated with it.
There are the final reasons for the long childhood of man.
There also is found the motive of the law regarding minority and majority; the age of discernment and irresponsibility.
The jurists, without looking at it in any other way, without giving reasons, will fix the age of reason at 13, 14, 16, or 18 years of age; etc. What can all those say? Nothing.
The basis of moral education is industrial education.
The one who does not learn to work, who does not work, will never be moral: noble or thief, rich or poor, in society, their manners are without basis, their faith without guarantee.
Now, the moral law is a second nature in man, which is introduced by the attraction of the justice that all men demand, and of the idea according to which each aspire.
I say to my little girl: That thing is ugly, and she abstains from it. The same sentiment of self-esteem, which makes her hate worn, dirty clothing, makes odious to her certain words that we have told her were ugly, or not very pretty, and that she understands can in fact hardly be so.
Her mistakes, her little grimaces, everything that is objectionable in her, and that one would suppress right away, rise first to her mind, then gradually make the good, just and honest descend into her heart…
There is no other education to follow, no other sanction than that embrace of Conscience.
To form a man, a woman, from the moral point of view, is a long work, for every day, which demands diligent care and an energetic will.
What resistance can a young girl make who suspects the stories of the catechism of lies, her confessor of a lack of virtue, hell of being a fable, who doubts that all the women are like her, inclined to voluptuousness, who tells herself that things as they are are unjust, that virtue is trickery, etc.?…
But if little by little, instead of crumbling principles, we inculcate her with the true truth, namely, that dignity is a beautiful and precious thing, that to give oneself to a lover, without guarantee, is to enslave herself, to soil herself;–that love is a holy thing, that it is necessary to guard her heart, rather than spread her love on an unworthy object; that the liberty of life depends on it; etc., etc. Oh! Then the resistance will be vigorous.
Everything is in this word prostitution!… for the woman.
For the man, everything is in this word: coward. There is not a crime, nor misdemeanor, nor theft, nor selfish act, that does not come among men through cowardice! Stupidity is itself only a form of it.
Yes, it is on self-esteem, on the exalted sentiment of individual beauty and dignity, not on utility, that morals must be founded; as for religious ideas, the facts prove their powerlessness more than abundantly.
Also the priests have axioms of despair: main are called, but few are chosen. Of 100 men, Mr. P…. tells me, I have hardly found 5 who are honest. We accuse human perversity, selfishness, etc., etc.
I believe it well. The naïve, misled man, placed in a setting of hypocrisy, rebels: it is the last act of his virtue. From this point of view, it is a mass of crimes, remanded to the Cours d’Assises, that are the acts of courage and virtue.
The digitization of the Proudhon manuscripts at Besançon is a game-changer is so many ways. For example, I was looking through Ms 2912 – “Documents ayant trait aux éditions des œuvres de Proudhon,” and encountered a typed text, which turned out to be Alfred Costes’ 1858 essay, “Les vicissitudes de l’édition Lacroix des œuvres complètes de P.J. Proudhon,” a really fascinating account of the publication of Proudhon’s Œuvres Anciennes Complètes and Œuvres Posthumes. Among the details that was the revelation that the six friends of Proudhon specially tasked with preparing the printed works felt comfortable placing Proudhon’s name on works that had been “arranged” by them because it had been done before, during Proudhon’s own lifetime, when Georges Duchêne had contributed to Manuel du spéculateur à la Bourse, Des Réformes à opérer dans l’exploitation des chemins de fer, and Théorie de l’impôt. Now, the first two works had initially been published anonymously, but the third was indeed published as by Proudhon alone. So I was curious if I could find any evidence that it had been a collaboration with Duchêne. Ms. 2814 and Ms. 2815 in the Besançon collection do indeed suggest that this was the case.
So I encourage those interested in Proudhon to take a look at the digitized material, and in order to simplify access I’ve made myself a single list of the manuscripts, which I am happy to share:
It appears that even when writing about Poland, Proudhon ultimately tended toward division. While much of the work of the last few years of his life seems to have been connected to the work on Poland, of which The Theory of Property was an important element, when we look at the notes he left to his literary executors, we see that the manuscript of Pologne, as it has been passed down to us, was ultimately destined to be split into two works: The History of Poland and Political Geography and Nationality. Based on a table of contents included in the manuscript, it appears that the latter title probably corresponds to six chapters from Pologne, and that it is by following these six chapters that The Theory of Property would have been labeled Chapter VII, had that work not been pulled out for separate publication.
Because Political Geography and Nationality was never assembled for the Collected Works, we don’t have the expertise of Proudhon’s friends to guide us, but it appears that the six chapters are either relatively finished or at least fairly clearly outlined. There is other material in some of the other manuscripts that relates to the questions of political geography and nationality, but it will take some time to determine their relation to the material from the Pologne manuscript. Of more immediate interest for me, of course, is the relation of the six chapters to The Theory of Property, so my plan is to set aside much of the miscellaneous Proudhon translation that I have been working on and attempt to transcribe and then translate Political Geography and Nationality as a companion volume to The Theory of Property. Examination of the manuscripts suggests that the Plan for a Perpetual Exhibition was not specifically connected to that work in Proudhon’s mind, and so I’ll be moving that to the back burner for the time being, while I concentrate on the manuscript writings and continue to putter away at The Political Capacity of the Working Classes, which is directly concerned with the mutualist-guarantist-federalist project.
“Ma Théorie fédérative est déjà un fragment enlevé à mon travail polonais; la Propriété sera le second…”
“My Federative Theory is already a fragment lifted from my Polish work; the [Theory of] Property will be the second…” (Letter to Grandclément, Nov. 17, 1863)
One of the nearly miraculous effects of the recent manuscript digitization projects at the International Institute of Social History and the Ville de Besançon has been a sudden and dramatic change in the kinds of questions we can wrestle with, with real hope of success, without international travel or expensive duplication of materials. For me, it has really altered my research program and shifted my translation priorities. Honestly, what it has done is throw my routine into a very pleasant chaos. I might not make that million word mark after all, if only because working with manuscript material is much slower going, but several projects have already become much more interesting as a result of taking the time to wade into these newly accessible archives.
The most dramatic shift has probably taken place in my longstanding love-hate relationship with Proudhon’s The Theory of Property. Wrestling with that work has probably been the single most important factor in my development as a Proudhon scholar, and as a scholar with something arguably a bit different, and potentially important, to say about both Proudhon and anarchism. But the marginal nature of the work in the informal anarchist canon—where it has largely been shunted off into the sections reserved for forgeries or betrayals of the cause—had naturally meant that everything built from an engagement with it has been at least a bit suspect. The individual antidote for that is always to know you are right, but that’s hard, when the manuscripts are unavailable and the correspondence is still hard to search through. I’ve had to slowly build up a sense that published text was coherent, and then gradually dig out the contexts, without much help from the literature of the tradition, of course, or much encouragement from the movement, for which the very existence of the work mostly serves as just another strike against poor old Proudhon.
It turns out that many of the materials necessary to substantially adjust the reputation of The Theory of Property were available even before these recent digitization projects, but perhaps the context in which it was easiest to put them together wasn’t. The heart of the matter seems to be the relationship of The Theory of Property to a lengthy, unfinished work by Proudhon, Pologne. The work on Poland apparently occupied Proudhon off and on through much of the last years of his life. The manuscript consists of 1448 pages, not including, as far as I have been able to tell, any of the 291 pages identified as “Chapitre VII. Garantisme.—Théorie de la propriété.” If we take Proudhon’s comments about the place of The Federative Principle seriously, then we have even more to add to the project. In the same letters, it appears that The Literary Majorats may also be a “long footnote” to the work as well.
We’ve had a hard time dealing with Proudhon’s work in the 1860s, at last in the English-speaking world. Part of the problem, of course, is that we haven’t done much justice to his work in the 1850s, but I think we have at least had a vague sense that Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, all six volumes of it, was lurking out there, waiting to be accounted for, and a few scholars have placed Justice in the more-or-less central place that it seems to deserve. (Jesse Cohn stands out for me in this regard.) For me, despite a lot of wrestling with Justice, The Philosophy of Progress has been the gateway into the “constructive” work of the 1850s, and it has gradually become the pivot around which I’ve built a couple of interpretive narratives. In the first, it marks the shift between primarily critical and primarily constructive periods (as I’ve discussed in “Self-Government and the Citizen-State.) In the second, which I’m still working through, it is the occasion of Proudhon finally beginning answer the question about “the criterion of certainty” that he claims led him to his more familiar work. We might read the work on Justice, which begins with the identification of that criterion with the idea of justice itself, as a kind of resolution of Proudhon’s early, philosophical and theological concerns. Despite its occasionally glaring inconsistencies, as in the study on “Love and Marriage,” the work manages to be a pretty triumphant answer to the question that he was chiding himself for still pursuing in 1841.
The 1860s look, at the very least, less triumphant, and we don’t seem to have any very coherent account of what Proudhon was up to in the last five years of his life. It is actually common, though I think incorrect, to treat the best-known of the late works, The Federative Principle, as marking a shift away from anarchism. And the rest of the works from that period have been hard to come to grips with:
What the work I’ve been doing lately has suggested to me is that, while establishing the connections between The Theory of Property and Proudhon’s earlier works is obviously important and useful, Proudhon himself really saw the work as part of a larger, ongoing work, which occupied him in the 1860s. The unpublished work, Pologne, is obviously something we have to engage with in order to understand Proudhon’s final large-scale project, but we can start by changing our strategy with regard to the late works that we know. Instead of picking and choosing which of the late works we engage, sometimes pitting one work against another, it seems likely that the only way to do justice to those works is to consider them as Proudhon seems to have understood them—as pieces of a larger whole.
Perhaps we need to consider splitting the “constructive” period of Proudhon’s career at least one more time. We might characterized his progression something like this:
“…transported into the political sphere, what we have previously called mutualism or guarantism takes the name of federalism. In a simple synonymy the revolution, political and economic, is given to us whole…”
The principle has multiple names—the familiar mutualism and federalism, and the less familiar guarantism. The last term is, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, a borrowing from Fourier, intended to designate the messy, very approximate stage prior to Harmony. Proudhon, of course, is too consistently progressive a thinker, to certain that “humanity proceeds by approximation,” to have much hope for a period of realized Harmony. The quote with which I began the post, as well as some others I have recently noted, ought to inspire some corrections in our thinking about Proudhon’s late works. First, the traditional elevation of The Federative Principle over The Theory of Property probably can’t hold up. Proudhon’s letters suggest that, with regard to their status as finished works, we’ve had things turned completely around. At the same time, the title from the manuscript suggests an equation between “Guarantism” and “The Theory of Property” that shouldn’t surprise us at all, and which quite appropriately subordinates whatever Proudhon has to say about property in that work to a principle we know to think of as a synonym of mutualism or federation.
That opens a new set of messy questions, including how property can be understood as an instance of federations, but perhaps we’ve tackled enough for now.
[Originally posted at Contr’un, April 22, 2014]