Monthly Archives: July 2014

Principles of the Philosophy of Progress (II and III)


1.—There exists between men a tendency or attraction that pushes them to group and act, for their own great interest and the most complete development of their individuality, collectively and as a mass.

What is the principle of that tendency? The same as that of the attraction between all beings: It is a property and a condition of their existence (p. 2); it is impossible to know more of it, and consequently senseless to ask more. Let us limit ourselves to reasoning from the point of view of the aim.

The tendency in the group, fatal in some species, free and reflective only in our own, of all our most precious faculties, is a fact. The philosophers and naturalists, considering it in its mystical and superficial expression, have called it attraction or instinct of sociability, sympathy, devotion, patriotism, charity, fraternity, humanity, etc. They have seen in it one of the hallmarks of our destiny, the basis of justice, morals and religion itself. They have not gone further. The useful side, the economic and productive power of the human group, independent of the work of the individuals, has completely escaped them. For all of them, as for the economists, the social instinct has remained a sort of platonic love, a budding idea that has never been expressed and realized. There, in fact, the evangelical work has stopped, and there moral philosophy has broken, both powerless to resolve the complicated problem of human relations, and on the highest questions of public and private right, reduced to appeal to divine authority and the reason of State.

2.—It is up to our century, to the positive and precise genius of modern societies, to study the social instinct in its practical development, and follow it in its speculative, moral and industrial manifestations.

From the formation of individuals into a group there results a force, numerically equal to the sum of the individual forces that make it up, but which is, by virtue of its unity, very superior in its application, and which must for this reason must be considered as the soul of the group, its own essential energy, its life, its mind. So that the individual, sensitive, intelligent, active and free, being taken for an elementary unity, the various groups in which it can enter form so many unities of a more and more elevated order, endowed, like the individual, with sensitivity, will, intelligence and action.

Thus, alongside the individual man arises the Collective Man, which is certainly something other than the sum or addition of the individual energies that form it, but, which, converting all these energies into a higher energy, sui generis, has the right to be treated from now on not as a being of the mind, but as a reason and veritable person. Such is the immense fact, principle of supernaturalism that must in the end rest on its certain base, the economic science, which I will attempt to summarize.


3.—The collective force is generally recognized in every action that surpasses the scope of an individual force, working as long, and with the aid of all the tools and instruments that you might want.

One man, with a plow and some oxen, can turn over one acre in a day: ten men, with ten plows and ten pair, would work ten acres in the same amount of time. There would be time saved relative to the surface works: but as each plow can be considered as working for a simple individual, as each plow can, in ten days, accomplish the work of the ten, while there may be concert, community or exchange of services, there is not collectivity.

Just so, one businessman, disposing of material that he has purchased and workers that he has hired, can, in three months, build a fine looking country house. There again, there is time to be saved by the promptness of the construction: nevertheless, we can conceive that, in a pinch, the same individual could exercise in turn all the functions of stonecutter, mason, carpenter, etc.; and in time build his house by himself alone. We would see in the first operation rather an effect of exchange than of collective force. There again, we do not recognize the group.

Economy consider considers separately, as distinct principles and special forces, exchange and community, observation, etc. It does not confuse them with collective force. (See The General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century, Ch. III and VI.)

But here is where we will see it appear: let us begin with the simplest cases.

A man, of middling strength, can easily carry, for 60 feet, a burden of 125 kilograms. Let that man repeat that operation a thousand times in a row and he will have transported on his shoulders a whole boatload.

This is how the dockhands proceed in the ports. But let it be a question of a block of 2000 kilograms: individual strength becomes powerless and if it is reduced to its own means the block runs the risk of remaining in place forever. For such a great effort, a group is required.

One worker has been able, in the past, over time, to cut and sculpt the obelisk of Luxor in the quarries of the Thebaid. In order to accomplish the loading, the transport to Paris, the unloading and the erection of the monolith, required a squadron commanded by an engineer, obeying his words like a single man.

A gravedigger can dig a hole in the sand, erect a beam there and then, after filling the hollow and stuffing the empty space by reversing the excavating, begin the same work again until he has moved around a surface as great as Notre Dame. The same individual, if it were a question of a piling in a river, sinking there by hammer blows some oak stakes, six meters in length and 0.80 centimeters around, would never come to the end of the task. Here, the action of the group is indispensible.

A boater could, by multiplying his voyages, transport a cargo of 1000 tons from Paris to the Havre. He could never, with his little boat, transport the same mass from Calais to Dover, although the distance is much less. To contend with the ocean requires nothing less than a large ship, and consequently the effect of a group.

We can multiply infinitely these examples that modern industry presents at every step.

4.—Collective force is thus something other than the sum of the individual forces of which it is made up: I add that in the application it is, by virtue of its unity, greater than that sum.

A man, whose muscular strength, in all parts of his body, is equal to six times that of an individual of average vigor, would not only render as much effective labor as six men, but in a struggle he would lay them low. The reason is that, being able to deploy on each side a superior power, or to oppose a superior resistance, he crushes his divided adversaries in a mass.

This is the image of the group: its strength or force, numerically equal to that of its components, is more than equal in its unity to all together specifically. The military men know it well, their whole science consists, through progressions of attacks and retreats combined, in breaking up the enemy mass so that they can oppose everywhere a greater force to lesser forces.

A warship with 100 cannons will chase off 500 fishing boats; a steamer with a force of 100 horsepower, giving the same service as a crew of 100 horses, will be much superior to them with regard to general costs and risks; a large agricultural operation will give, for the same amount of land cultivated, finer and more abundant products, and at lower cost, than would a dozen little farms. The mechanical arts abound with facts of this nature: the Creusot steam hammer, which represents in weight two or three hundred times the big hammer of a blacksmith, produces more effect in a single fall than two hundred blows struck by a worker; the work of a mechanical saw offers more precisions that if it is used by a half-dozen arms; the sound created by one hundred singers in unison is truer than each of the individual voices.

These facts, which each can multiply as they please, suffice to establish the reality of the collective force, of that force that the economists have forgotten even to mention in their books, and that still, by its innumerable applications, its transformation, its political, morel, religious and intellectual consequences, dominates science and governs civilization.

Comments Off on Principles of the Philosophy of Progress (II and III)

Filed under Economy

The Conditions of Existence (from “Economy”)

[Ms. 2867 contains a section on the “Principles of the Philosophy of Progress,” which focuses on the character of collective beings and collective reason. It opens with the following notes on the “conditions of existence:”]


Man is made up of parts called members or organs. What makes his reality is the animistic gathering of these organs in a whole that, as long as it lives, is called a person.

In the same way, a society is made up of parts that are persons or aggregations of persons. What established the social reality is the intellectual consent of these persons and aggregations in an ultimate whole that we call, as long as it endures, company, association, municipality, city, people, etc.

It is thus with all the existences that we can observe: it is always conglomerations of organisms or societies, formed of simpler parts, according to some unifying law.

1.—I generalize from this observation and I say: Every perceptible existence, from the grain of sand or drop of water to the man and the society, invariably and necessarily possesses the double character of unity and collectivity. So I have a right to consider the two terms as correlative and inseparable, as much in nature as in logic, and I define the being as a group.

The idea of a simple being is contradictory. Atomism is a fiction. For the same reason, substance in itself, prior to all phenomenality, is only a metaphysical notion: it does not exist.

2.—Every being, which is to say every group, or to remain within the terms of the definition, every unity-collectivity, by the very fact that it is a plurality of elements assembled according to a law, manifests an internal, radiant energy, capable at least of maintaining the unities that make up the group.

I generalize further, and I say: Existence implies force. These two ideas, like those of unity and collectivity, are correlative and inseparable, in nature as in the understanding. An existence without force is a contradiction. A force, without a group that sustains, represents and produces it, is, like substance in itself, a chimera: it does not exist.

3.—All beings, by virtue of the personal, radiant energy that constitutes them, attract and repel one another reciprocally, tend to unite to form other groups or to be absorbed and dissolved, by the centralization and dispersion of their forces. That is an empirical fact sufficiently demonstrated by molecular attraction, the phenomena of vegetation and life, and History…

I generalize once again and I say: Creation is the ascending movement of existences; the chain of beings has no end: the universe, always changing, is eternal.

4.—There is then, for every being, two manners of manifesting its existence, and it could only have two: its composition, and its action.—Action, in certain beings becomes thought and speech.

Let us apply these principles to the study of economic phenomena.

Comments Off on The Conditions of Existence (from “Economy”)

Filed under Economy

My Testament, or Society of Avengers

I’ve uploaded a partial transcription and translation of “My Testament, or Society of Avengers,” and posted some commentary at the Contr’un Blog.

Comments Off on My Testament, or Society of Avengers

Filed under Documentation on German Philosophy and Socialism, My Testament, Proudhon's works

DILEMMA: Red or White (from “Economy”)

Ms. 2863 (Economy)

Paris, March 16

DILEMMA: Red or White

A captain of the line assure me—the papers friendly to the government will say tomorrow if the information is exact—that on the occasion of the next elections, the order has been given to prevent, by all possible means, the gentlemen of the military from attending the electoral gatherings. Any disobedience in this regard will be punished by eight days in jail.

The government is right. It is consistent with itself. It follows, imperturbably, like Mr. Cabet, its straight line. For sixty years, the French people, leading the rest of the world behind it, has descended the path of the Revolution; Mr. Louis Bonaparte has sworn to make us turn back up the path of the Revolution. That is why Mr. Louis Bonaparte has been made President of the Republic:—ask the legitimists; ask the doctrinaires or the Jesuits.

Now, whoever desires the ends desires the means; to make the army vote as a municipal guard and forbid it from political discussions: such is, with regard to the army, the means that the government proposes to use. And I repeat that the government, from its own point of view, has it right. Follow this reasoning, I beg you: it is as demonstrative as the history.

The Revolution of 89, by abolishing the old despotism and feudalism, led us to the Constitutional Monarchy.

The Constitutional Monarchy, after thirty years of parliamentary evolutions, led to the Republic.

The Republic established universal suffrage.

Universal suffrage make the soldiers eligible voters, make them, in fact, with the other citizens, arbiters of peace and war, judges of the politics of the government, inspector of the acts and opinions of their leaders—all things incompatible with the spirit of hierarchy and the feudal discipline of the army.

So there is an incompatibility between the current regime of the army, which costs us 400 million per year, and the exercise of political rights. And to conclude, either no republic or no army: that is the dilemma.

But what is true today of the army is true of all the rest. It is everywhere the same antagonism, the same incompatibilities. The government has seen it very well; by its propositions, its nominations, its communications, each day it reproduces the same alternative; and if we do not understand it, it is because we do not wish to hear it.

Red or White, it says to us,

Republican or Cossack,

Socialist or Jesuit,

Voltaire or de Maistre,

The Revolution or the Holy Alliance,

Labor or Capital,

Association or Statute Labor,

Free Credit or Usury,

The Bank of the People or Malthus,

The citizen army or the praetorian army.

There is no middle ground: it is necessary to choose. The question is precisely the same for the bourgeois, the peasant, the soldier, the philosopher and the statesman, for France and for Europe. Every other party is committed to the happy medium, to hypocrisy. Now, the experiment of the happy medium has been made, and the world does not want it. So it is a question of knowing if the people will be red or white, if the army will be for Christ or for Belial. We are happy to agree with the government, if not with regard to the goal, at least regarding the logic; and we support its dilemma with all our strength.

The government is white; we are red. It no longer wants the tricolor; neither do we. That is clear.

The Revolution of February was made by the red flag, which become from then on the symbol of the right to work and the beacon of Humanity. The tricolored flag has only ever been, despite all its glory, the flag of the happy medium, the flag of the doctrinaires. In 1804, not daring to restore the monarchy, it created an emperor. Forced in 1815 to hide itself, it returned in 1830 to give us Louis-Philippe; after February, Mr. de Lamartine took it for the lightning-rod of socialism; and it is thanks to this that we had had, in a democratic Republic, along with the exclusion of the right to work, the presidency of a Bonaparte. Since then, the tricolored flag has no longer been anything but the flag of reaction and calumny. Moreover, it showed this very well in June when it bathed with so much delight in the blood of the workers. And we wrote from the mouth of March 1848, as if we could have foreseen those odious days.

“Red is the color of justice and sovereignty. And since all men love and seek the red, is not red the symbol of human fraternity?… Deny the red flag, dye the purple, but that is to eliminate the social question, the right to work. Every time that the people, defeated by suffering, has wanted to express, outside of that juridical legality that murders it, its wishes and complaints, it has marched under a red banner. The red flag, it is true, has still not made the tour of the world, like its fortunate rival, the tricolor. Justice has spoken very well; Mr. de Lamartine has not gone farther than the camp of Mars. It is so terrible, Justice, that one could not hide it too much. Poor red flag! Everyone abandons you! Well! I embrace you. I clutch you to my breast. Cheers to fraternity! The red flag is the sign of a revolution that will be the last. The red flag! It is the shroud of Christ, the federal standard of the human race.”

Honest souls, who only see in the red flag the sign of vengeance, and for whom a bunch of peasants will suffice to make you afraid: do you want to abolish the scaffold once and for all? Plant a red flag atop it.

The red flag is the sign of the democratic reality, just as the white flag is the sign of the sign of feudal suzerainty. The tricolor is that of the politics of the seesaw and the presidency. Napoleon and Louise-Philippe, illegitimate monarchs, would adopt it. The reactionaries no longer want to, and you know why. No truck, they say, with the republican principle. And we respond, we socialists, no truck with the feudal principle!

As at all the times that the throne and altar have been united against liberty, the white flag is the banner of Catholicism in France as well as the monarchy: the red flag, on the contrary, is the symbol of the democratic and social philosophy. The Jansenists and Gallicans, false royalists and false Christians, ground around the tricolored flag.

That is why, from one side, the whites demand that the Church be richly endowed, and work with all their strength to render it its goods and its tithes; from the other, the reds want the clergy, like the laborers, subject to the law of free commerce and, as a consequence, only those who have need of the priest’s services will pay him. The tricolors, who neither want to render the goods of the clergy nor abolish the parasitism of the Church, resist both; they have invented the budget of the cults and the salary of the priests, in order to declaim at once against the Socialist and against the Pope.

We do not want the Church to be salaried, say the whites. We do not want it to be endowed, respond the reds. And all shout at the same time: Down with the tricolors!

In the past, the magistracy was like property, hereditary and venal. Justice was given at a price in cash: that was the white justice. The judge lived on his spices, as the bailiff lives on his exploits. Under the general designation of Parliaments, the people of the courts and tribunals formed one caste. What we call the ministerial offices are a remnant of that old institution.

After 89, the venality of the offices should have been entirely abolished, and justice elective and free. This was the generalization of the just, the red justice. Instead of that, we have the salaried, tenured magistracy, a judicial order marching in connivance with the executive power. Part of the officers have, in addition, preserved their venal privileges. That is the system of the Héberts, the Dupins, the Lehons; the tricolored justice.

It is with the army as with justice, as with the Church, and with the government.

In the past, the grades higher than noncommissioned officer were reserved for the nobles, inaccessible to the commoners. Discipline by baton blows…

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Comments Off on DILEMMA: Red or White (from “Economy”)

Filed under Economy

A passage missing from “The Theory of Property”

proudhon-1848I think that most of the concerns that readers have had regarding The Theory of Property have involved the possibility that something alien to Proudhon’s thought might have been introduced by the editors. Having checked most of the published work against the manuscript, I feel fairly confident that that wasn’t the case. It has been a bit more complicated to determine if any important parts of Proudhon’s argument were excluded from the published text. At some point, I will have a copy of the manuscript with all of the material that was incorporated marked off, and I can see what is left. I’ve been waiting as patiently as I can. In the meantime, however, I have also been working with the larger Pologne manuscript, which includes six chapters (about 200 hand-written pages) of fairly complete and coherent material that was originally intended to precede the material on property. In the process of reading through the finished portions of those six chapters, I noticed that a few pages were written on the back of earlier drafts of “Chapter VII. Guarantism–Theory of Property,” and a few phrases stuck out as both unfamiliar and interesting. So I went back to the manuscript of The Theory of Property and took a close look at the short section (roughly 675 words) at the beginning of the text that was not incorporated into the published work.

It’s pretty striking stuff.

It begins with a summary of the work, which can be read alongside my translation of the Table of Contents. Among the most interesting bits is the “maxim” that “the citizen must be made in the image of the state.” This is another of those claims that clashes sufficiently with our ideas about what anarchists will propose, and the language that they will use, that it will probably take some time to really come to terms with it. For now, let me just present the passage, and we can tease out its implications in future posts:


Let us cast a glance at the road we have traveled. Having posited our two great principles, the immanence of justice and of ideas in humanity (Ch. I) and the realism of the State (Ch. II), we have traced the rule of political geography (Ch. III); from geography we have passed to ethnography (Ch. IV); from ethnography to the organization of the Social Body, and consequently to the form of the Collective Reason (Ch. V); some considerations on the Collective Reason have raised us, finally, to the laws of the universal conscience, which are those of progress. Thus we have arrived, by that ultimate question of customs and social transformations, to the fringes of the spiritual world. One step more, and we would run to the risk of falling from the reality where we have remained up to the present, into mysticism. It is time to end our ascent, and, as we have climbed from matter to mind, to descend once again from mind towards matter, which we will do, not by retracing our steps, but by completing our curve, by pursuing our path.

One of our maxims is that the citizen must be made in the image of the state, that the man given by nature must be repeated on the model of Society, the true and living Word. It is only in this way that the individual will acquire that of which nature has only given him a shadow, liberty and autonomy, become the personification of right, and be able to separate themselves from the magistracy and the government.

But it is not only by intelligence and justice, not only by theoretical and practical reason that the citizen must follow the example the State. If it were thus, the civic quality would be reduced to a pure ideality. The humanitary republic would exist only in the imagination, in the dream of the conscience; the State alone, having its feet on the soil, king of the temporal, would possess things and could say: I am. The nation, deprived of a body, without authority over matter, would be in the air, lost of the wave of its spirituality. There is not, there cannot be here, as in the Apocalypse, two Jerusalems, one on the earth, the other in the heavens: the two are only one, and it is a question of establishing their identity. So it is necessary that the citizen, declared free and inviolable, in full possession of himself by education, having autocracy over his labors, his opinions, his desires, his conceptions, his will, as well as over his person, called to resist, if necessary, the despotic tendencies of the State, and to react against the driving and incursions of his fellows, must furthermore be established, like the State, in sovereignty over things; that his self, relying on the external world, creates there a position, a domain, without which his liberty, like a force that had exploded in the void, would remain without efficacy and would fall back into nothingness.

Now, to confer to the citizen power and jurisdiction over things, to assign him a possession, a territory, to make him in this way the head of a state within the state, that is what I call closing the political circle, and finishing just where we began. It is not, in fact, by the soil that the political life begins for the individual, as we have previously seen the political State set out from its embryonic valley. It is by the possession of the soil, on the contrary, by the eminent domain that is granted to him over a portion of territory that the citizen is completed, and dignity begins. Thus the citizen becomes the fellow, what am I saying?—the equal, the rival of the State. He is himself the entire State, reduced to its simplest expression, to its most minimal extent. Thus is accomplished in the social world the union of matter and mind, a phenomenon inexplicable in the world of nature, where the creative operation is performed, without our being able to discover its beginning; where the syntheses are given to us ready-made, without our being able to resolve them.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur.]

1 Comment

Filed under Poland, Theory of Property

Poland: Part One, Contents

Besançon, Ms. 2834


[Considerations on the Life and Death of Nationalities]


I.—History and Nationality.

The Polish Question.—History understood as a legal inquiry: necessity, in order to write history and judge a nation, of positing some principles.—Doctrine of immanence: that the political organism is the product of social spontaneity, and that where that spontaneity is lacking, the State becoming powerless and impossible, the nationality remains non-existent.—Exhaustion of the spontaneity in nations: Jews, Greeks, Romans and Italians.—Divisions of the history of Poland: conclusion unfavorable to the demands of the Poles.

II.—The State.

Transition: that the idea of a spontaneity in the nation leads to that of a real and concrete existence of the State.—Idealist and realist theories of the State: principle of collectivity.—Politics, subjective, artificial and immoral as it is in the first case, becomes objective, legal and scientific.—Application to history: critique of Jacobinism.—New conclusion against the Poles.

III.—Political Geography.

Seat [siege] of the State.—Errors spread regarding this subject.—Theory of basins and crests; principle of natural frontiers; law of the agglomeration and dismemberment. Application to Poland.

IV.—Political Ethnography.

Difficulties and prejudices.—Principle of the indigénat, otherwise known as the principle of nationality: the nation defines itself in politics by territory.—Examination and refutation of pan-slavism.—Principle of autonomy, corollary of the principle of nationality.—Glimpse of Polish character.

V.—Political Organogeny.

Two eras in the formation of societies, the organic or political era and the metamorphic or economic era.—Principle of the separation of powers: spirit and aim of that separation. [ ] of direction in the State.—Politico-realist deduction from the idea of right.—Sufficiency of the political organism for the fullness of social life: singular position of royalty; backwardness and incapacity of the masses; doctrinaire scales.—The era of constitutions.—Observations on Poland.

VI.—Social Metamorphosis.

Influence of political organization on the condition and supports of the citizens.—opposition of Society and State; subordination of the latter; progress of civil and economic liberty; proportional reduction of governmental functions.—Difficulty encountered by the development of public liberties in the natural inequality of subjects and races: question of slavery.—How the collective reason overcomes that obstacle; Theory of the right of persons; principle of equality before the law; application of that principle to the exchange of products and services. Moral, political and economic transformation.—Observation on Poland.

[VII.—Guarantism.—Theory of Property.]


Filed under Poland